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Kelly Krause: “Be in it to win it”

I want to inspire social and cultural change through storytelling. Stories have power; we use stories to understand the world and our place in it. But stories are also used to justify the status quo — I want to use stories to change the status quo. Stories have the potential to provide new perspectives and challenge our […]

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I want to inspire social and cultural change through storytelling. Stories have power; we use stories to understand the world and our place in it. But stories are also used to justify the status quo — I want to use stories to change the status quo. Stories have the potential to provide new perspectives and challenge our preexisting assumptions. They trigger empathy and inspire us to act. I want to show those whose stories may have been ignored or erased that their voice matters and empower them to share their stories however they choose. Frankly, there’s never been a better time to do so; tools like the internet, social media, and YouTube have provided numerous, accessible platforms to share narratives. You don’t need a blockbuster film, hit TV series, or best-selling novel (or the big budgets that typically go along with those) to get your story out there and create a movement of your own.


As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Krause.

Kelly is an archaeologist turned screenwriter specializing in women-led genre television (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, and historical fiction). She is also a burlesque performer in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kelly is the Co-founder of Past Preservers, a boutique cultural media consultancy, and has worked with various projects, government institutions, and media outlets that include the Qatar Museums Authority, UNESCO, History Channel, and Discovery Channel.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was very creative while growing up. I did theater, wrote short stories, sketched, and staged a variety of plays, puppet shows, and dance recitals out of my parents’ living room. But all that moved to the back burner once I started my professional schooling. I picked up burlesque in 2014 and it became my avenue back to those creative outlets — it’s hard to think of another art form where you’re an all-in-one director, choreographer, writer, actor, costumer, and hair & makeup artist! A couple of years in, I wrote a scene for one of my acts, which was inspired by the Grand Guignol horror theater in Paris. I ended up being blown away by its reception and was encouraged to keep writing, so I took the script from that act and ran with it, eventually developing it into my very first screenplay. By the time I was finished, I was absolutely hooked — screenwriting became my passion after that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I think one of the most interesting (and challenging!) parts of my journey thus far has been hosting a writers’ group. I’d never done anything like it before, and went into a bit blind … But I knew I had to develop relationships and I knew I had to start getting down to L.A. regularly, so a writers’ group seemed like the best strategy. I had built a decent online network through Stage 32, so proceeded to invite my contacts in the L.A. area to a meetup in North Hollywood. That first meetup developed into quarterly meetups in L.A. and now includes monthly remote meetups via Zoom. Our monthly meetups comprise regular table reads and pitch sessions, as well as sessions that address members’ specific needs. I’m proud that we are currently 45 members strong and growing. There has been and continues to be a learning curve for me as the needs of the group evolve. A lot of time is required to plan and coordinate meetups, but I hope I will keep this going indefinitely. I love our members and the friendships I’ve forged with them, and I appreciate that managing a writers’ group keeps me active within the screenwriting community and on top of industry happenings.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Honestly, it’s a total rookie error that a lot of us new writers make … I had finished the first draft of my first script and thought it was absolutely brilliant. (It wasn’t.) I sent it out into the ether to solicit feedback because “that’s just what you do”, thinking no one would have any major critiques of my “masterpiece”. (They did.) I remember bursting into tears after those first few critiques, thinking everyone hated my story, which wasn’t the case at all — it was a matter of taking a good story and hopefully making it a great one. The experience taught me that no one, not even the best screenwriters, writes a perfect first draft. Ever. Indeed, perfection in our line of work is elusive much if not all of the time. Accept that soliciting feedback — and more importantly listening to it — is part of your writing process and part of improving as a writer, whether it’s your first script or your hundredth. Believe me, I understand that it’s hard to not take criticism personally when we put so much of ourselves into our craft. But I promise that as you continue to thicken your skin, the easier it becomes to not only accept feedback, but to pick out which critiques will genuinely better your story and which you can leave behind. No matter what, don’t be reactionary — step away from the reader’s comments and digest their feedback. At the end of the day, if you have nothing nice to say, say “thank you” and leave it at that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m polishing the pilot for a dark urban fantasy series inspired by the California Bay Area witch community. The community is among the largest and most diverse in the country, so it’s been fascinating developing the story and its world and exploring the variety of traditions and rituals practiced there. I’m also developing a western drama series that put women front and center — I’m really excited about the concept and hope that it’ll challenge our notions about the shaping of the American West. I’m fleshing out a concept for a genre crossover series, as well (a sci-fi dark fantasy thriller), but it’s early days yet.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

