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How She Got There: Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, Screenwriter & Author

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Name: Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith
Age: 43
Job Title and Description: Screenwriter, Novelist and Poet
College/Major: Occidental College/English and Film double major
Website: kiwilovesyou.com 
Twitter Handle: @kiwilovesyou

 
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Kirsten Smith: A typical day usually entails doing pilates in the morning, then coming back and drinking green tea while answering emails, typing up story note, typing in script pages from the day before or doing any kind of creative writing work that inspires me. Then usually I’ll head over to my longtime writing partner Karen’s house and we’ll brainstorm, write or rewrite.  Then three or four nights out of the week I’ll have a drinks meeting that involves brainstorming or working on another idea with an actor or writer friend. I like to have multiple projects going at once. 

What is the best part of your job?

KS: The freedom to create a script for a movie that I want to see—within certain parameters and trends. Also, being able to work from home and essentially keep my own schedule is fantastic, but it’s also a curse because I have homework every night for the rest of my life.
 
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

KS: I got an internship at CineTel Films while I was at Occidental College, where I read scripts and wrote coverage on them (essentially a book report synopsizing the screenplay and analyzing its strengths and weaknesses). I also would run errands for my boss, but mainly it was coverage and research. 

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

KS: I might have been more financially thrifty since the business has shrunk so much, so I’d have cautioned myself to save a bit more money.  Also there are a few great ideas I had that I didn’t pursue quickly enough. It always hurts to see that somebody else “stole” your great idea. Katie Dippold said she wrote The Heat in two and a half months–which is really fast—because she woke up in terror every morning thinking that she’d read about someone else selling the same idea.

You’ve written so many great screenplays (Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, Ella Enchanted, the list goes on and on!) and now you’ve written your second book, Trinkets. What advice do you have for college women looking to go into any type of writing?

KS: Really challenge yourself to write every day. If you have a goal of writing a novel or short story or a script, read a bunch of them and just start writing.  A friend of mine also gave some good advice recently: always finish your early efforts, and don’t stop and start something else if you don’t like it. 

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

KS: Without a doubt, it was Catalaine Knell, who gave me my first internship at CineTel Films. She could have easily had me focus on being a good worker, but she was always reminding me that I was a writer and that was my calling, and that I needed to keep writing.  She even read my poetry and asked me to write an original poem for a movie that CineTel was making. So my first screen credit is a “poetry by” credit in Poison Ivy 2.
 
What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

KS: I remember seeing Madonna on Dick Clark’s showwhen I was a teenager and she was like,  “I want to rule the world” and she had so much confidence and ambition, it really inspired me. 

And I always liked that Rilke quote, “I don’t want to be a poet. I want to change your life.”  I love the idea that as a writer I could aim to change the world in some way–bringing light and power and positivity into it.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

KS: I stopped writing poetry for a few years and I got a bit rusty. I think if I’d have continued to at least write a few poems a month I would have kept that muscle stronger. Fortunately I’ve gotten to write two young adult novels, Trinkets and The Geography of Girlhood, and they’ve allowed me to continue to express myself outside of screenwriting. I also love telling stories about young women trying to grow up and making mistakes and right now those stories are out of favor in film, so it’s exciting to be able to still explore them on the page.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

KS: We were having a meeting with Harvey Weinstein in his suite at the Penninsula. He’d given us a blind script deal so we were there to pitch him ideas and he would then send us off to write the script.  We pitched him one idea he didn’t like, then we pitched him another one and he yelled, “That’s brilliant!” and threw the apple he was eating across the room. Then he offered us another script to write and I said, “Only if you get on your knees and beg.” And he did.  

A few days later, Legally Blonde opened and we were having a party for our friends at the Beauty Bar in LA and we put Harvey on the list.  I remember the bouncer was like, “Why do you have Harvey Weinstein on your list? Seriously?” Like obviously he wouldn’t come.  Then around 11:30 p.m., Harvey showed up to congratulate us on having the number one movie in the country.       

Also, my mom following Reese Witherspoon around the premiere of Legally Blonde was pretty hilarious. She went full stalker.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

KS: Read Deadline, Variety, Hollywood Reporter and The Wrap so you know what’s going on.  Work for free as a PA on college productions that you find in Backstage.  Read tons and tons of scripts. Come up with one movie idea a day, read Save the Cat, start writing a script and finish that script and start another one.  That last one is really my writing partner Karen’s advice but I’ll steal it from her for this. Writers are kleptomaniacs, after all. 

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