October 15, 2021 – Throughout the month of October, we’ll be interviewing previous winners of our Short Screenplay Competition to discuss screenwriting, the film industry and more! This week, we’re talking with Caitlin Stow – winner of the 2019 competition. Stay tuned for Q&As with screenwriter Todd Bird and if you missed it, read our interview with Jeffrey Field.
Caitlin Stow is a screenwriter and filmmaker from Corvallis, Oregon. She has written seven screenplays (five shorts, two features), of which she has produced three shorts. Having been raised by working-class parents in a highly educated part of the world, Caitlin has a deep appreciation for and interest in classism and minimum wage living. These values have a place in all her work, whether or not they are part of the main plot. Her obsession with teen drama television (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The O.C. and everything in between) has given her a love for simple, clear, and concise storytelling with a focus on human growth. Caitlin is 28 and lives in Corvallis, Oregon with her husband and creative partner, Cameron.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You won DCFF’s screenplay competition in 2019 with Don’t Call Me Rebecca. What inspired that story? How did you approach writing it?
A: Don’t Call Me Rebecca was inspired by a few things. My closest friend at the time was a trans man and I was always fascinated by how he would talk about the very beginnings of his transition, as being in a space between imagination and reality, and how he would mimic the physicality of his favorite movie heroes to see what walking and talking as a man feels like. I was also craving a knights and princesses-style story and was realizing that very few original scripts of this type are actually high quality. I suppose I was feeling challenged to craft a story about rescuing a princess that had a modern edge and substance. I wrote the initial script very quickly right when I woke up, just as the inspiration hit. This happens to me every once in a while: I’ll wake up with a fully formed story in my head and I rush to my computer to get it down. If only all ideas came so easily.
Q: What do you feel is the most challenging part about getting a screenplay where you want it to be?
A: I find it difficult to find the balance between subtlety and clarity. My scripts tend to be more theme-driven than plot-driven, so often I find early drafts to be either too vague or too blunt. Finding that space in which you’re trusting your reader to be paying attention, but at the same time giving them enough context and information, is a tough line to walk.
Q: Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?
A: It’s very difficult to get someone to look at your work these days. Obviously avenues like this one (DCFF) and other competitions are a good starting place as all submitted scripts are read and considered, but making the leap from competitions to actually getting scripts optioned feels like an intimidating, miles-long jump.
Q: Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?
A: The industry as a whole seems to be shrinking, and has been since the booming 90s, but comparatively writing seems to be, anecdotally, a pretty good place to join. Production companies are always looking for fresh voices, and with television exploding like never before, it seems like writers’ rooms are opening up a little wider to let in newer ideas and differing opinions.
Q: What’s one value or philosophy related to screenwriting that you hold dear?
A: Ideas will come. Sometimes I panic when I have a lull between scripts, and I worry that that last script I wrote will be the last good idea I’ll ever have. It helps to remind myself that as long as I continue to love film, more ideas will come in due time.
Q: In one sentence, what’s one tip you would give to any screenwriter?
A: Take all advice with a grain of salt; your process is the best for you, whatever that may be.
Q: What are some recent pieces of creative work that have inspired you?
A: I’m in love with the show Sex Education. I tend to write teen/coming of age stories and I’m always looking for modern ways to present these old-as-time ideas, and I think Sex Education nails it. In season 2, there’s a particular character arc involving sexual assault that I find to be one of the most beautifully written arcs in TV history.
Q: What future goals have you set for yourself related to writing or filmmaking?
A: I do love screenwriting, but my ultimate goal is to direct. I have three short films and two features in the early stages of development here in my hometown in Oregon. I have gathered a local crew of artists and we’re working on creating an organization focused on small-town filmmaking; we want to set up resources so we can make high-quality, professional films without having to move to a huge city.
Q: What new creative projects of yours can we look forward to?
A: I’m currently developing a feature-length coming-of-age zombie film looking at adolescent imagination and mother/daughter trust. Simultaneously, we’re also prepping two short films which I wrote and will direct, one is about a teen girl’s struggle between her queer identity and her Mormon beliefs, the other is a satire on nudity and conformity.
Q: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to share with our audience? Feel free!
A: I personally find “writing advice” to be more stressful than writing; it often makes me feel like I’m doing it wrong. I don’t write a certain amount per day. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I don’t. Every single one of my scripts has been created using a different process. If you find advice that’s helpful, great! Lucky you! But I’ve found the most useful thing I can do is think about how my life is uniquely constructed, and find a way to incorporate writing harmoniously into my personal day-to-day.
Favorite Movie(s): Blindpsotting, Never Look Away
Favorite Screenplay(s): Almost Famous, Moonlight
Favorite Book(s): Celluloid Mavericks
Favorite Music to Write to: Depends on the script. My husband (a music guy) makes me a different playlist depending on the themes/vibe of whatever I’m writing. Recently I’ve been writing to math rock, specifically the band Toe.