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Meet 2016 Short Screenplay Finalist Tess Carroll

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

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I Sleep Easy by Tess Carroll

 

A young girl demonstrates her method of appeasing the yellow-eyed beast that haunts her town.

 

Email: tess.carroll8 at gmail.com

 

Photo_Tess Carroll

 

“I Sleep Easy” is composed of two conflicting narratives: the story we are told, and the story that unfolds visually. The narrator, a young girl named Sylvie, weaves a bleak fairytale, in which she is the heroine and mastermind. She tells us that her town is plagued by a hungry monster with glowing yellow eyes, and explains the system she has devised to curb its appetite: she has delegated Marion, the least popular girl in town, to bring a weekly offering to the beast, and risk being eaten herself.

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While Sylvie boasts about her plan, we follow Marion on her solitary trek to the monster’s lair. Though she appears at first to be an unfortunate cog in Sylvie’s scheme, she slowly escapes into a plot of her own. We discover the limits of Sylvie’s perspective as Marion takes charge of the story, undermining the narration and revealing secrets about the beast’s nature.

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My favorite aspect of screenwriting is the exercise of inventing and conveying visual detail. I often enjoy constructing worlds—devising their rules, structures, and textures—even more than I enjoy assembling the narratives that occur within them. I am particularly proud of “I Sleep Easy” because I think it successfully combines my love of visual specificity with a broader exploration of narrative and point of view. Although the story hinges on a set of precise images (a pair of yellow eyes, a yellow rain jacket, window blinds sliding open and shut), it ultimately functions like a fable—with a villain and a trickster.

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The ending of this fable isn’t quite morally satisfying. Though the underdog ends up victorious, she succeeds by deceiving her oppressor, rather than by confronting her. I believe that “I Sleep Easy” is not a story of good vs. evil so much as it is a story of strange vs. ordinary. Marion is shy. Her knees are often covered in dirt. In games, she is always the first one out. But her isolation opens up an entire world of possibility that her peers have failed to imagine and grown to fear. I want to tell more stories that advocate for the imagination as a form of courage and self-determination.

 

 

 

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Interview with 2015 Feature Finalist: Theodore Schaefer & Patrick Lawler

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

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Theodore Schaefer & Patrick Lawler

writers of

 

Taking the Toll – The Life and Life of Gilbert Booth

A young toll booth operator falls for a woman at his father’s nursing home but soon discovers that it’s her 99 year old grandmother who may be more in tune to his eccentric philosophies, including time travel and his imaginary friend.

 

Gilbert’s friend A is an interesting, somewhat “silent” character. How did you craft the relationship between the two? Can you tell us more about their unique relationship and what A represents about Gilbert?
 
PL & TS: A is more than an imaginary friend to help pass the lonely hours in a toll booth.  He is actually one of the personae created by Kierkegaard and is the pseudonym for the author of “Diary of a Seducer” as part of Either/Or.  This allusion, of course, also connects A to the father who is a former philosophy professor who had once written a book on Kierkegaard—and constantly quotes various sections of Kierkegaard in his nursing home lectures. A is a part of Gilbert he’s been unable to express and thus is manifested as an imaginary friend. There’s the obvious connection to his father and philosophy but also to the “world of the aesthetic” as Kierkegaard would say, the world of pleasure.
 
There are a number of allusions to Kierkegaard throughout the script but we hope our readers/audience will miss them—and insist that no one who finally views the film will ever have read Kierkegaard.  Sorry, Soren.
 
We are hoping that A will be acknowledged with an award: The Best Dialogue by an Imaginary Friend.
 

12_34_my_favorite_time_by_dylrocks95I really love the scene where Gilbert and Genevieve talk about “The perfect time.” What can you share about the concept of time throughout Taking the Toll – The Life and Life of Gilbert Booth?
 
PL & TS: Time is actually one of the central themes of the script, and with Genevieve approaching 100 this is more than just an abstract concept.  And Gilbert views the toll booth as a portal through which people travel through time. So what is the “perfect time”?
 
“12:43. The perfect time. It goes forwards 1,2; and it goes backwards 4,3.”
 
The past moving forward and the future moving backward—all coming together in the now.
 
The wisdom of the screenplay: Ultimately it is better to live in the now rather than live in the colon.

What inspired you to become a screenwriter?
 
PL: Though I dabbled with screenwriting in the past and have taught a college level scriptwriting course for years, I never took it as seriously until I was approached by Ted.

TS: When I entered High School, Netflix had just started their DVD rental business, before streaming, My dad signed up and got a list from my Uncle, who’s worked in news his whole life and studied cinematography at NYU, of films everyone should see in their life time. The idea was the whole family would gather and watch all these classic movies. I was the only one who stuck to it with my Dad, and we would watch three new films every weekend. That was when I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
 

As co-writers, can you share your story/character development and writing process? Do you each have a certain role in your process?

