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Interview with Charisse Waugh

Based on a true story, Catfish follows a strong-willed African-American woman as she stands up to a powerful corporation on behalf of her small Mississippi town. She risks her family and her marriage, and ultimately spearheads one of the biggest workers strike in U.S. history. Catfish - the first screenplay by New York-based writer, Charisse Waugh who brought the project to our own Tribeca All Access program in 2006 – was just optioned by Alicia Keys' production company, Big Pita, Little Pita.

Tribeca: How long have you been working on this script?

Charisse Waugh: I had written an article on this story about ten years ago for a women’s magazine and I always thought it would make a great film, but I had never written a screenplay. So I just took a crack at it and, towards the end of 2005 -- when I found out about Tribeca All Access -- I finished it.

Tribeca: As part of the magazine article, did you go to Mississippi to interview these women?

Waugh: I originally went down to cover the conditions in the Mississippi jails, but this is the story that actually came out of it. I was being shown around by one of the lawyers from one of the families I was interviewing and he mentioned Catfish to me. When I heard about the strike that had taken place and that they had unionized three or four years before that, I just knew that was the story I needed to cover, so I just went and interviewed her.

TribecaWhat was your experience with Tribeca All Access?

Waugh: Writing this movie was so fun, and I really believed in the story, but I never thought it would happen so fast. Something that would have taken me years of knocking down doors, I was able to do in a month because of TAA. For those of us who are writers or filmmakers from under-represented communities, the access they have to the industry and the ability to connect you to established filmmakers is simply amazing. I had complete faith in the story and in the script itself, but it only happened this fast because of TAA.

Tribeca: What kind of writing do you usually do?

Waugh: During the day I’m a senior writer for a big non-profit and I’ve freelanced for many years. Right now I’m working on my third screenplay, so I’m still at it!

Tribeca: Are you a movie-lover?

Waugh: I love movies. I love the whole process: going to the theater, getting the horrible popcorn, finding a seat and then watching the lights go down. It’s a little corrupted now because of the previews and such, but I love it. I even enjoy not liking a movie!

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