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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

STS Interviews: A Meet N’ Greet with Screenwriter Rick Ramage - posted by wonkavite

Occasionally on STS, we take a break from showcasing scripts, and focus on the masterminds behind the words. Because there’s nothing better than hearing from successful members of “the craft”, and absorbing the sage words they have to tell.

Today, we are happy to publish an interview between STS’s own Anthony Cawood, and Rick Ramage, a very successful writer whose credits include StigmataThe PropositionPeacemakers and more.

Rick’s also the mastermind behind “The Screenplay Show“, an upcoming web series. Our suggestion?  Pour some coffee and settle in: you’ve got lots of good stuff to take in!

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Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?

Oddly enough, I became a screenwriter by default; I wanted to be a novelist. I had just written my first novel and I sent it to someone whose opinion I trusted. He told me my book wasn’t very good – but that I was a good writer. He said he thought that I was very visual. So he suggested I try writing a screenplay. Thank God he was nice enough to encourage me!

Q: Was The Proposition the first screenplay you found success with?

While I was still in film school, I managed to option a script (for very little money). It was called “Triad” and it was a psychological thriller. But it gave me a tremendous surge of confidence to actually option a script. So I wrote The Proposition next. And that was my first major sale.

Q: How did you connect with the filmmakers and sell The Proposition?

A friend of mine showed the script to an exec at Disney – she didn’t buy it, but she did like the story and the writing. That led to an introduction to an agency. And that led to the script getting into the hands of the right producers. A few of those producers wanted it bad enough to get into a small bidding war. I think the whole process, from getting the script read, to getting an agent, to actually selling it took about a week. It was so fun – changed my life, too.

Q: The Proposition has a great cast – did you get to be involved in the production at all?

Now that I look back on the whole process, I was very lucky, because the producers and the director were really good to me. The actors were awesome, too. Even though I was a complete rookie, everybody treated me with great respect, and — more importantly – the script was treated with great respect.

Q: That was followed by Stigmata – another great cast. How did this script come about?

Stigmata was a re-write assignment. And yes, great cast. I was asked by MGM producer, Frank Mancuso Jr. to do the re-write and we pretty much went right into production after only a few drafts.

Q: Studio pics and living the screenwriter dream …

One of the best things to come from putting a spec script out, is that even if a studio doesn’t buy it, there’s a very good chance that you might pick up a writing assignment if they like your writing. I always try to assure new writers that a rejection is not always a rejection of your story or writing. It’s usually because the studio already has something “similar” in development, or because that type of story just isn’t going to line up on their slate. Often times a producer or an executive will read you and if he or she likes your writing, they will think of you for other projects they may have in development.

Q: Where did the inspiration for “Haunted” come from?

My manager asked me to meet with Andrew Cosby, the co-creator of the show. He pitched Haunted to the producers and they brought me in to work with him. Andy is a very collaborative guy, and we got along great in the writing process.

Q: Now the move to TV is fairly common, less so then. What prompted the shift?

To be honest, I really can’t remember why writing for TV even sounded good. I was making way more money as a feature writer … so I suppose it was the challenge.

Q: Peacemakers was a change in genre … do you have a particular genre?

Good question. I’ve never wanted to allow myself to get pigeon-holed into one genre, because that very definitely limits your marketability for assignments. Every time I write a spec, I try to keep it fresh (genre-wise) so that producers know I have a wide range.

Q: How did ‘Ichabod’ come about?

Ichabod was a labor of love.

I’m a great fan of classic literature. I sold a spec script for a lot of money that year, and I wanted to do something cool for my kids. (They were in 4th or 5th grade at the time.) Most dads go out and buy a pony or something – but I wrote my kids a play.

I approached some song-writers that I knew and suggested we do Ichabod for kids in grade school and middle. As it turned out, we had 89 sell-out performances and won some awards with the play … But my feature career was just too busy to run a theatre company, so I let the company go for several years. Then, when I decided to see if I could direct a film, I went back to Ichabod. I was honestly thinking about doing a TV series for kids based on the classics. So it (kind-of) made sense on a business level … It aired on PBS and I thought I was going to launch the series, but then my funding fell through. It’s still a dream of mine to do the series, which I called “Timeless Tales”.

Q: How was the experience of directing Ichabod?

Flat –freaking– awesome. I’ve never had more fun. It was truly one of the best creative experiences of my life.

Q: Thoughts about moving to LA to pursue a screenwriting career?

I’ve always said the hardest thing about being an artist is financing your life while you do the work. I think writers should live where they can do their best work … If that means Denver, or Miami or Fargo — so be it.

I also think too much emphasis (especially for new writers) is placed on living in LA. Meeting with executives and producers don’t just fall out of the sky. Until you have a bullet-proof script, you’re really not going to get good meetings anyway. Once you have a truly great writing sample, I believe producers and agents will find you. LA is always looking for the next great talent that will take the world by storm.

My advice is get the script right, and the rest will take care of itself …

Q: Your career appears to have gone quiet for a few years. What were you working on and what happened to all those projects?

The truth is, I took a few years off because I felt burned-out. I thought I would finally write a novel, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Then one day, a friend of mine called and asked me pretty much the same question you just did: “Where have you been? You’re not working …” I laughed when he said that he was really glad I took some time off, because now he could finally afford me because my quote would suck … He said he wanted me to write the script for a project that he thought he had set up – but that didn’t work out. So then he asked me if I had any old specs sitting around. I said I had one, but I was saving it so I could direct it … Needless to say, he talked me out of that, and we took the script out … It sold over the weekend, and we had a green light within the week. The script was “Heaven Sent” due out this holiday season.

Q: What was the genesis of the documentary?

I’m laughing because I still don’t know how that project landed on my imdb page! I need to take it off! … It was really just a small favor for a friend : )

Q: When it comes to feature scripts, how do you approach structure? Do you follow or advocate any particular method?

Yes. Yes. And… yes!

I am a creature of method. And I do have a very particular way of addressing structure, and character development based upon a method that I’ve developed over the years. But if I go into it here and now, I’ll spoil the first episode “Method vs. Madness” of The Screenplay Show… And it’s so important for me to get it right when I describe it to new writers. I honestly believe it will make a difference in the way they approach story.

Q: Have you ever tried the conventional “breaking in” routes?

To be honest, no. I’ve never had to write a query letter or make a cold call as a writer. I’ve been really lucky in that I was approached by my first agent because he read one of my scripts (through a friend) which then sold. So you might say Hollywood found me.

That’s why I tell new writers that it really is all about the material. My career didn’t start because I was good in a pitch meeting or because I wooed an agent, or because I was a nice guy that producers wanted to meet. Producers buy your work and employ you to rewrite their scripts because they respect your writing …

Q: You are now launching a new venture: The Screenplay Show. Where did the idea for that come from?

A friend of mine who runs a writer meet-up group asked me to do a seminar for his writers a few years ago. Very reluctantly, I agreed… But then instantly regretted it because I was completely afraid I would bore people to death, droning on about a “how to” approach.

So I pulled my editor into the mix, and we put together a very visual presentation which actually shows examples of screenwriting elements, such as writing transitions, creating character arcs, writing action, the plot, etc.

For instance, we pulled about fifty stills of Jack’s character from “The Shining” to visually document his character arc – or descent into madness. It was very effective, because people could see it in real time when it was compared to the script (I put page numbers beside the stills). You get the idea …

But what really surprised me is that the writers were almost more interested in the “writer’s experience” … They had more questions about method and the biz, than they did about the nuts and bolts. So that got me thinking: if I combine my “story” with the nuts and bolts, it’s really a very different kind of writing series.

I’ve been extremely fortunate during my 25 year career to have developed scripts with some of Hollywood’s top producers and directors. Those experiences have changed and informed the way I write and approach story. After all, they were generous enough to share their knowledge with me for one purpose – to get the story right. So, I began to think in terms of presenting that knowledge and those insights in the form of a narrative, or show style.

Q: How will people be able to see it / get involved?

Each episode will be approximately 30 minutes. You will be able to purchase and stream at our site. We will consider moving to other formats later. I’m also talking to a cable network, so that is a possibility now, too.

Q: One of the accusations leveled at other gurus is that they haven’t had anything produced or sold. But that can’t be leveled at you – is that what makes your offering different.

I hope so. I mean, you can talk all day about the nuances that make a race car driver great, or a football player, or a ballet dancer, or an artist – but I would hope you’d get the information from someone that has actually been “to the show” … Otherwise there is too much information missing from the actual process of learning. It’s called trial and error. You learn things in the script development process that just isn’t covered in books.

I believe that people know instinctively that you learn by doing, much better than by reading it in a book or a talking-head video. One of the things that I feel is really important, is to talk to new writers about rejection and heartbreak. In “The Screenplay Show” the highs and lows of the craft are talked about quite naturally in the narrative since I have had plenty of both in my career.

The trick is to learn from it and not take rejection too personally.

Q: What exactly is it, and what will the episodes cover?

The Screenplay Show is an actual show you’ll be able to watch. It’s a very different approach to screenwriting, from a personal point of view. It’s both the story of a writer’s experience in Hollywood, and how those experiences have informed the way I write and how I have survived for 25 years. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve developed material (from spec scripts, to rewrites, to book adaptations) with some of Hollywood’s most talented directors and producers. That has definitely informed the way I go about my business . I will be sharing that information and knowledge — both technical and philosophical – in a narrative, visual way during each episode of The Show.

The Episodes cover these topics:

1) Method vs Madness:

We live in two worlds: the physical and the mental. New writers are often balancing a full-time job with trying to find quality time to write. I talk about my own method, and how I discovered a way to get the work done. But I also explain how important it is to have a method that is intellectual – which leads to episode 2 called ….

2) “Write with Questions”

A very famous author gave me this tip, and once I came to understand exactly what he was talking about. I realized that he had just given me a method (of the intellectual kind) that actually helps me solve problems. I believe learning to write with questions is the single most important factor that has helped me set up and sell over 40 scripts in Hollywood. But here’s a teaser: it’s not what you think it is …

3) Writing the Beat Outline

Over the years, I learned to write my outlines using a technique that also informs the way I pitch. Most new writers think a pitch is a condescended version of the story … But a pitch is also the story of how you’re going to write a killer script. Don’t forget, you’re also auditioning to prove that you have the chops to back up your pitch. In The Show, I’ll share a technique that will help you get on the page as a writer – because it will assure the producer you’re not only a good storyteller, but ready to go to script.

4) Tone

It’s my opinion that this is where most scripts live or die. Most new writers DO NOT know how to give their script a voice. In fact, when I’m asked to do a rewrite, that’s usually what they are looking for – the proper tone (or writer’s voice) for the story. Another word for it is “soul”.

5) Character Arcs

A great director once told me that the key to writing great characters is that
“we write in search of ourselves…”It sounds obvious, but it isn’t. (It does tie very nicely into Episode 2 once we break it down … )

6) The Four Elements

This is another episode I’m anxious to get into, because once again, most new writers don’t really know how to write or execute these basic elements of screenwriting properly. 1) Action 2) Plot 3) Subtext 4) Transitions

7) Act I
8) Act II
9) Act III

We’ll be talking in-depth about the three-act structure, and how to seamlessly build three acts into one solid story. We’ll also delve into something that I feel is crucial to your success as a screenwriter: the mid-act breaks … It’s also very important that new writers understand how to enter and exit each act so that your reader will keep turning pages.

10) The Biz

When I do a live seminar, this is the topic the writers want to hear about the most – not only do they want to know how to break in, but they need to know what happens once you do sell that first script. How do you survive this intense and competitive business?

Q: I’m assuming this isn’t a purely altruistic venture? What are the costs involved to you and how will you charge for it?

Since this is a “show” format, and not a talking head seminar, the “usual suspects” on a line item budget are required: Lights. Camera. Crew. Actors. Sound. And finally Post – the show will have a rather hefty budget.

Basically, for $149.00 writers can pre-purchase all ten 30 minute episodes now at a 50% discount. (When we are finished with production, the show will retail for approx. $300.00.)

Q: Screenwriters are perhaps, rightly, a little suspicious of guru’s with schemes that promise them success – for a fee of course. What is different about the Screenplay Show and how would you answer that challenge?

Great question. I would answer by reminding people from the start that I’ve never taken the position that I am a “guru” or a “coach” or a seminar guy. I’m a working writer – so I won’t be spewing theory. I’ll only be talking about the methods and techniques that have worked – and continue to work – for me.

I think anyone who promises instant success in this business is full of BS. What I can promise, however, is that I’ll be coming at the craft of screenwriting from a very different perspective than most. Why? Because I’ll be sharing the same techniques and methods that some of Hollywood’s most talented writers, directors and producers have shared with me.

Q: How will you judge success for The Show?

I’m smiling right now, because I won’t get to be the one who does that. Only the writers who take the time to tune-in to The Screenplay Show will get to judge. And deservedly so. If they learn something that helps them become a better writer, wonderful. If they think I’ve wasted their time and money – I’ll get slammed. But that’s how it is for the writer of any show or movie. It is the nature of our business to get applause or … rotten tomatoes.

Q: If successful, what next for the project?

My hope is to take The Show on the road if we are successful. One of my personal requirements for any of my projects is that I only take on subjects that interest me. And I’ve always been fascinated by the methods of other writers, actors and athletes. I like to know how they prepare, execute, and deal with the business they are in. Learning from other writers how they do-what-they-do will be interesting to me. Why? Because I’m sure I’ll learn something.

I’m working on several projects right now, both film and television. I think we almost have to keep several irons in the fire for one to get hot … Working on several projects has always helped to diversify the odds of success vs failure.

Q: What’s the best / worst advice you’ve been given?

The best: “read the third act as many times as the first act” we tend to write FADE OUT and think it’s done too quickly.

The worst: “Don’t write so much exposition – the director will just ignore it anyway.”

To the latter, I politely say “bull”. My scripts are stories, first. They just happen to be formatted like a script. As a storyteller, I always try to think of my scripts as a literary work – or in other words, I’m on the page.

A producer once told me the script was fat, but I responded by saying that there was no charge for the extra words. I wasn’t being snide, either. I simply told her that it was my draft, because we were about to go out to the town on spec … people would be reading it and judging me as a writer, as well as for story. So I insist that my scripts read well. She agreed, too.

Q: Favorite film / script?

I have too many “favorite” films. But I’m an unapologetic romantic when it comes to most of my faves: I like anything by David Lean, but I also never miss a chance to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life” … As for my favorite script, I’d have to say my favorite script-writer is Steven Zaillian.

Q: Favorite Author / book

Once again, too many to pick one. I did recently admire “Broken Music” by Sting. I was really taken by his writing. He’s as eloquent and lyrical and aware in his prose as he is with his music. And when I say “admire his writing” I really mean it makes me jealous. (Great writers will do that to you; you put them down wishing that you were that good : )

Q: Beer / Wine or other

I like brew pub blondes … But it’s a very cold martini that makes the voices in my head go away until the next writing session.

Q: What screenwriting software do you use – and why?

I’m a Final Draft guy. Why? Because it’s become like a pair of my favorite jeans – I’m comfortable with it.

Q; Favorite Food?

Pasta. Not the best choice for a guy who sits on his ass all day, but my wife makes it from scratch, so it’s hard to deny on Sunday.

Q: Any other interests or passions?

I’m a big sports fan – all types. Sports has become the other thing that helps me get the voices out of my head at night. I don’t sit there and analyze the seventh inning, the way I do when I’m watching a movie.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

I once had an agent tell me that any writer in Hollywood is just one script away from being a success. You are one script away.

About Interviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Interview with Breanne Mattson – Writer of Warning Shot! - posted by wonkavite

Back in December, STS announced that one amazing writer we know – Breanne Mattson – had received word that Bruce Dern was signed on for her upcoming feature, a captivating thriller called Warning Shot. Well, several more names have surfaced since then. Including David Spade, and Darth Vader himself – James Earl Jones! Terrific news, isn’t it?

Well, even more terrific is that STS’ Interviewer Extraordinaire, Anthony Cawood, had the opportunity to sit down and interview Breanne herself.

So, without further adieu, here’s what they discussed. Here’s a hint: read this one word for word. It’s fascinating – and informative too!

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?

The short answer is I love movies and I love to write, so it just makes sense. Elaborating, I’ve been writing in some form or another since I was a kid. I grew up in a rural area where I often had to get creative to occupy my time. I did have access to music, movies and television growing up. For me, they were inspirational. They sparked my imagination. So I developed a love of the performing arts alongside my love of writing.

As for how I got into screenwriting specifically, I was booking musical acts for local events when I was approached by an independent producer about putting him in contact with musicians. He was looking for music for a movie. I took one look at the script and fell in love. I wondered why I wasn’t already doing that. So I started my first screenplay.

Q: You’ve been writing scripts for years, why screenplays?

There’s just something about screenplays that suits my personality. I love everything about screenwriting. The character development, the plotting, the visual nature of it, everything. It’s almost like needlework for the mind. I can say things or suppose ideas through an exploration of the human condition. It allows me to express my own empathy while providing an illustration for others, or to vent frustration while providing a method of catharsis for others.

Q: You work in TV, what is it you do and has it helped any with screenwriting?

