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Friday, September 15, 2017

Interviews: Lisa DeVita, writer of Peelers. - posted by Anthony Cawood

If you’ve not seen it… Peelers is a fun filled horror film set in a strip club, more details here.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the writer recently and Lisa Devita was good enough to spend some time answering all my dumb questions and her answers are insightful, entertaining and often hilarious – thanks Lisa!

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

I was coming upon the last semester of my tenure at university… decision time… what do I want to do with my life once I must leave the sanctuary of school?  I was at a loss as to what to do with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in English. My choices were to become a school teacher or get a job at a video store. I wasn’t very keen on either and then it hit me… all my life I’ve been a storyteller. I majored in English because I loved reading stories and I loved writing them. As a kid I’d spend hours in front of the mirror, not doing my hair and trying on makeup, but acting out plays, doing stand-up comedy and hosting variety shows. Just before I graduated I finally woke up and saw the answer that had been sitting right in front of me the whole time, I was just too wrapped up in university life to see it. But I wasn’t sure what type of writing I wanted to do so I enrolled in two courses that were quite different to see which one appealed: Copywriting and Screenwriting. The Copywriting class was interesting and fun but I didn’t like the whole consumerist angle to it and the storytelling aspect was kinda limited to an ADHD audience. The Screenwriting class however, grabbed me hook, line and sinker. I fell in love with every aspect… the character development, the dialogue, setting the scene, the hero’s journey, the plot twists, learning the lesson. All of it had me at “hello.”  The next day, I applied to Vancouver Film School’s Writing for Film & Television program and have never looked back.

Q: Peelers is your first IMDB credit for Writing, but you have a number of credits in Editorial capacities – what did these entail?

I worked in Post Production mainly as a coordinator helping to streamline the editorial process. I loved it. Post Production is amazing to behold how it all comes together. I also worked in research and story development on a Factual TV series called “Vanity Insanity” that delved into the world of plastic surgery… very interesting and scary stuff. It was an amazing experience as I got to work in the area I’m most interested in (Story Development). I also worked in Clearances. Worst. Job. Ever. You’re basically asking permission to use someone’s likeness in a show, or a logo, or some footage, and nine times out of ten the answer is either “NO” or “what are you going to do for me?”  Although the best answer I ever got (from an actor whose likeness we wanted to use) was a 2-page, single-spaced essay on how the work I was doing (in this case clearances on a documentary on vampires in film) was the work of the devil and if I only chose to follow Christ, that my life would be better for it. I still have the letter. It’s gold. Either way, I’m not one to ask for permission, it’s just not in my nature. So I quit very soon after.

Q: Was this experience useful to your screenwriting?

I would say this experience was far more useful in the world of office politics and learning how the whole process of TV making happens, and how building and nurturing relationships is essential. But the number one thing I learned that has been the most important lesson and carries me through my filmmaking career to this day, is that no matter what happens, if your lead actor drops out at the last minute, or your camera gear isn’t working on set, or the caterer doesn’t show up, that there is ALWAYS a way to get it (your shooting day) done. You just have to have hustle and creative chutzpah, but there is a way. It was the producer of the factual TV series we were working on who taught me that, Laura Watson. Sadly, she passed away a few years ago from breast cancer, but I’ve never forgotten that lesson (and watched her implement it on multiple occasions). In fact, we dedicated Peelers to her memory because there’s no way we could’ve made the film without remembering her lesson.

Q: Did you write anything else prior to Peelers, Shorts or Features?

Yes, I’ve written a couple of features and many, many shorts. I love shorts. I find them so easy to write. All you need is one great idea, or a great twist. I know they’re not the best way to try and make a living (unless you’re Pixar) but I still love writing them.

Q: And Peelers, was that spec or commission?

It was on commission. I’m supposed to get a dollar for the script (still haven’t seen it though). Such is the reality of indie filmmaking.

Q: How did you hook up with Seve (Peelers Director)?

Sevé’s sales agent on Skew (his first feature film) suggested he make another horror film because they’re easier to sell in the indie market. His only two requirements were that it have more blood and more nudity. And while I’m all for nudity (who isn’t?), Sevé didn’t want to make a film with gratuitous boob shots. So he thought: where can a film take place in which nudity is the norm?  And the location for Peelers was born. At this time we were both working at one of the biggest production houses in Vancouver, BC within the post production department (he was a colorist and I was a post production coordinator). We had played baseball together a few times outside of work and therefore Sevé knew that I was working on my own screenplays, so he pitched me the idea of writing a horror script that takes place in a strip club. I used to live in Las Vegas so I had lots of source material and so I jumped at the chance to write the script. In fact, the story for Peelers was inspired by a crazy incident that happened to me while at a strip club in Las Vegas. But I’ll have to save that story for another time… Anyway, we both have the same sense of humor and we worked really well together so it turned out to be an amazing director-writer partnership where one person is a little nuts (the writer) and the other person reels it in and edits for structure and focus (the director).

Q: Did you have to change the script much to get the film made?

The basic concept for the story didn’t change but definitely a lot of the kills did. In my initial drafts I had some crazy kills that would’ve involved some pretty high tech special effects (or highly skilled visual effects) both of which we did not have access to and when Sevé read them in my script he kindly reminded me that we didn’t have a $25 million dollar budget, so it was back to the drawing board for many kill scenes. Basically, we discussed which kills we wanted to keep the most and spend our budget on. I was allowed to keep two or three, but the rest had to be “finessed” into indie budget standards in order for us to shoot.

Q: Peelers is proper old school exploitation, how much fun was it to write?

A ton of fun!  As most of my friends and family can attest, I’m a teenage boy trapped in a woman’s body. I love crossing the line, pushing the envelope. I love potty humor and boobs. I have no filter and so this is how I approached the screenplay. Of course this is where Sevé makes for such a great creative partner – he encourages me to write sans filter on the first go-round, just get everything out there on paper, but then he sees the big picture (and the budget) so he’s a pro at knowing what to keep, what needs finessing and what needs to go. Sure I fight for my favorite stuff to stay in the picture; sometimes I win, sometimes I lose, but in the end, I trust Sevé and it’s always a learning process. The ending for example (I won’t give it away) Sevé and I debated a long time whether to keep it or not. We worried that people might think we went too far and end up hating the entire movie because of it. But in this overly politically-correct world, I’m always looking to offend, so we decided to keep it. And I’m glad we did because people go nuts for it. Audiences scream with devilish glee at it. And then turn around and say, “I can’t believe you went there.”  And that’s my aim as a writer (well, one of my aims). I definitely was a champion for more humor in the script and Sevé wanted more of a serious tone, so those moments in the film that are cheesy and goofy and sick and twisted are my doing and the more pensive, somber moments have gone through the “Sevé edit.”  In the end, I think we got the balance just right. We’ve had so many reviewers write that we got the mix of gore and humor bang on, which is so great to hear especially after months of back and forth deliberation wondering if we went too far down either end of the dark/dreary or ridiculous/cheesy spectrum.

Q: And you were also involved in the film’s production as a Producer, what exactly did this entail? 

Producer = Do every role that you don’t have crew for (for indie filmmakers anyway). All you have to do is watch the credits roll at the end of Peelers and you’ll see mine and Sevé’s name on there at least 20 times (and of course there’s lots of stuff we didn’t bother taking credit for). And most of the roles I took on, I had zero experience in. But you learn pretty quickly, because if you don’t, there’s no movie. To this day (three years after production) I still have plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis from being on my feet all day, everyday during production. I refer to them as my battle scars. I worked extensively in acquiring sponsorship and music for the soundtrack, set design and construction, costumes, prop acquisition and rentals, location scouting, craft services and first aid to name a few. I was even a half naked body double. It was the hardest I’ve ever worked in my whole life. And I did it without pay. And I loved it. Sure there were tough times. But at the end of it all, it was truly amazing to take it all in and say, “Look at what we did!”  Truly unbelievable.

Q: And how was the film funded, it wasn’t through poker winnings was it?

No poker winnings involved this time, haha, although it was seriously considered. And that’s no exaggeration… as indie filmmakers, you honestly consider EVERY possible way to raise funds for your film and since I’m pretty consistent at coming out ahead when I play, we toyed with the idea of me going to Vegas for a few months to “raise” money. Ultimately, we decided against it, as it was too time-consuming and not as cost effective as we imagined. We funded the film however, through all of our own money that we saved up from working our asses off at our paid jobs, lots and lots of favors, begging, loving parents, and Kickstarter. Although I wouldn’t do Kickstarter again. It’s much more bother than it’s worth.

Q: You’ve been on the road touring festivals with Seve/Peelers, fun or grind?

Although I’m definitely a “glass-is-half-full” kinda person, if I’m being totally honest, I’d have to say it was more grind than fun. Don’t get me wrong, some festivals are great. For example, A Night of Horror Festival in Australia was amazing, but that’s because it’s run by an amazing guy (who has become a good friend now). The Julienne Dubuque Fest is also incredible too. Also, run by an amazing woman. But most festivals are a total waste of time and money. It is truly the people running the show who make or break a festival and most are definitely broken. After our festival run I was totally burnt out and despondent from the overall experience. I will definitely be much more selective when choosing which festivals to attend in the future.

Q: And where are you with Peelers now, distribution all sorted and festivals finished?

