Marnie Mitchell Lister sat down with Bob Thielke, a scriptwriter that’s not only written an adaptation of The Virginian (with Ron Perlman and Victoria Pratt), but also penned Lonesome Dove Church, starring Tom Berenger. Bob’s got a lot of experience to share… and he’s not afraid to do it here.
M: Hi Bob. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for us here at Simply Scripts.
B: Totally my pleasure, Marnie. I always enjoy talking to you.
M: I guess the best place to start is, when/how did you get into screenwriting?
B: Well, it all started with DUDE WHERE’S MY CAR. Actually it didn’t, but that’s what I like to tell people. Honestly, growing up I never had any grand design to write for a living, but I was always a very creative storyteller, at first mostly to my mom and dad to get out of trouble. Here and there I dabbled in writing short stories for my company newsletter and people seemed to find them funny. In 2004 I saw a story about this little venture Kevin Spacey was undertaking called Triggerstreet and it really interested me. I’d never thought about screenwriting because I figured not living in California, it’d be impossible. But with this new fangled internet, it seemed like that was no longer a barrier. Anyways, my new year’s resolution for 2005 was to write a screenplay and upload it onto Triggerstreet to see what would happen…and the rest, as they say is history.
M: Speaking of Triggerstreet, that’s where we met, way back when, over ten years ago. How important do you think sites like Triggerstreet and Simply Scripts are, as far as helping people become better writers? And, how did it help you?
B: Ten YEARS AGO!?! Maybe nine years ago, don’t try to make me feel old. Oh gosh, these types of sites are amazing for new writers. I learned so much by participating on Triggerstreet. From basics like formatting to some really subtle stuff like how to work scene transitions and how to create subtext in your dialogue. I’d truly recommend it for anyone who wants to really learn how to write. And it was great too, for making contacts, I’ve met writers, producers, actors, directors on that site. For several years, I referred to it as a modern day Chautauqua for moviemakers, where hungry, talented, and thoughtful people could gather and talk about film, review each other’s work, and really get better at the craft. I still have several friends from my days on Triggerstreet, like you Marnie, who continually push me to improve.
M: I hate to break it to you…you must be old because it’s definitely been ten years. For those of you who don’t know, Bob wrote an adaptation of The Virginian that was released on DVD in January 2014, which starred Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) and Trace Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer). How did it feel….watching a feature you wrote with actors like Perlman and Adkins speaking your lines?
B: Thanks for the plug, still available at Walmart and on Amazon. It felt…really odd watching it the first time. Thankfully the film followed the script at least 95% of the time, but every time something was different, it was like a needle screeching across a record player (think a CD skipping for those of you too young to remember vinyl). Naturally, I felt really proud and it was definitely a thrilling moment to hear your words in a film for the first time. It’s interesting, but I’ve only watched the movie twice. I enjoyed it much more the second time, because I could just watch the darn thing. The first time, I was also really apprehensive that it would stink. But it was a decent movie for a low budget western.
M: Well, we’ve watched it at least five times in my house. So, The Virginian has been adapted many times before. It was even a TV series. You obviously read the book, but did you watch any or all of the adaptations to make sure yours had an original spin? And how hard was it to come up with something fresh?
B: I specifically made a point not to watch anything else remotely associated with the Virginian. I didn’t want to subconsciously take anything from the previous versions. Ironically, the biggest complaint I ever heard about the film was that it wasn’t enough like the TV series. When I read the novel, it certainly had a certain feel that fit with 1905. I wanted to have it be relevant to our times in some way, so I was looking for ways to rework some of the story and character elements to make it more topical. For example, the way Native Americans were portrayed in the novel was definitely not in tune with today’s sensibilities. As it happens, I wrote this around the time of the OCCUPY movement so I changed some of the story elements around to reflect that type of civil unrest with the balance of wealth and how there’s this perception, or truth, that the powerful get to write the rules. Really, that’s a universal truth regardless of the time or the society. So that was my new take on the Virginian. It wasn’t really hard to come up with that new approach. A good writer has to keep their eyes and ears open to the human condition, regardless of the subject.
M: How many rewrites did it take before final approval? Were you asked to change anything after production started?
B: Seemed like about three major rewrites and lots of tweaks. I probably sent them ten different drafts. Most of those were to accommodate budget concerns. I had this really awesome Gatling gun versus dynamite fight that everyone loved, but alas it had to be taken out because apparently blowing stuff up is really expensive.
M: I remember that scene in one of your later drafts. It was pretty epic. Save it for your next Western since you seem to be bringing the genre back. So, after seeing the finished product, is there anything you’d do differently? What lessons did you learn?
B: Well, if I knew how important writing to a budget was I’d have made a more conscious effort to do that upfront, it might have saved me a couple of drafts. I learned a lot about how to collaborate with other people, and I also learned how important it is to write to your budget.
M: You have another feature scheduled to be released by Lions Gate, “Lonesome Dove Church”. This one is an original screenplay and stars Academy Award nominee, Tom Berenger. Pretty awesome I must say. I couldn’t help but notice, both of these films were produced by the Nassar brothers (Jack & Joseph), who have a pretty long list of produced features. How did you hook up with these guys?
B: We talked earlier about the contacts I made at Triggerstreet. Dan Benamor, who was their Head of Development at the time, read a script I wrote called PRINCIPLES OF BUOYANCY on Triggerstreet. The script is somewhat Advant Garde (French for “out there”), but apparently he enjoyed it quite a bit and asked me if I’d be interested in developing a western for them. It was a little bit of a risk because I only got paid if it went into production. A lot of people wouldn’t take that deal. But I figured I was already working for free, so the chance of a payout was worth it. Also the chance to do an adaptation was important for me, because it seems like that was where most writing assignments that turn into major films come about.