I work in video production, mostly doing graphics. When you see the score change after a touchdown or a wrestler’s name appear at the bottom of the screen as he enters the arena, that’s me. It actually does help with screenwriting in some ways because it enables me to interact with all sorts of interesting people. I see behind the scenes at a lot of events and meet all sorts of characters. It can also be a lot of fun. I got chased around the ring by a wrestler once, for example. I’ve done a lot of cool stuff.

Q: Your first credit, at least according to IMDB, is the short Cobra Blood Cocktail, how did that get made?

The director contacted me through Simply Scripts. It wasn’t the first time someone had asked to produce one of my shorts, but it was the first time someone actually did it. It boosted my faith in the process.

Q: You’ve taken the role of Writer/Director on one of your shorts, Selfless, was this to maintain artistic control, expand your experience, or something else?

To gain experience, yes, but it also allowed me to be proactive. In 2009 I had a feature optioned by F. Javier Gutierrez and his then manager Richard Schwartz. Javier was on Hollywood’s International Watch List at the time for the feature “Tres Días” (which was changed to “Before the Fall” for American release). I was very excited and everything looked great, then the script languished in development for a year and a half. It was a wake-up call for me.

Around that same time, I had contracted to write a script for a development boutique. It was also very exciting, yet disappointing.

By 2010 I was depressed by the lack of progress with my career, so I decided to shift my focus. Instead of focusing on Hollywood, I decided to pursue independent film opportunities and just leave the door open for Hollywood. So in a lot of ways “Selfless” was a strange mixture of creative experimentation, learning the filmmaking process, and combating depression by doing something constructive. I was just trying to learn the process and develop some useful skills for the future.

Q: What did you learn from that experience and your subsequent shorts?

Too many aspiring screenwriters don’t understand how movies are really made and it’s problematic. A better understanding will not only make you a better writer, it will better equip you for a career in this business. Until you’ve gone through the basic process, including planning shots, scouting locations, casting, figuring out what the cast and crew will eat, or where they’ll go to the bathroom, or how you’re going to pay for it all, you really just don’t know what you’re talking about. Understanding these things will make you a more collaborative and contributing member of your team. And it will make you a better screenwriter. To me, that alone was worth it.

Q: Your short script, A Day with Death, was filmed in Africa and shown at quite a few international festivals, how did that come about?

The director found it through Shootin’ the Shorts. It’s another project helped through Simply Scripts. I’m very proud of it because it really demonstrates how simply writing something that explores the human condition can cross cultural boundaries. A filmmaker halfway around the world produced it and it went on the win the Viewers’ Choice Award for Best Short Film or Online Video at the largest film and television awards ceremony in Africa.

Q: Any other shorts in pre-production we should be looking out for?

Some filmmakers in New Zealand were trying to put “The End in Sight” together. I’d love to see that happen. I was looking at directing another one, but put it aside when “Warning Shot” started moving forward.

Q: Would you advocate writing short films, why do you think they are useful?

It’s interesting to watch the changing landscape with regard to shorts. They haven’t traditionally been known to make money and new ways are being found to monetize them. I haven’t personally put much stock in them in terms of returns, but my attitude is changing as I’m seeing new opportunities. At this point, I still think they’re generally more useful as learning experiences. They’re great for learning the basic filmmaking process, but that’s only if a writer chooses to get involved.

As for their usefulness toward making a writer a better writer, I think it depends on how you approach them. I generally focus on the same things I do with a feature. I consider things like character development and story arcs. If a writer ignores those things, then they’re really just purging. That’s okay, but I’m not convinced it will really prepare you for writing a feature. And I don’t think shorts are going to supplant features anytime soon. I hear a lot of people talk about the short attention spans of the current generation, but they say that about every generation. The current generation is quite capable of immersing themselves in something for a couple of hours. Movies and video games prove it.

Q: Did you start with short scripts and then move to features?

I jumped right in and wrote a feature first. It was terrible. My second feature was a monumental improvement. It was like the difference between Metallica’s “Kill ‘Em All” and “Ride the Lightning,” if “Kill ‘Em All” had been awful instead of awesome. It was like they were written by two completely different people. I only write shorts if I can fully exploit the ideas of a story in a short span or if the idea of a feature feels anaemic.

Q: When it comes to feature scripts, how do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

I try and keep structure very basic. I’m of the mindset ‘simple story, complex characters.’ I believe in letting characters complicate a story. With plotting and structure I only need a basic framework for the characters to operate in. I generally use the three-act structure with the second act divided into two halves. I do like a midpoint, so in that regard I guess you could say I use a four-act structure. I use the same major plot points most writers are familiar with.

Good plotting will camouflage any structure in much the same way strong three-dimensional characters will camouflage any plotting. That’s why I focus so much on characters. I understand they’re the key to a successful story. Everything I write, no matter how much action may be in it, is ultimately character-driven.

Q: What was the first feature you wrote and how did you get it out there? Did you query Producers, enter competitions, use Inktip, etc?

I don’t recall the first feature I ever queried a producer about. It wasn’t the first one I ever wrote, but yes, I queried producers and managers. I also tried places like Inktip, yes. I didn’t find any of it to be all that effective. I didn’t really try a lot of competitions until later. I haven’t generally found them to be all that effective either. The most useful thing about competitions – particularly if you’re fortunate enough to place in a major one – is that it can give your script a little more credibility.

Now this is just my personal view – and I know it diverges from that of the average up and coming screenwriter – but I don’t really think about things like getting a manager or agent. If that happens, it will happen during the course of what I’m doing. I stay focused on getting movies made. I think shifting my focus to independent film was the best thing I ever did. It allowed me to stay busy and feel productive. I’ve interacted with producers, actors and and crew. It’s been very healthy for me as a writer. A lot of people fail to recognize or appreciate the resources they have available outside Hollywood. Even right there at the local level. It’s a lifeline, it really is.

Q: Your features have done really well in some of the most prestigious competitions (congrats!), did you receive interest from agents/producers afterwards?

Thanks! From producers and managers, yes. Not so much agents. Managers and producers seem to create a bit of a buffer between writers and agents. I had what they call a hip pocket deal with a manager for a time, but it’s hard to find someone who wants what you want.

It’s important to keep in mind that Hollywood is a place, not a person. I know for a fact there are people in Hollywood who want to make great movies. They care. They do. They just don’t always have the power to get things done the way they want. There’s this mindset among a lot of people in this business that everything has to go through this development process where it’s supposedly improved. Even if it’s not.

We always hear how ninety-nine percent of scripts are terrible, but what a lot of people don’t understand is that it’s not just a writer thing. Producers, managers, development people, executives and investors can all have terrible ideas. I’ve been involved with quite a few projects by this point that looked like they might go somewhere, only to watch them fizzle. It’s a heartbreaking business.

The trick is to find people whose philosophies align well with your own. I’ve found working with people who don’t get what you’re about to be futile. That’s why I like working with people like Dustin (Fairbanks) so much. He’s made sacrifices to maintain his integrity and I respect that about him. I believe in Dustin and have a fierce loyalty to him. It’s refreshing to find somebody like that in this business – and worth the long hard road to get there.

Tying this back to your question, I think it’s more important than anything (besides writing a great script) to get out there and work in the business in any way you can. Meeting people and networking will almost always prove more fruitful than competitions or queries. And you’ll feel better about yourself. I cannot stress this enough.

Q: People may have heard the term ‘hip pocket deal’, but what does it mean/involve?

Basically, it means a manager or agent is representing you or your work without a contract. They operate in the same capacity as your manager or agent though you’re not an official client. If your script sells, typically you would get signed. It also allows a manager to get to know a potential client better before signing them. That works out well for the client, too. You can make a clean break if a potential manager isn’t working out for you.

Q: What are your thoughts on screenwriting competitions in general?

I think they’re fine as long as you maintain perspective and don’t get carried away. They can be fun and eye-opening experiences, but there’s very little chance a competition is going to launch your career. I was sparing with them and stuck mostly to the top ones. I wouldn’t advise spending a lot of money on them. You’d be better served putting that money into a movie.

Q: Your feature script, Warning Shot, is currently shooting and I believe you’ve been on set too… how did it get picked up?

It was a Nicholl quarterfinalist in 2011. Managers and producers said it was great, but it seemed nobody wanted to do anything with it. Managers I spoke with wanted to use it as a sample to try and get assignment work. Most producers wanted me to write something based on someone else’s idea as well. They liked my character development and wanted me to help create characters for their own projects. I reread the script one day and felt it was being overlooked. So I put it back on the market. It received a positive review over at the Scriptshadow website. That’s how I met Dustin.

Dustin deserves a lot of the credit. He’s the one who went out there and made the connections who could get the script into the hands of known actors. Bruce Dern signing on was really a turning point. That’s when people started taking us more seriously. It’s a bit like that scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” where the villain Belloq is walking with the Nazi officer and talking about how he followed the directions on the amulet. He looks over and sees Indiana Jones and Sallah digging with a crew and realizes something is going on over there. People started noticing that this little low budget indie picture was attracting names.

Q: What can you tell us about the script?

It’s a hostage thriller. The main character is a single mother trying to take care of her daughter on a limited income. When they’re both taken hostage by a couple of men sent by her grandfather’s business rival, she’s placed into the most vulnerable position imaginable. She’s completely helpless and has to try and protect her daughter at the same time. One of their captors is extremely dangerous and unpredictable. He enjoys tormenting people, psychologically as well as physically. It utilizes a common theme in my work – the power of one. The nobody everyone thinks they can walk over who has to find it within themselves to stand up and fight back.

It’s very character driven. Instead of getting bigger, I went deeper. It’s a mistake to think a movie is less just because its budget is smaller. This script allowed me to say things I’ve wanted to say for a long time. I got to explore the human condition on a level that’s harder to delve into when the plot is thicker. I was forced to push my creativity. I think low budget storytelling is actually more challenging than big budget. It’s much more difficult to create a sense of progression when your options are so limited. The good news is that it really helps with creating a sense of genuineness when a character’s options are limited.

Q: It’s got an incredible cast, including Bruce Dern and James Earl Jones, how has it been working with such stars on your first US feature?

It’s been surreal. I was stunned when I heard the names of the actors who were reading my script. Stunned. They were huge. I’m at a loss trying to express the feeling of being told Bruce Dern or James Earl Jones or David Spade is reading your script. And then to have a producer call you and say they’re going to do it. It’s almost impossible to describe.

Bruce is incredible. He’s a living legend. You just aim a camera at him and he does his thing. That voice. That inflection. He’s like a hurricane. He tears it up. You just have to film it and figure out later how to minimize the loss of any of that gold. I don’t envy the editor trying to decide what material to cut in the wake of a Bruce Dern performance.

James Earl Jones is, of course, movie royalty. He’s such an amazing talent and an incredibly nice person. I was standing by the monitors with a headset on and watching him on set when he said, “Where’s the writer? Is the writer here?” Imagine that in James Earl Jones’s voice. I was awestruck.

David Spade is huge in the world of comedy. I really feel honored that he chose this project for a rare dramatic part. And he did a fantastic job. He really got the character. And he’s a really nice guy. And hilarious. Just listening to him between takes had me dying laughing. Bruce is also very funny. David and Bruce together were killing me.

The first time I heard Tammy Blanchard might take the lead, I pushed for it. I think she’s amazing. And she was every bit as awesome as I knew she would be. Her talent is a sight to behold, let me tell you.

Frank Whaley is also an amazing actor. Watching him work was just jaw-dropping for me. He’s such an artist. I believe he’s an acting genius.

Onata is one of the best child actors I’ve ever seen. I mean that. Child roles can be scary. You have to wonder about a child’s ability to capture a character in adult situations and you worry about the effect it might have on them. Onata killed it. And concerns about the effect were unfounded. She shrugged off the intensity better than a lot of the adults (laughs).

Then there’s Guillermo Díaz and Dwight Henry. They had a great chemistry together and played off each other so well. Guillermo is a really nice guy in real life, but he’s so creepy and scary on screen. There are a lot of nuances in his performance. People might miss a lot of them the first viewing. I love that kind of stuff.

Dwight is a terrific natural actor. He’s just got this special something. An x-factor. He’s super nice in real life, too. Always a smile and always so positive. He’s also a baker. He brought some of his buttermilk drops to set one day and went around handing them out to people. Such an amazing person.

The whole cast and crew were all just so wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for more. I’ve got lots of stories to tell. Too many to write up right now. Maybe I’ll do a Q&A or a sit-down interview someday and tell some of the stories.

Q: So how different is the shooting script for Warning Shot, compared to the Nicholl script?

Oddly, it’s still relatively close. There were a lot of changes, but the basic story itself held up.

Q: And are these changes driven by you, Dustin, cast… All of these?

They come from everywhere, starting with producers. It seems like everyone wants to make changes. I was fortunate to have a director who wanted to minimize unnecessary changes. Dustin still won’t tell me all the change requests because he says I’ll flip out (laughs).

Some changes are out of necessity. During casting, I sometimes changed things to court particular actors, then changed them back if the actor passed. One character was changed from male to female and back again. One character’s ethnicity changed. A couple of characters were expanded to give bigger actors more to work with. So casting drove a lot of changes while it was being packaged.

The script changed during production sometimes, too. Location constraints might require a rewrite to compensate. A small rewrite might be necessary to fix a continuity error. And, of course, there are the actors. Sometimes rehearsal reveals things that need to be addressed in the dialogue or action. Action can usually be addressed with blocking, but the dialogue sometimes needs to be trimmed or rewritten. I found out one evening around 6:30 I had to rewrite a scene that was going to be shot first thing the next day. I had to get it done before I went to bed because sides were going out the next morning. That’s the kind of situation writers can find themselves in on a movie set.

Q: Anything you’ve learned from the experience? And anything you’ll change in future scripts because of it?

Some things, yes. There’s a distinct point where you realize your script isn’t yours anymore. I remember looking around one day at all the cast and crew working so hard and realizing that all these people represent all that I’m unable to do on my own. It’s humbling. It takes so many people and they work so hard every day. And for such long hours. They give so much of themselves. It’s so much more than one person could ever do. I thought to myself what foolishness and arrogance it is to perceive a script as purely your own.

More practically, I see things I can do to make people’s jobs easier. In the future I’ll look more at the timing in scenes and the relationship between the dialogue and the action. I’ll also be more mindful of some technical things like abbreviated scene headings to ensure they’re unique enough that they can’t get confused with other locations when the script is broken down.

Q: What’s the release plans/schedule for Warning Shot?

We’re shooting for festivals next year. We’ll have to see what kind of distribution deal we can get. It’s a little too early to set a specific date.

Q: There are a ton of people out there who offer coverage services, position themselves as gurus etc, what’s your view on such services?

I generally think if a script consultant can be an expert on screenwriting, why the hell can’t a screenwriter? Why can’t I be the expert? I don’t buy the logic that a writer is “too close” to their work to see its flaws. That excuse works early on, as you’re learning the craft, but it’s entirely possible for a writer to develop the ability to objectively scrutinize their own work. I don’t get writers who think they will forever need someone else to tell them whether or not their story works.

Writers have to be able to know what works and what doesn’t work in a story. That’s the real talent. If a screenwriter doesn’t have that ability, I don’t see much of a future for them. If a script consultant does have that ability, I don’t see what’s stopping them from being the writer instead of the consultant.

I do think there’s a place for script coverage when it comes to readers helping producers find projects. If a reader is levelheaded and acting in the best interest of the producer, they can really help a project get off the ground. If it’s a jealous writer who really has no motive to see another writer succeed, then they can kill a project. I think too many producers put too much stock in the opinions of consultants, but it’s because I’ve seen the damage they can do. I’ve had producers think a script was wonderful, only to see their confidence wane when a consultant was negative. I don’t understand how a producer can be so excited about a script and then have so little faith in the writer. It seems strange to me that someone would value a consultant’s opinion over that of the writer who wrote the script they love.

I realize you’re talking about services and not the consultants hired by producers, but my opinion of consultants who sell their services directly to writers is essentially the same. If the consultant knows what they’re talking about and has the writer’s best interest at heart, then they can help a writer improve. If not, they’re really just taking your money. At some point, however, writers need to reach a level of competence where they don’t need that anymore. They should know when a story works. They shouldn’t need anyone else to tell them.

This gets back to working with the right people. I care more about what Dustin or the actors think than any consultant. We’re the ones making a movie together.

Q: What are your thoughts on the business side of screenwriting, getting your scripts ‘out there’ and networking to make connections?

I think it’s crucial. It’s important that the writer does that or has someone advocating for them who can do it more effectively. I don’t think a lot of aspiring writers realize how many people a script is going to have to excite in order to get a project off the ground. Your script is going to have to inspire a lot of people for a long time. There are so many points where everything could just fizzle.

This is why it’s so important that writers have something to say. People latch on to things that mean something to them. One of the first things Bruce Dern said to me was about how his character resonated with him. Producers, actors, investors, all these people have to see something in your script that moves them to want to see it through.

Q: If you’ve used services/sites like Inktip, SimplyScripts, The Blacklist, what’s your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?