Distribution is continually ongoing but so far we have distribution in Canada, USA and overseas. Festivals are done now, although we occasionally get asked to screen at various venues and conventions still. We even screened at a Drive-in in Shelbyville, Indiana this year!  Very cool.

Q: And where can we see Peelers?

We are now all over the USA… RedBox, VOD, iTunes, Amazon.com, etc. Many foreign countries are picking us up and Canada is slowly coming along… I know that we are on VOD now. More to come…

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

I’m sure those services are great if you can afford them, but I think the best script doctors are the ones who love stories, and yes, that’s probably most everyone, but that’s because I believe storytelling is an innate gift in all of us, some of us just practice it more often than others. My brother and sister for example are excellent script doctors. My sister is a book worm, and I give her my scripts to read all the time. I trust her because she knows instantly what works and what doesn’t, she has a great sense for pacing and flow in a story and yet she’s never been to film school or taken a course in screenwriting. My brother has seen every movie out there. He can tell you exactly what’s wrong with Star Wars Episode 3 before you even think about it. So I trust his input implicitly. You watch enough movies and read enough books, you know how a story is supposed to work, even if you’ve never written one yourself. Besides, the professional script doctors I’ve met are jaded, bitter and don’t have the time to watch movies or read books. I’d rather give my script to someone who wants to help me find the magic, not someone who wants to see me burn in hell, hahaha.

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

I know networking is essential in order to make connections, in order to get your work out there, in order to get discovered, in order to make a living off of writing, and so on and so forth, but I just loathe it. I live inside my head, I don’t want to go out into the real world and make small talk. Besides, no one wants to talk to the writer (even though writers are the most interesting of the bunch!)  But alas, if I want my work to be discovered, it is what I must do. And so, in between my writing and my drawing and my reading and my daydreaming, I plan on getting out there… I even got Larry King’s book on small talk entitled: “How to Talk to Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere.”  It really is an amazing book, very helpful. I’ll be testing it out at an industry party soon. After a few drinks of course.

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 these services yet but I’m definitely up for doing so one day when I become that proud parent who has a baby script I’d like to show off to others. I don’t know any screenwriters personally who’ve found success with any of these services, but I’ve read the loglines on The Blacklist website and some of them are great, so I’m sure, or at least I hope, these screenplays will get picked up.

Q: What are your thoughts on screenwriting competitions, entered any yourself, any success?

I think they’re all a scam. Just a way to make starving artists starve even more. I’d only enter a competition if the fee was waived. The fees are just way too high on the majority of competitions and only a very select few are worthy of your time. Similar to festivals.

Q: You worked for the World Series of Poker and I believe you play a bit too, what’s the highest level/buy in you’ve played at?

While I was working for the WSOP I was allowed to enter the Media-Celebrity event since I was part of the media. It takes place halfway through the World Series tournament and there are approximately 500 entrants. The buy-in is taken care of for you and your final table winnings (if you make it) are donated to the charity of your choice. It was an absolute blast. A few times I was down to my last chips, in serious danger of busting out, but I miraculously built up my stash each time. Celebs at my table at different points in time during the tournament included Jennifer Tilly (she’s very good, very aggressive player), Dick Van Patten and his son Vince Van Patten, Shannon Elizabeth and even the legendary Ron Jeremy (what an entourage he had… ) Amazingly, I actually made it to the final table and busted out in seventh place overall! Because of this, I’m listed on Card Player’s website (which in the poker world is a big honor, haha).

Q: How did you get into poker?

I was living in Las Vegas at the time and I’d always been intrigued by the game. I love games in general as I’m highly competitive. So one day, my boyfriend at the time taught me how to play. After a few home study sessions he surprised me on my birthday with a night out at a live poker table in a real casino. I started with 40 dollars at a 1-2 table. I was SO nervous. Each time the dealer called action on me I could barely hear him over the deafening thudding of my heartbeat. Whenever I placed a bet my hands shook uncontrollably, I could barely hold the chips without dropping them. I don’t know if anyone else noticed this but my boyfriend sure did, telling me it was so obvious. To this day my hands still shake whenever I have good cards, so friends and family always look for this (my poker “tell”) and avoid playing against me when they see it. I’m still working on learning to control it. Anyway, two hours later, I had made $200 so we decided to leave on a high, nothing too greedy since it was my first time. I was absolutely hooked on the game from that day forward. It was a great birthday.

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

I’m all over the map at the moment. I’ve written a sci-fi novel (first draft) that is in desperate need of a re-write (but I’m excited to do so). I’ve also finished a family-comedy feature film script (quite the departure from a stripper horror). And I’m currently working on a dark comedy.

Q: You write fiction and factual too, how do you find it swapping between disciplines?

I find it much harder to write factual, and a bore, I can’t help but embellish. I’m not a fan of reality.

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

Best advice:  “You can’t be afraid to look dumb, especially when writing comedy. You have to get through all the dumb stuff in order to get to the gold.”

Worst advice:  “Write only what you know.”

Now for a few ‘getting to know Lisa’ questions

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

Well, I have a Top Ten List of favorite films of course, but my top 3 are:  The Natural, The Power of One and The Hangover. My favorite script however is Midnight Run by George Gallo. It is near perfect in every way. I never get sick of it.

Q: Favourite author and book? 

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It blew my mind. I didn’t want it to end.

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

A Moscow Mule.

Q: Favourite food?

Steak. And cheese. And ice cream. And burgers. Let’s just sum this up and say “COW” is my favorite food and everything that comes from cow. Butter too. Butter makes everything better.

Q: Fave type of poker? Favourite player?

7-card stud, hands-down. The “Old Gentlemen’s Game” as they call it. That’s the game I first learned to play at a casino. But with the rise in popularity of Texas Hold’em, it is near impossible to find a 7-card stud game anywhere these days. So I had to eventually learn Texas Hold’em. And while I do enjoy it, I much prefer 7-card stud. Texas Hold’em is mostly balls and luck. But 7-card stud is a thinking game of patience and strategy and timing. That’s probably why you’ll only see old men playing it. And me. Favorite poker player:  Jesus aka Chris Ferguson. I love his calm, quiet demeanor. He was so cool and unassuming. And a brilliant player. No loud showboating like Phil Hellmuth or Mike “The Mouth” Matusow. For the record, neither of those guys shut up. Ever. I was there and witnessed this first-hand at the WSOP. Oh and also, Doyle “Dolly” Brunson is another favorite. He is a sweetheart. A true southern gentleman and so fun to watch play. It’s as if he can read minds.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

I’m an avid comic book collector/fan. And not just now because Marvel has usurped the world of film, but I’ve been a fan since I was a kid, back in the day when they made fun of you for reading comics. I’m also a HUGE baseball fan. Which is why Peelers has a prevalent baseball theme throughout. I loved interweaving the baseball element throughout the film. The same reason I love 7-card stud poker applies to why baseball is my favorite sport. It’s a thinking sport; replete with drama, poetry, tension, failure, joy, accomplishment, retribution. All the elements that make a great story. It is definitely the writer’s sport. As the saying goes: “Baseball is only boring to boring minds.”  I totally agree.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

Write on. And never. Ever. Give. Up.

Thanks again Lisa.


Check out Peelers Official Website and IMDB
Stream it on Amazon Prime or iTunes or get the Blu-ray

About the reviewer: Anthony Cawood is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 4 short films produced and another 10 or so scripts optioned and/or purchased. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Interviews: Jerrol LeBaron, founder of InkTip. - posted by Anthony Cawood

Jerrol-Bio-lg Most screenwriters quickly discover that writing isn’t the only challenge they face… they’re also expected to ‘get their scripts out there’ and connect with Producers looking for material.

They also soon learn that this is a lot easier said than done!

So in my latest interview, I catch up with Jerrol LeBaron, the founder of InkTip, who has so far helped over 300 projects get started.

Jerrol has over 17 years experience and his answers cover a wealth of useful info for screenwriters everywhere.

 

Q: First up, how about a little bit of background on the man behind InkTip, how did you get into the industry?
I started off as an actor/writer. I had a script I was proud of and was determined to get it made, but I couldn’t get it to producers. What I saw was a gate. On the other side of the gate opening were producers, agents, and managers looking for scripts and writers. Trying to squeeze through the gate were writers like me wanting to gain representation, sell their scripts, or get hired. But getting the producers and reps to figure out which writers and scripts to let through the gate was maddening. Every now and then a few scripts or writers were able to squeeze through. So, I thought to myself, what if I build a website where writers could post their scripts and where producers and reps could log in and do searches for exactly what they were looking for?

Q: And did you ever get anywhere with that script (or any since)?
Nope. I realized I was better suited to help other writers get their scripts sold and produced and that’s what I’ve been focusing on. It’s very rewarding. I love helping producers find just what they need and helping writers move their careers forward. I’ve also reread my script and felt a little embarrassed.

Q: How would you describe InkTip to a new writer or producer?
It’s like matchmaking for filmmaking. Producers come to InkTip to find scripts and writers. Writers come to InkTip so they can sell their scripts or get hired by producers. We make it possible for them to access each other to get films made. We average 3-4 script options a week.

