A Conversation with the Coffee Break Screenwriter Pilar Alessandra

with Alan Mehanna - 2016-02-03

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

- Thomas Mann -

Last year was the beginning of a fantastic networking journey for me as a screenwriter. I met multiple fellow screenwriters, I connected with international screenwriters - some who work on actual shows, but one of the greatest connections I made was with a screenwriting teacher and mentor, Pilar Alessandra

Host of On the Pagea podcast dealing with all things screenwriting, and the director of the popular writing program of the same name which she holds in Los Angeles, as well as globally. She is also the author ofThe Coffee Break Screenwriter, the need-to-have book for all screenwriters in my opinion. Alessandra's students have sold their screenplays to production studios including Disney, Dreamworks, and Warner Brothers. It was because of the podcast that I got the courage to start spreading my wings and exposing myself as a screenwriter to the world. 

After a few email exchanges, Alessandra asked me to answer a few questions concerning the screenwriting industry in Lebanon, I in turn asked if Alessandra would answers some questions forMehannaWriter.

So without much further ado, below are the seven questions with Pilar Alessandra’s answers. 


1) Can you tell me a little about how you got into the craft of screenwriting?
In my twenties, I got a job as a story analyst (script reader) at Amblin.  What I thought would be just a fun job, turned into a passion.  I really loved story and getting inside of a script, trying to figure out where it was working and where it needed improvement.  I loved how the rewrite of even one sentence could change the meaning of the entire story. 

2) What got you into teaching the craft?
I wanted to help writers instead of just making judgement calls on their scripts. It was fun and interesting to develop writing tools that could actually help writers finish their work and make their scripts more entertaining and readable.

3) What are some of the most common mistakes that you see among new screenwriters?
A lack of focus and commitment to the idea.  If a writer has a big idea, I want to see the script mine every possibility.  If the script meanders it feels wishy-washy. If it jumps from big idea to big idea, it feels jumbled and confusing.

4) Seeing as how Lebanon's writers are mostly women, what advice can you offer the new generation of young women writers?
First: my congratulations. Well done!  
Second: jump into any genre that interests you.  
Third: confidence is not arrogance. Don’t be afraid to express belief in your work and your talent.

5) What is one of your favorite or most used writing exercises?
The character description rewrite is one of the most used and also my favorite. The idea is to rewrite descriptions that only focus on the physical.  Instead, think “essence” (what someone is like) plus “action” (what they’re doing when we first see them). “SALLY, a 25 year-old brunette,” isn’t nearly as interesting as “SALLY, sassy and street-smart."

6) Are you more of a create character first or create event first type of writer?
They’re completely woven together.  Event creates emotion. Emotion inspires event.  

Bonus Question: Favorite TV series and why?
I was such a Breaking Bad fan.  It was like watching this incredible movie played out over years.  What worked for me most was tracking the opposing character arcs of Walt and Jesse.  As Walt degenerated, Jesse matured.  And every event incrementally pushed them toward change.


Full of great responses, I want to personally thank Alessandra who took time from her extremely busy schedule in order to share her knowledge and experience with me and my readers.

I will sign off my blog the same way Alessandra signs off of her podcast by saying…

Have a great writing week!

Alan Mehanna

Instructor, Faculty of Information & Communication