GeekGirl was super pumped to be given the chance to interview Allison Schroeder, screenwriter of Hidden Figures, the box office smash that tells the true story of three African-American women working at NASA in the 1960's.
These female computers were the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, turning around the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson dream big in a time where segregation was rife and gender discrimination held women back from their potential. This is a truly inspirational story that we know GeekGirl's everywhere will love - so we were extra excited to ask Allison some questions! Enjoy!
What did you want to be when you were a young girl?
I wanted to be a lot of things – I was very into keeping my options open even as a kid. I was probably far too practical even at age five. I did consider being an astronaut but knew my eyesight was just too terrible. And I always loved theater so I had dreams of singing and dancing on Broadway. Too bad I have terrible stage fright when it comes to singing solos!
What was the career journey that led to you becoming a screenwriter?
I’ve been writing since a young age. I used to compete in Future Problem Solving Scenario Writing, a competition where you project a world problem into the future as a science fiction short story. I won first place internationally for my scenario on toxic waste in seventh grade, so that was probably the beginning. It wasn’t just my family or friends telling me I was a good writer, but impartial judges. Then I started writing musicals and plays in college, but it was always a bit sad when the shows ended. All that hard work and time and energy over when the curtain closed – no permanent final product. So I began thinking about making films. Still, it took a few years in the world of finance for me to finally making the leap to starving artist and try making it in Hollywood. I enrolled in the MFA Production Program at USC and I began the journey as a writer and director. I’ve always planned to write my way into directing…
How did you discover the Hidden Figures story? What drew you to write the screenplay?
The producer, Donna Gigliotti, was looking for a writer after she optioned Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures. At the time, there was only a book proposal. I read it, got on the phone with Donna, and proceeded to tell her all about my childhood growing up my NASA: how my grandparents had worked there, how I had interned at NASA throughout high school, how I’d worked for a missile launch company. I love NASA and the story of these women blew me away – how could we not know about them? And the chance to write a film about three female leads – and women of color at that – who were smart, layered, accomplished women was a dream. It’s not something you get to do in Hollywood very often!
Hollywood is a male dominated industry, just like the tech industry of which GeekGirl Meetup UK is part of - what lessons do you think we can take from Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary that would help other women across industries today?
I think it’s inspiring to know that women have blazed the trail before in the tech industry – and while it wasn’t easy, they never gave up. These women persevered within an unfair system, challenged the rules, and looked ahead to the future to make their way in the STEM fields. They weren’t afraid to be the first. They weren’t afraid to go after their dreams. And, most importantly, they supported each other. It’s important for women to lift each other up.
Who has been an inspiration to you in your own career?
Donna Gigliotti, the producer, is pretty inspiring. She’s made incredible films such as Shakespeare in Love and Silver Linings Playbook, and supports other women in the industry. In terms of writing, I grew up watching John Hughes movies, which are all about character. A scene can be small and still be incredibly powerful.
What's next? Hidden Figures has been a huge success (GeekGirl LOVED it), what are your plans from here?
I’m going to keep writing kick-ass, complicated women and the men who love them.
What's your biggest piece of career advice you would pass along to another woman?
Keep going. I’ve had a lot of rejections, a lot of people telling me that I wouldn’t make it, so you just have to keep showing up and doing the work. And find a community of friends to support you – the kind of people who are genuinely happy if you succeed.
Hidden Figures is in cinemas now.