Kristina Lauren Anderson, Writer of “Catherine the Great”
Every year Hollywood’s emerging screenwriters wait with bated breath for the annual Black List, a collation of the town’s best unproduced screenplays as judged by industry insiders. This year delivered good news for writer Kristina Lauren Anderson, whose screenplay Catherine the Great managed to nab the top spot with 51 mentions, making her the first female writer in the list’s 10 year history to do so. It was a great year for women all around, with four of the top 10 places on the list occupied by female writers. Kristina sees her fellow female writers’ success as indicative of a current trend in the industry that is embracing female voices with more vigor than before.
“A lot of people want more women to be successful in the industry on every level,” she says, “I was in a meeting today and the company was saying ‘we want to do stories with great female roles,’ and I’ve heard that a few times.”
Catherine the Great is Kristina’s first successful script since she started writing 10 years ago. She attributes her interest in history to growing up with Shakespeare, which led to an interest in the British monarchy during his lifetime and an all-round interest in history in general. She also cites movies like Braveheart, Gladiator and Shakespeare in Love for providing inspiration. But ultimately it was a Christmas gift that ignited the spark that would become one of the most talked about specs of the year.
“I knew nothing about Catherine the Great. I was given a biography about her for a Christmas gift and I was astonished I didn’t know her story. She wasn’t Russian, she wasn’t meant to have the throne, yet she’s up there with our greatest rulers of all time.”
Kristina decided that Catherine the Great would be the focus of her next script. She set about doing as much research as possible before she started writing, at which point she admits to throwing all the research away to focus on story and character. “I like to know the facts generally, so then you are free to make assumptions about the character. For example, if you know that this person got from point A to point B, you can then make assumptions on how he or she most likely got there.”
Luckily, Catherine the Great also wrote a memoir, which went a long way in helping Kristina establish the voice of the character. Kristina chose to focus on one episode in Catherine’s life, rather than creating an all-encompassing biopic that follows the ruler from birth to death. “There’s definitely a sequel in there, but for me I decided this particular episode was the part of the story I really wanted to tell.”
Kristina grew up in Orange County, where as a child she appeared in community theater productions, in particular those of Shakespeare, which led to her attending college as a theater major. She soon realized that it wasn’t acting that attracted her to the theater, but rather the creation of storylines and characters. She soon switched majors to screenwriting, and left before graduating to take up various positions within the film industry. She landed a role as director Roland Joffe’s assistant, which inspired her to write her first screenplay outside of college, a dramatic retelling of the Nanking Massacre of 1937.
“I was inspired by Roland’s work,” she says of the director famous for such heavy fare as The Mission and The Killing Fields. The script did well in competitions, landing a spot as a semi-finalist in the prestigious Academy Nicholl Fellowships and ending up on the top 10 list in Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope competition, but ultimately failed to kick-start her career. She quit working full-time so she could devote more attention to writing, working in a children’s clothing boutique and most recently a high-end stationary store, where she was employed when she wrote Catherine the Great. Rather than entering Catherine into competitions as she had in the past, she decided to upload it to The Black List website, where it became highly recommended and ultimately landed her representation. She went on over a hundred meetings, and has since landed her first assignment gig with Warner Bros. So what advice does she have for other aspiring writers?
“Write what you want to write. Write what you are passionate about, because if you don’t it won’t be as good as it could possibly be. Catherine the Great was the story I had to tell. Go with your gut, and don’t try to think about trends in the industry, because they change every day.”