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Writer-Director Lauren Miller Rogen on Her Process, Acting, and Producing Your Own Projects

August 22, 2018

Not everyone can sublimate personal tragedy into a story about abandonment and Alzheimer’s disease and make it funny. Yet that’s what writer-director Lauren Miller Rogen did with Like Father, her feature film directorial debut.

Miller Rogen spoke with Final Draft about the film’s process and what it takes to drive your career until your ship comes in. Here’s what she had to say:

Celeste Thorson: How did your screenwriting career begin?


Lauren Miller Rogen: I always wrote short stories. Since I was a little girl, I was into journaling and wrote a lot of poetry and short stories in high school. I had been in school for fashion design and did a little bit of acting on the side. Then, I realized I wanted to go to film school and be a filmmaker. I got into Florida State and literally on [the first day] we were required to download Final Draft, so I wrote my first screenplay in school when I was 19.

CT: What did you learn from the other projects you've written?

LMR: When I first started out, my scripts were long, wordy and way too descriptive. I just learned over the years to edit myself. I remember my first screenwriting teacher said my biggest challenge would be to learn how to “kill my darlings.” I am still teaching myself to do it every day because I certainly fall in love with my characters and my scenes; I want to make them as big and long as possible, even though they shouldn’t be. I’ve learned to keep what you really need to tell a good story and then get out of there and not fill it with fluff.

CT: What is your process going from the first draft to the final draft?

LMR: I start with lists … I’ll write the characters, think about the different aspects of their lives: What do they do for work, for fun, like and dislike? That will turn into lists for scene ideas. Once I have enough ideas … one line in a list will become three, then five, then a full scene outline and then a full outline. Once the whole movie is outlined in story form, I’ll go into drafts and start pages.

 

CT: How long did it take to write the first draft of Like Father?

LMR: The first draft took me almost two years; I think I have 17 drafts of those first 20 pages. So, it was a long journey to find who Rachel is in this version. I was going through an emotional time in my life. Sitting down to write a character who is going through an emotional journey, it was hard to push it out and get it on the page. It took a while, but once I got the first draft that went to the producers, [that is] pretty close to what’s on screen.

CT: What was most important to you while writing a meaningful father-daughter relationship?

LMR: I think what was most important to me was to capture something that felt real and grounded; I didn’t want to make this sort of broad, comedic version of this premise. It felt like such a grounded story idea, and I just kept that in the forefront of everything that I wrote: ‘What are the emotions that would really happen in these moments?’

CT: How has acting influenced your writing?

LMR: It totally influences it. When I’m writing a scene, I read it out loud. I'm picturing it. I’m participating in the emotions of the scene. While writing some of these really emotional scenes when they’re fighting and yelling, I would cry a little because I needed to get there to feel and imagine what Rachel or Harry would be feeling. I definitely try to go there when I write.

CT: Did you plan on directing Like Father when you wrote it?

LMR: We hadn’t talked about that when I started writing it. It was like, let’s just write the script. I wrote it completely on spec and when it was done, we sent it to a few female directors because I had never directed a feature before, I had only done some short projects. I didn’t even have the confidence to be like ‘I want to direct it,’ even though I totally did. Then two of the directors we went to emailed me back and said, ‘why are you sending me this? You should direct it.’ Then Anders [Bard], being an amazing human being and such a feminist, was like, ‘yeah, do you want to direct it?’ I was like, ‘I really do.’


CT: How does your perspective as a writer influence your directing and vice versa?

LMR: I directed a pilot presentation a few years ago for Fox that I did not write. I was so nervous about it because I’ve only ever directed things that I’ve written. It was an interesting experience collaborating with the writer; I’d certainly love to do it again. There’s another voice on set, a completely different brain … When I've written something that I’ve directed, it is me who has created these characters and the initial vision. It’s a different collaborative process. I’m not gonna put one above the other, but maybe I feel a bit more confident when I’m directing what I have written … I want to respect screenwriters … and make sure I am honoring their vision.

CT: What advice do you have for screenwriters who want to produce and/or direct their projects? 

LMR: My advice is first, to write. If you don’t write, it’s not getting written. It’s painful, it’s hard. Just put your fingers on the keyboard and do it.

 My second piece of advice is to make it on your own. Don't wait for someone to grant you the opportunity to make your own projects; you’re going to be waiting forever. You have to show people that you can do it by any means necessary. Even if it’s raising money to make your own little short, just don’t wait around for someone to give you the permission.  


Like Father premieres on Netflix on August 3.

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