Regina Kim is a screenwriter from the Bay Area. She grew up in a small island town called Alameda. “I moved down to Los Angeles in 2016 for the Professional Program in Screenwriting at UCLA, where I took my first ever screenwriting class. I loved it so much that I decided to apply to their MFA the following year and was part of that program from 2018 to 2020. I primarily write in the horror genre, and my work focuses on the blend between Western and Asian cultures and how Asian Americans specifically exist between those two worlds. My horror TV pilot about sleep paralysis, INCUBUS, was on the 2019 BloodList. And being on that list has really jumpstarted everything in this industry for me, so a huge shout out to the team over there”, she tells us.

In this interview, part of Zaftyg’s series, the screenwriter talks about her writing journey, new projects, and her long-term goals for the future.

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What are you currently working on?

I’m currently involved in a few projects that I’m super excited about because they’re all great stories and it doesn’t hurt that the people I’m working with are amazing, creative, smart, and genuinely kind people. I won’t go into too much detail until or if announcements are made down the road, but they’re all projects that I’m passionate about in one way or another, whether it’s the genre or the subject matter or the potential for many hours of exciting television, and I’m extremely grateful and lucky to be working with fellow collaborators with whom I share that overall vision.

What originally attracted you to screenwriting?

As a kid, my first love was reading. I spent almost every weekday after school at the library until dinnertime. So growing up, I thought I was going to be a novelist. In high school, before I graduated, I self-published two young adult novels and entered college thinking this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, during sophomore year of undergrad, I did an internship over winter break down in Los Angeles on the Universal Studios lot. I did a lot of coverage, which is where you read a bunch of scripts and write summaries and notes on each of them to pass onto the producers or studio heads. And this was my introduction to the world of screenwriting. I immediately fell in love with the medium and how we could tell these amazing stories visually. And I also loved the collaborative nature of filmmaking. So after that internship, I joined the film club on campus, read every screenplay I could find online to learn proper formatting, started writing my own scripts, and even made some short films.

What’s a typical work week like?

Right now, my weeks are filled with meetings, calls, pitches, and ultimately working with others to push the aforementioned projects forward. I’m very protective about my writing time though, so if I do need to work on a script, I make sure that always takes precedence and I carve out time every morning for it. For example, I recently received the first round of notes on a feature I’m working on with a producer, so the next few days and weeks will be dedicated to that rewrite. I also still work part-time as an afterschool tutor, so I love being able to shut down writing for the day and switch brains to be able focus on and interact with my students when it’s time for that. The writing-teaching balance is really nice to have, plus it gives me a few hours each day to talk about something completely unrelated to screenwriting like the quadratic equation or the differences between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans.

What writers have influenced you and why?

So many. Beverly Cleary was the first author who made me fall in love with reading and writing. And then in college my first two years, I was put into the Beverly Cleary Residential Hall, which brought it all back full circle for me. Roald Dahl turned me into a storyteller. And Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley turned me into a proper horror fan. I’ve also recently started catching up on Kurt Vonnegut’s work. Currently, I’m inspired and influenced by Min Jin Lee, Cathy Park Hong, Carlos Bulosan, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

What makes a great story?

To me, a great story has three main components: a compelling narrative that draws us into the world immediately, three-dimensional characters who go through conflicts and changes, and a personal touch that adds a new perspective to the story. As cliché as it is, those first 5-10 pages are so important to grabbing the reader’s attention so that they want to keep reading.

Do you have any writing rituals?

The most important writing ritual I have is setting deadlines for myself. Otherwise, I’ll never get any writing done. For every new project, script, or step, I set these goals for myself and do everything in my power to meet them every week. Another ritual I have is when I’m running behind a project or there’s an upcoming deadline I need to hit but I’m not close, which is I turn off the Wi-fi, plug in my headphones, blast my Film Scores playlist, and type away until I’m done.

Do you have any tips on how to overcome writer’s block?

