Dawn Garcia is an accomplished screenwriter, magazine editor and journalist living in Los Angeles.
Dawn recently won Season 5 of the Filmmatic Drama Screenplay Awards with her gritty and socially aware TV pilot “The Confidence Men”. We sent Dawn a few questions after her win, and she was kind enough to respond, enjoy!:
1) How long have you been writing?
Gosh, I think since I was about 6?! But I didn't start writing screenplays until the year 2000 and it started with an adaptation of "The Picture of Dorian Gray". It took me years...and years...and way too many drafts (11!!). Now I write projects within weeks or months, try to perfect it in no more than three drafts. I'm a stickler for self-imposed deadlines and not going down the "but if I can just fix one more thing" wormhole because let's face it: When we go there, we never finish. And I refuse to have unfinished projects!
2) What screenwriting training have you received, are you self-taught?
I didn't study screenwriting in college. I actually just watched loads of movies, and started writing. I did however do makeup and special effects for major networks and studios. That trained me to break down scenes, lighting, characters, wardrobe, and inevitably, story.
I would also look at screenplays that have stood the test of time like "Casablanca", but in spite of the many film books I've purchased, I haven't actually used them as resources. I kind of shied away from the way most people do it. I probably would drive tons of project managers nuts because I rarely outline, I don't use the 40 notecard rule, and I've found that my favorite way to break a story if I'm stuck is to use the Storyclock Notebook (best $13 you will ever spend). That book and process is how my mind works. I like pie charts and visuals. I don't typically start writing page one until I really know the story and deeply feel like I know my characters, and then as long as my mind allows it, I'll just start writing. The most pages I've written in a single day is 56. So I suppose the simple answer to your original question is: No. And yes.
3) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, in the mornings mainly, late at night...?
I write every day without fail. I started that habit in junior high. I would journal, write stream of consciousness, and eventually fiction and journalism before I delved into screenwriting. I used to go to crowded bars (when I was of age) and write so that I never had an excuse to wait on silence.
I have kids so I'm up early (I make my coffee early to enjoy the "me" time) and once they're off to school (I mean, when kids went to school) I start my day. Now I'm writing two features and a TV Series along with running two magazines, so words and deadlines are my norm and part of my routine. I do have a standing weekly Zoom call with the co-writer of one of my features (a twisted dark comedy) and he and I speak Thursdays at 8 a.m. my time, 4 p.m. his time. I look forward to that call every week because it's the first film I've asked another writer to do with me and he (Matt Dyson) is hysterical and brilliant. He gets my humor (primarily because it's British humor).
I usually wake up at 3 a.m. unable to fall asleep so my iPhone Notes is where everything pours out. So basically unless I'm sleeping, helping kids with homework, or cooking, I'm writing.
4) What genres do you lean towards? All drama, or?
Actually while drama is in my veins, I'm presently writing a RomCom and a Dark Comedy, though both TV Series' are very much in the drama category. Once the two features are finished, I'll be writing my fourth feature which is drama and fantasy. I like thought-provoking, clever stories and while that does tend to lean towards drama (life imitates art as they say), I am not genre specific. My goal is to tell compelling stories. However that plays itself out, I allow it.
5) What is your pilot, "The Confidence Men", about?
"The Confidence Men" is a series about great cons, fierce women, and fictionalized history. It was inspired by a man named Victor Lustig and as I dug further into research, I discovered incredible women of the 1920s and beyond from music, con-artists to titans of industry.
The story is a cat-and-mouse tale of three misfit con-artists (a family of sorts: Charlotte, Matilda and Robert) outrunning an obsessed P.I. (Jack) and his sidekicks (twins: Eleanor and Samuel) while confronting racism, gender inequality, societal strangleholds, and government corruption (ugh, sounds like 2020!). The series will show bits of history including conning Al Capone (really happened), a new take on the 1920's Market Crash, and the importance of paying close attention to a long con. In essence, it's a really fun and hopefully, well-loved TV Series that will make you think.
6) Where did the concept for "Confidence Men" come from?
I was doing research on a man my co-creator and I were talking about, Victor Lustig. He was the world's greated con-artist, caught multiple times and always escaped. He "stole" the Eifel Tower, conned Capone, and was quite a fascinating man. All of that said, I wanted to introduce strong women of the time and that's when I stumbled upon some truly extraordinary women in history. While all three of the main characters are not based on one particular person in history, real events inspired the series and their creation.
7) Do today's heightened social issues weave their way into your project at all?
YES. And YES. And...abso-f*cking-lutely. It would be impossible to ignore the present day chaos, injustices, and faltering state of humanity. But, I always have hope and that inevitably comes through no matter how dark the subject matter.
8) What are you writing now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
So I wrote an award-winning short film called "Spiraling" that has evolved into a TV Series. I've finished the Series Bible, have finished the pilot episode, episode 2, and am now writing episode 3. I'm also writing a RomCom feature called "Love + Games" that is genuinely a welcomed departure from the heaviness of "Spiraling", and I'm writing a dark comedy with my friend Matt Dyson called "Shot Therapy".
After those are finished, I'm going to work on a book I've been writing called "Little Girly on the Wall" that will be another feature film down the road. I am also writing another project that is a drama/feature that is my favorite of them all. It's an homage to Guillermo del Toro and Stanley Kubrick.
9) Any advice for those about to dive into their first screenplay or pilot?
My advice is sit down and write. So often writers take too long to outline or break story and sometimes you just have to write. BUT—know what it is you actually want to write. Listen to your gut and don't write for someone else. Write for YOU. It's far more honest, it reads stronger, and you will respect yourself in the morning.
The industry is in such a strange state right now and it's an amazing opportunity for writers to finish projects. That old saying, "write what you know" isn't really something I paid attention to but when you get down to brass tax? Your best projects are ones inspired by things you've either experienced or fantacized. Everything we write are interpretations of the lens through which we see and experience the world.
You won't love everything that comes out on the page, but if you are disciplined and write daily without fail? Eventually you will write little gems. Those gems turn into powerful stories.
Congratulations once again to Dawn Garcia, the Season 5 Filmmatic Drama Screenplay Awards Winner. All contact requests for Mrs Garcia will be forwarded to her attention.