Scripting to success


Merry Schlarman

Darrin Dortch graduated from KHS in 2002 and now works as a screenwriter in Los Angeles.

While the rest of his family played outside, 6-year-old Darrin Dortch watched “Halloween” with wide eyes in the basement with his grandfather. But he was not hiding under a blanket from the jump scares. Instead, he was focusing on each camera shot, the different lighting and the acting used to tell the story. This was when he knew his passion was screenwriting. 

Darrin, KHS graduate of 2002, currently lives in Los Angeles and is a story editor on the TNT show “Claws,” produced by Warner Brothers. Around age 9, Darrin started writing scripts, and he continued to channel his creative passion through writing and film classes at NKMS and KHS. 

It was an extra struggle to get to school, since Darrin lived in the city, but his mother, June Dortch, made sure she took Darrin and his siblings to the Barr Branch Library early every Saturday morning to do their homework. According to Darrin, while at KHS, Dr. Amy Barker and Katie Meyers, English teachers, encouraged him to make his dreams a reality.

“[Barker and Meyers] were two of the really big standouts for me,” Darrin said. “What really helped is that they never told me that I couldn’t do this. Lots of people say, ‘Oh, that’s too expensive and it’s too hard to get into entertainment,’ but it was people like them who were like ‘No. You can do this.’”

I literally wrote ‘Short Changed’ while I was sitting on my living room floor, and I don’t even think I had furniture yet.”

— Darrin Dortch

Barker said she noticed Darrin was different from other students because of how serious he was about his writing. She said he wanted to learn how to tell stories rather than get a good grade. 

“[Darrin] had a more critical eye than anyone else when it came to his own work,” Barker said. “That’s really neat because that takes a lot of time to develop and people usually aren’t willing to critique themselves like that. It really made him a significantly better writer.” 

After high school, Darrin started looking at film schools. He said his family could not afford to send him to some of the more popular film schools, but he chose to attend Webster University and took as many film classes there as he could. After he graduated in 2006, he stayed in St. Louis for a year and a half, but realized if he wanted to be successful, he needed to move to Los Angeles. 

While in Los Angeles, Darrin worked for Deluxe Digital Studios and later Paramount Pictures. While he worked these jobs he made sure to use all of his free time to keep working on his personal projects. One of the projects closest to his heart is his sitcom “Short Changed.” When he moved to Los Angeles it was the first script he wrote.

“I literally wrote ‘Short Changed’ while I was sitting on my living room floor, and I don’t even think I had furniture yet,” Darrin said. 

Darrin is a big advocate of writing about what you know. He came up with the idea for “Short Changed” by remembering his experiences from working at a bank. 

“When I worked at the bank in [St. Louis], it was very fun, but … there was also some corruption and a lot of things happening that shouldn’t happen,” Darrin said. “So while I was there, as I was doing my job, I observed everything.” 

“Short Changed” led Darrin to win the American Black Film Festival, which then led to him getting an agent and his current job writing scripts for “Claws.” He said his life completely changed. 

“The most surreal experience [was] probably producing my own episode earlier [in 2019],” Darrin said. “Getting picked up in some fancy limo, going to set in first class, being in five-star hotels and being on set and working with all of these people I respect.” 

Darrin is currently co-writing an episode of “Claws” with Sam Forman, the co-executive producer. Forman said Darrin has been refreshing for the writing staff, and he enjoys just sitting and improvising dialogue with him. 

“[Darrin] knows an incredible amount of film,” Forman said. “I think he’s taken a lot of time on his own … really internalizing the structure of what makes a story work on screen, and has taken years of basically teaching himself, to a degree, how to do this. [He] has come into our job and has really hit the ground running with an incredible base of knowledge.” 

Throughout Darrin’s walk to fame, he has stayed close with his mother, June, and visits her in St. Louis several times a year. June said she never doubted Darrin and is proud of him because of his kindness, intelligence and focus on his goals. 

It’s just fun to be able to take a blank screen and create a world.”

— Darrin Dortch

“I wasn’t afraid for [Darrin] because his head was always right on target,” June said. “I pray for him every day but I don’t worry about him because he’s been like that since he was a little boy.”

Darrin has written more than 25 scripts and is currently working on writing a book and projects for other TV shows, but his dream goal is to own his own production company. He said, for him, one of the biggest rewards anyone can get is when you are able to help someone else get their vision on the screen. 

And although Darrin is starting to make it big, he has not forgotten his passion for writing. He said through it all, his favorite part of everything he does is the writing. 

“It’s just fun to be able to take a blank screen and create a world,” Darrin said. “That very much excites me still.”