How it works is producers let us know what they need and we connect them with writers who have the types of projects they’re looking for through our secure online database. Producers visit InkTip.com and search for scripts and writers. They can search by a variety of categories and criteria and contact writers directly. Producers also put out calls for script submissions in our weekly Preferred Newsletter. We then send this out to our writers so they can pitch their completed scripts to producers, most of which don’t accept unsolicited queries.

We even out the playing field for writers. We make it possible for hundreds of producers to find them, no matter where they’re located. Our most popular service for writers is an InkTip Script Listing. Writers can post their loglines, synopses, scripts, and resumes in our secure online database. Producers then reach out to these writers to learn more about their scripts.

We’ve had writers from all over the U.S., the U.K., and around the world sell scripts on InkTip. Even if you are in L.A., getting scripts to producers without a rep or connections is very difficult. We make it possible for writers to reach producers directly and for producers to find new talent. InkTip is free for qualified producers. (Register here.) Writers can sign up here.

Q: You have over 315 success stories, what was it like with the first few? Validation? Getting a business going is always a labor of love. In fact, I lost most of my hair getting InkTip up and running! It was a lot of long days and late nights. When those first successes started rolling in and we were able to watch films that were made because we connected the writers and producers, it was amazing. It was exciting to see the result of the hard work we’d put in. I still get a thrill when I see a trailer for a film made through us. I miss my hair, but it was worth it.

Q: There are other players in the market these days, what do you think differentiates InkTip?
I’m proud to say that no one gets the kind of results we get. We’ve had more than 315 films made through people connecting on InkTip. In addition to that, there are hundreds of options, sales, and writers that found representation through InkTip. Producers come to us because they are seriously looking for scripts and writers. Writers use InkTip because they want to move their careers forward. We never pay producers to use the site or any of our services so the connections made through our site are genuine.

Q: People believe that InkTip’s producers are at the Indie end, with smaller budgets (relatively speaking), would this be fair?
We work with all types of producers. We do work with indie producers, but that’s not to say they’re all filming on small budgets. We also work with producers from large companies such as ABC, Anonymous Content, APA, CBS Films, HBO Films, ICM, Paradigm, Paramount Pictures, Hallmark Channel, FX, Universal, WME, Echo Lake, Zero Gravity, Bad Robot, 20th Century Fox, and more.

We focus on working with reputable producers who have proven they can make a film and who are open to working with writers who are repped or unrepped, have previous credits or not. Our producers are looking for quality scripts and to develop relationships with writers. Often what happens is that a producer and a writer develop a relationship and continue to collaborate. So while perhaps the first film they made had a small budget, their second is a bigger production. We’ve also had producers and writers develop relationships to the point where the writer will become a co-producer or even direct a film.

We’ve had scripts of a wide range of budgets bought and made through our site. Sometimes that’s a limited-location thriller, sometimes it’s a western with sprawling landscapes, or an action film with helicopter scenes and complicated stunts. You can see some of our films here.

Q: What advice do you have for writers to maximize their chances of getting noticed on InkTip?
It’s important for writers to be proactive and make their work available to producers and representatives. If producers can’t find you or your work, it’s impossible for them to contact you and for anything to happen. So first list your scripts on InkTip and submit to any call for entries in the Preferred Newsletter that your script is a good fit for. You have to get your scripts out there if they are going to get made.

Secondly, take the time to get your loglines and synopsis right. I can’t stress this enough. So many writers will spend months on their scripts and 30 minutes on their synopses. Producers read loglines and synopses first. You need to showcase your style and story in a way that producers will want to take the next step and read your script. Tweak and study how people respond to your logline. The more you improve your logline, the more producers will read your synopsis and then your script.

Be patient and persistent. Even overnight successes typically take years. It only seems overnight on the outside. Stay committed to writing and promoting your scripts and you can get your films made. I’ve seen it work literally hundreds of times.

Q: Can you give us a brief rundown of the paid services?
We have three paid services for writers: InkTip Script Listing, InkTip Magazine, and the InkTip Preferred Newsletter. These are all strong options to get your scripts read and yourself noticed as a writer.

Writers typically start with an InkTip Script Listing. They can post their scripts on InkTip’s secure online database so producers and reps can find them when they are looking for writers. Each InkTip Script Listing is made up of a logline, synopsis, and you have the option of uploading your script or a treatment. Writers include info such as budget, genre, cast size, resume etc. Producers can then search by these criteria to find projects that match their needs. Each InkTip Script Listing costs $60 for 4 months. It’s an affordable way to promote your scripts safely. You’ll also get a record of all the producers who have viewed your logline.

We also have InkTip Magazine. We send out our magazine to our full list of producers and representatives. Altogether a total of nearly 15,000 people receive this publication. For every script they have on InkTip, writers can publish their loglines in the magazine and reach even more producers.

Producers will come to InkTip with specific needs such as a grounded sci-fi thrillers or WWII scripts. We put out these exclusive calls for script submissions in our weekly InkTip Preferred Newsletter. The newsletter is sent out every Thursday and has 6-8 exclusive calls for script submissions from InkTip producers. There are often more than 8 calls for scripts included. It’s a great way to submit your scripts safely and directly to a production company at the exact moment they are looking for a script.

Q: And the free ones?
Registering for an InkTip account is free. Writers can register here and then get access to our logline lab, special discounts to enter contests and film festivals, and access to articles and how-to’s related to the industry.

We have a free weekly newsletter that anyone can sign up for. Subscribers get 1-2 script leads a week and they can submit their work to producers at no cost. You can also preview what’s in the Preferred Newsletter and if you see something you want to submit to, sign up and get immediate access to it.

Many writers have short scripts. All writers can promote their short scripts on InkTip for free. https://www.inktip.com/sa_short_script_listing.php

Q: You make sure you vet prospective producers before they are allowed access, why is that?
We work with companies and producers who are reputable. We connect our writers with producers and industry professionals who have the capability, experience, and connections to make a film. Our first priority is always making it possible for writers to get their scripts sold and find representation. A big part of that is making sure that the producers and reps we work with are credible. So we vet every InkTip producer. We also never pay producers to view scripts. We don’t pay because we don’t want anyone using InkTip under false pretenses. The producers who use our site are searching with the intention of making a film now and not for some other incentive.

Q: I’ve not accessed the site as a producer would, what do they see?
Producers log into the site and they’re able to search for scripts. They can narrow the search by genre, budget, locations, writer credits, and many other options. They then see a page with all of the scripts available that meet their criteria. They instantly see each script’s logline and writer’s name. They can then choose to read the synopsis, script, or contact the writer directly.

You can see a preview of the search page here.
You can see how scripts show up for producers here.

Q: There are a lot of people competing for aspiring screenwriter’s limited money, from guru’s, through coverage services, and a plethora of competitions. What makes InkTip a good investment?
It’s a low-cost way to make your scripts available to hundreds of producers. It’s a secure site, you always know who reads your scripts, and our strong track record speaks for itself

Q: Once a producer finds a script or a writer… what happens next?
The producer and writer make a deal. It might be a script option, buying the writer’s script or hiring the writer for an existing project. InkTip never takes a cut of the deal. The producer and writer are free to make the best deal for them without any interference from us.

Sometimes a producer will like a writer’s script and writing style, but the script is not the right fit at the moment. Often this leads to a relationship where they stay in touch and then down the line they might work together. This happened recently with If I Had Wings written by Michael Markus and Tim Stubinski and produced by Cynde Harmon. Cynde liked one of their scripts a few years back but wasn’t able to move forward with it at the time. She kept in touch with Markus and Tim who let her know what they were working on and she decided to produce one of their scripts. This happens a lot. Connecting with producers always has the possibility of leading to something later down the line.

Q: And what changes have you seen in the industry since you started 17 years ago?
So many changes! When I first started InkTip, the idea that producers could find scripts online was totally new. Now people are comfortable with it and it’s become common, which is great for writers. There are so many more films being made a year. With so many distribution platforms and companies, there are way more opportunities available for writers. It’s a good time to be writing and promoting your scripts.

This is an industry like any other. You gotta knock on a lot of doors to find the right place where your work can shine. Everything takes leg work. It’s about being consistent. One of my favorite quotes is from Benjamin Franklin, “Energy and persistence conquer all things.” That has definitely been true for me. In the last 17 years, I’ve definitely seen how it’s now more possible than ever for writers to break in.

Q: Any advice in general for the aspiring screenwriters on Simply Scripts in terms of breaking in?
Be proactive. Get good at your craft, but don’t obsess about it being perfect. Put yourself and your work out there as much as possible. Follow up and always be professional.

Be positive. Writing can be so personal and it can be rough to handle rejection. If you can stay positive or at least neutral and not go down a road of negativity, it makes it so much easier for you to keep putting in the work. And that’s what helps you move your career forward.

 

Okay, now for some getting to know Jerrol questions…

Q: Fave movie?
I can’t choose just one. I really like Gone with the Wind, Outland, Matrix, and the Edge of Tomorrow.

Q: Best and worst screenwriting advice you’ve had.
Worst advice: Write a great script, and if it is truly great it will automatically get found and made. Your talent will get you through.
Best advice: The best way to NOT get your script made is to not let anybody read it. Believe in yourself and put yourself out there. Dedicate time to building your craft and dedicate as much time to promoting yourself as you do your writing.

Q: Fave food?
Nothing beats a great huevos rancheros!

