Interview: Jen Page, Screenwriter & Tutor

This week we chatted with Jen Page, an aspiring screenwriter and tutor based out of Los Angeles. In the latest installment of our interview series, Jen discusses her screenplay, her experiences of working in a public school and at a private tutoring company, and some of her favorite writers.

Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Jen: Sure. My full name is Jennifer Sara Page but most people call me Jen. I turned thirty-eight a couple weeks ago, am half Black, half Swedish and was born and raised in Los Angeles.

Twenty Two: Have you always been interested in writing?

Jen: Yes. When I was thirteen years old, I visited my family in Sweden for my birthday. My Aunt Gunilla gave me a pink journal with a picture of the family’s German Shepard on the front. I began writing in that journal immediately. Putting pen to paper came naturally to me. At first I was interested in expressing my emotions through writing. (I went through a teenage angst poetry phase.) Then I became interested in writing songs. Then, after working at a movie production company doing script coverage, I began to dabble in screenplay writing. It’s been a long process to get to the point where I actually think I’m good enough to sell something.

Twenty Two: You’ve written a screenplay based on your essay entitled, “Chasing the Rock.” In it, you discuss your father’s decline as a music arranger following the emergence of the synthesizer. Can you tell us more about it?

Jen: My father was a successful music arranger in the late sixties through the eighties. He worked on countless hits from, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” by The Righteous Brothers to Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All.” And when I would go to the sessions as a child I was mesmerized by these amazing musicians doing what they do best. These sessions included massive orchestras with dozens of violin players, harpists and percussion instruments of all kinds. But as the seventies came to a close, many of these musicians found themselves out of work because synthesizers and sampling made it possible for record executives to cut albums using no musicians at all, i.e. smaller budgets. Add in the rise of crack cocaine and the financial recession of the eighties, the music industry became a graveyard of music careers. I want to pay homage to all those musicians that lost their careers doing something they loved and, most importantly, spent most of their lives training and practicing for. So that’s the macro side of this phenomenon. On the micro side of things I saw my father deteriorate right in front of my eyes. He was grappling with addiction, but he was also struggling with living life without playing or writing music. Something in him died when that was taken away from him. So the topic is intensely personal for me. Writing the screenplay was definitely cathartic to say the least.

Twenty Two: Which topics are you drawn to writing about most often?

Jen: I did a lot of writing when I moved from Los Angeles to New York City to go to Columbia University. Something about the contrast between these two vastly different cities was very inspiring to me.

I’m drawn to writing about women’s issues as well. I grew up with a mother that told me I was going to marry a prince. I believed that he would show up one day. I know it sounds ridiculous but on a subconscious level I never gave up on that dream. But once I found myself thirty years old with no husband, I began to question just how much having a family and a husband defined who I was. I bought into societies’ traditional gender roles and ended up feeling like shit because I couldn’t live up to what was expected of me. When I took a Women and Gender Studies class at Barnard I learned so much about how women have been oppressed and how we have bought into the system of oppression.

Women still look at marriage as some form of social capital, still marry for money, and still define themselves as the objects in their relationships. Not all women, but many of us buy into these antiquated notions on some level. This fascinates me. The modern day women’s movement is hard to define because we’ve come so far. But there are still ways in which women fall prey to lies we’ve been told like I did with the prince fairy tale. So I’m drawn to writing about what these lies are and how we can break free from them.

Twenty Two: How would you describe your writing style?

Jen: Hmm, that’s a tough one for me. I strive to have a style that is down-to-earth and not removed from reality. I don’t believe in being overly intellectual. People that use big words just to make themselves look smart get on my nerves. So I try to keep my writing style as true to my own voice as possible. I would like to believe that I’m funny and witty and that my personality comes across on the page. I don’t care if people think I’m smart. I just want them to learn something.

Twenty Two: Which writers do you identify with the most?

Jen: Virginia Woolf, Nora Ephron, Joan Didion, Aaron Sorkin and Maya Angelou. And then there’s that other darker part of me that relates to Ernest Hemingway. I’m the daughter of two alcoholics, so it comes with the territory.

Twenty Two: You’re currently working towards earning your teaching credential and you also tutor. What have you learned the most from these experiences?

