Screenwriter Anna Waterhouse on Race – The Film

Screenwriter Anna Waterhouse
Photo Credit – Tom Shrapnel

Jesse Owens – an African American Olympian popular during the 1930s – was a man who became a symbol that meant different things to different people.  For African Americans, he represented a great black hope at a time when racism and race relations in the United States was at its worst.  For the American people at large, he represented a great athlete who would dominate the Olympic games in track and field, inspiring nationalism at a time when the entire world was at war.  For Hitler and Nazi Germany, he represented a huge upset in the white supremacist dogma that was spreading throughout western Europe and destroying the lives of many non-Aryan people.  For those of us looking back to those times, he represents a moment in time when the world stood still, stunned by the fact that this African American man could win such a prized possession at a time when so much pain and suffering due to racial tension was taking place in the United States and Europe.

Capturing this moment in time and all of the pain and emotion of this era is very difficult to do on film; however, screenwriter Anna Waterhouse has certainly tried to capture this moment in history in her new film Race which will debut in theaters this Friday, February 19.  Here this week, she shares with Reel Focus what it was like making the film and a little about her career as a screenwriter.

Thank you, Anna for joining us this week to discuss this film about a very controversial period in history.  First, tell us about yourself and how you became involved in film.

I have always loved film.  Some of the most memorable moments of my life are wound up with movies.  I vividly remember being sick and home from school and my parents letting me watch Gone With The Wind.  I don’t think I moved a muscle for 4 hours.  And the day before my first son was born, my husband and I watched Once Upon A Time in America.  Now, every time I hear the soundtrack I cry.  Great movies have an emotional power, like great music — they become associated with these transitional moments, in this case the night before I became a mother.

So I knew I wanted to be involved in film from a very young age.  As a child, I wanted to be an actress.  Then, at University, where I read English, I started producing plays.  This led (somewhat surprisingly) to a successful early career as a West End theatre producer.  But I still had my heart set on film and wrote screenplays feverishly on the side.

Then in 2005 I met my husband, Joe Shrapnel, who was also a writer.  We began collaborating, so that’s when this phase of my life really began.

The thing that strikes me most about this film is the title, which seems to have a dual meaning.  Race on one hand is what Jesse Owens is preparing to run and race on the other hand is the controversial issue plaguing this character as it relates to his skin color and socio-economic status.  Was there much effort put into the title of this film?

Race is the perfect title for this film.  It’s so fitting it seems inevitable now.  Jesse Owens grew up in a segregated America.  When he qualified for the ’36 Berlin Games he was under pressure from many people, including the African American community, to boycott.  It was felt that under the Hitler regime it would send the wrong message for America to compete.  But Jesse was in prime physical condition and if he’d waited four years (or as it turned out, due to the war, longer than that) it would probably have been the end of his Olympic dream.  In the end, his success in Berlin sent a more powerful message than his absence.  He blasted Hitler’s myth of Aryan supremacy by winning four gold medals and became the icon of the games.  The title seemed to encapsulate in a single simple word all the rich and complex themes of a story about racial prejudice afflicting a track and field athlete.

With all of the controversy brewing in Hollywood about diversity, where do you think a film like this fits into this ongoing dialogue?

It fits right in the centre of the dialogue.  Jesse is first and foremost an American hero – it’s amazing to me that it took 80 years for someone to make a major feature film about him.  So I think the film industry needs to look at redressing the balance.  Time and time again audiences flock to movies with African American and female protagonists.  We should be making more of them.

Someone started a twitter campaign called ‘writers so white’.  Joe and I were included for being white writers who wrote about an African American icon.  It angered me because it implied that white people should only write about white people and black people should only write about black people.  Should women only write about women, and men about men?  Of course not!

If it takes a public outcry like the one surrounding the awards season to effect change, then it’s for the better.  But I look forward to a time when the only issue surrounding a film is whether it’s any good, without consideration of the ethnicity or gender of the filmmakers.

Without going into too much detail, tell us what types of films you want to do in the future  as you grow and expand in the industry; and who would you like to work with (actors, directors, production companies, etc.)?

