Diablo Cody’s Diagonal Path to Screenwriting

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by Fin Wheeler

For most people, the only thing they know — the only thing they feel they need to know — about the screenwriter who calls herself Diablo Cody is that she’s a former stripper who won an Oscar for her debut screenplay. But there’s so much more to her than that…

Brook Busey-Maurio, more commonly known by her pen name Diablo Cody, grew up in the suburbs of Chicago with her nice Catholic parents and her brother. She worked at the campus library at the University of Iowa while a student there, and graduated with a degree in Media Studies. This was back before the internet had really kicked off, and journalism was still a strong career path.

After college, Brook got a job back home in Chicago as a secretary at a law firm. It was around this time that she also started developing her “voice” by writing a blog. It was called Red Secretary. Written from the perspective of a bitter, angry Eastern European immigrant with a chip on her shoulder and a hilariously tragic command of the English language, it was a parody of the events of her bland daily life as a secretary at the law firm.

After the law firm, she moved onto a job proofing advertising copy at a radio station, still in Chicago.

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One night she signed up to compete in the”‘amateur night” at a strip club in Minneapolis. Soon after, she quit her day job and moved there to become a full time “feminist stripper“. She also worked peep shows at a mega-sex store.

You have to remember that when Brook was a kid, the movie When Harry Met Sally had caused a sensation with its (then) astounding sexual revelations. Screenwriting was hardly ever publicly acknowledged as an art form, but with that film everyone was talking about the female screenwriter, Nora Ephron, and what she’d written.

When she was working in circulations at her university library, she would’ve seen how popular not only the Sex in the City television show (HBO 1998-2004) was, but also the book it was based on. The book, Sex and the City by Candice Bushel is an anthology of sex and dating-related columns she wrote for the New York Observer from 1994.

During Brook’s year as a “feminist stripper” she continued blogging, though now it was under the name Darling Girl and was about her “Pussy Ranch” adventures. She also wrote for a weekly newspaper. When that changed hands, she moved on to write for an indie magazine, Jane. Both her blog and her magazine articles got her noticed, and in late 2007 she was given a weekly column in Entertainment Weekly.

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She also met her manager. Based on the popularity of The Pussy Ranch blog, he was able to get her a publishing contract. So at 27, she wrote her memoir Candy Girl, about her year as a middle-class gal working within the sex industry.

It’s often said that her manager, Mason Novick, was the one who then suggested she write a screenplay.

Three months later, Diablo Cody registered her first screenplay, Juno. It was sold, developed, greenlit, made, distributed and won numerous awards.

For the screenplay, Diablo Cody won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, and the Writers’ Guild of America Award for Best Screenplay.

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She, and her back-story, also received a huge amount of publicity.

Steven Spielberg had been looking for someone to create a television program based on a concept of his about a mother with multiple personalities. Essentially, it was the story of a person who has the experiences of several lifetimes rolled into one.

Diablo Cody got a meeting and got the job. She’s now known as the creator, writer and producer of that show, United States of Tara.

So next time you’re worried that your path to professional screenwriting isn’t direct enough, consider the steps Brook Busey-Maurio took on her journey to the big screen.

I’m certainly not advocating you become the next Magic Mike. It’s already been done. Copying someone original won’t make you original, or interesting. But there are many experiences out there that are authentic and character-building.

In screenplays, it’s always the obstacles that make the emotional journey worthwhile. In real life, it’s your genuine, diverse experiences as a person which end up making you complex, knowledgeable, resourceful and employable as a writer.

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Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.

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