I’ve said this before, but I really think Simply Scripts is the best stomping ground on the internet for up and coming screenwriters. It’s a trial by fire and it’s free. Only at SS can any writer, regardless of their background or how much money they have, put their work out there to sink or swim on its own merits. There are other great sites for screenwriters, but a lot of them insulate new screenwriters from direct unfiltered criticism.

Other sites only allow a few pages or have some sort of selection process. Or charge. At SS you can post entire screenplays for public consumption for free. If you choose to participate, people will notice and you will get read. And you will get skewered. And you will become a better screenwriter. You will work to succeed or you will fall by the wayside. The way it should be.

I’m speaking about becoming good at it. As far as getting picked up, that’s a different thing, That’s business. There are success stories, but we don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. We don’t know how much any particular site had to do with any script’s success. From a creative standpoint, I think SS had a lot to do with my development. From a business standpoint, I definitely think it has a lot more to do with just not giving up. I just kept pushing until I connected with the right people.

Q: What screenwriting projects are you working on now and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits (other than Warning Shot)?

Right now I’m planning to work with Dustin again on another project. We work well together. I’ve got several projects I hope to get off the ground in the future. We’re both always looking at what we can get done.

I also field writing assignments, but I only accept ones that really excite me. I’m not interested in anything that doesn’t allow me the opportunity to write something amazing. I’m also not interested in convoluted development processes that impede my own natural writing process. I want to feel good about what I write.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?

The best advice is to write. You have to do the thing you hope to become good at. There are no shortcuts. Until you’re good at it, you don’t have much of a chance. If you’re good at it, you have a chance (assuming you’re willing to work hard and put yourself out there). That’s about as simple as it gets. Other good pieces of advice are to have your own voice, focus on a great story, or read other scripts, but I think to just write is the best.

The worst? Hmm. This might be controversial, but I think the pursuit of perfection is stupid. Yes, I just said that. Perfection is a stupid goal. It’s vague undefined bullshit that has no real meaning in the real world. Storytelling is like a ramp. There’s a pinnacle. It’s not perfection, but it’s as good as it can get. The only options left are to go backward or over the edge. Any changes from that point on are either inconsequential or they screw up the script in some other area. I mean, you can stabilize a bicycle wheel with a second axle but now the damned wheel won’t turn.

It’s a bit like, “Write because you love it.” What vague and useless advice. Of course I love it. Only an idiot would write if they didn’t love it. I write because I want to make movies. It’s implied that I love it. Screenplays are meant to be produced. I want to reach out to people. To hold a mirror up to the world. Making an impact is what I love.

Another shitty piece of advice that I hate is, “Writing is rewriting.” If that’s really how you feel, then I think you should quit. A lot of people in this business want to reduce the writer to the dull tedium of the craft. I say to hell with that. Rewriting is writing. It’s all writing. Love it all. That’s not intended to be a jab at Hemingway – who was a much better writer than I’ll ever be. I just think that once a writer accepts rewriting as a part of the total process, they’ll be a lot happier. It’s possible Hemingway meant essentially what I’m saying and the adage has morphed into something he didn’t intend. Regardless, I think the suggestion that writing should be tedious is bad advice.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Breanne’ questions

Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite script, if they’re different.

I don’t really have a favorite. I love so many movies, from every genre, throughout the whole of movie history. I’m still going through the classics. I just saw “The Maltese Falcon” for the first time within the last year. If I had to pick one, it would probably be something like “Fargo.”

It’s the same with screenplays. I’ve read so many. “Spotlight” is the last one that stuck with me.

Q: Favourite author and book?

I’m a huge fan of murder mysteries. I can’t get enough of them. I love Agatha Christie. “And Then There Were None” is one of my favorite stories ever.

Q: Beer or Wine (or something else)? And which variety?

Wine. Red. Pinot noir is my favorite. Not much into beer, though I’ve been known to have one on occasion.

Q: Favourite food?

Hmm. I guess spaghetti or lasagna or something. I’m a picky eater. I generally like things plain and I’m one of those people who doesn’t like my food touching. And I hate when people try to get me to eat something I don’t want. People use sight and smell to choose food too, you know.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

I play the guitar. I’m not great at it, just okay, but I find it meditative. I’m also a black belt in Karate. That’s really useful for fight scenes. I also dabble in magic and illusion. I stink at it, but I often find the con artistry techniques useful for making a character appear clever. My husband and I like to take road trips. I find traveling inspirational. I just walk into an interesting location and start imagining all the exciting scenes that could happen there.

Q: You live in Salem, BUT not that one… do you ever get confused tourists?

Not that I’m aware of. We’re on opposite ends of the country from that other Salem. Maybe that helps people separate them.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

I don’t think a lot of aspiring writers understand how much they’ll have to write in order to have a career as a screenwriter. It’s a lot. I meet so many aspiring writers who are having trouble with that first script. I tell them to just do it. Just write it. Write the best script you can and let your work speak for itself.

I also think too many writers try and imitate what’s currently hot or trendy. It’s true you can never be completely original. You’ll always be a product of your influences. But all you have to separate yourself from that vast sea of writers out there is your voice. Never sacrifice the thing that makes you unique. Never let anyone get you to give up your voice. Originality is almost impossible, no matter how hard you try. Uniqueness is almost certain, unless you avoid it.

About reviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

About the writer: Breanne Mattson is no stranger to accolades.  Her feature lengths have made Nicholl Quarterfinalist three times (yeah, that’s three times, beeyotch!) She’s also made semi-finalist in BluecatFinal Draft and honorable mention in TrackingB.  She’s also received a “worth the read” from Scriptshadow.  Her website can be viewed at www.breannemattson.com (IMDB credits here.)

Thursday, June 9, 2016

STS Interviews – A Fireside Chat with Ben Watts, Nashville Film Festival Grand Prize Winner 2016 - posted by wonkavite

There are lots of things in this world to be grateful for as writers: the ever-growing opportunities afforded to us by contests, networking possibilities ala the internet (they didn’t have email back in the seventies, ya know!). And even better  – the mutual support that us literary/screenwriting types often give each other: learning what works, what doesn’t, and talking one-to-one with those that score big in a script competition.

And that’s why STS (and the terrific Anthony Cawood) often feature writer interviews. Today, we’re thrilled to bring you a convo with writer Ben Watts, winner of the 2016 Nashville Film Festival. So pour some coffee, sit back and read. In this trade, it always pays to meet new people, listen… and – of course – learn!

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?

One of the earliest memories I can recall is riding home on the bus from school — I must have been in 1st grade — and writing a single-page script entitled “Sord Ninjas” (intentionally misspelled here for authenticity’s sake). Don’t ask me how I knew the format, but I wrote a paragraph of description for the scene, then character names and their subsequent dialogue; I was always reading as a kid, and I’m sure that at some point, early on, I read a stage play and the basic formatting stuck with me. I wrote short stories and poems as a teenager, but it wasn’t until college that I started thinking seriously about the “screenplay” as a format. Our library had a “free printing” policy (up to 1000 pages, I think), so I printed out a few scripts that I found online, put them in a binder, and I’d secretly study them during classes.

Q: Your first credit, at least according to IMDB, is the 2008 short, Punch Drunk that you wrote and directed from a Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club!) short story. How did you get hold of that and how did you fund it?

My university was holding a short film festival, and I wanted to make something, so on a whim, I emailed Palahniuk’s agent, explaining how I was a college student and I didn’t have any money, but I wanted to adapt his short story (which comes from “Haunted) into a short film. I was a huge fan, and I’m sure I put that in my initial email. His agent was incredibly gracious and granted me “permission” to adapt the story, so long as I understood that all of the underlying rights remained with Palahniuk. I borrowed equipment from the Film department to make it, probably only spending $100 out of pocket.

Q: Did Chuck Palahniuk or his agent see the film? What did they think of it? (if they didn’t see it I wont include this one)

Ha! No, they did not. It’s objectively terrible, so I glad he hasn’t seen it, but it was a great learning experience.

Q: What did your University friends think of Punch Drunk?

I wish I could remember. It had to have been a good enough response that made me continue to pursue making other films.

Q: What did you learn from that experience and your subsequent shorts?

Everything! Those shorts were essentially my film school. I was taking classes on film theory and creative writing, but they didn’t focus on filmmaking itself: storyboarding, creating a shot list, directing actors, etc. For “Punch Drunk” and “Nickel Slick”, I was biting off more than I could chew, and that was a hard lesson to learn. I was running on the “Rebel Without A Crew”-mentality (from Robert Rodriguez, who famously made his first feature for $7K), thinking that I could go out and do everything myself — and do it well — but I was sorely mistaken. It takes a special kind of person who can direct, produce, gaff, camera operate, and boom op, and I’m not that person. So after those two shorts, I convinced myself to focus on directing and hire talented people to take on the other roles.

Q: Of the filmed shorts which is your favorite and why?

I think of them like (most) parents think of their children: it’s hard to pick a favorite. You’re proud of each one for different reasons, and as time goes on, you look back and wonder what you could have done differently.

Q: And of those not filmed (so far), which is your favorite?

I’ve got a few short ideas kicking around, but I’m trying to focus more on feature-writing for the time-being.

Q: You’ve taken the role of Writer/Director on your shorts, is this to maintain artistic control, or something else?

I’m not terribly prolific when it comes to writing shorts; I write things I want to direct and try to go make them. If someone wanted to direct a short I wrote and I didn’t have the means to go and make it myself, I’m sure I would hand it off, but no one’s asked me to do that yet!

Q: Any other shorts in pre-production we should be looking out for?

I’ve got a contained, character-based short drama called “Holy Water” that will (hopefully) be shot as soon as I find funding.

Q: Would you advocate writing short films, why do you think they are useful?

Absolutely. Write anything that you can get produced, because that’s the only way to truly learn how the process works. For most writers, that’s going to be short films, and the great thing about shorts is that there are no rules; it’s an open playground. You can write a short that takes place in real time in a single location, or you can write a short that spans decades. It’s a great format to figure out your “voice”.

Q: You work a lot on the Editing side of film, does this help with your writing?

Aside from just “writing more”, editing is the thing that has improved my story-telling more than anything else. It’s the final part of the process — the film’s been written and shot, and now you’re tasked with putting all the pieces together. You learn really quick how pacing and rhythm work in context to the larger piece, how little dialogue you actually need, what scenes you could potentially do without. Having that background in editing really helps when I start outlining a script; it helps to see the “movie” instead of just the words on the page — I’m more conscious of transitional scenes, how sequences will fit together, and the power that a single cut can make.

Q: You’ve edited a ton of short films, do you consider yourself inside the industry?

As my day job, I’m an editor (and occasional copywriter) for a commercial production company. It feels really removed from filmmaking and the “industry”, but the process is the same — just on a smaller and shorter scale.

Q: Did you start with short scripts and then move to Features?

I did, in part because I had no idea how to write a feature at the time. I think you’ve got to learn how to float before you can learn how to swim, and that’s what shorts were for me.

Q: When it comes to Feature scripts, how do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

Generally, I’m thinking about the three-act structure, but only in terms of beginning, middle, and end. Some people want to break that down into five acts, some want to break it into eight sequences, some want to break it out into beat sheets based on page numbers. I’m not strict about any of that, and that probably stems from me not having read any “traditional” screenwriting books that encouraged me to think that way. I believe that, inherently, we as human beings understand story structure. From the time that we’re born, we consume thousands of hours of narrative content. The notion of how narrative functions is ingrained in us — we just have to get out of the way sometimes and stop over thinking it.

In terms of my process, I normally start with a small idea — an image or a character trait or a line of dialogue. That small idea triggers the ending pretty early on. Once I know how to start and where I’m want to end up, I start trying to connect the dots. Sometimes that’s in a notebook, sometimes it’s in a free flowing document on my computer (if I had the space on my wall, I’d probably do note cards). Those free-flowing ideas turn into an outline. Once I think I know the story well enough, I’ll open a new document and rewrite the outline from memory, and I’ll do that again and again until I really know what I’ve got, story-wise. From there, I take my outline and drop it into Final Draft, making a new scene heading and simple description for each scene I’m imagining — a very basic Cameron-style “scriptment” — and start building the scenes out from there.

Q: What was the first feature you wrote and how did you get it out there? Did you query Producers, enter competitions, use Inktip, etc?

My first feature (“In Case of Rapture”) started out as a short (that I never made). After writing twenty pages or so, a friend convinced me to keep going, to expand it, which is what I did, keeping those initial twenty pages as the first act. I call it a “high-concept character study”, and I wrote it with production in mind — keeping the characters, locations, and VFX to a minimum — thinking it would be a great first feature for me as a director. I got some good coverage from the Blacklist, and I queried several managers/producers with that coverage, which led to a few reads, but nothing much more than that. It’s decidedly an “independent” film — with a significant lack of explosions — so it’ll take a producer with a certain sensibility to help it get made.

Q: Your Feature, *When The Devil’s Loose, *recently won the grand prize (congrats!) at the Nashville Film Festival and has done well in other comps, what’s it about?

In the summer of 1988, four young friends set out to discover the truth behind mysterious break-ins as an ever-spreading wildfire threatens to wipe out their small suburban community. It’s “Stand by Me” meets “Kings of Summer”.

The whole idea stemmed from a single line of dialogue. At the time, I had seen several movies where characters were reflecting on the “best summer of their life/lives”, and everything was painted with rose-colored glasses, as if nostalgia was the be-all-end-all, realism be damned. So in an attempt to flip that notion on its head I wrote on a piece of paper one of the first lines of VO in the script: “That was the worst summer of my life.” I didn’t know where it was going to go or what the story was, but I wrote it down and left it on my desk. A few days later, I was standing in my front yard, and a plane flew overhead (I live in a direct flight path, so this is a normal occurrence). As I was craning my neck, I started to wonder where this plane came from and where it was going. And that was the genesis of “When The Devil’s Loose”.

Q: What are your thoughts on screenwriting competitions, obviously you’ve had a massive win with Nashville (and Atlanta and Shore scripts) but thoughts in general?

I think there are a handful of contests that are great, especially for writers who live outside of LA or don’t have an “industry” job, but you have to go in understanding that they’re not going to be your golden ticket — unless you win the Nicholl. Winning (or placing highly) gives you some validation, but it also grants you something to put in a query letter.

I think there are a ton of contests out there who promise “results” or “connections”, but from what I’ve experienced, they’re almost always blowing smoke.

Q: Aside from the monetary prize from the comps, what else has happened since?

I got a manager after WTDL placed in the Tracking Board Launch pad competition. He’s shopping it around now.

Q: There are a ton of people out there who offer coverage services, position themselves as guru’s etc, what your view on such services?

I think almost all of them are bogus. There are so many great free resources online that can be exhausted instead of paying a “story coach”. If you’re not already, start listening to podcasts with other writers, people who are actually doing the job that you want to have — Scriptnotes, The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith, Nerdist Writers Panel, The Moment with Brian Koppelman, just to name a few.

If you’re looking for coverage or someone to give you notes, find fellow writers who will give you honest, unfiltered opinions. If you can’t find those, or if you’ve used up all your “reads” from your friends and family members and you’re wanting to know where you stand, then pay for a single round of coverage from the Blacklist or similar reputable place. But even then, if you’re just looking for someone else to read your work and tell you if you’re any good or not, there are free online solutions for that as well — like Reddit or SimplyScripts.

Q: If you’ve used services/sites like Inktip, SimplyScripts, The Blacklist, what’s your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?

I haven’t used Inktip or SimplyScripts, so I can’t speak to those. In regards to the Blacklist, I think it’s well-intentioned, but it’s over-saturated now. There are success stories (and I personally know of two writers who got in when the site was brand new and got representation that way), but with the amount of scripts that are listed there now, it seems nearly impossible to stand out. Just like contests, I think you have to go into these sites with the understanding that it’s not going to be your “golden ticket”.

Q: What projects are you working on now and when can next expect to see your name on the credits?

I just finished an action/thriller spec with a writing partner entitled “The Losing Kind”, and I’m almost done with a first draft of my next solo spec, “The Crush of the Deep”.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?

“Write what you know”. That’s both the best and worst advice I’ve ever heard.

On one hand, it’s an incredibly limiting and navel-gazing sentiment; most writers don’t live fascinating lives — and I’m including myself in that group. We don’t spend our days solving murder mysteries or trying to stop alien invasions; we spend copious hours staring at screens or notepads. So trying to restrain your creativity to only what you know is a surefire way to boredom (unless you’re Charlie Kaufman and you’ve written “Adaptation”).

On the other hand, “write what you know” works when you think about it on a human level. No matter how high your concept is, or how big your set pieces get, it should always come back to character — what’s the emotion behind the action. As human beings, we should understand empathy, jealousy, anger, frustration, happiness, melancholy, whatever. Take those emotions you know and understand from being a human being and put them to work for your characters. Be real and true and honest. Your characters (and readers) will thank you for it.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Ben’ questions

Q: What’s your favorite film? And favorite script, if they’re different.

Because there are simply too many to name, I’ll just list my favorite that I’ve seen recently: “Green Room” by Jeremy Saulnier.

Q: Favorite author and book?

This is a toughie, too. I’m partial to Flannery O’Connor’s hypnotic mix of religion and violence.

Q: Beer or Wine (or something else)? And which variety?

