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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Interview with Nick Horwood – Grand Prize winner of Final Draft Big Break 2013! - post author Anthony Cawood

Interview with Nick Horwood

Grand Prize winner of Final Draft Big Break 2013

Article written by Marnie Mitchell-Lister

You know the drill, you get the email; “Page”, “BlueCat”, “Joe Shmoe’s We Have Hollywood Connections Screenplay Contest” has announced their finalists! You scour the list of names, looking for someone, anyone you know. And the grand prize winner, well it’s someone you’ve never heard of. How is that possible? Where did they come from? Are they one hit wonders? Phantoms? Or just lucky bastards?

When Final Draft announced Nick Horwood’s feature “Lancelot”, as their grand prize winner this past January, all my questions were put to rest. I actually know Nick! I’ve even read some of his work. And I can assure you, while Nick may get lucky on occasion, luck had nothing to do with his Final Draft win. He’s worked very hard for this, for many years. He’s definitely no “one hit wonder”.

MML: Hey, Nick. Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions.

NH: No problem. Thanks for asking!

MML: While we’re all interested in your experience with Final Draft, I really want to focus on what got you there. When did you start writing screenplays? What got you started?

NH: I started about 15 years ago. I had tried various creative pursuits such as cartooning and writing stories for children, but that never really went anywhere and my enthusiasm waned. It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I decided to try my hand at writing a film. This was back before the whole ‘How to be a screenwriter’ industry that exists today, so there were very few blogs and websites dedicated to screenwriting – in fact I didn’t even own a computer! I had to use my local library or borrow a friend’s PC to type up my longhand scribblings.

None of the agents or producers I was contacting were interested in reading my work, so I had literally nobody to give me feedback or tell me if my writing was any good. Then I heard a radio interview with Kevin Spacey where he mentioned his newly launched website Finally I had somewhere where I could display my work for others to read, so I nervously uploaded a comedy called JOURNEY TO THE LOST ISLAND OF KILLER DINOSAURS! To my delight the script was very well received, eventually receiving a ‘Screenplay of the Month’ nomination. I had finally found my talent, as well as my passion.

MML: I know you attended your first “webinar” recently. What other workshops, books, lessons or websites do you think helped improve your writing over the years?

NH: Well, blogs and forums were a useful source of hints and tips, but I mostly just learnt as I went along. I think you can fill up the right hemisphere with as much theory as you like, but it’s what you have in the left, creative side of your brain that shows up mostly on the page. For me 90% of learning to write is practice, but each writer has to find what works best for them.

I did attend a Save The Cat workshop in London a few years back, which was fun, and I also attended Robert MacKee’s ‘Story’ seminar recently, which was very interesting. I’m not sure either helped with my writing… but at least they got me out of my cave!

MML: Your contest track record is ridiculously impressive. Your name has been at the top of “Page” and “Final Draft”, as well as many other contests since 2007. What do you think it is about “Lancelot” that made it “Grand Prize” worthy?

NH: I wrote a version of the script in 2008 and it made the top 10 in Big Break, but it was a very different version of the script, more of a fantasy action/adventure, with a meandering story and many flashbacks. But I kept working on it, trimming the fantasy element away and focusing on the central narrative of Lancelot returning to Britain after the death of King Arthur. I worked on it for several years until it became what it is today, so I would say a big part of its success is just that it’s very well developed. I entered a lot of my scripts into various contests, but LANCELOT is the most successful.

MML: Now, because we’re friends, I’m familiar with your frustrations. I’m frustrated for you. You’ve more than proven yourself over and over as a high quality writer. With this recent success, do you feel like you’re any closer to a paid writing gig, or maybe a serious option of one of your features?

NH: *sigh* Yes, and I know I haven’t always been shy about sharing my frustrations. It’s a long road for any writer. I have optioned and sold a couple of scripts, and been commissioned to write a feature in the UK, but I’ve yet to strike it big. Luck has a large part to play in it, and also managing to successfully combine telling a story that you’re passionate about, but which is also deemed ‘marketable’, that’s the challenge!

MML: I read some of your work on Triggerstreet many years ago Nick, and even back then I knew you were someone to watch. Hopefully soon, we’ll all be watching one of your screenplays on the big screen. Thanks Nick!

You can find a list of Nick’s screenplays along with his long list of awards on his website:

About the reviewer: An award winning writer AND photographer, Marnie Mitchell Lister’s website is available at Marnie’s had 5 shorts produced (so far) and placed Semi-final with her features in Bluecat.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Interview with Pia Cook – Director of “Them That’s Dead” - post author Sean Chipman

Many a writer has dreamed of taking up the director’s reins, and shooting their script themselves (or a worthy script that’s caught their eye.)  As with many ventures, that’s a task easier said than done. And those that accomplish such a thing?  Our collective hats are off to them.  Taking a script all the way?  That’s impressive, on so many levels. So we invite you now to sit back, read… and learn.

Following, you’ll find an interview with screenwriter Pia Cook, director of the short film “Them That’s Dead and writer of feature films “Finders Keepers: The Root of All Evil” and “Blackout“. Pia was born and raised in Sweden. She moved to United States in 1984. She lives with her husband in Florida where they own and operate a small manufacturing business. She started writing screenplays in 2006 and has written over sixty short screenplays and ten features. In the summer of 2012, she directed and produced her first short film, “Them That’s Dead”.

“Them That’s Dead”, which was written by Robert Newcomer, is about three thieves who are in search of lost treasure that was hidden by a dead pirate, Shark Tooth O’Shea. It was written as part of SimplyScripts’ February 2011 One Week Challenge, in which writers have one week to complete a 12-or-less page low-budget horror film with the theme of British or Celtic mythology.