Oh, wow, that would probably be Omar Sharif. I was working as a PA on an Egyptian TV series (Hanan W Haneen) and he was the lead. My parents were both fans of his, so I grew up watching his American movies, becoming an admirer myself. Everyone on set was a bit starstruck, but Omar was nothing but sincerity and kindness. At one point, the entire cast and crew had to be flown to New York from Cairo. Omar was the only one who was given a first-class seat, but he spent much of the flight standing in coach (at 75-years-young), conversing with the cast and crew and signing autographs and taking pictures with Egyptian and American fans. Once we landed, it came to Omar’s attention that he had been put up at a five-star hotel, while everyone else on the production had been booked in a three-star hotel down the street — he was furious! He demanded that the producer either move him to the three-star hotel or move everyone else to the five-star hotel. At the end of the day, there was no vacancy at the three-star hotel, and the production budget couldn’t stretch to cover more rooms at the five-star hotel. Omar resigned himself to the situation, but he never let the producer forget it. While on set, he gave of his time freely between takes, chatting with cast and crew and forging relationships — even with me, the lowly PA. One of my friends in the cast would later tell me that a conversation she had with him changed her life. Omar was someone who demanded respect and compassion for his fellow human beings. He had a disarming charm and a generous nature, and his passing is a great loss.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

There’s this expectation of writers — one that we place on ourselves, as well as other writers — that we have to write for x hours of every day, and that we’ve somehow failed at our jobs if we don’t. The reality is it isn’t going to happen, not always anyway. We’re writers, but we’re also parents, spouses and partners, friends, and caregivers, among other roles. We have hobbies and meetings and doctor appointments. We often juggle day jobs or multiple part-time jobs or freelance projects to make ends meet. There are only so many hours in the day and so much of our energy that we can expend, and we need to take time to rest and recharge if we’re going to be productive. We can’t always squeeze writing in, as much as we may want to, and the truth is it’s not always the priority. If you miss a day, don’t stress over it or guilt-trip yourself, which so many of us are prone to do — just accept it and make time the next day. In the words of the great Iris Apfel, “You can’t do everything, it’s impossible. Something’s gotta give — and it’s usually you.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to inspire social and cultural change through storytelling. Stories have power; we use stories to understand the world and our place in it. But stories are also used to justify the status quo — I want to use stories to change the status quo. Stories have the potential to provide new perspectives and challenge our preexisting assumptions. They trigger empathy and inspire us to act. I want to show those whose stories may have been ignored or erased that their voice matters and empower them to share their stories however they choose. Frankly, there’s never been a better time to do so; tools like the internet, social media, and YouTube have provided numerous, accessible platforms to share narratives. You don’t need a blockbuster film, hit TV series, or best-selling novel (or the big budgets that typically go along with those) to get your story out there and create a movement of your own.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

You don’t need a degree in screenwriting or filmmaking to succeed. Though the prestige of a degree may help, it’s very possible to study the craft and industry outside the traditional lecture hall. The reality is that formal education isn’t available to everyone, whether we’ve just graduated high school or are transitioning careers. The internet and social media are far more accessible and empower the majority to find resources, build relationships, and learn, largely free of charge. A formal education, however, affords greater access to a wide network of industry professionals, which is your greatest asset when breaking in. If you’re going the non-traditional route, expect to work harder when connecting with working writers, producers, and the like — you won’t necessarily have the luxury of meeting with them in person, so you must invest your time and energy in other, more creative ways to engage them.

Learn the rules of screenwriting, so that you can break them. There are plenty of resources out there (books, classes, webinars, etc.) to help build the foundation of your screenwriting education, but the more useful (and cheaper) strategy in my experience has been to read produced scripts. Do you want to learn directly from the experts? Picking up their material is the best way, especially those writing in the same genre or tone as you are. Find out what makes the script work (or doesn’t as the case may be). What can you learn from their style to create your own unique storytelling voice that’ll stand out in the crowd? Many scripts will be available freely online, or through the Writer’s Guild Library if you’re in L.A. Just as important as learning what to do when writing a script is learning what not to do. With that in mind, I recommend reading scripts from other new writers who are also developing their craft, though you’ll come across some great talent here, as well.

