Alicia Norman is an edgy and talented Atlanta-based screenwriter, and the winner of Filmmatic's Season 7 Horror Competition for her haunting and unique TV project "Eaters". Some Q&A with this gifted scribe below.
1) How long have you been writing?
I began writing and drawing as soon as I could hold a pen–my first written words were probably "Gah-gah-goo-goo." I was reading beyond my years at six years old, self-taught, and just loved words; I mean, I even read the dictionary like a big weirdo.
I got picked on... a lot.
Much later in life, I learned my precocious reading ability was likely due to a perceived disability, hyperlexia, which is often associated with autism.
In any case, I always knew I wanted to be a writer–cough, cough cliche–but hey, the thing about cliches is they convey thoughts/concepts succinctly, largely because they shorthand ideas in ways that make them quickly digestible. If I say “bookish nerd,” you get what I mean.
As far as professionally, I founded Luv Multimedia in 2007 and soon after contacted companies needing content writing services. Didn’t get rich but made enough to stave off bad economic times when they reared their ugly heads. I've done everything from blogging and content creation to script and coverage consulting.
2) What screenwriting training have you received?
I went to Bauder Fashion College for about two seconds, realized I really, really, wanted to be a screenwriter, and left to pursue a film career. I soon spent considerable time apologizing to student loan officials as I paid out of pocket to take courses to advance my writing. Not to give away my age, but before such options were online, I paid for classes at universities like Oglethorpe in Atlanta, adopting a learn-as-I-go pace. I also bought many industry books, like Syd Field's “How to Write A Screenplay, " which was well-dog-eared and referenced.
In the mid-2000s, I received offers to write specs for various Atlanta-based film companies, the most noteworthy to date being Wild Winn Productions and Yardline Films. I also worked with Steve Chato of Andrew Wald Pictures, which is based in LA.
I was honored to write coverage for platforms like WeScreenplay and Screencraft alongside Mark Stasenko, Cameron Cubbison, and Scot Lawrie–just, amazing and talented men who were great to work for.
I credit my coverage analysis experience the most with honing my writing skills. My nearly ten years in that realm were invaluable–I got more out of it than a million college courses might have provided.
3) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts at scheduled times?
Being a freelance generalist writer teaches you how to schedule writing projects, especially if you have more than one deadline at a time. I wouldn’t have been able to retain one client if I waited for the muse to alight before picking up a pencil. Yes, one should strive to write every day. Even if what you are writing is crappity crap, write, write, write! Strengthens creative muscles.
Of course, something must be said for stepping away from the keyboard, too, but don't neglect the muse for too long.
Notes and outlines can be helpful, especially if unfamiliar with the subject matter.
That said, my process depends on the project. With marketing, for example, a writer is often handed a creative brief that outlines what they will need to focus on. Personal creative writing can be more loosey-goosey. Because I am a CGI illustrator, I create pictorial character profiles, beat sheets, and small pitch decks to visualize the story.
4) Do you have a day job as well? Does it influence your writing at all?
My last full-time corporate gig was at a marketing firm called Rootworks, which is affiliated with Right Networks, where I was a junior content writer. I prefer freelance marketing and web content writing, though. That said, I would thoroughly enjoy writing for a mainstream studio.
5) What genres do you lean towards? Are most of your works TV projects, Horror?
Interestingly, my first love is Sci-fi. Varley, Pournelle, Niven, Heinlein, K-Dick, as I call him, and Asimov were my faves growing up. Like “StarTrek,” these guys had a knack for unpeeling and examining the human experience via human tech–what happens when we advance to “X?” These were and will remain essential questions as society progresses and evolves.
For the same reasons, a very close second is horror; dissecting human progress via a dark lens pulls things into sharper focus. Melville, Poe, and Hawthorn are heroes to me as well. Thrillers, suspense, dark fantasy, and comedy. So, while horror and sci-fi are my primary genres, I love writing in any genre that allows us to ask uncomfortable questions and poke the bear.
6) We loved "Eaters" How would you describe the project to our readers?
On the surface, “Eaters” is about interdimensional monsters somewhat akin to Djinn that deal-make with disenfranchised humans in exchange for the ability to feed. The beasts need permission to enter the worlds they eventually stalk and often have to secure a mutual deal to remain there with their human symbiote/victim or risk being ejected from that plane. Of course, in true Faustian fashion, these deals have a lot of caveats, and the deal-maker human is screwed.
In the pilot, our victim Dempsey is a woman with emotional disorders that wreak havoc on her life. In a society that doesn't care or know what to do with people like her, she is left to figure out how to heal herself with limited knowledge on how to do so. When the “Angelic” Eater tells the woman she can become well–adjusted, they only need to locate a fellow human with a carefree life to “ingest,” Dempsey agrees to the odd exchange.