PL & TS: We’re equals in our process, which is that one of us plants a seed and together we water it. We start with an idea, a concept or in this case a character. From there we brainstorm for several weeks and collect our notes in a google doc. We’ll Skype now and then and share new ideas and improve on each other’s thoughts. Then we plan out the basic structure of the plot. Then we dive in. With so much in place we tend to write the actual script very quickly. I believe the first draft of Gilbert was written in about 3 weeks, Skyping a few hours a day maybe 5 days a week.
 

What are some difficulties, as co-writers, that you have experienced? How do you overcome them?
 
PL: So far everything has been generative and transformative.  We work extremely well with each other’s energy.

TS: The biggest problem we could think of is I’m always on the subway in New York and Patrick is always in a classroom in Syracuse. Working with our schedules, especially when we’re excited about the writing and on a roll, is the only real challenge we’ve faced.
 

How do you overcome writer’s block? Is this done as a team?
 
PL: What is the opposite of writer’s block?  I’m a victim of writer’s deluge.  I have boxes of ideas that can strike at any time.

TS: I think writer’s block happens when you haven’t been writing in a while. The best way to avoid writer’s block is to always be writing more than one thing, they’ll feed off each other. The moment you stop writing it takes time to start the engine of your brain back up. To overcome it, you have to force yourself through writing some really bad words that you’ll throw out until the engine is fully revved again.
 

Do you have any particular writing habits or routines to keep you motivated?toll-booth
 
PL & TS: It’s really all about allowing the idea to percolate in our minds for a few weeks before we really start writing. It’s also very helpful to create the structure of the film before we write, so once we get started there’s not really anything that can slow us down.

What movie or screenplay inspires you to be a better screenwriter?

TS: I don’t know where to begin or when I should stop. Network, Persona, 60’s New Wave French, Japanese and Czech films (Specifically: Daisies, Woman in the Dunes and Masculin Feminin), Tarkovsky, Sturges, Jarmusch, Charlie Kaufman, the Coen Brothers and too many more to name.

What are your ultimate goals as screenwriters?

PL & TS: To write memorable, engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking scripts that will change the world—and sell popcorn.

Are you interested in directing your screenplays?
 
TS: Yes. We’ve always planned to write together and then I direct. We just finished our first short together, and it’ll be premiering online for free April 22nd for Earth Day! Here’s the trailer: https://vimeo.com/125112085

Who do you go to for feedback?

PL & TS: The beauty of the collaborative process is we have each other.  We’re great in our encouragement—and we’re honest when things suck. We basically skip a few drafts just because we’re able to edit our own writing in a way that’s difficult when you’re the only writer. We tend to send out at least second drafts. As far as outside feedback, Ted gets it from people on the production and screenwriting end—while Patrick gets it from poets and fiction writers.
 

Why did you enter BlueCat?
 
PL & TS: One of Patrick’s colleagues suggested they submit to BlueCat—and Ted, after looking into it, immediately submitted.
 
 
What advice can you give to aspiring screenwriters?

PL & TS: Always live faster than you write—and always write faster than you think.
Learn how to write while skydiving.

Write about what scares you, what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, what makes you want to make love.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Theodore & Patrick at theodore.schaefer@gmail.com

 

the-last-bookstore-2

 

 

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Interview with 2015 Feature Finalist: Palmer Holton

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

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Palmer Holton

writer of

 

The Anxieties of Peter Wilhelm

When Peter Wilhelm’s adulterous daydreams creep too close towards becoming reality, he finds himself being whisked away to a rehab facility for sex addiction, only to become part of a radical new procedure that promises to make him fall in love with his wife again… or drive him insane.

 

The Anxieties of Peter Wilhelm is such an interesting and intelligent journey into the intricate emotions of love and relationships. What made you want to explore this subject matter and how did you come up with the idea for the story?

I remember I was looking at a painting in a museum when the idea for the story popped into my head, and after that I couldn’t really think about anything else for the rest of the day. I think it probably came from the fact that I had been surrounded by Greek statues and classical imagery for hours, and I started to wonder, since ancient Greek myths dealt with things like The Fates and The Furies, if there were things like “the Anxieties.” From there, it sort of grew out of the idea of a modern guy plagued by all these things in advertising that made him feel anxious.

The Anxieties of Peter Wilhelm (Minotaur)I like how you tied in the Minotaur and Greek Mythology so seamlessly into the story. Can you talk a little bit about the decision to include these elements – was it something that you knew you wanted to bring in from the beginning or did it come along more organically?

The idea of using the minotaur was always there from the beginning, but it grew in importance when I was trying to develop Peter’s trajectory. It was also especially important for me when I was trying to envision what Peter’s rehab facility was supposed to look and feel like, the idea that he is trapped in a maze, and he’s also the monster on a certain level. He can’t stop himself from giving into his more base nature.

 
Dr. Adhemar mentions that Peter Wilhelm’s journey is “not at all uncommon.” Do you think there are versions of Peter Wilhelm that live in all of us?

