Coleen Goodson, February 5, 2020
An Interview with Julie Sayres, Affiliate Faculty, MFA in Writing & Contemporary Media
Julie Sayres is an award-winning screenwriter whose experience includes a successful career as a writer for television series and movies. Her long list of credits speaks to her knowledge and experience in the industry and her awards acknowledge the artistry that comes from a creative and generous soul. In her role as mentor to AUSB’s low residency MFA candidates, Julie combines her experience with a no-nonsense approach to what works well as she helps students to shape their creative work and spirit.
As a student currently working with Julie Sayres as her advisor, I can honestly speak to the benefits of working with her. I have accomplished so much more than having learned the basics. I’ve learned a whole lot about what makes characters iconic and what connects the audience to the story. Under her guidance, I also feel like I find myself in a creative space that is always expanding, but at the same time is so much more productive.
I wanted to learn more about Julie and how she continuously finds ways to share her creativity and wisdom. Julie was gracious enough to share her thoughts in an email interview.
CG: As an award-winning screenwriter, former TV staff writer, current producer, and creator, how do you fit your role as AUSB Faculty and mentor to MFA residents into your life story?
JS: For many years, I viewed myself only as a screenwriter when defining my professional life. Once I started teaching, that work became just as important to me as my own creative endeavors. Not only did it improve my own writing, but it gave me an added sense of purpose. It was also an opportunity to share the passion I feel for film and TV with students who were eager to learn more about it. I have taught in the film school at USC for twenty years, which I love and my teaching at Antioch has been an additional joy in my life. The students are not conventional college students. Most of them are older and have come to writing as an adjunct to lives already well-lived and with a deep need to share their own stories through writing. Getting to know these students and read their stories has been and continues to be a delight.
CG: Unfair question: Love of writing or love of teaching?
JS: I love them both. I adore writing, digging deep into my psyche for stories that resonate with my passions and often my fears. I love creating and developing characters who are put through the emotional wringer and emerge differently. I love telling unique stories. And… I love teaching others how to appreciate a good story, an iconic character, and a tale well-told. I’m a pretty lucky woman to be able to write as well as teach others what I love so much.
CG: You always make yourself accessible to your students. You also recently produced a documentary about veterans with PTSD and their service dogs called “To Be of Service.” Clearly, you place great importance on serving others. Can you share your thoughts on this?
JS: The older I get, the more important it has become to be of service to others. I wasn’t always this way. This has developed over the years and my friendships have deepened because of it as has my relationship to my profession. It has become increasingly obvious that the only way to live well is to help others do the same. I can’t explain why this change has happened to me over the years, but it’s undoubtedly the sum total of personal wins and most definitely major losses. These losses, especially, have made me more sensitive to the needs of others. Teaching has also changed me and shown me the joy of helping people tell the stories of their lives. One of the big game changers was working in the Writers’ Guild Foundation’s veterans’ writing program. Teaching veterans how to express their experiences through screenwriting led me to a deeper understanding of what these men and women go through every day in service to our country. That led me to produce my documentary, “To Be of Service,” about veterans with PTSD and their service dogs. And my own love for and relationships with my dogs has also opened me up in untold ways. Dogs give their love unconditionally. If we humans could be a little more like them, we’d all be a lot better.
CG: What are the top 3 things you want your students to come away with after working with you?
JS: There are definitely more than three, but here goes! 1: How to create an iconic character who is so compelling and unique that you can’t look away and are desperate to see where their story goes. 2: How to understand what conflict is and how to keep the tension rising in a story that’s well-told and resolved in a surprising and satisfying way. 3. Be a kind and generous writer and an even kinder and more generous person.