What makes a stylish new mum flick her perfectly nice career in fashion public relations and take a precarious leap into the world of television scriptwriting? For award-winning Australian writer Sarah Scheller, it was a particularly surreal community mothers’ group experience. The rest, folks, is history. Scheller’s first foray into screenwriting—an ABC-TV comedy series called The Letdown charting the struggles of a new mother and filled with Aussie vernacular and bone-dry humour—became a global Netflix success and won her a Best Screenplay in Television AACTA Award in 2016.
Fast-forward four years and the creative, with her co-writer Alison Bell (who also stars as The Letdown’s protagonist Audrey), works from Los Angeles think-tank space Charlie’s, so-called after its former life as Chaplin’s film studio. It’s a fitting place for Scheller to chat to us from, ahead of the inaugural AiF x State of Escape Creative Creatures Hollywood lunch presented by InStyle Australia.
“You can never underestimate the power of networking women,” Scheller says. “There’s a really supportive vibe amongst the industry female Aussies in LA. We are all like-minded and help each other out. [The lunch is] also a reminder that Aussies are kicking goals all over the place. Everyone knows about Cate [Blanchett] and Nicole [Kidman], but there are so many Aussies doing incredible things.”
Scheller always hankered for writing and studied communications at university, but it wasn’t until her first baby that the passion kicked in. When their family of four moved to LA several years later for her director-husband Trent O’Donnell’s work, her trajectory was set.
“I think Hollywood is incredibly hard for Australian actors, but my experience has been different. As a writer, it’s tough, but if you’re lucky enough to get an agent, you do feel supported. It’s a huge industry and everyone takes it very seriously. After the first season of The Letdown, Alison and I spent six months doing meetings and we were overwhelmed by the executives we met. They’re incredibly informed and funny, and of course, they’re very young.”
Scheller's Advice For Aspiring Hollywood Creatives
Take your time: “There’s no rush. Do as much research as you can and get out there. Any sort of networking forum is beneficial.”
Spin it your way: “Don’t be discouraged if you see an idea that is like yours, because the creation of new ideas is exponential.”
Make it relevant: “Audrey is a conflation of me and Alison, but motherhood is universal, so people find something relatable in it.”
Forge your own path: “I think the fact Alison and I hadn’t written scripts before [helped us]. We hadn’t come from [the traditional drama programs, such as] Neighbours, where you learn structures and rules. There was something fresh in us.”
Use Aussie humour: “Where Americans are very hopeful in their comedy, and Brits can be dark and hopeless, we fit somewhere in the middle—sometimes dark but with emotional wit.”