Inspiration. Ambition.
Passion. Process. Technique.

By: Geri Cole

Promotional poster for TOGETHER TOGETHER

OnWriting presents week three of OnWriting Pride: a series of live-recordings of the podcast in honor of Pride Month, presented by the WGAE LGBTQ Salon. Each episode features LGBTQ+ screenwriters and the LGBTQ+ stories they tell.

For our third installment in the series, Geri speaks with Nikole Beckwith, the writer and director of TOGETHER TOGETHER.

Nikole Beckwith is a writer, director, and pen-and-ink artist. As a playwright, her work has been developed and performed in on stages in New York, Chicago and London. She made her feature film debut with STOCKHOLM, PENNSYLVANIA, which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and went on to receive numerous accolades including a Women’s Image Award for Best Screenplay and nomination for Best Director, a Satellite Award for Best Film for Television, and three TV Critics Choice Award.

Her latest project is TOGETHER TOGETHER – a story about the ups and downs of surrogacy and the power of platonic love. The film follows 26-year-old Anna and single, middle-aged app designer named Matt, two self-described loners who gradually open up to each other, give in to the intimacy of their admittedly finite shared experience, and forge an unlikely friendship over the course of Anna’s time as Matt’s gestational surrogate.

The film premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and is currently available to rent or buy through major SVOD platforms.

Seasons 7-9 of OnWriting are hosted by Geri Cole, a writer and performer based in New York City. She is currently a full-time staff and interactive writer for SESAME STREET, for which she has received Writers Guild Award and two Daytime Emmys. She also performs sketch and improv at theaters and festivals around the country.

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Thanks for listening. Write on.


Geri Cole: You’re listening to OnWriting, a podcast from the Writers Guild of America East. I’m your host, Geri Cole. In each episode, you’ll hear writers working in film, television and news break down everything from the writing process to pitching, favorite jokes to key scenes, and so much more.

Hello everyone and Happy Pride Month. Today we are continuing our OnWriting Pride Month live talks with Nikole Beckwith, the writer and director of Together Together a new feature film available to rent or own. In Together Together Ed Helms plays a single person ready for parenthood who enlists a surrogate wonderfully acted by Patti Harrison to make his dream come true. The film follows these two characters through the course of the pregnancy revealing a beautiful, sweet and funny story about family and friends. This film had its world premiere at 2021 Sundance Film Festival and was released by Bleecker Street. Nikole, thank you so much for joining us to talk about this. As soon as I saw the trailer, I sent it to Jason and was like, I want to talk to her. I’m so excited to have you on.

This film is unique in so many ways. First of all, I want to know where the story came from and the seed and how it grew. But also, honestly, this is an indie feature with a story that we haven’t seen before, how did you get this made? Feels like not a small miracle.

Nikole Beckwith: Yeah, took a long time. I wrote it right after Sundance 2015 when I was there with my first feature of Stockholm Pennsylvania. And I did a fellowship at San Francisco Film Society for women writing in genres. And everyone kind of thought I was, they tapped me to apply and they thought I was going to submit for horror, because Stockholm Pennsylvania is like a psychological drama. And instead, I was like, no, I’ve already done a heavy thing. I’m going to submit for comedy. And they were like, okay. And then I got it. So that was fun.

So, the script came together quite quickly and my producing partner, Anthony Brandonisio, who I’d met on my first film, we just kept sending it out and meeting on it. And people would just be like, oh, what’s he going to do with the baby? What’s a straight man can do with this baby? And I was like, love it for the rest of his life, what do you do think he’s going to do? And so, it was funny. And then people just being like, can they get together in the end? Can they have sex or can they kiss or whatever? And I was like, no.

And so it was funny because the bumpier the road was to getting the film financed, all of the reasons were proof that we had to keep going. It was like solidifying all of our beliefs and fears and hopes for the storytelling landscape. So, we just kept going. Anthony really held on. I mean, there were times where I was like, should you just take this, go do whatever you want. Hire somebody else, do something, and I’ll try to do something else. And Anthony was like, no, it has to be you. And he put together the financiers, and really, we just went with it. And then I think it happened at a time when people were ready for the radical situation of two people not being romantically involved.

Geri Cole: I don’t understand.

Nikole Beckwith: Yeah. Yeah.