Q: Fave drink?
Coke or vodka and Coke.

Q: Fave sport and team if applicable?
Basketball; Lakers

Q: Fave thing to do outside of InkTip and writing stuff?
Hanging out with friends and family. I also like woodworking. I used to work in construction and really enjoy building things. I recently redid my garage and it turned out great. I make all my friends and family admire it when they come over.

Q: Any final words of advice to the aspiring writers out there?
Work every week without fail on showcasing your scripts and skills, such as through networking, screenings, entering contests, query letters, follow-ups, etc. Take notes on what is and isn’t effective with your efforts and make improvements. For example, when writing query letters, figure out which one of your query letters works best and apply what you’ve learned moving forward. Do this for your loglines, your synopses, how you introduce yourself at events, etc. Pay attention to what works and doesn’t and act accordingly. Dedicate time to promoting yourself and your scripts and that’ll go a long way in making your career happen.

 

Thanks to Jerrol for being so generous with his time and providing such great answers.

About the reviewer: Anthony Cawood is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 4 short films produced and another 10 or so scripts optioned and/or purchased. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Interviews: Jose Prendes, on low budget filming and working with Asylum - posted by Anthony Cawood

Jose PrendesToday I'm sitting down with filmmaker Jose Prendes to discuss his films, his writing and the fascinating path he's taken... enjoy!

Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting/film making?
I was an only child, and I lost my parents when I was five, so I was very lucky to find myself in the hands of my Godparents, who I came to see as my parents. My dad was a huge movie buff, and he never really set limits on anything I could watch, so banished away my loneliness by plunging into movies and books and things like that. I knew very early on that I wanted to be a part of the movie world. At first, I wanted to be an actor, and I dabble here and there, but I discovered a knack, and an unquenchable love, for writing, and realized that the real power behind a film was the writer/director, so I set my sites on that and haven't looked back since!

Q: You’ve been making films since 2001, The Monster Man been your first credited feature, which stars genre legends Linnea Quigley and Tom Savini how did that come about?
I had just finished film school and wanted to put my learning to the test, which is something that a lot of film school graduates fail to do. I decided to shoot a modest movie, on DV, with my friends as crew, and it ended up getting distribution, which blew my mind. It remains to this day my all time favorite filmmaking experience.

Q: You wrote, directed, produced and starred in The Monster Man, labour of love or only way to get it made?
Everything you make should be a labor of love, because in the end what is the point to any of it? I did all that because I wanted to do all that, and yes, I knew there was no other way
to get it made, and I wasn’t going to wait around for something to make my dreams come true, I was going to force them into reality myself. That’s sound advice for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker. If you can do it yourself, then do it yourself, it’s more rewarding.

Q: How did you go about funding it?
I had family loan me the money, and I was very grateful to them for that!

Q: Did your family get their loan back with interest?
No. No, they did not. But it was an investment in my future! A farm doesn’t usual pull a crop the first year.

Q: Your next work seems to be as a screenwriter on Song of the Vampire, how did that come about?
I got that because the female lead in MONSTER MAN, Denice Duff, was going to make that film her directorial debut, and she asked me to come on board and do a re-write to make it less goofy. It's funny, because MONSTER MAN is a comedy, but she had a feeling I could add something to it, and I tried my best. It was a fun project and I loved going to the New Orleans set and hanging with the crew. Good memories.

Q: A lot of writer/directors start out with short films, you jumped straight into features, did you try shorts?
I did try shorts, in film school. The truth is shorts are worthless in the commercial sense. They are great for practice and cutting your teeth on a set and figuring things out, but as a professional filmmaker, it does nothing for your career. Now, there are exceptions, and career’s have been started based off of shorts, but when you compare it to the amount of shorts that get forgotten the odds are astronomical. It’s a way better bet to make a feature, because then you can at least try for distribution. With a short, all you can do is play festivals, because no one buys shorts. I did shoot a short on 35mm in black and white, with an eye to incorporating it into a feature, which eventually became by second feature, CORPSES ARE FOREVER.

Q: Your next film, Corpses are Forever, you take on multiple hats again, do you enjoy the different roles?
Again, it was a case of no one is going to push this train down the track faster and harder than me, so I took all those jobs (and more that I didn’t credit myself for) with a glad heart because I was making my dreams come true. That film was bigger in scope, with 35mm cameras, and a larger cast, but I had a bigger crew, who kicked ass and we got it through. I got to work with the amazing Brinke Stevens, Debbie Rochon, Felissa Rose, and Linnea again, as well as the now-late icons Richard Lynch and Don Calfa. I also met my wife on that set, so it has very fond memories.

Q: There’s a gap of five or six years before your next work, what were you working on during that period?
I wasn’t able to afford another movie, so I busied myself writing novels, and scripts, and getting married, and moving to Los Angeles.

Q: Your next few films are as a writer, all genre fare, were these spec scripts or commissioned gigs?
Commission gigs, and the less said about these, the better.

Q: You’ve also worked in TV, with Veronique Von Venom and Rest for the Wicked (and others), what are the biggest differences to Film in your opinion?
Well, it’s not really TV, they were youtube shows. We shot them pretty much how we would shoot a film, so no real difference.

Q: Some of your more recent work has been writing for Asylum, how is it working for them and how did you break in?
Asylum distributed CORPSES ARE FOREVER, so that’s how I came to work for them. I’ll be honest, I can be rather frustrating at times, and I hate feeling like a typist, but they gave me a shot to make films, and I will forever be grateful to them for the opportunity.

Q: What’s your personal fave in the work with Asylum?
THE HAUNTING OF WHALEY HOUSE, hands down, because I got to write and direct that sucker, and got to cast with talented young actors and had an amazing crew, and we really got left alone to make our own movie, and people tell me that it doesn’t feel like the typical Asylum film. That’s probably why I wasn’t asked to direct again, and we went our separate ways.

Q: You wrote and directed the 2015 release Blood Brothers/The Divine Tragedies, what can you tell us about it?
It’s based on the Leopold and Loeb case of 1924, about two men who decide to pull off the perfect murder to prove their mastery over mankind with their intelligence. I took a David Lynch/David Cronenberg stab at the idea and turned it into this surreal story about serial killer brothers.

Q: Blood Brothers has a different tone to the Asylum work and some of your earlier projects, was this a conscious shift?
Blood Brothers was a different type of movie than CORPSES or WHALEY, and I knew it needed to have room to breath, so I left it decide for itself what it wanted to be. It was conscious up to a point, deciding on colors and music and aesthetic things like that, but for tone I look back at the script and what came out of there. Sometimes I don’t know what the characters are going to say or what is going to happen, and that’s exciting, that’s when the movie takes on a life of it’s own.

Q: Again you’ve managed to assemble a great genre cast, including Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, do you hire these specifically? If so why?
Casting was interesting for this one. I had the two brothers in mind since the beginning, and then we spent a few months tracking everyone down. I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t have anyone in mind for the roles of Barbara and Ken, but when they names came up it was as if the universe had delivered them to the movie, like they were always supposed to be a part of it. I love their work and they loved the script and the characters, so it was an easy slam dunk.

Q: Any amusing anecdotes about the famous (to genre fans) stars you’ve managed to work with over the years?
Nothing I can share. Hahaha!

Q: You have Unspeakable Horrors: The Plan 9 Conspiracy, coming up... it sounds fascinating and again the cast(?), part documentary I’m guessing?
It’s a documentary exploring the hidden meanings behind Ed Wood’s infamously “bad” movie PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. We get in a lot of trouble with the government over that, and I’m not sure how much I can saw about it before they com and arrest me. I was honored that folks like Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Fred Olen Ray, William Lustig, and others would join me in exposing the truth and hopefully redeeming Ed’s work. It will premier in London at the end of April, if MI-6 doesn’t shut us down.

Q: Any other projects in the works we should be looking out for?
I published a novel a few years back called SHARCANO, which was a direct response to SHARKNADO, but I wanted to tell that kind of story with no regard to budget or studio interference, so I wrote the most kick-ass, action packed version of a B-grade shark movie, and it’s done very well. People usually pick it up as a joke, and then they read it and realize it’s less like a Syfy Channel movie, and more like a Michael Chricton novel meet a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Anyway, the sequel will be coming out on 2017, hopefully, and it’s titled: SHARKS OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Also, I published my first two non-fiction books in 2016: THE HIGH-CONCEPT MASSACRE, featuring interviews with 13 genre screenwriters including Carl Gottlieb and S.S. Wilson, and THE ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK CAMPFIRE COMPANION, an episode guide/interview book about the beloved Nickelodeon tv series from the 90s. Both are available on Amazon, as well as SHARCANO.
Okay onto some writing specific questions...

Q: When it comes to feature scripts, how do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?
I don’t like to worry about method, my concern is the story. Odds are if you’ve seen a ton of movies, you will know what structure is and what feels right, and if the structure makes sense or not, and if a story is solid, meaning it contains a beginning, middle, and end, then it has a perfect structure.

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?
Don’t do it. It’s pointless. Agents and managers don’t care about that. They are basically frustrated writers who want to leach off of you to make money. Trust your gut.

