|Best Scene from FAMILY OF SPIES Screenplay
Written by Susan Lambert Hatem
Genre: Family, Crime, Drama
Mom and former-police-officer-turned-lawyer Julia Molina is trying to have it all, but all she’s feeling is stuck in the middle of a boring job and chaotic home life. When an old friend with a mysterious past shows up to ask for her help, Julia suddenly finds herself drawn into a web of lies, spies and intrigue.
Get to know the writer:
What is your screenplay about?
The official synopsis is this:
Mom and former-police-officer-turned-lawyer Celeste Harper is stuck in the middle of a boring job and chaotic home life. When an old friend with a mysterious past shows up to ask for her help, Celeste suddenly finds herself drawn into a web of lies, spies and intrigue. Soon, her husband, Ben, who has a hidden past of his own, and her precocious kids, Sean and Darby are called into action as well. In the process of saving the world, they may also wind up saving their family.
But for me, this story is really about:
The desire to make a difference with your work and how that may clash with the responsibilities of raising a family. It’s been my challenge as a writer, a producer and mom. This story is a fun and intriguing metaphor for every parent’s challenge in the world: Can you raise a family and save the world*?
*aka – Get your very important work done before it’s time to pick up your kids from school.
What genres does your screenplay under?
Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
I haven’t seen anything quite like my version. There is of course Spy Kids and Mr and Mrs. Smith and The Incredibles, all of which were inspirations, as was the 80s TV show, Scarecrow and Mrs. King and the TV show Chuck (basically the reverse Scarecrow and Mrs. King). I wanted to create a live-action action thriller that I can watch with my kids and I would enjoy as much as them. I think we’re clamoring as audiences for something that is exciting, but not too dark. Adventurous, but aspirational and that has heart. I know I am.
How would you describe this script in two words?
What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
I was always interested in the arts, music, theatre. But it was seeing the original Star Wars at a young age that took my creative breath away. I just had never seen anything like it. I saw it 32 times in a theatre the first year it came out (and it stayed in theaters for a year!).
As an adult, it’s probably a three-way tie between Jaws, Die Hard and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, mostly because if they show up on TV/in my que, I just can’t stop watching them. I produced the website for Finding Nemo, so I saw that a lot when I was at Disney and then on top of that, my son was obsessed with it as a 4-yr old. I may have seen that movie 40 times!
How long have you been working on this screenplay?
I had the shape of the idea almost 3 years ago. Because of other projects, it took a two years before I could even begin to write it. Then it took about 5 months to write the first draft. Various revisions and feedback took about six months, getting me to the version I submitted to Festival for Family. I have since revised it more based on feedback from Festival for Family and friends. And that I now think it’s better as a TV pilot.
How many stories have you written?
A lot. I have been writing most of my life: short stories, screenplays, plays. I went to USC Film School and have been an independent filmmaker, theatre maker and producer. I like wearing many hats. I like to make most of my stuff independently. Since I also direct, produce, consult in digital marketing and have a family, I go in spurts with my writing. I was doing a lot of producing and directing for a number of years, so I didn’t write screenplays for about five years. Then this last two years, I’ve been writing a plethora of material. I’ve never written like this before. It’s like planes circling an airport, trying to come in for a landing. Much of my stuff, I produce independently. But some ideas, like Family of Spies, I feel have more commercial potential and I’m interested in getting them out to a wider audience.
What motivated you to write this screenplay?
The first spark came one Christmas Eve with my husband, putting a trampoline together in our backyard. In the dark. Right outside our kids’ window. I loved the idea of the secret, quiet conversations/arguments parents have together in the dark of the night when they’re trying to make the world happen for their kids.
I also love action thrillers and spy movies and television. As my youngest kid moved away from watching animated and “children’s” films, there was a lack of what I felt was appropriate movies and television to watch together. Those transition films. I wanted that. So I wrote it. I was fascinated by the challenge I personally feel trying to balance work with family. It’s a pull that I feel (mostly) women have, but in this work-constantly, fear-driven culture, I think everyone feels that pull to come together and connect with each other in a scary world.
I’m interested how women and men, parents and families, can try to affect real change. This story is a metaphor for acting on that instinct to step up: to volunteer, become an activist, get outside your comfort zone and do something real to help people. To change the world. And I want us to bring our kids along. Let them see us be leaders and heroes and they will be leaders and heroes.
What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
Time. And structure. It started as a screenplay and then I realized pretty much around the draft I submitted to Festival for Family, I really want it to be a TV show. I think the world and the characters became bigger to me. I want them to go on and on. So the structure changed a lot. Also, world events and changing times made me try to be very careful about what I was saying about violence and about power structures. That is an ongoing challenge.
Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
I love my family and friends. I am passionate about diversity, science, technology, music, justice and protecting the environment. I like to walk, hike and ride my bike. I love good stories and good, independent entertainment. In addition to writing, I produce (and write and sometimes direct) plays, musicals, web shows, music albums. I am passionate about responsible digital marketing for entertainment and worked with Disney (for years) and Dreamworks (as a consultant).
Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?
Keep writing. And make stuff. Work together. Find your people and make stuff with them. Technology gives us exciting tools we need to put stories we love out into the world. Don’t rely on gatekeepers.
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