We are writing an action film for director Chris McQuarrie at the moment which is a wonderful experience.  Chris is a brilliant collaborator and such a champion of other writers.  He makes the job fun!  We have loved working with Ridley Scott on a couple of projects.  We’re very impressed by the films Ben Affleck has made, particularly ARGO.  And Kathryn Bigalow is someone we admire.  I worked with Matt Damon when I was a theatre producer and he’s an actor I would love to work with again.  And Idris Elba.  Joe and I have known him for years and are always trying to find something to do together.


Photo courtesy of Anna Waterhouse.

Video courtesy of Youtube.



Screenwriter John Rogers Talks About His Latest Action Thriller – The Player on NBC

11/19/2008 - John Rogers - Electric Entertainment Celebrates TNT's "The Librarian 3" and "Leverage" - Arrivals - The Cabana Club - Hollywood, CA. USA - Keywords: John Rogers - False - - Photo Credit: Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos - Contact (1-866-551-7827)


Reel focus readers I have a real treat for you.  A lot of great movies and shows are rolling out this season and I’ve been hot on the trail like a sleuth in a detective tale finding production people who can discuss their films or TV shows.  Ok so I am stretching the truth a little – I’ve been finding writers to discuss their films.  As you know, I’m a writer so I’m partial to other writers because I feel like most writers don’t get the accolades that they rightfully deserve.  So, pardon me if I show a lot of love to writers.

This week I have tracked down screenwriter John Rogers!  He is a powerhouse writer having written for a lot of films and television shows that we love – just check out his IMDb page here.  He has a new show debuting this week and let me tell you, I was floored when I saw Wesley Snipes in the previews.  Yes, Wesley Snipes will be making a comeback on Rogers’ new television show “The Player” on NBC.  I’m excited and can’t wait to see it but in the meantime, Rogers will tell us in his own words more about his career and more about “The Player.”

Tell us more about what television shows or films that you are known best for.

I’ve had a weird combo-burrito of a career, basically hopping from stand-up to TV to film and then back to TV, with a side trip into comic books. I created the animated show THE JACKIE CHAN ADVENTURES, co-created LEVERAGE on TNT which just finished a five year run, developed and ran THE LIBRARIANS on TNT and currently have THE PLAYER premiering on NBC this Thursday. Oh, and I co-wrote the first TRANSFORMERS movie.


You have written for television and film.  Do you like or prefer one medium over the other in order to express your writing creativity?

Given the choice between film and television, I’d always go to TV. You can tell longer form stories, take characters through involved emotional journeys, and you make it. I mean, make it NOW! The fastest I ever got a movie made was three years. Sometimes in television you write pages that are shot the next day.

I also enjoy the writer’s role in TV production. I like working with actors over a longer term, crafting and growing the characters over multiple episodes and seasons. The script is the score. The actors should get to play it in their key.


What is your motivation for creating the new action thriller “The Player” on NBC?

THE PLAYER was born of a conversation between myself and John Fox, an old friend and producer on THE BLACKLIST. He’d had a conversation with a friend who was a gambler, talking about how you wind up chasing the thrill of bigger and bigger bets, weirder bets. It somehow turned to “Would you bet on crime?”, to which the gambler replied “Yeah, sure.”

John brought that idea to me, and together we crafted that world — what it would take to run a system that gambled on crime, who would do it, and what that system would imply about the rest of the world. THE PLAYER is a straight-up action thriller, but we really want to examine the nature of power. How its maintained, controlled, and how it can never really be destroyed. Alex Kane is the one man in the Game we’re all trapped in who knows what’s going on. How he decides to play that game, what it says about us, is the real point of the show.

This is a big come back for actor Wesley Snipes.  Tell us more about why he was chosen to be in this television series.