Q: What are your thoughts on the business side of screenwriting, getting your scripts ‘out there’ and networking to make connections?
Getting anyone to read your shit is the toughest part. I’ve had good experiences and bad experiences and some led to a rep, while most didn’t lead to anything. There is no hard and fast way in. I would suggest some prestigious festivals that tout the fact that agents read the winnings scripts, because even if you didn’t win there is a chance that someone who knows someone read your thing and loved it and wants to pass it on. I’ve just passed on scripts to folks, who have passed it on and on, and until something happens. I haven’t been able to shake anything loose for very long, but then again I realize I am not the commission guy. I tried it, and I didn’t like it, so I want to focus on making my own shit.

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?
Never used them.

Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?
Best and worst advice I got was: “quit”. It was the worst, because it’s so negative, but it was the best because it set that fire in my gut upon hearing it and I knew I wasn’t going to quit just to prove him wrong.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Jose questions

Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite

script, if they’re different.
My favorite film is a tie between Jaws and It’s A Wonderful Life… very different, but very similar for the effect it had on me. Both of those films are brilliantly scripted.

Q: Favourite author and book?
Favorite author is Mark Twain, a kindred soul, and my favorite book is probably Tom Sawyer, or The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, I can’t decide.

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

Q: Favourite food?
Hamburgers and fries. I’m a simple guy.

Q: Any other interests and passions?
I’m in a weird position where my hobby is a my career, so I have no side interested. However, I am putting on my own convention in June 2017. It’s called Kid Kon, and it will be the world’s first kid-centric pop culture convention. It’s a ton of work and planning, but like anything I endeavor in it is a labor of love.

Q: I believe you also run Kid Kon in Pasadena, what can you tell us about it and how’d it come about?
I’ve been wanting to put on a convention for a while, but never had a solid enough idea. As a father of two, I realized that there wasn’t anything that really spoke to the young fandom, it all seemed to be middle-aged guys, so I wanted to create something that was strictly geared to kids and the stuff they love. So Kid Kon was born!

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters reading this?
One word: quit. 😉

Thanks to Jose for such an enlightening interview. Follow Jose on twitter @JosePrendes

About the interviewer: Anthony is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 2 Features optioned and over 30 Short scripts optioned, or purchased, including 8 filmed. Outside of his screenwriting career, he’s a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Interviews: Richard Uber, Producer, Editor and good guy. - posted by Anthony Cawood

Richard Uber has been in the entertainment industry for… well, as you’ll see, a mighty long time! He has produced and edited hundreds of hours of content in both Film and TV, met a plethora of fascinating people and was good enough to sit down for a chat with me…

 

Q: So, your first credit, at least according to IMDB, goes back to 1984 when you worked on some music videos… how did you get into the business?

I studied film at Iowa State in 1967-68 found out I had to wait 2+ years to take another film course.  Left school, went to work in a brokerage firm and got myself transferred to NYC where I quit and took the post production equivalent of a PA, a vault technician at a place called Preview Theatre which was where the MPAA screened their films. All for the amazing amount of $65 a week take home pay.  They also had 6 floors of film editorial rooms and I got assigned to work with those films that were working there.  I got to work on Alice’s Restaurant, The Arrangement by Eliza Kazan, Angel Levine, Boys in the Band, Frank Perry’s Last Summer, and the installation of the first Kem’s in America for Michael Waldeigh’s Woodstock.  I wanted to do more, so when worked slowed down I moved back home and went to Columbia College Chicago. Columbus was unique, the people who taught there were actually working in the industry.

I was very lucky, I worked my way through school by working the equipment cages for the still photography labs and the motion picture department. In 1971 Jim Bourgeois started teaching Sound Editing at Columbia College. He was an amazing teacher, and a great mentor. I stopped working at the school and worked for Jim, one month free, then became an assistant editor for pay, then a sound effects editor,  then a music editor, and finally a picture editor.  I was working on a NBC network series “Wild Kingdom” as the head sound effects editor at age 21.

In 1972 while a Junior at school I got my first National Emmy nomination for outstanding individual achievement in sound editing.  Needless to say, that was the end of my college education.  In 1973 I left Jim’s company and started my own.  We started out doing feature films,  local commercials, industrials, and progressed to doing national commercials, museum exhibitions, and special effects.  By 1975 we had a staff of 27, an office on Chicago’s Miracle Mile, and a lot of work on the west coast.  I had one client need me for 18 weeks in Los Angeles and loved it so much that I stayed there.  Eventually selling my share to my partners.

Living in LA, I edited numerous documentaries for NBC, ABC, and PBS. Some of these I was also working as an associate producer. There are 2 things that helped my career immensely,  I started working on music videos very early before MTV, and I was probably the 2nd or 3rd film editor to become an online editor, which meant i could master for broadcast my own work,  so I didn’t have to explain to another person exactly how to do this effect.

I actually have tons of credits before IMDB Lists them, and they don’t list music video credits that were broadcast, If they did that I would have a couple of hundred more credits. IMDB also ignores people who are in the studio system.  Check out my best friend Tim Clawson http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0165472/.
So many movies ignored.  There is no central authority for IMDB, it’s crowd sourced.

Q: You then seem to have moved into TV as an Editor, how did you break in and get regular work?

I got work usually from the people who knew me. Or someone saw something I edited and reached out to me to edit something for them.

How I cut commercials got me music videos.

Music videos plus documentaries got me tv shows.

All that plus the special effects I did got me feature work.

Like editing got me post supervision which led to producing work.

Q: You worked on projects for Pat Benatar, Madonna, and the Go-Gos to name a few… did you get to meet them as part of the process? Any good stories?

Yes, I met them all, and we were collaborators in the editing room. I was known as a collaborative editor, easy to get along with, and most importantly willing to try ideas not my own.

There are stories, but they remain in the edit bay…

With Toto on “Stranger in Town” We had to deliver that morning at 9am.  At 6am I’m sitting on a hay bale in the middle of the editing room,  doing Foley of dogs digging in the ground.  They thought if I was that crazy I had to keep working on their videos.  LOL

Q: You also did work with Orson Welles as a voiceover artist, how was it working with such a legend?

At the first time I was very nervous, until at the 3rd take I stopped him, told him I needed a smile at the end of the first sentence, and a slide down between 2 words in the 3rd sentence.  Once he knew that you knew what the hell you were doing he was a cupcake.  There was no way I would have led him off the cliff.  I enjoyed my time with him greatly.  When I explained how I recorded him, and how I used smpte time code as sprocket holes to auto assemble him onto a 24 track recorder (The first time it was ever done) He thought I was very clever and thus I ended up directing him on many commercials and film projects.  He was incredibly smart and regaled me with old stories during dinners at Ma Maison.

Q: Of the films/projects you worked on back then, which is your favourite and why?
I don’t know how to even answer that.  When I’m working on them they are at that time my very favorite of all time.

“The Power Pinch” an NBC primetime documentary about sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Ren and Stimpy” for the fun of putting it together.

Pat Benatar for “Stop Using Sex as a weapon” for pushing analog video as far as it could go.

Music Videos for changing the paradigm.

Q: You worked as an Editor and a Producer at Paramount for a number of years, what projects did you work on there?

Actually more time at Fox Studios.  I was the senior editor there.  I did the first digital cinema there.  Like Bryan Singer’s “X-men” Joel Shoemaker’s “Phone Booth” and “Tigerland”

Then NewsCorp (The parent company) asked me to help move the company to digital/HD.  I became the producer who was in charge of all the HDTV that was broadcast on the Fox Network  which included Episode 1 of Star Wars, and the first Dolby E broadcast.  I had to work on every Fox Film and have it in HD ready for air on the networks that bought it.  This represented 120+ million to Fix, so it had to be done even though the technology wasn’t even there to make it work.  Those who are on the leading edge of technology call it the bleeding edge….

Q: I believe you also worked as an Editor for Disney for a while, how was that? What are they like as an organisation to work for?

My other best friend Rob Wieland brought me over.  As an organization we called it mousewitch in a concentration camp way of speaking.  We also redid the Mouseketeers song, with M. I.C.    K.E.Y.    oh you SOB….   it was a job and not a fun one at that.  It is what made me decide to go out on my own again.

Q: You now work with Visceral Films, how did that come about?

Scott sent out a message for help and being in Cincinnati I answered it.  The rest is history.

Q: Who are the rest of the Visceral team?

Scott Wohlstein, CEO, writer, a serial entrepreneur like me.  He loves making movies, He comes from  much more restrained budgets than I do.

Devin Dietrich is a writer, and is in charge of Television projects.

We all come from different backgrounds which creates an amazing synergy

Q: Visceral Films ran a competition looking for a Horror script which a few of the SimplyScript’s writer’s entered, what prompted such a fairly usual approach?

We didn’t have any scripts that would work with the Land of Illusion and we wanted to see what other writers could come up with.  And we wanted to be aware of other writers.

Q: The scripts had to be set at the Land of Illusion Halloween theme park with the intention of filming there, how did that partnership/collaboration come about?

It’s simple.  I line produced a film there, knew the owner and the other key people and talked to my partners and we decided to do a co-production with Land of Illusion.

Q: How were the scripts evaluated, I imagine its a little different to how you’ve considered scripts in the past?

Totally different,  All the scripts were read by multiple people.  The top 15 or so were read by everyone involved in the decision making.  They were broken down and rated in different categories, including how easily it could be produced.  The metrics for each category were created and the cream rose to the top.  It was readily apparent which 3 were the top 3.