Both. And I’ll take them as dark as I can get them: for beer, it’s Old Rasputin, and when I drink wine, I like Petit Syrah. Most of the time, though, I stick to the good ole’ classic Tom Collins.

Q: Favorite food?

The opposite of highbrow: peanut butter.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

I love to bake (and marathon viewings of “The Great British Bake-Off” certainly don’t help). Because I spend so much of my day sitting (writing/editing/coloring), I tend to want to stand up when I get home, so most nights you can find me in the kitchen experimenting on some kind of dessert for my wife and/or coworkers.

Q: Baking? So favourite thing to bake?

Anything chocolate & peanut butter, but because it’s summer, I’ve been baking a lot of pies lately; I make a key lime pie that’s always a huge hit.

Q: Do you live in LA, thoughts about moving there for a screenwriting career?

I’m currently in the Bay Area, and for where I am career-wise, I think it works for the time being. I’ve just recently gotten a manager, and I’m trying to crank out more material while he’s shopping around “When the Devil’s Loose”. I’m sure when/if the time is right, I’ll make a move.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

Get outside and live. Give yourself permission to daydream. I think we as writers get consumed by “putting in the time” in front of a computer screen — and don’t get me wrong, that’s important, too. But, at least for me, I get inspired by meeting new people and visiting new places. I think one of the greatest things you can do as a writer is to walk around and simply ask yourself, “What if?”

About reviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Friday, May 6, 2016

An Interview with NYC Film Veteran (DP and Writer) Shawn Schaffer! - posted by wonkavite

In between digging for wonderful shorts and features to produce, STS does travel to distant lands, meet interesting people, and engage them in conversation to learn what truly makes them tick.

Today, we’re thrilled to feature yet another great interview by Anthony Cawood, this one with Shawn Schaffer: a very nice guy in general, not to mention a talented NYC Director of Photography – blessed by a list of credits that would make anyone involved in film drool…

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into film making?
A: I usually tell people I started as an actor, but in reality, before that I was just a friend driving their actress friend to auditions. I remember the exact date. May 16, 2002. Opening day of Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones. My friend asked me to bring her to an audition before my showtime, so I obliged. It was hot as hell that day, so sitting in the car was not an option. I went inside to the stage theatre production had rented for auditions, it was only me, my actress friend, my girlfriend at the time and her friend, the director, and the producer in the whole place. She auditioned, we were about to leave when the director asked me and my friends to audition. I reluctantly got up on stage and auditioned. I got the part. I still have the audition tape somewhere in my office I think. From there, I was an “actor”, but being an actor on a no budget short just means you wore one more hat than everyone else. I helped with lighting, set design, sound, even camera, among everything else. Shortly into my acting “career”, I realized I had more interest (and talent) behind the camera than in front of it. So I started writing, making my own terrible no budget shorts, and getting on every set I could as a Production Assistant working for a cold slice of pizza to learn and shadow other crew members.

Q: What was your first film making experience?
A: I made my first film, “Fragments“, in the fall of 2003. It was a personal story to me about a young woman contemplating suicide. At her breaking point, a conversation among fragmented parts of her personality begins. Her Hope, her Despair, and her Anger give her all the reasons she should or shouldn’t end her life in a debate like fashion. We shot it in one day, in my father’s spare bedroom, lit with one Home Depot work light, shot on a Canon XL1s on tape. We shot the actress playing each part individually and used the magic of editing to make a round table discussion of it. The source material was a journal entry from when I was about 16 years old.

Q: You work primarily as Cinematographer/DOP but you’ve worked as an Editor, Director, Actor etc, which is your favourite?
A: They all have aspects I enjoy, but I love cinematography. I love being a Director of Photography. Being able to visually tell a story gives me great satisfaction. I strive to make art at 24 frames per second, meaning I aim to make imagery that you could take any single frame of it and hang it on a wall. A beautifully composed and lit shot that has my fingerprint on it gives me chills every time, even after 14 years.

Q: You’ve also written a few scripts, do you like the writing process?
A: I enjoy the writing process a great deal. For me it’s a creative outlet for when I’m not shooting. When I read a script, I am playing the movie in my head, so writing for me is that process reverse engineered. I see the movie I want to make and find the way to put the imagery to words as opposed to the other way around that I’m used to. Dialogue for me is always my favorite part, however, because I aim to give every character a unique voice and then through a stream of consciousness let the dialogue among the characters happen. If you didn’t know me, you’d think at this point in reading the interview, I might be schizophrenic between my description of my first film and my writing process, but I make my internal dialogue external quite a bit in all aspects of my life, I use it as a method of problem solving.

Q: Do you want to direct your own scripts or are you looking to option them to other film makers?
A: I have directed my own scripts in the past, but I really want to focus on the visuals once I’m on set. I’ve already written the words, I’ve played the movie in my head, I’m re-creating it from my mental blueprint in real life on set, and I trust the director will bring the best out of the actors and give it his own spin and unique flavor to the production. I’m not a stickler for my words once on set, there’s more than one way to skin a cat as they say, likewise, there’s more than one way to breathe life into the words on a page.

Q: How was the experience of directing your own material for the feature version of ‘Pawn’?
A: That was an experience to say the least. It was 2004, I was contemplating going to film school because I felt it was what I “had” to do to continue in the film industry. I spoke with some colleagues about it and the consensus was that I could spend what a year of film school would cost and just make a film. At the end of it, it would have cost me the same, I would have gotten the practical, on set education, and I’d have a product to show for it. Like a lot of stories, it seemed like a good plan at the time.

Q: How did you fund ‘Pawn’?
A: This is the “at the time” part of it seemed like a good plan at the time. I funded “Pawn” via credit card. Being 22 years old, I had virgin credit that every credit company would love to violate, and they did. I kept accepting cards, they kept sending them, and I kept spending it. I spent $25,000 in credit to fund “Pawn” which, given interest rates, late fees, etc, if I had to guess, probably ballooned that to $60,000 when all was said and done and destroyed my credit for a lengthy period of time. Only to be rebuilt and destroyed again by identity theft in 2008. So I went from the cost of one year of film school to two or more by the time all was said and done. Here’s the kicker, “Pawn” never got finished.

Q: I believe ‘Pawn’ wasn’t finished/released, what happened and what did you learn from this?
A: Enough was enough. I couldn’t spend any more and the credit offers stopped coming. Now I was working to pay interest only payments to the credit companies. It’s 95% there, but by the time I righted the ship from colliding with two icebergs, the initial debt and then identity theft, “Pawn” wasn’t a viable product anymore. It was dated, shot in Standard Definition, and one of my lead actors, Michael J. Cannon, who portrayed Benjamin Harris, passed away. I learned a lot of things from all of it. Most importantly, and this is something I try to express to every filmmaker that approaches me with a project in a similar situation, if you can’t pay for it, don’t do it. Or at least don’t produce beyond your means. It’s okay to make low to no budget films, it really is. Everyone has to get their feet wet and make a few terrible, unwatchable films before they can evolve as filmmakers. Your first film is not going to be your great opus. Neither will your second, maybe not even your third. Even after 14 years, I’m improving, learning, and growing every time I’m on set. When you get to the point where people want to give you money to make your film, whether by asking for it like with crowdfunding or they’re offering it, is the point where you can compose your opus. What I wouldn’t give to have had crowdfunding in 2004/2005…

Q: ‘Pawn’ features a great character in Benjamin, the chess player, was he the hook for the story and you built it round him?
A: Benjamin is the embodiment of the mentor I wish I had. Devin in the film is me at the time, through and through. Visiting the undiagnosed schizophrenia again, Benjamin was the voice that told me the rational and logical things I needed to hear. The subconscious speaking it’s mind to tell me what I needed to hear, whether I wanted to hear it or not. Never saying I told you so, but approaching things from a very Socratic method as asking questions, giving examples, and leading you to the correct response. Benjamin is also largely influenced by my grandfather, Carmine DeStefano, who passed in 2013. My grandfather was to me what Benjamin was to Devin. He never pried or inserted himself into what was going on with me in my life, he just patiently waited for me to seek his advice. He was my rock, my lighthouse as I traversed the foggy seas in my life. Even know after he’s passed, I can still hear him when I’m unsure in life, and I always will.

Q: How do you get your scripts ‘out there’? And do you think it’s any easier for you given you are working in the industry?
A: My scripts tend to stay close. I have a completed feature screenplay, another feature screenplay that I’ve finished a draft of, another feature screenplay I’m currently writing, and I’ve toyed with brushing off “Pawn” and modernizing it. I hear reboots are all the rage. The completed screenplay I’m on the fence as to what to do with it. I know some people I could send it to, but I also know I’d love to shoot it, and depending on the potential buyer and their production, those two things may not be able to both happen. I think the only aspect that’s easier for me is there are more eyes willing to look at it, but it doesn’t making it any easier to sell or produce. It’s a friends industry, so you still need to know somebody and while I know a lot more people now than years ago, I don’t know “somebody” that can snap their fingers and make it happen. So the short answer, no it’s not any easier.

Q: Any particular method/structure you use when writing scripts?
A: Stream of consciousness. Nearly every first draft has been insanely long. I write out EVERYTHING. It’s typically a winding road that forks to many places. I know the characters, the beginning, the conflict, and the resolution when I sit down. Everything else just happens. Then I revisit and start hacking away at the overgrowth of vines until I have a clear and straight path.

Q: I believe you swerved film school and formal training, how did you go about building your rep?
A: This is a friends industry as I mentioned. So, I made friends. There’s still a small handful of people who were there in the very beginning that I still work with today. I started with that small group, working on each others projects, no budget, but big dreams. We kept putting our work out there until people took notice, then they started calling and became my new friends. This industry is really about the person, not always the talent. I’ve known plenty of directors who have cast their second choice for a role because they were much easier to deal with and direct. Same goes for crew, I’ve been told to my face I wasn’t someone’s first choice, but I’m friendly, good to work with, level-headed, a problem solver, AND have a level of talent at what I do. There are a lot of brilliant people I have worked with, far superior to me, that I never see on set anymore, because some of them behaved like entitled, insolent children and you can’t have that. From top to bottom, you need good people first, then people who are good. It’s true that one bad apple spoils the bunch. There’s nothing worse than a sour member of the team that causes a pandemic like level of misery on set of what would otherwise be a great project. It’s different if that team member had been legitimately wronged, whether by production or something else, then it becomes a rallying point to circle the wagons around that team member, because that’s just it, we are a team on set, we are the closest thing to family without being related.

Q: I noticed on your IMDB that you were a grip on Bridge of Spies, what was that experience like?
A: I wasn’t a core team member of the grip and electric team, as it was a Local 52 show. I was a “permitted” which means a non-union guy who knows enough to not kill someone or endanger the set, but who knows enough to do good work, they just don’t happen to be a member or a current applicant. Having said that, I day played, I wasn’t on for the whole production. I just wanted to make that clear as I know a lot of great guys who were on for the whole production and did way more than me. The experience was tremendous though, seeing the army it takes to make a movie like Bridge of Spies. We took over a four block radius in Brooklyn for a couple days and changed everything; store fronts, signage, cars, etc all to be period appropriate and to turn it into Washington DC. I was fortunate to meet Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in person and shake hands with them both the first day I was on, they both really enjoyed my shirt, which had the hand drawn original Star Wars poster on it. Mr. Spielberg joked “Hey, I know that movie” and Mr. Hanks simply stated “Great shirt, where can I get one?” So I gave the web site info to his assistant who was helping him get out of wardrobe since we had just wrapped. Most awe-inspiring to me though was being able to watch Janusz Kaminski work on set. He’s such an amazing Cinematographer and to see him command an image, a set, and lighting the way he does was incredible.

Q: I believe you work in NY, how is the film community and opportunities on the East Coast?
A: There is always an abundance of production in New York. I think I read it’s actually at it’s highest point in history in terms of man hours and productions happening concurrently of one another. The city is teeming with artists and with creativity. It’s everywhere, quite literally. Walk through Brooklyn and you’ll see beautiful pieces of graffiti art everywhere, cafes with poetry, performance pieces, and more and of course a multitude of film productions happening everywhere. There really are only two hubs in the country to experience the film industry in a way unlike any other, NY and LA.

Q: Have you worked in LA and/or thought of moving out there?
A: I have worked in LA a handful of times. Traditionally it’s a tough sell as a Director of Photography to fly you out and put you up for a production when they have their own myriad of talented DPs out on the West Coast. Perhaps as an actor it’s more common to consistently work bi-coastal because if you have a “look” that is a great selling point. I’ve considering relocating, mainly because after 33 years living in New York, I’m growing weary of snow and freezing temperatures, but my daughter loves snow and what’s left of my family is here, so I stick it out and just make myself available to be anywhere in the world for work.

Q: Clearly visuals are very important to you, how much comes from the script and how much do you get to influence things, say in something like The Perfect Color? (which I loved!)
A: A lot of my visuals are inspired by the script since I play the movie in my head when I read a script. I have a great influence on a lot of things visually on set, but always in collaboration with the Director. Ultimately, it’s their show, so if they say no go after you’ve made your case, then it’s no go, but I find typically that myself and nearly every director I’ve worked with can get on the same wavelength rather quickly. Then it becomes one feeding off the other creatively. With The Perfect Color, that was the case. Justin and I clicked right away and made it almost a game of one-upsmanship to create the best visuals we could. Perfect Color link – https://vimeo.com/128883117

Q: What’s the best experience you’ve had making a film and why?
A: I would have to say making Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor was my best experience making a film. I knew every day we went to work we were going to laugh and have a good time. We had become good friends with the five tremendous members of our Armed Forces that were our subjects of the documentary. Having spent over a year on the project filming, we got to see some positive and great changes in them. When we first started, Rob Jones was very quiet and we couldn’t quite get him to come out of his shell during the intake interviews, but by the end, he was transformed into a thrill-seeking, risk-taking, adventurer who just kicked ass and took names. He was a bronze medalist in the 2012 Paralympics in London in two-man adaptive rowing, he rode an adaptive bicycle over 4500 miles from Maine to San Diego in the name of charity, I recently read he’s going to the Freedom Tower climb up the 100+ flights from the ground to the crown. Bobby Henline has become a tremendous motivational speaker, he’s in the process of raising funds through his Sunrise Warriors to pay it forward to other veterans by establishing a quick service restaurant to hire veterans and provide a steady income. He’s been such a force in helping promote an improvement in the quality of life of veterans. So in making Comedy Warriors, it wasn’t just a documentary film that we did, it got released, people watched, and hopefully enjoyed, it was a catalyst for our stars and the fruits of the films labors and the labors of the veterans involved are still showing today, years later. It’s one of my proudest ongoing moments in this industry.
Comedy Warriors trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqbX0DB4m1w

Q: Did you learn anything from that experience and subsequent work?
A: I learned that I want to replicate that feeling every time, every project. I want to have a feeling of immense pride with everything I do, both in the visuals and in the project. While I do this for a living and make an income from it, it’s true there are some things money can’t buy. I understand that I won’t be able to do replicate it every time, but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to.

Q: Of the films you’ve worked on which is your favourite and why?
A: That’s like picking your favorite child. I only have one child so in real life that’s easy, but in my professional life, that’s hard. I like all of my films for different reasons. Whether it was the people involved, the fun times and stories I could tell from set, the sheer entertainment I got from watching the finished product, the pride I felt in seeing go out into the world on big screens or small screens alike, or the one I felt I shot best, they all have aspects that make them my favorite.

Q: Any other shorts/features you’ve worked on in pre-production we should be looking out for?
A: I’m currently in pre-production on a few shorts. “Cornbread & Feta: Growing Up Fat & Albanian” goes into production the end of April. That should be fun, picture My Big Fat Greek Wedding mixed with Bridget Jones’ Diary, but Albanian. “Coffee and a Donut” goes into production in May, that one will be a good short as well, it’s about a young immigrant trying to assimilate to being in America, starting with being able to order his own breakfast at a local diner. I’m currently talking with producers on another short called “Towards the Grassy Knoll” which would possibly get lensed in June. On the feature front, I’m in development with producers on a few feature films. “Lather“, a comedy satirizing the soap opera genre, “The New Weapon“, which is an feature length adaptation of the award-winning short film dealing with cyber-bullying, “Dear Soldier“, a tense drama surrounding mistaken identity, and an untitled docu-drama about the 35 years of apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the visionaries who see it and speak with her, and the 50 million people who have made pilgrimage over those 35 years to the town of Medjugorje in modern day Bosnia to see the apparition. The features in particular could all benefit from some additional funding, wink wink, nudge nudge in case anyone out there is interested.

Now for a few ‘getting to know you’ questions

Q: What’s your favourite film?
A: Leon: The Professional, Luc Besson at his greatest.

Q: Favourite cinematographer?
A: Roger Deakins, it’s criminal with his resume that he hasn’t won an Academy Award after 13 nominations.

Q: Okay, I couldn’t get you to specify a fave film of your own… what about fave Deakins films?
A: Shawshank Redemption of course is one of my favorite films period. I also really enjoyed the look of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and The Reader. Also, In Time I feel is a vastly under-appreciated film both stylistically and as a great sci-fi film.

