Tamra is a multiple award-winning screenwriter, including Slamdance, PAGE Silver, Stowe Story Lab, and other highly-ranked competitions, including Austin and Nicholl Quarterfinalist (top 5% of 7812 scripts).
We sat down to talk with her about her screenplay Chokepoint, a story about a work-obsessed senator who is taken hostage on a ship hijacked by high-tech pirates, asking about its commercial and cultural relevancy, what it was like pitching her idea, and how her 25-year experience as a journalist helped her write such an incredible tale.
CF: You signed with a manager a week after being highlighted in the Coverfly Newsletter. What was it like?
TT: It was a very pleasant surprise! I think it was because I did the hard work of building a portfolio and working to gain positive attention for my scripts to position myself as well as possible—then I benefited from the exposure and credibility Coverfly gave me.
Coverfly: What are your favorite elements of Chokepoint? What do you feel makes it commercially and culturally relevant?
Tamra Teig: I think the fact that the scenarios in Chokepoint are plausible makes it more interesting. There’s a big appetite for stories based on true events. It’s kind of crazy that after I finished my script, two big events happened in the news that are in my story: the first scene in my script actually happened in real life: an oil tanker was attacked in a chokepoint. Then a few months ago, a container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal for six days, (another important global shipping corridor) at a global cost of $1 billion. Now it’s common knowledge that major shipping corridors have global economic impact.
Besides the authenticity of the story, my other favorite element of the story is my characters are more representative of our culture: all roles can be non-Caucasian, the protagonist is a 50-year-old, Latina-biracial female, and is not a typical action hero—she has no special ex-CIA or Navy SEAL skills, she’s just smart, strong and resourceful. Two other leads are over 65, another is over 40, and a main supporting role is LGBTQ+ female. All roles meet every test for writing diverse roles: Bechdel, Duvernay, Waithe, Villalobos, Ko, Peirce, Villarreal, and Landau. For writers who don’t know what these tests are, I suggest you Google them--and be mindful of them when you’re creating characters.
Whether it’s a financier, producer, manager or other busy exec, they need to immediately be able to see the story is unique and high-concept—meaning they can grasp the whole movie through your logline.
CF: How did Pitch Week create momentum for your career and do you think it helped facilitate your career and deal with production companies or signing with a manager?
TT: Before I even got to the stage of being selected in Pitch Week, I spent countless hours writing a number of projects, getting coverage on them to improve them as much as possible, then submitting them to various script competitions on Coverfly. I now have three scripts in the top 1% on the platform. After being a participant in Pitch Week, and almost a year of Chokepoint placing highly in multiple competitions, I was contacted by manager Jon Brown, of Ensemble Entertainment, and just signed with him.
CF: Tell us about the pitch. What kinds of things did you focus on? What was your strategy for making it appealing to financiers?
TT: The first job is to come up with a really compelling logline. I find it one of the most challenging tasks of writing a screenplay, and it’s one of the most crucial. No matter how little time you have to talk to an exec, they’ll always first ask: “What’s it about?” You need to have a sentence or two that is concise and sets up the situation and the stakes clearly. You need to have it down cold, and you need to say it with confidence, energy and enthusiasm, if you want to get them interested. The goal of your logline is to get someone to ask for the script, or at least ask another question. Whether it’s a financier, producer, manager or other busy exec, they need to immediately be able to see the story is unique and high-concept—meaning they can grasp the whole movie through your logline. The wider the appeal, the more marketable the project—and the greater the potential ROI.
It’s important to focus on the big hooks of the story, not try to cram in all the details. Instead, it’s important to set up the tone and world, introduce the protagonist and antagonist and the conflict in an intriguing way, highlight the major act turns, and to a quick summary of how it ends, making the protagonists arc clear.
As a journalist, I was trained to write concisely and vividly, which was great training for screenwriting and pitching.
CF: You have 25 years of experience as a journalist -- you started writing scripts later on in your career. How have these things helped or hindered you as a screenwriter?
TT: As a journalist, I was trained to write concisely and vividly, which was great training for screenwriting and pitching. You answer who, what, where, when and why in the first paragraph of every article, which is basically how a pitch is structured. I’ve also been a marketing consultant all that time, so I try to write stories with universal appeal and evaluate each new script idea by how marketable I think it is. It’s also an asset to have more life experiences to write about—I was married for a long time, raised three kids, moved a lot, traveled extensively internationally, and even lived in another country. I have an incredibly rich and unique set of life experiences to draw from. Also, because I’m starting my screenwriting career so late in life, I am super focused and driven; I don’t have any time to waste. I took advantage of the pandemic to be uber-productive: from December to now I: was hired and just completed a full-length feature, I wrote an international hour drama pilot with a book author; I did a full rewrite of multi-award-winning indie script The Fall, that I co-wrote and am producing partner on, receiving notes from an A-list director; and, I just got a Stowe Story Lab fellowship for my half-hour dramedy series Dog Mom, which is based on my personal experiences during Covid. I’m very fortunate that I love writing and I can devote myself to my passion—I’ve been writing 10-12 or more hours a day and am continuously learning how to improve my writing.
CF: How do you think having a manager will make an impact on your screenwriting career and what next steps have you discussed?
TT: I feel like signing with a manager is like a “golden ticket.” There are tens of thousands of scripts floating around, and the industry doesn’t take “unsolicited manuscripts.” There’s a huge barrier to entry. Even though I feel confident networking and trying to make my own connections, it’s daunting trying to make your mark, especially since the last year of normal in-person meetings and festivals being shut down. I’ve been pitching through platforms like Roadmap Writers and Stage 32, but it’s a numbers game, and it also comes down to economics. Now I have a mentor, who has a whole network of high-level executives and decades of experience, to champion my scripts and fast-track my career.
Jon has already gotten one of my scripts to an agent and is starting outreach to A-list directors on another. Compared to my original trajectory, I have no doubt that he is going to make things happen relatively quickly. I’m really excited about what the future holds, and very grateful for the part Coverfly played.