I think so. I think we all struggle with what our brains are telling us and what we feel emotionally all the time. Those things are usually at odds.
 

What types of source material (movies,  TV shows, books, etc.) have influenced your writing the most, and which ones in particular?

The biggest influences on me as a writer, especially on this script, have been writers like Terry Southern, Evelyn Waugh, and Ian McEwan. They all have different approaches to mixing “funny” with “creepy” at times, and that’s something I really respond to. I actually wrote The Anxieties of Peter Wilhelm as a novel before trying to adapt it into a screenplay, and it was a lot of fun to find out what worked in one format vs. another.
 
 
What made you want to start writing screenplays?

I was a Film Studies and Creative Writing major at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and they had some great screenwriting courses that I was able to take. It was always a blast to do the table reads, and that experience gave me the confidence to keep writing scripts.
 

Do you outline before you write?The Anxieties of Peter Wilhelm (Therapy)

I may try to write a few pages here and there that I have no clue what they’re for just as an exercise, but if I finally settle on an idea that I want to take completion… I always outline.
 
 

Do you have a method that you use to combat writer’s block?

Jogging always helps me if I need to get some distance or clear my head. If I’m really stuck, I try to imagine what would happen to the story if, hypothetically, I were to switch Character A with Character B, that kind of thing.
 

How do you know exactly when a script is finished?

If I can read through my script without finding any major things that need to be changed, I usually think that’s a pretty good point to share it with people.

Are you interested in directing your screenplays?

I am definitely interested in directing my own scripts. I’m actually working right now as a documentary filmmaker, and I have to admit… It might be kind of fun to always know what my characters might say!
 

Why did you enter BlueCat?

I entered the BlueCat because I was hoping to place high enough to get some attention as a writer. Also, I sometimes need that “ticking clock” of a looming contest deadline to make me finish!
 

What is the best advice on screenwriting that you have gotten from someone else, and what advice would you give to writers who are struggling with a script?

The best advice I’ve heard is, “write the movie you want to see.” You have to spend so much time working on whatever you write that you may as well enjoy the experience. If I had to offer advice, I would say to set yourself a word count or page goal for each day and stick to it. Force yourself to reach that 5 page or 10 page limit no matter what. You’ll have a completed draft before you know it.
 

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Palmer at palmerholton@yahoo.com

 

The Anxieties of Peter Wilhelm (Ad meeting)

 

 

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Interview with 2015 Feature Finalist: Joseph O’Driscoll

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

jodriscoll
Joseph O’Driscoll

writer of

 

Scriptures and Cigarettes

After a near-death experience, a devout Mormon teenager experiments with the outside world for the first time, risking his relationship with his family and community.

 

As much as Scriptures and Cigarettes is a story about the struggle of ones faith and belief system, it is also a coming of age tale that deals with problems many teenagers face. How did you approach the themes and what was the inspiration for this idea?

Several things inspired the script. As somebody who has struggled through the process of falling away from the faith, I know how lost people in that situation can be and wanted to make a movie for them so they could see that somebody understands what they’re going through. I also spent the first twenty-two years of my life in Salt Lake City and always thought it was a unique place with a lot of character, perfect for film but rarely used as a setting in them. There’s no other place like it on the planet. It has a strong predominant Mormon culture and equally strong counterculture that frequently clash, and the few films that deal with either of them frequently only focus on one side of the coin. I wanted a movie that showed both sides, without indicting either, and had Salt Lake City prominently featured.

As for the themes, everyone’s teenage years are rife with stress and uncertainty. You have to make major decisions and your hormones are raging and you have no idea where the hell your life is going (or at least I didn’t). However, you add in a crisis of faith on top of all that where the wrong choice could potentially screw you over for eternity and it’ll take you to your wit’s end. Choosing between the dictates of your own conscience and everything you’ve been taught your whole life is a major moral dilemma that has been explored many times in film, but this was my chance to do it in a fresh way, with characters and a culture that I know very well.

Scriptures & Cigarettes (Mormon mass)Usually deep religious faith and astronomy do not mix well, but Nephi seems to have a love for both. Can you talk a little bit about that choice and if it played into the conception of the story?

Science and religion are mutually exclusive worlds to a lot of people, but Nephi doesn’t see it that way at all. As far as he’s concerned he’s simply marveling at the universe that God created and he doesn’t consider his passion for both as something that needs to be reconciled. His passion for astronomy did not play into the conception of the story and was not in the outline when I started writing actual pages; all I had was that he was passionate about something and going to college for it but was going to serve his mission first before pursuing it. The decision that it was astronomy came in the course of writing pages and just felt like the perfect thing, probably for the exact reason that you note in your question: when juxtaposed with his religion, it’s a good externalization of his inner conflict.

What made you first want to get into screenwriting?