Q: Favourite author and book?
A: I don’t have a lot of time to read, but when I have, it’s been Matthew Howe and either his “Film is Hell” or his latest work “Waypoint“. I also enjoy Christopher Loken’s “The Boy Next Door” and “Come Monday Morning“, which I’m currently reading concurrently with “Waypoint“.

Q: Beer or Wine (or something else)? And which variety?
A: I enjoy a good Jack and coke. Otherwise, I drink Guinness most of the year, but in summer I drink some form of craft Hard Apple Cider or Redd’s Apple Ale.

Q: Favourite food?
A: Rib eye steak and Potatoes, I’m a simple guy.

Q: Sports, or any other interests and passions?
A: I love baseball and football for spectating, I used to play golf until I injured my shoulder, then I played pool with the APA, competing five times in the National Championships, finishing twice in the top ten.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?
A: Write every day. Build a library of screenplays, shorts and features, in a number of genres. Someone is always looking for something to produce.

About the reviewer, Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

About Shawn Shaeffer: Shawn has worked as a the Director of Photography on hundreds of projects, ranging from commercials to theatrically distributed feature films starring Academy Award nominated talent. Most notably, Shawn was the Director of Photography for “Fighting for Freedom”, starring Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3) and Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Bruce Dern (Nebraska). Want to learn more? Of course you do – who wouldn’t? So visit his site at http://www.shawnschaffer.com

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

STS Exclusive Interview: A Chat with Kent Tessman, Creator of Fade In Screenwriting Software! - posted by wonkavite

Kent Tessman is the creator of Fade In screenwriting software, no small achievement in itself… but he’s also a great screenwriter and film maker too. Details of his feature Bull can be found at http://www.bullthemovie.com/ and you can hear a fantastic table read of his script, Chrome Noir, on the Blacklist podcast http://blacklist.wolfpop.com/audio/35178/chrome-noir-pt-1

In addition giving up his valuable time for this interview, Kent has also provided a 20% discount code for Fade In for a limited time! Just use the coupon code SIMPLYFADEIN2016 when purchasing through http://www.fadeinpro.com until May 25, 2016.

So without further ado… over to Kent.

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on yourself and how you got into screenwriting?
I was one of those film kids. I was nine years old and taking books out of the library and learning how traveling mattes worked. I think I was fourteen or fifteen when I wrote my first feature and sent it to Steven Spielberg. I got back a “No thank you” letter, which of course I kept. I doubt everyone got a letter back from Amblin, so it must’ve been pretty obvious a fourteen year-old wrote the script.

Q: And how many features, shorts etc have you written now?
The cool answer would be three: the two feature-length things I directed plus CHROME NOIR. The real answer, however, is lots, most of which really weren’t very good at all.

Q: Can you give us a brief logline for Apartment Story and what was the inspiration for it?
APARTMENT STORY is about a guy who decides one day not to leave his tiny little apartment, and came about because I was living in a tiny little apartment and that was the one location I knew I had access to. The production budget was pretty much my rent cheque. It was done right at the time when you first could do a film like that, thanks to digital video and computers.

Q: Same question for Bull?
BULL is a murder mystery that takes place during the summer during a heatwave amidst the skyscraper canyons of the Toronto financial district, because I remember what it was like working during the summer in a heatwave amidst the skyscraper canyons of the Toronto financial district and always thought it would be a hell of a lot more interesting if there was, you know, a murder mystery or something going on instead. It was another technologically well-timed project, among the first of the independent HD films, and the whole goal was to make something that looked like it cost a couple million bucks for far, far less, complete with a real, professional cast, elaborate locations, and visual effects.

Q: Any other Options/Sales/near Misses along the way?
I think for anyone trying to do this the ratio of Things I’ve Done to Things I’ve Almost Done/Things That Almost Happened is probably tiny. You learn early on not to get too excited and/or disappointed about any particular thing. It’s nice when someone says something nice. It’s nice when something nice happens. When it doesn’t, well, it doesn’t.

Q: You’re also the creator of Fade In, screenwriting software, what prompted you to create your own software and not use the more traditional and established products?
Honestly, because I’d used those more traditional and established products — for years — and thought they could be an awful lot better than they were (and are).

Q: You have a famous and vocal advocate in Craig Mazin, do you think one day you could replace Final Draft as the software of choice for screenwriters?
I’m genuinely grateful for the kind things Craig has said about Fade In, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to provide him and other writers with a writing tool that they find useful and hope that I’ll be able to continue to do so. The nice thing is that I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know Craig a little, and he’s a very smart guy who puts a lot of thought into what he says, and who doesn’t mince words and who doesn’t suffer fools (or foolish software), so while I’m happy with the kind things, I try to pay more attention to what he and other professional writers are saying they want and need because it only helps to benefit the software and, as a result, everybody who uses it.

(And by the way, anyone out there who isn’t listening to Craig and John August on their Scriptnotes podcast is just plain crazy and missing out. It wasn’t that long ago when it would have been completely unimaginable to have a totally free opportunity every week to hear two extremely well-spoken, well-informed people talk inside baseball about the film business from a writer’s perspective.)

As for Final Draft, I honestly don’t think about it that much, other than when a user presents me with an issue they’re having with a Final Draft file, or with their workflow, etc. The fact that so many professional writers are switching to Fade In does say at least a little something about “software of choice”, though.

Q: Any other well-known screenwriter users of Fade In?
To be honest: quite a few. There are a number of movies and television shows coming out this year and next, for instance — some pretty big ones, too. I won’t run through all of them here; but I’ve started to list some at http://www.fadepro.com under “Who uses Fade In?” where people will probably recognize a name and a title or two.

Q: I see you also did some VFX work on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, must have been interesting, which element did you work on?
For that film I worked on the IMAX 3D version. And the most interesting part was easily getting paid to sit down every day in front of Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography. And that part was wonderful.

Q: Writer, Director, Editor, Composer, Game Creator and Software Developer, bit of a polymath, any particular discipline you prefer out of these and why?
Prefer? Directing. It’s the closest you come to actually making the movie. (Or, more accurately, to actually living out The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I read fifty times when I was a kid.)

Writing is one of those things where are definitely better writers than me, but that doesn’t mean there are better screenplays available for me to direct. For obvious reasons. So writing is at least partly borne out of necessity. As is pretty much everything else that follows.

Because there are definitely better editors than me, too. And there are definitely better composers, but that’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing, and I look forward to hopefully doing it again.

As for software development, I wouldn’t call it enjoyable. I would, however, maybe call it useful and sometimes sort of satisfying. Useful because it gives me — and hopefully others — better tools to work and write with. And sometimes sort of satisfying because programming is different from, say, writing in that really you can solve any problem you have as long as you just hit the keys long enough. (And the game(s) I created because I had a couple of screenplays that weren’t going to get made into movies.)

You chose “polymath” when the other way you could’ve gone was “master of none”, and I think that’s maybe actually a cautionary tale worth talking about. I mean, I’ve known — or certainly known of — people who have spent twenty years doing almost nothing but shooting film, whether commercials and/or movies, and on most days I’d happily have traded places with them had that at all been a possibility. But one big reality of this sort of undertaking is that it’s like wrestling a whale, and you don’t always get to pick the direction the fight is going.

Q: Did you undertake any formal writing/film making training, courses or just jump in?
Oh, I went to film school. I’m old enough that when I was a kid and wanted to do this, going to film school was pretty much the only way you were going to get your hands on a camera and lights and editing equipment, at least coming from where I was coming from. That’s not the case today.

Q: You don’t live in LA, but have managed to work within the industry, how have you achieved this?
“The industry” is an expansive term. There are films getting made in Canada. Not as many of them, and not as…easily. But they do get made. There are films getting made in England. There are films getting made in India and Hong Kong and Nigeria and pretty much everywhere else. And an independent film, well, that you can make anywhere, by hook or by crook or by smartphone. And then again there’s Hollywood, and Hollywood is in Hollywood (most of the time).

As for writing, you don’t have to be in LA to write. You can write anywhere. Now, you may very well have to be in LA to meet and work, depending on what you want to do, but that’s another discussion. (And that said, I have lived in LA, for varying lengths of time, at different points. But as a Canadian that can be a tough thing to manage to do full-time and long-term.)

Q: And have you managed to get representation along the way? If so, any thoughts on this aspect of the industry?
I have, at points along the way, had representation. My experience with this aspect of the industry is that it can provide you with some highly entertaining stories for dining out.

Q: Your excellent script, Chrome Noir, was recently featured on the Blacklist table read podcast, how did that come about?
Well that’s very kind of you to say. I had been fiddling with CHROME NOIR for years, since before Fade In, and finally forced myself to pound out an actual first draft and threw it up on the Black List website anonymously (in case everyone thought it sucked). Luckily people seemed to like it, and it was really well reviewed, and when they decided they’d let the audience pick the next screenplay to be produced for a table read, Franklin Leonard asked me if I’d like to put CHROME NOIR up for voting and I figured I had nothing to lose. I guess people were curious enough about “Men in hats. Tommy guns. Robots.” to pick it.

Q: And has the additional exposure resulted in any additional interest?
Oh, for sure.

Q: What do you think of services like The Blacklist and Inktip for writers trying to break in?
I think the Black List (website) is unique and that, despite some similarities to other services, there’s really nothing else like it for a couple of key reasons. I should start by saying — and I’ve actually said this before elsewhere — when the Black List website first debuted I was quite skeptical of it. But even before I had a positive experience with CHROME NOIR I began to see where what it was doing was different. The fact is, you just can’t do what I did when I was first starting out, which is to mail your screenplay or your tape (yeah, I said tape) to a studio executive. You just can’t get away with that sort of thing anymore. But the Black List has a curated membership of industry professionals, and they have industry readers doing the evaluations. So it ends up being a fairly low impact way of potentially getting your work read in a professional forum, by people actually in the industry. When I recognized that, that’s I decided to give it a whirl with CHROME NOIR. Anonymously. Like a coward.

I do think that people have to be realistic about it. I don’t think it’s perfect. It costs money and there are no guarantees. In fact the odds in general are stacked tremendously against you — just like they always are. I think that’s probably the number one thing that everybody really has to get their heads around. That even if you have a great script — by industry standards, not just in your own — it still doesn’t necessarily mean that “something” is going to “happen”, not by a long shot, because there are just too many variables in play. But hey, we’re writers, not statisticians. (I don’t really know anything about Inktip and can’t comment on it.)

Q: How do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?
No, I don’t.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?
As far as bad advice goes, when I first started writing it was before Twitter and the proliferation of websites and forums, and so advice overall for the most part came in books. And I read more than a few bad ones (because there were and still are very few good ones). The best advice I’ve ever gotten has probably been something along the lines of: “Do you wish to save before closing? OK | Cancel”

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters on SimplyScripts?
What advice would I give? Find someone smarter than me to take advice from. There are probably things I’m qualified to give advice on, if I think hard enough, but for aspiring screenwriters, that’s probably the best I can and should do.

Q: Any advice for writers who think they have the next $500 million hit script if they could just get an agent/make a connection?
Probably that…they’re mistaken? It’s probably easiest to think that when you haven’t read a lot of the really good screenplays that have been in development over the years, or if you don’t know how many really good writers there are writing them, or if you don’t know just how much more complicated things are than “Oh, that’s a great script, here’s your big bag of money, let’s make a movie.” But things just don’t work that way. And it’s probably useful, then, to spend some time absorbing all the information you possibly can about the way things do work.

But look, what do I know? Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe they do have an amazing screenplay, and if only they could connect with someone it would change both the box office and cinema itself as we know it.
In that case I promise to buy a ticket.

Oh: but I’m also one of those people who really believes that if your motivation revolves around writing a $500 million hit script then probably your motivation isn’t right. It’s not a lottery. It’s a craft, at least, and at best it’s art. And in the end the odds of fabulous financial rewards are slight, to say the least. The point is that if you’re going to do this, it should be worth it to you, still, even with full knowledge of that.

Q: What other projects are you working on now and when can next expect to see your name on the credits?
One thing I’ve learned is to talk about these sorts of things less and work more.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?
If you take any of what I’ve said as advice or instruction, you’re probably making a terrible mistake.
Except this: always use Fade In!

About reviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Monday, April 11, 2016

STS Exclusive Interview – Matias Caruso: Proof that Nice Writers Sometimes Finish First! - posted by wonkavite

Matias Caruso: Proof that Nice Writers Sometimes Finish First!

Interviewed by STS’s very own Anthony Cawood

You know how articles and interviews always make note of when someone in the “business” (be it actor, director or more) is genuine, nice and down to earth?

Well, that’s to be expected – because sitting down for a chat with “good peoples” is ALWAYS a breath of fresh air.

Which is why we at STS are thrilled to be able to give you an *exclusive* interview today with writer Matias Caruso – Grand Prize Winner of 2014 Page. Born in Argentina – and a homegrown veteran of Simplyscripts – Matias has always been a joy to read and chat with, and a gentleman master of his craft. (You’ll note that STS has featured several of his short scripts over the years. Ones we were more than enthusiastic for, and truly honored to showcase.)

Recently, things have gotten really exciting for Matias. Now signed to CAA, he’s got tons in the works – including a high concept thriller entitled Mayhem… starring Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead!

And yet we STILL managed to corral Matias long enough to have him sit down with STS’s Anthony Cawood (interviewer extraordinaire.)

So pour your strongest coffee and settle in for one terrific read. ‘Cause with anything regarding Matias Caruso (affectionately known by SS’ers as “Mr. Z”) – that’s never close to a surprise! ☺

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?

A: I discovered my love for movies when I was a kid. Birthday party entertainers used to project movie clips and I was amazed when I first saw Indiana Jones trying to outrun the giant boulder, or Luke Skywalker using his light saber. I remember the feeling of being transported to new, exciting worlds… But when I grew up, my world turned out to be a sterile cubicle maze where I was trapped full-time working as a lawyer; a world that generated all the stress of trying to outrun the giant boulder… but without the excitement.

I could have stayed there forever, but things started to change when one day I wrote a short story. Showed it to a few lawyer friends and they dug it (allegedly). One of them is an entertainment attorney, so he works with production companies in my country and reads lots of scripts. He told me I had a very visual style and that maybe I should try writing a script.

So I said “Cool, what’s a script?” because, like most people in Argentina, I believed that the actors and the director were the ones who came up with all the cool stuff on set. But when my friend gave me a script to read, I soon discovered that movies were actually written first by people who, to quote Spielberg, “dream for a living”. And I was hooked.

Q: I’m assuming English is not your first language? What sort of challenges has this presented?

A: Right, it’s not. When I started writing 11 years ago, my English was very rusty; I could spend a full hour trying to figure out how to word a descriptive paragraph. It really slowed me down. But many scripts and years later, I got the hang of it and now it isn’t a problem. Every now and then I have to check online dictionaries/translators to check on a particular word or phrase, but not as much as before.

Q: For other writers facing this challenge, any tips or suggestions to get to your level where it isn’t evident at all?

A: English courses are key I think (I attended a bilingual school). I’d also advice reading in English (scripts, novels, comics, blogs, whatever) and writing in English every day in order to practice. Watching movies with subtitles in English or no subtitles at all also helps.

Q: I think you first appeared on SimplyScripts back in 2005, was this when you first started writing?

A: That sounds about right. And yes, that’s when I started writing.

Q: Your first credit, at least according to IMDB, is the 2008 short, Forgotten, did that get optioned and made?

A: I sold it to an indy filmmaker in Alaska I met online. And yes, he shot it.

Q: Did you learn anything from that experience and subsequent shorts?

A: You always hear that scripts are just a blueprint for the movie, but that really sinks in once you see for yourself how much scripts can change during production.

Q: Obviously you’ve written a lot of shorts, many of which have been on SimplyScripts, did you start out with shorts and then move to features?

A: I started with both at the same time more or less, but at first my English wasn’t polished enough to give a feature a try, so my first few features were written in Spanish and nobody at SS saw them.

Q: Of the filmed shorts which is your favourite and why?

A: “Numbers”, because of its great production value.

Q: And of those not filmed, which is your favourite?

A: Probably “The Tower of Wishes”. I love fantasy.

Q: Any other shorts in pre-production we should be looking out for?

A: An Irish filmmaker is trying to find financing for a supernatural thriller titled “The Touch”.

Q: Would you advocate writing short films, why do you think they are useful?

A: While I think features should be the main focus of those who aspire to write professionally, writing shorts on the side can definitely be useful. They can be completed in just a few days, which means the writer can get feedback from peers shortly after typing “fade out”. Objective feedback is key to identify sticking points and hone the craft, so it’s helpful to workshop short scripts on the side during the long months in which the writer works in isolation to finish a feature.

Also, if the short does well at film festivals and/or becomes viral, it can lead to working and networking opportunities.

Q: When it comes to Feature scripts, how do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

A: Yes, I follow a method which has been slowly evolving throughout the years. It’s a mix of advice I picked from books/articles about the craft, advice I got from working writers, tips I gathered from reading hot scripts, and a bit of my own half-baked theories about what works best.

