MLiz Talks “Third Party”

MLiz Talks “Third Party”
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MLiz is one of ISA’s Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2020. She is an award-winning Los Angeles based writer-director who originally hails from Seattle. Her independent web series Manic Pixie Dream Wife toured the world at multiple film and web festivals, winning awards for Best Local Series and Best Writing at the Seattle Web Fest, Dailymotion Best Series at Vancouver Web Fest, Best Webisode at LA Femme International Film Festival, and Best Lead Actor at Raindance Web Fest. It was also nominated for Best Writing at Raindance.

MLiz began her career in theatre, earning a BA in theatre arts and receiving recognition from The Kennedy Center for her play Stepping In. Since moving to LA, she has been working on several television pilots, including her hour-long dramedy, Third Party, always expanding her niche of relationship-driven dramedies that spotlight social issues.

What was the script that won you a spot on the ISA Top 25 Writers To Watch and what is it about?

My script was a one-hour dramedy called Third Party, and it is about a refugee and an aspiring comedian who takes jobs at an insurance company in the struggling economy of 2010, but when forced to carry out questionable practices denying medical benefits, they must choose: keep their jobs, or band together to battle the oppressive system the only way they can – from the inside.

What inspired your story and why do you think it resonated with the judges?

I spent a brief period working for a medical insurance company and got an insider’s view on how the industry is run. I was shocked and horrified at common practices, and left that job knowing that we as a people need to have a better understanding of the healthcare industry, if we are ever going to dramatically improve the conditions America is facing today. I think this resonates because it is a world that affects us all, and told through a cast of characters that haven’t been given a voice until now.

What are you exploring thematically in your screenplay?

The story explores themes of immigration and oppressed communities, family, right versus wrong, and the profitization of healthcare.

What aspects of your life experience found their way into the story?

I worked for an insurance company for several years, and wrote down many stories of what I saw and experienced. Although nothing in my script is a direct reflection of anyone, it is all very much inspired by true stories of the people that work in these businesses, and the patients we attempted to help.

How did you approach the writing process?

I have been chipping away at this story for years. I knew the main points of the story, but it took me a while to figure out how to blend the different protagonists’ lives together.

Writing for me is a blend of carefully planning the major story arcs and character points with an insane amount of index cards that I place all over my living room wall, and then getting to that headspace where I can hear the characters in my head, I have a clear idea of who they are and what they’d say, and then I just go. I will sit and stare at my walls for a long time until I feel like I have the thread I’m looking for, and then I write for hours. I think if anyone were to observe me during my process it would probably elicit a wellness check.
What feedback did you get during development and how did it contour subsequent iterations of your story?I have the entire first season developed more or less, so it was a struggle to pull back the characters and the beginnings of other storylines from the pilot and hone in on what this first episode needed to be. Prior to early feedback I had more on the ensemble cast with an Orange is the New Black sort of feel, but I had to remember in that pilot, it’s really Piper’s story. The ensemble creeps up on you, and that’s what I tried to do with this.

What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?

You have to have drive to do the work, write the pages, get the feedback, and revise over and over and over. You have to be fearless in your willingness to share your soft underbelly if there’s something that can elevate or enrich your story. You have to be tough and sensitive at the same time, so you can take critical feedback and use it as a helpful tool rather than a crushing blow, but also sensitive enough to be impacted by the world around you.

What misconceptions have you discovered about establishing a screenwriting career?

A big misconception is that you’re supposed to be chasing whatever the hot thing is. That’s only going to produce insincere bullshit. Matthew Weiner is an oft-cited example for a reason – the world wasn’t ready for Mad Men when he first wrote it, but that didn’t make the story any less fantastic. Write your story, regardless of what’s hot right now, and make it the best version you possibly can.

Other than writing, how do you train and improve your writing craft?

I love my writer’s groups, they are talented people that I admire and am constantly inspired by. I love to attend panels at the WGA and other venues to hear stories from my heroes, and like all of us, I watch a ton of television.

Do you have any mentors, heroes or heroines?

I am grateful for the team at ISA for their help elevating my work. I admire the women in my field that are kicking down doors for others, like Aline Brosh McKenna, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and LaToya Morgan. I have always loved Vince Gilligan’s stories, from The X-Files’ “Pusher” to Better Call Saul’s “Mabel” – I’m a ride or die fan for Gilligan.

What inspires your screenwriting?

I take most of my inspiration from my own life and observations, like most people. I think it’s important to have some sort of journal to write things down, otherwise you lose those little moments that ground your writing in reality.

What is the current status of your project?

I have polished it up after getting feedback from the great mentors during my week of ISA meetings, and now it’s available to be read by any interested parties.

What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s ISA Top 25 list?

Be fearless in your pursuit of feedback, and your attempts to be seen. As the saying goes, we miss 100% of the shots we don’t take.

What is something that few people know about you?

My favorite TV genre is Korean dramas, I cannot get enough of them!

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