We had the good fortune of connecting with Catherine Clinch and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Catherine, why did you pursue a creative career?
Somewhere around the age of 10, I decided I was going to be a freelance commercial artist. I had grown up in New York City, spending weekends at the theatre, concerts and museums so I had a somewhat sophisticated perspective for a child. But it turned out that this was an accurate estimation of where destiny needed to take me. In many ways, television saved my life, so it’s not surprising that it was the platform I chose for my primary creative expression. Mind you, I have a very strong left brain and highly developed executive skills, so I had other professional options. Fortunately, I was able to develop a strong enough skills set to make a living from writing scripts for TV shows – most of which have been playing continuously around the world for decades. I get joy from all creative pursuits but I enjoy the process of storytelling most of all because it allows me to present the vision of a world where the good triumph and justice prevails. Now, more than ever, we need to believe in the hope of a happy ending.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Samson Raphaelson, my screenwriting teacher at Columbia University started every class with a simple statement: “A story is about people and what happens to them.” That essential bit of wisdom guides me every time I begin to write a screenplay or an article or a comic book or any other kind of book. Everything I write is based on the specific details of a character whose life is disrupted by a very complicated day. From that point on, it’s a matter of sprinkling on a genre and building the world in which my story exists. (cue music) These are a few of my favorite things! A lot of my guild colleagues claim they hate writing but they love to have written. I’m the oddball who absolutely loves writing. The process of breaking a story is exciting and when it all comes together the fulfillment is immeasurable. In recent years, I’ve expanded my love of writing into an exciting exploration of new platforms and technologies. Right now, I’m in the middle of playing with the idea of telling a multi-character story of epic proportions on the Google Maps app. It’s no secret that age discrimination is the last socially-acceptable prejudice, but it was much worse at the end of the 20th century. After eleven years of continuous employment as a television writer – which resulted in 18 produced episodes of television and a dozen or so movies that died in development – I was “aged out” by the time I was 37 years old. Men who were in their 50s were literally telling me that I was too old to write television because “it’s a young man’s game” and advising me to “stay home with all those kids you have.” Rather than become bitter, I pivoted to other forms of writing. A new print magazine called Creative Screenwriting had just started publication. I wrote a couple of articles, was made Contributing Editor and then promoted to Associate Publisher. While I spent 12 of its first 13 years with the magazine, I discovered the words “press pass” and started attending conferences in media, marketing, technology and the business side of our creative industry. Soon, I was being asked to speak and moderate panels at some of these conferences. Before I realized what was happening, I had moderated more than 100 panels and was being flown around the country, paid to speak at some very influential conferences. I quickly realized the panels that interested me the most were those that discussed the potential of mobile entertainment. They always focused on the problems they claimed were unsolvable when it came to mobile entertainment. In a somewhat academic effort to solve the problems everybody was complaining mobile posed, I invented a story delivery system and method of mobile entertainment. I filed for patents on my invention and was awarded three utility patents. If you had ask anybody about the probability that writing for a magazine about screenwriting could lead to earning three technology patents, they’d say it was zero. But as institutional ageism shut me out of a linear trajectory in rising up the ranks of television writing and producing, it forced me to pivot into other directions where my craft and skills could grow beyond where they would have been if all I had done was write a hundred episodes of television. At the same time, I started participating in hackathons. Once again, it started with the idea of writing an article about them. Before I realized what was happening, I wound up competing in more than two dozen hackathons and I won five of them. While all this was going on, I found myself immersed in the theoretical study of social media to understand why some content went viral. Eventually, I developed the curriculum for a professional certificate course on Social Media Strategy & Content Marketing that I currently teach at California State University Dominguez Hills. When I want to “play” online, I narrate the inner lives and loves of the pets of Pinterest or I splatter witticisms onto tee-shirts and other products at www.WearWordz.com. The result of all this is that I have an expansive frame of reference in a wide spectrum of related issues, all of which tie back into my writing. I understand the worlds of business start-ups and technology and conferences and marketing and academia with a deep measure of detail. Yet, I do this with the objectivity of an outsider who has immersed out of choice and fascination. Since it wasn’t a typical workplace to me, I saw it all as a series of arenas and characters. As you might expect, I have stories to tell. I have always been a feminist advocating for equal rights with professional and financial parity in the workplace. Through the efforts of thousands of women around the country, this movement has made significant progress although there is still a very long way for women to go before they will reach that goal. In recent years, I have shifted my attention toward a much more important cause – the elimination of age discrimination in the entertainment industry. In October, 2020, I authored a letter to the entertainment industry on behalf of the WGA Career Longevity Committee, which I chair. Published in all of the trade papers and the Los Angeles Times, the letter’s demand was simple. Stop violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. It has been a law since 1967, but it is flaunted and ignored by agents, managers, networks, studios, tech platforms, and every single nook and cranny of our industry. The ADEA’s protection begins for individuals beginning at the age of 40. It impacts earnings, pension contributions and every aspect of the human spirit of those who face this discrimination. Whether you realize it or not, it will eventually destroy your ability to achieve your potential. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get on board the movement to solve the problem before it hurts you? In the early years of my writing career, I focused on procedural shows that dealt with truth and justice. Gradually I segued into character driven genre stories that unfolded in worlds we haven’t seen before, Now, as my craft has matured alongside the rest of me, I want to tell stories that illuminate the human condition at its best, it’s worst and it’s most challenged. If we don’t love the characters we write, nobody else will, either. I am always guided by creating characters I would want to know and would enjoy spending time with as they go through the story that transforms them into their better self. And I always begin with a reminder of the immortal words of Sampson Raphaelson: “A story is about people and what happens to them.” It’s not about plot. It’s not about visual effects. It’s not about sex, violence or profanity. It’s only about people and what happens to them. My brand of story is smart but accessible. Compelling conflict presented through an empathetic point of view. And, whenever it is appropriate, there will always be witty repartee. If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Whenever friends and family come to visit from out of town, I give them “the infamous tour.” We pile into my Mom-Jeep and start with a journey into DTLA. As we drive through downtown toward the Arts District, I point out the historic sites like Grand Central Market and The Bradbury Building. Sometimes I take them through Santee Alley for a game of “find the Faux-lex” or to stock up on tee shirts. Lunch will most likely be Chinatown where we’ll hit Yang Chow’s for Slippery Shrimp and Sesame Noodles with Chicken. Back on the road, I’ll take them past Staples Center and head down Venice Blvd toward the beach. Along the way, we’ll take a detour around Victoria Avenue so they can see a neighborhood filled with California Craftsmen houses that came out of the Sears Catalog around the turn of the last century. Then we’ll slide up to Beverly Hills where I’ll show them the places where the locals go. We’ll start with coffee at The Farm in Beverly Hills where Kelli and her team make the world’s best gluten-free muffins. Then we’ll stroll down Rodeo Drive so they can window shop and look at all the other tourists window shopping. From there we’ll head to Century City and stroll around Westfield’s mall so they can pick up a pair of socks or a Tesla – not to mention an actual book from the Amazon book store. Then, we’re on our way through Westwood, Brentwood and West LA before we reach Santa Monica. We’ll slide down to PCH and take a pleasant drive up to Malibu – where the Lumber Yard sells everything except wood. Then we’ll back track down to Gladstone’s to have dinner while watching the sunset over the Pacific. As the moon slides onto the horizon, we head home along Sunset Boulevard, Typically, it can be said that a good time was had by all.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Nobody deserves more credit for who I am than my amazing husband, Bernie Clinch. We’ve been married for 36-1/2 years and were together for 2-1/2 years before that, so I can barely remember life without him by my side. We never run out of things to talk about and nobody can make me laugh as long or as hard as he does. He supports my goals and brings out the best that I am capable of being. I cherish him for being supportive of everything I do. He gave me three incredible (grown-ish) sons who fill my life with joy every day. The person who was most responsible for my becoming a writer in the first place was Sampson Raphaelson – my screenwriting professor at Columbia University. He wrote The Jazz Singer – the first sound movie – plus scripts for Hitchcock and Lubitch. He was 82 years old when we met. He convinced me that I was destined to be a writer. If I hadn’t taken his class – or his advice – I don’t know where I’d be or what I’d be doing today. In the early years of my career, I was lucky to work for some of the greats in television history – Alan Landsburg, Aaron Spelling, Stephen J. Cannell, and Fred Silverman. Being able to learn by working for the men who literally built the industry and created the most enduring genres was a complete blessing. One of the most incredible people who came into my life at the right time is my patent attorney – David Hoffman – whose patience and support enabled me to obtain three US Patents in technology. He is a brilliant man who always makes me feel as if my success matters to him. I have also been blessed to have a long list of wonderful friends who have stayed with me through the ups and downs of life. They are my cheering squad when I succeed and they have my back when I stumble. Most important, we share the kind of relationship that enables the candid discussions that are immeasurably valuable in enabling me to grow. Last but not least, there are five teachers who saved my life – literally – at crucial junctures of my journey. They deserve the biggest shoutout of all: Bert Thurston, Sue Lohrbauer, Ralph Sessa, James E. Popovich and – as a collective – the nuns at Mother Cabrini School for Girls. Teachers are some of the most important people on the planet. They shape our lives and send us off into the world to become ourselves – all while leaving their imprint on our hearts and minds. Without these remarkable human beings, I would not be here today.
Other: https://www.csudh.edu/ceie/convergence-media/ www.WearWordz.com
Catherine Clinch Bernie Clinch