When she graduated Notre Dame Regional High School, Cate Devaney wanted to be an architect. The visual artist even worked for several firms in Kansas City and Chicago while studying at Mizzou. But, the “grind of the business” wasn’t for her.
“It was an interesting realization that it’s not about the workload: my heart just wasn’t in it,” said Devaney.
So, she enrolled in some playwriting classes, took a sound design course, and set her sights on storytelling. A little over a decade later, she is working her Hollywood dream job in the depths of L.A.
Her journey started across the country, in New York.
“During my senior year of high school at Notre Dame, I went on the New York trip. I loved it,” said Devaney. “So after college, I decided I was going to the city. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do – I was interested in film and television – but here we go.”
She graduated Mizzou in 2008 with a degree in pre-architecture and environmental studies, and moved to New York City shortly after. With an outgoing personality, she quickly began picking up odd jobs, despite the economic climate at the time.
“The great thing about [New York] is you can get online, find any interest group, and show up,” said Devaney. “I modeled for a little bit, and then I started working for a commercial director representative. I would come twice a week to his office and make phone calls. I learned a lot about getting jobs for the commercial side of things and how to write pitches.”
After nine months in the city, she finally landed an internship on HBO’s Bored To Death. It was unpaid at first, but Devaney was soon brought on as a production assistant, which is considered “entry level” for television and film.
“The industry is freelance, so you go onto a project, and then you have to find your next job,” said Devaney. “When I did this job, I was very aware of this and tried to get to know as many people as possible. I was able to get a recommendation, and got on a tv show after that.”
Her career continued with crew work on NBC’s hospital drama Mercy, Men in Black 3, and Premium Rush. Since she had not gone to film school, she tried soaking up all the knowledge she could, writing storyboards in her free time.
“I would talk to directors about what they did, and I ended up staying in touch with them. I directed my first short film in 2011 with people I met on these big shows,” said Devaney. “That fall, I saw someone needed a storyboard artist for a film. I applied and got hired, just based on these storyboards I’d been drawing for my own ideas.”
The movie Sinister was the third project for the now-massive horror company, Blumhouse Productions, and was Devaney’s first professional storyboard job.
“It was the first time a movie hired me for four weeks. I felt like a fraud, like I didn’t even know what I was doing!” said Devaney. But she got along with the director, Scott Derrickson, who brought her on for future projects.
The next year, she began working on the first Purge movie, and eventually moved out to Los Angeles, California in 2013 to work on movies like Curve, Whiplash, and later Doctor Strange.
“I was just getting so much more work here than I was in New York. Part of that is because this is where deals get made and things are happening,” said Devaney.
The president of Blumhouse soon recommended Devaney as a storyboard artist to screenwriter and director Akiva Goldsmith, who brought her on to “his big writing room.”
“I found myself working with some of the biggest writers in the industry, people who were writing DC movies and Marvel movies, and we were creating a whole new multiverse for Hasbro games,” said Devaney.
But, amid her big-screen work, the artist was still being nagged by her dream to write and direct. In 2017, she became serious about making the leap from storyboarding to directing.
“I took a year-long break, and enrolled in an online program. It didn’t replace going to graduate school, but it was still really immersive,” said Devaney. “I was juggling getting up early and writing, then going to work, and writing when I got home.”
Soon, Devaney had a great “spec” script – a speculative screenplay – for a horror feature film. She also had writers and directors at her disposal when she needed constructive criticism. She was eventually put in contact with a literary manager at Thrill Scene.
“It’s funny, because when I was an assistant for the representative in New York, it’s a similar job to what she’s doing for me now. She’s sending the scripts that I write and she’s on the phone pitching for me,” said Devaney.
She finally directed her first feature in 2019, The Mad Hatter, which is still in editing stages. She also wrote and directed an episode for the Quibi anthology, 50 States of Fright.
According to Devaney, the profession of writing in Hollywood is tough, and can be compared to owning a business.
“You have to love it. Most of the work you do, you’ll never get compensated for,” said Devaney. “Working in Hollywood is super fun; you get to write stories for a living. You also want to beat your head against the wall, because it’s tough! At the end of the day, you have to enjoy the process.”
Devaney credits much of her confidence to her experience in musical theatre at Notre Dame. Productions included Oklahoma; Hello, Dolly!; West Side Story; and Crazy For You. She mainly worked on crew until her senior year, when she was cast in a supporting role.
“I was always very conscious of my singing voice, because first of all, I’m a visual artist. Mrs. Ellen Seyer didn’t let me opt out of singing, and I went in a handful of days [to practice] at lunch,” said Devaney. “And I remember performing that weekend; climbing up the scaffolding to walk down the stairs on set. I was so nervous and then so excited afterward. It was exhilarating and fun, and I was just so appreciative that she pushed me.”
And, having worked with Oscar-winning directors and writers, Devaney made a special shout-out to Ms. Cindy King.
“She is a really, really good director. She understands what the craft entails, what it means to be an actor, and the vulnerability factor of it,” said Devaney. “When playing Irene, I told her I was going to find a taping of this musical from Broadway to understand the character. And she said ‘No, you’re not. What you’re describing is copying someone’s performance, and that’s not acting.’”
Devaney said it was the first time she understood the idea of “mimicking” versus truly acting. As a director, you have to be very familiar with that aspect of drama.
“Actors have to get lost in themselves. Discover every line, discover everything you’re doing,” said Devaney. “Ms. King was the first person to open that up to me, and that whole experience was such a joy.