Geri Cole: So let’s talk about the seed of the story. Where did it come from? Were you like, oh, this is the thing that I want to focus on?

Nikole Beckwith: I think of my brain as kind of like a rocket tumbler and there’s just various ideas kicking around in there. And every once in a while, one of the rocks is like, oh, I’m shiny enough to come out.

Geri Cole: Wow, that’s a great analogy.

Nikole Beckwith: So this was just the next shiny rock. And I think it was connected to, I’ve always been kind of fascinated with like, I started as a playwright and my first play was about an egg donation, the child who is the product of an egg donation showing up on the doorstep of the woman who had donated the egg like 10 years before. And hilarity ensues. And then my last play that I wrote [inaudible 00:04:37], it has a surrogate in it, it’s about a woman who at 60 hires a surrogate to give her son because she has five daughters and daughters grow to resent their mother and sons grow to revere them and, goddammit, she wants to be revered. My plays are very slightly absurdist. I’m just so interested in family and identity and the way families are made. And so I wanted to explore it in a more grounded way, as my films are more grounded than my plays, so far anyway.

A lot of conversations that I had had with my friend, Matt, about his biological clock and just what that was like a friend to, I really did fall in a deep friend love with, which is kind of the basis of the love in the film. And also, he’s 10 years older than me about, and just conversations with him about his biological clock, and I’d never had a conversation like that with, I was 28 and he was 38-ish or whatever when we met. And so, all of that stuff just kind of came together into this rough-edged rock and kicking around in there for who knows how long. And then after Stockholm Pennsylvania, it was just ready to come out.

Geri Cole: That’s one of the things that I really loved, I mean, there were many things that I really loved about this film, but the idea of the male biological clock that it’s, because I always hate the framing, I get it in terms of health and women needing to, sort of a safe age for women to give birth, but I feel the constant framing of women being the ones who are desperate to procreate I think is wrong. One of the lovely things about this film is like men want families just as much and are allowed to want them on their own, and it’s not just a woman trying to pull them into wanting families.

Nikole Beckwith: Yes, exactly. I felt like the only representation of men becoming fathers that I was seeing constantly was just like, either, like whoops, the test turned blue and like, oh, no, now we have to deal with this and I have to grow up, goddammit. Or a demanding wife being like, my biological clock, we’re doing this now. And then he’s like on a porch drinking a beer being like, my life’s over. And so, I wanted more. I think that’s really bad. I think it does a disservice to men and women. And I do strongly connect with, feminist filmmaking is of course deepening the representations of women on screen, but also deepening the representations of men. You can’t move feminism forward and feminist representation forward without both our gender roles and heteronormative BS is so linked to each other. So it’s like you have to untangle both knots.

And I feel like the character of Matt, obviously, is based on someone that I love dearly, is not uncommon in my life to know people this way, but very uncommon in the stories that we see in the narrative space. So yeah, I was like, I want to see someone cry. I want to see a guy who’s just tapping in that, getting choked up with the idea of doing this, and doing it on his own. And I thought that was important. And also just on a biological clock too, it’s like, the sperm’s not good forever. They’re studying it. I’m sorry, everyone, you’re on a timeline too, so stop pointing at us.

Geri Cole: Agreed. That was actually one of the other things that I loved about this film that felt super modern because I feel like in my own life, and I feel maybe that our generation or my generation of friends, I have two friends at the moment who have used either donors or surrogacy who are single parents who are deciding to be single parents, and it’s like, oh, right, I feel like we’ve all just reached a point where it’s like, we can do this, we’re allowed to make this choice. And I thought that that was super exciting to see on screen this representation of a single person being like, I’m going to not wait, I’m going to make my family now.

Nikole Beckwith: Yeah. I think we do a huge disservice in general to, the way that we are so hinged on the idea of romantic partnership or something. Our vocabulary doesn’t have the right words, I do actually think that this platonic love and the relationship between Matt and Anna has a ton of romance. What is more romantic than seeing someone for who they are and allowing yourself to be seen and that person seeing you, that’s the most romantic thing on earth. But for lack of a better term, we hinge everything on these romantic partnerships. We completely sideline these other loves. So, everything is focused on romance. And then also the thing of like, yeah, that has to be in place in order for you to buy house, to have a child, to move forward in any way.

