Alexandra Tran ’08 Leverages Her Interdisciplinary Education to Build a Screenwriting Career

By Kendall Lowery ’22

Portrait of Scripps College alum Alexandra Tran '08

For screenwriter Alexandra Tran ’08, her Scripps education and the friendships she made at the College empowered her to explore issues from multiple perspectives. Now, she’s using those skills to make a name for herself as an up-and-coming storyteller. Tran’s script It’s a Wonderful Story, a behind-the-scenes look at the complicated creation of the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life, was included in Hollywood’s 2022 Black List, a lineup of the year’s best unproduced screenplays.

“My close Scripps friends were not in the English or writing programs—in fact, all of them were in the sciences,”  says Tran. “However, these friendships have been invaluable because my work is dependent on understanding people whose lives, skills, and concerns are very different from mine.”

Tran was drawn to Scripps from her native Illinois by two main factors: the freedom to create her own major and the proximity of The Claremont Colleges to Los Angeles. As a first-year student, Tran already had screenwriting in mind, but she wanted to pursue a degree that would broaden her employment opportunities. So, Tran collaborated with her professors to design a creative writing for modern media markets major.

Tran dove headfirst into her craft, harnessing Scripps’ multidisciplinary education to shape her voice. She says the College’s Core Curriculum in Interdisciplinary Humanities—a required sequence of three courses that synthesizes a broad range of historical and contemporary issues and encourages student exploration—provided her with an invaluable screenwriting skill.

“Much as I disliked it at the time, the Core Curriculum remains foundational in my approach to life,” says Tran. “People seem amazed by the breadth of my interests and ability to draw correlations between art, economics, music, and history—which I credit to those three semesters. Scripps gave me a particular worldview that is a big part of my ‘voice,’ which is a very important defining characteristic for a writer.”

Additionally, during her time at Scripps, Tran stayed in Southern California during breaks to gain a foothold in the industry.

“I spent every summer, apart from the one I spent studying abroad, interning at a production company, a top-three agency, and a studio,” says Tran. “I discovered very quickly that the assistants are very poorly paid—below minimum wage when the weekend overtime required to read scripts is counted—and most of them were getting financial help from their parents to survive living in LA.”

Tran’s internship taught her that a great script doesn’t have to come from “inside the system.” After graduation, Tran leveraged her degree to become an executive assistant while continuing to write outside of her day job. Despite the well-known competitiveness of the film industry, Tran believes that her Scripps experience equipped her with the confidence she needed to pursue her professional goals.

“Scripps taught me there is nothing I cannot learn or achieve,” says Tran. “For the first time in my life, I looked around and saw that I was not at the top of my class by default. I learned as much as I could from my peers and pushed myself to be my best. The life of a writer requires similar skills: persistence, drive, and internal motivation are common traits among all writers.”

Although It’s a Wonderful Story has been well-received, production remains in limbo and, since May 2, Tran has been on strike with the Writers Guild of America.

“The strike is an existential one for screen and television writers,” explains Tran. “The streaming model is unsustainable and threatens to turn what was once a viable career into yet another gig economy. We strike to make a living wage and to keep this profession sustainable, something that shouldn’t be so difficult as the streamers and studios post record profits.”

Over the course of the strike, Tran has been sustained by the relationships that she built at Scripps and beyond. Her main piece of advice for aspiring writers? Pursue an interdisciplinary friend group as well as a well-rounded education.

“It’s easy to self-isolate in professional communities but having a very diverse friend group offers perspective and true knowledge,” says Tran. “As physicians, nurses, chefs, engineers, scientists, and local government workers, my friends challenge my perception and inspire me creatively. Cultivate friendships with people with whom you have almost nothing in common. Your life will be all the richer for it.”