Amy Talkington is a screenwriter who’s also an author. Or an author who’s also a screenwriter. She envisions her first novel, Liv, Forever (Soho Press, 2014), one day appearing on the screen. In fact, that’s initially how Talkington first conceived the story, and she directed the eerie minute-long trailer to promote the young-adult novel.
For more than a year, Talkington rose at 4 a.m.—before tending to her two young daughters and then working as a screenwriter in Los Angeles—to draft and then revise Liv, Forever. “It was exhilarating,” she says. “I was addicted to it in a weird way. I wanted to try to get to know Liv better, just get into her head more than I could in a screenplay. And I wanted to create a really layered history and mythology for her school.”
The plot deftly blends the critical ingredients of a teen blockbuster: An artsy young woman, Olivia “Liv” Bloom, who’s an outsider. A murder at a spooky boarding school. Supernatural interference. A crush, and a budding, ghostly romance.
Liv, Forever garnered praise from Anna Godbersen ’02, bestselling author of The Luxe series, whose endorsement graces the cover: “Nimble and heartfelt, with knowledge rich and deep of what it means to be different.” Talkington’s editor sent the book to Godbersen for a review without knowing that both authors, who have since met, were Barnard alumnae.
Crafting a novel satisfied Talkington’s desire to create an original piece. It’s an urge that is hard to fulfill in film alone, because studios are leery of backing projects that aren’t sequels, franchises, or guaranteed blockbusters.Talkington holds the rights to Liv, Forever and has reached out to directors and an actor in hopes of turning it into a screenplay for a film or television. It wouldn’t be unusual for a young-adult novel to wind up on the screen.Two books for and about teens— John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Gayle Forman’s If I Stay—were summer movie blockbusters.
Talkington mined her own background to create Liv Bloom. Like Liv, she attended boarding school and was a passionate painter.Talkington majored in art history at Barnard but was drawn to cinema and film. Her senior thesis was an experimental video installation that featured four videos playing simultaneously. She had to enlist three friends to press four “start” buttons at the same moment. “Barnard really encouraged exploration and independence and let me forge my own path in a way that has influenced everything that I do,” she says.
Talkington received an MFA in film directing from Columbia in 1999, a year after her 15-minute film, Second Skin, received the New Line Cinema award for best director at the Columbia Film Festival and the top student prize at the Austin Film Festival. As a director, her episode of the web series Little Horribles, was a South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) narrative short official selection this year.
Since moving to Los Angeles 12 years ago, Talkington has worked on dozens of projects. She wrote and directed the feature film, The Night of the White Pants, starring Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl, and Selma Blair. She also wrote the Private Benjamin remake for New Line Cinema, and the movie Avalon High for the Disney Channel, for which she won a Writers Guild Award. In addition to adapting Liv, Forever, Talkington currently has about half a dozen feature-film projects in the works.
Working for studios requires focus, flexibility, and often, great patience. Consider her script for an ’80s musical called Valley Girl. For six years, Talkington has shepherded the project along a convoluted course that included a studio bankruptcy, the loss of a director, two years on the back burner, a rewrite, and then a rewrite of that rewrite. “It’s alive again!” Talkington says with a laugh. “It’s a tricky balance of having hope but not feeling crushed when things don’t move forward.You’re pushing as hard as you can, but you only have so much power as a writer.”
Unless, of course, you pen a novel. “You write it, and it goes out in the world as you wrote it,” she says. “It’s not rewritten by 10 other people. That’s another reason it was so exhilarating. It exists, and it’s incredibly exciting and gratifying.”
—by June D. Bell
—Photograph by Katrina Dickson