As a kid I always loved movies and reading, often watching Field of Dreams, Indiana Jones, and Top Gun multiple times a day, but it was many years before I realized movies were even written by someone. The original plan when I was a teenager was to become a novelist, but that changed when I took a film production course in high school and started making my own projects. In college, I discovered Paul Larsen’s screenwriting class at the University of Utah and that was the first time I thought I could take it seriously. It was the best class I’d ever had, and I loved that I had to rely on only myself to get a finished product, something not as feasible in my film production courses. I always knew I wanted to be involved in stories, I just took a while to figure out which form was the one for me.

What did you learn from the experience of writing your first screenplay?

Mainly I learned that good screenwriting is really goddamn hard and that I wasn’t going to be Tarantino right out of the gate, much to my chagrin. I think what’s more important is the lesson that I refused to learn until much later: the importance of outlining. I wouldn’t outline my first scripts because I was absolutely convinced that it would hinder my creativity and compromise me as an artist. (Yeah, seriously). It wasn’t until years later that I understood that outlining doesn’t hurt your creativity, it streamlines it. Scripts are like finely made watches with tons of pieces that all must work together intricately. You might trial-and-error your way into a working watch (probably not) but a plan makes it much more manageable and realistic to attain (though still immensely difficult), and you save yourself tons of wasted time and energy that could be better spent working on your next project.

Who are some writers and filmmakers that inspire you?

Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Vince Gilligan, Matt Weiner, and Shonda Rhimes are the names that spring to the front of my mind right now. Their story abilities both inspire and aggravate me to no end. My mentors – Patty Meyer at AFI and Paul Larsen at the University of Utah – have both been profound influences as well, and of course my fellow workshoppers Rich, Vanessa, Derek, and the two Robs.

After all of your hard work, how do you know when a script is done?

I know my script’s at 98% when I bring it to my weekly workshop and my five friends/workshoppers only have micro notes to give me, no large story or character issues or scenes that aren’t working. This often takes months and extensive rewriting. They’re tough customers and if there is an issue to bring to light, they will find it. At that point, I’ll go through and address the final notes and consider it finished. I still go through the script and tweak lines every now and then though.Scriptures & Cigarettes (Telescope)

Do you have a certain page count you like to hit every day, or any other type of writing goals?

I don’t have a page count to hit, and while I don’t write actual script pages everyday, I am constantly involved in some form of the writing process. Research, outlining, studying the craft, charting out the beats in movies/TV shows in the same genre as my own, writing in my journal (a wonderful emotional reservoir that I can pilfer from anytime for my stories), watching Charlie Rose interviews with writers and filmmakers I respect so I can learn from them, and, though this will sound like a good way to justify laziness, watching a lot of TV and movies to be educated about the current landscape in the industry. There are so many things that contribute to good writing outside of the act itself. I make sure to read a lot, not just screenplays but novels too, and nonfiction. Try new things, be educated about the world around you. Politics, science, religion, current events, history. Soak it all up like a sponge, because all of it helps your writing.

How do you find the time to write?

Time isn’t an issue. If something is a high enough priority, there will be time. Procrastinating when I should be writing is the bigger problem.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you and what do you do to stay motivated?

Nagging self-doubt is up there. My workshop is the number one thing for bolstering my motivation. It’s excellent for setting deadlines, honing critical thinking, and emotional support.

Is directing something that you would like to try in the future?

Yes. I intentionally wrote Scriptures so it could be shot on the cheap with this in mind. Showrunning is an eventual goal as well. I’ll always be a writer before anything else though.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

I entered a feature last year that made the first cut and I loved that feedback was included in the entry fee, something that very few other competitions do. With how much money can be dropped on these screenwriting competitions, it’s great that BlueCat offers something to everyone for their money no matter how far they make it in the competition. The gigantic grand prize helped of course, and it has a good reputation in the industry, so it was a no-brainer.

What advice would you give to writers who are just starting a screenplay?

Be hard on your characters. It’s what generates conflict which is the fuel successful scripts need.

To any writers in general, find a group of five other people whose writing and opinions you respect and form a workshop that meets once a week. Your critical thinking and story skills will improve, you’ll have deadlines which help with motivation, and it’s a good support network to have when Act 2 is kicking your ass. It will take you to the next level.

For professional inquiries, please contact Joseph at josephammonodriscoll@gmail.com

 

Scriptures & Cigarettes (Mormon Church)

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Interview with 2015 Feature Finalist: Alex Rollins Berg

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

alexrollinsberg
Alex Rollins Berg

writer of

 

i

After a flash flood kills his father, destroys the family farm and leaves him to support his younger brothers, a poor but enterprising teenager sets off to Kuala Lumpur for an iPhone factory job, only to get caught up in the lives of the fabulously wealthy American factory owners.

 

i is a coming-of-age adventure story that follows a teenager from Nepal who sets off to Kuala Lumpur for an iPhone factory job so that he can support his younger brothers. How did you come up with the idea and what was your main goal in telling this story?

