Cinematic Sisters

While the Howard sisters always knew they’d be writers, Santa Clara’s communications department helped them discover their medium.

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Malarie Howard ’14 teaching her “Inside the Writer’s Room of the World Building & Intellectual Property” workshop at SCU. Photo by Sharmila Bhatt.

“Only a few people make it” is a common refrain heard by many creatives. But some Santa Clara University grads are proving what’s possible if they ignore it. From writing fan-fiction to screenplays, sisters Malarie ’14 and Nia Howard ’15 found their desired careers in film, an industry often-dismissed as impossible to get a foothold in.

Malarie’s recent credits include writing as a co-producer for Marvel, developing an original adventure-western feature, and collaborating with Nia on a comedy project. Meanwhile Nia, a copywriter for Converse, is transitioning into the industry with her own horror thriller feature now in development.

For the Howard sisters, writing runs in the family. “Our mom is a writer. She laid a good foundation for us. She would write us her own storybooks and, as we got older, Nia and I started writing our own pieces,” says Malarie. “If we thought a television series or book was missing plot points, we’d write them in ourselves. We started collaborating at an early age, we’ve always supported each other.”

When she was a fresh graduate, Malarie recalls her parents encouraging her to apply her love of writing to more “practical” careers. “When I look back, I know they weren’t ever against us, they suggested it out of love and care,” says Malarie. Balancing the need to cover rent with the need to pursue creative passions is a lifelong pursuit.

Similarly, Nia, who embraced the digital nomad lifestyle post-graduation—working remotely while traveling—wishes she had told her college self that being practical is not bad; it’s often necessary, and a choice one might make independently. “None of my post-graduation endeavors were conventional. All of the copywriting I did funded my travels. However, I eventually craved roots and stability. Even now, I find myself one foot in the practical and one in the completely creative, and I wish I could reassure my college self that it’s okay. Sometimes, the practical serves a purpose, and finding a balance—a sweet spot—is crucial.”

Both communication majors, the sisters found creative support and their favored writing medium in Santa Clara’s film courses, particularly through Professor Michael Whalen ’89. Nia and Malarie felt empowered and that their screenwriting aspirations were attainable thanks to a robust film curriculum, networking mixers with industry alumni, and insightful conversations with professional guest speakers in the field.

“I never felt in competition with any of my classmates and we had access to so many successful alumni in the industry. There was always a shared commitment to ‘help others when you make it,’” says Nia. “When I told Professor Whalen about my transition into film with my feature in development, he excitedly said, ‘I told you so.’ He somehow always knew I’d find myself back in film before I did.”

In that spirit of giving back, Malarie sits on the Ciocca Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Industry Advisory Board where she serves as a mentor and guest speaker on the same panels that once helped break her into the industry. She recently held an “Inside the Writer’s Room of the World Building & Intellectual Property” workshop, teaching Santa Clara students from all disciplines how to create intricate story arcs.

As the Howard sisters continue to push the boundaries of screenwriting and directing, the two offer sage advice to aspiring creatives: Persistence is key, never limit yourself, and allow your inner vision to change.

“Pursue as many classes and subjects as you can. You’re a writer, but that’s not all that you are. You and your work will be more interesting if you pursue all versions of yourself,” says Malarie. “Being practical is not bad, it’s often necessary, but you can still write something even if it doesn’t take off in the moment you expect it to. Appreciate the moments when you feel on top and remember that the lows are how you enrich your human experience and creative expression.”

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Nia Howard ’15 is a freelance writer currently transitioning into the film industry with a horror thriller now in development. Image courtesy Nia Howard.
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