Sara Monge finds her voice

January 8, 2020 Danny Munso

For your reading pleasure, please enjoy this exclusive preview from Issue 40 of Backstory.


If you enjoy what you read below – we hope you’ll join us to read the rest of the issue by buying Issue 40 as a single issue or subscribing to Backstory Magazine!

Black List Tales
A Magical Place Called Glendale
By Danny Munso

The best script I read in 2019 won’t be grabbing any Oscar gold this year. But that doesn’t take away from the brilliance of Sara Monge’s A Magical Place Called Glendale, a moving, hilarious story of two childhood friends turned enemies turned lovers. The industry clearly agrees. Monge’s screenplay not only got enough votes to make it onto the 2019 Black List, it got the eighth most votes of the 66 that appeared. Glendale is witty, cutting and heartbreaking, often all in the same scene. It is the epitome of a writer in full command of her artistic voice. And perhaps what’s most impressive about Monge’s journey so far is she admits that voice did not come easy.

During Monge’s time in the screenwriting program at USC, she wrote dramatic features and pilots featuring only male leads. After graduating in 2015, a major realization struck. “I liked them all, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t watch any of them,” she recalls. “That was a big turning point for me. If I wouldn’t watch my own work, why did I write it all?” So, while suffering from writer’s block, Monge decided to do something drastic. She moved all her furniture to one side of the room and made a “serial-killer wall except for scripts.” On it, she wrote down all of her favorite TV series—she had decided to focus solely on TV at that point—to compare and contrast them. “I was looking at what made these shows good and why I was specifically attracted to them. Through this whole map I had done of the shows, I figured out that I really did enjoy comedy. Not straight comedy but comedy that has some heart and emotional depth. From that process, I figured out what I wanted to do from there on out. I was an insane person, but it was worth it.”

While continuing to work on her own scripts, Monge was employed in the TV industry, first as an office PA on Modern Family then as the writers’ PA on the CW’s The 100. She recently finished a stint as the writers’ PA on actress-showrunner Nasim Pedrad’s upcoming TBS series Chad. With those experiences under her belt, she realized seeing behind the curtain of how a show is made was slightly demoralizing so she decided to switch back to writing a feature. A big fan of romantic comedies, Monge watched a few but couldn’t help but wish she saw herself in more of the films. She had also just come out herself and kept imagining how it would feel if the rom-com she was watching suddenly turned into a gay love story. “I kept wishing all these movies had a gay twist to them,” she says. “So I thought, I could write that. It could start as a typical straight rom-com and then turn on its head. There aren’t a lot of lesbian romantic comedies out there, and now is the time for them. At the end of the day, it’s what I wanted to watch.” A Magical Place Called Glendale tells the story of former childhood friends Kate and Christine, who had a falling-out due to Kate embarrassing Christine at a party when they were 12. Now seniors in high school, the two reconnect over Kate’s desire to make right what she screwed up at that party—helping her friend connect with her crush Devon. And what starts as Kate playing wingman soon turns into something decidedly more complicated.

To read Monge’s full script, subscribe to Backstory and read issue 40.

Monge is very rigid when plotting the structure of her scripts and spends a lot of time crafting her outline. “I live and die by structure,” she says. “At some point in my life, I want to teach a class on structure because I love it so much.” However her original outline for Glendale featured Christine as the main character—not Kate, as it would be in later versions. “That made sense to me at first because she’s the one going through this transformation of someone helping her get a guy. It made sense to me she would be the main character. But as I outlined it and sent it to my writing group, they said, ‘This is a good idea, but it doesn’t feel like you. Find a way to make it more you.’” But that was easier said than done. “I didn’t understand what that meant at first.” As she reflected on her characters, Monge became more fascinated with Kate and what she would be going through. “She was this girl that clearly hated herself and was trying to be helpful but couldn’t stop her feelings from getting in the way. I thought that was so interesting and spoke to me a lot, because I think I was going through a lot of self-hatred at the time I was writing this. So I switched it and said, What does this look like from Kate’s perspective? That’s when it really took off.”

In a different writer’s hands, Kate could have come off as completely unlikable, and though the character certainly does her fair share of unlikable things, Monge’s script manages to beautifully convey the complications in Kate’s life that are making her act this way, eliciting both sympathy and empathy from the reader. Making sure Kate never veered too far into the unlikable was a major note Monge received during the writing process. “I typically write unlikable characters, and I think my biggest struggle as a writer is figuring out the tone of who that character is,” she says. “The thing with writing an asshole character is there’s a really fine line with how much empathy you can have for what terrible things they’re doing. What I would advise anyone writing an asshole character is to really see the character’s perspective. Once you can see their perspective, that asshole thing they’re doing becomes tragic. That was a thing I was aware of in every single draft—to make sure she was an asshole but in a way that felt realistic.”

No scene better represents the tightrope walk Monge had to do than one of the climactic moments of the script, wherein Kate and Christine’s secret romance is outed to the rest of the school. The two had been hooking up in secret until another student discovers Christine in Kate’s bed at a party. Rumors fly about the two, and Kate denies the whole thing, shamefully blaming it on Christine being infatuated with her. It’s doubly painful because this type of public shaming of Christine is why the two stopped being friends when they were 12. It’s Kate’s lowest moment as a character, yet we also feel for her. She’s clearly struggling with her sexuality and was just outed publicly in embarrassing fashion. Monge admits nailing that scene was her biggest hurdle. “I rewrote that more than any other scene,” she says. “It was everyone else’s reaction to the news I was struggling with. Originally when Kate throws Christine under the bus, everyone at the party believes Kate, and all of a sudden Christine is ostracized again in the way she was in the opening [flashback] scene. But that didn’t make sense to me. As time went on, I wondered why the people would believe Kate, so I switched their reaction and that made everything even worse for Kate. The fact is she knows she’s been outed yet is still trying to throw Christine under the bus because she thinks she can save herself. I liked the harshness of how deep in denial Kate still is about herself. I thought it was more heartbreaking that way.”

The ending of the script is bittersweet. Though the pair reconcile and confess their love, Christine tells Kate they cannot be together right then. But the script fast-forwards two years and has them running into each other during a night out with friends. The piece ends with the slightest hint of a future for the two of them, and Monge knew from the outset that this was the ending she was working toward. “I like the idea that they weren’t good for each other in that moment,” she says. “I think it’s interesting, and I think a lot of couples go through that. You could be perfect for each other but it could be the wrong time. Maybe in the future they could be together, but they both were going through stuff they couldn’t overcome [together]. They needed to overcome it separate from each other.”

There was an immediate response to the script after it was sent around by Josh Dove, the writer’s rep at Stride Management. In addition to the Black List, Glendale got Monge on the Tracking Board’s Young & Hungry List and Hit List. And more important, she received multiple offers to option the script, eventually deciding to partner with actor Ed Helms’ Pacific Electric Picture Co. “The reason I chose to work with them is when we were shopping it around to different companies, I agreed with their notes the most creatively so I thought we’d be a good match,” she says. “And in the couple months we’ve been working together, that has very much been proven. They really understand the script and trust me.” Monge has done a few rewrites and the script is currently out to directors. Given the recent success of the similarly themed Love, Simon and Booksmart, there’s a decent chance it could hit the big screen. “I think this could get made. Fingers crossed, but the time for a movie like this is now.”

Did you enjoy this preview? To read the full issue and tons more in Backstory Magazine, click HERE to subscribe or buy it as a single issue.

For more info about all the other amazing articles in issue 40, view our Table of Contents.