Kristi Barnett, a New Zealand native, attended the South Seas Film and Television School, as well as The Institute of Copywriting. She has received various honors for her work, ranging from The People’s Choice Award to The Best Screenplay Award. Kristi has been professionally writing screenplays since 2009. Some of her spec works include: Unseen, I Hate People, and The Psychic. In 2011, she made the first ever movie rolled out over Twitter, by the name of Hurst. She is currently working on the pre-production of her screenplay, Unseen.
Q: What initially inspired you to become a screenwriter?
A: I’ve always enjoyed writing creatively and I’ve always loved films. I think I realised that I could actually possibly make a career out of it when I saw a couple of friends doing well with their own scripts. They both wanted to be film directors and one made a very well known film with his own script and another wrote one and got really good feedback and meetings with producers in L.A. I thought, wow, I really could do this. Combine that with my absolute depression I felt in my life with the job I was in and it provided the catalyst to start writing.
Q: How old were you when you first started writing?
A: I’ve been writing small stories since I can remember. I wrote my first proper story or novella when I was about 9, called The Whales Graveyard and stupidly threw it out when I left school! I went to film school in 1999 and wanted to write (and direct) but didn’t get into it properly because I thought I should concentrate on a technical skill in order to actually make money and pay my student loan back. That was the wrong decision. I should’ve pursued it straight away. Instead I waited till 2009 to actually make a go at it when I was in my early 30’s.
Q: What was the first piece of work you ever wrote?
A: The very first official feature screenplay I ever wrote was Unseen. It’s a horror that’s now in pre-production as of this moment. It’s a spec, so I wrote it for myself to try and sell and/or get assignments; to get my career going into the professional realms. But as I said I’ve been writing small short stories since I was young. The first script I wrote that I knew had potential was CuckoO, a short I wrote at film school and rewrote it to enter the L.A Comedy Shorts Screenplay Festival, which I won and received my first award. Prior to this I also remember trying to write what I thought was a script when I was 15, called The Tree… a short, very bleak apocalyptic horror.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration for your work?
A: I have always liked horrors and dark twisted tales. I have no idea why; So naturally I read a lot of Stephen King and some James Herbert when I was growing up. I just love that sort of thing. They are master storytellers. I watched a lot of horrors in the 80’s, classics like The Exorcist and Poltergeist and I remembered how they scared me. I get my ideas from just having a very active imagination and I guess believing in paranormal phenomena helps too. I think of things that I think would be strange to watch and scary situations to be in and just try and make them into stories. I read a lot of anecdotal stories too and some of those are truly terrifying. I also love spoofs, so some of the comedy I’ve written can be quite silly which I love and that’s just my mind.
Q: What is your opinion on the amount of females there are in the screenwriting profession?
A: I think there are a huge amount of female screenwriters in the profession. I just have to look at all the writers groups and festivals I’ve been to to see that it’s definitely not biased towards males; but perhaps the quota between amateur and professional is must greater. I don’t have figures but I imagine that the ones able to sustain a career are statistically male. I can only guess why this might be; perhaps having children and bearing them takes precedence to travelling around having meetings with agents etc. But then again, is that because of the old school way of communicating where meetings are taken and the (old) notion you have to be in some hot spot like L.A? Is it harder for women to continue pursuing that type of screenwriting career? I do feel that in terms of genre, there is a precedence for females to fall into stereotypical categories. We may find more women writing Romcoms (with male writing partners) in order to get that sensitivity perhaps? But if there’s action, explosions, violent deaths, just plain horror or lots of testosterone fuelled scenes; do women want to write those? I don’t see many saying yes. And many genres have these elements in them, especially tentpole films. I personally have no idea what the statistics are but I’m betting that many women just don’t feel interested in writing those kinds of stories so they don’t get those jobs. The dramas and the comedies are harder to sell… so if that’s what a lot of women want to write then maybe that’s why we don’t see their name on the Hollywood system as much. And maybe they give up quicker because their stories are not selling. It would be interesting to see how many female writers are ghostwriters or hired writers as opposed to writers who’ve sold their own specs or have sole credit on a commission. I am purely relating this to a Hollywood paradigm; I think there are some very successful female writers in other independent systems. But overall I’m not sure there’s enough female genre writers (sci-fi, horror, action) and I guess it all relates to what I said above.
Q: What was your personal experience as a female screenwriter in the industry; were there any particular hardships or obstacles you had to overcome as a woman/ as a writer?
A: I honestly haven’t come across many obstacles etc other than amusing comments like people thinking I was a male (before meeting me) because of my writing. My writing can be quite warped and horrific. The horrors are dark and I guess quite in your face; that’s not to say there’s no build-up or tension; you’ll see a lot of that with Unseen but I understood what those comments were about and I wasn’t in the least bit offended. In fact I was quite flattered. Perhaps I sense a decorum of politeness in meetings; like all the fart jokes are being held back. But I am quite silly with my humour and can dish out some rather gross toilet humour with the best of them. In fact my manager made a point of letting people know they shouldn’t hold back with me. I was glad he said that!
Q: Do you have any particular genre you are drawn to?
A: Horror and either dark comedy or surreal comedy. Those are my strengths in writing but I love to watch most genres like, sci-fi, fantasy etc.
Q: Do you have any advice for the aspiring female screenwriters out there?
A: I guess it’s really a question of what you’re trying to achieve in your career. Are you happy writing what you’re writing? Do you understand what market you’re writing for and how distribution works? Like I said, you will definitely write better if you enjoy the genre you’re writing for, but also don’t be afraid of having a go at writing those scenes take you out of your comfort zone as a woman. I have always liked watching male niche movies with lots of male protagonists. It’s normal for me to write or attempt to write for that market. You may find that you do actually provide an unique perspective in the story and have a unique way of telling it. But if you don’t like it, then write what you like, no matter what genre, because you will be better at it and your stories will turn out more interesting. Just be aware though that some stories and some genres are harder to sell. There’s all kinds of levels of screenwriting careers; many women perhaps want to write for T.V. Or maybe you get hired to punch up scenes based on your own strengths. All of it is good and commendable and you should be proud that you’re working in a hard industry where everyone is scrambling to make themselves known so they can write. Personally, you shouldn’t think about the gender aspect at all, why should you? Nobody gives a shit if you write a Michael Bay movie or a Nora Ephron type movie, as long as you’re good at it. If you’re talented and people see it just keep going, because you’ll get that career. But I won’t lie, I’d love to see more cinema distributions going to female written genre movies.