Years ago, I saw a great documentary called Manufactured Landscapes about Edward Burtynsky, a photographer known for mind-blowing landscapes of places like ship graveyards and refineries. The film’s opening images of a massive Chinese factory blew me away – row after row of identically-dressed workers, stretching into infinity. I had a strong desire to zoom in on one of these thousands of workers and learn his or her story. That was the first spark, and it stayed with me. I didn’t develop the idea until last year.
As for one main goal, that’s harder to pinpoint. Essentially, i is an outsider’s journey into 21st-century western life. Through Malla, this sharp-witted but impressionable 15-year-old kid from rural Nepal, we can experience the wonders and perils of our consumer culture with fresh eyes. Asian factories are the engine rooms of our world, where nearly everything we’ve ever owned was made. It’s a massive, hidden underworld that we’re all deeply tied to, yet choose to ignore. Its stories are screaming to be told.

All that aside, if you ask me, the heart is the most important organ of any story. So maybe the main goal was simply to tell the story of Malla, this great kid in an extremely harrowing situation, and his friendship with Elena, the wife of his wealthy American boss.
 

i (Nepal Village)You do a great job of giving the reader a real sense of place, whether that be in the industrial Kuala Lumpur or the vast Nepal mountain terraces. How important is a story’s location for you in your writing?

Thanks! A story’s setting has the power to express so much about the inner lives of its characters, so I always consider it carefully. Sometimes, as in the case of this story, the location is chosen before the characters even exist.

 
The factory workers, their daily techniques, and overall employment process provides us with a real sense of authenticity.  Can you tell us a little more about how you were able to recreate this interesting environment with such detail?

I hope I did ok. Having never been to these factories, I relied solely on research. A lot of research. I read up on the machines they use… pretty dry stuff. The most fascinating resources were a few first-hand accounts. A Chinese journalist went undercover at an electronics factory for the Shanghai Evening Post. The specifics of Malla’s ordeal were loosely inspired by the true story of a man named Bibek Dhong, as reported in a gripping article from Bloomberg Business Week. He provided some astonishing details, for instance the fact that the factory rows are named after American states. You can’t make that stuff up.

 
What is it about screenwriting that drew you in?

Oh man, wish I knew. My passion for movies and TV was always there, along with an interest in writing. The more screenwriting I do, the more complex it seems to become. It’s infinitely challenging and endlessly mysterious.

Who are some writers and filmmakers that inspire you?

There are the ones that everyone seems to mention  – Kubrick, etc. – but others who inspire me are Claude Chabrol, Paddy Chayefsky, Rod Serling, Preston Sturges, Agnès Varda, Charlie Brooker, George Saunders, Vince Gilligan, Adam Curtis and Carson Mell.

 
How do you stay motivated during the writing process?i (Kuala Lumpur)

I just keep writing. Those discouraging fears of “facing the blank page” and “having a bad writing day” tend to leave me alone as long as I write every day. Maybe it’s like physical exercise – the less you do of it, the more you dread going to the gym.
 

Do you have a particular writing process that you adhere to when writing?

Not really. Every story seems to demand a different approach, depending on what I’m starting with. Sometimes it’s only a character, a title, or just a feeling, and discovering new ways to develop those fragments is good fun. Over time, this turns into notecards and outlines, but stories never spring fully to life for me until I’m writing scenes. Right now, I’m making an effort to adopt a more organized method. We’ll see how it goes…

 
Why did you enter BlueCat?

The evaluation! I figured if nothing else, I’d get some feedback. I was not prepared for how insightful that feedback would be. The reader articulated the strengths of the story better than I could, while illuminating its weak points and proposing brilliant fixes. Shout-out to Reader #5098!

Do you have any interest in directing in the future?

I do – in fact, directing commercials is my day job. After many hours writing alone in a room, stepping onto a set and collaborating with a crew is the best. I’m definitely looking forward to directing some of my scripts in the future.

After all of your hard work, how do you know when a script is done?

When I can read it without the urge to change anything, I consider it done. I savor that feeling, because it never lasts… more changes always occur to me later (inevitably, the minute after I’ve submitted it someplace). I suppose a script is never truly done until it gets produced, or you bury it in a drawer and forget about it. Even then, it tends to haunt you.

 
What advice would you give to writers who are just starting a screenplay?

Read! The more you read, the better you’ll write. Reading is your fuel. Find time to write every day if you can, even on weekends. Technically you’ll have more bad days, but they won’t affect you as much, because you’ll also have more good days – and some amazing ones. Don’t worry about the marketplace. Let your passions and instincts guide you. Write something you desperately want to see. Write it from the heart.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Alex at alex.rollins.berg@gmail.com

 

i (Factory Floor)

 

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Interview with 2015 Short Screenplay Finalist: Ludwig Thelin

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

ludwig
Ludwig Thelin

writer of

 

The Last Days of the Dolores Project

In a few days, the chimpanzee Dolores will step out of the flight simulator and onto a real airplane, together with the pilot who taught her how to fly, but before the flight, the pilot wants to tell a colleague a secret.

 

The Last Days of the Dolores Project is an interesting exploration into how your professional work life can be detrimental to your social life. Can you talk about how you came up with the idea for the story?

