Christine Conradt is a Los Angeles based screenwriter, director, producer and author with more than 80 film credits. Her films have aired on Lifetime, Lifetime Movie Network, Showtime, Fox, USA, UPtv and Hallmark. She holds a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California and a Master's in Criminal Justice from Boston University. She is the primary writer behind Lifetime's most successful franchises and routinely speaks at writing conferences in the U.S. and Canada. She's directed three features, two of which she also wrote and produced, and is coming out with three books for the Young Adult market this summer, all novelizations of her popular 'at 17' thriller series for Lifetime. The books, published by HarperCollins, are available for pre-order at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other major retailers. At the same time Christine will be in Jamaica getting married!
1. How did you get started in the film industry?
I'm from Nebraska and back in the early 1990s, there wasn't much of a film industry there so I didn't even know screenwriting existed as a career. When I received a brochure my junior year from the University of Southern California, I saw screenwriting listed as a major and instantly knew that's what I wanted to do. Instead of getting a law degree like I'd planned, I wanted to go to film school. Not even really understanding how competitive that program was (the Cinematic Arts program at USC), I applied and luckily got in. Four years later, I graduated with a BFA in Screenwriting and began working for a temp company that specialized in the entertainment industry. From there, I accepted a full time position at Fox Studios and then a position as a creative assistant to a now-defunct production company called Image Organization. When that company closed, the producer I was working for went to work for MDP Worldwide so I went with him and eventually quit to become a reader. After doing that for about six months, I was hired to do a rewrite on a movie for USA Network by the executive producer who had run Image Organization. He had gone on to start a new company and brought me in as a writer.
2. Tell me about the short film, Partners (2005) and your role as a screenwriter with that film.
It's funny how that one came about. Back in film school, I had a friend who always made horror movies and I always acted in them as a favor. About eight years after graduating, he called me and said he was producing a real horror film and wanted to know if I was interested in being an extra in it for old time's sake. I told him I'd come spend the day on his set. The film was Gangs of the Dead. While I was there, sitting around in full zombie make up, I meet this guy, also in zombie makeup, who had come out from the East Coast to be an actor and he tells me how he has the rights to his off-Broadway play that he wants to turn into a short. After wrap, as we were saying goodbye, I told him if he needed someone to adapt his play into a screenplay to call me. The next morning, the director called me and said, "Hey, I hear you're adapting our screenplay. Let's meet up and talk." So I met with them at a coffee shop which was funny because I had no idea what either of them looked like. I'd only seen the guy from the East Coast in zombie makeup. And he didn't know what I looked like. We managed to finally find each other and we talked about what they wanted and their budget, etc. and I wrote the script for them. We took it to the LA Latino Film Festival and it did well. It was fun to see it screen but that was about it. I went on doing my thing and they went on doing theirs. A year later, the director calls me out of the blue and said they sold the feature based on the short we made and wants to know if I want to write it. They were already financed and ready to pay me more than I'd ever been paid to write a script. I said, Sure! And based on the short, I wrote the screenplay for Hotel California (2008) which starred Tatyana Ali, Simon Rex, Erik Palladino, and Tyson Beckford.
3. Tell me about your film The Last Time (2017). How did this come about and how was the experience?
The Last Time is a film I wrote for the 48 Film Project. I'm part of a group called the South Bay Filmmakers, which are all working professionals who live in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and one of the members, Dan, came to us with this idea of putting at team together and competing. I'd done one the previous year with him so I said yes and we did it. The 48 Hour festivals are a lot of fun but also exhausting. You basically have 48 hours to write, shoot, edit, and deliver a short film using elements they give you. Everyone has to work really fast and you don't get much sleep that weekend, but it's a great experience. Then you all get together to go to the festival when it screens.
4. The bulk of your writing is for television and made for TV movies. How is the process different from writing for film on the big screen? What do you feel is the biggest difference?
There are actually a lot of differences between writing for the big screen and writing TV movies. The primary difference is that for a theatrical feature, you have a captive audience. People aren't going to switch channels at the commercial break. So you can take more time developing the storyline and characters. In a TV movie, there are nine acts, or eight commercial breaks, and each time you end one of those acts, it needs to be on a cliffhanger of some type so that the audience won't change channels. That structure forces you to write differently. You have to keep the pace going more quickly and you have to set up those characters more quickly as well. It really informs 'how' you decide to tell the story.
5. You recently signed on with a literary publisher to have some of your TV movies adapted to BOOK format? How did this come about and how has the process been for you so far?
I'm the primary writer behind Lifetime's 'at 17' franchise, a series of TV movies that all have 'at 17' in the title. They're quite popular and tend to rate high for the network while also skewing toward a younger demographic. So I came up with the idea of converting them to YA books and pitched the idea to the producers of those movies. The producers didn't know much about the publishing world but they were supportive. They basically gave me their blessing to run with it and if I decided to self-publish they'd put a little money toward it and whatever happened, we'd split the profits. I picked one of the movies, Missing at 17, and wrote a manuscript novelizing it. Then, at a Writers conference, I met with a literary agent and pitched him the idea. He liked it and read the manuscript and liked it even more. He ended up partnering with another literary agent in NYC who specializes in the YA market, and they took the manuscript to HarperCollins who offered us a three-book deal. So now there's Missing at 17, Pregnant at 17, and Murdered at 17. Each one deals with a 17 year old character who finds herself in a dangerous romance, but none of the characters cross over in the books. Each thriller stands on its own.
6. What are you currently working on?
I just finished a script for Hallmark and one for Lifetime and am working on two more for each of those networks. I'm also working on an adult thriller novel and am attached to direct a film I wrote later this year.
7. What has been your greatest achievement as a screenwriter?
I would say my Christmas movie 12 Days of Giving has been my biggest achievement. I wrote and directed and produced that one in my home state of Nebraska and I had complete creative control. We ended up selling it to UPtv for the Christmas 2017 season and they ran it about fifteen times in December. I've had such good feedback from people on that film. A lot of people have watched it over and over. It was hugely gratifying to put something out into the world that's positive, that makes people feel good, and just makes the world a better place in general. It took years to set that film up but it all came together at the right time, in the way it was supposed to.
8. What has been the greatest lesson you've learned during this journey?
I think the greatest lesson is to not worry so much. It's so easy as a screenwriter to second guess yourself and get discouraged when scripts don't sell. Just keep pushing forward. You don't really know what you're paving the way for. The things you think you'll sell may not, and if you're open to them, opportunities will come when you least expect them. The drive and work ethic is important, but sticking to a hard and fast career path isn't. Work hard, be open to new things, and don't expect everything to work out the way you plan. It won't. But chances are, it'll be just as good if not better.
9. Finally, if you could share some words of wisdom for a young filmmaker just starting out, what would you say?
Networking is everything. Relationships are everything. A lot of writers hate socializing and would prefer to stay home, behind their computers, writing. You have to do that, but you also need to build relationships. Volunteer at film festivals, volunteer to PA on film productions, read as many scripts as you can, and meet people. Join a writers group. Go to the networking events. This industry is all about getting to know people. As they rise, they bring you up with them, and you, in turn, will do it for others. You'll see from my previous answers to the questions that meeting people is a thread that runs through every success I've had. Make an effort to form meaningful relationships with all kinds of industry people including other writers.