The subject is too big for the scope of an interview but here are a few basics guidelines that help my process: The first act is roughly 25% of the script and sets up the conflict, the second act (50%) escalates the conflict, and the third act (25%) resolves the conflict. And conflict in my stories usually come from a character (protagonist) who must achieve something (goal) facing big resistance (obstacles/antagonist) or else something very bad will happen to him or someone he cares about (stakes).

Q: Same question for characters, yours are always vivid on the page, how do you go about these creations?

A: I do separate worksheets for the main characters where I write their bios, and defining traits. I also see if they fit any well known archetypes which I then research. I re-read these character worksheets a few times during the writing process, not to lose track of what makes them tick.

Q: What are your thoughts on structure models like Save the Cat and the like?

I’ve read lots of how-to books. Some were useful, some weren’t, but overall I think it’s a good habit to be an avid student of the craft.

Save the Cat is my favorite. While I don’t take everything Blake Snyder wrote as gospel (nor any other guru for that matter) he used to be a working writer so his advice comes from experience, and that’s a plus. Also, I write genre/popcorn movies so his method and my creative instincts align. A writer who, for example, likes European independent cinema might find Snyder’s method to be too formulaic and “hollywoody”. And that’s okay. It’s about finding what best works for you.

Q: What was the first feature you wrote and how did you get it out there? Did you query Producers, enter competitions, use Inktip, etc?

A: The first thing I ever wrote was a short story and my first feature was an adaptation/expansion of that story. It sucked big time so I didn’t shop it around. It was a learning experience, not an earning experience, but I’m okay with that.

Q: You are one of, if not the most, successful writers to use and contribute to SimplyScripts, how has the site helped you develop?

A: I think Pia has more produced credits than me, but thanks 🙂

SS and Moviepoet helped me a great deal. It’s hard for me to be objective about my own work, so getting objective feedback from peers has always been key in my learning process. Even more so when I was just starting out, and that’s when I discovered the site, which allowed me to get my work read and reap the benefits of joining a writers community.

Also, each time good news come my way, Don gives me a shout out on the site and that’s been helpful as well to make my work known (Thanks, Don!)

Q: There are a ton of people out there who offer coverage services, position themselves as guru’s etc, what your view on such services?

A: Nowadays these services are so many and varied that it’s hard to have one single view about all of them collectively. I’d say it’s a case by case basis and it depends of what’s being offered, at what price, and what are the credentials/experience of the guru. Based on that, I believe that some are helpful and some not.

Q: What are your thoughts on the business side of screenwriting, getting your scripts ‘out there’ and networking to make connections?

A: The most common pitfall (in which I fell into myself) is worrying about the business side of things prematurely. Networking and making connections becomes relevant only once the writer’s craft is polished enough to get industry people interested in his work. It usually takes many years and many scripts to reach that level, so until that happens, any time spent at networking events or sending out query letters is time better spent writing. There’s not much use in connecting with industry people, only to have them pass on the material because it’s not ready.

Once the writer can write at a professional level (or close), then I subscribe to the common view that he must be proactive in getting his scripts out there.

Q: If you’ve used services/sites like Inktip, SimplyScripts, The Blacklist, what’s your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?

A: I used Inktip and Simplyscripts for shorts and both sites helped me connect with filmmakers that responded to my work. So they’re definitely worth it. Never used them for features, though. And I’ve never used The Blacklist.

Q: Carnival ended up on the annual Blacklist as well, any interest since then/options etc?

A: The script was actually optioned before the Blacklist placement. By the time the list was published, there were already two producers on board collaborating with major agencies to try to find directors/financing. And I had already travelled to LA for a round of general meetings with industry people that had read the script. So the interest was already high and there wasn’t much room for the project to become hotter. Maybe the placement sped up some pending reads, but that’s hard go gauge. A couple of indy filmmakers did contact me to discuss potential projects, though.

Q: What are your thoughts on screenwriting competitions, obviously you’ve had a massive win with Page in 2014, but thoughts in general? Any other successes?

A: I think the contest route is a legitimate way in. I placed in Page and Trackingb and both helped my career in very meaningful ways. Some contests are solid and some don’t have industry relevance. A quick look at the success stories listed in a contest’s website, can let you know if their winners/finalists get traction with relevant industry players or not. I would advice entering only those that do, like Page and TrackingbThe Nicholl Fellowship is another one that’s definitely legit.

Q: Aside from the monetary prize from Page, what else has happened since?

A: Just in case, to avoid confusion, the Page script and the Blacklist script are one and the same (used to be titled “Three of Swords” but now is titled “Carnival”). Thanks to Page I met the producer who optioned the script. He had some interesting notes and I did like 10 drafts; the development process was very intense but also very rewarding because we ended up with a much stronger version. He then started sending out the script, another producer came on board and I had representation offers from 5 agencies.

Q: I believe that you were signed by CAA after winning Page, how has this been for you?

A: It’s been great. My agents circulated the script among production companies/studios and the script has gathered fans. I travelled to LA for a round of general meetings in which I got to know some wonderful people, and was offered the opportunity to pitch for writing assignments.

Q: I’ve always wondered, when you get asked to come to LA and do general meetings… who asks? And who pays for you to travel?

A: It’s usually the manager and/or the agent who tells the writer his work has had enough positive responses to warrant a trip and sets up the meetings. For a round of generals, it’s usually the writer who pays for the trip (that was my case). I heard of writers who were flown to LA by studios/production companies, but those were cases in which they had already been hired to write a specific project.

Q: So you have agents in CAA, do you have a manager as well and what’s the difference in your experience?

A: Yes, I have a manager as well.The manager gives general career advice, reads scripts and gives development notes, acting in general like a writing coach. The agent is more like a salesman; his job is to sell the writer’s material (not developing it) or put the writer in rooms where he can get hired for writing assignments. Also, managers can attach themselves as producers in their clients’ projects, while agents legally can’t.

Q: News broke in March that your script, Mayhem, is going into production. How did this script come about? Is it another spec or were you commissioned to write it?

A: It’s a spec I wrote back in 2010 which used to be titled “Rage”. Thanks to a contest placement back then, I signed with a couple of managers who then circulated the script to producers. It’s been a rollercoaster of good news/bad news ever since, and I had to do countless drafts to address notes from producers, director, actor, etc. But finally, everything came together recently and it’s happening.

Q: So what is Mayhem about and any idea when it’s likely to film?

A: It’s about a corporate law office that’s quarantined because of a virus that makes people act out their wildest impulses. Follows the story of a lawyer who is wrongfully fired on that day and must savagely fight for his job and his life.

It’s been shooting in Serbia for two weeks already. The director is posting cool updates on twitter (@TheJoeLynch) and instagram (thejoelynch).

Q: I think there’s a saying that you need to write something like seven feature scripts before one will be good enough to get sold, what was your golden number and do you agree with the sentiment?

A: Experience is a good indicator of skill, and the number of scripts written is a good indicator of experience. But I’d say it’s impossible to come up with a magic number because there are many other variables to factor in (like talent) which can’t be measured so easily. “Seven” doesn’t sound like a bad estimate, but in my case it was definitely more than “ten” (not sure about the exact number).

Q: What projects are you working on now and when can next expect to see your name on the credits?

A: I’ve recently completed a sci-fi/thriller script for director Marcel Sarmiento who’s working with producers to secure financing. Also working on an action/fantasy pitch with a production company and starting to outline my next spec. Don’t know if any of these will get to the screen one day, but let’s hope 🙂

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?

A: The best: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”.

The worst: “Hollywood is too big and far away for you, focus on your country’s film industry instead”.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Matias’ questions

Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite script, if they’re different.

A: Ha, it’s impossible to name just one. Can I cheat a little? “Avatar”, “The Matrix”, “The Dark Knight”.

Some unproduced scripts I really liked: “Medieval” and “Goliath

Q: Favourite author and book?

A: I think Stephen King is the author I read the most and liked most consistently.

Best book I’ve read in a while is “Ready Player One”.

Q: Beer or Wine (or something else)? And which variety?

A: Red Bull + Vodka 🙂

Q: Favourite food?

A: Burgers!

Q: Football team? Favourite player?

A: Not a football fan nowadays, but my favorite player is Messi. He’s a wizard.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

A: I used to play the electric guitar back in the day, maybe someday I’ll have time to get back to it. I like jogging/doing exercise, reading, videogames, and going out with friends.

Q: Born in Argentina, still living there? Any thoughts about moving to LA?

A: Yep, born and still living here. I think the next step for me is to start travelling to LA more often for meetings. Depending on how my career continues to evolve, I’ll decide about moving permanently.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

A: I still remember that day many years ago when I submitted my first script to the site. It was a short script written in broken English and everyone could tell right away I wasn’t a native speaker. Yet everyone was so helpful and encouraging, which helped me take the first step in a very long journey. So thanks SS friends, you’re good people (Except you, Bert. You’re pure evil).

About reviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Interview with Working Screenwriter, Ashley Scott Meyers! - posted by wonkavite

Occasionally on STS, we take a break from showcasing scripts, and focus on the masterminds behind the words. Because there’s nothing better than hearing from successful members of “the craft”, and absorbing the sage words they have to tell.

Today, we are happy to publish an interview between STS’s own Anthony Cawood, and Ashley Scott Meyers – a working and produced screenwriter, podcaster and the owner of www.sellingyourscreenplay.com, which offers a range of services to writers trying to break in. In this interview, Ashley discusses his scripts and the movies made from them – plus what he has discovered along the way relating to marketing scripts and getting those all important connections.

Thanks to Ashley for taking the time to share the insights he’s gleaned from doing exactly what many of us are trying to do too – get our beloved features made.

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting?

I loved movies as a kid and always thought it would be cool to be a screenwriter. I’m not sure why screenwriting appealed to me more than other positions in the film industry, but it did. So after college, without many job prospects, I simply packed up and moved to LA. I grew up in Maryland and did not know anyone in the industry, so when I first got to LA I knew nobody. I worked low level jobs and went back to school where I got an MA in communications with a screenwriting emphasis. I wrote lots of scripts and marketed them as best I could and eventually I sold my first script. I wish I could say I was “off to the races” after that first sale, but it didn’t quite happen like that.

Q: Your first credit, at least according to IMDB, is Dish Dogs, how many screenplays had you written before this?

Dish Dogs was my first professional credit. I think it was the sixth screenplay that I wrote.

Q: Dish Dogs has a fantastic cast, were you on set for the filming?

I was on set a few days during the filming of Dish Dogs. It was a fun experience and I learned a lot.

Q: Was Dish Dogs profitable?

With Dish Dogs, my writing partner and I simply sold the screenplay to the producers, so I honestly don’t know if it was profitable or not. They did get lucky casting Shannon Elizabeth in it, as she was cast before her big break in American Pie. The film did get pretty wide distribution, so it very well might have turned a profit. Things have changed since then, however, so I’m not sure anyone is making movies like that anymore.

Q: Did this first experience fuel your writing passion?

Yes and no. The experience was bittersweet. They did massive changes to the screenplay, so my writing partner and I never felt like they shot our script and we did not like the finished movie. However, it was a first professional credit and we did get paid, so it was exciting, but it little disappointing to.

Q: Your subsequent scripts are all in different genres, what’s your favorite writing genre?

Yes, I have written in a variety of different genres. At the end of the day I think comedy is my favorite genre to write in. It is the most fun.

Q: Your most recent film is Ninja Apocalypse, a martial arts film, how do you go about scripting something so action/fight scene heavy?

With Ninja Apocalypse, I did a lot of research reading other scripts that were heavy on the hand to hand fighting scenes, so I had a good idea how to write them.

Q: Which of your films are you proudest of, and why?

I am probably most proud of Man Overboard. With that film, me and my writing partner were heavily involved in raising the money, so we got to keep a lot of the creative control with it. At the end of the day, I’m not sure it’s any better than Dish Dogs, but it is closer to our vision. So it was a great experience for me and I’m proud of the movie that came from it.

Q: And if I ask the same question, but about your unfilmed scripts, does the answer change?

Yes, there are a couple scripts that have never sold which I probably like better than any of the scripts that have sold. For instance, my baseball comedy is dear to my heart. It’s about a guy with no real talent for baseball but he loves it and he has a lot of heart and is persistent as hell and does eventually have some success in the industry.

Q: You advocate writing and making short films, why do you think they are useful?

Short films can help screenwriters in a variety of ways. You can see your material filmed, which is an incredibly educational experience. You can also meet up-and-coming filmmakers, the director, producer, the actors, and the other crew. This can only help you as your career (and theirs develops). It is also a great way to get some credits on IMDb, and then you can use those credits when you pitch your feature material. Also, in many cases the short films will go to film festivals, and if you can win some awards there, then you are an award-winning filmmaker. Again, this can help you when you pitch your other material. Shorts are so easy to make these days, there really is no excuse not to make them.

Q: How do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

I do a lot of outlining with my screenplays. I am a big fan of Blake Snyder and his Save the Cat books. He has a beat sheet that is easy to understand and follow, so I will typically do a Blake Snyder Beat Sheet before I start writing any actual screenplay pages.

Q: Do you have a manager/agent? What are your thoughts on them and how to get them?

I do not currently have an agent or a manager. I have a lawyer that I work with to help with negotiating contracts. I think in general writers, especially new writers, spend too much time trying to get an agent and manager. I have always found that it’s easier to get a producer to read your script than a good agent or manager. And if the producer likes it, he might just make the film, which will get you a professional credit and then if the film is good, agents and managers will be coming to you. I have had agents and managers over the course of my career, however every single sale and option has been a direct result of my own screenplay marketing efforts. So keep that in mind, you can sell your scripts without an agent or a manager.

Q: What’s your favorite film? And script, if they’re different.

I think Star Wars (Episode IV) is my favorite film. It had a huge impact on me as a kid and I am now re-watching it with my own children, and to me it holds up incredibly well. I still love it.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?

Probably the best screenwriting advice I was ever given was something like “don’t write a play, right plays.” I think this might be a Tennessee Williams quote. But a lot of screenwriters I run into get too fixated on one project. I think writers need to write a lot and get a lot of material ready and sent out. It’s never going to be perfect so make it the best you can and send it out.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters on SimplyScripts?

I think my biggest piece of advice to aspiring screenwriters is to spend more time marketing your screenplays. I often hear from screenwriters who finish a script and send it to one or two contests and when that doesn’t work out, they are demoralized. You have to market a screenplay very, very aggressively to find that one person who believes in it and can make it. So spend as much time marketing your scripts as writing them.

Q: I first came across you due to your podcast, what inspired you to produce this for screenwriters?

I started listening to podcasts a couple of years before I started my own podcast. I still listen to a lot of podcasts now. I think it is a great medium, so I wanted to start one myself. It’s fairly easy to do and it can really impact a lot of people.

Q: And what have been the highlights for you of the shows so far?

I think the highlights from my 100+ shows so far is just hearing all the stories of how people broke into the industry. In many cases it was just a matter of persistence and determination. I hope also, that hearing people talk about their films will make it seem more real to the people who live far from Hollywood and this inspires them to write and market their screenplays. The folks who come on my podcasts are just normal folks like the rest of us. If it happened for them it can happen for you, too.

Q: The Podcasts link to your site www.sellingyourscreenplay.com, what services do you offer?

Selling your screenplay offers a variety of services for screenwriters. We have an email and fax blast service that sends your query letter to thousands of producers, agents and managers. We also have a script analysis service where one of our professional readers will read your script and give you notes on it. We also offer paid screenwriting leads through SYS Select. This is a monthly fee and you get paid screenwriting leads emailed to you several times per week.

Q: I know some of the services are paid for, but you also offer some free email guides and the like, why do you provide so much free content?

We do also offer a lot of free content. We have a free guide, “How to Sell Your Screenplay in Five Weeks,” that you can find at selling sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Also the podcast is free. The reason I provide so much free content is really two fold. First, it does give back to the screenwriting community. But also it is a way of marketing our paid services. It is called content marketing. I think this is a great way to market screenwriting services. It is a win – win. Aspiring screenwriters get high quality free content and we get to advertise our paid services. Then, if a screenwriter is ever in the market for our services, hopefully they will consider us.

Q: There are a ton of people out there who offer coverage services, position themselves as guru’s etc, what sets your services apart?

You are correct, there are a ton of other screenwriting services out there. The main thing that sets SYS apart from other services is that it is run by me. I am a working screenwriter. I am optioning and selling screenplays and getting paid writing assignments on a regular basis. So a lot of what I talk about is my experiences. I don’t know of a single other screenwriting service where the person running it is an actual screenwriter with actual screenwriting credits. Hopefully my own experiences can help other people, too.

Q: You provide an email/fax blast to producers, how does this work and have writers who’ve used the service had any success?

The email and fax blast to producers is pretty straightforward. You simply write up a query letter and then we blast it out to the 5000 producers who are on our email and fax blast list. There have been numerous successes from this. I have interviewed some of the folks on the podcast and have had success with it myself. Go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/success to see some first-hand accounts.

Q: You’ve used services yourself like Inktip and The Blacklist. What is your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?

Correct, I have used InkTip and The Blacklist to market my own screenplays. I think screenwriters should do everything and anything to market their scripts, so InkTip and The Blacklist are great channels to do just that. I have optioned one script through InkTip so I know it can work.

Q: You moved to LA early in your career. What’s your advice to writers contemplating the move and do you think it’s useful?

