Friday, June 21, 2013

Be the Heroine/Hero of Your Life Story

An Interview with Jen Grisanti
by Ann Baldwin

Jen Grisanti is a highly respected script consultant, public speaker, author, and writing instructor. She started her career as an assistant to Aaron Spelling. Jen climbed the ranks and eventually ran Current Programs at Spelling Television Inc., covering all of Spelling’s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210; Melrose Place; and Charmed. In 2004, Jen was promoted to Vice President of Current Programs at CBS/Paramount where she covered shows including Medium, Numbers, NCIS, 4400, and Girlfriends. She served as a mentor in the CBS Diversity Program, which seeks out and nurtures young writers and directors. In 2008, she launched her own consultancy firm, Jen Grisanti Consultancy, dedicated to helping talented writers break into the industry. She is also a Writing Instructor for NBC’s Writers on the Verge, taught classes for the Scriptwriters’ Network, The Screenwriting Expo, and The Great American Pitchfest and served on panels for the WGA and Final Draft/The Writer’s Bootcamp. Her books include, Story Line: Finding Gold in Your Life Story (Michael Wiese Productions 2011), TV Writing Tool Kit: How to Write a Script That Sells, and her upcoming book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path to Success (Divine Arts 2013).

We’re all familiar with reading about heroines and heroes in books and watching them in films and TV, but most of us never consider ourselves as heroines or heroes. In my interview with Jen, she explains how to take the elements of story and apply them to your own life, so you can create the story of your dreams, turn them into reality, and be the heroine or hero of your own life.

Ann: What do you hope to teach your readers through your new book, Change Your Story, Change Your Life?

Jen: I was inspired to write by the simple thematic question that came up in my own life, can I take a personal or professional fall and turn it into a win? When I went through the actions and discovered that the answer was yes, I wanted to share it with others.

My intention with writing the book is so that readers can recognize that after their life takes a turn, they can create the story that they want on both a personal and professional level. It all comes down to choice. You can choose to be a victim or you can choose to be an active heroine in your own life. It all starts with defining what you want. By identifying a goal, you can learn how to take your personal or professional fall and through taking action, turn the fall into a triumph. By learning to be an active heroine in your own story through utilizing the story tools that I share, the reader will gage new insight on how they can change their story and their life in the process.

Ann: You state in your new book that "being active after a fall is one of life's greatest challenges"; how do we gain the motivation needed to take action after a fall and how can we be an active verses reactive heroine/hero in our own life?

Jen: In fiction and in life, there is every kind of heroine or Hero. You have the passive heroine, the reactive heroine, the reluctant heroine, and the non-heroine in addition to the active heroine. The active heroine is the one who creates their destiny through identifying a specific goal and taking action to get there. When you understand your emotional reasons for wanting to get to the goal, you can use this to motivate your pursuit. When we fall, we have the time to contemplate what we lost. We may recognize that the initial pursuit wasn’t what we thought it was because we didn’t strategically plan the internal side of our story. So, once we take the time to heal and understand what led to our fall, we can use the dilemma that we faced from the fall to fuel us forward into our new story. We have the choice of being the victim to the fall and becoming a reactive or passive heroine to our life or we can be the active heroine, learn the lessons from our fall, and plan our next victory with a stronger sense of spirit. By being the active heroine, we create the destiny that we want.

In my life, when I faced the dilemma of what to do after the loss of a job after 15 years with the same company, I knew that the choice that I made would define my character and determine what kind of heroine that I would be in my own life. I knew from having hit my goal of being Vice President that it was my actions that led to achieving this goal. So, I saw that being active brings the results. Now, I just needed to better develop the internal side of my story so that the external and the internal were in alignment. I choose to be active in my pursuit of creating my own business and shepherding my vision by helping others to achieve their goals and reach their destination through writing their story.

Ann: Most people are familiar with setting goals, such as buying a new car, graduating from school, getting a job promotion, purchasing a home, or winning an award, but many people are not aware of a key component needed to achieving their goals; what is your knowledge and/or experience with this aspect of success?

Jen: In my experience, the key tool to achieving the goal is connecting the personal dilemma or wound to the professional outcome. When we go through our “all is lost” moment, we lose something in the process. By redefining what it is we want through understanding what the internal desire is for the external reward, we will garner stronger results. If we use our pain to fuel us forward instead of hold us back, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

For example, one of the trigger incidents in my own life revolved around losing a job after 15 years with two sister companies. This trigger incident/turning point forced me into a dilemma. Did I want to continue to climb the corporate ladder and give into the idea of shepherding someone else’s vision or did I want to go out on my own and shepherd my own vision and take the risk of making a small business succeed? I chose the later. Then, my external goal that stemmed from this was to build the business into a big success. I used my personal wound; my fear that I wasn’t going to be able to do what I loved anymore for a living and I used it to drive my professional goal; to build a business that encompassed everything that I loved about my job. This is what I did. The book goes into my journey and uses it as a way to show how I used story tools in my own life to create the story that I wanted my life to reflect.

