We had the good fortune of connecting with Anissa Morgan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Anissa, do you have some perspective or insight you can share with us on the question of when someone should give up versus when they should keep going?
“You will win if you do not quit…” When fear, anguish, anxiousness, worry, or regret enter my heart, I ponder that phrase. You will win if you do not quit. The journey to film school, the journey post-grad, and the journey of adulting have had their share of blood, sweat, and many tears. I can recall the exact moment I walked across the stage to accept my MFA degree in screenwriting. I smiled at the crowd so my parents could get a good picture, yet I was terrified. Don’t get me wrong, I was relieved that I finally made it. I can say I have my MFA; I can be taken seriously in the industry and I can apply to jobs I’m qualified for. Yes, it was a great feeling, however, there was another feeling that began to take over as I packed up my apartment and ventured off to live closer to the city: fear.
What if I don’t make it? What if I don’t have what it takes? What if my material never gets made? What if I’m a failure?
I found that I wasn’t alone in this pattern of thinking, as many of my classmates had that same sentiment; and for good reason. The job market was tough, competitive, and cut-throat. I knew the journey I choose would not be easy, predictable, or always enjoyable – but I also knew the amount of regret I would have if I never gave myself permission to be all in and give it all I had. You see, I come from a family of risk-takers… it’s in my blood.
My grandfather went from sharecropping in Greensboro, North Carolina to owning a bus and transportation business in the city, thus breaking the cycle of poverty and changing the course of an entire generation. My father was the first black man to obtain a JD and MBA from Wake Forest University and because of taking a risk as the first in his family to go to college, he’s been able to mentor hundreds of minorities by helping them hone in on a career in law. My mother took the risk of creating her own non-profit for young girls by instilling in them the power to love yourself and take the necessary risks conducive to your purpose.
When I graduated from a local college in two-thousand and seventeen, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. All I had was a dream. The only thing I knew was that my passion for writing outweighed my desire for security and if I didn’t fulfill that passion, I would be lost. In my journey, there were plenty of moments when I was faced with the option to keep going or simply give up. One of those moments was January of two-thousand and twenty. This was the month I applied for just shy of fifty screenplay competitions.
I was a bobarista full-time and while trying to rewrite my screenplays. I remember the moment I applied for the fiftieth competition, thinking to myself, “This is so pointless…” Yet, an opposing argument came to mind, “What if I win?” Well, we all know what happened months later and sadly, I remember heading home to North Carolina where I would be staying the remainder of the year. During that year, I received rejection after rejection from those competitions, most of them because of the pandemic but others simply because I wasn’t good enough. I was an unemployed writer and I was living in my parent’s house at twenty-five years old. I was officially back in high school. Trust me, it was as depressing as it sounds.
As time went on, I remained diligent. I kept writing, although I had no prospects. But what else could I do? Give up? I had a choice. I could convince myself I tried my best and move back to North Carolina, or I could accept the fact that my dreams would be harder to attain and keep going. That’s why they’re called DREAMS. You have to want it. You have to fight for it even when no one else will. You have to believe that everything you need to succeed is already inside you. Yes, there were moments when I would look at my computer screen and re-read my thousandth draft and cry, but after that good cry, I still had the same feeling. Resilience.
I knew what was in me and I knew that just like you can’t see the seed when it’s underground but know that it’s growing fruit – so it was with me. I was under construction, and being under construction is painful. It’s brutal. It’s downright mean.
But how many people can say that they never gave up? How many people can look within themselves; despite going through adversity and smile because at least they dared to fight for that what was in them to come out. It wasn’t until September of last year that I got the best news of my life. Back in January, I sent in my screenplay to the Austin Film Festival and yes… this was one of the last competitions I applied for.
They called and said I was a second-rounder for my drama script.
This news catapulted my career in a way I didn’t even see coming. My script caught the attention of a great agent who wanted to read more of my writing. What I sent him was something I worked on all year while unemployed, not knowing that my hard work would pay off this soon. Fast forward months later and I am signed to an amazing agency and currently finalizing my pilot.
How do you know whether to keep going or to give up? You don’t. You just keep going anyway.
