Swinburne alum, Monica Foley, has received Hollywood acclaim for a script she started writing during one of her Master of Arts (Writing) classes at Swinburne University of Technology.
Monica, a screenwriter and producer living in Los Angeles, won Best Television Script in the 2022 LA Film Awards for her TV pilot ‘Bearcats’, a prohibition-era drama set in New York City.
“The assignment during that class was to research any period in history that appeals to you and submit a piece of writing in any form.”
After discovering her penchant for screenwriting during her Masters, she submitted the first act of a screenplay for the class – which later became Bearcats. “I got out of university, and just kept writing,” she says.
More recently, she also took home the Best First Time Screenplay award at Digital Griffix 2023 in Canada.
Discovering a passion
Monica says she has always been a ‘right brain, creative type’, but didn’t know where that would take her.
After school, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Design (Communication Design) at Swinburne and enjoyed the exposure to a broad range of disciplines.
“But while all my peers were getting graphic design jobs…I just felt like there was something else I was missing,” says Monica.
She came across the Master of Arts (Writing) course at Swinburne and was keen for the challenge to pursue writing after focusing on art and design for so long.
Monica had already been reading Oscar-winning screenplays as a hobby at the advice of an aspiring actress friend, so when she noticed that the course included a screenwriting class, she knew she would enjoy it.
“It was only one class, but honestly, had I not taken it, I would never have figured out what I really wanted to do. It exposed me to screenwriting and gave me that foundation to build upon.”
Big screen success
Monica has lived in LA with her husband, and fellow writer and producer, Mark, for six years.
“We’re a producing and writing team,” says Monica. “Primarily we’re producers, but we want to get back more to what we love, which is writing.”
Perhaps their biggest break has come in the last year, with one of their films being bought by Disney.
“My husband found a story in the newspaper about a gentleman’s life story which is incredibly remarkable. We reached out to him, formed a friendship, and he agreed to make his story a film.
“I’m not at liberty to say much more yet,” says Monica.
Monica and Mark were also recently named as finalists in the Storyline Screenwriting Competition for a thriller film inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, named ‘Affliction’.
“We’re now trying to get a director to take it to a studio. It’s a film that has what I call a ‘sixth sense ending’ – a big twist.”
Monica on the set of Reading Rainbow Live, a reboot of the American Children's TV program from the 80s, with her husband and fellow producer Mark [on the right].
Rebooting Reading Rainbow
During the pandemic, the pair were also the producing team behind a reboot of the American children’s TV program from the 80s, Reading Rainbow, which attracted widespread media attention including from the New York Times.
Monica says they were inspired by the pandemic to create an accessible, interactive show for children based on the premise of the classic show, which was about going on an adventure inspired by a book.
“During the pandemic there was this crisis where kids were at home, parents are tearing their hair out. And there was a real dearth of stuff online that was educational.”
They approached the network where the show originally lived and created the first episode which children could watch live. After the show, kids could chat with the cast members online.
“I always wished as a kid that I could talk to the people on Play School, and this was the real-life version of that.”
Advice for budding screenwriters
One tip Monica swears by in her writing and producing is to take inspiration from real life and focus on your characters.
“It sounds obvious, but you need to have unique, dynamic characters. My advice would be to steal from the real world and people you’ve met…then they’ll jump off the page.”
She is inspired by writers who understand human behaviour and human connection, referencing popular TV show, The White Lotus.
“It’s actually disturbing how well the writer, Michael White, understands people and how they interact with each other…how flawed people are and how sick and twisted people can be.”
For budding screenwriters, she says it is invaluable to spend time reading award winning screenplays.
“The more you read, the more it will help you centre your brain and become second nature.
“It sounds obvious but practice, practice. Whatever you write, the first thing might be a great concept, but it’s unlikely to be executed well. It’s just like playing sport, you need to practice.”
She also encourages anyone wanting to break into the industry to submit to writers’ festivals.
“The minute you have some sort of credit or acclaim, you’re one step ahead of the thousands of others who don’t have that. There’s nothing stopping you from doing that wherever you are – you don’t have to be in LA.”