FilmLab: Lessons from the Writers’ Room

Alexandra Keister portrait, background of trees and shrubs

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Alexandra Keister is a comedy feature writer, amateur cake artist, and real-estate assistant extraordinaire based in Albany, Oregon. She is also the 2019 FilmLab winner for her short, “The Talk.” Currently, Alexandra is writing her third feature after having just finished work on a web series, and her short comedy “What I Did on Rumspringa” was recently featured on the podcast, Six Page Scripts.

 

What interested you about submitting to FilmLab?

The first thing that drew my interest was F.J. Pratt! He’s an expertly hilarious and seasoned writer, and I wanted the chance to spend more time with him and soak up some comedy-writing wisdom. I submitted with low hopes of winning but high hopes of learning. 

It was also exciting to think of having a shot at getting something produced—which, unless you’re doing it yourself, is a hard opportunity to come by. 

 

How did you come up with your script idea? 

I wrote my script (about a mime couple whose daughter comes out as a “talker”) just for this contest. The guidelines were that the script needed to be short, with a small cast, and preferably in one indoor location. Something that helps me get started on ideas is the question, “What is the weirdest thing that could happen here?” and for some reason, my brain went to a mime family fight. 

 

What are the most important things you learned in the writers' room?

Writers' room etiquette is huge! You know how if someone repeats an unfunny joke it’s still not funny? That applies to pitching jokes, too. Sometimes someone can take your unfunny idea and build on it, so ideas you think might be dumb can still be worth sharing. Just share it once, though!

It’s important to check your ego at the door. In a social situation, if you tell a joke or share a story and no one reacts, it’s embarrassing . In a writers' room, that’s normal, and you have to get over it. You can help create a safe environment for other people to sound stupid in by being tactful, kind, and a good listener who can get to the heart of a story, scene, or joke. 

 

How did the writers room experience help you after FilmLab?

This summer I got to be part of a virtual writers' room on a COVID-themed web series. Before FilmLab, this experience would have been intimidating, but after having taken part in the FilmLab writers rooms and production, I had my little writer’s toolbox and was ready to write with the group. 

FilmLab has also helped me expand my network. I’ve met so many more film industry professionals because of the making of “The Talk” and the film festivals we’ve screened in—and an expanded network means more advice, more help, and more opportunities (AND more fun!).

My writing is also different now that I’ve had a peek at the whole cow. I’m able to write with “producibility” more concretely in mind and because of that, I’ve received more interest in other shorts I’ve written. My drugstore comedy has a much higher chance of being made than my underwater ghost story. (Totally unrelated— anyone have a river cruiser they’re willing to sink for a good cause?)

 

What are you writing now?

I’m currently working on a feature comedy spec script about the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I also usually keep a few shorts in my pocket—they’re fun, satisfying, and help me sharpen my scenes.

 

Click here to learn more about FilmLab

Click here to submit to FilmLab