We’re excited to get the opportunity to interview Jennifer Cooney – an incredibly talented writer who is making big waves in the industry. Her script Winter Jasmine rose near the top of The Red List and was noticed by a Coverfly Writer Advocate. Since then, she has signed with top management and was hired for an Open Writing Assignment!
Jennifer heads her own production company, HalfJack Generations, has one film in post-production (Rain Beau’s End), one in the process of being optioned (Winter Jasmine), and several projects in various stages of development. She is currently repped by The|Machine in Los Angeles and intends to produce and direct her own scripts while living blissfully with her wife and their two dogs, Marlon Brando and Humphrey Bogart.
Coverfly: So, what was the process of finding a manager like?
Jennifer Cooney: It wasn’t your “typical” process. Thanks to Coverfly and their Writer Advocate program, I was paired with a Writer Advocate (Kyle) who really loved and believed in my work. Kyle not only matched me to a wonderful manager and got me two stellar writing gigs (one I passed on), but he will soon be signed on as a Producer for my spec script, Winter Jasmine. I really owe the propulsion of my career largely to Coverfly and their matchmaking. Kyle and I are destined to make movie magic together.
CF: How has working with a manager changed the way you write or approach the industry? Anything you wish you would’ve known?
JC: My manager, Kevin at The|Machine, understands who I am insomuch as he supports my unwavering commitment to following my heart. He knows that I have stories I want to tell and that I’m going to tell them authentically. He knows that I am not going to alter my creations without a heart-driven reason. This is why I signed with him. He supports my growth and my expansion as a writer, not ballooning trends. So, to answer the question, working with my manager has given me a level up with my confidence, knowing he believes in my vision and my authentic brand of characters and stories.
What do I wish I would have known? That screenwriting doesn’t have to be hard. That it should be fun. That there are a ton of “pros” out there telling writers how to write and where to put what and on which page. I don’t regret the path I took to get where I am, but I can say with confidence that storytelling is highly intuitive, so anything that demands exact elements on exact pages is using fear to sell how-to books. Tune into your highest creative self and learn to listen to your inner nudges. The stories are all in the ether, you just need to learn to align with them so you can receive them. Make friends with your muses.
CF: Congrats on landing your first OWA! What does landing an OWA job look like?
JC: My Coverfly Writer Advocate paired me up with a Producer I really clicked with. He read my spec script as a sample of my writing and loved it. We worked together a bit on a concept he was molding. I gave him notes and we further solidified our compatibility as creatives. A few months later he had a one-sheet for a feature he wants to produce and direct and I really loved the idea. I pitched him on what I’d do with the story and the characters and he loved my take. I told him to marinate for a week and make sure I was the writer for him. A week later we were working together. I’m very fortunate in that he was willing to mold our contract based on my method of story and character development and with my organic production of drafts. I’m in the middle of development now and can’t wait to see this thing onscreen.
CF: What is the OWA experience like so far?
JC: It’s amazing because I’m working with a Producer that I immediately clicked with. The first conversation we had, I knew in my gut that we’d be working together. We not only complement each other creatively, but we also respect one another beyond our creative commitments. Having worked with producers in the past that were neither of these things, I know creative and personal respect between writer and producer are of paramount importance to me. There’s some advice to new writers: When it feels upstream, drop the oars. Your boat will turn around and you’ll flow right towards your best case scenario (and away from what’s not serving your highest good). Have faith in the Universe taking care of you and it always will.
CF: How did you get started in screenwriting and what got you interested in the first place?
JC: Five years ago, I was working a full-time desk job and living for the weekends when I would inevitably sleep late and dread the impending Mondays. It became abundantly clear to me that I was living an inauthentic life, creatively speaking, and was extremely unfulfilled with the “fruits” of my time on earth. I had pressed my then girlfriend, now wife, to paint full time and to only do pieces that were original… no more for-hire commissions, two years prior. One night she looked at me. We were on the couch after dinner. I could barely hold up my towering glass of wine due to both physical and spiritual exhaustion. And she said, “What do you think about?” She explained that she was always thinking about paintings and colors and drawings—creations—and wondered what I thought about. My answer startled me. “Nothing, I guess.” She couldn’t fathom my answer. And as a creative spirit, or rather so I fancied myself, that answer turned my stomach. She pressed on, asking what I wanted to do. Growing up being groomed to take over a successful family business, I hadn’t thought of doing much else since graduating college. But I humored her and let the answer come to me. “I’ve always wanted to write a movie.” Five years and countless hours of study, practice, and self-discovery later, I have one feature film in post-production (Rain Beau’s End), one in the process of being optioned (Winter Jasmine), and have been hired to write another. And I’ve also adapted a stage play to a short script, which I’ll be directing later this year. Life is good.
CF: What kinds of stories or characters do you like to write?
JC: Literally all kinds. I will never be constricted to a particular genre. With one caveat, I really love writing lesbian characters and storylines. Lesbians always make their way into my stories. When I was in college, I owned every lesbian feature film ever made on DVD… and they barely took up a foot of space on my shelf. I know now that the craving of seeing oneself represented onscreen goes much deeper than meets the eye. It’s about experiencing a greater scope of life through a perspective similar to your own via characters you can identify with. And that craving truly fueled and still fuels my creative vision. I’m thrilled to see lesbian characters popping up everywhere and being played by big-name talent. I’m excited to have my stories and characters amongst them one day soon.
CF: What’s one screenplay that every screenwriter should read and why?
JC: When you’re trying to accomplish something on the page, whether it be an action or a sequencing description, find a movie that’s done it or something similar and consult the script. Then you can see how to convey it on paper. As far as necessary reading, I’ve read scripts of films I admired like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Arrival, and enjoyed them. Just follow your bliss. If that doesn’t lead you to read any scripts, who cares?
CF: What’s one piece of advice you wish you would have known when you were starting out?
JC: In no particular order of importance or continuity: You can be, do, or have anything you want. Life is supposed to be easy. Nothing you truly want is upstream. Follow your bliss. You are ever that which you are aware of being. If you haven’t let go of the need for the outcome, you can’t get there from there. Be easy about it all. Be gentle with yourself. The intellect is meant to serve the intuition. You deserve it all. Dream huge. And when people tell you why “life is hard,” send them love, and know that your beliefs determine your reality… their beliefs don’t have to unless you let them. And always, always believe in yourself. You are magic.