Things have been moving fast for Alison Rose Greenberg. In the past year, the Dunwoody-based screenwriter has begun work on a couple of films and finished the first draft of her second book – all before the first one has even been released.
Greenberg – who wrote on the sixth season of the popular TV Land television series “Younger” – has already written the screenplay for the movie adaptation of her first book, “Bad Luck Bridesmaid,” which will be published in January of 2022. She’s also in the beginning stages of working on the screenplay for “Clean Air,” a NASCAR-themed romantic comedy backed by big names like Will Smith and the electronic music duo The Chainsmokers.
Reporter Newspapers talked to Greenberg about what it’s been like working during the COVID-19 pandemic, her favorite WB teen dramas, and more. This interview had been edited for length and clarity.
You live in Dunwoody now – did you grow up there?
Alison Rose Greenberg: I grew up in Buckhead. [I] went to Woodward [Academy] and then USC out in L.A. And then Atlanta, New York, and back to Atlanta – because no one ever leaves the South. It’s a boomerang, you have to come back.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a writer?
Greenberg: It was funny. I was a teenager who discovered 1990s WB television, which was like the age of “Dawson’s Creek,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Felicity.” I was like, “I don’t know what I want to do, but I want to make things like this.” I don’t know if I want to be a writer, or a director, or a producer.
I always loved reading and writing – English was my strongest subject in school – and I went to USC and minored in cinema and television. Then I took one screenwriting class and it, for me, was like breathing. It was so easy and effortless, and exciting. And I was like, I just would like to do this forever. That was my first venture into screenwriting.
What was your first job in the industry? How did that come about?
Greenberg: I was managed right out of college, and I sold a script and ended up … moving back to Atlanta … and I actually got a job in marketing. I was like, I’ll write on the weekends. Then I went and moved to New York and I had a bigger job in marketing. And I was like, I’ll write on the weekends.
I had my son, went back to work after having my son – which it’s really hard to do anything on the weekends but be a mom. And then moved back to Atlanta, where I had my daughter. And I opened up my computer for the first time and was like, I need to do this. I need to tackle writing. I wrote a script in three weeks, and then Untitled Entertainment and I found each other, and they managed me.
I’d say my first kind of random big thing – which they tell you as a screenwriter, never spec a show, never write a sample episode of the show you want to write on. It’s a bad idea. But I did it anyway. I watched the season finale of season five of “Younger,” which is Darren Star’s TV show. And I was like, I could write this season six premiere. I’m going to just do it. I wrote a spec and it got to a friend who then … got in Darren Star’s hands. I ended up doing the story for this season six episode, which was my first toe dip in this industry that I’d been circling around for years and years.
That was the first adventure, and then from there, [Creative Artists Agency] and I found each other. I have a book called “Bad Luck Bridesmaid” coming out on Jan. 11 of 2022.
That’s set to be adapted already, right?
Greenberg: Yes. I adapted my own book and wrote the screenplay for that, too.
I also saw that you’re attached to another movie with Will Smith’s company Westbrook Studios. Is that correct?
Greenberg: Yes. “Clean Air” is with Westbrook, which is Will Smith, and then NASCAR is producing it as well, and The Chainsmokers … which is like a whole kitchen sink of interesting people, but actually some of the most phenomenal producers that I’ve had the pleasure of pitching and working with. I think [this] would never have happened if not for quarantine.
What do you mean by that?
Greenberg: First of all, no one should care where writers live. But for me I was going up to LA every couple months to have pitches or meetings. And then, I never had to leave Dunwoody. So I could Zoom and pitch Amazon [Studios] from the comfort of my own home, while The Chainsmokers were in Miami, and … the guy from NASCAR was in LA and Jon Mone [of Westbrook Studios] was in his car in the middle of a production.
We were all pitching [in] these places and I think they were looking for writers no matter where they lived … The Chainsmokers and NASCAR kind of came together and said “We want to make a rom-com.” And my agent reps The Chainsmokers’ production company and sent them my stuff. We got on a call and I said, “I’ve always wanted to make a female Jerry Maguire,” and from there it spiraled.
Jon Mone – who’s an amazing, amazing producer who runs Westbrook, the film side for Will Smith – latched on to the treatment and loved it. So we kind of went as this team to pitch everyone. I’ll be writing that script shortly, which is awesome, and I’m so excited about it.
So were you working quite a bit during the pandemic, or were there lulls and flows?
Greenberg: No lulls! I was writing “Bad Luck Bridesmaid,” my first book, during the pandemic, doing pitches alongside that of the “Clean Air” pitch and the treatment, and then I just finished the first draft of my second book … I don’t know when that’ll be out, but we got to get the first one out, and then I’ll do line edits on the second!
