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Rising Through the Ranks: Lisa Jay

October 29, 2020
5 min read time
Aspiring Hollywood screenwriter Lisa Jay isn't just sitting around, patiently waiting to hear back on whether the options have gone through for her multiple scripts. Jay kept busy through the pandemic writing a new horror feature her manager, Scott Faucett at HG5 Entertainment, can take out to production companies soon.
It's an exciting time for Jay, with a world of possibilities. But her journey didn't start with opportunity; she says her traumatic upbringing often left her feeling hopeless.
Jay was born in a Kansas City, Missouri suburb to a family she describes as "very poor." Five people, including Jay, lived in a two-bedroom, ranch-style home that flooded at least once a year because of the creek next door. She would spend part of every summer at her grandparents' farm in the country, where they used to pump water from the well and heat it in pans on the stove to take a bath. She said it was commonplace to watch hog butcherings, and she helped feed the cows and picked green beans for the root cellar.
There was also an immense amount of trauma, depression, child abuse, and mental illness on both sides of her family. 
"It was not a happy or comfortable childhood," Jay admits. "Let's just say if it happened now, I would have been taken away and been in the foster care system." 
She found solace in art and reading. Because her family had no money for vacations or toys, she and her sisters would make up games and stories; a form of escapism for them. And although she found an escape from the people who hurt her in life, there was one thing she couldn't escape: the evil and demonic presence inside the family's home. Jay says it tormented her for most of her childhood. She says she was tortured the most out of her mother and sisters, who had their own experiences with the evil spirit. 
"I still dream about that house regularly. It had a huge effect on me, on my sense of self, and ability to make sense of the world," Jay says. "I remember by the time I was five, my sisters and I would fight over the top bunk because we knew there was something on the floor that dragged itself towards the bed at night, and we were afraid of the bottom bunk."
"It was the beginning of my interest in the supernatural, and my need to be a spiritually strong person to protect myself," Jay says. 
Because of that experience, Jay began teaching herself spells and meditation in elementary school and against her family's will, she became a pagan. Jay delved so deeply into that world that her third-grade teacher set up a meeting with her parents about her "unchristian dabbling in witchcraft." 
Eventually, Jay would attend Stephen's College in Columbia, Missouri, but not for screenwriting. That journey wouldn't start for another few years. 
"We didn't go see movies when I was a kid, and when I moved away, I didn't have the money or own a television," Jay recalls. "No one in my family had ever been to college and my parents frowned on the idea. My high school ceramics teacher urged me to apply. She is such a wonderful woman. She had gone to Stephen's College, and she helped me to apply and submit for an art scholarship."
Jay ended up graduating with a BFA in painting and ceramics. She didn't have enough scholarship money for all four years of college, so she had to overload classes every semester and graduated in three.
"The only thing college did for my writing was convince me that I could never be a writer," Jay says. "I was terrible. My papers were always too short and I was lucky if I barely passed on them. It took me years to find my voice."
After college, Jay's painting degree helped her get a decent job...as a cocktail waitress. A job she held until she got married and decided to stay home once she began having children. 
Jay's husband works in hotel management, and for his career, their family has moved at least once a year over the last two decades. When Jay's two children were in elementary school, one of the places they moved was Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was here that Jay answered a Craigslist ad for an Art Director for an independent film being made by Peter McCarthy, the producer behind   Syd and Nancy  and   Repo Man. 
"I loved doing this work and immediately knew I wanted to write and direct," Jay says. "With two young kids, I didn't have the money or free time to go to school, so I taught myself how to write." 
Around the same time, Jay found inspiration in film noir from the fifties and noir revival of the late eighties. From the atmosphere to the intricate plots, noir had a painterly feel she could relate to as an artist. 
 "A film that kind of came out of nowhere and inspired me deeply was   A Simple Plan,  written by Scott Smith," Jay says. "It had that intricacy of a thriller with an incredibly emotional character arc. When I started writing, I wanted to write something as powerful as  A Simple Plan."
Since her writing revelation, Jay has landed a couple of gigs as a paid extra and volunteered to work as an art director on many independent films. She found being on set energizing, and she hopes to one day direct, as well. 
While she continues down her path, Jay writes using her art background to inform her scripts. When Jay looks back on her life, she never could have imagined she'd be here—a writer—working to make it in Hollywood. But she's glad her path veered in this direction as she works to make her dream come true; to be a "name" in the horror film industry. 
"The fewer resources you have—privilege, money, education, a supportive family—the harder it is. But it's never impossible," Jay says. An inspiring message for all writers.
"What ultimately matters is your ability to connect with people and capture their imagination. It's a grueling marathon. You're going to have to be there for yourself and figure out a way to keep going. That's what will make or break you."
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