Making It As A Screenwriter | Chelsea Isabella Clark-James

By: Chelsea Isabella Clark-James

A Colorado native, Chelsea Isabella Clark-James has lived, worked, and studied in multiple cities, from Honolulu, Hawaii to Portland, Oregon, Atlanta, Georgia, and Los Angeles, California before finally settling back home in Colorado. A cultural anthropologist at heart, she looks for the connections between humans, with a particular interest in identity. After a brief career in non-profit services, Chelsea worked on set for over a decade while writing/producing shorts and music videos on the side. In 2018 she chose to commit full time to writing for film/TV and has ventured into producing to get projects made.

The Young Writer

Chelsea’s love for writing began at a young age. Recently, she was going through items in her storage, and came across several items from elementary school, including several plays and a folder, written in her nine year-old handwriting To Be Published. “I don’t remember writing those things,” she laughs, “But I mean it’s definitely my stuff, and I am seeing how much writing I did as a child. Now finding all those things, I’m like – wow! I really wanted to be a writer for a long time” While she wrote several plays as a child, writing poetry was her first love.

And while Chelsea’s interest and love for writing grew as she became older, especially once she hit high school, she didn’t believe it was for her. “I didn’t actually believe that there was space for me to be a writer, honestly, until the last six years. I had this idea that there’s a limited number of resources for being a writer, and only so many people will get to be a writer. And if I’m a writer, I’m taking it away from somebody who is more deserving.”

What shifted her mindset? First, no matter where she went and what she did, Chelsea kept coming back to writing. A lover of the sciences as well, she went to college for chemistry, and after graduation began working in the non-profit industry, specifically in the direct service sector. But after getting burned out, she began looking for a new job, and the television industry was her next step.

Building Her Career
Her first job in television was for the show The Real World, which was shooting in Colorado. A friend whom she had grown up with was working in the art department for the show, and they connected her with a job on set. She enjoyed working on the show, and shortly after it wrapped she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she began her career as a grip on film and television sets. (What’s a grip you may ask? A Grip sets up, rigs, and strikes lighting equipment on sets!)

“It was wonderful. I’d never really known what it was. I just turned out to be good at it, and it turned into a 14 year career as a union grip.”- Chelsea Isabella Clark-James

But even as Chelsea built out a successful career as a grip, she never left writing behind. “I’d written a couple of little things, and did a short on the side. At my grip job, I was always reading everything I worked on. I was the person who would get every script, and everyone in the department would make fun of me. But then they come to me, and they’d be like, ‘Hey, what are we doing today?'”

By the time she moved to Los Angeles, she had already written two feature scripts. After a significant back injury took her out of the field of gripping, she once again considered the possibility of being a writer.

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She put all of her energy into building a writing career. She crowdfunded and shot her first short film, and continued writing short scripts, including the winner of the 2022 Shore Scripts Short Film Fund Contest – NON EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORT.


NON EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORT is a story about two American men from different generations and cultural backgrounds stuck in a van together trying to find a medical detox bed.

The idea is inspired by real life. In November of 2021, her stepmother got a call asking if she knew where an open medical detox bed was for a chronic alcoholic with medical conditions ordered to detox.

Because of Covid, hospitals were at capacity. She spent four hours working with other providers trying to find a place the drivers could take the man. The drivers crossed the entire state, without finding one place that had availability. After hearing this story, Chelsea thought to herself – what a car ride that must have been.

After winning the 2022 Short Film Fund, Shore Scripts connected Chelsea with Maria Gracia Turgeon to provide mentoring. With Maria’s support and guidance, Chelsea edited her script – cutting out four pages, a character, and a prop – all of which saved significant money in her budget. (Read more about the mentoring Chelsea received as part of her Short Film Fund prize package here.)

She assembled her team and managed to finish an anticipated four-day shoot in just three days. Chelsea credits her experience in a wide number of fields with helping her manage the various parts of making a short film. Her work in the non-profit industry as an Assistant Production Coordinator helped build her project management skills. And she sees similarities between writing a solid script and the sciences –

“I love the fact that like my job as a screenwriter isn’t to fill everything in. I just make a blueprint, so other people can build with their talents. I’m not responsible for everything, I’m just responsible for like providing enough of the raw material that it can be made. It’s almost like the chemistry. That’s still something that I love. You think about what the end product is, and what all the middle steps are going to be to get there.” – Chelsea Isabella Clark-James

Director of Photography Gabriel Ferman filming with an ARRI camera

NON EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORT is currently in post-production. Chelsea has been working with the editor she hired to create a rough cut of the film. “I brought an editor on at the beginning, because it’s just smarter, and I’ve seen things drop anchor in post.”

Once the film is completed – she anticipates it will be released in the spring of 2023 – Chelsea has several aspirations for it. “One, as a calling card for more work as a writer or director. Two, to gain support for a separate script, a feature film, that I also want to shoot in Colorado. Three, to submit to festivals so I can gain visibility for the above aims and to grow my filmmaking community.”

What’s Next

Since winning Shore Scripts’ Short Film Fund Contest, Chelsea was accepted into the prestigious Sundance Collab Directing Workshop for short film. The program provides skills and knowledge for critical parts of making a film, including how to assemble your crew, work with actors, and translate work from script-to-screen.

In addition to completing post-production on NON EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORT, Chelsea is working on several other projects, including writing a short film script for an Indie director. One of her most exciting ideas is a television show – as a practicing Buddhist, she’s considering writing a show with Buddhist themes, particularly the idea of simplicity. The show revolves around a disposal service dedicated to “freeing us of our emotional attachments by getting rid of our physical attachments by getting rid of those objects in our lives that have meaning. We don’t like them, and we don’t want them, but you don’t feel like you can just give it to Goodwill, and you don’t want to throw them away.”

Want to learn more about Chelsea’s work? See her website here.

Interested in learning more about the 2023 Short Film Fund Contest? Click here!

After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing a sci-fi TV series and a family Christmas script.

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