And so, it also creates the situation where it’s like, yeah, your romantic partner has to be everything to you, and also, you’re not allowed to completely realize yourself until you have this in place. And it’s just like, wow, we just keep shooting holes in the bottom of that canoe. Let’s just watch it sink. We are ruining it and worshiping it at the same time and it’s terrible. So yeah, that was part of it.

Geri Cole: The other thing that I thought was so fun and I really enjoy watching is intimacy, that there was this like, and it was an intimacy that essentially started out at this very, I mean, it’s an intimate transaction, but it is a financial transaction, but it almost immediately grows to this very, seeing someone completely as they are, this very intimate relationship which I thought was so exciting to see on screen, just because we only ever see it in this one way where it’s like this romantic version of, I feel like people playing a version of themselves in this romantic idea.

So actually, let’s also talk about the structure of the script, because we’re not going to give spoilers away about how it ends, but it is structured in a very specific way over the trimesters of her pregnancy. Obviously intentional. Is that where you started it was that something you found while you were writing?

Nikole Beckwith: The trimester structure actually came in the edit with those cards. Yeah, plot twist. Editing really is rewriting. So, that’s where that came from. Originally, the script was just, there it goes. There’s title cards, second trimester, like that didn’t exist. But because the movie is very much these micro shifts in their time together and the way they relate to each other, and also so much of Matt and Anna solo talking and spending time in and around each other, I found that the cards were really helpful in just placing you, especially like, there were some scenes obviously that came out of the film in the edit that I’m glad we’re in the script and I’m glad we shot. I think they were great for the actors and for the story. And then when you’re actually in the edit and watching, it’s like, oh, well, we actually don’t need those.

And so, it was helpful to just drop, be able to take those things out and then just drop you in time and just be like, all right, we’re just going to move into the second trimester, we don’t have to see ourselves get there. And so, that was fun.

And it started out like weeks into the pregnancy, there was more than three cards. And then what I learned in my first friends and family screening is no one knows how many weeks a pregnancy is. Everyone was like, 24 weeks, where are we in this pregnancy? 30 weeks? How many weeks is it? 50 weeks, is it 50? And it was just like, oh my gosh, so, no one knows. No one knows how bodies work. So I was like, we’ll just do trimesters, that’s classic.

Geri Cole: That’s hilarious because it’s, I feel like that’s only a thing that you learn I guess while you’re pregnant and then you forget it after. Because every pregnant person I talk to they’re like, I’m 29 weeks, and I’m like, I don’t know what that means.

Nikole Beckwith: Pregnant people and people with new baby. You’re like, oh, how old is your baby, they’re like 420 weeks and three days. And you’re doing this man or something about the weeks, which I must attribute to the fact that so much change happens week to week. It’s like you’re in a different body every week, and then you have this human that’s wildly different every week. And you’re like, another week. So maybe that’s it. But yeah, everyone in the screening was like, I think there was one person who had been pregnant that was like, it’s 40 weeks everyone. Part of me was like, time to teach the world how many weeks a pregnancy is, and then on the other hand I was like, no, that’s fine.

Geri Cole: Let me not do that here. So you also directed this film. Did you feel like there was a moment where you had to switch hats from writer to director or do you always sort of have a toe in either in your head?

Nikole Beckwith: I think it’s all part of it. I think like while I’m writing, I’m seeing the film and I’m feeling the film as I will eventually execute it. And I think that that’s true even when I’m writing something that I know I won’t direct if I’m ghost-fixing a script or something, it’s like obviously I’m seeing it in my mind’s eye. But obviously with Stockholm Pennsylvania and Together Together, definitely it was like well, this is what I’m going to do. And especially Together Together’s tone is so specific. And that was part of when I was like, am I just holding everything up because I won’t change anything, and is it too hard to get financing because I’m so stubborn about things? And Anthony, maybe you should just go off and do something else with this movie. And he stuck to the Nikole Beckwith guns and was like, no, because he was aware the tone is so specific, and he was just like, you have to do the tone. Otherwise, what movie is it? But that all comes from writing it as the director.

But the way my scripts are, I really write a script for actors. There’s a lot of internal monologue in the prose and stage directions or whatever you would call that. It’s all for the actors to give them the internal experience of what’s happening in this window into the character. And some of it is objective from the feeling of what we’re feeling as we’re engaging with the story. And some of it is the internal thing that’s happening for the characters and the actors.

