‘Romantic’ effort finding indie success for alumna

Trixie Pacis // Special to Western NewsCarly Stone, BA’11 (English and Writing Studies), recently premiered her first movie, The New Romantic, at SXSW, an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

There was no Plan B for Carly Stone.

From the moment Tim Long, a writer and producer for The Simpsons spoke to her Humour Writing class at Western, her fate was sealed.

“He came and did a presentation with some artwork, some episodes. I was so excited as he talked about his job and all of a sudden, I was like, ‘I want to do that.’ I didn’t know how I was going to make a job out of writing, and I was in my fourth year and very much thinking about life after school,” said Stone, BA’11 (English and Writing Studies).

After Long spoke to her class, Stone approached him with questions:

How did you get started? How do I get there, from here?

He was “generous with his guidance,” she noted, talking her through the steps, offering support via email and helping her write a spec script for Modern Family. Eventually, Long wrote a reference letter for Stone when she applied to the American Film Institute (AFI), where she completed her MFA in 2014.

It didn’t take Stone long to secure her footing in the industry. In her second year at AFI, she wrote a script that landed her a manager and a TELEFILM CANADA New Voices Award. And just last month, her first film, The New Romantic, premiered at SXSW, an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media and music festivals and conferences that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas.

Now in its 25th year, the 2018 SXSW Film Festival included 44 films from first-time filmmakers, 86 world premieres, 11 North American premieres, and five U.S. premieres. In the Narrative Feature category, Stone’s film was one of only 10 world premieres selected from 1,408 submissions in 2018.

The New Romantic, 2018

The New Romantic, which one character aptly dubs a story of “Pretty Woman in reverse,” focuses on Blake (played by Jessica Barden), a young woman who, frustrated with a lack of chivalry, turns to life as a sugar baby, dating an older man while receiving gifts in return. The point, for Stone, was to create a female-driven comedy, showing a woman unapologetically making bold choices.

“I like to write female characters, girls, female friendships. That’s probably what I love most. I love female characters that are totally filled with contradictions; I just find that’s my own personal experience,” she explained.

Stone worked on The New Romantic from the time she graduated from AFI, slogging through nearly four years of drafts she couldn’t connect with.

“I hated the script for the first three years, and it just kept going. It was such a monster of a project. Then I made Blake a romantic, because I’m a romantic, and I understood the character more, and the story became much more simple and clear. I didn’t want her to be motivated by money; what if she was motivated by love? Then it came together very quickly,” Stone noted.

It’s still challenging being a woman in film; but really, it’s hard being a woman anywhere, she said. Writing strong female characters is one way to stand one’s ground in the #MeToo era. Her female role models in the industry – at first “comedy queens” such as Mindy Kaling, Tina Fay and Amy Poehler, now Sofia Coppola and Greta Gerwig – are inspirations and spur her on to do her part in the industry, Stone added.

“It’s constant – this feeling that I want to contribute.”

She hopes to screen The New Romantic at Western once Elevation Pictures brings it to Canada later this year. It was here that she got her start, Stone noted, and the film would resonate with a campus audience.

“Western provided a lot of opportunity for me to explore different kinds of writing. The writing program was great and I loved it there. They were very open to me doing my thesis in fourth year as a novella, instead of a paper. It was so cool they let me do that. And when I got into the writing workshop, it made me think I could write,” Stone noted.

“I hope people connect to the movie, and I hope to get to make another movie really soon.

It’s so hard, but it’s so fun. The isolation of writing is challenging; you can give up a lot. There are challenges getting funded and getting in the door. It’s so challenging but so satisfying when I can think of something funny that other people think is funny or tell a story that someone else can connect to. I’m addicted to that feeling.”

Stone landed a gig writing for CBC’s Kim’s Convenience after two years of trying to land a spot in the show’s writers’ room. Her agent put her up for the job, she met with the show runners, was given a week in the room with four others up for the same spot. After a week-long trial, Stone was hired for six weeks, eventually getting an extension to write for the full season.

It’s an uncertain, invigorating and continually challenging business, she said. And she wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I remember a friend from school asked me, ‘What’s your Plan B if this doesn’t work out?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have a Plan B. I don’t want a Plan B. I will just keep working very hard to get the opportunity to do it again.”