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WRITES.CAMERA.AX-TION!: Heather Ostrove

By Mo Moshaty  April  16, 2024

A genre-bending writer specializing in fantasy, grounded sci-fi, and horror, Heather Ostrove focuses on female protagonists dealing with real-life struggles while facing out-of-this-world situations. Originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, Heather sharpened her keen sense of story editing EPK and marketing featurettes for such films as Moonrise Kingdom, Anna Karenina, and Dallas Buyers Club. She’s written projects for Crypt TV and Netflix, is Black List recommended, and is a prior winner at the PAGE Awards.

1.  Give us the best elevator pitch on your work.

A world-builder, I use my vivid imagination and almost encyclopedic film knowledge to craft genre stories focused on female protagonists dealing with real-life struggles while facing out-of-this-world situations! Whether the story is about memory and regret, ghosts and loss, my characters go on adventures that force them to face themselves!! 

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2. Tell us about your first brush with the horror genre. 

I had two interesting interactions with horror. As a little girl, my favorite movie was RETURN TO OZ. Here's the funny thing... I didn't even consider it horror!  I mean, sure, there were scary moments, but for me, I was so enraptured by Dorothy's adventure that I just never considered it horror. I've since realized, lol. The other interaction was on "The Great Movie Ride," at Disney MGM Studios. While waiting in line, they would show trailers for various movies. One of them was the original trailer for ALIEN. Watching this pulse-pounding trailer, seeing my parents' reaction, all culminating in that amazing tagline ("In Space No One Can Hear You Scream"), I knew... this was a movie I HAD to see!! 

3. What about the genre pulls you to work within it? 

What I love most about genre is how it can be used to explore deep, philosophical themes. The best genre stories put the human condition into focus. Sure, the elements of the story might be fantastical, but the emotions and characters are real. In a way, genre lets you get closer to the truth. 

4. On this horror journey have there been bumps or disappointments?

There are always disappointments, both professionally and personally. It's hard when a project doesn't work out the way you thought it would. It's agony when a scene isn't working, but you haven't figured out how to fix it.  But you just have to keep moving forward. 

5. What was the first horror screenplay you’ve written? Any production, publishing?

I wrote a spec supernatural fantasy ghost story that was given to an exec for Crypt TV. Based off that spec, they brought me in to pitch on expanding one of their shorts into a webseries. They loved my pitch, and I was hired to write the next four episodes! They then recommended me for a Netflix project, and I worked with them again on a prequel series! 

6. What’s your process when beginning a screenplay?

I'm very much a builder. I start out with a concept, which develops into a beat sheet, then I do several outlines, and only when that's in place do I go to script. One thing that I REALLY love to do during this process is to break down a couple of films that are similar in tone/plot. And when I say break down, I mean I have a pen and a notebook and literally write down the inciting incident, the start of act two, the change in the character. Really seeing how other scripts/movies came together helps sharpen my sense of story, tone, and character. 

7. World-building in horror can be as extensive or as contained as we wish. What comes first for you in the idea department, the plot, the character, or the atmosphere?

It really varies. Sometimes, I start with the setting/atmosphere. I ask myself, "Where do I want to go next." Oftentimes, theme is a part of this. Like "What do I want to say next?" Once that in place I can start getting specific with the premise and my character journies. It's like before you can even start sculpting, you have to make the clay.  

8. Who and/or what are your horror influences?

Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE is a huge influence. So is Hitchcock. I think what Jonathan Demme achieved in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, with his use of POV, is just amazing. Akela Cooper is just beyond brilliant and we can't forget about Jordan Peele!!!

9. Is there a story inside that you have seeds of but can't seem to connect that's dying to get out?

Seeds is the perfect word. I have elements of stories but they haven't yet bloomed into a full concept. I just let them float around in my brain... eventually the story will come. 

10. How do you handle extensive notes or a rejected screenplay?

Rejection is hard, but being rejected doesn't (necessarily) mean your script is bad or that the idea is bad. So much of this business is the right elements coming together. When it comes to notes, I always give myself a moment to breathe and then really look at the note. It's cliche to say but you have to look at the note behind the note. What is the deeper reason someone is suggesting a change? 

A big key is empathy -- producers have someone they have to answer to. No one is out to make a bad product. Notes like rejection aren't a critique of your ability as a writer. You have to take them in stride and keep moving forward. 

11. What has been the most difficult part of your screenwriting journey?

Finding time to write while having a day job is never easy, lol. 

12. What has been the best/most rewarding?

I'm a runner and a swimmer. You've heard the term runner's high? Well, there is a writer's high. Being so in it that the words flow out of you. It doesn't always happen, but, when it does, there is nothing better!!

13.  Which horror element or creature from film/lit terrifies you and why?

The movies that scare me the most are when the protagonist is physically in a situation they can't get out of and is surrounded by a person or people that just isn't on the same wavelength. MISERY... OMG! Recently, THE MENU, Ralph Fiennes... so good but SO scary!! 

14.  What project are you looking forward to next?

I've got a couple of projects in the works. The latest is a horror story set in the world of women's sports!

15.  Where can folks find your work?

You can watch my Crypt TV episodes on Youtube!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5rzxhsZBGA&t=1s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhK9flGswkY&t=2s

And please find me through my website! https://www.heatherostrove.com

I've got a bunch of my short films there (one of which received distribution from Shorts International! They can also be viewed at https://vimeo.com/heatherostrove

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Mo Moshaty is a horror writer, lecturer and producer. As a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and life long horror fan, Mo has lectured with Prairie View A&M Film & TV Program as a Keynote, BAFSS Horror Studies Sig  and The University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Mo has partnered with horror giant, Shudder Channel, to co-produce the 13 Minutes of Horror Film Festival 2021 and 2022 with Nyx Horror Collective and her literary work "Love the Sinner" was published with Brigid's Gate Press in July of 2023 and her two volume collection, "Clairviolence: Tales of Tarot and Torment Vol. One and Two" will be published with Spooky House Press in the Spring of 2024

Mo is the creator and Editor-in-Chief of NightTide Magazine

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