Annika Pampel On “Odium”
Annika Pampel was named one ISA Top 25 Writers to Watch after winning the ISA Table Read my Screenplay feature price at the L.A. Pitchfest. She spoke with Creative Screenwriting Magazine to share her story.
Annika was born and raised in former East Germany. As a teen, she started working at a radio station and had her own daily show by the age of 13. During high school at a music conservatory, she worked for a local TV station as a reporter focusing on music.
She started working as part of the crew on Savannah, Don’t trust the B-, Chasing Life and other productions before becoming an actor herself. She worked on productions such as The Glorias, MacGyver, Mob City, Jungle Cruise, NCIS New Orleans, The Have and the Have Nots, Watchmen, The Originals and Counterpart.
Annika has written and directed several short films, music videos, documentary segments for German & Australian Television. She has taken directing and acting workshops and classes in Los Angeles through the ‘Beverly Hills Playhouse’, ‘Second City’ and the ‘Alliance of Women Directors’. In 2016 she shot the short Crossing Fences, which underwent a successful festival run and garnered several wins and worldwide distribution.
Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?
Well, I actually didn’t decide. It happened by default. In college, I first studied theatre directing, then film directing, and I still focus on that. It just became apparent, that no one just hands you a good script to direct, especially in the beginning. So I started writing shorts and TV pilots and finally started writing features as well.
What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?
Honestly, I am not sure. I’m very much at the start of my storytelling career, so I’m not what I would call successful. But I do think the ability to truly listen is important. Both for research and knowing how human beings react, as well as for taking in notes and constructive criticism. I also believe that humility and vulnerability play a big part in being able to move forward. Screenwriting lays bare parts of who you are, and that can be very personal at times.
What is your winning script and why did you choose to write it?
My current winning script is called Odium, a thriller about the human psyche and several dimensions of the question of whether psychopathy is more or less and on and off switch or whether there is a spectrum. I wrote it originally out of the need to write a low budget feature I could get to direct. Very few characters and locations, tight and pulled together like a stage play and twisted within itself to layer mental facets of human behavior.
What did you learn with each draft of your script?
Mostly I learned that writing is a never-ending process and that I’m never truly ready to present it to anyone. Ever. But also that I need to get over that feeling and try to live within the characters to bring them to life. In addition, I learned that both grammar and spelling are not my strong suits, no matter how much I try to overcome my dyslexia:)
What misconceptions have you discovered about establishing a screenwriting career?
That one decent screenplay gets you places. One good meeting makes your career, and that people who hear about your success immediately hire you. I’ve always had to fight for every inch of my way. Whether that was in directing, acting, or now, screenwriting. I’ve never just been given an opportunity. Early on, I thought once you do some decent work, it would become easier, people may be interested in financing or collaborating. But I find the way just as stony. Somehow that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. I truly enjoy the path. All of it. Rejections don’t really phase me anymore. I’ll continue working towards a way to make the next film. I always have.
What inspires your imagination?
Sadly, loss. The deeper the loss the more fuel I get from it. Comedy or drama, that doesn’t make a difference. Experiences of grief or loss are the deepest I can connect to my core.
Do you have a preferred genre, format, theme you write in?
Not really. I like honesty. So all my scripts and stories have some degree of reality in them. But I also love to play with reality and love to create my own story. So I start with a realness and change it until I have a story that touches me in some way.
How do you train and improve your writing craft?
I read a lot. Scripts, books, articles. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks during long drives and I have strangely deep conversations with strangers. Humans are weird and different, yet all seem to want similar things, so I try to listen.
Do you have any mentors, heroes/ heroines?
I do. I had a wonderful professor for directing, who also gave me my very first professional job on a film set. She’s someone whose work I’ve always admired. I also recently got to work with Julie Traymor, a heroine of mine in directing and writing. It was truly special.
What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s ISA Top 25 list?
Continue writing and don’t take things too personally. Laurels or criticism. Take what fits, leave what doesn’t.
What is something that few people know about you?
I used to sing in a big band for eight years during high school and undergrad and I was very good at it:). Any jazz standard was butter in my hands.:) I had a blast; “Night and Day”.
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