Interviewer Sean Chipman: How did you choose “Them That’s Dead” as a script you wanted to film?

Pia Cook: I loved the script. It was part of a OWC where a director of shorts chose the subject. He picked another winner, but I thought TTD should’ve won.

I went to St. Augustine with my husband over Labor Day weekend in 2011. While we were at the fort, it hit me that I could maybe film TTD there.

SC: What was it that drew you to the script so much?

PC: Everything. The atmosphere. The dialogue. The characters. The twist or reveal.

SC: Let’s talk about your production experience. What different kinds of roles did you take on behind the scenes?

PC: I was involved with everything. I planned it. Cast it. Hired the DP. Storyboarded it. Directed it. Did some of the early editing. Basically everything. That’s not to say others didn’t help out. I’m a newbie and need all the help I can get.

SC: That’s okay. I understand. [Laughs] During the casting process, what were you looking for in your actors that made you choose them?

PC: Well, first of all, where I live in Gainesville, FL, there isn’t a large group of actors to chose from. I looked at some actors from Jacksonville and down towards St. Augustine and found some really promising ones, but I soon decided that it would be better if they lived in Gainesville for rehearsals sake since St. Auggie and Jax are almost two hours away. Robert Newcomer, the writer, did such a great job with the characters, but I had to make alterations to them just because I simply didn’t have a large pool of actors to chose from. In the end, I think they [Micah Blakeslee, Pete Roe and L’Tanya Van Hamersveld] all worked out great.

SC: I agree. They were all really terrific. But, I understand you had some technical difficulties as well…

PC: Yes, we did. All thanks to me being too optimistic and not knowing any better. Turns out this was a VERY ambitious project for someone with limited experience like myself. I’ve read thousands of scripts by now and a LOT of them take place at night and outdoors. That’s cool. I like that myself, but it makes the shoot so much more difficult and more expensive. I’m talking about outdoor shoots now. The first half of the film is shot at Anastasia State Park in St. Augustine. It’s a gorgeous beach with not many people. Perfect for our project. We rented extra lights, but in a setting like that, you really need HUGE lights. Like big stadium lights. If not, the background just sort of disappears. Someone told me that I could just as well have shot the beach scenes at a beach volleyball court at UF. So, that’s something to keep in mind when you write scenes that take place at night outdoors. You need big lights. Big lights cost money! Anyway, as a result, we ended up with some horrendous low light grain issues. I almost scrapped the film due to that.

We also had some issues with the audio at the beach. I used excellent mics, but the sound of the ocean waves were just too loud. Not only were they loud, but instead of sounding like nice little ocean waves, they were a constant crashing roar. The first time I checked our footage I honestly thought we would have to redo all the audio in post.

SC: But you wouldn’t be discouraged. You kept fighting. How did you do that? You know, it’s not looking good, but you keep going. What was it that kept you going?

PC: Well, I was disappointed when I first looked at the footage, but I felt I needed to finish it for the others who were involved. It was an extremely grueling weekend shoot away from home and shot during the nights. We were all really really tired physically and mentally. It just didn’t feel right to scrap it. Regardless of the quality. So, I started searching for fixes in post instead. Ha! We’ve all heard the phrase “fix it in post”. Well, everything isn’t fixable in post, but it can certainly be improved.

SC: [Laughs] I can just imagine. But, of course, it still looked pretty damn good once the final product was released.

And, obviously, the whole shoot wasn’t just doom and gloom. Did you have any personal highlights from the shoot? Any favorite moments of production?

PC: I think if anything, the biggest highlight for me was how everyone gave this everything they had. Despite the conditions and circumstance, everyone really gave it their all. No one complained, grumbled or anything. That to me was probably the coolest thing. I felt we really were in this together and we were going to see it through together.

SC: And, you mostly certainly did. Of course, after the trials put forth by “Them That’s Dead”, can we expect any films in the future from director Pia Cook?

PC: Maybe, but it probably will be something filmed in a controlled environment. Like someone’s house or apartment. It won’t be at a beach at night nor will it be at a National Monument with Federal Rangers looking over our shoulders.

SC: Not feeling that kind of close-range monitoring [from the Rangers] on your next film?

PC: They did their job which was making sure we didn’t hurt the fort. They were very nice though and gave us Gatorades when we looked like we were about to die of heat exhaustion. Remember, we shot this in July. Florida in July is very hot and humid.

SC: That does sound incredibly nice of them and Florida summers, I’ve never experienced them myself but I’ve heard the stories.

PC: Well, the thing was that you’re not allowed to bring food or drinks into the fort because of rats. Yes, rats! Huge ones. And they were everywhere! That was the reason our table with food and drinks was set up outside the fort so those Gatorades were lifesavers.

SC: Oh, man. There were rats, too?

PC: yep!

SC: It’s a miracle that the film was even completed, let alone made as well as it was. I think that’s a tribute to you as a director.

PC: Well, it made me feel happy when they said they would love to work with me again.

SC: Let’s talk about the future. Any word on some upcoming scripts you’re working on?

PC: Don’t have much to say about future scripts. I don’t like mentioning them unless it looks like they will be completed. I’ve had too many films that never really made it to the end. It’s a common thing in the film business, I think. I’d rather wait until I know for sure.

I have a couple of shorts, The End, doing the festivals in Europe right now and another one, A Mime Is A Terrible Thing To Waste, about to hit the festivals as well. And I’m working with a Canadian filmmaker to get Covert Careers made.

SC: All right, thank you very much for your time and I wish you the very best of luck in the future.

PC: Thank you Sean!

Want more?  Catch the short on Vimeo here!

THEM THAT’S DEAD from Indie Me on Vimeo.

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