I saw a thing about a Soviet experiment where they transplanted a dogs head onto another dogs body, and kept both dogs alive for a while. I got the idea to make something about a monkey who gets its head removed and put on the body of a robot, then escapes and hi-jacks a plane.

The idea evolved and came to focus more on Oliver, who trained the monkey in the flight simulator. At one point, the story was that Oliver’s brother owed money to a biker gang. The biker gang wanted them to steal a barrel of safrole from the research center Oliver worked at. They would use the safrole to make MDMA – when they steal the safrole barrel, they take the monkey with them. Oliver and the monkey make out for a while before they escape on an airplane and at the end, Oliver had fallen in love with the monkey.

It got too stupid and I gave the idea up. A few months later I picked it up again and removed a lot. I had Oliver fall in love with a co-worker instead, and made it more simple. I think I learned that it’s okay to get weird, but that stories work better if they’re ultimately about people. That’s why this script, for me, is firstly about being in love and not knowing what to do about it – the weird monkey-in-the-flight-simulator part is only the setting.

I had fun writing it, but it took a long time before it became what it is.  

What made you want to start writing screenplays?

I always liked stories, both from reading books and from watching movies. I wrote stories and made short films with my cousins and friends when I was younger too, and never got tired of it, I guess.

What kind of books have you read that have helped your writing?

I don’t know if they’ve helped my writing, but I’ve read a lot of Philip K. Dick in the past; his books are fun and inspiring to me. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.

Are there any movies that you frequently look to for inspiration?

There’s a Swedish movie called Four Shades of Brown that I think about frequently, it mixes humour and sadness in a really good way. The Comedy does that too, so I’ve seen that a couple of times. I like stuff from Charlie Kaufman, Todd Solondz, and Paul Thomas Anderson. Oslo, August 31st is a film I like a lot too.

How do you stay motivated during the writing process?

I try to remember why I liked the idea when I started, and try to write it fast. Short films are easier to stay motivated with, since they don’t take as much time to write.

Are you interested in directing your screenplays?

Not really, it’s more fun for me to give it to someone else and see what happens. Film is a collaborative medium, and the results from letting go of control can be pretty positive.  Maybe I’ll change my mind in the future, and write something I really want to direct myself, but we’ll see.

What advice would you give to writers who have just finished a script?

Let people read it. It can be hard to do if you’ve just started – if you think that what you wrote is too personal, not good enough, or whatever, it gets easier with time.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

I wanted to see what kind of feedback I would get. Criticism from a stranger is more honest than from someone you know, I think. Strangers aren’t as afraid of hurting your feelings.

Do you have any plans to develop The Last Days of the Dolores Project into a feature script?

Maybe. I like that it’s short though, and I don’t know what else I want to say that isn’t already in there.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Ludwig at ludwig.thelin@gmail.com

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Interview with 2015 Short Screenplay Finalist: Danielle Barcena

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

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Danielle Barcena

writer of

 

Silk

An abused woman struggles to free herself from her brother’s web of control when a grocery store clerk offers her the chance to escape.

 

In Silk, Paige is having trouble escaping a bad relationship, what was your goal in telling this story?

I really like horror and thrillers. I feel that monsters are everywhere in our real lives, manifested in the way that we treat each other. I wanted to explore the darkness involved in being in an abusive relationship; I wanted to create empathy for Paige. There is a stigma surrounding victims of domestic violence, people ask “Why don’t you just leave?” I feel as though people think the ones asking this don’t have empathy for abuse sufferers. They think that if they were in the same situation it would be easy for them to leave, or they would never let themselves be in that situation in the first place. I think that’s a defense mechanism.

Domestic violence is perpetrated by someone the victim loves and trusts and that is too scary for people to comprehend. We don’t want to be victims so we shun victims, pretending we aren’t fallible. We pretend we have control over what happens to us, but the only thing we do have control over is embracing our inner strength. That’s our only defense.

People who can’t empathize with a domestic violence victim don’t want to admit to their own mortality. To be fair, some people just don’t have that first hand knowledge so you can’t blame them for not understanding something they don’t know. But I can write a story.

I wanted to create a safe place for audiences to start seeing how hard the struggle can be. I used the device that I did because its that sort of fantasy aspect that keeps audiences at a safe distance to remember its just a movie. I wanted to make dark subject matter accessible.

You do a great job of illustrating Paige’s complicated world so that we are able to fully understand the problematic relationship with her brother. Can you talk a little bit about creating this environment and these characters?

Thank you!

The events of this story are not autobiographical but I did submerge myself and examined how I felt in similar situations – where someone else has power over you and the only escape you have is your will. I wanted to handle the subject matter with respect, so I did a lot of research and read a lot of literature from domestic violence shelters.

When I needed a dose of inspiration I would take my dog in the car and we’d go on a long drive through the Delta. Watching the location move through my windows set to moody music from my car stereo really helped me keep the movie playing in my head. It helped to make the physical environment more real.

