Big Break Feature Winner: Alexis Perkins, Writer of “Derby City”
Road-trip comedy script Derby City has a strong punchline: A fugitive con artist convinces an unsuccessful Mormon missionary to split a truck rental and flee cross-country by promising to convert to Mormonism.
Factor in that the two protagonists are A) women, and B) pool hustlers, and you glimpse the unique voice that secured screenwriter Alexis Perkins’ place as the feature-script winner of this year’s Final Draft Big Break Contest.
Alexis Perkins, who plays in a pool league, was motivated by the rampant onscreen portrayals of women as ghastly pool players. “They’re comically bad, they’re wearing high heels, and they don’t even take their purses off,” she groans. “I had a lot of fun writing it.”
Perkins is no newcomer to the industry. Living in Washington, D.C. between college and film school, she worked at CNN’s Crossfire. She was there that infamous day when Jon Stewart confronted hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala on the air. Since then, she has racked up various titles on shows like Kitchen Nightmares and Ink Master and is currently an associate producer on CBS’ Big Brother.
Her first gig resulted from a combination of hard work and good fortune. “I made a documentary about skinheads for my high school senior thesis project.” Perkins also happened to live next door to legendary screenwriter and playwright David Mamet. “I asked him to watch it. And he did.” Her thesis made an impression, and he offered her a P.A. position on his film Spartan. That’s when Perkins realized that she wanted to work in the industry.
Her credits range from associate story editor to art department to driver. One of her most terrifying experiences was simply picking up cast and crew at LaGuardia Airport for reality show Chrisley Knows Best. A big-city dweller with little driving experience, Perkins was relieved just to make it to the airport in one piece.
“And then three camera guys jump in my car, and they scream, ‘Go, go, go!’” she recalls. No one had warned her that they needed footage of the family heading into New York. “So I’m dodging through traffic, making all sorts of illegal turns, trying to help this guy get his shot. And he’s screaming, he’s hanging out the window, and we’re going 85 miles an hour on the freeway.”
One job led to another, and Perkins has made a good living in the reality-show scene. But writing is her passion. When she got bored as a kid on family visits to her grandfather—also a writer—she and her cousin would sneak into the basement and play on their grandfather’s typewriter collection. “Eventually, we started writing short stories. Then it became a tradition where, every Christmas, we’d go down there, we’d type up a story, and we’d present it to the family as our present.”
Soon, Perkins was writing specs of her favorite shows. “I handwrote them on loose-leaf paper, handwritten spec scripts.” She finished a spec of Seinfeld two months before she heard the show was ending. Unaware at that point of how production works, Perkins remembers thinking, “Oh, just in time. We can send it in!”
Even at film school in New York, where a certain amount of directing and producing was required, she knew directing was not for her. “Where my confidence lies is the creative, the writing part of it.” Perkins does like producing—she was a segment producer this past season on Big Brother—but “I’d much rather write. The goal was always writing.”
So she left New York and moved to the land of the writers room … Los Angeles. Does a transplant need to get a phone number with an L.A. area code? Her insight on the oft-asked question: There’s no difference in calling rates, and it hasn’t slowed her career momentum at all.
Perkins advises writers to have a few trusted people who will give honest feedback on their writing. “And to have skin thick enough to take it,” she adds.
It’s also crucial to learn the difference between good notes and personal opinions. “You can get in your own way” by defensively rejecting what might be an excellent note. But “You have to decide, is it not working, or is it just not working for this other person?”
And, of course, always have at least another script and a few ideas in your pocket. “Even if your show gets picked up or your movie gets greenlit, and if you win a contest or you get far in a contest, people are always going to ask you, ‘What else do you have?’”
Perkins would love to write more features. But for now, she’s focused on creating teleplays and getting staffed on a show. Her time in D.C. and her fascination with politics shine in her scripts: One is a workplace comedy about congressional staffers, and another follows a book club of bored housewives in 1950s’ Washington, D.C. who suddenly get super-powers.
As for Big Break-winner Derby City, Perkins says, “I would love to sell it. I would love to see it made. I don’t want it to just be a sample. I would also watch this movie. Obviously. You shouldn’t write something you don’t want to watch.”
Screenwriter / Playwright / Script Reader
Asmara Bhattacharya is a produced screenwriter/playwright, script reader, and festival screener, with multiple placements at Final Draft, Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, and other competitions. A trusted sounding board and consultant for industry professionals, dedicated fans also caught her in “Independence Day: Resurgence” and NBC’s “The Night Shift” – for one glorious half-second each. Check out her website at dickflicks.net or tweet her at @hotpinkstreak.