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WRITES.CAMERA.AX-TION!: ELLEN HUMPHREYS

By Mo Moshaty February 20, 2024

Ellen Humphreys is a queer actor and award-winning writer based in northern New Mexico, exploring community, justice and gender-based violence through horror-comedy. Her debut feature, Nellie’s Bathroom Window Movie, is a wild, revenge-fueled ride through the dark web in the desert - Bottoms meets Promising Young Woman.

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

Someone once said “Every bad thing that happens to men in her movies has happened to a woman in real life” - I think that just about sums it up.

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

I started reading way too much Chuck Palahniuk way too young, and discovered the thing that terrifies me most: how men perceive women. The other stuff I was reading - Bukowski, Vonnegut - it wasn’t horror but the way they spoke about even the women they liked was violent. I wasn’t scared of horror movies. Horror movies are for laughing at with your friends! Men are for being scared of.

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

I really only write because I have to, and the stories that make their way to me happen to be frightening. Then I’m tasked with moving the story into a place where it fits the genre, fits the structures other people put in place to define a horror movie. The beauty of horror, though, is that because it fits into this familiar structure, people can engage and relate to it more easily, and it makes it easier to understand the ways the little horrors we enact on one another every day feed the big horrors we typically see on screen and in the news.

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

Reckon I’m too green to have any business being disappointed by anything. I stole this idea from a beloved writer friend - she wanted to get 100 rejections in a year. Do you know how many attempts you have to make to get 100 nos? Not 100 silences - actual NOs. Every rejection I receive gets tallied up on a list, and it feels like a gift. Every step is one step closer to my path. All these other paths that aren’t mine are just getting out of the way. That’s good. Is that an outrageous perspective or am I just an actor? Both?

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

Yes!! Nellie’s Bathroom Window Movie is in the last stages of development and financing, so keep an eye out for ways to get involved in a very weird, fun, and gay little indie horror.

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

It starts with a terrible feeling that won’t go away. I start writing down the worst-case scenario, and go from there. Once I get out several hundred pages of utter crap, the characters and world become crystal clear to me, and that’s when I outline the real thing. I put the pieces in the places where they’re supposed to go - and keep in mind that I had to study for years to understand those rules. They come easy to some writers, but I had to take a bunch of workshops, listen to a million free talks and podcasts, and attend a half-year intensive screenwriting lab (thanks Stowe, you rock!) before I could really grasp that structural part of it. 

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?

I usually think of the climax first - the worst-case scenario result of my own biggest fears. Then the rest builds out from there. Gotta acknowledge that this seems like a really inefficient way to write scripts, but it’s the only way I seem to be able to do it! I love a deeply, meaningfully built-out world, but it also can mean you have a lot of extra marble to carve away before you get to the core of the story.  

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

Nothing inspires me more than real life. I’m very conscious about the kind of true crime content I consume, but I do consume it. I am fascinated by criminal human behavior, especially gender-based violence. People seem to commit the exact same kinds of violence against each other, across the whole world, across generations - spanning so much of human history. The way our small violences against one another interact with and feed the big systemic violences in the world - that’s what I think I’m trying to talk about, in my pretend little worlds.

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

Yes! One day I sat down and over the course of a few hours, outlined an entire sci-fi horror about this girl who has the chance to visit with AI replicas of her recently-murdered friends. It was the first time I’d ever thought of a plot first, and try as I might, I don’t seem to be able to translate this in the other direction. So, hop into my DMs with your co-writer applications? Only slightly kidding…

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

Rejected screenplay? Great news - another mark closer to 100! Extensive notes are also super exciting. That means someone is invested enough to try and help you make it better - or more saleable. Unless you’re paying them, nobody’s gonna bother giving you notes if they think you’re hopeless. I’ve been an actor and therefore taking notes my entire adult life so I love getting them. My approach is usually to try and implement the note. If it feels wrong when I’m doing it, or after I’ve made it, I change it back. Usually there within the act of making the change it becomes clear whether or not it works.

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

Honestly - this moment right now. We’re in the last stages of development and financing, and the easy part where I got to sit in my imagination and play pretend is over. I have to explain why this story matters, to justify it as a business venture to people with power and money. It’s a vulnerable place to be, but that’s also exciting. This part is the good kind of terrifying. 

12. What has been the best/most rewarding?

Stowe Story Labs! It’s such an incredible environment to bring your messy, imperfect art and self into. I learned and grew so much and so quickly, in an ensemble that really cherished and uplifted every voice.

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

Nothing is scarier than what people do to each other in real life.

14.  What project are you looking forward to next?

Still writing and dry-erase-markering new ideas onto my bathroom mirror daily, but right now my heart is being poured into turning this one movie from a script to a show.

15.  Where can folks find your work?

Bathroom Window Movie updates are already popping up on my Instagram @themaverickess so follow us there - keep an eye out for upcoming events and casting calls!

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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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