United States of Sheila – Interview with Sheila Callaghan

by Larry Brenner

Sheila Callaghan

Sheila Callaghan

Sheila Callaghan is a writer on United States of Tara, now in its third season. In the past year she began work writing the I Dream of Jeannie movie and sold a spec script called Over/Under to USA, currently filming. She also mentors students at Columbia and Spalding University. In 2010, Callaghan was named one of “18 successful women who are changing the world” by Marie Claire and one of “10 Screenwriters to Watch” in Variety magazine.

SCRIPT: What is your writing process?
SHEILA CALLAGHAN: It depends on what’s going on in my life. When I was in production for Tara, I would sequester myself in my office at the Paramount lot and just write all weekend. When I don’t have a day job, I usually wake up in the morning, take care of my son, sit around in my jammies, eat some yogurt, get to work at noon, surf websites, then start to panic and really kick it into gear from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., break for dinner, then start writing again at 9 p.m. until one or two in the morning.

SCRIPT: How did you end up working on I Dream of Jeannie?
SHEILA CALLAGHAN: I think Sony felt that I was someone who would be able to handle the quirkiness of the script in its modern form, because a lot of my writing has feminist intertwinings, and I think they were having trouble making a movie about a woman whose sole purpose was to serve a man’s every need and make it relevant in 2010. So I found a way in, and the script still has a lot of exuberance in it, and playfulness and fantasy. I had a lot of fun working on it.

SCRIPT: Where did the idea for Over/Under come from?
SHEILA CALLAGHAN: I was living in New York, and I was dealing with the identity change of becoming a parent for the first time…  so the idea is that this hip trendy woman suddenly finds herself deep in shit. Oh, and there’s a gambling element… it’s also about a guy who’s a day trader on Wall Street who becomes a bookie, and there’s the conflict of this white collar man working in a blue collar neighborhood that’s not hospitable to him. So there’s gambling, and addiction, and the addiction is also something that fascinates me.

SCRIPT: Do you find your process is different for writing theatrical plays, screenplays, and television?
SHEILA CALLAGHAN: When you’re writing plays, other people, their function is to serve the play, so you’re the boss. It’s your total vision, and you’re responsible for everything which is awesome and also a little terrifying. In TV,  you’re making this show in a room full of people, and hopefully they’re smart and exciting people like there were on my staff, and they compensate in areas that I’m not good at, like I’m not very good at plotting, I’m more of a character person. For screenplays, you’re getting a large amount of notes that are unreal. You have to be a writer, but you also have to be a superb interpreter. I think that’s the real craft of writing screenplays.

SCRIPT: What advice would you give to someone who was developing projects like yours?
SHEILA CALLAGHAN: I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been discovered, but I did a ton of work to get discovered so I guess the thing that works for me, was not trying to write like other people, but staying true to my voice and being very tenacious about creating. The feedback that I’ve been getting from the Over/Under script is that people are admiring the freshness of it, and that’s really nice to hear, because I don’t think that people are often encouraged to explore their originality in this business, and they are encouraged to adapt to other people’s ideas of what works and what doesn’t, and my experience has been the opposite of that.

Larry Brenner is a playwright and screenwriter and was one of the winners of Final Draft’s 2010 Big Break™ competition. He earned his M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Spalding University and is currently earning his PhD at NYU.

2 thoughts on “United States of Sheila – Interview with Sheila Callaghan


    i have made around 15 scripts for mr.been. i
    need a sponser to make it to be published.it can be made as afilm that takes about two hours. the t. set segments can be done with these scripts.thank you.

  2. bozo de niro

    Sheila’s writing process is almost like mine, except I wake up *AT* noon, sit around in a sleeping bag with a pair of leg holes I can pull-up around my waist and walk around in until nature calls, make coffee, read the paper, open some mail, scrounge around downstairs hopefully for some cold pizza and sandwiches somebody might have lefty in the community room, or hike to the Rescue Mission, get to work at 3 pm but fall asleep cuz it’s nap time, watch Ellen dance and Oprah own, fast forward and delete the late nights I missed last night, get really pissed-off the tease between shows I wanted to watch I already deleted, piss away another 90-minutes trying to find it online, kick into high gear around 6 to 8 pm, break for Dateline or AMW, write some hate mail till two to three in the morning, fall sleep and start all over.