Ann: So, you'd say the key component to people achieving their goals is to not only know *what* they want externally (the car, house, or promotion), but *why* they want it internally (such as to feel happy, successful, free, or confident)?

Yes. I believe that you will find a greater sense of fulfillment at the finish line of a goal if you strategically think about how you want to feel internally from the external experience of achieving a goal. I’ve discovered that when we cross the threshold of our achievement without a sense of what we hope to feel internally, we often discover that it is not what we thought it was going to be. We feel let down by the experience. We do not attain true pleasure. If we think about what we hope to feel internally from the external journey, we cannot only use this as fuel to get us there, we will feel more when we do get there. In fiction, a strong writer understands the value of the why. The why represents why your central characters want what they want. This adds depth and meaning to the pursuit. We understand the internal motivation. We feel what is driving the character toward the goal line. If we can learn to do this in our own life, we will discover that when we do achieve our goals, there is a greater sense of satisfaction with it because our internal motivation will be in alignment with our external reward.

In my own life, I knew that I wanted to be Vice President and eventually run a studio or a network. I put everything into this pursuit. It took me thirteen years to go from assistant to being Vice President of Current Programming at the studio. I worked incredibly hard to get there. I didn’t anticipate that there would be anything except pure joy when I hit the destination. I attached the idea of “I’ll be happy when…” to this life experience and to the experience of marriage. When I accomplished both pursuits, the end experience wasn’t everything that I thought it would be; everything wasn’t perfect. There were costs that I had not factored into it. The problem with this is that I had never really thought about the internal side of why I wanted what I wanted; I just knew that I wanted it. By doing the emotional work after these falls, I was able to connect my internal desire to my external accomplishment. By understanding why I want what I want, every success that I have achieved since my turning points has had a deeper level of meaning.

Ann: How can you best describe what *turning points* & *dilemmas* are in someone's life and how is a person's character revealed through them?

Jen: A turning point simply put could be looked at as when one story ends or a trigger incident that starts us in a new direction. It could be the end of a marriage or a relationship. It could be the loss of a job. It could be the death of a loved one. It could be learning how to cope with a sudden disability. It’s the idea of moving from the old world to the new world. Life as we knew it takes a turn. Our reality shifts and we have to learn what actions we need to take in order to bring our life back into balance.

A dilemma is often when the turning point or trigger incident forces us into a choice. Do we want to stay single so that we can heal? Or, do we want to start dating so that the pain goes away? Do we want to start our own business and take the risk? Or, do we want to keep climbing the corporate ladder knowing that someone else could have the control of taking away everything that we built, again. We usually have two options with neither one being an easy choice. By doing the emotional work to make the right choice, we reveal character. Our reactions to our pain reveal character. It is when we are knocked down that we often come face to face with our ego. If we take the time to heal, it is our spirit that lifts us up.

Ann: Taking the time and doing the emotional work to heal is often avoided by most of us (at one time or another) and we usually end-up repeating similar scenarios, in-turn, creating patterns in our lives. What are themes, how can we identify them, and why are they important in our life as well as in stories?

Jen: Themes are invisible threads that weave the tapestry of our life together and unify our story arcs. By understanding themes in our life and how some of them are holding us back, we can learn how to use them to move us toward success instead of away from it. In story, we often see a character go from one side of the theme to other. For example, in the movie, “Up in the Air”, we see Ryan go from having the philosophy of being detached and non-committed (this is symbolized through his talk about going through life with an empty backpack) to being committed and attached. Toward the end, he can no longer give his talk on the empty backpack because he sees the flaw in his philosophy; it is not bringing him the kind of feeling that he hoped it would. The theme defined his journey and deepened his pursuit. By doing this in our life, we can think about the themes that are holding us back. We can identify how to use the theme to propel us forward by understanding if we can move from one side of the theme to the other. Do we want to go from detachment and non-commitment to the idea of being committed? By doing this, we can find a greater sense of internal fulfillment in our life and our achievements.

You can identify themes in your life by thinking of the blocks that get in the way for you achieving your goal. For example, some themes to think about are addiction, low-self esteem, ego, fantasy, disbelief, poor work ethic, low motivation, responsibilities and the list goes on. We can think about the wounds from our past that bring up more themes in our lives such as betrayal, divorce, end of a friendship, lack of achievement, lack of commitment, etc. We can think about positive themes to help us know how to go from one side to the other like love, happiness, fulfillment, achievement, ambition, success, spirit. By identifying what our own themes are that are holding us back and strategically thinking about how we can do the emotional work and take the external actions to get to the positive side of the negative themes that are holding us back, we can create the story of the life that we want to be living. We can use our identification of our themes to recognize a faulty life philosophy that we have that might be holding us back instead of moving us forward.