I’ve said this before, but if I find myself with writer’s block, it usually means that I’m subconsciously avoiding something else in the writing process or too scared to confront it. I’m a huge outliner. I can’t write anything without a highly-detailed outline. So when I find myself with writer’s block, I go back to the drawing board. I take another look at the outline or the beat sheet or even the document of random notes I’d compiled before I started the script. So far, that has helped me hone in on a specific issue I was having, which makes it easier to move forward or rethink a particular scene now that I’ve identified the problem.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in screenwriting?

Read a lot. Not just scripts but books, poems, plays, and whatever else you can get your hands on. Good, bad, mediocre, it doesn’t matter. I think widening your literary outreach can only help you be a better writer. After that, the biggest piece of advice I can give to someone just starting out is to give more than you take, at least in the beginning. This industry is small and sometimes your reputation and name are all you have. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, whether you like it or not. So you can easily shoot yourself in the foot in so many different ways, and the fastest way to do that is to only seek to take, take, take while shooting others down. The note behind the note here is that being kind will take you so much further than trying to be the “genius asshole.”

Who are you as a writer and how did your career experiences help shape you and make you the kind of writer you are and will be?

I am a writer who gets up every morning excited to write. I truly don’t know what else I’d do in life if I wasn’t a writer. Therefore, I take my writing very seriously and am disciplined about it. I’m still very early on in my career as a writer, but the steps I’m taking now and the people I’ve met so far remind me to be grateful and humble that I get to pursue this full-time. It also reminds me to be someone who cultivates genuine relationships in this industry and be as reliable, professional, and helpful as possible.

What are the struggles in the industry for a female screenwriter? Is it still a “boy’s club”?

Yes and no. Hollywood and filmmaking in general is still a highly male-oriented space. As with many other institutions, it’s about who is in power. When more women and people of color gain decision-maker positions, the more we see that reflected in the movies that get made and the TV shows that get produced. The great thing about the advancement of technology and social media in the last decade or so is that it’s evened the playing field a bit more. Yes, access to huge budgets and certain resources is still not as readily available to some groups, but what I’m seeing, and what I’m heartened by, is that people are getting tired of waiting around for others to say yes to them or make the decisions for them. We’re out here creating our own spaces and our own communities, helping each other with our own networks and connections and friends.

Of all the things that you’ve done, is there one that you’re really proud of the most?

Writing-wise, I’m really proud of my horror pilot INCUBUS. Not only was that my first foray into writing horror, but it was also the first time I got super personal with the content and the emotions of the story. When INCUBUS was chosen for the BloodList that year, it validated all the work that was put into it and that other people also saw something in it that resonated with them too. Of course, I couldn’t have done it on my own though. Since that first draft, so many people have given me feedback and thoughts on it, so ultimately, that pilot is an amalgamation of all the different notes I’ve gotten that have only made the work stronger. Other than that, I recently adopted a kitten, so I’m really proud that I’ve been able to keep her alive for these past three months of her life.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My immediate goal is to hit all my writing goals of the week before the deadlines! I also want to continue writing narratives that show wider audiences the experiences that many Asian Americans share and collaborate with others who are just as invested in getting those stories told. My long-term career goal is to create spaces for those whose voices haven’t been as readily heard and be their biggest cheerleader. If I ever get to a place where I have the opportunity to make decisions or hire people or have any kind of influence, I want to mentor as many up-and-coming writers as possible. There have been people in the past and currently today who are doing the same for me, extending the ladder down for us rather than pulling it up after them, and I want to follow in their steps to champion others.

How do you want to help move humanity forward?

Currently, anti-Asian sentiment is at an all-time high. To help move humanity forward, I am first starting with my own community. Through my writing, I aim to recenter the Asian and Asian American experience and take charge of the stories people see about us. Through community-building and open dialogue with others, I strive to unapologetically incorporate the multiplicity of our experiences into mainstream media. I feel like I’m coming into this industry at a critical moment for our community, so a lot of my work going forward will be about joining forces with other artists, collaborators, and visionaries to inundate our screens with Asian and Asian American presence in the near future.

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