Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview with Liz Tigelaar

As we gear up for the 2012 Festival & Conference, we'll be posting interviews with our incoming panelists here, on our blog. The questions come from our registrants, fellow panelists, facebook fans, etc., so if you have questions for any of our incoming (or past) speakers, just send them to our Conference Director Maya Perez at You just might see your interview on here one of these days!

Our first interview is with Liz Tigelaar. Liz grew up in Dallas, Texas and Guilford, Connecticut, graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Scriptwriting and Politics. She got her start as an assistant on Dawson's Creek and Once & Again, where she worked under mentors like Greg Berlanti and Winnie Holzman. Her first staff writing job came on the NBC series, American Dreams, and went on to write for such shows as What About Brian, Dirty Sexy Money, Brothers & Sisters, Once Upon A Time, and Revenge. Tigelaar created the critically acclaimed series Life Unexpected which aired on the CW for two seasons. She currently resides in Santa Monica, California but likes to tell people she lives in Venice.

Diana Phillips is our interviewer. Although retired, Diana is a truly passionate supporter of the arts - she's a professional volunteer involved with the Long Center, One World Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Zach Scott, Austin Symphony, Austin Art Alliance, SXSW, Conspirare, Cine Los Americas, and Austin Chamber Music Center. She has been a volunteer for the AFF for 17 years because, "I love film but more importantly the behind the scenes work that makes it all happen."

1. Which do you like better, writing or producing or are they equally satisfying?

LIZ: Nothing is better than getting to produce what you've written -- to see the process through, from start to finish. What I like about being a writer/producer on my own projects is the control. Or at least pretending I have control. I love crafting a story in the writers room with a team, finessing it, changing it, strengthening it and then prepping it and seeing it come to life on set, seeing what the actors and director bring to it, and then I love how it all gets elevated in post, how performances are honed and crafted, what music does to bring out the emotion... I love being there from start to finish. That said, if I had to pick between only writing or only producing, I would pick writing because everything starts on the page. It's a direct line from your head which makes it fun.

2. You've worked on so many series through the years, going way back to Dawson's Creek. As shows have ended, how have you managed to keep your career on track and moving forward? And, do you ever get discouraged?

LIZ: I haven't made a conscious effort to keep my career on track but I feel like people I've worked with on staff have kept it on track for me. For instance, Josh Reims, my mentor from American Dreams, hired me on What About Brian and Dirty Sexy Money. And then Mark Perry, who I did my first pilot -- Split Decision -- with, hired me when he took over showrunning Brothers & Sisters and also again on Revenge. So I feel like really great people and mentors have been generous enough to bring me with them and hopefully I will do the same for the wonderful people who I've been on staff with -- I would take the entire Life Unexpected staff to every show if I could. And yes, I definitely get discouraged at times. It's a hard business, a lot of it breaks your heart, shows you love get cancelled and you have to say goodbye to people that have become family.

3. After Life Unexpected ended it seems like you've made a real effort to keep up with ex-castmates. Have you done the same with other series you've worked on or was this one special since you were also the creator?

Life Unexpected was definitely special. A group that bonds like that doesn't come along every day and especially what I loved was that the writers and actors bonded equally. There was no us against them mentality. It was really important me to have a family atmosphere and I knew that our friendships would extend beyond the life of the series. I think I modeled the show after what I saw Jonathan Prince do on American Dreams -- it was such a family, we were all such a team. And aside from LUX, I would say I'm still close to that cast, which was also a unique experience. We had a reunion a few years ago for Sarah Ramos's 18th birthday. I think we sent the evite out to 20 people from the show and said to spread the word... 100 came. I still keep in touch with the cast, especially Vanessa Lengies, who is one of my closest friends.

4. On past series like Once and Again and American Dreams you worked with young stars like Shane West, Evan Rachel Wood, and Brittany Snow. Did you notice their potential for success at such a young age?

LIZ: Oh absolutely. Evan Rachel Wood had that amazing story on Once & Again with Mischa Barton and I remember thinking how wonderful they both were. I was Winnie's assistant on that show so I didn't know them well... but on American Dreams, I knew the younger cast extremely well -- I was young, too, so I'd always been their chaperones to fun events -- and I knew from the minute I saw them how extremely talented they were. There's something about Brittany Snow's face that still breaks my heart in the best way -- she can convey every emotion so simply -- happiness, heartbreak. I adore her. I remember at the end of the first act of the pilot of American Dreams, her character is watching the TV, looking at American Bandstand with so much hope and joy, like it's all that matters... that's how I felt watching her watch Bandstand. I wanted to be a part of that show and write for that character. Still, even after creating my own characters, that character is one I feel so connected to. And don't get me started on how much I love Britt Robertson and Ksenia Solo. :)

5. Now you've been working on Once Upon a Time and Revenge. How have those experiences been for you?

LIZ: Great! They are two big hit shows so that feels amazing. I'm happy to have been a part of them both this year -- especially because they are so different for me and different from each other. It makes me hungry to create another show, for sure.

Have questions of your own for Liz? Write them down in your notebook and ask her yourself at the 2012 Austin Film Festival & Conference!

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