Michelle Morgan is the Girl Most Likely
Advice on imitating life through art and the personal screenplay
by Daniel H. Mintz
Girl Most Likely will hit close to home for many of today’s unemployed, debt-ridden young adults moving back in with their parents. Such is the path of Imogene, the film’s main protagonist, who quickly learns firsthand the meaning of Thomas Wolfe’s phrase, “You can’t go home again.” Dramatic writers should also find this dark comedy of particular resonance. Not only is Imogene a struggling playwright, but the story itself is inspired by the experiences of a (former struggling) screenwriter, the very funny Michelle Morgan. Michelle received her degree in screenwriting from California State Northridge. She then briefly worked as an actress, before opting to move back in with mom and focus all of her efforts on writing for the screen. Girl Most Likely is based off that transitionary period in her life. I spoke with Michelle about the script, her writing process, autobiographical-based writing, directing and about using Kickstarter to partially finance K.I.T., a short film she wrote and directed that went to Sundance this past January.
DANIEL H. MINTZ: How do you begin a script? Do you have an outlining process?
MICHELLE MORGAN: First I want to preface all of this by saying, if you hear some squeaks, or hissing or a crazy meow in the background, it’s because my dog and cat are wrestling with each other, and sometimes it can get a little heated. Just so you don’t think I’m killing an animal or something. I am very into outlining. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything without outlining it first. Usually, the idea will come for a character first. Then I’ll build the story, the world, and the other characters around that. For me, the outlining process usually consists of a lot of different songs and music and a notebook that you would get from CVS. I’ll sit there and just beat it out. I prefer to outline on regular paper. That’s the only time I ever use regular paper.
MINTZ: How do you approach revisions?
MORGAN: I feel it out as I’m writing. I can tell what’s working and what’s not working. But, if you stop every time you feel like something’s not working, you’ll never finish your script. You have to come to terms, and with each script that you write I think you learn to accept it more, that your first draft is going to be imperfect. There are going to be things you want to change, but you can’t stop in the middle of the process to revise it constantly. I feel like you just have to vomit the first draft out. There will be things in it that you didn’t think would play well, that you’re like, “Wow, that actually ended up being a gem.” Then there will be things that you felt so confident about that don’t really fit the story as a whole. I generally make notes to myself as I’m writing so I can keep the pace. When I’m done I go back and address the notes. I have two people who are my first line of defense. I’ll send the script to them and they’ll tell me what makes sense, what doesn’t make sense and what could be funnier. Probably after about three drafts, you’re getting closer to your official first draft.
MINTZ: Where did the idea for Girl Most Likely come from?
MORGAN: I’d gone to school, majoring in screenwriting, then I put that on the back burner. I was focusing on acting. But I felt like a fraud. I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do. So I decided to move back in with my mom, so I could focus on my writing career, and not have to worry about paying rent so much. I supported myself doing ridiculous odd jobs—I’ve had practically every job that you can think of. I was living in my mom’s house and contemplating what I should write. While all of this is going on, my mom brings this new boyfriend back to the house, and he starts spending a lot of time there. I really had a hard time with her boyfriend. I felt like he told a lot of stories that couldn’t possibly be based in reality.
Some of the characters in Girl Most Likely are closer to real life than others. Boosh is based on my mom’s boyfriend. I won’t reveal his true name. The character Zelda is mostly based on my mom. There are definitely parts of me in both Imogene and Ralph. I think that I divided myself equally between the two characters and then the rest of the characters I just made up. When you’re a semi-grown woman, and you’re living at your mom’s house, and she has a new boyfriend, there is no shortage of material. And frustration. And moments that you wish you weren’t living. But I look at it like the whole experience wasn’t in vain because it ended up becoming a movie.
MINTZ: Personally, I like movies that are more autobiographically based. I’m always very curious about that process of development. Did you ever take actual conversations and retool them?
MORGAN: This movie is loosely inspired by a handful of autobiographical moments. I’ve never tried to kill myself. I am terrified of death. It’s the last thing I would ever try. I have never tried to fake suicide either. I would be too afraid that something would go wrong and I would accidentally kill myself. Those two things, definitely no. It was inspired by a feeling. A feeling of, “I know where I should be. I know where I want to be. Why am I not there? Why am I here? How come trying to get away from your past is so fucking hard?” Your past screwups. All that kinda stuff. It’s really hard, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. There are actually two scenes in the movie that are almost exactly like how they happened in real life.
