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Jessica Sinyard Talks “The Peak”

Jessica Sinyard Talks “The Peak”
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Jessica Sinyard is a screenwriter based in the UK. Her television pilot The Peak won the Grand Prize for Screenwriting at the Slamdance Film Festival and is now under option. She is developing material for both film and television, and also writes for a number of boxing publications. She is repped by The Agency and Grandview. She spoke to Creative Screenwriting Magazine about her writing journey.

Describe your unique personal and professional background and the specific project that attracted Slamdance interest?

My background is in copywriting and sports journalism. I started screenwriting through development schemes here in the UK, and have just completed my Masters too. I would say I have a special interest in thrillers, action, and horror—but my stories almost always explore an ethical dilemma or have some central mystery or investigative element.

I love to write for television and feature film and I’m also really interested in video games narrative. The projects that attracted interest at Slamdance were my two television pilots—The Peak, a mountaineering psychological thriller and Over the Rainbow, a nightmarish investigative sci-fi. I was fortunate enough that The Peak won Best Television Pilot and the Grand Prize.

Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?

I have been passionate about film for as long as I can remember, but it was my results in competitions and screenwriting initiatives that gave me the confidence to try and “go pro”. As a career I think it is a great balance of being both collaborative and fiercely self-sufficient. That appeals to me. Screenwriting naturally suits my personal way of writing too—visceral, visual, sparse.

What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?

Discipline, observation, originality, and compassion. Not necessarily in that order!

What is your winning script and why did you choose to write it?

The winning script is my television pilot The Peak — a psychological survival thriller set on Mount Everest. It follows a team in their attempt to summit, but when one of them goes missing on the peak, paranoia and altitude sickness corrodes the reliability of survivor accounts. I have a lifelong fascination with Mount Everest and with hostile, natural landscapes in general. The Peak—and a lot of my work—is inspired by people who may be at the peak of their lives in some ways but are really struggling in others—especially psychologically. I wanted to create characters who experience the contradictory desires embodied by people like athletes, military personnel, and mountaineers—that strong survival instinct that is somehow mixed with a drive to self-destruct. I love that the harsh external world of Mount Everest exacerbates the inner world of the characters. They are forced to navigate an emotional wilderness as well as a real one.

What did you learn with each draft of your script?

I learned that delving deeper into character and emotion will not be at the expense of the thrills or action. If anything, it heightens the action sequences when you care more about these characters. So I learned with each draft to really invest in emotional moments.

What misconceptions have you discovered about establishing a screenwriting career?

I think there can be a misconception that things need to happen quickly for you to be successful. According to everyone I have spoken to, building your skillset and network, refining your voice and tastes—these are  things that take time and deserve investment. Patience is key and I remind myself all the time!

What inspires your imagination?

Definitely being out in nature. It is so dramatic. Tranquil, sedate, or entirely hostile, lonely, indifferent. I find it humbling and empowering all at once. I am a keen walker and being in the fresh air is invaluable for me. Nothing else recharges me like that.

Do you have a preferred genre, format, theme you write in?

I love action, thriller, and horror. I love high concept narratives, but the stories have to be emotionally ambitious too. Really character-led and not just concept-driven, if that makes sense.

How do you improve your writing craft?

I read widely—not just screenplays but also journalism, poetry, non-fiction. I personally feel the key to improvement lies in really knowing your own voice and intention, which I am finding through practise. I try to interrogate every idea I have so that I know what I am trying to say and why. Knowing your intention with a script makes the process illuminating and fun no matter what the eventual outcome.

Do you have any mentors or heroes?

My heroes are genuinely my own family. They are relentlessly supportive, insightful, and hilarious.

What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s Slamdance list?

I would say that Slamdance celebrates originals. Be uniquely “you”. I always make it a priority to write something that I would truly love to watch and that is very “me”. If Slamdance is your festival of choice—and it is a great choice—then let your own unique voice and interests shine.

What is something that few people know about you?

I am a twin!

Are you a cat or a dog person?

100% dog. Woof!

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