Jen: It’s really sad to say but what I learned most about getting my teaching credentials is that the public school system is a dying institution. No amount of money will fix a system that is broken. What I learned during my student teaching is that the teachers that truly care are a dying breed and are the minority. I learned that LAUSD is slashing music and arts programs, that teachers can be absent over ten times in a semester with no repercussions – which would be entirely unacceptable and any other place of employment. I learned that students are given over-processed uneatable food to eat for lunch, and I learned that being a teacher in the public school system is one of the hardest jobs out there. As a registered Democrat it pains me to say that Republicans are right. Public schools should be dismantled and we should institute a private school system that allows parents the control and variety over where they send their students to get their education. I did not think that way before my semester of student teaching.

My tutoring experience has taught me that the only way to help students that are struggling with school is through one-on-one instruction. Every brain works differently. I have a theory that the more information human beings are given the more ways our brain will to learn process that information.

Public school teachers are not given any time to figure out how each child learns. In the public school system they give teachers a class of thirty students, all of them with different methods of cognitive functions. These teachers are not given any time to figure out how each child learns. In fact most of the teachers’ time is spent getting students ready for state mandated tests. When I was student teaching I would be in the middle of an engaging lesson plan that the students seemed to enjoy but then a state mandated test would pause my instruction and take the students on a different track that had nothing to do with what we were learning. But with tutoring, I get to spend a whole hour with one student figuring out how he or she learns best. It’s infinitely more rewarding than teaching at public school because I know I’m actually making a difference on how these students will process information in the future. Our brains are malleable. What neurons fire together, wire together. But if ya can’t get the neurons to fire… let’s just say I do have compassion for teachers that are given a broken system to teach in and are also being blamed for failing to educate our youth.

Keep in mind the tutoring company I work for charges an astronomical amount for their services. So what this all boils down to is that students with money will get the best education, while students without money will get the scraps of what the government can afford to give them. Something has to change. Kids don’t deserve that.

What all this has taught me is that, while I do have a passion for educating youth, my number one goal is to be a writer. I feel I can impact people’s lives by telling stories we all can learn from.

Twenty Two: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Jen: I find inspiration from nature. I usually come up with ideas to write about while on a jog on the beach or hiking somewhere. I also find inspiration from reality. I find non-fiction to be inspiring because real life is so interesting that I rarely draw inspiration from fantasy. I’m interested in all life: from the dregs of the human condition, struggle and heartache, but also through love and light and all things spiritual.

I have an amazing group of friends and family, all going through life’s ups and downs. I draw inspiration from them as well. Nothing is more interesting to me than reality and flesh. I’ve written one science fiction screenplay and even that is based on events that I’ve gone through and witnessed in my life. I use my writing to try and find the lesson in the reality of mine and my friend’s lives.

Twenty Two: How has studying in New York and living in Los Angeles influenced your work?

Jen: Studying in New York deeply influenced my work. For those people that think higher education is BS, I have to beg to differ. My eyes were opened up to so many new ways of looking at life. I am forever indebted to Columbia University for helping me become a critical thinker and, by default, a better human being. (And might be forever indebted to them financially, too. Wink, wink.)

Whether through its beautiful landscapes to its diverse population, Los Angeles will always be my true muse. Being a native Angelino makes me a rare breed and that unique perspective will always influence my work. I saw and experienced so much growing up here that I could write one essay a week from my whole life and never run out of material.

Twenty Two: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

Jen: When I’m not working I spend my time at the gym, running on the beach, or doing yoga. I love to meditate because, let’s face it, without it I would be a basket case from hell. I love to read and watch movies. I am a die-hard Laker fan so I love watching NBA games and sports of all kinds. (I can’t wait for the Olympics!) And while I don’t necessarily need a TV, something about living in New York City and hearing intellectuals say, “ I don’t watch TV,” as if was some kind of sin? Let’s just say my reaction to that is watching the Real Housewives franchise, House Hunters International and PBS.

I’m very much a loner and spend the majority of my time by myself. I don’t mind doing things on my own, but am starting to realize that’s probably gonna have to change if I want a family of my own. Despite being a loner, I have the most amazing group of friends any gal could ask for. I’m a happy girl just drinking wine, talking and catching up with them. I also have a niece and nephew that are literally my reason for living. I try to spend as much time as I can with them.

Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Jen: You can expect to see my name on a movie screen near you saying, “Screenplay written by Jennifer Page.”

A special thanks to Jen for giving us the opportunity to learn more about her work. You can keep up with her by checking out her blog.

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