Jule Selbo is an accomplished writer (screen, stage, television, and film), tenured Associate Professor of Screenwriting, PhD candidate, and brilliantly fun to talk with. She was born in Fargo North Dakota, started making films in 8th grade with a junior high teacher who loved film, early in her career as a playwright had one of her plays done off off Broadway in NYC, caught the eye of an agent and a TV producer, was encouraged to write for film and TV and thus did. That’s sort of a recap of her journey. Now for some more details followed by a fascinating Question and Answer session.
Jule’s feature film credits include HARD PROMISES starring Sissy Spacek and William Peterson. She has written live action films for most of the major Hollywood studios. Some of her animated feature works include the animated HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, PART DEUX, released in 2002 and winner of the BEST PREMIERE DVD award. The film was also nominated in the Best Screenplay category. She also wrote CINDERELLA TWO, a Disney Video release, nominated for a Best DVD PREMIERE award. Her LITTLE MERMAID, ARIEL’S BEGINNING for Disney was released in late 2008. Jule recently completed a feature script for the Jim Henson Company, UGLY, co-written with Matthew Jacobs.
She has produced and written over 200 hours of television, among her credits: George Lucas’ YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, HERCULES (Universal) ABC’S LIFE GOES ON, Aaron Spelling’s MELROSE PLACE, PBS’S VOYAGE OF THE MIMI, FOX’S SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND, HBO’S PRISON STORIES: WOMEN ON THE INSIDE (Cable Ace Award nomination), MTV’S UNDRESSED (Glaad Award nomination), NICKELODEON’S SPORTS THEATRE as well as THE FLASH, SINBAD (Syndicated) TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, MONSTERS, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW (Writer’s Guild Award for Outstanding Writing). More animation work includes Disney’s ANGELA ANACONDA and HEROES as well as PBS’s MAYA AND MIGUEL and ANGELINA BALLERINA and Nick Jr’s OLIVIA and Hasbro’s POUND PUPPIES. She received a Writers Guild of America Award for her work on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. Her latest play LAKE GIRLS was presented in a workshop reading at Alaska’s Last Frontier Theatre Conference June 2008 and at NYC’s Ensemble Studio Theatre Octoberfest 2008.
Her theatre credits include NO STRANGER (Annenberg Center, Philadelphia), OBJECTS (Grand Central Theatre, Santa Ana), ISOLATE (productions in New York (Westbeth Theatre) and Los Angeles (Theatre 6470), where it received Best New Play Award from Los Angeles Women in Theatre), SOULS ON ICE (New York Westbeth Theatre), BOILING POINT (New York No Smoking Playhouse) THE WEDDING (Actors Theatre of Louisville One Act Festival), DR. FEDDER (Actors Theatre of Louisville Children’s Theatre Tour) TWO NOT SO TALL WOMEN (Interact Theatre, Los Angeles).
Jule’s textbook SCREENPLAY, Idea to Script in Eleven Steps was published January 2007. Her book THE REWRITE was published summer 2008. Both are published by Garth Gardner Publishing, Washington DC, NYC and London. Her young reader book PILGRIM GIRL, Diary and Recipes Of Her First Year in America was published in 2005. Her short stories have appeared in ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.
Jule is co-editor of the JOURNAL OF SCREENWRITING, Intellect Press, and has published articles on film genre and pre-Code cinema in academic and in Analyzing the Screenplay, published by Routledge.
In addition to her tenured position as an Associate Professor of Screenwriting at California State University at Fullerton and has taught in the UCLA Extension Writers Program. She holds two-day workshops for screenwriters to do in-depth work on story outlines to prepare them to start the script process. She also works as a script consultant and analyst.
A conversation with Jule Selbo. Enjoy!
OCS: Was there an aha! moment when you knew you wanted to pursue a career in entertainment?
Jule Selbo: Not really. No aha – just a steady pursuit of what I was interested in – first theatre, then writing plays, then adding the writing of short stories to that interest (never subtracting, always adding) -- always a love of film of course. My junior high teacher in Fargo (Ted Larson) was a film historian and collector of films, so I benefitted from being in a group of students who got to view and analyze films with him – and then eventually make our own films under his guidance. I moved to New York City after graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and had a few plays produced off off Broadway, did temp work at Paramount Pictures and acted in theatre and network television projects. One of my plays got the attention of an agent as well as a network executive and I moved pretty quickly into writing for television networks and film studios.
OCS: Please describe your journey from Fargo, North Dakota to California.
Jule: BFA, Southern Methodist University in Dallas Texas, then a year apprenticing as an actor at Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky, then MFA at UNC, Chapel Hill – and then New York City. I was writing for George Romero’s Tales From The Darkside and some of my episodes were shot in NYC, some in Los Angeles. The executives were very open to having writers on the set, so I would come out to Los Angeles for the shoots – and began meeting other writers – directors and development executives – and it soon seemed clear to me that if I wanted to work with some of the people I admired, I needed to move to Los Angeles. I had just had a play produced at the Annenburg Theatre in Philadelphia, another one at the Westbeth Theatre in NYC – and it was hard to leave NYC, but I was offered a staff writing job on a situation comedy – so I made the move.