Despite the people who look at you crazy, despite the naysayers who think you should be ‘realistic’ and despite those inner thoughts telling you that you are selfish for wanting more – you keep going. You must stay in the race because the testing of your faith produces perseverance. I had to learn the hard lesson that not everyone will understand your dreams because they weren’t meant to. You don’t have to have the green light from those around you to feel secure enough to keep going – in fact, I would say that the more it looks and sounds crazy, the more you should run after it.
We often forget how short life is. One moment, you’re heading off to kindergarten, and the next, you’re faced with your first real job and real apartment and real everything and you wonder if you can do it. You can.
If no one has told you that before, let me be the first to tell you – YOU CAN. You will win, if you do not quit and when you don’t quit – you will realize how strong you really are. I know that’s easier said than done but I would rather try and fail than have seeds of regret for a lifetime.
I felt so silly creating script bibles while no one was asking me to see my work. But I knew that when they did, I would be prepared. Understand that nothing lasts always and have the faith to hope despite any evidence of assurance. You can do this. You can win. Keep going, and watch what happens.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
What I want the world to know about my story is that it’s still being written. I’m still trying new ideas and failing; I’m still celebrating my wins and I’m still getting up every morning excited to write. Life is hard – no matter what career you have. However, life is also filled with opportunities to make a difference in someone else’s life. Life is filled with moments of gratitude and joyfulness. Life is not always easy, but I think the more you keep trying, the deeper your perseverance increases. When you refuse to quit, you automatically become a person of grit; and that’s a valuable skill to have.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If my best friend was visiting the area, I would first take them to the iconic ‘In-N-Out’ to grab a burger because, why not? Next, we would check out some known landmarks such as Griffith Observatory, the Getty Center, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Grove. Those places are the best! If they were looking for some retail therapy, we would have to stop by Rodeo Drive and Sunset Boulevard for a quick shopping spree and then head over to the Santa Monica Pier to watch the sunset. The best spots for a nighttime dessert would have to be Milk Jar Cookies and the Pie Hole – but that’s if we get through all those delicious cookies first. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Two professors who have dramatically changed my life and helped me hone my passion for screenwriting are Barry Blaustein and Bettina Gilois. I first met Barry as a first-year film student. Barry is a comedy writer best known for his writing on Saturday Night Live and the screenplays for Coming to America, Coming 2 America, and The Nutty Professor. He also directed, wrote, produced, and narrated the wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat. Besides delivering amazing movies for the world to see, he’s also my former professor and current mentor. His class, “Feature Screenwriting” was the first class I was privileged to take. I remember being so excited I would have him as a professor.
What I love about Barry is his willingness to always tell me the truth, his passion for writing, and his appreciation for the industry. His mentorship throughout these years has given me the courage and permission to believe in myself and not second guess my instincts. I will always be grateful I took his class because of the huge he has played in my life and career.
My other mentor is the late, Bettina Gilois. With an art history degree from Columbia University, Gilois began her career in film as the assistant to director Slava Tsukerman on Liquid Sky, a 1982 arthouse film inspired by German Expressionism. From there, she went on to work with Andy Warhol on his TV series, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes. Her screen credits include the Disney film McFarland, USA, starring Kevin Costner, directed by Niki Caro, and the HBO film, Bessie, starring Queen Latifah. She also wrote the Disney/Bruckheimer production Glory Road starring Josh Lucas, The Lost Wife of Robert Durst, which aired on Lifetime in November of 2017.
Sadly, Bettina passed away in July of last year from her battle with cancer. I remember going to her office hours almost every week to talk about my screenplay, a football movie I was working on. We clicked because Bettina wrote many sports movies and from there, our conversations would go from what I was working on to her imparting nuggets of wisdom that I would carry on to this day.
She taught me how to stand out as a woman in the industry. She taught me to always write with passion and integrity and to never give up on my script no matter how much work it needed. Bettina was kind, incredibly bright, diligent, resilient, and above all… my friend.
When I want to give up, when I want to quit and when I want to throw away an idea, I think back on those days in her office. She would always lift me up, laugh with me and remind me that everything will be okay. Just don’t quit. It’s because of mentors like Barry and Bettina that I am more confident in my writing abilities. I appreciate them so much and I hope I can be a mentor to future writers and instill nuggets of wisdom and kindness just like they instilled into me.
Alex Iseri Andrew Gutierrez