Q: Do you intend to use the competition approach again?

Yes, we found you.  I would love to find new writers, we are a writer-centric company,  but these projects need to be in production first. Our first responsibility is to our writers.

Q: As a producer how do you then go about financing such projects?

The 64 million dollar question, or 5 million dollar question, or 2 million dollar question.
We use Executive Producers who have worldwide contacts that pitch our films to investors who gave worked with them before.

In some cases we have an investor who will invest the last 50% as long as other investors have previously invested in films.

The other way is the Netflix way, we produce a film for 3.5 and we sell all rights for 10.  This only works with select people who have proven track records.

Q: Do you have an update on the optioned scripts?

Yes, the Brexit and Trump have had negative influences on our raising of capital.   Investors are cautious at the moment.  We expect a better reception to our projects in the 2nd quarter of 2017.

Q: What else have you got planned  Visceral Films.

There are a variety of projects on the horizon. Corporately because of Tax Credits we might be moving across the river to KY.

Q: What are your thoughts for aspiring screenwriters in terms of the best way to break in, or get their scripts seen by producers?

Keep entering contests,  keep collaborating with other writers.  I have a friend who got started in an entry level position at a literary agency. It is a catch 22 to get an agent.  Be wary of some agents that want money up front.  That is what the 10% of everything you do is for.  And keep writing.  Make sure you have the craft of screenwriting down perfect.  A non standard formatted script usually is sent to the circular file cabinet.  And don’t ever send unsolicited scripts to a company that doesn’t accept them.  You can get banned there and quickly around town.

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

If you are really bad they might help.  They exist to make money for themselves, not the writers.

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

The best,  Hire the best people you can afford for their position.  Step back and let them do their job. Run interference from the powers that be, so they can do their jobs.  And treat them like valued human beings.

The worst, It’s a tie
Digital will never be as good as analog.
and my favorite in 1987
“You should think about another career, you aren’t very good at this”. (just gotten 3 MTV nominations, and was going to Vancouver Canada to work on 3 series)

Now for a few ‘getting to know Richard questions

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

Citizen Kane

Q: Favourite author and book?

Film book:    François Truffaut Hitchcock,a wonderful book about Hitchcock.
Joseph Mascelli: The 5 C’s of cinematography. (writers should read this)
I’m hard pressed to determine which is my favorite book.  My father was a book publisher, I was surrounded by 1000’s of books all my life.
Probably Doris Kerns Goodwin, Her boohs on Eleanor and FDR, and on Lincoln are amazing.

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

Wine, Reds,  Pinot Noir  Sonoma, in Oregon Oak.  ( 10 of us were partners in a Winery in Central California)

Q: Favourite food?

Thai Chicken and Beef Satay, Larb and other delights.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

Still Photography, Cooking

Q: Where do you live in? And what are your thoughts about moving to LA for a screenwriting career?

In California I live 70 miles  NW up the coast in San Buena Ventura.   In Cincinnati  I live in Over the Rhine (OTR) section just north of downtown in an 1860’s house my brother and I fully restored.

Moving to LA.  have enough money saved to survive a year.  It us very expensive to live there.  Try getting entry level jobs at production companies, or Literary agencies.  Keep at it, You will be rejected many many times.

Q: Any final thoughts for the aspiring screenwriters of ou there?

Keep at it.  You have selected a very hard career.  The rewards are worth it if you succeed.  Keep at it every day, and learn from each other.  You have made wonderful scripts, the main problem is getting them made.  Have a body of work you can show.  Good luck to all of you.


About the interviewer: Anthony is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 2 Features optioned and over 30 Short scripts optioned, or purchased, including 8 filmed. Outside of his screenwriting career, he’s a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.

Comment on this on Anthony’s Blog

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Textual Assassins – Directory’s Commentary - posted by Don

I found this in the comments section from Rob Wright, the film maker of Textual Assassins. There are some great insights here on the film making process. For writers (and film makers) there is a lot of valuable information here on working with a director to go from script to screen.

– Don

Rob writes,

robDear Simply Scripts, hello!

I hope you don’t mind me jumping in on this thread – I’m the film-maker behind Textual Assassins.

First off, I wanted to say a big thanks to Simply Scripts.com for providing such a fantastic resource (for both script writers seeking feedback on their work or looking for opportunities to have their work made, and for film-makers looking for material or writers to collaborate with).

Back in April of this year, when I was considering making a film and before I had settled on Nolan’s wonderful screenplay, I spend many enjoyable evenings here reading many, many screenplays – I was struck by the creativity and quality of the work, but also by the supportive community spirit evident in the forums.

Anyway, by way of giving something back, I thought I might share a few insights about this project in case any of this might be of interest or useful in some way to your community?

I should say at this point (in case it isn’t obvious) that Textual Assassins was my first attempt at making a film (at least on this scale) – I am therefore very much a beginner/indi film-maker still learning the ropes and as such anything I say below should not be taken too seriously – it’s certainly not an industry insight – however, since Nolan Bryant and I managed to come out of our little collaboration unscathed, still on speaking-terms (haha-Nolan), and with a finished piece of work we are both quite proud of, I suppose we must have done something right !

I’ve tried to think of a few things below which might be of interest, but please feel free to ask any other questions if you would like to know more. (Who knows, Nolan might also answer from his perspective too)? If anyone is interested there are some photos, example storyboards, and further thoughts on this Facebook page.

Why Did I Choose This Particular Script?

There are some fantastic scripts on this website, but for me Textual Assassins appealed for a number of key reasons. It’s witty (in a black comedy kinda way), well written, with some great characters and fun dialogue, etc. – but on a more practical level, it was just… ‘do-able’ (read: manageable for me as an indi film-maker). Limited locations / minimal props needed, a small leading cast, concise and to the point (about the right length for me, not too ambitious in scope, but still a challenge). A beginner film-maker’s dream really. I also read the community forum posts alongside the script and got the sense (largely by the way that the author was responding to suggestions and critique from others) that he would be someone I could work with.

What Happened Next? How was Contact Made?

I contacted Nolan via email, and asked permission to turn his screenplay into a short film – I was open and honest with him about my pervious limited experience but sent some examples of smaller projects I’d completed in the hope that this would show I was serious. I was trying my best to give assurances that I’m a ‘finisher’ and if he would take a chance and grant me a time limited option, the film WOULD be made. After a good number of initial email exchanges we settled on agreeable terms. I also agreed to consult before any major changes occurred, and promised to keep him posted on progress as I hit the milestones.

There are Some Differences Between the Screenplay and the Film – Why so?

Both Nolan and I were open from the outset to the idea that some things would change. This was a two-way street though – I suggested a few things, some he was happy to run with, and others, he explained, he would rather not see happen – and this was OK for me too. Nolan was a great person to work with, clearly talented, but also flexible and open – this was important to me.

For the most part I tried to adhere to the original Screenplay and use it as the blueprint for the story, but here were a few reasons for change, which might be food for thought?:-

i. Localisation – the original script used some phrases that tied it to a particular region (of the world) – and yet the film was going to be made elsewhere (I’m from the UK so that is where the film would need to be set, Nolan is not). A example: the original script included one character described as “bush-league” – this is simply not a phases well understood in the UK (it was changed by me through negotiation with Nolan to “School-Boy error” to address that).

ii. Character Names – some of the film characters have different names to those in the Script (eg. Kyle became Big-Dave). Again, a bit of a localisation thing for me. Kyle isn’t a widely popular name in the UK in the age range of the character. Also, this wan’t a big deal, but my actor playing the role of Kyle looked to me more like a BIG-DAVE!

iii. Other changes came about during early rehearsals or indeed ad lib, where my actors felt their characters would respond slightly differently. As their Director I wanted to allow them this ownership of the characters. Some other direction changes came about due to taking advantage of the layout at the locations we had available. The two pillars in the hallway were just crying out to be used for the stand off between PETE and DAVE for example.

iv. Another somewhat larger change occurred towards the end of the film. In the original screenplay when the police show up, the five assassins are instructed to “drop their guns and raise their hands” and we do not know their fate (but assume they are arrested?). However in the film, I wanted the viewer to see Rookie making a move (and we assume hit fired at the police?). Nolan and I talked this through, along with a third possible ending and I had agreed to shoot all three alternative endings and then we could evaluate which worked best in the edit. As it happened, unfortunately, I overran on the schedule during the film shoot (a night-time shoot at the location) and had to make a quick judgement call in the moment – either continue shooting and risk annoying the location owners (it was about 2:30am and the flashing police lights were becoming annoying!) or cut our losses and only shoot one of the endings. I opted for the latter.

(I suppose the point here is, sometimes even with the best will in the world, a Director might need to make changes and sometimes they need to be made quickly).

How many table-reads / rehearsals did we have with the cast before shooting?

We had rehearsals only for the 3 main characters (Assassins – PETE, DAVE & ROOKIE). The other actors learnt their (few) lines independently and I gave direction as we filmed on location, we filmed multiple takes till I got what was needed. Remarkably, other than the actor playing ROOKIE, the cast consists entirely of good friends of mine whom had zero previous acting experience (I think they did a great job!). I arranged for PETE and DAVE to have two acting classes before we held rehearsals with ROOKIE. The actor playing ROOKIE was more experienced and helped a little on set with acting direction. We had only two rehearsals sessions in total before we filmed.

