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How Coverfly Writer Billie Bates Broke In With 'Spirit Halloween'

By October 4, 2022Advice, Success Stories
How Coverfly Writer Billie Bates Broke In With 'Spirit Halloween'

Just in time for the spookiest time of year, Spirit Halloween: The Movie has officially hit theaters. The supernatural horror film was written by Coverfly writer Billie Bates, but hers is not your typical story of Hollywood success.

Born in Australia, the Colorado-based writer broke in without a manager after racking up a whopping 24 listed accolades on Coverfly. She's the perfect example of a writer who used Coverfly as it's designed — submitting to, placing in, and leveraging a variety of programs and competitions until she got her foot in the door. Perhaps the most normal part of Billie Bates' path to success is the amount of time, effort, and sheer force of will it took to get her to where she is today!

We caught up with Billie to talk about her journey to success and how she approaches her writing.

Coverfly: Where are you from originally, and did you have a career before you started writing?

Billie Bates: I grew up in Australia. I had multiple careers and traveled extensively before pursuing writing, which I think has been the most valuable thing for me as a writer outside of learning the craft.  

CF: When did you decide to pursue writing as a career, and what was your ultimate goal

BB: I was based out of London for a few years, and Chic Lit was having its heyday. It was the type of breezy poolside read I was devouring on work trips, so it made sense that if I wanted to write, I’d write what I know and combine the glamorous world of private aviation and the chic lit genre. I took a few online courses, then wrote and self-published a book. It was terrible — I’m not a novelist by any stretch — but the target audience liked it enough and felt it would make a fun movie. That led me to read my first screenplay and purchase my first screenwriting books and software. I was instantly obsessed and had found my calling. 

"Spirit Halloween was my 6th script in my 5th year of screenwriting, but it took five more years to get traction, go through development, and finally make it to the screen."

CF: How did programs and competitions help you get started and progress?

BB: I won the family category at Nashville Film Festival in 2018 with Spirit Halloween, which led to a few cold-call read requests. One request led to a shopping agreement offer with a known director interested, which I declined, and another led to a paid option, which I took. 

My other option around the same time came via Coverfly Pitch Week. It wasn’t even one of the scripts I was pitching, but Jonny Patterson of Confluential was looking for rom-coms; I remembered I had one gathering dust; he asked to read it, loved it, and optioned it. 

How Coverfly Writer Billie Bates Broke In With 'Spirit Halloween'_'Spirit Halloween'

'Spirit Halloween'

CF: You have some raunchy comedies. How did you approach writing a family film? 

BB: Raunchy comedies are my after-dark streaming indulgence, but most of the theatrical releases I've seen in the past decade have been movies I take my kids to. I've learned what works and what doesn't in family films based on their response and my own enjoyment.   

CF: How do you approach vacillating between genres and tone in general? 

BB: I feel the need to vomit out something edgier after being in a tamer space for a few months. I'm a writer with rich life experiences; I'd feel incomplete if I only tapped one of my creative wells!

"Anything that whispers at you on the page will scream at you from the screen."

CF: Any advice for writers struggling with self-doubt? 

BB: Settle in and embrace the journey. You'll hear people say it takes 7-10 scripts or 7-10 years to make it, and I'd have to agree. Spirit Halloween was my 6th script in my 5th year of screenwriting, but it took five more years to get traction, go through development, and finally make it to the screen. 

So write, get your work out there every way possible, and write some more. With so many streaming platforms out there now, content is king. Continually adding to your repertoire will increase the likelihood of having something someone somewhere wants.

CF: Any advice for breaking in from somewhere other than LA?

BB: You need a good work ethic, a non-abrasive personality, one outstanding script, or, preferably, a handful of competently executed scripts; you can share that from anywhere in the world. 

Also, don’t get hung up on finding a manager; get hung up on having a good amount of quality scripts and pitching them. When you have a career to manage, the manager will come.

How Coverfly Writer Billie Bates Broke In With 'Spirit Halloween'_Christopher Lloyd in 'Spirit Halloween'

Christopher Lloyd in 'Spirit Halloween'

CF: Did the script for Spirit Halloween change or evolve over the course of development? 

BB: Early drafts of the script had quite a complex mythology regarding the spirit and the steps needed to put it to rest. At the request of the company that optioned it, I wrote most of it out for budgetary reasons. When Particular Crowd partnered with Strike Back Studios and Hideout Pictures and David Poag came on board to direct, I was able to add back in a streamlined version. I think it's tighter for it and suits the younger-skewing audience better than the original.

CF: What was it like seeing your writing on its feet produced? 

BB: As far as direction, aesthetic, and tone, I couldn't be happier with how seamless David's interpretation was from the page to the screen. 

I'll say this, though, anything that whispers at you on the page will scream at you from the screen. If you think a line of dialogue is serviceable but not great on the page, you'll likely hate it in surround sound!

CF: Any other projects coming up? 

BB: I have a small Christmas film in post coming out in December, and I have a few other assignments in various stages of development. We're also hoping for an announcement from Confluential on The Bait in the coming months. The script has a fantastic director attached — Oran Zegman — who recently released her feature debut, HONOR SOCIETY, with Paramount+. So stay tuned for more on that.

A special thanks to Billie Bates for taking the time to share her story with us.

Spirit Halloween: The Movie is now in select theaters and will be released on VOD on October 11th.

Check out more Success Stories on Coverfly!