The first one is my mom getting spanked…. I heard it. I had the same conversation with her the next day that Imogene has with her mom. That really did happen. The spanking. The second one: I was having a bad day, I was in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, and I backed into a Porsche Boxster. We both were backing out at the same time. Neither of our cars were damaged, but he was on the verge of tears. “How could you do this to me! This is my Porsche! I can’t believe this!” He could barely collect himself. I was like, “Sir. It’s a Boxster.” Yes it’s still a Porsche. But the guy completely freaked out on me. I couldn’t really understand why he was so upset. It was a Boxster. That makes me sound terrible, but no I mean the way he was acting. I always wonder, if he ever were to see the movie, would he remember?
MINTZ: How much of a transformation did the script go through from first draft to what’s on screen?
MORGAN: I think that anything you’re not directing yourself undergoes a process of transformation. The original draft is a little darker. There weren’t as many feel good moments. That’s also the great thing about collaborating with people. They help you bring out things you may not have thought of on your own. The script definitely underwent a journey from it’s inception to what you see on the screen.
MINTZ: Why did you choose the name Imogene. Where did that come from?
MORGAN: I always just thought it was a very interesting name. Names do influence the personality [of the character] in a strange way. When I was younger, I watched National Lampoon’s Vacation a lot. I’ve lost track of how many times. In the credits, Imogene Coca was Aunt Edna. I would always see her name and thought, “Wow that’s such a strange name.” That just stuck with me my whole life. When I thought of this character, that name just came to mind.
MINTZ: You acted in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s Cinema Verite. Was it a coincidence that they ended up directing Girl Most Likely or did that start a relationship?
MORGAN: No, I’d already been working with Shari and Bob—we’d been working on the script together and we had a really great time. They said, “We’re coming out to California to shoot [Cinema Verite]. You should be in it!” That’s how that came about. They’re really cool like that. I was honored.
MINTZ: Is there anything that you took from your acting background that you implemented into your writing?
MORGAN: I think first and foremost I always think of myself as a writer before anything else. My acting career, if you can call it that, has been more, I don’t want to say… more of a hobby? I felt inside that I was more of a writer. I enjoy acting. I enjoy playing versions of myself, pretty much. It’s easy to shift back and forth between the two positions. I won’t say that my acting experiences have changed my writing. But shadowing directors, or when I filmed K.I.T.—that’s informed my writing much more than acting. When you’re sitting in a room writing scripts, a lot of the time you’ll just go the easy route. You’ll write two people sitting in a room or sitting in the car, or sitting across from each other at table. Then when you go to shoot it, you realize how stagnant that is. Directing definitely makes you look at how you’re composing your scene, how you’re making it as full of life and as interesting as you possibly can.
MINTZ: What was it like making K.I.T.?
MORGAN: Making K.I.T was a really strange and fun experience. I’d never directed anything on film before. I also hadn’t really acted in more than a scene or two in 7 years. So to decide to act in it, and to direct it, in addition to having written it was, it was kind of crazy. I didn’t know how it would turn out. It was like an experiment. In some ways directing yourself can be incredibly easy, because you know exactly what you want and it kills too birds with one stone. But it’s hard to be in front of the camera and behind the camera simultaneously.
MINTZ: What’s your thoughts on using Kickstarter? Was that a good way to raise funds for K.I.T.?
MORGAN: Kickstarter can be an incredibly useful tool for anybody who wants to make something. I personally feel incredibly disgusting and tacky asking people for money. We raised 75% of our budget on our own. Then we did a Kickstarter for the last portion. I just wanted to get in and get out. I knew people who would try to extend their Kickstarters and raise more money. I was so happy for it to be over. I really do not feel comfortable asking people for money. There are so many more important things in the world than me making a short film. In that way of thinking, it was ridiculous, I’m really grateful to everybody who donated. I donate to all of my friends’ Kickstarters—I scratch their back, they scratch my back. I do think Kickstarter is helpful, especially for people who are just starting out. If it’s not a huge amount of money, I think it’s a great way to do it. But you do feel kind of dirty and disgusting.
MINTZ: Your incentives were kind of interesting. Were those real, or were they more of a joke?
MORGAN: Do I have to answer that? If anybody wants to claim their hand puppet or diorama, they know where to go….
MINTZ: What are you working on now?
MORGAN: I am currently doing a polish for a studio movie. And I’m just about finished with my first feature spec since Girl Most Likely, which I plan to direct. It’s been something that I’ve been itching to do for a long time. Even prior to Girl Most Likely getting made. But I really felt I wanted to do it the right way and not just jump into it. Part of that for me was being on set with Girl Most Likely. I learned a lot from Shari and Bob. They’re terrific mentors. Terrific friends.
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