How long did it take to make the film?

5 Months (not a day-job) – although in reality most of this time was spent planning. Getting the actors on board, converting the script to storyboard, then to shooting script and shortlist, location-hunting, prop-making, organising dates and times when I would be able to access equipment (camera and lighting etc.) and when people would be able to make it. Once the planning stages were done, the film was shot during only 5 shoot-days (2 long days in the main house location + 3 shorter sessions at the other locations). There was a great deal of pressure during the shoot days, as I was leaning on the job to some extent, and was very mindful to keep the location owners on board.

How much did it cost to make the film?

Textual Assassins took a great deal of time, energy and effort to make – but this was largely because I was trying to do pretty much everything on my own – a labour of love you might say. I wanted to direct this film, yes, but I also wanted to use this opportunity to learn something about the other key roles typically associated with film-making. This means that I made the storyboard and props myself, I sourced the locations, organised the cast, arranged the acting-classes/rehearsals, stood as DOP, I operated the camera and microphones, I set up the lighting, recorded sound-effects, edited the footage, colour graded the film, decided upon the soundtrack music, I composed the additional music, etc, etc.

Honestly – I think I gained about 5 years of real film-making experience by tacking this project in this way, but it was a heck of lot of work for one person alone and much more that I had anticipated.

Other than a few items which I bought or hired – most of the technical equipment was hired for free through a lot of begging and borrowing! My actors (my friends) all agreed to work for free (although I fed them!) and they all commented that they really enjoyed the experience very much.

Textual Assassins was made with a budget of only c.£300 (c.400 USD / c.350 Euros).

…anyway, I hope this post proves to be in some small way useful to the community here at Simply Scripts. I know the film isn’t perfect, but given the constraints highlighted above, I’m quite pleased with the outcome and I believe Nolan is too. We thank you once again for this great resource through which we were connected.

Keep writing the great material people!

Rob.

Textual Assassins (10 pages in pdf format) by Nolan Bryand

Being a hitman is tough, killing indiscriminately is harder than you’d think. (Short, Dark Comedy)

Discuss this script on the Discussion Board

Friday, September 2, 2016

Interviews: Up Close and Personal with Danny Stack - posted by Anthony Cawood

Occasionally 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 Anthony Cawood, and Danny Stack, a UK based screenwriter and director whose TV credits include Eastenders and Doctors, kids’ TV shows The Octonauts and Thunderbrids. He also co-wrote and co-directed the kids’ feature Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg (just recently released). As if that wasn’t enough, Danny also produces the UK Scriptwriters Podcast, blogs about the industry and has released a book to help aspiring screenwriters break in, entitled: The UK Scriptwriter’s Survival Handbook.

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

A: I was working as an assistant in Channel 4’s comedy department in the late 90s, when they were making shows like Spaced, Black Books, Chris Morris etc. It was a great time for the dept and the channel, and I got to read a lot of scripts that were submitted. I always had a fascination with screenwriting, so my time at C4 just added fuel to the fire, and I realised it was what I wanted to do above all else. My bosses thought I was nuts, but I gave up the day job in 1999 and went freelance, trying to become a scriptwriter. I was nuts!

Q: How did you get into Channel 4 as an assistant in the first place?

A: I came over from Ireland in 1994 and got work as a media temp (which I highly recommend as a way of getting ‘in’ to the biz). I got a temp job at C4 that was meant to last 2 weeks but I stayed 2 years! It was in the Viewer Enquiry dept; taking complaints and enquiries from the general public. I then took a year out to go traveling, and when I returned I knew I wanted to work at C4 again, so I got a temp job there, and saw a job was available in the comedy dept, so I jumped at it, and got it!

Q: You’ve been writing scripts for 10 years, how did you break in with your first one – The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers (or was there something before that)?

A: When I went freelance, I initially worked on a couple of TV shows as part of the production crew (Black Books, Ali G) but then decided to fully focus on my writing (paying the bills via script reading/script editing). Between 2000-2004, I read loads of scripts and developed my own writing portfolio. My first break was BBC’s Doctors as they read one of my spec scripts, liked it and invited me to write for the show. That was my first commission, but it ended up on TV just after my episode of The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers. The Adrenalinis was my first commission in kids’ TV, and it came about as I met Nick Ostler (the co-creator of the Adrenalinis) at a short film screening, and he just had The Adrenalinis commissioned by CiTV. ‘Know any good animation writers?’ he asked. ‘Yes, ME!’ I replied, having never written for animation previously (!).

Q: Your early career is primarily in UK TV, how did you get in and get regular work?

A: BBC’s Doctors was my way in. I got my first agent and she sent one of my specs to the person responsible for hiring new writers on the show. She read my script, liked it, and invited me to pitch ideas for the show. I wrote 2 episodes in total, but I got frustrated by the commissioning process, often waiting long periods to hear if an idea was accepted or rejected, or worse ‘spiked’ (to be used at a later but indeterminate point). But writing for Doctors got me the opportunity to write for EastEnders. You have to write a trial episode of the show to get selected and on my first try, I was rejected. A year later, I tried again, and got accepted. I wrote 2 episodes of EastEnders, and was lined up for more, but then a new producer came on board and did an overhaul of the writers, and I was out (and gutted!).

Q: You’ve written for Children’s TV too, what are the differences when writing for a younger audience?

A: The main difference is tone. All the usual screenwriting craft applies. In fact, even more so, as kids are very sophisticated and watch a lot of story so they can tell if something is boring, predictable or not very good within seconds.

Q: Is it any easier to break in to Children’s TV?

A: In a way, yes, as there’s less ego and status involved in Children’s TV, so a new writer can find it quite welcoming, regardless of whether they’ve got previous experience. My top tip would be to attend the Children’s Media Conference (http://www.thechildrensmediaconference.com/ every year in Sheffield) as it’s a who’s who of the UK biz, so a great way to network and schmooze your way into writing for kids’ TV.

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

A: All of the above! I realised a director gets all the credit and the writer is largely ignored. I didn’t want that to happen with some of my passion projects. I was always interested in directing anyway, so I decided to make shorts to see if I was any good, expand my experience, and have some fun! I made a very ambitious supernatural drama called Origin (http://originshortfilm.co.uk/), and spent a lot of money, but it was essentially my film school and I learned a lot. The film did well on the festival circuit and won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival.

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

A: I would recommend EVERYONE try making at least one short film, homemade or otherwise (official funding etc). I know a lot of writers who aren’t interested or don’t think they have the suitable mentality/personality but you get a lot of help when you’re directing a film (the cameraman, the sound, the actors, etc) so it’s not as daunting as you think. But giving it a go is great just to see how the process is done, and gives you added appreciation for those who do it on a regular basis.

Q: Did you start with short scripts and then move to features with Nelson Nutmeg or have there been other feature scripts so far unproduced (‘The Good Guys’ for example)?

A: When I started out, I wrote feature spec scripts & TV spec scripts, then short scripts. All of this helped to build my writing portfolio. Getting a feature film made through the industry is a real achievement (on average, it takes about 5 years for a film to get made). It’s little wonder that most feature spec scripts don’t get made at all. But taking control of your own work means you can produce your own scripts, which is what I started to do with my short scripts and web series. This in turn gave me the confidence to tackle making my own feature film, and I hooked up with my good friend Tim Clague to help make this happen. But sometimes you get the chance to work on commissioned feature films; I did a rewrite of the Lego Friends movie, and a horror script I was hired to rewrite goes into production this November.

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

A: I’ll lay out the five main beats of the three-act structure first (inciting incident, end of act one, midpoint, end of act two and final twist/denouement) just to give me a basic shape or skeleton that I can work from. After that, anything goes and I’ll follow my instincts regarding the characters and story. If/when I get stuck, I’ll cherry pick from some of the structural models to see if they can help unlock the problem (e.g. Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet or the 22-step approach etc). I’m a big fan of structure, I see it as your friend that’s there to help you when you need it.

Q: Where did the idea come from for ‘Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg’ (http://www.nelsonnutmeg.com/), and what prompted you to dive in and make it yourself (with your writing/directing buddy Tim Clague)?

A: I had been working with Tim for a few years, first with the UK Scriptwriters Podcast (http://ukscriptwriters.podomatic.com/), and then on more official projects like corporate work/ads. On the back of one of these ads, Tim suggested we make a family feature film together. He was frustrated with his individual efforts to get a feature film made. He wanted to make an indie low budget film but didn’t want to do horror. Family/kids sprung to mind, and I’d been working in kids’ TV for quite a while at this stage. So he figured if we combined resources, and wrote/produced/directed together (Coen Brothers style), that would get the film in the can. So we agreed to do it this way, then knocked around a few ideas, and came up with a summer camp mascot getting killed and a gang of kids investigate (knowing that we could shoot this locally to us, too).

Q: What were the challenges you face in making Nelson?