Who is your favorite character in the script and why?

I love all my characters! I really connect with Paige because she is in the middle of everything and she struggles the hardest to truly realize herself. The other characters have sort of become set in their own ways. Paige is the only one who is open to growth and change, even in the face of adversity when her future is already laid out for her. That is something that inspires me so I tried to make Paige a strong character. She looks pathetic on the outside but its what’s inside that really matters.

I was also really excited to put Paige through the physical changes that she goes through because as a woman, there are certain “reproductive health” issues that don’t get talked about. It can be difficult to know if what is going on with your body is normal or not, like fatigue or dysmenorrhea, which is excruciating cramps, or endometriosis, another painful disorder. Our bodies are scary and I think that there are women (but not just women!) who will enjoy this screenplay because it explores that notion.

Do you have a specific schedule or routine that you stick to when writing?

I try to stick to a schedule the same way that I tell myself I’m going to go to the gym. I’d love to be the guy who wakes up at the crack of dawn and runs ten miles, but that’s just not me. I have bouts of depression too, so some days it can be impossible to get out of bed, let alone get vulnerable and write. I have to make a commitment to myself to write and I try to write everyday. It is hard for me but that makes it more rewarding when it’s done. I also try to only work on something that I find redeeming, so that helps.

What made you first want to get into screenwriting?

I have always wanted to make movies and have had these stories and characters floating around in my head. I love to sit back and observe the world around me and watch and listen to people. In my life I sort of have always connected dots that other people don’t really see and somewhere along the line in my process of becoming a filmmaker I realized that screenwriting was the perfect way to bridge being a creep watching people and motivating that by turning it into art.

Who are some writers and filmmakers that you look to for inspiration?

Steven Spielberg, The Coen Brothers, and Alfred Hitchcock. I also connect with Larry David and recently discovered Louie C.K. I  grew up watching Roseanne and that was a show that looked at family issues that were real but unexplored in other arenas at the time in the same sense.

Who do you go to for feedback?

A couple years ago I started a production company with my partner and that is who I go to when I want immediate feedback. I think that it is so important to find people or institutions that you trust to give you honest feedback. Someone who will tell you when something works or doesn’t. You have to trust them to be constructive and also supportive.

How do you know when a script is done?

When its a couple hours before deadline! A script is never done, you just have to let it go at some point.

Conversely, I think that you just know when a script is done. Like with an interpersonal relationship, you’ll have a sense of closure and relief when you’re done with a script. That thing inside of you that begs you to write that particular story, that feeling will float away in the wind like a dandelion.

Do you have any interest in expanding Silk into a feature length screenplay?

No, I do not have any interest in expanding Silk into a feature length screenplay, that just wouldn’t be the right fit for this story. A feature would be too much and would take away from what I think is strong about the story. A short is almost a different medium than a feature and with any artwork I think it is important to pick the right medium for what you are trying to convey. Feature films have more latitude but short films are almost concentrated and need to pack more into every image you see. Everything has to be there for a reason.

I am currently working on some feature length screenplays right now though; a sci-fi, a coming of age romantic comedy, and a thriller that shares similar themes and tone to Silk.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

BlueCat seemed like the best fit for this story. There are a lot of competitions and film festivals and it can be overwhelming to know where to start submitting. BlueCat seemed like a competition that actually had a passion for what they were doing and I think that matched up with the way I felt about my screenplay. I worked hard on this story and I respect the writing process and I respect other artists and I want to be around like minded people.

The feedback included with the entry fee and the prize amounts proved that they care. I personally really liked the resubmission process and appreciated that sense of nurturing. ­ They want your work to be good! It is just a really great situation for everyone involved.
 
Other competitions can be cold, especially if they don’t even notify you of the winners or anything. Its like, I’m pouring my soul out AND giving you money, the least you can do is have a robot send out an email to tell me you hated my work. You know, entering contests makes you vulnerable, which apparently makes me sound bratty. But, BlueCat brings spirit into the competition. I never played sports or anything competitive when I was younger, so it is nice to have an outlet for some good natured, supportive competition and to recognize the hard work of everyone who entered.

What advice can you give to someone trying to write a short script?

Run, Forest! Run! You can do it!

Write that thing like there is a monster chasing you and is going to eat you alive if you stop, because really, there is.

People are consuming more content than ever before. We have instant access to anything all the time. I just watched a movie on my phone for crying out loud. There is a need for your story and there is an audience for it somewhere. Surround yourself with people who will respect your desire to write that short and make sure that you are one of them.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Danielle at danielle@cinemaduo.com

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Interview with 2015 Cordelia Award Winner: Kitty Percy

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

PastedGraphic-1 copyBest Screenplay from the UK

 

Butter Side Up

When a hopelessly unlucky smalltime criminal kidnaps a celebrity by mistake, he finds his luck starting to change in unexpected ways.

 

The dialogue in Butter Side Up is fantastically witty and comedic. What was your process in crafting the dialogue in such an authentic way?