Ann: You're one of the few women who've worked their way up into a top executive position at a Hollywood studio and now you're the owner of a leading consultancy business within the film and television industry; what additional advice can you give to those who have dreams of achieving the type of success that you have in the show business?

Jen: My advice is to first define what you want in your life. Once you define it, be active in your pursuit moving toward your goal. Recognize that you will hit many obstacles, escalating obstacles, and “all is lost” moments. These are all part for the course. If you can get over them or through them, you will get to where you want to go. If you do get there and find out that it’s not what you thought it was going to be, set a new goal and create a new plan to redefine your direction. In my career, I learned that the word “no” didn’t mean anything. All it meant was I had to try a different angle to get where I wanted to go. You can do anything that you set your mind toward doing. It all comes down to knowing what you want and being active in your pursuit. You can do it. You will get there.

You can connect with Jen Grisanti at and purchase a copy of Change Your Story, Change Your Life at Amazon or MWP.
Ann Baldwin is a screenwriter (The Power of Dreams, Scent of a Trail, Dream Catcher) with several spec scripts in development. She reviews books on screenwriting and filmmaking, writes articles, interviews, and has several books (fiction & non-fiction) in-progress. Prior to launching her writing career, she was a special event coordinator and manager in the hospitality and entertainment industries for over 25 years. You can visit her website at and her blog page at

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Bold Broads and Daring Dames

An Interview with Kim Krizan
by Ann Baldwin

 Republished from IndieWire May 17, 2013

Kim Krizan is an Academy Award-nominated writer of the films Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. She appeared as an actress in the films Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Waking Life. She wrote the critically-acclaimed graphic novel Zombie Tales: 2061. Kim earned a Master's degree in literature and became an Anais Nin scholar. She teaches creative writing classes for UCLA Extension. Kim recently released her first book, Original Sins: Trade Secrets of the Femme Fatale (Los Angeles 2013).

Throughout history, any woman who stepped out-of-line or didn't abide by the man-made rules of society was shunned, ostracized, made an example of, removed from the clan/tribe, and sometimes, sadly, silenced forever.

With time though, more and more women have learned to not only fight back with a vengeance, but also realized their true powers, God given gifts, and natural talents; they woke-up, spoke-up, and stood-up, and have continued to put their intelligence, strengths, and abilities to work for them.

Yet, all too often, these women have been given negative labels: vixens, bad girls, tramps, hellcats, and yes, Femme Fatales. So, men beware because "God is coming and She is pissed" (author unknown) and women have moves that...well, you just don't see coming.

Ann Baldwin: What is the best definition of a femme fatale?

Kim Krizan: The best definition of a femme fatale is this: She's a woman who realizes she's captain of her own ship, full stop.

People go to all sorts of lengths to control others. They get particularly angry at women if they don't follow the game plan, because we have a long tradition of thinking of woman as a man's "help mate," a supporting character. If a woman doesn't play this role, guilt trips are employed -- name-calling, shaming.  But the femme fatale doesn't fall for it, she creates her own game plan, and as a result people say she's a "fatal woman," which is the literal definition of "femme fatale." Yes -- she's fatal to their plan. I like to embrace and co-opt the term and call her a Fatale.

AB: What do you think is the biggest misconception most people have about femme fatales?

KK: People don't understand that the femme fatale was not born, but made. Hey, she tried to play nice back when she was a naive lass, but people took advantage of her, wounded her, used her. Yes, the femme fatale has feelings. But instead of lying down and dying, or being cowed and conforming to their vision, she rose up and got smart. Now she's not so nice.

AB: What did you learn about them during your research that surprised you the most?

KK: Almost universally, femme fatales and the women who play them so brilliantly have been seriously hurt in childhood. Lana Turner's father was murdered and then she was shipped off to people who abused her. Rita Hayworth was taken out of school and became the family breadwinner was probably sexually abused as well. Pola Negri's father was banished to Siberia. Anais Nin was abused and abandoned by her father, who went on to live a life of luxury while his wife and children came to America and struggled in poverty. Louise Brooks was molested at age nine and when she told her mother, her mother slapped her. Mata Hari was sent to live with relatives who didn't want her, so she married a soldier who turned out to be an abusive drunk. The list goes on and on: abuse, abandonment, all kinds of trauma.

AB: What are some of the differences between & similarities of a femme fatale & a feminist?

KK: A feminist wants to have the same political and social rights men have. The femme fatale is not waiting for the powers that be to legislate or protect her rights and she really doesn't care what men have. The femme fatale also knows women aren't always her friends, her partners in some sisterhood. The fatale knows we're all in it alone; she's a truly independent person who knows fairness is an abstract concept -- that she's responsible for creating her own justice.

