Christy Stratton is now ready to fly

To say the last few weeks for Christy Stratton have been overwhelming is probably an understatement. When I simply asked the longtime TV writer and Fort Worth native how she was doing, she sounded almost philosophical as she considered her answer.

This isn’t surprising since it’s only been a few months since Investigation Discovery’s documentary “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” debuted and instantly became one of the most-watched shows on Max , where it is streamed. The documentary chronicles the disturbing horror that occurred behind the scenes at Nickelodeon Studios, the children’s television giant of the 1990s and early 2000s.

The documentary brings together former child actors and other cast and crew members from various Nickelodeon shows, many of which were overseen by Dan Schneider. Testimonies show a terrifying and toxic workplace, even child sexual abuse.

Stratton appears in the first episode of “Quiet on Set” to talk about Schneider’s early career and the humiliating workplace he ran with former colleague Jenny Kilgen. They were the only two writers on “The Amanda Show,” a sketch series starring Amanda Bynes in its first season. They were forced to share a salary and suffered extremely inappropriate behavior from Schneider.

Now that the documentary has been out for almost two months (and an additional episode aired in April), Stratton can finally catch her breath and think about the simple question of how she’s doing. “I’m better than I thought,” she says.

Photo by David Lawrence

“When I sat down for this interview, I burst into tears after the first question was asked. I had been worried for months about how our role was going to go, and I thought it went well. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on my hair, which, as a Texan, is very important to me.

She reviews the messages she’s received recently, almost all of them overwhelmingly positive and grateful for speaking out. One person who thanked her for sharing her story was from England. These glimmers of gratitude are worth appearing in the documentary for Stratton. She also realizes that things have changed when it comes to behavior at work. “We can no longer afford this kind of behavior in the workplace, millennials and generation Z are not having it. »

With the “Quiet on Set” thing out of the way, our interview can turn to what Stratton really wants to talk about, a short film she wrote and directed called “The Runt.” The short film is set in 1979 when a teenage girl discovers to her horror that she is about to become a seventh grade “runt”, so she goes on a mission to be seen skating with a boy to avoid middle school cataclysmic. fate.

“The Runt” originated in a screenplay that Stratton began working on more than twenty years ago with another friend, who later left the company. Every few years, she revisited the storyline, which follows three different characters as their lives intersect in 1979 against the backdrop of roller skating.

As a member of Generation X, Stratton has a special connection to roller skating, which she calls her own “fiefdom.” According to Stratton, she has fond memories of being dropped off on a Friday night at her local rink from a young age. “That part of my life – being left unsupervised for hours at age 9, wanting to skate with your crush, doing hokey pokey, the older kids kissing in the corner and the fantastic music that made up the soundtrack – that really had an impact on me, and I think it did on a lot of other people too.”

With the television industry seemingly upended thanks to streaming, Stratton re-examined his script. A colleague suggested that instead of working on an entirely independent film, she start with a proof of concept, essentially a small part of what a larger project would look like. Some of the best independent films of all time started as a proof of concept like “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Bottle Rocket.”

The filming of “The Runt” took place in a very punctual manner. Stratton recounts those two memorable days when the only skating rink in Los Angeles was closed during the day and they were able to shoot many of the scenes for the film. Stratton’s son and several of his friends made up a large part of the cast, but she had to find her two female leads by expanding her network of friends.

“The Runt” was screened at the Florida Film Festival and the Indy Film Festival, where it won Best American Short Film. Later this summer, it will screen at Dances with Films in Los Angeles and the Wyoming Film Festival. With years of experience as a television writer, Stratton found taking on the role of director fun and liberating. “The technical aspects were intimidating, but I had an amazing team of production superstars who helped me through that part of the process,” says Stratton. “Directing the actors, blocking, making choices on the fly – it was really great. I can’t wait to do it again.”

Photo by Owen Galicia

Directing “The Runt” is another milestone in a career that, Stratton admits, was nearly derailed, as she recounted in “Quiet on Set.” Stratton was fired from “The Amanda Show.” What wasn’t mentioned in the documentary was that Schneider waged a vindictive campaign against Stratton, forcing her agent and manager to leave her. Fortunately, a new opportunity presented itself to Stratton when she was accepted into the Warner Brothers writing program.

That helped land her on a comedy series before a lucrative few years on shows like “King of the Hill” and “Modern Family.” The trauma of what happened at Nickelodeon would linger for Stratton even if she never had a workplace as traumatic as “The Amanda Show.”

With memories of being bullied for leaving one night to attend a concert, after working a full day (at a job where she was paid half her salary), Stratton never wanted to try the land with any of his next jobs. She didn’t attend her grandmother’s funeral while working on a later series (although she thinks her bosses would have been OK with it). In fact, it wasn’t until she was working on “Modern Family” that she once asked to participate in the Women’s March on Washington DC. “I look back on who I was back then, and I feel so bad taking it as my fault,” Stratton admits.

I’m curious if Stratton ever imagined herself as a successful writer in Hollywood. No, but not because she didn’t have innate beliefs. “I never dreamed of it because it was such a foreign world to me.”

Before I let Stratton go, I had to give in to my own personal television obsessions, which she graciously accepted. In “King of the Hill”, being of Texan descent made her a “Texpert”. She could tell stories from her high school years that ended on the show. She credits “King of the Hill” with making her a better writer.

Finally, as a millennial who didn’t have much unsupervised time away from adults, my sanctuary was a den with a television. And growing up, one of my favorite shows was another project Stratton worked on: the ABC comedy series “Hope & Faith,” starring Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford.

Ripa, freshly installed as co-host of “Regis and Kelly,” plays a soap opera actress who has just been laid off and is forced to move in with her sister and brother-in-law. For Stratton, opportunity presented itself with the chance to live in New York, which she loved (until it snowed). “I couldn’t have had a better time,” she said. “I got to see Broadway shows, eat delicious food – I even took a trapeze class. »

She also shares that she has a souvenir from filming: a coffee table that appeared in Faith’s room. Maybe this could end in “The Runt” sequel.