OCS: You’ve got credits for stage, feature films, and animated features. What are the different challenges and satisfactions you get from each form?
Jule: You hear this all the time but it is true: it all comes down to story. Story is always paramount, that’s what the audience wants to experience. But to break it down, and these are generalizations but it can be thought of this way: theatrical plays tend to concentrate more on characters and character revelation, feature films (animated and live) tend to concentrate on character change and plot, one hour television tends to concentrate on smaller plots than features and smaller character “changes” (week to week), sit-coms usually have even smaller plots and concentrate more on character traits and unique personalities facing some (small) conflict - and usually do not focus on character change at all. We tend to tune into situation comedies to enjoy characters that we really don’t want to change – they’re too much fun the way they are (even if they are extremely flawed). So, the question – which form is my favorite? I like them all – I like the challenge of a long form feature, I like the discipline of a short 11 minute animated show, I like the plotting of a one hour drama – I just finished working on a graphic novel for John Force Entertainment – that was an exciting challenge because it’s like creating a “storyboard” of the most important moments of a plot and character revelation.
OCS: You’ve done a lot of work with Disney. How did that relationship come about?
Jule: A Disney executive read a fantasy/action script that I had written for Paramount Pictures and suggested I be hired to write Hunchback of Notre Dame Part Deux. That experience went well – I liked working at Disney and they had plenty of projects at the time – it was when their Direct-to-DVD Department was incredibly active and exciting. I also wrote a live action feature for Disney (a bio-pic that never got made) in a totally different department (the departments don’t cross over at all) and also a animated feature for the feature animation department – and a musical for ABC/Disney meant for a Sunday night slot on ABC. And then I have also written episodes – and a pilot script - for Saturday morning animated series for Disney too. A screenwriter is going to work wherever he or she can – or wherever he or she has an interest in a project. Disney is a very active studio – it was great working there.
OCS: You are also a talented teacher. How did that part of your professional life develop?
Jule: I began to be asked to do seminars in screenwriting and realized I loved teaching – basically talking about story and characters and breaking down narrative structure. I also missed working on theatrical plays – I was still writing plays but most of my work was for film and television. A friend of mine recommended me to teach playwriting at Cal State Fullerton and Susan Hallman, then Chair of the Theatre Department there hired me. I helped build the playwriting program, teaching one day a week on campus and working with students on their scripts outside of class. Students from the Radio-TV-Film Department began taking my classes, Ed Fink (Chair of Radio-TV-Film) asked me to teach a few screenwriting classes. Seven years ago I was offered a full-time position at CSUF in Radio-TV-Film, heading up the Screenwriting area. I love it. The students in our department are talented and dedicated and it’s always a challenge to help them get their ideas down on paper. I’ve become very interested in screenwriting history and theory also and am now finishing a Ph.D in Philosophy of Film – and that work has helped me in the classroom too. We have a new Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting starting Fall 2011 – so that will even be more challenging. We have an excellent first class, some of the students have professional experience already – so the work will be on a different level - some screenwriting theory, a lot of practical work – and a chance to teach in the undergraduate program.
OCS: Tell us about some of your star students and the future of creative writing as you see it.
Jule: CSUF, Radio-TV-Film students are doing well “in the business”. We have students who have written (are writing) on Southland, Fringe, Prison Break, Lost and more. Students have also moved onto directing for television shows – as well as independent films that have played well on the festival circuits – including Sundance Film Festival and Newport Film Festivals and others. Other students are working as cinematographers or in sound units or working in development at studios and production companies. We have a very active internship program that helps students make the transition into solid careers.
OCS: What advice would you give someone starting out to become a writer?
Jule: Write. Write. Write. Continue your training in the craft. Take chances in your scripts. Find your personal voice. Join a writing group that will help you network as well as give you an outlet to “hear” your work. Don’t wait for permission or other people’s money to make your dream come true, shoot a short film that you have written. Go to workshops. One of the most important things is to meet people who love film and television and screenwriting -- many times this will lead to getting representation (a manager or an agent). The WGA (Writers Guild of America), the Writer’s Store in Westwood, there are excellent “gurus” giving workshops around Los Angeles, the Orange County Screenwriting Group is an excellent source -- find the people that appreciate your work.
OCS: You are involved in many projects. Please describe some of them.
Jule: Right now I am working on a script for a documentary, I have just finished Episode One of the graphic novel, I am working on presentations on screenwriting I have to give at academic seminars – and hope to finish a “spec” screenplay this summer. Oh – July 10-22 I am coordinating a great screenwriting workshop – CSU Summer Arts - up in Fresno at CSU Fresno. It’s open to students and non-students – anyone interested in screenwriting for short films, web-series – any kind of writing for media/new media. People come from all over to take classes, they can live in the dorm or - anywhere in town – we work all day – and students come out of there with three short scripts they can be proud of.
OCS: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the fascinating journey you continue to travel?
Jule: I’ve had a chance to work on exciting projects with exciting people – and continue to do so. Writing for media is always collaborative - and when you are working with talented directors or cinematographers or actors or other members of the project there’s nothing more fun.