Meet Lillie Gardner, originally from St. Paul, Minnesota!
I was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. I returned to live in the Twin Cities after about a decade on the east coast, where I studied music and writing at New York University and earned my doctorate in piano performance from the University of Connecticut.
What project are you currently working on? What is your role in the project?
So many things! I’m currently developing an animated web series about women composers and writing a historical drama TV pilot about a woman bootlegger in Prohibition-era St. Paul. (As well as fantasizing about a future in which I leave “women” and “woman” out of that sentence and readers don’t assume male subjects.)
Do you have a favorite hat under the “creator” umbrella?
What were your earliest inspirations? How did you get started as a creator?
I’ve always been a writer. As a little kid I was a super controlling creator, constantly making my friends and family act in my plays and read my stories. I went on to get degrees in classical music performance but I never stopped writing—short stories, creative nonfiction, novels, and more. Ironically, it was my musical interests that got me started in screenwriting. As a pianist, I was obsessed with American composer Amy Beach and I felt that someone should write a movie about her so that her story would reach more people. I figured I had all this experience writing prose, I might as well learn how to write for the screen! This turned into my TV pilot for American Virtuosa. During the process of writing it, I fell in love with the screenwriting medium. The storytelling process of screenwriting is similar to that of music performance, as both guide an audience’s emotions through a temporal experience.
Whose work do you admire? Who are your dream collaborators?
I’m in awe of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman screenplay and anything written by Charlie Kaufman. I also love watching old movies—especially Billy Wilder’s. Wildest-dream collaborators include Alena Smith, Ava DuVernay, Reese Witherspoon, and—if I could go back in time—Marilyn Monroe.
If you had to give one piece of career advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Do what you want to do! Part of being a writer is accepting notes and knowing when and how to incorporate them. These notes can be overwhelming because they come from lots of different perspectives. It’s ultimately your creation, so don’t lose your own vision in the work of incorporating others’ thoughts. This applies to living your life and building your career, too. If you’re doing what you want to be doing, it’s more likely to be authentic, compelling, and fulfilling than something that you’re not so into.
What’s your must-read/must-watch book/show or movie?
Reservation Dogs was my favorite TV series of 2021. It’s hilarious, brilliant, and emotionally surprising. I hope everyone watches it.
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