WRITERS' ROOM Q&A: SARAH SCHELLER
Sarah Scheller - co-creator of ABC/Netflix’s award-winning and critically acclaimed comedy, The Letdown. Other credits include No Activity and Squinters.
Who are your heroes in writing?
Golly, there are so many. I’ll start with the women. Nora Ephron, Marta Kauffman, Claudia Wiell, Greta Gerwig, Lena Dunham and more recently, Joanna Hogg, Celiene Sciamma, Michaela Cohen and Eliza Hittman.
For the fellows, Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson, John Cassavetes, and I want so badly to say Woody Allen but I… just can’t.
Literature: Jeanette Winterson, Helen Garner, Ruth Park, Kate Grenville, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Mary Shelley.
Favourite piece of screen dialogue?
Well, I think the scene that had the greatest impact on me as a young girl was one from Gone with the Wind and regretfully not for the racist stereotypes or the whitewashing of the horrors of slavery, but instead for my first taste of a deliciously flawed female character. It was the scene from the Twelve Oaks barbeque when Scarlet throws herself at Ashley in the drawing-room. After he gently rejects her she’s overcome with rage and smashes a ceramic ornament which almost hits Rhett Butler who’s hiding under the mantle. Really, just a fantastic meet-cute. Scarlett and Rhett then proceed to dismantle every social norm.
While many feminists are repelled by Scarlett, I was always fascinated by her and her transformation over the film. She’s selfish, headstrong, manipulative, amoral, shallow, smart, passionate… all the qualities I love to see in strong, female characters.
Best excuse you’ve used (or heard used) for missing a deadline?
Oh jeez… I guess when we were writing the Letdown we often used our children as an excuse for missing deadlines, which felt on theme. Once Alison split her freshly pumped breastmilk all over the keyboard of her laptop and missed a deadline. That was a good one.
Worst note you’ve ever received?
I generally like notes, sometimes you’re so deep in it, you fail to see obvious plot holes or there’s dialogue that makes perfect sense to you but is nonsensical to everyone else.
Most TV execs are super smart with excellent story brains so I haven’t had too many bad notes. Sometimes they're just not very constructive, I recall once being told to just “do better.”
I think the most common note writers get is to cut any setup and get to the meat of the story. I hate that note. I love set up.
What song best represents your career?
Only Women Bleed, Alice Cooper.
A great double entendre and I kind of dig that it was written by a man called Alice.
I love women, I love being a woman, and I love writing complicated, real female characters. Also, our house in LA looked to the Hollywood Sign and Alice owned the first ‘O’ so I thought of him a lot.
In terms of what song I want to represent my career, I’m endlessly inspired by Sharon Van Etten’s Seventeen.
Those formative years are the most seductive for me, I’m currently devouring Euphoria Season Two.
My husband is always saying I have a coming-of-age movie in me (yet to reveal itself) and I think of running young and carefree every time I hear that song. Maybe less running more writing.
Favourite cinema hero and villain?
My mum used to take me and my sister to the movies, often mid-week, at the very suburban Roseville cinema in Sydney. Maybe it was cheaper than getting a babysitter because they were always ‘adult-theme’ movies (Passage to India, Terms of Endearment, that kind of thing) I remember seeing Ghandi and being swept up in emotion, I’m a big crier. I didn’t fall asleep which was remarkable because it was a school night, it was 3 hours 11 minutes (thanks Google) and I was six years old! You don’t get a more shiny hero than Ghandi.
I’m not a huge Marvel or DC or even genre fan so my favourite villans are mostly just transgressive creeps. I was reminiscing with one of my oldest friends the other day about when we used to go to her house after school most days and watch The Accused. I don’t know why as twelve-year-olds we felt the need to rewatch a pretty graphic rape drama but we did. In our defence, it was the VHS days when you watched the same movies over and over, and we were huge Jodie Foster fans but still, it’s a bit weird. The men in that film, the truck drivers, were menacing. I can still see their stupid faces.
If not a writer, what would you be?
I always wish I’d gone into A&R. I love music and can really sniff out a hit.