A: Well, we had no money. And no support. It was just us two to begin with, and all we had was the idea. But we put all our experience into practice, breaking down what needed to be done in common sense chunks (you can check out ‘Making Nelson Nutmeg‘ here – http://dannystack.com/making-nelson-nutmeg/). Once we knew where the story was going to be set, we went into pre-production putting the necessary elements in place. We hadn’t even written the script yet but we wanted to get some momentum going while we wrote the script rather than wait. So, once the location was locked, we started to gather a small team, then we finished the script, then we networked with the industry to tell them what we were doing and why, then we crowdfunded some money, put in some of our own cash, and got small private investment elsewhere, and made the film for that amount. The combined savvy and nous from the both of us really paid off, and directing the film together worked very well (our top tip: make sure the both of you are involved in creating & developing the story together from the start, that way you have equal understanding and no-one goes off on an individual director vision-quest).

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

A: I come from a script-heavy background, I love scriptwriting and all its intricacies. But working on the feature showed me how flexible the script can actually be, once the practicalities of production come into play, or what the actors can do, and then what the edit can achieve or improve. I was aware about all of this previously but I got to experience the differences physically and emotionally by making my own film, and that’s a key difference than just reading a clever article somewhere online. But I also learned that there’s a tonne of info that doesn’t go into a script; all of the stuff you’ve worked out in terms of world of the story and character motives and certain bits of logic that’s perfectly clear to you but you end up answering questions about on set to cameramen, props, make-up, actors etc as they don’t know the story as well as you do. If you CAN’T answer one of these questions, you haven’t done your work properly to this point.

Q: What’s the release plans/schedule for Nelson Nutmeg?

A: It had its world premiere at the London Film Festival in October 2015, which was a great boost and achievement for us (we made a kids’ film for kids with kids in the lead roles, and on a microbudget, but we get a world prem at the London Film Fest. Crazy!). Since then, it’s been on the festival circuit and a mini-UK cinema tour we organised ourselves. It got a US release in the summer of 2016, and we’re finalising plans for a UK Stream/Dvd release this autumn or later in the year. We’re such a tiny film, but we’ve reached well beyond our expectations.

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

A: Well, I go into this in great detail in the UK Scriptwriter’s Survival Handbook (http://bit.ly/UKScriptwritersKindle), which myself and Tim compiled as a hands-on and practical guide to surviving as a screenwriter in this country – sharing our experience and practical know-how. Nowadays, it’s easier than ever before to make contacts, and get your work out-there. And there’s more help, courses, articles and books to make writing ‘easier’. Writing doesn’t get easier of course, but there’s no excuse not to get better. Networking is important; half of the work I’ve ever done is via the contacts I’ve made over the years.

Q: You co-host the excellent UK Scriptwriters podcast, what prompted this venture and what have you learnt from it?

A: I actually started the podcast as I was procrastinating, and having a bit of a slump with my confidence/writing. I was online trying to find UK writing podcasts as a way to get inspired and couldn’t find any so I thought: THERE SHOULD BE ONE. And then: I’LL DO IT. And then: NO, I’LL DO IT WITH TIM, HE’S PROBABLY GOT A GOOD MICROPHONE. And lo, he had. We’ve been doing the podcast since 2010. We enjoy it for ourselves mainly, as a hobby, but it’s been a neat distraction, and one that ultimately led to us working together to make Nelson Nutmeg.

Q: You’ve had some great guests on the podcast, any personal faves? (mine was Tony Jordan!)

A: Mad Max writer Brendan McCarthy was great; very generous with his time and insight on the making of that film. Andrew Ellard’s comedy podcast is a popular one, as is James Cary’s sitcom special, and James Moran’s horror interview, and Debbie Moon’s Wolfblood. I’ve loved all our guests! We’re open to suggestions on who might be next…

Q: Your blog is a must read too: http://www.dannystack.com, that’s been going for 11 years, providing a tool of free help and advice for writers. Do you enjoy giving back to the community in this way?

A: I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because there’s a whole load of sites and social media that are very needy for your screenwriting time & attention. I’ve been blogging since 2005 and trying to share what I can. But why do I do this? Is it an insecure need for time and attention? That must be part of it, but I realised it comes from a bigger and deeper reason than that: I’m doing it because it’s the kind of advice and support I would have liked when I started out, when I didn’t know what I was doing or what I could do. I’m doing the blog and providing free help (when/where I can) because I know what it’s like to feel cut off or clueless or not talented enough. But with a committed application and focus in the right areas, anything is possible.

Q: You’ve also co-written ‘The UK Scriptwriters Survival Handbook’, what prompted that?

A: Ah, sorry, I’ve mentioned this already in the answers above. But it’s curious. You can give away free advice and insight on a blog (like I’ve been doing) yet still get daily emails asking you the same questions about how to get an agent or how to break in as a writer. There’s a constant source of people coming through, and they may not have come across your site. And even when you point them towards the article on the site or the relevant blog post, they still don’t really follow through. But if you put all the relevant info in a book, then people are willing to pay for the info, to have it ready at hand. So, Tim and I decided to put the best bits of our blogs into one book that would cover everything everyone would need to know about surviving as a screenwriter.

Q: It’s fairly unusual for a UK focused book of that type, as most seem to feature US and working in Hollywood. How is it being received?

A: It’s done really well, for such a niche area and niche audience. We self-published, and it’s made us some handy money between us, so we’re pleased. Some of our properly published friends in the world of screenwriting books have expressed jealousy that they didn’t self-publish themselves, as the publishing deals for these types of niche books aren’t always that generous. Ha!

Q: You help with assessing entries for the Red Planet Prize, which is a great competition for UK screenwriters, what’s the idea behind this?

A: In 2007, I had an idea for a UK screenwriting competition where a new writer would get a prize for their winning script BUT ALSO get mentored afterwards to ensure that their career received the kickstart it deserved. I took the idea to writer/producer Tony Jordan (Life on Mars, Hustle, EastEnders, etc), who immediately jumped on it, and came up with a fantastic prize: £5k cash, a commission on one of Tony’s shows (or he would option the winning script) and an agent (if you didn’t already have one). The Red Planet Prize (named after Tony’s production company, Red Planet Pictures) was launched at The Screenwriters Festival in the summer of 2007. The entire scheme has proved to be a great success (BBC’s Death In Paradise coming from the Prize, as well as many writers advancing their careers). I am very proud to be a part of it, especially as I know all-too-well what it’s like to be a new writer trying to break into the industry (tapping back into what I said earlier about ‘why do I do this?’).

Q: When does the Red Planet Prize run, and when is the announcement of this year’s due?

A: It’s a biannual event nowadays. This year’s winner was announced a couple of weeks ago – details here – http://dannystack.com/red-planet-prize-2016-winner/!

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 haven’t used any of these services. I would imagine that they’re useful to some people and frustrating to others. Check them out, weigh them up, give them a punt, your mileage may vary. Be wary of just handing over money for an empty subscription or empty leads.

Q: What screenwriting 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 lot of kids’ TV shows at the moment. There’s the CBeebies’ favourite Hey Duggee, which is a real treat, and a few more I’m not allowed speak about. There’s that horror film I rewrote going into production in November. And I’m working on the next family film with Tim, a Christmas movie, which we plan to shoot in winter 2017.

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

A: The best advice is to finish what you’ve started. Don’t waste too much time online looking for the perfect answers or convincing yourself that there’s no point as the industry’s a closed shop (it isn’t), just write and finish a damn script (feature script preferably, but TV or short script will do, too) then who knows what might happen? The worst advice I got was when I decided to pursue writing and two close friends advised me against it, saying the competition was too great and you had to be really good. They were right, in a way, but I fully committed myself to the cause, knowing that I had at least got what it takes (or knew that I had to at least try), and am getting better all the time. There are more talented writers out there than me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get ahead of them.

Now for a few ‘getting to know Danny’ questions!

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

A: My favourite film changes daily, depending on what I’ve just seen or re-watched. At the moment, it’s Manhattan by Woody Allen. One of my favourite scripts is Stranger Than Fiction by Zach Helm; the way it was written was far more enjoyable than how the film actually came out (but that’s another lesson in itself).

Q: Favourite author and book?

A: Again, this can vary on any given day, but Song for Achilles by Madeline Miller is incredible. Classic-wise, I’m a cliched fan of The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger.

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

A: Yes please. Oh sorry, you mean what type? Any kind of decent lager. A full bodied red. And I’m quite partial to a milk vodka (http://www.blackcow.co.uk/) or two.

Q: Favourite food?

A: Give me a decent burger or fry up and I’m happy.

Q: Football team?

A: Nottingham Forest.

Q: Any other interests and passions?

A: Sport. Keeping fit (very important as a writer; I’ve had years of back trouble that is now regulated by effective exercise).

Q: You’re from Ireland but (I assume) live ‘down South’ now. Anything from home you miss?

A: I live in Bournemouth now. But I miss Clonakilty black and white pudding (http://www.clonakiltyblackpudding.ie/) from back home. The UK doesn’t do white pudding at all as far as I can tell, and the black pudding’s a bit hit & miss. A decent pint of Guinness can also be hard to come by.

Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters of SimplyScripts?

A: Read all the free stuff (http://dannystack.com/downloads/) on my blog and if that doesn’t cover everything, buy my book!🙂

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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Interviews: A Meet N’ Greet with Screenwriter Rick Ramage - posted by Anthony Cawood

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 Anthony Cawood

Back in December, Breanne Mattson 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 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

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

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.

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