So I don’t know if it’s like, I actually have to ask Patti, Ed, or something, how they felt seeing the, if it felt exactly what they read or if they were surprised by it in some way. But yeah, I think it’s just one brain.

Geri Cole: Speaking of Patti and Ed, fantastic casting. I feel like they’re obviously amazing comedians, but also you had Tig Notaro, Julio Torres, and Jo Firestone, had a bunch of amazing comedians in this film. And I was like, but it’s also kind of a dramatic film. It’s a dramatic film acted by comedians. What caused that decision? Was that always your intention of like, I’m going to write a kind of dramatic film but cast comedians?

Nikole Beckwith: I didn’t even think about it actually. It’s really funny. I feel like so much of what I do is in this subconscious zone. There’s still moments where I’m watching Together Together and then I’m like, oh, that’s where that comes from in my own life and experience. And it takes me so long. It’s very funny. So, I think that was part of one of those things is that we got Ed came first, and Patti came next, and then we filled in the rest of the cast from there.

I think it beautifully plays with the subverted expectations that the film delivers on throughout, is the same as you’re sitting down watching this movie that is full of the funniest people out there now. The funniest, like [inaudible 00:17:49], you said Joe Firestone, in these little parts just coming in real quick being and [inaudible 00:17:57] goodbye. But everybody is so understated, so grounded. There is a world where you’re seeing that poster and you’re like, this is going to be a laugh riot, and then you show up and you’re crying and you’re like, what’s happening. And so I think that was part of it.

I have such intense deep love for comedians, and I think when you are a comedic genius, it just means that you’re right there holding hands with all of the most complicated, difficult, strange things, because you have to have a close relationship to it because that’s what you’re either warding off or embracing in comedy. And so, I think it’s fun, it’s exciting to me to be able to just tap into the most vulnerable side of that.

Geri Cole: Nice, I’m a longtime fan of Patti Harrison, and I was wondering if you wrote the part for her, but it sounds like she was brought on after Ed.

Nikole Beckwith: Yes. I get asked often if I wrote the parts for them. And I think it’s such a testament to their performances and their chemistry. So, I love that question actually. But yeah, she came later.

Geri Cole: Also, this film has been embraced by the LGBTQ community. As a story about chosen family, was that intentional, sounds like it was, in the design, and is there a scene that you think really embodies that idea of chosen family?

Nikole Beckwith: Oh, my gosh, a scene. I don’t know if I can pick a scene. Maybe you have an idea of a scene. I find it so hard to analyze, to think about my own work that way. But yeah, I mean, chosen family is so important. I lived in New York for a very long time, that’s a very intense part of being in New York. I feel like you show up there as a kid and you’re like whoops, this is terrifying actually.

Geri Cole: That is the accurate, that’s how it works.

Nikole Beckwith: And so, I had that experience. Like I said, opening yourself to seeing someone and opening yourself to being seen, if you’re someone that doesn’t feel seen or is not seen by the family you’re born into, it’s really vital. That’s the whole journey is going out into the world and finding the people who can see you. And a lot of that is also making work. It’s like, I’m showing myself, I’m opening this thing, and I’m trying to make this happen. I think it’s just, yeah, what would we do without it as a world?

Geri Cole: Yeah. Again, without spoiling the ending, I guess this is maybe a silly question, but I wanted to, at the end, I was like what, and then I was like, does this love last? In your head, does this love last or is it temporary? And that doesn’t make it any less valuable though, I think is also sort of the thing I felt walking away from the film is like, yes, does it matter if it lasts? I wanted to know does this love last.

Nikole Beckwith: I do think of the film as a love letter to impermanence. I think similar to just being obsessed with romantic love and partnership, we are also like, I blame fairy tales for all of it I guess, but it’s like we conflate forever with happily ever after. And it’s like, wow, forever is so abstract. It’s really unhealthy. The length of something or the longevity of something has absolutely no bearing on the importance of it, the depth of it, the change that it ushers in and out of your life. So, I think that’s an important thing.

And often what I say when asked about Matt and Anna in the future, is that even if they never ever see each other or talk ever again, they are a part of each other’s lives from this moment onward. Everything Matt experiences as a father and with Lamp is connected to his relationship with Anna and the experience he had opening to that with her, and that everything Anna experiences in school and beyond school with her degree is all tethered to her relationship and experience to Matt. So they are a part of each other’s, the fabric and foundation of each other’s lives and futures from that moment on. And they don’t ever really need to talk again for that to stay true.

