Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist – Barb Lhota and Maureen Aitken

What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?

Barb Lhota and Maureen Aitken were born in Detroit, grew up two doors away, and became best friends when they were three. Maureen lives in Minneapolis, Barbie in Chicago, and they both have a mutual hobby of raising rescue dogs.

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed you as a Finalist in the screenplay contest?

The screenplay story structure for “Squeak” came from Maureen’s story. It was taken from her multi-award-winning short-story collection, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls.

How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

We worked on this screenplay structure over the span of half a year, with the compelling challenge of converting fiction to the big screen. It was a wonderful experience, in large part because of Barb Lhota’s extensive play and screenwriting experience.

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?

Maureen’s nuanced, story provided ample material to draw from, but we needed to make the story fit into a dramatic film narrative. So, we needed crucial visuals for the storytelling. We arced the entire story out, then every week we wrote our own sections. From there we wrote scenes and shared them once a week. In that weekly meeting, we combined the best of the work.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

Barbie fell in love with all types of film – classic, arthouse, foreign, and even blockbusters as a kid. Her older siblings, having taken many film classes, were always taking her with them.  She loved disappearing into a dark theater, especially in the summer, to completely melt into a new world and forget she even had arms and legs. Because her sisters and brothers are pocket-protector analytical, they were always working on character development, storylines, and dialogues.  It was a natural fit to seek out screenwriting after studying theater. In fact, many critics of Barbie’s plays make mention of her screenplay-like style in her stage work.

Maureen loved film classes in college and her fiction is inspired by the cinematic movement of scenes. She also saw how short stories were increasingly being turned into screenplays, so when Barbie suggested adapting Maureen’s story, she thought it was a great opportunity to learn to screenwriting.

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?

Jim Jarmusch offers a bit of the weird to reach a unique depth and humanity. The Australian film directors, Peter Weir and Gillian Armstrong, who have an evocative feel for setting and using cinematography to help convey a character’s inner passion.  Both, especially Armstrong, create strong, complex, well-rounded female characters.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?

Maureen just watched the Mare of Easttown twice and loved the focus on class, which is also a focus of her own writing. She also loved the directing, cinematography, and story. So many smart decisions went into the choices of that show.

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?

Barb’s favorite moment in cinema history is near the start of it when the silent clowns, particularly, Charlie Chaplain, started taking pictures. Charlie Chaplain’s films were poignant as much as they were funny. His many characters made you laugh, but you would never make fun of them because they were gallant, surprising, mischievous, and resilient. All qualities to be admired.  His comedies, Modern Times and The Great Dictator, were first-time examples of how to marry comedy with a serious, social/political underbelly.

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?

Maureen and Barb both appreciate Daniel Day-Lewis, Sydney Poitier, and Helen Bonham Carter. All of these actors have played such diverse and important characters in history. 

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

Barb and Maureen are working on their next project, a short television series about Barb’s mother. Barb would like to talk to Mrs. Lhota’s parents and mom again for some perspective on the story.

Maureen would like to sit down with Gabriel García Márquez, Maya Angelou, and Tolstoy, because they are some of her favorite writers, and would all be wonderful friends.  Barbie would like to be invited to serve tea and cookies at Maureen’s sit down with these three.