Mr. Snipes kept coming up in conversation as we talked about the character of Mister Johnson. We wanted a morally ambiguous character, who was a mess of contradictions. Precise but violent. Cool and street but can walk in the corridors of power. Not moral, but deeply ethical. As we talked about he character’s history, we were saying “You know, like those action-hero types of the 90’s. Wesley Snipes.” Finally somebody at Sony said “Hey, you really need someone with the buzz to break us out of the Fall pack, AND we could, ya’ know, just ask Wesley.”

So Bharat Nalluri — the pilot director — and I went to dinner with Mr. Snipes, talked to him about the character and how TV in general works these days, and got him interested. I can’t speak for him, of course, but he said he was fascinated by the idea of building a character over long the term rather than the one-and-done of movies. He’s very new to TV, and really peppered us with questions about every part of the process, that night and over the course of the pilot.

That was really great — so many people come in from the film world and act like hey know how TV works. Mr. Snipes is a lifelong learner, and pulls apart a subject when it interests him. He’s been a great asset on the show, and every request he’s made has been about making the show better, never just about something for himself. It’s a pleasure to be working with him.

And he will knock your socks off. In the pilot, Mr. Johnson is very restrained, as it’s a story told through Alex’s POV. As the series goes on, you see him in action, both in the halls of power and some devastating action and fight scenes. Which, of course, he insists on doing himself. It’s just great.



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Behind the Scenes with Screenwriter Tyger Williams

Photo credit - Tyber Williams
Photo credit – Tyger Williams

We are just days from the highly anticipated film “The Perfect Guy” starring Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut and Michael Ealy.  I don’t know about you but I was intrigued by the trailer; intrigued enough to find out more about the movie and about the man behind the screenplay for the movie.Menace to Society

We know Tyger Williams best for his screenplay “Menace II Society” which was one of my favorite African American films from back in the day.  Tyger was among many of the African American writers of the 1990s that put African American culture on the map.  Now he is about to do it again, with something a little different – still keeping African American people center stage but focusing on the theme of obsession.

Tyger, thank you for accepting this invitation to share more about your career with Reel Focus readers. Of course we want to know more about the film but first I want to start with a little bit of your background in film.  Tell us how you became a screenwriter.

It was watching Star Wars as a child that made me fall in love with movies. I started writing short stories in middle school and high school with no intention of writing screenplays. In college I studied production and marketing with the intention of becoming a producer. While interning for a production company and doing lots of script coverage I read a book that said writing was the easiest way into the business and so I started writing screenplays, the third of which was Menace II Society. I ended up selling it before graduation. My advice to anyone wanting to become a screenwriter is to read TONS of scripts, rather than all those books on how to write. The more you read the more you recognize what works and doesn’t, and why. You also get a sense of all of the different styles and voices. This is invaluable in terms of figuring out your own identity as a writer.

What have you been doing since Menace II Society?

Lots of writing. I wrote a bunch of scripts for all of the studios, most of which ended up stuck in development. I also wrote a few TV pilots that never materialized. It was lucrative business but not entirely creatively fulfilling because nothing was getting made. I eventually connected with the Sundance Institute and began serving as a creative advisor to their Screenwriting and Directing Labs, which I continue to do still. That led to me teaching screenwriting at U.S.C. and all the while I’m still writing my own screenplays. Because that’s what a writer does, right? We write and write and continue to write.

Tell us more about “The Perfect Guy.”  What made you want to write such a thriller and what do you think it is about your screenplay that attracted such top-billing actors and actresses?

FOR FIRST USE IN USA TODAY - SNEAK PEEK ON JUNE 4, 2015 Sanaa Lathan (background left), Morris Chestnut (center) and Michael Ealy (right) star in the Screen Gems motion picture THE PERFECT GUY. Credit: Dan McFadden, Screen Gems ORG XMIT: Michael Ealy (Finalized); Morris [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

The Perfect Guy is a thrill ride. It’s romantic, sexy and scary all at once. I had been working with Screen Gems on another project for a couple of years. When that didn’t work out they asked me to write The Perfect Guy. I was intrigued and challenged by the idea of writing a thriller, and especially interested in writing a role specifically for Sanaa Lathan. I’d been a fan of hers for years and just knew it’d be a great fit. I also knew that nobody else in Hollywood was writing a movie like this for her and saw it as a great opportunity to present adult, out-of the-box roles for African-American actors. And then Michael Ealy and Morris Chestnut showed up!