It was constant writing and pitching. With TV and films, you’re pitching more projects than your friends ever know about. I would say like 99% fail, and you just need the 1% to go through. So it’s just been a lot of writing and pitching, and exercising the prose muscle on one side of my brain and the screenwriting muscle on the other.
What are the next steps for “Clean Air?”
Greenberg: So I will have a kickoff call, and they’ll look at the treatment. If they love everything on it, I’ll go off and write it and then get them a first draft. If they need tweaking of the outline, we’ll tweak that and then I’ll go off and write it. It’s usually a kickoff call with all the producers. And then it’ll be me putting my head down for, you know, four to eight weeks or whatever it is and writing the heck out of that first draft.
You mentioned you were a big fan of WB-era shows. What are some of the movies or genres or books that inspire you?
Greenberg: “Buffy” is probably the reason I write. I think the character development on that show was the first thing that gripped me growing up. And then “Fleabag” was the best thing I’ve seen in the last handful of years. Right now, I love “Ted Lasso.” I think it’s just perfect, and sweet and kind, and so funny – just unexpectedly funny. I loved “The White Lotus.” You know, it hit on all cylinders for me.
J.J. Abrams is one of my favorite writers. I really loved “Felicity” and I loved “Alias” growing up as well. “Lost” was great. I miss a lot of the late 1990s/early 2000 shows.
I was an intern at ABC, in their primetime marketing, and it was the year we got “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” I would go and I would do my internship. I was there two and a half days a week for two years, on and off. And … there was like a big file cabinet of the scripts that hadn’t aired yet, and I would pull out J.J. Abrams scripts and read how he wrote. I would pull out Shonda Rhimes scripts and read how she wrote. That really made me a better writer. It made me want to write.
I would say to any screenwriter – do that. Read the scripts of the movies you love. Like “Clueless.” I’ll reread that script sometimes because it’s just so bitingly funny and it’s written so well. The “Felicity” pilot. I’ve reread that more than I’ve seen the pilot. Just the way J.J. Abrams writes, it’s just so voicey. And I’m very voicey, meaning I take up way too much on a page of just the action lines, because I want you to feel what you’re feeling when I write, which is why prose was a very easy segue for me.
I just read Sally Rooney’s “Conversations With Friends,” [which] I loved. I loved “Normal People.” There are so many interesting writers out there right now.
How does your writing process usually work? You said you’re “voicey” – what does that mean?
Greenberg: So for prose – that’s a book, right? With a screenplay, I do not tell you what a room smells like when you walk in it … it’s very nimble.
Whereas in a book, what does something taste like? What does the room smell like? Is it hot? Is it muggy? It’s a little different in a screenplay. So, for me, I would say I’m a little voice-ier, meaning there’s sarcasm in action lines that there maybe doesn’t need to be. I’m describing how a character feels a little more than maybe most. That being said, I take studio notes and will take those out. But I think it made prose easier for me … I think cinematically, too.
As a writer, I have my headphones on. I’m listening to a soundtrack. I wrote “Bad Luck Bridesmaid” with Taylor Swift in the background the entire time, which was problematic because I wrote it with [the album] “Lover” and then [the album] “folklore” came out and I edited it with ‘folklore.” I was like – is this edit really depressing? Did I go too far?
But it’s usually songs. It’ll be a vibe. I’ll write to a certain vibe.
I wake up in the morning, and I’ll look at what I wrote the day before, edit that and then go forward. I get my kids off to school. I’m a single mom, so they’re off to the bus by 7:30 and then it’s just go-time for me until I pick them up. I think for book writing, I like to write at night. But for screenplays, there’s hours, there’s chunks, especially in the morning, where my flow is the best.
When you came back from New York to Atlanta, why did you choose to settle in Dunwoody?
Greenberg: It’s funny. I grew up in Buckhead, so I didn’t have a lot of ties to Dunwoody. The [Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta] is less than half a mile from me, and that’s become a second home for me really. My kids go to summer camp there, and they’ve been such a supportive group. My kids both went to preschool there, so being close to the J was really nice.
I also live in a community where three or four of my close friends live on my street. I didn’t have that growing up in Buckhead. It was kind of these big houses on these big hills.
[Dunwoody] was … just such a lovely life for my kids. It’s quieter here as a writer. I go to LA and have a crazy seven days, but I love the quiet of Dunwoody. I think it allows me to think. It allows me to have my friends close. It allows me to have this community even closer. I’ve always thought, should I move to Inman Park, should I go back to Buckhead? … And I just keep coming back to it’s really comfortable here. It’s a really nice community here. Especially in the pandemic, I’ve grown to really love Dunwoody and appreciate it more than I ever thought I would.