Interview with Trai Cartwright, by Jean Jacobsen
Can you give us a little bit on your professional background?
I have over 25 years’ experience as a professional story breaker. While in Los Angeles, I was a development executive and story consultant for HBO, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, New Line Cinema, and 20th Century Fox. Now I’m a happily-busy writing consultant and editor who works with writers one-on-one, and I teach at universities and for writers’ organizations across Colorado. I teach at Western Colorado University’s Screenwriting MFA, Denver University’s Creative Professional Writing MA, and University of Colorado Denver’s Film and TV Department. I have produced 4 independent films, a docu-series pilot, and a smattering of short films. I am also a screenwriter who has been optioned multiple times. Finally, I’m President of Women in Film and Media Colorado. My mission is to connect Colorado writers with the resources to build their futures.
Education seems to be an important part of your message. What educational paths do you think are most beneficial for writers?
All educational paths are beneficial to writers. From classes and conferences to working with a writers’ group, to engaging the services of an editor, to reading reading reading, and then writing writing writing some more – or if you possibly can, join a graduate program and have that intensive, escalated experience with pros who’re bringing all the lesson to you — all of this will elevate not only your skills, but raise your confidence and help you deliver work that you can be proud of. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the most fun work there is.
Creatively you write across multiple genres. What advice do you have for writers who want to jump into a new genre?
My advice for jumping genres (or mediums, i.e., fiction to non-fiction or screenwriting) is to study your new element. Audiences have definite expectations, so it’s important to have a sense of what those expectations are so that you might serve—or bend them. There used to be a marketing mandate that said a writer could only write in one genre/medium, as audiences would “get confused” if a different story emerged. The truth is, readers are by nature voracious and loyal and if they love your voice and trust your taste as a storyteller, they will follow you anywhere. And what’s great is the marketplace now wants diverse writers – if you’ve got a book that can be adapted, if you’ve got a bizarre, personal idea for a web series, if you’ve got mash-up genre story – the buyers and publishers want to hear it all.
Tell us about your Friday Night presentation “Marketing through New Media.”
Did you know that videos are 600% more effective for marketing than print? That’s the power of New Media! Learn what New Media is, where it lives, how to develop it for your brand, and how to execute a brilliant marketing campaign in the most modern, most vital way.
The other workshop you are presenting is “The Back of the Book Blurb.” Can we get a sneak peak?
Every reader knows that after the book cover, the blurb describing the story is what entices us to buy. But did you also know that writing this blurb early can help focus your story development? Or that you can use this blurb for querying? We’ll discuss the logline, the summary, and the Big Dramatic Question so you can write your own!
How can writers make the most of their conference experience?
Do not rest. Rest is for Sunday. Miss nothing, go to everything. Talk. Rumor has it that writers are painfully shy, insular creatures who cringe at human contact. Conferences are filled with your people, people who get it and get how hard this is. Reach out both to agents and editors and teachers, but to your fellow conference-goers, too. They could use the boost, and you’re gonna make a new ally.
Oh! And pitch! Even if your book isn’t perfect, practice pitching to the available agents and editors! This is how you sell your work, so build those relationships now.
What is “right” about your writing right now?
I’m intensely inspired! I’ve had a great year teaching, producing a range of media, and I have a screenplay being sent around in Los Angeles, And I’ve got some polishing to do on a few projects – they’re all going out this year. This is the year when I’m finally at a skill level and the confidence level and have the relationships that I know I will make some leaps forward.
What are you reading right now?
Mostly I read client manuscripts, and how lucky am ? I’m paid to watch TV and movies. So that’s my jam!
In what little free time you have, you are also entering your fourth year as a founding board member of Women in Film and Media Colorado.
I love WIFMCO! This is precisely the kind of organization that Colorado needs and that womxn filmmakers in Colorado need! Last year, we put on 12 high level education events with some of Colorado’s top talent, we made a mentor-mentee crewed short film, we gave away over $10,000 to filmmakers in the form of the 3rd Annual Screenwriting Contest, 2nd Annual Finishing Fund, and the first Content Creator Award for a pilot-maker at SeriesFest (partnering with WIFT Louisiana for that one). We do more than pay lip service to what should be done – and we get it done.
You teach and support a lot of writing and artists organizations. What draws you to these community-based organizations?
Hollywood is community-based, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Your network is your lifeblood, the people who support your career and even create opportunities for you. I worked with wonderful people there, and they taught me to always reach out a hand and help others. To my mind, the only way to thrive in a tricky business like the publishing world or the film industry is to do it together. Be generous or be alone.
Beyond writing and community work you also offer freelance writing, editing and consulting services. Can all writers benefit from working with an editor? What are the perks to freelancing that other writing careers don’t offer?
All writers can benefit from working with an editor – but it’s important they are the right editor. Do your homework. Make sure there’s a personal connection there. Ask for testimonies if they aren’t readily supplied. The right editor can cut drafts (and drafts) out of the development process and make you understand your own writing better.
As for freelancing, well, isn’t for everyone. But for someone like me who is extremely self-motivated and, shall we say, has a problem with authority figures, it’s terrific. I like my boss. I love my clients, whether they are in a classroom or on the other end of a manuscript. This job is the best I’ve ever had, and I fight every day to do it well and to keep it.
Tips to go freelance?
You have to be seriously passionate about this space or you won’t have the energy to sustain a business. You also have to be realistic about whether you can live with the financial ups and downs, and whether you have the temerity to constantly be looking for work. That part grinds. Try doing it part time and see if it’s a good fit. You’ll also be able to build your network during this trial period. Then go for it! We need all the great editors and writers we can get!