NYU Tisch Alum Erica Schreiber has been featured on the Young & Hungry and Hit Lists. She’s developed a number of features for Blumhouse, including a 90s thriller remake for Blumhouse & MGM. She wrote a martial arts movie for XYZ and Kindred Spirit (THE FAREWELL) with iconic talent attached. The thriller she wrote for director Deon Taylor (BLACK & BLUE) is scheduled to shoot later this year. She most recently sold an original feature to Paramount with James Vanderbilt’s Project X producing. On the TV side, she recently developed an epic sci-fi series for Freeform, and has previously written on Crackle’s techno thriller series IN THE CLOUD and Hasbro’s MICRONAUTS. Erica is also one of the-hosts of the Untitled Female Driven Podcast.
What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?
Writing has always excited me. I think all of us are full of stories, and that to be human is to be a storyteller to one degree or another. But some of us are brimming with stories, and for those of us willing to dedicate the time, great writing can inspire emotion and progressive change in our audience.
Writing has always been a part of my life, even from when I made up plays for my cousins and I to act out as a little kid. Writing has put me on a firm path to empathy and curiosity. My own writing and the writing of others constantly reshapes how I see the world. Everything happening around us has a narrative, even if it doesn’t usually unfold in a perfect three-act structure.
What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn?
I have two mantras The first is: I can always be better. The second is: I am good enough. Sure, these statements seem wildly contradictory, but so are a lot of things in life. A good writer needs to accept that there is always another level to aspire to in your writing. I look back at scripts I wrote years ago and see how far I’ve come as a screenwriter. My experience helps me realize that there is always, always room for improvement. That means seeking out feedback, really listening to and accepting other people’s notes, and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting.
Many writers suffer from impostor syndrome. They consistently ask if themselves if their work is worthy of notice, of other people’s time. If you’re a writer, say you’re a writer. I don’t care if you’re also a doctor or an Uber driver or a bank robber. You get to decide if you’re a writer. And if the act of writing gives you joy, then I promise: your work is worthy. You are good enough.
What makes a good writing mentor?
I think a good writing mentor meets a mentee where they are. Good advice is useless if it can’t be applied to your mentee’s situation. I have never and would never tell someone not to pursue screenwriting if they asked me for feedback on their script. And, full disclosure: I have read some truly terrible scripts. Even in that case, I want a mentee to feel pride that they actually wrote their screenplay! Most people who set out to write a screenplay… never actually do! After you’ve completed a script, the best thing you can do is: write another script. And another. And another. Each time you put in that effort— even if your script is still not one I would send to, say, an agent— you will become a better writer. I promise.
A good mentor will also accept you and your projects on your own terms. I wouldn’t write a script about a wealthy walrus’s mid-life crisis, but if that’s your jam, I would never try to turn your story into the one I would write. I think that’s a mistake a lot of experienced writers make when they try to mentor.
What is your style of feedback?
I try to be constructive, honest, and kind, in that order. I don’t want my time wasted, so why would I waste yours? I’ll pitch solutions to issues without expectation that you use those ideas, but I will get annoyed if I get your work a second time and only superficial changes have been made. Our job as a screenwriter is different than that of a novelist. Novelists create a finished product. We create a blueprint that will be handed over to dozens of people, who will use a wide variety of skills to turn that script into a movie. We need to be more willing than other types of writers to tear our work apart in order to put that blueprint together correctly. Structure is incredibly important when it comes to feature writing, so that’s where my focus will be in our sessions.
I grew up in a very small town, writing short stories at first, then putting up local plays and making movies with my friends. I took that interest all the way to NYU Tisch School of the Arts’s Dramatic Writing Program. After graduating, I worked a lot of different jobs until I could write full time. I was a chocolatier, a writer’s assistant, a temp, and a coverage writer— and I spent my free time writing scripts. Screenwriting isn’t an easy path to pursue professionally, but writing a great script that people you admire truly respond to? That makes it worthwhile to me.
I’ve worked with some amazing producers and directors, and also some not-so-amazing producers and directors, and I’ve learned from all of them. I’ve had several scripts optioned, with the latest inching towards production at a major studio (fingers crossed). I’ve been hired in the past to write features for Blumhouse, and also had the opportunity to write a movie for my favorite martial artists. I sold a TV series to Freeform, worked in a writer’s room for a Crackle series, and wrote an episode of an animated kids’ series. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to hone my craft, but I’m also still excited about how far I have to go.
I’m very excited to mentor any aspiring, up-and-coming screenwriters. I honestly think we have the funnest job in the world, which balances out dealing with producers and directors and executives who will have strong, often irritating ideas about what your script should be. In order to deal with everyone who will have a say in the movie that was your idea, you need a strong grasp of the fundamentals and of your voice. There is nothing as important as your voice when it comes to screenwriting. Never write something that could’ve been written by anyone. Write how only you can write.