Build friendships with screenwriters who are more established (and talented) than you. This industry is very much about who you know — building genuine friendships with more experienced (hopefully working) writers means you have a community that recognizes your potential, celebrates your triumphs, and goes to bat for you. Furthermore, getting the eyes of more experienced writers on your work is an invaluable resource that will provide you with honest, useful feedback and improve your craft. These may also be people that you want to create with, writers whose talent you admire, but who you also want to learn and grow with in partnership. Don’t forget that this is a two-way street like any relationship; you need to be there for your community just as much as it’s there for you.

Be willing to travel. You can write a feature script anywhere these days, which is great, but you should still expect to travel to L.A. for meetings with producers and executives as needed. When you get to this point, try to schedule as many as you can to make the most of your time and money. If you’re looking to write TV, it’ll be a different story — you need to be in L.A., and that will be the expectation of whichever producer, showrunner, or network you’re working with. Regardless, participate in industry events when you can to build your network, whether in L.A. or closer to home. Go to festivals, screenings, and conferences. Joining a screenwriters’ group (or creating your own) costs nothing and enables you to network with the community. Writers’ groups are also a great way to get free feedback on your work. If you decide to create your own, don’t be afraid to take it online — hosting a meetup via Skype or Zoom allows you to connect with writers all over the world, including those in L.A. who can give you “on the ground” insight into the industry.

Be in it to win it. This industry is cutthroat, but other creatives are amazingly supportive — so long as you take the craft seriously. So many new screenwriters just dip their toe in the water, not sure if it’s what they want to do, or whether they have what it takes. I guarantee that others will notice and be reluctant to invest their time and energy in you consequently. If you want to be a screenwriter, be a screenwriter — show up, put in the effort, make the time, network and build relationships, support and promote your fellow writers, and commit. You won’t get anywhere if producers, directors, executives, and established writers see that you’re not in it for the long-run. This isn’t a hobby and there are no shortcuts here — you have to love it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My paternal grandmother would often say,” It doesn’t matter where a person comes from — what matters is where they’re going.” I love this aphorism because it can be applied to a variety of contexts — a person’s birthplace, their class or social status, their education, their faith, their race, gender, or intercourse orientation. We’re a very judgmental species, but my grandmother’s adage is a reminder to focus on the journey of the people we meet, not their point of origin so to speak. In the American film industry, there are a lot of poor judgments and assumptions that are made about women, POC, LGBTQ+, expats, and people who have no formal training in the business or who didn’t go to the “right” school. These communities and their work are often viewed as less than, and if they do succeed, then there’s the erroneous presumption that it was all due to some sort of diversity initiative. What we need to realize, whether we work in the industry or not, is that these groups have worked (and continue to work) two, three, four times as hard as many of their colleagues to forge their path to success. They’ve made it, despite all the odds stacked against them, and there’s a helluva lot that needs to be acknowledged and respected about that.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Where do I start?! My burlesque sisters were the ones who urged me to pursue screenwriting, and I don’t think I would have taken this journey without the encouragement of the incomparable Red Velvet, Lady Malavendra, and Sinistra Sinclair. Writer/director/producer Kevin Callies took me under his wing from the day we met, making sure I attended industry events, pushing me to submit to competitions, and sharing his network. Likewise, writer/producer Vivi Gregg has been generous with her contacts and her insights into the business side of the sector and has been a patient ear in moments of frustration. Writer/director/producer Ana Lydia Monaco encourages me to be my own advocate and challenges me regularly to approach my stories and characters in ways that reflect our real world. Producer Rob Laacke has had faith in my work from page 1 and has busted his ass to get my material across people’s desks. My writers’ group is a constant source of inspiration and continues to help me hone my craft. My husband Chris is my biggest fan and supporter by far, reading every draft, celebrating every victory no matter how big or small, and helping me pursue my creative dreams in more ways than one. It takes a village to lift a screenwriter, and I’ve been very fortunate in the one I’ve managed to build.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Ugh, it’s so frustrating only picking one person … Screw it, I’m including two! Journalist, author, and activist Mona Eltahawy is one of my biggest heroes. She’s outspoken and unapologetic, traits that we often praise in men, but rarely if ever celebrate in women. I identify with her fury because injustice should make us angry, otherwise we become numb and complacent. I’d also love to meet Natalie Wynn of ContraPoints. Wynn is a huge role model for me because she helps audiences break down current social debates in ways that are digestible, but also endlessly entertaining — she’s a storyteller, the sort of storyteller I hope to be. But instead of breakfast or lunch with these two amazing women, could we do a champagne high tea, please? A feminist high tea would be perfection.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter @KellyLynnKrause — I love connecting with people, especially creatives, so come find me!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

Thank you! It’s been an absolute privilege.

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