Finally, what’s next for Tyger Williams – in film and in life in general?

I’m currently writing and producing a limited series for ABC Signature Studios and busy developing other projects, one of which I may end up directing. And I’ll continue working with Sundance and U.S.C. as long as they’ll have me because I have a great need to “give back” and be part of an artistic community. Life is good in general, the best approach being to enjoy each day.




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An “Empire” of Her Own

Attica's Photo
Photo courtesy of Jenny Walters

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

I’m sure most of you have heard of the new hit series on Fox called Empire and you may be familiar with some of its characters – Lucious, Cookie, Jamal, Andre, and Hakeem. But one person you may not be familiar with is Attica Locke. Lucious and Cookie may be the face of the hit series but Attica is one of writers for the series. This week, Reel Focus will explore one of the geniuses behind this phenomenal new series and will focus on how she built an “Empire” of her own.

Attica thank you so much for talking to our Reel Focus readers. We all of course are excited about your recent success with the new show but I want us all to go back down memory lane and get to know Attica Locke. How did your writing career begin?

AL:  I have always been writing, even as a child. But somewhere around high school, when I saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, something clicked inside me and I wanted to be involved in film. I started writing scripts. I went to film school at Northwestern University in Chicago and then moved to LA as soon as I graduated. I wrote scripts exclusively at that time, but I was only thinking of them in terms of being a path to directing. I wasPleasantville a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab and came out of that with a movie deal, which collapsed shortly after. It broke my heart. I was 25 years old. I knew I could write but was not certain at that time that I would ever get my own movie made, or that Hollywood was interested in my kind of black stories. So I became a studio screenwriter. I made a lot of money writing scripts for every major studio. I did it for years, but nothing ever got made. I grew bored and disenchanted and decided to write a book. That was three books ago.

What is life like for you outside of Hollywood?

I am someone’s mother. So that’s mostly my life outside of Hollywood. Soccer games and play dates. And I read A LOT.TheCuttingSeason

I myself am a book writer and screenwriter and so I’m going to ask this question on behalf of me and other fellow novelist and screenwriters. How did you make the successful transition from a book writer to a screenwriter and what advice can you give to the ladies of Women in Film and Television Atlanta?

 As you see above, I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist. I came back to Hollywood because TV has gotten really interesting over the last decade or so. All the stuff I was doing as a feature writer – character dramas, political thrillers, etc. – has all moved to television. It’s hard to live off book money in Los Angeles, so I went to my agents and said I wanted to exploreBlackWaterRising TV. I went in with an idea for my own show, but I also told them I’d like to look at the pilots that were going to series, and I wanted to take meetings. I had never done TV, so I was stepping waaayyyy outside my comfort zone. But I kept saying to myself, almost like a mantra, “I’m willing to be uncomfortable.” When I read the script for Empire, I knew I wanted to be part of it from the first page. It took a lot of meetings, but then I got the job!

My best advice is always to write, write, write, and be willing to stretch yourself. Reach high and stay ambitious. And believe in the power of your own voice.

Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for. Let’s talk – brag about your involvement with Empire. According to IMDB, you have co-produced 11 of the episodes of the first season and have written one: “Our Dancing Days.” I will let you share what you like to about this episode or about the show in general.

I love the show because it’s so fresh, so unprecedented. I’ve never seen these characters on TV before. I’ve never seen a Cookie on TV, though I’ve known them in my real life. I’ve never seen a Jamal on TV before, though I know young men like him in my real life. It’s all a breath of fresh air. And I love the fact that the show lives in a kind of high, low place. We do big soap opera turns and crazy plot twists, but we also deal with social issues like homophobia, mental health, race, and class. My favorite part of the episode I wrote was when Cookie took over the stage and gave the speech to investors in Lucious’s place. It was pure Cookie.



For more information on Attica Locke visit

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