Jessica Cyrell & Danny Merritt – Young & Hungry
We’re featuring another Young & Hungry screenwriting duo, Jessica Cyrell & Danny Merritt to describe their writing journey.
How young and how hungry do you need to be to win a place on the Young & Hungry list?
What’s interesting in this industry is that “baby writers” seems to generally encompass anyone under the age of 40. Being a young writer or having few writing credits means that you have to really hustle to get seen. You have to be extra hungry to get noticed.
Describe your unique personal and professional background and the specific project that attracted industry interest?
We both grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, where we starred together in a plethora of high school theatre shows. Little did we know our journey into entertainment together was only just beginning. Danny went on to receive his BFA in musical theatre, and Jessica majored in linguistics.
Always a writer of many different media, Jessica eventually went on to become Senior Editor of the multi award-winning and widely distributed Creativ Magazine.
Meanwhile, Danny’s play Riding With The Night premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and his musical Con Ella Si was workshopped in Colombia. Upon reconnecting, we realized we had the same penchant for crazy, young characters and twisted murder plots… and the rest is history. We were just recognized on the Hit List of 2018 for the pilot of our series Dust, which follows a group of vagabonds traversing the heartland of America.
What personal qualities do screenwriters need to make it?
On the business side: perseverance and confidence. Know this industry is full of roadblocks, and you can’t take rejection personally. On the creative side: empathy, perspective, and curiosity. A desire to understand the journey of others and explore untold stories.
Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?
We’ve always been captivated by the magic of the movies. No other art form has the power to spread awareness, energy, and empathy the way that film and television can.
Also, storytelling allows you to live vicariously through characters different from yourself, and there’s something so fulfilling and enriching about experiencing so many walks of life.
How do you become manager bait?
For us it was a combination of having a unique voice and being an idea factory, as well as having a “brand.” For better or for worse, Hollywood will put you in a box, especially at the beginning of your career, and if you can own that genre, that tone—whatever it is—that’s easier to sell.
Additionally, it’s a collaborative industry, so take direction and come off like someone who will be fun to work with on an 80-hour work week.
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere. News articles, history books, the fascinating life of your Lyft driver… The challenge is figuring out which of those stories you of all people are meant to tell. When you come up with a log line and think, “nobody can tell this story like I/we can,” that’s your script.
How do you decide which ideas are worthy of pursuing?
If it’s in any way derivative, throw it out. If thematically it’s saying something you don’t agree with at your core, throw it out. Find the story that gives you a rush. Your gut is a better compass than any opinion piece on Variety or Deadline.
Do you have a writing brand in terms of interests you gravitate towards?
We’re drawn to gritty stories that feature young people who don’t play by the rules of society. We like plots that involve complex story math and memorable characters—and pieces that start a conversation.
How do characterize the current state of the industry and opportunities for emerging writers?
There is more room for content and more platforms than ever—but that means working extra hard to create something fresh. While there is more opportunity, the bar has been raised.
How do you train and improve your writing craft?
Writing is a muscle. You have to work it out every day. We listen intently to notes, but we don’t try to please everyone. We get feedback from people whose opinions we genuinely trust and anticipate those criticisms on the next project.
What are the qualities of scripts you read that don’t get industry interest?
Autobiographical vanity projects.
What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s Young & Hungry list?
Hang in there. This journey moves at a snail’s pace most days. All you can control is showing up for yourself and continuing to foster a positive relationship with your own creativity.
What is something that few people know about you?
Jessica speaks four languages, and Danny can read tarot cards. And collectively we starred in our high school production of The Diary of Anne Frank as Otto and Anne Frank!
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