The Interview: CWA Winners Colette Freedman & Brooke Purdy

For screenwriters Colette Freedman and Brooke Purdy their writing partnership is a marriage of creativity, geography, and technology. The friends-turned-writing-partners aren’t just writing scripts—they’re producing them, too. This prolific team has four produced films between them, and judging by their collective moxie, several more on the way.

Colette and Brooke's latest collaboration is the apocalyptic adventure screenplay “The Last Bookstore,” which follows children as they traverse dangerous territory to track down medical books they believe will help their sick mother. The script won this year’s Creative World Awards Grand Prize. I interviewed the Burbank-based writers via email about their projects, not talking down to their audience, and the real-life kids who inspired the story.

Synoptic Media: How did each of you get started writing?

Colette: I wrote a play in fifth grade called “An Archie Bunker Hanukah” and was hooked. Writing for the stage is one of my favorite things to do and I’ve been writing plays for the last twenty years. 

Brooke: I started in junior high. Found my imaginary life way more interesting. I also had some AMAZING English teachers early on who encouraged me along the way. I got into NYU via their Dramatic Writing Program at Tisch because I had REAMS of sample submissions. 

Synoptic Media: How many scripts have you written? And, are they all features?

Screenwriters Colette Freedman and Brooke Purdy

Brooke: I have about 20 screenplays in various states. Three with Colette and many from my "freshman years" that will NEVER see the light of day or human eyes. Because Colette and I work SO WELL as a team, I am returning to my favorites with her because I know they have "legs" and can be remarkable under our dual process. My film “Quality Problems,” which I wrote and co-directed with my husband, comes out later this year.

Colette:  I spent the first part of my writing career focusing on plays and novels. My first script “Sister Cities” is now a film and my second script “And Then There Was Eve” just finished principal photography. My next three (and hopefully the next hundred) scripts are co-written with Brooke.

Synoptic Media: It sounds like you work well together. How did you come to be writing partners?

Brooke & Colette: We were friends first and then started helping each other on scripts… punching them up for each other. It was only a matter of time before we started writing together. We have the same humor and sensibility so we knew that we could create some pretty fantastic stuff together. We live less than a mile away from each other, but 99% percent of our communication is via text or email. We also both like to cycle, so we’ll go on long bike rides to marinate the stories we write before we dig into them. 

Synoptic Media: How do you decide what projects to work on together and once you do, how do you divvy up the work?

Brooke & Colette: We divvy up the projects pretty organically. Depending on whose idea we are working on, one of us will write pages then send to the other for "tuning up," structure help and elaboration. It's an amazing marriage of creativity.  

Excerpt from the screenplay "The Last Bookstore"

Synoptic Media: “The Last Bookstore” has a “Goonies” adventure vibe but set in a dystopian future like “The Book of Eli.”  From where did the idea come?

Brooke: I wrote the story for my son, Max (12). We are a pretty twisted clan but we all love dystopian books ("Rot & Ruin," "The Knife of Never Letting Go") and zombie and apocalyptic fare (“The Walking Dead”). Placing it in a "not too distant" apocalyptic world gave the child actors a reference point that was different than today's XBOX/iPhone tech world. I wanted to simplify them and bring their perspectives into a world where you need to fight every day for basic needs as well as make your own entertainment. Yet I still wanted them to "know of," in a historical sense, the "past" of television, video games and airplanes.  

Synoptic Media: Your script walks a tonal tightrope with the kids being on a dangerous journey. How did you balance putting kids in peril with their comedic bickering and teasing?

Brooke: It’s my life. I have a 12 year old and a 9 year old and at any given moment they are either experiencing the WORST TRAUMA EVER (lost notebook) or RIDICULOUSLY HAPPY (Last mini Snickers in the back of a drawer from 3 Halloweens ago). Kids are immediate creatures. They exist in the moment. Their emotions are so accessible because they are like this. So, if you're a 12 year old and you are running for your life, if someone farts you're gonna laugh. I try and write as truthfully as possible. Throughout “Bookstore” I constantly asked myself, "How would Max react?" or "What would Scout (My 9-year-old daughter & model for Beckett) say?”

Colette: One thing we were very clear about from the get-go was not talking down to our audience. The kids in “Bookstore” are smart, savvy and flawed. Like Brooke’s own kids, they are relatable and likable. It is easy to identify with characters in dangerous situations as long as they react like real people and not stereotypes. Jack, Beckett and the gang, because they were drawn from real kids, did the tightrope walking for us. 

Synoptic Media: To how many contests did you submit “The Last Bookstore?” 

Excerpt from the screenplay "The Last Bookstore"

Brooke & Colette: We submitted it to half a dozen and so far the results have been pretty fantastic. We’ve gotten nods in most of them and then winning the CWA was the cherry on top.  

Synoptic Media: Do you employ a specific contest strategy?

Brooke & Colette: This was our first time submitting. Our only requirements were that the contests had a good reputation and had been around for at least three years. Industry connections and visibility are pretty important since we are looking for previously restrictive exposure.

Synoptic Media: You’ve both had scripts produced. What has that process taught you about writing that now informs how your tackle story ideas or how you write scripts?

Colette: Life is short. You either write for money or for passion. In ideal circumstances, the two are one and the same. I started as a novelist and playwright, so filmmaking is still relatively new to me. I’ve been fortunate to have the first three projects I’ve been heavily involved in produced, Brooke’s opus “Quality Problems,” which is really quite spectacular, and two issues-driven pieces of which I am unbelievably proud: “And Then There Was Eve,” a transgender love story which is currently in post-production and “Sister Cities,” about death with dignity starring Jacki Weaver and an amazing cast of actresses. When I write, I write about what I care about, what excites me and what I would want to see. Brooke and I have several exciting scripts in the hopper, some we want to sell and some we plan to produce with our extraordinary team who brought “Quality Problems” to life. 

When I write, I write about what I care about, what excites me and what I would want to see.
— Colette Freedman, Screenwriter

Brooke: I categorize scripts into two different columns. Ones that I am proud of but have no emotional attachment to and ones I am emotionally attached to and invested in. I have had one produced in each category. One, "Hindsight," which I sold in a pregnancy panic and the other "Quality Problems," that I wrote and co-directed with my husband (and that Colette helped produce and I never would have finished without her...) I'll just say that the experiences were very different. While producing your own work is spiritually, physically and emotionally exhausting, it's one of the greatest life lessons a writer can have. I learned SO much about my writing from having to activate the words onto the screen.

Synoptic Media: Do either of you have representation?

Brooke & Colette: Not currently. We're looking for someone who will swoop on us as the "Next Hot Female Screenwriting Duo"... there's a category for that, right?