WRITER SARAH WALTON: HOW EMPATHY MIGHT GET YOU INTO TROUBLE
What is the real difference in most of the everyday things that you purchase? Soap, coffee, sheets, the meals that you buy; for the most part the ingredients are the same in spite of the different brands. The palpable difference lies in the way they are combined and their presentation. Two chairs or two pairs of glasses might be seventy-five percent the same but one has a way of appealing and speaking directly to us. Craftsmanship and a connection to the public’s desires (sometimes the ones that they are not even aware of) are the difference between exemplary and average performance. It is the artist who is the secret ingredient. Not to compare the arts to the more mundane components of everyday life but, artists like Sarah Walton are the difference in a movie that you have on in the background and one which causes you to “shush!” anyone brazen enough to interrupt your viewing. Walton is an expert when it comes to creating and composing the modern day romantic comedy. She knows her audience, her characters, the tropes and how to avoid them, bringing her own voice to the genre. With films that have become fan favorites (Jump!, The Dating Ring, Who Moved My Key?, etc.) she has given new life and style to these productions depicting amorous challenges in current times.
When questioned about her unique skill at writing for the genre and its success, Sarah stipulates, “Although many artists have similar ideas for characters and stories, I don’t think anyone can write a character or story identical to another because your own life experience and view of the world is always injected. This was clear to me when the rom coms Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached were released at the same time. The concept and characters were incredibly similar, however, everyone I spoke to preferred one or the other — relating to them both in different ways. They had their own authenticity — this is something that can’t be copied. All fingerprints look similar, but each fingerprint is intricately unique. With Em Pathetic, the thing that was unique for these stereotypical characters was the worlds they come from and the radical (fanstasy-like) concept of them switching emotional states. I’ve always been fascinated by the emotional layers we all have and how others can trigger certain emotional states in us.”
Em Pathetic which Walton speaks of is one of the most recent of her screenplays which is the story of Emma Jacobs, an overly empathetic “girl next door” from a secluded tropical island who clashes with William Stein, cold hearted NYC stock broker who visits the island with his best mate Adam. Em and Will’s short, but catastrophically intense interaction ends in combustion; a huge argument that causes them to switch emotional states and experience life in each other’s shoes. Em is forced to leave the comfort of the island for the first time in her life to track down Will and switch back, culminating in facing truths about her past and her future that she never saw coming. The story delivers a theme that is central to much of Walton’s writing; a veneer of romance but primarily concerned with discovering one’s self. Sarah’s stories and the films which they develop into are more about introspection and self-value than they are about sacrificing one’s self for the aggrandizement of romance. There is as much modern feminism in a female protagonist who does what is best for herself as in one who rejects a man just to prove that she doesn’t need one, not that this is Walton’s goal. Her musings are more lighthearted than this. She seems content to find the obstacles in the lives of her characters to be fodder for laughter, even through the tears, rather than for anger.
The difficulties and stressful situations that characters like Em are challenged with cause them to excel and push through to discover a better self. This mirrors the experience Sarah had in writing Em Pathetic. Walton was writing a feature script called “Ego’s Web” to be entered into the PAGE International Screenwriting Competition. “Ego’s Web” was an attempt at a hybrid genre — a “wanna be dramedy-thriller.” Try as she might, it just wasn’t coming out the way Sarah wanted it. With a year and a half of work put in, she was experiencing anxiety…to put it mildly. With only four days leading up to the deadline, she scrapped “Ego’s Web” and began writing “Em Pathetic”, barely making the competition deadline. Round the clock working paid off as “Em Pathetic” created a buzz at PAGE as it placed as a Quarter Finalist in the competition. Comments about this feature film script at the PAGE International Screenwriting Competition make note of Walton’s distinct voice noting, “Sarah’s voice as a writer comes across and her use of visual storytelling and succinct descriptions are strong throughout the script. Though we’ve seen this type of story in romantic comedies before, the approach is largely unique. The romance between Emma and Will is innately entertaining.” In a real world correlation to Em who proves her character through pressure, this process for Sarah proved the same end. She confirms, “Pressure may not be enjoyable at the time but it can often yield a great outcome. It can cause me to make clearer choices faster. Not thinking about it too much sometimes helps me write from instinct more than from my intellect, which I believe is where the best work comes from (creative instinct). My experience is that when I’m connected to my instincts, the true source of creative energy from which the ideas and inspiration flows, happens organically and films write themselves; coming from a place of love rather than coming from my ego. This is especially important to me because I’m writing romantic comedies and always want them to come from love. I’m now learning that I can produce these results by meditating, which is much more enjoyable than locking myself in a room for 4 days writing. Ha. I’m working on incorporating meditation into my daily life as part of my creative process.” Sarah Walton and her characters share the journey of this constant search for a better life. One wonders if the higher power she speaks of is writing her story just as she writes those of Em and the other characters whose destiny is written on her laptop.