How different is the short story from the film? ^ The film is a love story. In the film, instead of leaving the job when she is spanked, she finds herself enjoying the spanking and finding that it is opening something inside of her. She thus falls in love with the spanker. She struggles with this, but eventually she owns and defines her submissive tendencies. She becomes, in fact, the bossy submissive and asks for more. This scares her boss at first.
Were you ever a secretary yourself? ^ I was a secretary for about two weeks, but I was a bad secretary. I don’t think I was fired, but I was gently told it might not be the right field for me. Among the many problems for me were that malfunctioning Xerox machines make me lose my mind. I also have a bad back so I had to put my feet up on the desk to be comfortable which just isn’t right for a secretary. These are things that E. Edward Grey would have scolded me for.
Have you had any bad work experiences like the ones Lee experiences in the film? Or, uh, maybe those were “good” experiences? ^ I have had many instances of sexual harassment in jobs I’ve had in the past. But I was young and didn’t know I was being sexually harassed. In these instances, I had absolutely no sexual attraction to the harassers, so it was confusing for me. I thought I had been hired because these men liked my work, not my a*s. You see, I went to girl’s/women’s schools for much of my education, so I came from a very sheltered and also wonderful environment where I was seen for my personality, my intelligence, and my talent when it came to work. I was not accustomed to being seen as a sexual object. It took me years after college to finally understand that I was being harassed. I had never thought of myself as particularly hot, so I was always shocked when I realized what was going on. ^ I have worked with men I was attracted to. This can be very invigorating and exciting, especially if it is never consummated. But that is a consensual and more adult situation. The film’s situation borders on sexual harassment, certainly. But I think it ceases to be harassment when the submissive starts to like it and actually ask for it.
How did you get hired to write the script? What is that process like? ^ Two years of lunches, movies and meetings with Steven Shainberg. Lots of drafts handed into him. Lots of Steven’s red markings and suggestions all over the margins. Lots of time alone at home on my bed rewriting.
Had you written any scripts before? ^ I’ve been writing stage plays for almost twenty years. They’ve been done off Broadway, around the country and in Europe. I had always wanted to write a screenplay, but never wanted to write a spec. My desire was to find the perfect director and work with him on a film that he would actually make, not one that he would put on a shelf and pretend that he was going to someday make. People thought I was nuts to be holding out for this, but I am very lucky that Steven came along. Secretary was the first film script I wrote. Since then, I’ve written a few more – one for Jesse Peretz to direct for Forensic Films and another for a company called Girl From Queens in New York City. I’ve just been hired to write another. I’m often hired to write stories about complex and highly sexed women.
How do you approach the screenwriting process? Index cards, write for three hours in the morning, what works for you? ^ Yes, index cards. I love index cards. Because they write the film for me. They allow me to let go of the structure of the film and to dream and visualize. Then, when I’ve done all my research and dreaming, I arrange and rearrange the cards until they spell out the script’s arc and plot points. ^ I binge-write. I write all day and into the night for a week or two at a time. I also work on several projects at once. So what I often do is devote a couple of weeks to one project, put it to the side to simmer, then work on another before going back to the first. This gives me time to gain perspective and to read the drafts with a fresh eye. I love working this way. Immersing myself completely. ^ The other thing that is very important to my process is helping and working with other writers. When I get out of myself and see other people’s work, it gets me out of my head.
Get the rest of the interview in part three of AT YOUR SERVICE: SCREENWRITER ERIN CRESSIDA WILSON>>>