Film Courage: I’m hoping to get your thoughts on finishing this sentence and the sentence is “Even when you walk out of the best film school upon graduation you are…?”
Christine Conradt, screenwriter: Oh! You’re just another person with a dream, really. That’s it.
I think you know being 19, 20 years old you don’t…I didn’t know what to do with the best film school education in the country, right? I was just a 19-year-old skipping class half the time, not realizing what I was being given until later.
So you know, hindsight is 20/20. But you come out of film school it’s still about you. It’s still about you. It’s still about what you’re going to make of that education. Because all of that education in the world and understanding how to write a screenplay does nothing for you if you’re not willing to sit down and put the work in.
Film Courage: Interesting. How long after did you have that realization?
Christine: I think that realization came when I took those 6 months because I think until then I don’t think I was working hard. I just thought it was going to come to me and then I realized I’ve gotten off track, I’ve got to do this and that’s what I realized it.
Film Courage: When did you go back for your master’s?
Christine: I was older. I was in my thirties when I went back for my master’s.
Film Courage: And so it’s in juvenile delinquency.
Christine: My master’s degree is in criminal justice and I focused on juvenile delinquency and cyber crime.
Film Courage: Wow. I’m curious what prompted that (they’re both fascinating areas)?
Christine: I’ve always been interested in it and I think because I was just writing so many crime dramas and crime thrillers that at one point I thought “How can I be a better crime writer?” Because that’s really what I am and I made a list of things and on that list was to get a master’s degree and so I did that and also on that list was to go through one of the Citizen Academies for the Police Department (which I did that).
So I learned so much from all of those things are that list.
Film Courage: And you apply that now to the stories and also to in terms of the victim and maybe their reaction or their falling prey to someone?
Christine: Absolutely. In my criminal justice program we actually took a victimology class. I didn’t even know that existed. That there is a whole study of how victims are treated by the system, how they react, the proper way to deal with them, primary and secondary victims and all of these types of things. I didn’t know anything about that.
So that was a big eye-opener, too. Just learning that type of stuff and then being able to condense that material and use it to help other writers because it’s very difficult to research, like I can’t call a probation officer and say “Hey, I’ve got a character who skips probation. Can you tell me how to do that?” They’re never going to tell you that because you might have a brother who is trying to do that. So that’s very hard stuff to research.
By getting the degree it gave me some legitimacy. Also because everyone in my class was in law enforcement, they know I’m an actual screenwriter. Now I can actually call them and say “I need your help with this.” So that was actually a big help that was completely unintended.
Film Courage: Wow, so victimology, that’s incredible. And so that plays a lot into the stories in terms of people wanting to believe someone is good. I mean because I think we all can see ourselves as victims. But I know that is a big part of certain stories, that you have good intentions and then you’re duped kind of thing.
Christine: Well, it’s not just that, there’s also…and this is where you get into a lot of political correctness when we try to have these conversations and we shouldn’t because we need to have honest conversations about them. But at what level do victims play a part in being victimized, you know?
There are certain people who will never be victimized and there are some people who are victimized over and over and over. And again, we get so caught up in this idea that it’s not the victim’s fault, it’s the perpetrator’s fault when something happens. They were the ones who made the choice to commit the crime (the victim was the victim) which is important but what is it about certain people and their mannerisms and their choices that make them fall victim when other people haven’t. And so a lot of it is studying that which I find incredibly interesting also.
Film Courage: And so you’ve been it able to use that (it sounds like) in a lot of the characters that you write?
Christine: Yeah, I try to incorporate a lot of that kind of stuff just to give it the authenticity that I think it should have and I try to bring up some of those questions, right? These ideas, at least let people think about them even if you don’t make a concise statement about them that there’s this idea that you could be semi-responsible for what’s happening to you.
So I try to bring this up and then let people talk about those things later on.
Question For The Viewers: What do you think about the decision to get a master’s degree to become a better writer?
In this Film Courage video interview, Screenwriter Christine Conradt shares how she had a lucrative day job but always longed to be a screenwriter. After leaving the day job on good terms, she undertook a risky move giving herself 6 months to begin a writing life. Ultimately the risk paid off and Christine has now turned one writing job into another, leaving the 9-to-5 world behind for Film and Television.