Geri Cole: Wow, that’s really nice also for life and the story, but also, I think true in life, where it’s like, you don’t necessarily need to maintain an idea in order for the effect someone’s had in your life to remain. I want to talk more about writing, technically, this is writing podcast, because you started as a playwright. So I’m curious as to know what pulled you into screenwriting, if that was always the intention, or if it was, or do you have a favorite child?

Nikole Beckwith: Oh, gosh. Well, I wrote Stockholm Pennsylvania and my first film was a play. It’s my third play, full length play. And I was writing it in residence at the Public Theater as part of their emerging writers group. While I was working on it there, I thought, first of all, I thought it was a comedy because all my plays have this heightened Nikki Silver [inaudible 00:23:47] vibe. And when I went in and brought Stockholm Pennsylvania, the first 40 pages for everyone to read, everyone’s like, oh, we can’t wait like, this is going to be so hilarious. And then they read out loud, and it was like, the air was sucked out of the room. [inaudible 00:24:04] and I was like, oh my god, it’s a drama. I’m so sorry, everyone, it’s a drama. I didn’t know it was a drama, I’m so sorry.

And I do think that there’s some hilarious moments and the first 40 pages of the play remained the same and are very similar to the first 40 pages of the film. But there was something in that, in suddenly realizing that it was not an absurdist comedy but it was actually this grounded drama, I was like, oh, this will be a movie to like, I could write it as a film as well. And so, that’s kind of what happened. And Sundance Institute had, I got like, answered by your phone, and it was like, oh, hi, it’s us from the Sundance Institute or whatever. And I was like, what on earth am I on. And they had read the play, they had gotten their hands on the play from the public, and they’re just like, were you ever thinking about writing this as a film? And I was like, oh, I was actually. And they were like, great, could you submit it to the labs in three weeks? And I was like, okay.

That’s how I started. My assumption is that the Sundance Institute, they are really dedicated to inclusivity and making sure things are balanced and the voices that they’re lifting up and out into the world are not, you know, and so, if they don’t have the applicants, so many people are like, they just didn’t apply, what are we supposed to do, just only dudes apply for things. I think that Sundance is very connected to this idea of they’re out there, and there are huge swaths of the population who might not be applying to things right off the bat because it does take a little while. When I was making my first film, I was the only female director I’d ever met. And even when Sundance was talking to me about the labs and stuff, they were like, oh, would you want to direct it? And I was like, me, what? No. And then thinking about it, I was like, oh, yeah.

And so I think there are all these blocks. And so, Sundance, they look for those writers. They’d somehow connected with the public and gotten their hands on it, and have the same thought about the play that I had had, which is like, this is a cinematic story. And so, that’s how I came to write my first screenplay, and then I submitted it to the Nicholl. I very honestly googled what do you do with a screenplay? I don’t know. Truth be told, I didn’t study writing and I didn’t study playwriting. Frankly, I didn’t study anything. I didn’t go to college. I have a long storied high school career, which is a song for another day.

So when I was in writing groups, I was in writing group at Ensemble Studio Theater, and the public gets like, I really was very much surrounded by, I remember being in my first writers group, and I was like, everyone’s like, well, at Yale, I dot, dot, dot, and then people would be like, well, when I was doing undergrad at Brown, but then I did my grad at NYU. I ad to lean over, we were assigned, write a 10 minute play about St. Patrick’s Day or whatever it was that was happening. And I had to lean over and be like, how many pages would that be about? And they were like, 10 or under. And I was like-

Geri Cole: That’s what I thought.

Nikole Beckwith: That’s what I thought, I was quizzing you. Guess it all worked out for you. When I had the screenplay I googled like what do you do with a screenplay because I didn’t know. And I had, at that point, been in New York for a bit and in the playwriting world for a bit. So, I kind of understood the landscape and where I fit, and what I had to do, and where my strengths were and where I needed to work. But I had no idea about the film world at all this the Google. And the very first thing that came up was the Nicholl Fellowship through the Academy. And so, I was like, okay, first Google results, I’ll click that, that seems like a thing. And it happened to be the very last day to submit. And it was a $50 application, I was very nervous about spending $50. But I did it.

