Over the course of the year in New York Film Academy’s MFA Screenwriting Program, students are required to write two feature screenplays, among other writing projects. During Jymmi Willoughby’s first MFA term, in Floyd Byars’ class, he began writing a feature script called X-Gay. A common lesson given to beginning writers is to write what you know. Write something that is true and personal to you. Jymmi took that advice and ran with it.
“The idea for X-Gay came from a very personal place. I was raised in a rural community in southern Ohio and brought up as a Southern Baptist. I knew from an early age that I was gay, but I also knew that it was one of the worst things a person could be. I grew up knowing this and, in all honesty, hating myself. I eventually started seeking treatment for my homosexuality, because my nightly prayers were just not cutting it. That’s when I happened upon reparative therapy, also known as “ex-gay” or “pray the gay away” therapy. That’s where the idea came from. It was basically me remembering how odd and interesting my experience in this therapy was, the group dynamic (because it was group therapy), and how it felt to have to keep it a secret from everyone in my life. It was very cathartic to write.
“You cannot live your life in accordance to the desires of others. In the film, Jonah, the main character, has to accept who he is and what makes him happy — he has to forsake everything he has known in order to have that. I think that’s what is so interesting about his arc. He goes to change himself or get fixed and ends up accepting who he is. I hope that people will come away from the film feeling hopeful and empowered. The nation is in a state of change and no one should have to feel like they need to change themselves in order to fit in. I also hope that the movie will make people feel brave.”
“Floyd was integral in the entire process. I only had the vaguest of clues what I was doing. I had one screenwriting class in undergrad and it had been years, so I was really re-learning everything and trying to figure out how to structure a story and how to create characters. Floyd was so helpful with every aspect. I think of him as a mentor. He is so sharp and he can see things on a microscopic level. It’s really incredible. The guy is a master. I honestly can’t say enough good things about him and I am forever grateful that our paths crossed.”
“My experience at NYFA has been a very positive one. Before I came here, I had a BA in English and had only taken one screenwriting course as an elective and we only had to write 40 pages of a feature. I was very nervous, thinking, “I’m just a country bumpkin and here I think I can just come to LA with no film experience and expect to keep up?“ I was very relieved to find out that my class was a nice mix of people with varying knowledge of film and screenwriting. After being here, it felt like we were all on an even playing field. I also have to brag that I am part of an amazing group of writers. The work that comes out of our classes is pretty remarkable and everyone is constantly raising the bar. We make each other better and that’s been the best experience. Plus, the instructors are incredible. They really care and want to see us succeed. I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to learn from such talented individuals.”
Jymmi is currently working on several other projects. He has another script which was optioned by a NYFA producing student, and is writing his third feature as a thesis project.
“I love to tell stories and to make people laugh and writing allows me to do both. So my goal is just to be a working writer. Film, television, comic books, anything. As long as I get to tell stories and engage people, then I’m happy. And of course, pay the rent. Maybe that sounds cliché, but it’s the truth.”