M: I have to comment on PRINCIPLES OF BUOYANCY. By far one of the most beautifully written screenplays I’ve ever read. And I’ve read lots. Back to “Lonesome Dove Church”. Is there anything you can tell us about this project? About the story and/or writing process?
B: I’m not sure what I can or can’t say. But it’s based on the founding of the actual Lonesome Dove Baptist Church in Grapevine, Texas. Writing this one was a dream. I was given some material to research about the founding of the church and then developed an outline of a story that was reviewed with a couple little changes. I developed the first draft off that and honestly, only had about two or three days of changes and that was the last I worked on it. Apparently the director made a few changes, but I don’t have any idea what they were or how they turned out.
M: Now, to help dispel some myths…do you have an agent or manager?
B: I sure don’t. I’d love to get a good one, so if anyone knows of one let me know!! I’ve had friends who’ve had agents or manager and they’ve grown frustrated with them because they weren’t bringing in work. I think they’d be helpful to get really good deals or for getting work on bigger projects, but as you can see you can still get work without one.
M: Do you live in California?
B: No, I live in Colorado where the grass is green and the girls are pretty.
M: Do you have a degree in screenwriting?
B: Sorry to say no so often, but no. I have a degree in Chemical Engineering which is about as diametrically opposed to screenwriting as you can get.
M: Have you won any major screenwriting contests?
B: I haven’t won any contests, but I have placed in the quarterfinals of Nicholls a couple of times and I have a couple quarterfinal scripts in the BlueCat and Big Break Semi Finals with my good friend David Muhlfelder on other projects.
M: There you have it kids. You don’t need any of those things to be a successful screenwriter! So Bob, what would your advice be to other aspiring screenwriters who hope to see their work on the big screen?
B: Don’t ever give up and don’t ever stop improving. If you give up, all those people that told you it was a foolish dream have won. Don’t ever give up.
M: Can you tell us what are you working on now? Or any completed works you’re currently peddling?
B: Well, as I mentioned, David Muhlfelder and I have finished a script that is a satire about all this second amendment and open carry nonsense going on in the news these days. We’re aiming for Paddy Chayefsky type satire, of course we’ll fall short, because that man was amazing. I can’t tell you the name of the current title because it has a bad word in it. We’re looking for a new title for it that will be able to be on movie posters. This one is being considered by a couple agencies and was just announced as a quarterfinalist in the Big Break Contest. I’m also writing a third feature for the Nassers, this one is set in the middle east and features Arabian horses. We’re closed to finished, but still have a ways to go before it goes into production. And last, but certainly not least, I talked this really hot Jersey babe into writing a psycho-sexual serial killer thriller with me. We’re still working on the outline, which I promise to get to you this week (oops, I let that slip).
M: What kind of movies do you like watching? What are some of your faves?
B: I love intriguing dramas and smart action movies. I love what Marvel Studios have been doing especially Guardians of the Galaxy. Because I have a teenage daughter who loves to read, we watch a lot of these movies based on them, like Hunger Games, The Giver, and Divergent. I mostly enjoy them, but I’m a little too old for some of those teen angst moments that come up. I’d love to love comedies, but I just don’t think there’s been that many funny ones lately. All time, my favorite movie is Godfather II with Groundhog Day close behind.
M: Okay. Last question. When do you think you’ll put a photo on your IMDb page? I mean, you have two big writing credits up there. Are you trying to be mysterious, humble? What gives?
B: I’m too ugly for IMDb.
M: LOL. Not at all true. Thank you for your time, my friend. The link to Bob’s IMDb page, minus his ugly mug:
ALL ABOUT BOB:
Bob Thielke penned “The Virginian”, released in January 2014, an adaption of the novel of the same name by Owen Wister. This gritty western stars country music superstar, Trace Adkins and screen legend, Ron Perlman. Bob also wrote “Lonesome Dove Church”, scheduled for release later in 2014 by Lionsgate. It stars Oscar nominee Tom Berenger and up-and-comer Greyston Holt. Bob is currently working on several projects including a family adventure script involving Arabian horses set in the early 20th century. In addition to his produced credits, Bob has completed fourteen original scripts ranging from comedies to epic historical dramas. Two of his original scripts have recently been optioned – “Trinity”, a biopic of the controversial father of the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer and “Frat Boys from Outer Space”, a farcical look at Greek life through the eyes of two happy-go-lucky aliens. Bob has also been a multiple quarterfinalist in the prestigious Nichols screenplay competition with a screenplay entitled “Principles of Buoyancy”, about a man stranded behind the Berlin Wall who discovers the only way back to his beloved is by doing the one thing he’s good at – being a clown.
When Bob is not screenwriting, he works at his day job as a Nuclear Waste Facility Inspector for a federal government contractor. Bob’s choice in career has given him the opportunity to travel all over the country and get to know individuals from all walks of life, colorful characters that give him rich material to work with in developing his own characters. Raised in Denver, Colorado, Bob continues to live there with his wife and two creative teenage daughters.
Having completed 9 features and 60+ shorts, Marnie Mitchell-Lister has no plans on stopping. With awards getting bigger and opportunities getting better, she’s in it for the long haul. Projects Marnie is currently working on range from a family animated feature, to a psychological thriller about a serial killer to a TV pilot about a bored housewife whose quest for excitement gets her in all sorts of trouble. Some of Marnie’s work can be found on her website: BrainFluffs.com.