And what’s great about that is there’s like a million points where it’s like, you made it to this cut, and then like a couple of weeks later, you’re like, you made it into this next round and you made it into this next round. And it’s a lot of rounds. And if you make it past a certain point, you get to read the comments from the readers on your screenplay. So that’s kind of what I was hoping for. I was like, I hope I just make it to comments because I would love to kind of understand. And then these incremental marks were also helpful. It wasn’t this kind of confusing you either get it or you don’t. So that was also kind of part of my whole reasoning of submitting was like, I’ll get to kind of have an idea of the landscape.

And then I got the Nicholl, and I was like, well, that’s weird. That’s strange. And so, from that moment on, I really did a 180 and was like all in in that world because then it’s like, of course, the phone’s ringing and the water bottle tour begins and I was like I guess I am doing okay in the landscape of writing, I mean, knock on wood, it’s such a fickle ever-changing business. So that’s how I came to it.

Geri Cole: That’s amazing. This whole kismet where it was like, well, I guess this is it. Which is amazing, and I feel encouraging, where it is like, just take the step forward, even though you’re not sure, just do that, one step forward because it can make the difference.

Nikole Beckwith: Really, yeah. And that was one of the things when Sundance had reached out to me. I do remember I was at a playwriting fellowship luncheon or something for some thing that I didn’t get, and I was listening to the dude give a speech who did get it. And he was saying, I don’t know if he mentioned Sundance specifically or maybe he had a short in some lab or something, but I heard Sundance and I was like, wow, that’s cool. And he had a script that was on the blacklist, and I was like, I want to script that’s on the blacklist, that sounds nice. But then still wasn’t sure, it all felt so abstract to me. It felt abstract to me to be in that luncheon, being in a luncheon feels weird to me, anyway. So I was like, wow, I don’t understand my life.

And when Sundance reached out, I was like, if I’m thinking to myself that sounds cool, I should just be trying to do it. But like I said, I do think I was, I had met another female director before going into the labs and doing that. And so, it was massively helpful for that to shift in my brain. And then Stockholm after [inaudible 00:31:40] on the blacklist, I was like, yes.

Geri Cole: That was what I meant to do.

Nikole Beckwith: Take that everyone at the luncheon who didn’t give me whatever that fellowship was. Yeah, it was like, yeah, just try. That’s where I’m at where it’s like, just try. But I get very married, I don’t have a favorite child. But also the way that I work with screenplays is like, I worked on Stockholm as a play, I immediately went into writing it as a film. Once I finished the script and all these things are happening, it was like, that was what I worked on until after it was a movie. It was like we got into Sundance and it premiered and then I got home from Sundance and I was like, okay, now what.

And then wrote Together Together, saw through the script, found the financing, shot the film, made the thing, then Sundance and it being released. And it’s only now that I’m like, okay, now what. It was like, I’m not someone with a drawer full of scripts. If my mind opens itself up enough to whatever the story is, I really commit to it. I’m sure my film agent is like, that’s terrible, my manager now had been my film agent, and now we’re so excited because we get to talk all the time because we talk about everything. And it’s like, isn’t this so much better than you’re calling me and I’m still just obsessed with Together Together and I haven’t written anything else, just knocking on those doors. And she’s like, great.

I move really intentionally in that space, if it’s the thing I know that I’m going to direct, if I make the decision, if it clicks in my heart where it’s like, yes, this is the next thing I’m going to direct, that’s such a huge commitment. And then that commitment just starts there and I can’t let go of it or sideline it until it’s complete.

Geri Cole: That’s also really encouraging to hear because I feel like, I mean, so much of that is super encouraging, inspiring to hear, especially the like, even when, it sounds like there was a minute where you’re even struggling yourself to continue to believe in, should I keep doing this, and you had a great partner that was like, yes, we should. But that just one step forward, one step forward, and focused intention on trying to see what this thing that you’re in love with is going to grow into.

Do you feel like you have a type of story that you like to tell? Now that things are starting to tumble again, do you feel like there are types of stories that you’re attracted to?

