A conversation with screenwriter Amy Talkington on Texas, teenagers, and rock and roll.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas (Go Cowboys!), screenwriter, painter, and music-fanatic Amy Talkington has lived a strikingly interesting life.
In her early 20s, she was a rock journalist, interviewing iconic music legends all while finishing undergrad. She's an avid painter, a director, and a mom to two teenage girls. She's lived from sea to shining sea, and yet still frequently visits the state that she (and I) call home.
I got to talk to Amy on one of her Texas visits, at the 2023 Austin Film Festival. Amy dove deep into her journalism memories, she shared insight into finding community, and detailed the importance of honoring the creativity of young minds.
Below is a lesson in creativity and being a go-getter. Amy's worked on Avalon High, Little Fires Everywhere, The Night of the White Pants, Valley Girl, Bust, and much more. Somehow, she's found a way to break the bonds of time and serve her wide array of incredible talents and interests. She makes me want to whip out my easel and paint for the first time in months, and I hope you find encouragement from her amazing story!
Starting out: Rock Journalism
PR: Your first job wasn't even in this industry! When was the moment you decided to start writing scripts? What were your dreams for what you wanted to accomplish as a writer?
AT: It’s funny, in high school I got really serious about painting. I was really, really, really into it. and I painted through college. So, during college, I got turned on to art movies of the 60s and 70s and realized I'd always liked writing… Film was where I could bring the writing and the painting and music - which I'm also obsessed with - all together… And then I went to film school, and during that time, I was a journalist:
I was interning at a trade magazine called Rockpool and I just badgered them until they let me start writing reviews and then I badgered them until they let me interview people… I gave Richard Ashcroft from The Verve his first US interview, [and] I got to interview Damon Albarn. I met him at the hotel that he was staying at, and, I was like, “So, how do you like New York?” And he was like, “Well, actually I haven't been able to see it. We're leaving this afternoon.” I was like, “Let's go!” I jumped in a cab, we went downtown and we walked all around downtown together!!
I kind of looked at it as character research, you know, because I knew I wanted to make movies and write scripts, but it was a great way to make money and meet interesting people. And sure enough, music has played a huge part in so many of my scripted projects.
PR: What part of interviewing people was the most intriguing to you? What kind of questions did you ask them?
AT: Gosh, it was a long time ago… I just liked to kind of get behind what the songs were about and try to get them to open up a little bit.
PR: As a journalist, I'm curious: if someone was more reserved, how did you get inside their mind and get them to open up about their opinions?
AT: I don't know. I probably wasn't that good at it but, I think I was just trying to act like I knew what I was doing but inside I was thinking, “I can’t believe I’m talking to this person. I can’t believe any actual professional person set this interview up!”
Starting out: The Move to LA:
PR: After that, what was your first job out in LA? And how did you get it?
AT: So, I had a ridiculous kind of fairy tale [moment]. For my thesis film in grad school… they screened the awards films in Los Angeles, and there was a young agent in the audience [who] wanted to represent me. She immediately started putting me in rooms and meetings… I think one of the very first meetings I had, I walked in and I just [didn’t] know what I was supposed to do… I just talked about my family the whole time. Then, I walked out and got a call, like, an hour later saying that I had a blind pilot deal offer from them!
These things don't happen anymore, but I look at it as a mixed blessing because I don't think I was quite ready to be thrown into Hollywood yet. I don't think I knew quite the stories that I wanted to tell or my voice and I feel like I kind of have had to spend many years finding that.
Choosing the Stories You Tell:
PR: It seems like you've written across all different genres and obviously have a variety of different interests. So, what draws you to a project, and how you find your way into a project, personally?
AT: What draws me to [a project] is IF I can find my way in. I don't ever want to take something on that I don't feel like I can really bring myself to and that I don't have an interesting take on... The last few years, I’ve really thought about the kinds of stories I want to tell, and I'm really trying to tell stories that are not hitting [you] over the head, but are saying something about something. A lot of them are about the female experience, and the various boxes that we’re put into. I've been pretty rigorous with myself lately, [because] with a TV series, you really have to be committed to it because it's 24/7 for who knows how many years, if you're lucky.
PR: Focusing on this, I was wondering if you've ever had the urge to tell a Texas story? And how do you feel about the Texas media that already exists?
AT: Yeah, of course! Oh my God, I've written a number of Texas scripts. They just haven't gotten made. The first Studio assignment that I had was to adapt a Texas Monthly article about Rodeo Queens... It nearly happened, and then it didn't, which is the case with so many projects. I love Texas. Texas is complicated and I'm actually developing a series right now, based on a documentary. [she can’t talk about the details! Sh!]
So, yes, I love telling Texas stories... My family has been in Texas on my mom's side since, I mean… they were some of the earliest settlers in Dallas. So, I do feel very connected, even though I left when I was 16 and I haven't lived here [in years]. I travel back all the time.
PR: Do you have any tips for finding community in all these different states you’ve lived? Texas, New York, California; how have you found community while moving around?
AT: It's hard, in New York, I felt very connected because I was making these short films that were going to film festivals, and I felt very much part of the independent film world in New York in the late 90s, early 2000s. I don't even know that that exists anymore in the way that it did. That was fantastic...
And then I really have felt the loss of that in LA. It's very, very hard to have a community as a writer in LA… I had a writing group with friends from film school, but everyone sort of peeled off and took different directions, eventually. You know, when you're working in a room, obviously that's a sense of community.
I think [it helps to] just try to befriend writers, do a writers group together. I haven't been that successful at it myself, and coming [to Austin Film Festival]. I mean, I see writers that I know who live in LA here. Like, I maybe don't see Pam all year and then I see her here… I love seeing writers here and it does make me feel like, “Okay, I am part of a community!” I don't feel it so much out there because we're all spread out all over the place.
Writing for Younger Audiences:
PR: I totally resonate with that. I love this festival for that reason. I was curious: it feels like you've written a lot of things for younger viewers. Do you have any tips to keep in mind when writing for that audience?
AT: Well, I still feel like I'm a teenager, and now I have two teenage girls. So that's actually amazing that I feel surrounded by that energy again. I mean… I think the most important thing is to not write down to them. I try to be true to the big emotions that teenagers feel, and I also try to give them agency and creativity. I was so creative. I made so much interesting artwork when I was a teenager; it is such a creative time.
It definitely takes time to develop as a writer, but I do think teenagers just have such interesting ideas and big feelings that can create obviously interesting music [and] interesting art… I'm excited; my girls are 13 and about to turn 15 and I'm excited to see what they're doing creatively and excited to be around that energy, even though it can be hard at that time.
PR: Since we're running up on time, I will ask one more question: What key steps do you take in for approaching the character to make them feel like a fully developed human?
AT: I do various things, and I don't have a sort of like "set method"… I'll go write scenes, I'll write the first-person monologue, I'll write a second person from their perspective. I try to figure out what music they listen to. I'll go into the period, you know? What are the best sellers? What are the books in my period? Just like all those things! Like, I guess culture figures into a lot of my writing, and I think kind of shapes people.
Thank you, Amy, for your generosity and time in sharing these thoughts! Hope to see you at AFF again soon.