Sometimes I think feminists still make men the center of all things and continue to react against them, forever playing defense. The fatale plays offense on a team comprised of one. But to give feminists credit: Feminists work in the world of laws and politics and social networks (which the Fatale eschews), and she, the feminist, works for the person who may not have the tools or the strength to go it alone. The feminist is a team player. The fatale is a lone wolf. And they both pursue fulfillment.

AB: As you mentioned earlier, many women are given negative labels, whenever they step out of the box, break the mold, shatter the glass ceiling, don't conform, speak up, take a stand, or show any strength.  Femme Fatale is one of those labels that usually conjures up negative images and emotions. Who are some examples of women (real or fictional) that were given the label, femme fatale, that truly did good for our society and humanity or in a story?

KK: Hillary Clinton comes to mind. I don't believe she was ever called a femme fatale, but do you remember the things that were said about her? "Lower than a snake's belly"? Suggestions that she was evil, craven, even involved in murder? Now isn't that transparent? She is a powerful woman, so what's the best way to negate her? But she's flown all over the world encouraging people to consider the possibility that "women's rights are human rights." I saw her speak in Austin back when she was First Lady, both she and Ann Richards, who was governor of Texas at the time.  What I remember most about Clinton's speech is that it was so spiritual, almost transcendent. And she went on, even though she was being destroyed every single day on talk radio and in the hallowed halls of our government, to become a senator and then Secretary of State; so, maybe being lower than a snake's belly is not so bad.

AB: Who are your favorite historical & film femme fatales and why?

KK: I adore Eve. I suppose we could say Eve is the prime mover of the Western world's most pervasive folktale. Here she was, the mother of "mankind," living naked in paradise and surrounded by the beauty of untarnished creation. Her only job was to breed and stay away from a certain tree. She could've lounged around the pool all day, drinking margaritas and reading 50 Shades of Grey, but no -- she wanted more. She wanted knowledge. She wanted to understand good and bad. And for some strange reason, God didn't want her to know. I guess he expected her to go all of eternity without asking these questions or succumbing to curiosity about the value of things in a moral context. Interestingly, Adam wasn't curious. What the hell was he doing with his time? Was he playing with his Black & Decker power tools? Perhaps sawing down the jungle? So anyway, Eve got bored and ate of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad and -- well, my God. Because of her desire for knowledge, Eve and her husband were booted out of paradise and now we all die! You know, I was born in the Twentieth Century but as a child I was taught that Eve was selfish and weak, a sex kitten that lured man into Satan's trap, and because of her we all suffer and wait for God to rectify things at some future date. If that isn't a great femme fatale story, I don't know what is.

As for my favorite fictional femme fatale, I have so so many, but I really have a special appreciation for Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate. I find her to be Benjamin's hero in many ways. Yes, she has an affair with and thereby "corrupts" him. And yes, she's married to Benjamin's father's partner. But Mrs. Robinson is the only adult who sees the man in Benjamin; his parents and all of their friends infantilize him, use him as entertainment, their dancing bear. Benjamin has jumped through hoops to be a good boy and make them proud, and it has not made him happy. In fact, he's a nervous wreck. Mrs. Robinson takes him away from all that and after she deftly manipulates him into an affair, he goes from being a nervous child to being a cool, worldly man. Mrs. Robinson herself is quite bored with her life; she gave up art because she got pregnant and had to get married and raise a kid. Now that her daughter is off at school, she's like, "Screw it. I'm going to do what I feel like." She goes after Benjamin rather brilliantly and gives him the gift of manhood.

AB: There are two ends of the spectrum of a femme fatale, those that do good and those that don't; do you believe the image and characteristics of the current day femme fatale is going through a metamorphosis and transforming to lean more towards the positive and good side of the archetype's spectrum?

KK: I think our understanding of women and their roles is becoming less polarized -- things are becoming less black-and-white. We're incorporating more gray. This is why at the beginning of the Twentieth Century we had good girls (Mary Pickford) and bad girls (Theda Bara) and nothing in between, and at the end of the century we were (and are) idealizing porn stars. It's because we're trying to embrace sexuality and multi-dimension. We may be doing a lousy job of it, but we're trying.

You can connect with Kim Krizan at and purchase a copy of Original Sins: Trade Secrets of the Femme Fatale at Amazon.
Ann Baldwin is a screenwriter (The Power of Dreams, Scent of a Trail, Dream Catcher) with several spec scripts in development. She reviews books on screenwriting and filmmaking, writes articles, interviews, and has several books (fiction & non-fiction) in-progress. Prior to launching her writing career, she was a special event coordinator and manager in the hospitality and entertainment industries for over 25 years.
You can visit her website at and her blog page at

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