Nikole Beckwith: I’m just really attracted to character. It’s funny, I was talking to someone and they were saying something about heightened circumstance or I always write in these super specific circumstances, and it’s like, oh, I guess that’s true. But I don’t even think about that, I just am thinking about character and the circumstance is only meant as a way, a tunnel into characters. And for better or worse, I love tiny tectonic movements and change. And yeah, so I’m just drawn to that. My two films are wildly different tonally and genre wise. And so I don’t know.

I feel like I’ll probably hang out closer to this tone and zone, that’s kind of what I’m sensing. But yeah, I’m not sure. Honest stories I guess and real stories, of course, like everybody else, I’ve watched like a ton of movies that aren’t very romantic comedies, or whatever it is and you’re like … And sometimes it’s just exactly what you need in the moment, and sometimes I’m throwing something at the wall being like, well, hi. My God, I’m so mad. I like to stay and close to the chest.

Geri Cole: So, we do have 10 to 15 minutes left so if anyone has any questions, I urge you to put them in the Q&A I think it’s where they’re supposed to go. But I do want to ask about the idea of success, especially in creative professions, I feel like it’s an ever changing thing. Especially having had success with your first feature and now with this one, I wonder what your idea of success was when you were sort of initially getting started and how it’s evolved. And sort of like what you hold as success now.

Nikole Beckwith: Such a complicated question. And I know you ask it every episode and I was like listening to other people’s answers being like, yes, I’m like, oh, that’s good, maybe I’ll take that answer. I don’t know really. From 2012 when I got the Nicholl, I was a nanny when I got the Nicholl, and I quit my nanny job. And all my friends were like $35,000 and $7,000 increments is not that much money. Why are you quitting your nanny job? And I was like, do you know how much money I make as a nanny? I’m bonkers rich now. I have $7,000, all at once. So from that moment to now, I’ve only recently been like, oh, well, I guess I have been supporting myself as a writer since then. And that feels like success. But it’s so tenuous that it took me from 2012 until 2021 to be like, I guess that’s what’s happening, and I hope it continues to happen because now at this point, I’m really not qualified to do anything else. I don’t even think I’d be a good nanny at this point.

The freelance life and the landscape and the business, it all changes so much. And of course now, we’re coming out of this, I mean, we’re just like, how does it work now? We don’t know. I might feel success and being like, oh, I’m really doing this, that’s crazy. But I’m not comfortable. I’m not like, wow, the water is great, come on in. I’m like, the water is either freezing cold or boiling hot. Is it healthy to be in here? I don’t know. That’s kind of what’s going on. Can I drink it? Because some got in my mouth. That’s what it feels really. It feels really crazy. But I just want to keep working.

I was talking to my father recently who’s like, at this moment in time, he’s like, maybe he’d hate that I’m saying this, whatever, redact it, I saw a review that my dad wrote for the movie on Google, and he was like, the director who I know quite well, blah, blah, blah. And it’s like, dad, we have the same last name. I was talking to my dad recently, and he’s very, you know, he’s getting into retirement zone or whatever, he can see it on the horizon, and he was talking about that and just his relationship to work and what working is. And just being like, oh, yes, but like, you work this creative job. I was a community theater actor as a kid. I’ve always been doing these unconventional things. And he’s just like, it’s so great and now you’re an adult, and this is what you do for work. And I was like, yes, that’s true. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’m so grateful for it.

But I was like, you work a job for your family, for your house to travel. You work as a way to support your life. I work to work. So it’s a very different feeling. It’s like I’m doing bigger paid jobs or ghostwriting jobs or writing on someone else’s television show so that I can squirrel away enough money to then take two years or whatever, a year and a half and make Together Together, which is the work that I’ve been carrying around under my wing trying to get done. And then like, that’s great. And then as soon as I have the space to then get another job so I can start squirreling away money so that I can, so I work to work and that’s really what it is. I have no concept of anything else. I woke up recently, and I was like, am I going to rent forever? I don’t know what I’m doing.

Geri Cole: And is that bad? Maybe not.

Nikole Beckwith: And is it bad? Who knows? I don’t know. I don’t even know where I live anymore. I’m back and forth between places. And so, it’s just a very different kind of life. I love it and I feel very connected to it. But when that is your relationship to work, I do think my mark of success is just maintaining a space where those opportunities are available to me, and that feels very successful. My shirts have holes in them. I don’t own anything in the world other than my shirts with holes in them. I got fancy Everlane jeans.

Geri Cole: They fit real good.

