Friends Friday | Screewriter/Director Jessica Bendinger
I met Jessica very early in my career because she was one of my first clients. I loved getting this lady ready…so smart, so funny, and SUCH great taste in clothes and products. Later, after a little googling, I realized she had casually written Bring it On and Stick It…like, FAVES. Every time I left Jessica's house after that, I felt so inspired and excited to work hard. She really is the definition of a boss lady! I'm just so happy she came into my life. Although I don't see her as often I as I wish I did, whenever I do it's a treat! I'm so psyched to share this amazing woman with you guys. Enjoy!!!!!!
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I’m not sure, but I was a runner-up in a writing contest in 6th grade, and I wrote about how much I loved reading and the power of books to take you anywhere. Reading was a big refuge for me as a kid, so I was very drawn to the idea of being able to replicate that.
How do you conquer writer’s block?
I conquer writer’s block two ways: one technique is by setting out to write badly. You intentionally write the crappy draft because it frees you up to simply explore. Another technique is a trick I call 30 or 3. Thirty minutes or three pages, whichever comes first. I set a timer and try to beat the clock. It gives me a false sense of urgency and I actually enjoy it. What can I say? I’m competitive with myself!
Is there a certain room, chair or coffee shop where you do your best writing?
I believe in being able to write anywhere. I enjoy pushing against the white noise of a coffee shop or hotel lobby to focus, but that often requires headphones. Sometimes, the music is blocking the thoughts and I move in and out of needing that in the background.
How do you come up with a new idea for a script?
You can read more about my process at this link, but I try to dive into a world I’m interested in or secretly obsessed with. You need to have a love affair with what you’re writing, so I use my curiosity and my enthusiasm to galvanize my ideas. I know that is kind of general, but I enjoy zooming out and zooming in. What’s the big picture or arena? Then, what’s the compelling narrative within that arena? I fumble around imperfectly with those perspectives - wide/tight/wide/tight - and it really helps inform what I care about and what I find interesting. Then I take it from there.
What’s the difference between script writing and book writing?
A lot. Scripts are a very economical form that are a recipe for something else: a movie or tv episode. Everything is condensed, concentrated and minimal so it can be unpacked and make a meaningful story. A book is the opposite in some ways; you have to unpack all the meaningful perspective on the page. I like to say that a script is like a can of frozen orange juice concentrate; it will be added to water, ice, vodka or whatever to eventually become a drink. A book is like the entire orange farming process from planting to processing; it must encompass everything it needs in and of itself.
You wrote Bring it On and Stick It. Where did you find the inspiration for such cult favorite characters and storylines?
I trusted my enthusiasm. I loved cheerleading and I loved gymnastics and I love the more marginalized voices in our culture - whether it’s comedy or hip hop - I am inspired by those who are disenfranchised and underestimated. So imbuing characters that are traditionally dismissed (young women, female athletes in marginalized sports) is surprising to people. It is counter to their expectation because I do not condescend with the characters. I try to infuse their DNA with something medicinal and true. I wrap the medicine in candy, of course, but I suspect audiences are taken by surprise when their misconceptions are skewered. We all enjoy being wrong in a fun way, and I believe that’s why the movies have enjoyed such enduring appreciation. There’s something evergreen about what I’m trying to say about how we underestimate people - whether they are “bubble-headed cheerleaders,” or “girls in little boxes,” like gymnasts.
You’re also a director. How did you get into that role?
I spent a lot of time on sets growing up, as my dad was in the advertising industry. I started working at MTV after college and began directing low-budget music videos. Directing was a natural progression for me from writing. It was from a desire to impact the variables more directly in the storytelling and a longing to collaborate with talented artists - casting directors, actors, cinematographers, hair and makeup artists, costume designers, production designers, visual FX producers and editors - to complete the fuller picture of what I’d visualized.
How important is it to have women in the director’s chair?
Until we have a 50/50 balance of men and women directing, writing and creating stories, we marginalize audiences and leave out a critical perspective. Men can be empathetic to the female perspective, but until we have real equality at every agent - every agency should have an even split and every agent should rep an equal roster of men and women, and every studio should require an equitable split behind the camera. Until we are living that - not as a mandate, but because it will be a profitable win/win for the global economy - there is work to be done. It can’t be women alone arguing for change, men in the industry and men in positions of power - actors, agents, studio execs and shareholders - men need to work to make this happen because it is in their best interest in the long run for the sustainability of our industry, counterintuitive as that sounds.
You also wrote for Sex and the City. What was that experience like?
It was incredibly gratifying to work on another cultural juggernaut. I feel very fortunate that I was able to work on that series, for sure. The experience was very educational for me - Michael Patrick King taught me how to break story and how to break a season story arc. Even when we disagreed in the room, he used that conflict to get us to a useful place. It was super engaging and interesting to me. I had always written alone and with autonomy, so navigating the group dynamic was very new to me and fascinating. I got to work with a dear friend, Judy Toll, who died in 2002. She was a big pal of Michael Patrick King’s and my biggest memories from the show were that I got to spend some precious time with Judy. She was very good to me, and encouraged me before I sold Bring It On. So most of my memories are of the hilarious and generous Judy Toll.
What upcoming projects can you tell us about?
Well, I wrote a really fun time-travel pilot that I adore called CLOCKED. I’ve been developing two other TV series that I’m obsessed with, but most recently I’ve been casting and getting financing on a feature film about mental health called PSYCHED. It’s a musical. I just lined up some friends to do season one of a podcast, because I love to talk… as you know, Jamie.
Is there any area/role that you want to work on that you haven’t gotten to yet?
Podcasting. Storytelling in all forms is compelling to me, so naturally I want to try them all. Whether I’m any good at it or not is another thing entirely, but I’m dumb enough to try! Not being afraid of looking foolish is something I work to overcome, it’s a real creativity killer. I want to work on my courage and my vulnerability in my storytelling. That’s definitely an area worthy of deeper exploration and discovery for me.
Any advice to someone looking to make it in the industry as a writer or director?
Make stuff. Just write stuff and make stuff and keep writing and making. Watch movies. Read scripts. Make the stuff you wanna read and see. If you want to go pro, make sure you can access discerning feedback - experienced professionals who know what they are talking about. If you don’t know how to access professional feedback, enter your stuff into festivals like the Austin Film Festival. That’s a great place to access some objective discernment.
How can people follow you?