Conversation with Sharon Y. Cobb

Writer, Hollywood Survivor, Optimist

Photo: Anthony Paderewski

You’ve got quite the dossier as a former publisher, editor, journalist, rock musician, race car driver, and notably, a screenplay writer. You began writing fiction after meeting Tennessee Williams when you lived in Key West. What was your first fiction piece about and was it published? Was it inspired by Tennessee Williams?

I was an artist in Key West when I asked Tom (Tennessee Williams) about becoming a writer. He said, “Write. Just write.” (I’ve left out the expletives.) But it took a creative writing course at the Tennessee Williams Fine Arts Center in Key West to kick-start my passion for storytelling. I wrote short stories but never had any published.

 I moved back to Jacksonville in 1987 and started a publishing company with friends. A couple years later, I attended a screenwriting workshop and immediately knew that’s what I would do the rest of my life. I wrote five feature scripts and took off for Hollywood in 1993. I was deliriously optimistic about selling the next million-dollar spec script and planned to stay in L.A. for a year then move back to Jax. Well, that year turned into eight long torturous years, but I was lucky to love meeting with the studios and producers and most of all, writing. So, the first script sold within the first year and that opened lots of doors. Selling a script is one step, but there are many more steps to having a film made.  My first film as sole writer was produced in 2001. It was Lighthouse Hill, a romantic comedy written to be shot in Jax, but when a British director bought the script, he moved the production to London where I visited to work with the actors in rehearsal and see the first couple of days of principal photography. My husband, Robert Ward, and I returned six months later to attend the Royal Premiere of the film at Leicester Square. 

There were a couple of books along the way. In 1997 I was hired by CBS to write a novelization of two Christmas episodes of Touched by an Angel. That book sold 350,000 copies in one month, primarily because it was a highly rated series at the time, and everyone wanted to buy the book for Christmas gifts.

Since then, my first book of fiction that was based on my time in Hell-A and my imagination was published in 2011. Its title: False Confessions of a True Hollywood Screenwriter and it is available on Amazon.

    The City of Jacksonville Film and Television Office honored you with an Industry Achievement Award. Can you tell us about what that award meant to you?      

     I fondly call it the “Still Breathing” award and the professionals behind that award mean the world to me. Kent and Pepper Lindsey threw my Going to Hollywood party in 1993 and our current film commissioner Todd Roobin and other friends were there to kick my butt out of Jax and send me off to make a career of writing in Hell-A. That award just reminds me about how lucky I am to live in a city I love and still earn an abundant living as a Writers Guild of America member.

   As a member of the Writers Guild of America what is your take on AI in the film industry and on the 2023 strike? 

Streaming has turned the film business upside down. Maybe for the better, but who knows? I love the idea of making an indie film and because digital production can keep the costs low, the chances of distribution on streaming platforms can be high. I have director/producer friends in Jacksonville who make low-budget films and distribute on Tubi or other platforms which gives them an outlet for their cinematic creativity. The WGA strike was necessary to update contracts to reflect the changing landscape of the film business. I’m pleased that through the 2023 strike the guild was able to negotiate improvements and compensation for writers. As for AI, I’m personally fascinated with its potential as creative or research assistants for writers. Some traction gained through the strike is that AI-generated scripts will not be considered source material, meaning writers can’t be assigned to rewrite AI scripts and not receive credit. Also, AI can’t rewrite literary material written by a human. 

Can you tell us a bit about your newest movie, The Man in the White Van

The Man in the White Van is a feature thriller based on a true-life story. The director, Warren Skeels, hired me to cowrite the script with him. It’s a joy writing with Warren, and we anticipate itwill be distributed this year. 

What are you working on now? 

Currently, Warren and I are writing a new thriller that we’re very excited about. I also have another thriller, Dear Jessie, under option and we hope will get financing soon. And producers are casting an additional feature called Baja Triangle now. 

Do you have specific subjects or themes that you focus on in the seminars and classes that you teach? 

 I was happy to be an adjunct professor at the University of North Florida Division of Continuing Education for 10 years. I loved teaching and learned much from the talented students. Subjects ranged from writing films to selling scripts to Hollywood. I’m retired from teaching now, although I sometimes come out of my retirement cave to present a short workshop on Hollywood or screenwriting. 

What brought you back to Jacksonville and what do you love about the city?

 When my mother in Macclenny fell ill, Robert and I decided to move back to Jacksonville to be with her. That was 2001, and shortly after settling in Atlantic Beach was when I got the call to come to London to work on Lighthouse Hill

I write in Jacksonville and sell scripts that get produced everywhere. Living in Jacksonville is a dream compared to L.A. The cost of living is so much lower, traffic is a so light compared to the 405 freeway, and I love my Avondale neighborhood and friends. We’ve got stellar restaurants, arts, and entertainment. It took living in L.A. to really appreciate Jacksonville. 

Author: Arbus

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