Rising Through the Ranks: Screenwriter and playwright Lisa Dring on the love of linguistics
March 10, 2022
From the moment Lisa Dring begins speaking, you can’t help but be drawn in—her beautiful command of language is pure poetry. It’s something the Emmy®’s took note of as well, awarding Dring’s 2021 Outstanding Interactive Program win for Welcome to the Blumhouse Live, which she co-wrote and co-directed.
Dring’s path to writing began when her parents died; first, her dad, then her mother while she was studying theatre at USC.
“I was 25,” she said. “I didn't know what to do with my life being parentless all of a sudden, so I traveled for about two years. Then when I came back to L.A., I quickly got into acting for a living, which is amazing, but I found that I needed to make a new sense of my life. That the parameters of my existence shifted in such a way that I had to build scaffolding to hold those, and I found a way to do that—and that was through storytelling and language. So, I wrote a show about my parents' deaths called ‘Death Play.’”
The solo show led her to commissioned pieces, a writers’ group and grad school at Cal Arts.
“It was just the primal need to communicate,” she continued, “and try to reform my universe that made me realize the beauty and depth of language. I'm a very language-centric actor. I really feel devotional about not just the language, but the words on the page. And in some ways, I think I've always been a writer who just didn't write until that time.”
While writing for the stage, she discovered the world of television writing and found a love for “character-driven 'blank.’”
“I especially love character-driven hybrid [television],” she said. “If a sci-fi is character-driven, I'm all in, you know.”
Her interests derive from her interest in Carl Jung’s works.
“I just spent a lot of time reading and listening to podcasts about his work, and I believe in the human shadow and the fact that more of our humanity lies in the places we don't consciously know as ourselves,” Dring said. “And so my work is based on people reaching into those shadowed parts of themselves and becoming things they never thought they could—or that they'd always fear they might become.”
She also hopes that her own work changes over time.
“As I reach more and more into my shadow as an artist, I hope that I'm writing about things that are wildly different in 10 years than I'm writing about now: capitalism with discerning eyes,” she said. “I'm looking at power, dynamics and love. I'm looking through the lens of spirituality and philosophy. I'm just watching The Leftovers and I love what they're trying to say and question about humanity.”
Her own projects now include several plays, as well as a pilot she’s developing in the WarnerMedia Access Writers Program that’s about “the discovery of immortality.”
The plot of the pilot follows a scientist who is manipulated into discovering immortality by her boss and wants to create a $5 million dollar procedure.
“The scientist just needs to save her wife who is dying of cancer,” she elaborated on the project. ”She finishes the science, and they unleash immortality onto the world. But what they're [really] going to do is create an immortal caste system, so the rich will not only get richer but will be able to live forever and everybody else will be the expendable poor.”
Yeah, I’d definitely watch that.
Dring is also developing a series with the Giant Leap Accelerator "which was new last year for Asian folks. It's an Asian-Pacific American program that's aimed towards developing and selling, so we're looking to shop the pilot I wrote called Kintsugi around.”
Her goal, though: “I want to staff. I think I'll be well as a playwright too. I’m always developing my own work, but what I'm hungry for is to be in a room with people all creating together; that's a big reason why I'm moving into TV writing. I want to dream with people in a room and I also want to learn. I've been watching TV my whole life and I'm obviously developing these ideas. But I've never been in a room before. I want to feel the way it is to develop something before I possibly could be one of the leaders in my own room.”
“What I love about writing is that it makes me passionate about things that I never thought I'd be passionate about,” Dring admits. “What's great about my playwriting brain is that I'm a little feral in my imagination. I think that screenwriting books are incredible, but they break character down to math. And I think it's great to know your like, ‘what is it your core wound and your flaw?’ But also people are so much more than that. People are surprising to themselves; people grow and shift over time.”
“I have a commitment to language and the way people talk,” Dring said. Citing her multifaceted career so far as to why she’s a good writer.
“Whenever I'm acting or directing, what I'm doing is learning things about screenwriting and playwriting,” she said. “That's a huge boon for me as a writer because I've been able to live in language and as a director, having been able to bring it to life. I think I'm craftier because I know what that whole process will be. I know what it is to hold language in your body. I think that's the reason I'm a writer. Is the study of how language and breath change in your body? I think language is one of our fundamental parts of humanity and it creates consciousness, which creates meaning. I'm so enamored with how when the language we have meets the breath and the body and the rhythms of our lives, it can break and fashion new meaning.”
Her advice to others rising in the ranks is so simple, yet profound:
“Writing for me is a devotional practice, and it’s seasoned me in ways that are both painful and wonderful. But at the end of it, there's a substrate of love there, that even if I don't get anything from this work, the work itself gives me so much. And so with every project you make—because often when you're beginning, it might not do the thing you hope it is going to do you know—it holds a piece of you and you were giving yourself to the work. It will change you and it will help you prepare for the next work that might do the thing you want it to do in the outside world.”
Language is so important,” she continued. “I think it's the most powerful tool we have—TV is one of the most important mediums we have. I would say it's not just about how fast I can climb up the ladder, it's finding out what you want to say to the world and having a life. I think art is a celebration of your life and so you have to love your life in order to want to express that.”
Written by: Karin MaxeyAfter seeing her first big screen movie 007: License to Kill at age six, Karin naturally became obsessed with writing action-infused stories. The next time she’d see Benicio del Toro was in person, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival—he was there for the Sicario red carpet, she was there for her first produced short film in the basement of the Palais…same-same. In between, Karin earned a Creative Writing Degree and landed management at Echo Lake Entertainment. Her scripts have been a Big Break Top 3 finalist, HollyShorts Film Fest Official Selection, and a multi-Screencraft competitions semi-finalist. Karin is also a screenplay editor who delights in the process of polishing writers' work for submission. You can find her at www.writergirlkarin.com.