Nikole Beckwith: Really fancy. And so there’s that zone it’s just like, it’s just a different, I don’t think of success as being like, I’m putting in an infinity pool. I decided I’m going full infinity guys. That doesn’t occur to me. And neither does retirement actually. It’s just like, right, I’ll just work until my arm breaks off and turns to dust while I’m trying to use the computer. That’s just what it is. I feel very lucky to work to work, to have that cycle. So I guess that’s success to me.

Geri Cole: I feel like I’m in a similar position where it’s like I just want to be able to make stuff that I truly love, which is me working. Obviously, money is nice, it makes things easier. I think that’s a fair statement. But it’s certainly not the end.

Nikole Beckwith: I still feel so close, the realization that I haven’t worked at a coffee shop or as an assistant for a while has only recently dawned on me. I mean, I did actually take a break in 2017 where I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing. I had an existential crisis and came back to my hometown and went and got the job I had when I was 14, my first job, I went back and I was like, hey, guys, do you need any help cleaning the bank? I’m losing my mind and I don’t have any money and I don’t know what I’m doing. And they were like, yeah, sure. So I was just vacuuming offices and banks after hours for four months, or five months in 2017.

And it’s funny because I actually walked past one of the banks, and also I was fired in 2017 just the same way I was fired in 1994. So, some things don’t change. Thanks, guys. I’m bad at it. I spilled the mop water on the carpet. I was walking past the bank, there’s one bank that has this big lit up window. It was also very funny because I would run into people, I’m from a small town, I would run into people when I was back having my don’t know if I’m like made for this world, I don’t what the goals are, I don’t know what success is. I don’t know what any of this means to me.

And then people would be like, hey, Nikole, what’s up, you’re so famous now to us because I went to LA, I went to New York, and meanwhile I’m loitering around waiting for them to go to their car so they don’t see like I’m not just at that building, I’m waiting for everyone to leave so I can vacuum it. And I’m like yeah, I’m just fancy now. And just really fancy, it’s so fun to be fancy. And then they get in their car and I’m like … And the bank was always really hard because it’s a big glass window. And so it’s like you can just walk by and be like is that Nikole vacuuming.

Geri Cole: Spilling the mop water.

Nikole Beckwith: Does she own this bank?

Geri Cole: I thought she was fancy.

Nikole Beckwith: And I was walking past that bank the other night remembering in 2017 spilling mop water and listening to my music thinking about Together Together and trying to figure out, what do I have left in me to keep going? What am I doing and how do I get there? And just trying to imagine that version of myself and this reality of myself looking at each other through the glass, it’s like, you just never know.

I came out the end of that crisis being like, I’m going to keep going. I’m just going to go forward until I just fully run out of gas. I feel getting a janitorial job from when I was a teenager was just me kind of being like, okay, I have a third of a tank left. Do I like set up camp here or am I going to keep going? And so I was just like, let’s just go. Let’s go till we’re running on fumes and go, go, go. And then some good things happened and I just opened myself up to it in a new way and tried not to lead with fear. And stuff happened. And so that was nice. So here I am. But it’s like because of that, in three years. I could be like, knock, knock, I know you fired me twice, but-

Geri Cole: Sounds like you’re really bad at mopping.

Nikole Beckwith: I’m really bad. I’m like, but is there a chance that you all need help, I’ll Windex? I’ll just Windex, Windex only. Do you guys need help? And it’s like, I ran into one of those guys the other day, and they’re like, you’re back. And I’m like, it’s not like before. I’m not in a crisis, I’m just enjoying the quiet or whatever. But yeah, it’s not lost on me, I mean, that could happen at any time and that’s okay. There’s peaks and valleys. It’s like a windy, weird road and just to be okay with it.

Geri Cole: Man, that is the perfect way to end. Thank you so much. This is so amazing. Such an encouraging and lovely and hilarious talk. Thank you for making the film, it’s incredible. Everyone check it out if you haven’t done so already. Nikole Beckwith, thank you so much for talking with us today.

Nikole Beckwith: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Geri Cole: That’s it for this episode. OnWriting is a production of the Writers Guild of America East. Tech production and original music is by Stockboy Creative. You can learn more about the Writers Guild of America East online at, and you can follow the guild on social media @WGAeast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe and rate us. I’m Geri Cole, thank you for listening and write on.

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