This is a common question: “do I have to be in Los Angeles to make it as a screenwriter?” The answer is “no,” you do not have to be here. However it makes it a whole lot easier. I interviewed Chris Sparling on the podcast. He wrote the movie Buried starring Ryan Reynolds. He has a successful screenwriting career living far from Los Angeles. So it can be done. But if you live in Los Angeles, there are so many small little benefits it’s hard to even write them all down. You will meet other people in the industry on a regular basis who you can network with. You will be around like-minded people who will push you to get better. Some of your friends will have success right in front of your own eyes, which will inspire you to do better. Living in LA makes a nearly impossible thing just a little easier. And for most of us, we need every little advantage we can get.

Q: You’re very self effacing, you often say things like ‘I write low budget’ and ‘I’m not trying to break in higher’… this seems a very pragmatic approach, is it based on experiences?

Yes, I have pretty much given up on trying to become a big studio level screenwriter. It is a lot of work and while there is a huge upside, in all likelihood you will end up spinning your wheels and wasting your time trying to accomplish this. So I am spending my time writing lower budget genre films, because I know I can get those scripts sold. Ultimately, I do believe that if one of these low-budget genre films is a breakout hit, it would propel me to the next level. So I am trying to minimize my downside as much as possible while still maintaining the potentially huge upside.

Q: Any advice for writers who think they have the next $200 million hit script if they could just get an agent?

Well if you have a larger budgeted screenplay, I think places like The Blacklist and screenplay contests are your best options. The thing about those big studio scripts, despite what people think, they must be really good. And if they are not really good, there is nothing that can be done with them – so you’ve wasted your time writing it. However, if you write something that can be shot on a low budget, even if it’s not really good, you still have a shot at getting it made because at this level, things like budget and cast are bigger considerations than the screenplay.

Q: What projects are you working on now and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits?

I am currently working on a micro budget feature film called The Pinch. I did a kick starter campaign last month and raised a little over $12,000. I have also raised another $15,000, which is basically me putting in money and an actor friend also putting in money. So I am going to shoot the film in July. That will probably be my next credit. Although I did have a few writing assignments last year and optioned some spec scripts, so perhaps one of those will make it into production before The Pinch.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

Just keep writing as much as you possibly can. And once you have a few scripts under your belt start trying to market them aggressively.

About the Interviewer, Anthony: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Here ye, here ye: A GREAT Interview with Produced Writer Michael Kospiah: Author of The Suicide Theory! - posted by wonkavite

Michael Kospiah is a screenwriter and playwright based out of NYC. To date, he has two produced off Broadway plays, a Feature (The Suicide Theory) and a Short (The Dead Guy in the Trunk), made thus far.

Now available on Netflix – and highly recommended as an indie gem – The Suicide Theory was made with director Dru Brown and Seven8 Media. So far, it’s won the Grand Jury Award in The Dances With Films FestivalThe Dead Guy in the Trunk? Made by Scheffilm Productions in Australia.

Michael is a fellow Simplyscripter and – needless to say – a great example for fellow screenwriters. So we were thrilled when Michael agreed to sit down for a chat. Here’s what was discussed… all details any aspiring scriptwriter should know.

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on yourself and how you got into screenwriting?

A: Ever since I was a kid, I was huge into movies. Every time I’d go to see a film, it was like an event for me. I actually remember every film I’ve seen in theaters dating back to childhood (I’m pretty sure). But I was into action films mostly; Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme. Eastwood. A lot of Kung Fu films. Mostly rated “R” movies. Only my mother and my father allowed me to watch rated “R” movies. I still remember my mom taking me to see Lethal Weapon in theaters when I was five or six years old (and it was awesome). However, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. And they were timid about allowing me to see PG-13 films. In fact, they only really allowed me to watch films they watched. Most of them I HATED. But my grandmother in particular was a HUGE Hitchcock fan and allowed me to watch all of his films as well as his TV shows (The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Alfred Hitchcock Presents). She also let me stay up and watch old Twilight Zone episodes. And I thought they were awesome. It introduced me to a whole different genre of film/entertainment that I liked – and it didn’t depend on explosions and hand-to-hand combat. And then I saw “Psycho” when I was 12. And it changed my life. It was so unique. And the twists and psychology of the characters intrigued me. Once I found out that films were written first, I was all about it. It was what I always wanted to do. Soon, I started watching film-films like “Taxi Driver”, “Pulp Fiction”. And those films made a strong impression on me as a young teen, further fostering my desire to write movies. From that point on, I made it a point to watch as many films as I can. I remember writing my first “script” when I was 14. It was a corny creature feature called “Attack of the Killer Groundhogs” that I wanted to film myself with a camcorder my grandmother gave me for my birthday. I remember my mother finding the 20-or-so-page script written on yellow-lined paper and saying something to me about all the profanity… LOL. I wanted to get my friends involved as actors, but at that age, everyone was starting to smoke pot, party, chase girls, etc. In other words, everyone I was friends with was “too cool” for making cheesy films. So, it was a while before I actually started reading actual screenplays and making an effort to learn the craft. Not until I started college.

Q: And how many features, shorts, etc have you written now?

A: Hmmm… I lost count around 25 feature screenplays, and that was a few years ago. I’ve written a few screenplays as a ghostwriter as well that ended up never seeing the light of day (not worth the shitty pay). I’d say about 30 or so feature length scripts and probably around 20 or so shorts. Roughly.

Q: Did you undertake any formal training, courses etc, or just jump in?

A: I did take a screenwriting class in college and did take classes at Gotham Writer’s Workshop in NYC, but the classes never actually showed us, in detail, how to actually write a script. It was more analyzing film and identifying acts, character arc, etc. Which was helpful. And I had read enough scripts to have an idea of what a screenplay looks like. But I remember writing screenplays as a very green “wannabe” writer and posting them on websites like Trigger Street and Zoetrope and getting my ass handed to me by other more experienced writers. And to tell the truth, the harsh criticism really helped me. And the fact that I wanted to be a great writer attracted other kinder writers with more experience than me to help steer me into the right direction (in terms of which books to read, which screenplays to read, guiding me through a lot of the nuances of writing description and action, dialogue, formatting, structuring, hitting the right beats, developing characters, etc). Simply Scripts also has helped me become a better writer. I’ve received some great advice from other writers on here a long time ago when I first started visiting this site (around 2006/2007). And I still get great advice from members (though I don’t frequent the site as much as I’d like to these days).

Q: How did the filming of your script The Suicide Theory come about?

A: Well, I actually posted the script on this site back in 2008 and it received A LOT of feedback, a lot of positive responses. Tons of comments. I started getting a ton of emails from directors and producers. But a lot them wanted me for their own projects based on their ideas. The script was considered a bit too dark by a lot of them to get investors interested in funding the project. But they liked my potential. One of those directors was Dru Brown based out of Australia. We co-wrote a few scripts but nothing really came of them. Meanwhile, I had another director out of the U.K. option The Suicide Theory. And after a few years (including an option extension) I didn’t really see much movement in terms of making this a film. So, I decided to make The Suicide Theory a free agent after the 2nd option expired. Literally, almost a week later, Dru emailed me after a few of our scripts failed to build traction, asking me if The Suicide Theory was still available. And, yeah, that’s how that came about.

Q: How can people see The Suicide Theory?

A: Right now, it’s available in the United States on NetflixAmazon and Itunes. It’s also still available to rent on demand on most cable outlets (CablevisionTime WarnerDirecTV, etc).

Q: And your short, The Dead Guy in the Trunk, how did the film maker find you and the script?

A: Again, the script was discovered on Simply Scripts a few years back by director/producer Lucas Scheffel (again, out of Australia), who I ended up becoming friends with. Good guy.

Q: Dead Guy is a great little short – really well shot, any more in the pipeline?

A: I took a little break for a while. The business end can be a little taxing mentally. But I usually focus more on features. Though I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more shorts here and there. That year that “Dead Guy” was found, I actually wrote four other shorts and sold three of them. Yet, only “Dead Guy” ended up getting made. We’ll see what happens.

Q: Have you used services like Inktip and The Blacklist? What’s your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?

A: I used Inktip a very long time ago (like about 10 years ago) and got nothing out of it. Though that may be because I wasn’t quite there yet as a writer in terms of skill level and “selling” my story. I am thinking of joining again, giving it another whirl now that I have experience. I’ve heard good and bad things about The Blacklist. Never tried it. I understand, on top of the monthly fee, you have to spend additional money to get reviews. And the script only gets sent out if you receive a score of 8 or more by the reviewer. Or something like that. My advice is, if you have the money to spend and you think it gives you a nice shot at exposure, then shell out the dough. But I would make sure that the script is in great shape before investing that type of money. I would even send it out to a few well-received coverage services first. If you don’t have the money for that, websites like Simply Scripts and Script Shadow help (if you can get through to Amateur Fridays – haven’t visited Script Shadow lately, not sure if they still do that or not). Just get as much feedback as possible from writers you believe have a decent background.

Q: Have you used, and if so what are your thoughts on notes and coverage services?

A: Absolutely. Of course, I’ve used notes from review sites as TriggerstreetZoetrope and Simply Scripts (all free, although I don’t think Triggerstreet does that anymore). And I have paid for coverage services in the past and they were mostly helpful. These days, I have a lot of seasoned and successful screenwriting pals that I trust. Though I would definitely consider a coverage service if needed. And if the prices were reasonable and the company had a good word-of-mouth thing going for it.

Q: And have you entered and/or won any screenwriting competitions? What are your thoughts on competitions in general?

A: I have never entered a screenwriting competition before. Maybe I’m just a cheap bastard. But I do have mixed feelings about competitions in general. I had a hard time trusting the process, especially getting past some of their readers in order be seen by the industry pros. One of the things I question with a lot of the readers for these competitions is their qualifications. Last thing I want to do is pour my heart and soul out into the script just to get turned away by a college intern. But, I’ve heard good things with a few competitions (PAGE, Final Draft’s Big Break, Austin Film FestivalAmerican Zoetrope and, of course, Nicholl’s). I may consider entering one of these things soon. Whatever helps get you more exposure, I suppose.

Q: How do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

A: It depends on what kind of story I’m going for. I wrote a stream-of-conscious kind of story with a heightened sense of reality (ala David Lynch), so obviously, the structure isn’t as A-B-C as it would be in other, more conventional stories. The Blake Snyder beat sheet can be a good one to follow in terms of structuring a script, but I feel it can be limiting if you just stick to that and that alone. If I’m writing something more “conventional”, that beat sheet comes in handy. It also depends on what my character’s goals are, too. I don’t know, structuring a screenplay to me is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or doing a crossword. I just try to fit the pieces together in the best way possible. I usually have my characters in mind first. Yes, your characters are VERY important. But once I truly get to know my characters, they tend to take me where I need to go regardless of what I had outlined. As I write the script, I often times find myself rewriting the outline along the way. And my outlines aren’t usually that detail oriented because of that. I’ll include scenes I have in mind, write down what I want to accomplish in each scene, some imagery I’d like to include, motifs, meaning, etc. But I try to keep it basic. The characters ultimately, at least with me, dictate where my story goes.

Q: What projects are you working on now and when can we next expect to see your name on the credits?

A: I’m working on a horror feature right now. One of my favorite sub-genres of horror – home invasion. Trying to put my own twist on it, make it unique yet viable. I also have a “passion project” of sorts in the pipeline. I’m at about page 20 with that one and have been stuck there for a bit. That one will take some time.

Now onto some more general questions.

Q: Do you have a favourite film genre?

A: My favorite genre to write is probably suspense. I gravitate towards darker material. It used to be crime-drama. Over the years, it’s kind of blended together in my style. My favorite to watch is horror. I’m working on my first horror feature right now. I’ve tried writing horror before, but it’s always turned into a drama or suspense film with elements of horror. I tend to blend genres in stories I write without noticing it.

Q: What’s your favourite film? And script, if they’re different.

A: My favorite film is Taxi Driver. Just ahead of Psycho. Barely. Taxi Driver influences more of my writing. I’ve always been drawn to the flawed “hero” or “anti-hero”. Because that’s how I’ve always seen myself; flawed with good intentions. I think a lot of people see themselves that way. I guess that’s why so many people identified with the Travis Bickle character. Everybody has their moments of social ineptitude. Everybody knows what it’s like to be lonely and awkward. And it was unlike any other film I’ve seen up that point when I was 12-13 years old. Mainly because there really was no plot. And I fucking LOVED that. It was a journey into madness. This guy was obviously whacked, his perception of reality skewed. But we’re seeing this world through his eyes. And, for some reason, we kind of understand his behavior. And that frightens us in a way. Yet, we root for the guy. Just a great, great film. It’s probably my favorite script, too – I love Paul Schrader! But, to mix things up a bit, I’ll throw out the screenplay for “Sideways”. I loved the movie, but I read the screenplay first and actually thought the script was better. And it was just so expertly written. I was in my early 20s when I read it, still trying to find my stride as a writer. And it REALLY helped me with formatting, learning how to write brief yet effective description and action and making the page actually look good (white space, 1-3 line action/description paragraphs, when to jump to another paragraph). Yes the film was fine, I loved the bookends (someone knocking on his door at the beginning, him knocking on the love interest’s door at the end) and it had a lot to offer structurally and with character arcs, character relationships, all of that. But the script really helped me learn how to actually WRITE a script.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting/film making advice you’ve been given?

A: The worst I’ve ever given is to quit – LOL. It can be frustrating. The hardest part is after you’ve finished writing the script (up until it’s on the screen, it’s never really finished). The business end can be extremely frustrating. It takes a lot of patience, not just selling your product, but once the product is sold. There is a lot of waiting involved. The best advice I’ve given is to keep writing. Find your voice, find what you’re GREAT at (not just good) and stick with that. Not to say you should only write in one genre or write about one thing all the time. But stick to things you are passionate about. And if you’re writing for hire, find something that in that story you can relate to and be passionate about. It’s easy to spot a script without heart.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters on SimplyScripts?

A: Keep improving upon your craft. Get good advice. Find other like-minded writers such as yourself and surround yourself with them. Make as many connections as possible. Always keep learning and be willing to learn. Have confidence in yourself but know what your skill level is and keep improving upon that. Always get as much feedback as possible. From trusted peers. Peers you don’t trust. And if you have the money, shell out the dough for coverage services. Enter as many screenwriting competitions as possible. That’s one thing I wished I would have done more (and something I’m considering doing more of in the future). The only way you become something in this industry is if you’re noticed. Exposure is important. Yes, there is a lot of luck involved but you have to create your own luck. Be seen, be heard. I had a film out in theaters here in the United States (albeit select theaters for a limited time) and I STILL don’t have an agent or a manager. Having a produced film isn’t enough. Send out queries to reputable agents, managers and producers. But make sure your script is top notch. You only get one chance to make a first impression. A good script is not good enough. And, most of all… keep writing.

Q: Any thoughts on the Oscar contenders?

A: I’m always excited about the Oscars. Some good films this year although nothing I’ve seen is as good as last year’s “Whiplash”. “The Revenant” was solid. Great acting. That’s my pick for Best Picture. I was disappointed “Straight Outta Compton”, “Ex Machina” and “Creed” weren’t nominated for Best Picture. “Creed” was my favorite film of the year, but I’m a Philly boy at heart and huge “Rocky” fan, so I’m biased. Hoping Stallone grabs that Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He was phenomenal.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

A: This is a great site for writers of all skill levels. Take advantage of the resources this website offers… for free! Every time I’ve done Q and A’s with audiences, I’ve always mentioned this website. It’s a great learning tool… if you stay active in the community. Read scripts, meet other writers. I’ve met a lot of great writers AND great people on here that I’m proud to say I’m friends with outside of this site.

ABOUT INTERVIEWER ANTHONY CAWOOD: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at http://www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Well, we think the above information is pretty much a GREAT intro to Michael. 

But if you’re an agent, managing company, or director looking for your next writing star, you might VERY WELL want to drop Michael K. a line at spesh2k “AT” msn!

And for yet more juicy details…

Michael J. Kospiah is an award-winning screenwriter and playwright who began his career as a sports columnist for several newspapers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. With 15 years experience, he has worked as a ghostwriter, script consultant, script doctor and has collaborated with filmmakers from all over the world. His first-produced feature film “The Suicide Theory” had its world premiere at the prestigious TCL Chinese Theaters on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood, California in 2014. After winning several awards on the festival circuit (Dances With Films Festival – Grand Jury Prize, Austin Film Festival – Audience Award, Melbourne Underground FF – Special Jury Prize), the film was picked up for distribution in U.S. and Canada via Freestyle Releasing and received a brief run in select theaters while available (and still available) On Demand through most major cable outlets (also on Netflix). The film was listed #5 on theguardian.com’s Top 10 Australian Films list for 2015 and is currently rated 76% on Rotten Tomatoes.

You can visit his IMDB page here  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm5414625/?ref_=tt_ov_wr and reach him via email at spesh2k “AT” msn.com.

Link for Mike’s Twitter Page: @spesh2k https://twitter.com/spesh2k

Link for The Suicide Theory trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5eaXXOKJvtg

Thursday, November 19, 2015

STS Exclusive Interview – An intimate (hot, steamy and snarky) chat with optioned writer Steven Prowse and Anthony Cawood - posted by wonkavite

Steven Prowse – Get to know him, love him – and be real jealous!

