Discovering her passion for TV and film in the Writing for Screen & Television Division, Heather Regnier ’08 found supportive communities among her fellow USC School of Cinematic Arts alumni as she embarked on her screenwriting career after graduation. Now writing for two popular prime-time series, TNT’s Falling Skies and Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, Regnier recently discussed her journey as a screenwriter and her definition of success.
What pushed you to pursue screenwriting?
College. Throughout high school, I loved both poetry and painting, but was never quite sure how I would make a career out of either. I grew up watching lots of TV and movies, but casually. In fact, I was often very critical of them, which at a young age didn’t translate to me as passion or interest. When it was time for me to apply to college, screenwriting came up in the discussion, and it appealed to me because it felt like an amalgamation of poetry and painting. Once at SCA, I met a lot of other students who broke down movies in the same way that I did and that was an “ah-ha” moment for me. I realized my enthusiasm for film and TV was there all along, masquerading as an unimpressed teen.
How has being an alumna of SCA impacted your career?
It has acted as kind of a circus net for me. The alumni network is powerful and omnipresent, which you feel and appreciate and is very cool. But SCA was the most helpful to me when I hadn’t yet broken into the industry, and I felt vulnerable in terms of where I stood professionally. At the time, there were several programs and communities that helped me cope with the uncertainty: the Assistant Training Program, Women of Cinematic Arts and other alumni events, screenings and job lists. They all encouraged me to stay with it and provided me with invaluable support and camaraderie.
What does your writing process look like?
It looks like many crazy boards, an outline or two, and usually five drafts of a script until I begin to be happy with it. When I’m working for a show, the deadline is the inspiration and I am trying to elegantly race to the finish.
How did you become involved with Sleepy Hollow and Falling Skies?
I became involved with both through staffing. Falling Skies was my first staffing season. I really hit it off with the showrunner and loved the show, but because I was young and inexperienced, they decided to give me a freelance job as a kind of audition. They ended up being happy with it and hired me full time as a staff writer. Sleepy Hollow was a similar process. Intrigued by the show and excited to work under the creative leadership of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, I met them during staffing season and was hired when the show got picked up.
While working on Sleepy Hollow and Falling Skies, what have been some of the biggest challenges you have confronted?
The first big lesson I learned was that you are expected to turn in great work under incredibly difficult circumstances. Sometimes you have to write a script in three days — and it still has to be excellent. I played competitive volleyball for a very long time, and I found a lot of similarities between writing for TV and being an athlete. You don’t have time to freak out or overthink it. You have to perform to the best of your ability in the moment, and then it’s over and on to the next episode.
As a writer for two series, how do you define success?
I’ve been really lucky to have been on two shows that I felt very creatively drawn toward. Falling Skies is a family drama amid a postapocalyptic background, and Sleepy Hollow is just about every genre rolled into one (horror, comedy, religion, revisionist history, etc.). The success I’ve enjoyed from writing on interesting shows is that they’ve pushed my writing to more interesting places and attracted other interesting writers that I have learned a lot from.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring screenwriters at SCA?
Hit the ground running after graduation. The smartest thing I did was work obsessively on having really good material for three years after graduation. The longer you try to break in, the more difficult and taxing it becomes, and that’s when people tend to jump ship. So save the European adventure for after your first gig!
What’s next for you?
Developing more of my own material. There are a couple pilots and features I’m chipping away at and I’m still writing comedy with my UCB sketch group The Get Go. Just trying to make cool stuff and have fun.