One afternoon in 2015, Adrienne Rush met Barry Jenkins at a restaurant in downtown LA. She was in LA with her cohort of six MFA writing students during the annual LA Intensive. The intensive allows FSU’s soon-to-graduate screenwriting students a week of meetings with alums and industry professionals. Although this was before Moonlight had come together, and before the Oscar buzz and the Oscars themselves, Adrienne was deeply impressed with Barry and walked away from the meeting awed by his insights and generosity.
What Adrienne couldn’t have imagined was that, three years later, Barry would call her up in the middle of a brutally hot LA summer with an offer – to write a short episode for The Underground Railroad, his new show, based on Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same title. Adrienne was stunned and thankful and quickly said yes.
Of course, a lot had happened in the three years in between their interactions – a lot of very good things. “The transition to LA was made easy because of the generosity of FSU alums” Adrienne explained. Her classmates from the graduating class of ’14 let her crash on their couch for “a ludicrously long time.” She won the Humanitas Award in 2016 for an hour-long drama that she wrote while at FSU. And, as Adrienne began to make connections in LA, she became friends with a writer for Orange is the New Black who, upon hearing she was an FSU alum, mentioned her to fellow alum and TV executive Mark Ceryak (‘03), now known for producing If Beale Street Could Talk.
“It all comes back to Mark Ceryak,” Adrienne says. She volunteered for Mark at Gran Via, covering his desk and writing coverage, where the two became friends. He introduced Adrienne to fellow alumni Joi McMillon (`03), the editor on Barry Jenkins’ films and many other projects, including Girls and American Woman. Joi put Adrienne up for the job of director’s assistant on Destin Cretton’s film The Glass Castle and she got the job.
By this point, Mark had become a partner at Pastel, the production company of his good friend and fellow alum, Barry Jenkins. Mark reconnected Adrienne and Barry, and, last summer, Adrienne became the writers’ assistant for The Underground Railroad.
This is where the story starts to come full circle. At their meeting in 2015, Barry had told a story about his decision to take a break from jumping from job to job and, instead – for just a few precious months — to devote himself to writing something he could call his own.
Adrienne now found herself at this same crossroads. Should she take the momentum from being a writers’ assistant to get another job as a writers’ assistant with hopes of moving up the ranks or should she hole up and write? It was a calculated risk, but she decided to dive into a feature. “Without the structure of film school, workshop, and deadlines, it was terrifying and lonely and really rough,” Adrienne explained. But she made it through with a new feature that her manager believes in, and renewed confidence.
While in rewrites, she got the call from Barry about The Underground Railroad and wrote the episode this summer. The Underground Railroad does not yet have a release date yet, but Adrienne’s decision to take time off to write her feature proved to pay off. Her screenplay This Land is Your Land! was selected for the Sundance Institutes Emerging Screenwriters Lab.
“Write stories that only you can write and specifically in the way that only you can write them” she says when asked to give advice to our soon-to-graduate screenwriters. “This seems laughably obvious. But if you truly do this, you’ll end up with something that is honest and unique – the two most important criteria by which a script is judged and primed for success.”