Interviewed by STS’s very own Anthony Cawood

Today we’ve the pleasure of interviewing Steven Prowse, who was good enough to answer my questions, both insightful and inane!

Steven has placed in over 130 competitions, winning 25 in the process with numerous quarter and semi final places to boot… he’s also just optioned a true WWII feature for a mid six figure sum to Hollywood!

To super-glue a smile to everyone’s faces, please take a look at dear Mr. Prowse’s IMDB page.

Trust us – this is a guy you want to have burned into your synapses. In a very good way…

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on yourself and how you got into screenwriting?

A: In my teens I was a math geek who hated English. English was way too subjective for my tastes. But I was somehow awarded a Scholarship to Cambridge University to read Math. After that I fell into accounting (this is where you start to feel sad for me) and am currently at CFO level (maybe not so sad). I’ve also played bridge at international level. So there was nothing in my history to suggest I would, could or should ever write.

However, in 1999 I took a year sabbatical and quickly became bored. One can only watch so much daytime TV before one’s IQ starts bleeding through the eyes. One random shopping trip I decided to challenge myself, and all I could think of was to write a novel. English – my nemesis. By the time I arrived home I had the first and last chapters pretty much verbatim, but it took almost the full year to connect the dots.

As research, it included personal tours of the White House, the DoJ Building and the main FBI Building. This was pre 9/11 – I’m not sure such accommodation would be granted now. It also involved getting some FBI agents drunk. Did they really think they could compete with a writer? I learned so much those two nights – especially on the second night when they brought in the professional drinkers. Their loss. My gain. Oh how they’ll talk!

It turned out, to my utter surprise, that I thoroughly enjoyed the writing process, with or without alcohol. The novel, like 98% of written novels, has never been published, though I am tempted to e-publish it myself next year. I never set out to have it published in any case – it was just to keep the brain cogs turning.

After the sabbatical, back to work for another twelve years before taking another sabbatical. I wanted to write again but didn’t fancy a whole novel – quite the investment. I remember snapping at one-too-many movies where it appeared the script had been written by a computer which had simply taken another script and moved some of the words and scenes around. I can’t even remember if it was an action movie or a rom-com.

Screenplays it was then. I preferred it in any case as there is no inner monologue and you don’t take a page describing the scenery. As a result, they are smaller projects (usually around 15-20% of the number of words of a novel), so one can have more variety in a year with different projects. Hence the plethora of screenplays out there floating on the internet vying for attention.

Q: And how many features, shorts etc have you written now?

A: Other than the novel in 1999, I wrote five features in 2013, one based on the novel: a Mel Brooks satire of all things Hollywood, an FBI Procedural, a medieval horror, a true WW2 story, and a low-budget children’s movie. The rest of my spare time since then has been spent revising and editing them – a never-ending process.

I have written a premise for a TV show which has won a first and second place, but I have yet to develop it.

I also have in my head a hopefully compelling and unique 7-hour TV drama. I’ve written down a detailed synopsis, the beats for each episode, but have yet to commit myself to actually writing it in full. If I can garner success with the other projects I have invested so much time, energy and passion into, then maybe I’ll pick it up. I’ve dreamt every episode. I’ve got to the stage where I refuse to expend any more energy on screenwriting, despite the successes.

Q: Did you undertake any formal training, courses or just jump in?

A: Warren Buffet once advised never to test the depth of the water with both feet. What does that billionaire know about anything? I ignored that and jumped straight in.

Q: Any advice for beginner screenwriters based on what you learnt with your first few scripts?

A: Please note that any answers I give forthwith (and above) are based on two-and-a-half years of intensive competition entries. Despite any successes, a certain amount of jaded, tired ennui will seep through. Please filter accordingly.

Feedback, patience and a thick skin rule in equal measure. Do not think your first scripts, and certainly not the first drafts of any scripts, are any good. 99.9% of the time they won’t be. The temptation once the wonderful first draft is done is to throw it and money into competitions and sit back vaingloriously awaiting the inevitable praise and offers that will come your way.

Send it to friends who will be truthful with you. Spend some money on independent reviews, even if they only offer feedback of a few pages. It will be cash well spent in the long run. Enter it in competitions that also provide this service as part of the entrance fee if you like. As I said, English is subjective and there is nothing worse than yourself appraising your own work.

Also, be careful over the first few scripts not to inject your personal favorite sayings, phrases and habits in different scripts. It’s an easy unconscious slip. Always focus on producing different, defined characters that are not similar cuttings of you.

Q: You are massively successful in screenwriting competitions, I think I counted 25 outright wins for all five features, plus nine 2nds and over a hundred official selections. What prompted you to go the competition route?

A: Exposure. Being a first-time screenwriter it was the only way to attract any attention from agents, managers or producers. The spam query letter, despite it being professionally sculptured, rarely (if ever) succeeds, not even with boutique companies.

Q: How did you assess and select the competitions you entered?

A: At the beginning I didn’t. It was pretty much a costly scatter-gun approach – the competition version of a spam query letter. Of course, I did the research and found out the top competitions and entered them but, in the beginning trying to get placings on my CV, it was a question of width rather than quality. I pretty much entered everything. There was also the hope of a quick placing for my own comfort that I must be doing *something* right. Many screenwriters do this. We are insecure.

Of course, as the placings and wins started to mount up I had the width, so quality became more important. Enter Phase II. Now I tend to avoid the pure internet-based competitions. There are some good ones out there that are not connected with a land-based film festival, but most are worthless by name, just by number. Now I research the history of the competition (I never enter a competition in its first year – it almost certainly won’t carry any weight), try to find comments from previous entrants, etc, etc.

Q: What’s the biggest you’ve won in your opinion?

A: A trickier question than one might think. In terms of potential exposure, it would have to be the long-running and popular Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival for the true WW2 story. Not only did it win Best Historical Screenplay, but was awarded a Special Jury Award as well. Potential exposure, yes, but nothing came of it.

In terms of ‘biggest’ from a personal point of view, and possibly the biggest surprise, it would have to be Best Screenplay for the same true WW2 story from the Female Eye Film Festival based in Toronto. This festival focuses on the advancement of women as directors, screenwriters and actors. I was lucky enough to attend last year and the dedication they spend trying to promote women at all levels in the industry is quite awe-inspiring.

Come the awards ceremony, I obviously did not expect to win, even though the script focuses on the true story of an all-woman air-regiment that basically bombed the crap out of the German forces, and the battles to have the regiment formed in the first place. No one with male genitalia had won in any category in its twelve year history. Yet I did. I really wish I had refrained from Writers’ Drink before the acceptance speech…

Q: What’s your favorite competition and why?

That’s an easy one. ReelHeART, based in Toronto. The enthusiasm and energy of the organizer, Shannonn Kelly, the fact that the top three nominated scripts get a full table read (an invaluable experience), the fact that unpaid actors rehearse these scripts time and time again and that they are integral to the whole festival…it just energizes you to a level you never thought you could attain.

Q: And what have you learnt from your incredible run in competitions?

To be honest, that most competitions (the internet ones) are there simply to make money from wannabe screenwriters like myself and do not care for their career. Skimming the market. Many boast great judges, great connections and that the winning script will be sent to their contacts. Maybe that is kosher, maybe it is not. Who can tell? But most agents / managers / producers will not have heard of these competitions nor care. As I said, there are exceptions of course.

But it’s a symbiotic relationship. I accepted most were not worth a damn but wanted some sort of recognition, any recognition, and wanted to build up that list as well. And it worked – like getting letters after your name from a bogus on-line university. I finally got noticed not by an agent, but by Network ISA as you mention later.

You say it is an incredible run, maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I really can’t tell. Although I have a large number of wins / placings, for every one of those there are three competitions I failed to place in. Given the average number of scripts entered into a competition is around 600, perhaps a 25% success rate is something, I guess. With a machine gun in a crowd, you’re bound to hit some.

Also, as I said, grow a thick thin is a rule. There are several competitions I have entered that, given previous successes, I was a shoe-in for. Yet I never reached the first round. English. Subjective.

Q: Have the competitions themselves given you options/sales etc?

Nothing. Just USD 700 in cash, a few trophies, a few certificates, and many e-mailed jpgs saying ‘Winner’.

Q: I believe the volume and consistency of the competition successes brought you to the attention of the development team at Network ISA, how did that play out?

There are several websites out there that promote the concept that agents / managers / producers regularly scour them looking for the Next Best Thing, but there are rare successes. Interestingly, more than one website lay claim that Snow White And The Huntsman, which sold for over USD 3m due to a new overly-ambitious studio head at the time, was because the script was on their website. It was on many websites. Be wary of that.

Unless it’s a micro-budget, do not expect any interest. Obviously there are many, many exceptions, but just prepare yourself for a lack of interest. As I said, a thick-skin is one of the rulers. Chip, chip, chip away. Do not expect Thor’s Hammer with one mighty blow, no matter how good you think your script is.

On Network ISA however, instead of being just a dating site / data dump / hosting site like Blacklist and most others, they have a spot-the-potential (‘Development’) team headed by Max Timm that search through what is registered on their database, search through the post-your-success page, spot the potentials and then pro-actively engage to make the script and log-line better and then send it out to their contacts.

Now a lot of their post-your-success page is “I reached the quarter-final of something you might have heard of!” Well whoopee-do. I hate to say it, but nobody cares. Luckily, because of my costly scatter-gun approach, the number of wins and official selections became very high and as a result I became noticed by the Development Team. The investment in insignificant competitions worked – at least for me. Like everything in commerce, the success of a product is a mixture of how inherently good it is and the marketing campaign. I can only comment on my own approach.

Q: What have they done for you so far?

A: Max sent the script to a Hollywood studio, and after several months, it is now optioned for a mid-six figure amount.

Max has also helped on loglines for the other projects, and introduced me to an agent who, free of charge, helped out with the negotiations for the option as noted above. Wow.

I still don’t have an agent of manager, despite the success, so my only message to the audience is not to expect to get one.

Q: I understand it’s an invitation only scheme the ISA run, any tips for getting the invite?

A: Simply do enough to get noticed. Network ISA is a “tell us what you’ve achieved in competitions” database as opposed to the other more simplified “Here’s my screenplay and my log-line” dating databases that freckle and infest the internet. It turned out that my approach to competitions and their looking for potential was a perfect storm. It won’t work for everyone, it just happened to work for me.

Q: You are a ‘mature’ screenwriter and have come to the industry relatively late, do you think that helped or hindered?

A: Age only seems significant if one is a female actor. There are many reasons screenwriters rarely appear in front of the camera. Age is just one of them. I, for example, have the perfect face for radio.

Q: One of your recent, multi-award winning, screenplays has been optioned by Hollywood for a significant fee, what can you tell us about the screenplay?

A: Right now, female-led scripts are at the fore. They are looking to make The Expendabelles as a parallel to The Expendables, as an example.

There was a project for this true story about 15 years ago, but that script parachuted in a male, US lead to make it commercial, but luckily that plane never took off. Hearing about this aborted take-off of the actual facts, is what spurred me to write my own commercial version with as little distortion from the truth as possible. These women earned that. Here’s the log-line:

“With wood and canvas biplanes, no radio, no lights, no defenses and no parachutes, just bombs, these WW2 Soviet pilots terrorized the German front line night after night. They just happened to be women. A true story.”

To be honest, because I tried to deviate from the truth as little as possible, I feel more like an editor rather than a screenwriter. There was so much I needed to embellish, so much heroism I needed to cut, in order to get the big picture (pun intended) across to make it cinematic and therefore share the diluted truth with the maximum audience. I just hope I did them justice in the long run and that the equation worked.

Q: You’ve written a number of screenplays, what do you think set this one apart?

A: A multi-women action lead, where the women are not defined by how men perceive them? Priceless. It’s time is now. Prior to that…well you had Ripley solo in the Alien franchise, a few women in horror sequels, but that was pretty much it. The emphasis on ‘pretty’.

Q: And how did the option come about?

As mentioned, the Development team at Network ISA noticed the continuing successes of the WW2 story, as well as my other projects, and got in touch.

Q: Did you need or use an agent to negotiate?

Initially I used a lawyer in the UK, but he turned out to be as helpful as a one-armed wallpaper hanger. Luckily Max Timm introduced me to an agent friend of his who gave great advice at no cost re negotiations, which ultimately I handled myself. As a seasoned CFO making all sorts of third-party agreements, I hope I manged to avoid most of the traps.

Q: What’s the current status of the project?

A: Early days. No financing, directors nor cast in place yet. As to how many options are turned into films I have no idea. Watch this space.

Q: What have you learnt through the process?

A: Count to 10. Then learn how to count to 1,000.

Q: Any interest in your other projects as a result of your first option?

A: As you may have noticed, the title of the option has not been publicized anywhere, not even in this interview. No doubt it’s easily discoverable with Google, but the production company does not want it as yet actively advertised.

Somewhat frustrating both for me personally and Network ISA’s Development Team, but it does mean there is yet to be a cascade of dominos.

Q: Have you used, and if so what are your thoughts on notes and coverage services?

A: I have only used them as part of a competition – never in its own right. Perhaps that approach is a mistake in hindsight. Overall though, I would say costly, an investment, but invaluable. Many sites seem to have feedback generated by a computer. “Where’s the character arc for person #3? According to Save The Cat (“STC”) this plot point should be a page earlier”. Ack. Many really take the time and invest in your project. Many churn it out unthinkingly. It truly depends on the particular judge you get on the particular website. Despite any advertising by websites, it is a throw of the die.

I hate STC (Google “Save The Cat”). It should have been killed 4.5 times according to Schrödinger. One should write by wrote, not rote. Personally, I would have bombed the f***er and left no doubt.

Q: And do you use these if available in the competitions you enter?

Not now, but I have come to the end of my competition entries. See above.

Q: Do you have a favorite genre?

No, but I have ‘unfavorite’ ones. I will never do a straight relationship kitchen-sink drama for example. Nor I will not entertain a screenplay that deals with a person’s spiral into decay. If I want disappointment and anxiety in my life, I’ll use my memory. Some use screenwriting as a cathartic experience, I use it to fly with possibilities from a lighter platform.

I will only do screenplays where there are multiple beats where the audience gets warm / fuzzy / I should have seen that coming, dammit / LOL moments. In other words, entertainment as opposed to a journey. Commercial? Perhaps, but that’s me. Every writer has their own personal landscape the audience doesn’t see. That just happens to be mine.

Q: How do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?

A: For me, and only me, let it mull / ferment / mature for a month. Patience. Write down the clever phrases, the beats, the pay-offs (along with earlier moments leading to it), the profound, anything that comes to mind or in the middle of the night.

*Only* then start to write it. Copy / paste in your ideas above wherever they fit into the script.

What you end up with is a movie through your own eyes. Almost certainly not commercially viable – audience of one. If you want your project to be shared, ie. viewed by others, you now need to take a long time, step back, and re-write it from the perspective of the audience. This I think is the hardest part of the writing process. Try your best to turn it from subjective to objective. Much of “self” needs to be discarded.

STC is pretty much the rule book for screenwriting for the machine-industry and, for me, is the most insidious thing ever written. Most people in the industry, overwhelmed by wannabees like me (screenwriting is easy!), simply use this as a rule book almost like a spam filter rather than seeing the underlying structure and story.

The scripts that stand out are the ones that do not follow the STC formula, yet to break into the industry you must be seen as a relatively risk-free investment – in other words you followed STC. Quite exasperating.

Q: What’s your favourite film? And script, if they’re different.

A: Film? Script? Luckily the same answer. Once Upon A Time In America. Not the butchered cinematic version that cut an hour, but the full version now available everywhere.

To make gangsters sympathetic characters is one of the greatest achievements in screenwriting and it is no surprise there were more than seven people involved in the screenplay.

The direction, the art direction, the cinematography, the acting and the music – rarely has it come together so well. The fact that the screenplay cuts back and forth between different decades without insulting the audience is an extra boon.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?

The worst? “Write for yourself” – you’ll have an audience of one. The best? Patience, think of the audience, and never think a screenplay is finished.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters on SimplyScripts?

A: To anyone, persevere. Expect blocked walls. Try to step back from your first draft. Get, welcome, and respond to feedback.

Q: Any advice for writers who think they have the next $500 million hit script if they could just get an agent/make a connection?

A: Think again, you arrogant self-absorbed fool.

Q: What projects are you working on now and when can next expect to see your name on the credits?

A: Nothing as of now.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

A: There is no right answer, no correct path. All I have done is to explain the footsteps *I* took. I only have experience to give you with only a little wisdom. I doubt anyone can give general wisdom in this field.

– Steve (Editor’s note: we’d add “love and kisses” Steve. But we figure we’ll leave that up to him!) 🙂

About reviewer Anthony Cawood: I’m an award winning screenwriter from the UK with over 15 scripts produced, optioned and/or purchased. Outside of my screenwriting career, I’m also a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to my films and details of my scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

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July 29, 2016

    The elements: The rising phoenix by Iacob Flavius Catalin

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