Rebekah McAuliffe is a writer to keep an eye on. I first met her a few years ago at the Action on Film Fest. She was this shy young woman who looked a bit anxious. Honestly, she reminded me of myself when I first hit the festival circuit. There was something about her though. An inner passion and strength that she kept hidden behind that nervous smile. I saw it first hand as I watched her slowly break out of her shell and network.
Fast forward a year later at the MEGAfest and I was blown away when I met Rebekah again. I watched this young woman pitch her script “Golgotha” to a director and she absolutely nailed it. My jaw dropped with shock and pride. She has truly grown into herself and it’s been amazing to watch. I am very proud to introduce you to this writer as she is now someone to look out for.
I call my home Shepherdsville, Kentucky, a small town just 20 minutes south of Louisville. Just keep going south on I-65 and you’ll hit it…eventually. I live on a farm with my family, my horses, and my dogs and cats. I first began writing as part of a school assignment in the first grade. I collaborated with my tutor on a short story titled My Alabama Vacation, about an imaginary trip to the southern state where I compared animal and human behavior along the way. I won second place in the school—which isn’t too shabby for a six-year old—but for me, that wasn’t good enough. I really wanted that first place medal!
Fast forward to the seventh grade. Depression had settled in and became my new unwanted roommate. You know the one, who crashes in on your life and refuses to leave. I decided to work through the depression with my writing. That was when I wrote the short story that would set me on the path to where I am today. Chapparelle’s World, a modern fairy tale combining elements of Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe, told the story of a young girl who battles her demons in a fantasy world in her mind as she fights for her life in a coma after a suicide attempt. The story won me a title at the school-wide competition, a spot in the county-wide semi-finals, and the medal I dearly wanted. But at that moment, I realized that writing had become more than an opportunity to win medals and get my picture in the paper. While those things were great, writing had become a passion, a desire to explore new worlds, to engage readers with thoughtful characters and philosophies.
Today, I define myself as a multi-genre writer who loves stories about the underdog and inspiring change, although I’m not afraid to break even this mold. I especially love to include underrepresented populations in my stories.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
One thing I loved as much as, if not more, than writing is film. I love movies. Obviously, I didn’t have the language to talk about composition or shots or editing techniques, but there was something about movies that just drew me to them. Common sense, as well as the experience I had in theater, told me that movies must have scripts. So, I started writing a couple. They were more structured like theater scripts…poorly written theater scripts. But hey, at least I wrote something, right? Years later, my boyfriend and his friend thought about creating skits on YouTube, and essentially said to me, “Hey, you’re a writer, right? Do you know how to write screenplays?” I said, “Uh…I can whip something up for you, I guess; just give me a bit.” My cousin, Amy, helped me download screenwriting software, gave me a crash course on industry standard formatting, and let me run with my idea. That script “If Girls Watch Cooking Shows the Way Guys Watch Football,” would go on to be nominated for Best Short Comedy at the 2017 Action on Film International Film Festival.
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Honestly, my cousin Amy. I knew I wanted to write, but she gave me a chance and the opportunity to pursue it professionally, something that I never even thought was possible. When I was a sophomore, I did a project on my dream career—“director”—but didn’t think that the arts were something that could put food on the table. She showed me that yes, you can pursue writing and filmmaking as a career, if I give it the effort.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
This moment really stands out to me. Working on a farm is quite expensive. Between the cost of hay, grain, and farm maintenance, we never really had much money to spare. My passion for writing began to boil and all I wanted more than anything was my own computer to write on. I didn’t care about internet connection, graphics, operating systems. If it had Microsoft Word, it was good enough for me. I can’t remember the exact time it happened, but everything changed for me when my mother brought home my very first computer. It was an old Windows 95, a used computer from a family friend who lived in the same neighborhood as my Nana. It didn’t have internet capability, and it didn’t have any games on there other than a golf simulator which rarely worked and a construction simulator (which I treated as a game by role playing with the human models). But it had Microsoft Word, and that was all I ever wanted. My family, especially my parents, have believed in me from day one; if it wasn’t for this gift of my first computer, I don’t think I would have ever become a professional writer.
Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
As I said before, I stumbled onto professional screenwriting when writing a comedy script for my boyfriend and his friend. I never knew how much fun it was; it was different from the short stories and novels I had grown accustomed to writing. Screenwriting gave me a chance to develop my sense of natural dialogue, which was something I struggled with especially while writing Gears of Golgotha. When they eventually ended up abandoning the idea of online comedy skits, I submitted to Action on Film on a whim. My mentality is, “The worst they can do is say no, right?” Even though it didn’t win, I realized that I didn’t have to limit myself to one type of project. Screenwriting has given me the opportunity to explore different types of stories and characters.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Success is making connections and making things happen. In the short term, I tend to like winning trophies because those are the kind of things you can share with anyone; you can shout from the rooftops, “Hey! I won Best New Writer at Action on Film 2017.” But in this industry, you also want to look at the long term. I’ve come to learn that when it comes to entertainment, there is really no such thing as a true “No.” Rather, every “no” means “maybe next time.” Even if a producer or director or studio doesn’t like one idea you give them, if you put on a good impression, they may end up liking you as a person, and now, you have a connection for other ideas in the future, or even just a friend who can offer advice. Connections and relationships are the name of the game.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Night Owl, all the way. I usually get my best ideas and am most creative at night. I’ve pulled many an all-nighter writing. I’ll just keep going and going and going until I look at the clock and I realize, “Oh…it’s 5 am…sleep is a thing.”
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? I run through my daily agenda in my head. What all do I need to do today? What time should I expect to be home? What project or projects should I work on today?
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? I can’t function without my cup of coffee. I’ll either fix a cup at home, or if I manage to drag myself out of bed early enough, I’ll stop at Starbucks on my way to work.
What do you do from 10am to 1pm? Most likely I’m working. If I’m not working then I’ll be sleeping in until about 10, and play video games until about 1 (I’m addicted to Dragon Age: Inquisition at the moment; Cullen is just a precious cinnamon roll!).
What do you do at night? I’ll write for a bit and eat dinner. I tend to keep to myself in the evenings, not only to recuperate from dealing with the public all day, but to make sure I can concentrate. After I’m done, I’ll reward myself with a round of video games before going to bed.
How do you define a successful day? Life isn’t easy. If I’ve made it to the end of the day in one piece, then that day has been a success.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you’ve developed on your path to screenwriting?
Whenever I write, I tend to screw over my characters a lot. To me, drama is what drives a story. However, I’ve learned that it’s okay to give them room to just be. How can you know darkness without joy? How can you know what a new adventure is without showing the character in their natural habitat?
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Getting things done in a timely manner, by far. I tend to write slowly and take my time. My brain comes up with these amazing ideas, but what is so frustrating to me is that I find it difficult to keep track of them all. As of right now, I’m finishing up edits on a novel, working on a pitch bible, in development on my first feature film, and at least eight different ideas for novels and scripts are bouncing around in my head. The entertainment industry—specifically books, television, and film—is a lot like the stock market: you must strike while the iron is hot. This can be hard as I’m a perfectionist. I want my stories to be perfect, to touch lives, to inspire conversations, to take my readers and viewers on a ride they’ll never forget.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you’ve made?
I’ve made so many friends online and in person at film festivals and in writing groups. Even though I’ve talked about having and establishing connections in the industry, I don’t really like to call people “connections;” that implies that they are to be used. Things are used, not people. I believe that as creators, we work together to achieve our dreams and to create beautiful art. Every person involved in writing a novel or creating a film is important. For me, the greatest reward is meeting more people that you can work with.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I want to learn the ins and outs of everything. I know that sounds broad, but for me, I can’t think of a truer statement. If you want to perfect a craft, regardless of your chosen field, you need to learn every single part of it. Every person has something to offer. That’s why it’s my goal to be able to attend as many creative events as possible, even if my current circumstances in life make it difficult for me to do so. But then again, that’s the wonder of the Internet. I can message my friends online, ask them for their opinion and their guidance. I can watch educational YouTube videos, even take online classes. In some strange way, the Internet has made the world a much smaller place.