Interview by David McDonald.
Catherine S. McMullen is a writer and film & TV professional, currently living in Melbourne.
In 2015, her sci-fi pilot ‘Living Metal’ was shortlisted for the AWGIE for ‘Best Unproduced Longform Screenplay,’ and she was included on the prestigious 2016 IF List as one of the Australian screen industry’s ‘Rising Talents.’
As a production freelancer, her professional credits include The Leftovers, Syfy series Hunters and Childhood’s End, the ABC series Nowhere Boys, unscripted shows Real Housewives of Melbourne and Formal Wars, and feature films Cut Snake and Paper Planes. She also works as a note-taker and researcher for TV writers’ rooms, and writes script analysis and coverage.
Her fiction work has been published in Nightmare Magazine, Aurealis Magazine, and Interzone, and has been reprinted in anthologies such as Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2013 and Focus 2013: Highlights of Australian Short Fiction. Her short story ‘The Nest’ was nominated for an Australian Shadows Award from the Australian Horror Writers’ Association, and her short story ‘Monday-child’ was voted by Aurealis subscribers as ‘Best Story of 2013’.
Catherine graduated in 2011 with a double degree in Arts (Film Studies)/Law from the University of Melbourne. She is a life-long nerd and former MMO addict, and enjoys books, TV, movies and games, especially if they’re about robots or dragons (or possibly robotic dragons).
Since the last Snapshot, you’ve been keeping very busy, with a heap going on in your screenwriting – congratulations on being included on the 2016 IF List, as one of the Australian screen industry’s ‘Rising Talents’! What are some of the projects you have been working on?
I tend to split my time between working in production as a TV & Film freelancer, and then working on my own screenwriting. I’ve been lucky enough recently to work in production on a few sci-fi shows that were filming in Melbourne – The Leftovers and Hunters, although I’ve been trying to focus more on my own writing this year.
In terms of my own stuff, I’ve been working on a few things – I wrote a feature, a sci-fi thriller, which I’m pretty excited about. I was also chosen for the Film Victoria Catapult Feature Lab, so I have a project that I’m working on for that. And I’ve got another idea that I’m currently trying to wrangle into submission at the moment.
So definitely lots of things on the go, although I can’t go into specifics too much! And I’ve still got the occasional short story idea floating around, begging to be written one day…
As someone who has been successful in your spec fic writing, have you found some of the skills you’ve developed there have been transferable? What about the reverse, has doing so much screenwriting had an impact on your prose work?
I think prose skills are absolutely transferable to screenwriting. So much of screenwriting is actually writing that the audience will never see – what’s called the ‘big print’, or the descriptive text. It’s like the blueprint of a house in a way – only the people that are part of making the film will ever read it, but it’s still so important.
Prose writers that move to screenwriting can often really excel at writing big print that isn’t just functional, but really evocative as well, because they’re used to crafting sentences for an audience.
And yes, I think screenwriting has had an impact on my prose work. I’m fanatical about structure now – I can’t even start writing a short story until I have the structure completely fleshed out. And I write a bit more sparingly – and edit myself more harshly. I have a tendency to ramble (as you can probably tell from this interview!) and there’s just no space for that in a script.
Now that you are plugged into two communities, are there things that the spec fic scene can learn from the TV/film industry?
In terms of the community – I have always felt so welcome and connected to the spec fiction community, especially in Australia. While I’m a bit more of a newcomer to the TV/film industry, I’ve felt the same way there as well – so many professionals have been so helpful, taking time to give me advice or read my work.
I think the main thing that the spec fic community could learn from the tv and film industry is actually around meet-ups and networking. ‘Networking’ gets a bit of a bad rap, and when I was younger I always envisaged it as people in fancy suits exchanging business cards while laughing and smoking cigars. But really, it’s about connecting with other professionals that have similar interests to you.
Obviously, we are lucky enough to have a really strong convention scene, and regular meet-ups. But I think organisations like the “Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association” that Kat Clay is working to establish (https://www.facebook.com/asciff/), are great – and would love to see more of them.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
I haven’t read that much this year, which I’m a bit ashamed about! But I loved Cranky Ladies Of History – what a fantastic idea for an anthology, and so well executed.
And then, on the film and TV side – I thought The Kettering Incident was fantastic, and an absolute credit to the team that worked on it, but especially Vicki Madden, the creator.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Terry Pratchett. I still can’t believe he’s gone. I would tell him how much his work meant to me, and how much it shaped my worldview and my writing. And then if it was a particularly long plane ride, I’d leave him be, because I’m sure he’d be itching to write something. So prolific, and yet I still feel like we just scratched the surface of what he had to say.