Far too soon, however, she finds the inevitable blood price too much to bear and seeks to redeem herself by stopping others from making similar deals.
7) How did you develop the unique premise behind "Eaters"?
My mother was a paranoid schizophrenic, something I would never have revealed before the neurodivergent movements that are thankfully showering light on mental disorders. I watched her struggle to find a way to walk through a world that wanted to drug her and lock her away. She was killed by a drunk driver in 2009.
The story unfolded as I recalled the pain my mother, sister, and I felt after being ostracized for something she couldn't control. What price would she pay to be considered normal? Or what fee would any of us pay to remove the monkey on our backs that we can’t seem to shake loose? This is why the main character Dempsey suffers from a kind of bipolar-like disorder. Like my mother, she is charming, fun, and vibrant–also, like my mother, she has a disability that is beyond her control and is abandoned.
The focus is two-fold, of course–the actions of people with mental illness can be deeply harmful to people around them, willful or not. Dempsey is no different. “Eaters” examines both sides of this social dilemma. For instance, although Dempsey was grieving when she attacked a government worker, she still suffered consequences, i.e., her resulting house arrest.
The “Angelic Eater,” or “Pleasure Eater,” becomes a two-fold symbol of a society that promises a fix and then delivers a false bill of goods.
Not too long ago, I learned from a friend who is studying psychology that the children of schizophrenics tend to be hyper-creative–I didn’t get to know her throughout most of her life as she was in and out of hospitals, but she gave me a great, life long gift… I want to fight for her and others like her with my words.
8) What are you working on now? What do you plan on writing shortly?
I have two simultaneous projects percolating–one a horror piece called “Plush,” which focuses on the “Flewed Out” phenomenon, where Instagram-type models are flown out to meet wealthy benefactors on a remote island. Cue horror stinger! We all kinda know where this might end up, right? Even so, I take a few liberties with the story's twists and turns.
So, yeah, “Plush” is essentially “Hostel” or “Saw” with hot social media hotties traipsing about in bikinis. It was super fun to write--thanks, Steve, for the concept.
The other is a dark romantic comedy entitled “Damaged Goods Girl.” Interestingly, it focuses on a woman who works as a content writer at a marketing firm (write what yah know, it works). General weird hijinks ensue when a new creative director shows up who happens to look like her dearly departed fiancee. Soon after, she becomes haunted by the literal spirit of her dead ex…
I’d say both are in the second draft stages.
9) Where would you like to be writing-wise and career-wise in 4 years?
My fervent hope is to work on some horror, suspense, fantasy, or sci-fi-based drama in a writer's room. If I had my pick, it would be for a “Supernatural” reboot, bar none! I am a big geek fan of the show and "Winchester's" spin-off; oh wait, Stan, as my teen daughter would call me. We both have been to conventions, taken pictures with Jared and Misha, and met Jenson–all are just sweethearts! I can even quote lines from the “Scooby-Natural” episode.
From what I have gleaned from friends already in that part of the business, it’s one hell of an experience, so I would love to be in that environment.
10) What show(s), if any, would you love to write for and why?
“Supernatural,” primarily because I am familiar with that universe, understand the characters, and believe I can vibe the storyline in a way that would make fans happy!
The other would be “Sandman”–I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan as well, and had all the “Sandman” graphic novels back in the day.
Another would be the YA fantasy “Wolf Pack,” which has great potential to become like the famous and well-written “Teen Wolf,” which I thought was an excellent representation of that genre.
I would also enjoy writing for “The Ozarks” (or would if there were another season.) The show had the same kind of dark, gritty charter development as “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad,” Honestly, yes, I would love to be part of something like that if the showrunner would have me.
11) Any solid advice for those about to write their first pilot or horror project?
Learn what you can about what the business wants and what they are looking for, then write what moves you in a way that is honest but coincides with industry desires. Above all, put you on the page–everything I write spills from the soul, which will resonate more than a cynical attempt to play the market.
Also, as Toni Morrison once advised, write what you’d love to see–be honest with the muse. In other words, understand the business end and what the industry needs, then write from the heart. It is possible to realize that entertainment is a business while still lending a creative ear to the process. Grasping the two aspects will help you hone both sides of that complicated coin and, hopefully, land you on the path toward success. Good luck, my friends, good luck!
Congratulations once again to writer Alicia Norman, our Season Overall Horror Winner. All contact and script requests for Alicia will be forwarded to her attention.