Why thank you, BlueCat. I feel odd taking credit for the dialogue when all I do is take personality ingredients, add them into some characters, cook them for a bit then let them loose, observe what they say and try to write it down before I forget it.

I guess my natural tone is somewhere between drama and comedy (which isn’t ideal for a commercial writer, BTW). I often set out to write serious dramas or thrillers, but as soon as I hit a moment when a character is called upon to be heroic or noble I can’t help myself: We’ve all been in situations when there’s a ‘right’ thing to say, but actually what comes out is something inappropriate / obnoxious / cowardly / vain etc. I can’t resist that human truth, the stupid reality of what we do say as opposed to what we should say.  

stock-footage-the-water-wipes-off-the-word-luck-written-in-sandLuck is a reoccurring theme in your screenplay. Which character’s stance on luck do you identify with the most?

Maybe it’s because we live in such cynical, secular times that I’m interested in our unshakable belief in luck. The main character Stan, a smalltime criminal on the Isle of Wight, believes he’s fundamentally unlucky. He finally learns that luck – good and bad – is random but ‘lucky’ is a state of mind. (I try to maintain this outlook on life, but I’m as prone to ‘woe is me’ wallowing as any other writer. Sigh…)

What’s interesting about celebrities is they’re the closest thing we have to mythical beings. Butter Side Up is a kind of question – ‘what would happen if the unluckiest man in the world got stuck with a kind of modern-day goddess of good fortune?’

The line between “reality” and “imagination” are often blurred in your screenplay. Can you give some insight into the reasoning behind this storytelling choice?

My life is largely domestic and suburban; writing is an escape. Like most writers, the worlds I create in my head are as as real to me as any other. One of my favourite movies is Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, in which the living and the dead rub along together, people get reincarnated as strange animals and the time line is non-linear – none of which is ever explained or rationalised. In Butter Side Up, Stan’s daughter Micky (11) has been dealt a tough hand; I wanted to suggest in some sense that by the end of the story she’s made her imagined life a reality.

What inspired you to become a screenwriter?

Writing is a way to take all of your mistakes and neuroses and turn them into something useful, and it’s cheaper than therapy. Maybe it’s because my mental terrain is chaotic, but what I love about screenwriting are the structures and boundaries, the rules of the craft. The thought of writing a novel terrifies me – where do you even begin, let alone finish? I’d start navel-gazing then disappear into that dark psychological hole and never come out again…

Do you have any particular writing habits or routines to keep you motivated?

Some writers can barricade themselves in a room and write for hours on end and come up with something good. I am not one of them. My process is like that game at kids’ parties, where there’s a donut hanging from a string and you kind of hover strategically, taking little bites at it (whilst trying to prevent it falling apart) until it’s finished.

I read an interview with Irish writer Colm Toibin, who said a hard bench is better for writing than an ergonomic chair: you can’t be creative if you’re too comfortable. So now I write in my kitchen, sitting on a wooden stool.

(Dammit I need to go out and get a donut…)

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

Back now. One thing I struggle with is becoming too fond of my characters – even the baddies – so I don’t want to make them suffer. I’m great at coming up with stories where nothing much happens and people are generally nice to one another.

Sometimes I think the writing part is easy – it’s everything else I struggle with: kids / dog / cat / cleaning (which I don’t really bother with any more, if I’m honest). I’m often writing very late and very early – sleep is something I haven’t done properly since 2002.

londonHow do you overcome writers’ block?

If time’s on my side I get away from all screens and try to inhabit a different headspace. I avoid films / TV and read or go see some art – even if it’s incomprehensible, art is the closest possible thing to entering someone else’s mind and wandering about in it. Sometimes that’s all the fuel you need to get over a bump. Writers block when you have a deadline is horrible and scary. Try and silence your inner critics by mentally taping their mouths shut with duct tape and just get something on the page, even if it’s sh*t.

Are you interested in directing your screenplays?

Yes and no. Because my writing is not quite drama and not quite comedy, tone is everything. I put a lot of thought into action and descriptions; I treat them as a kind of trojan horse that I hope will carry my tone into the final product.

Screenwriting is a strange discipline; it’s like creating a blueprint for a building, then handing it to someone who might make a perfectly decent version out of bricks, except you’d envisaged it made out of ice cream. Which is a roundabout way of saying I would love to direct eventually, but like lots of writers I’m a misanthrope at heart. I’d probably turn up on a film set, see all those people and run screaming.

What is your ultimate goal as a screenwriter?

There’s a lot of buzz about TV at the moment, and it’s great that telly is having something of a golden age, but I remain truly, romantically smitten by cinema films. I’d love to see a film I wrote make it to the big screen. A low concept, low stakes type deal, with my own brand of pre-menopausal humour, about slightly odd people being kind to one other then going home. Watch out for that one at your local multiplex.

What movie or screenplay inspires you to be a better screenwriter?

Coen Brothers’ scripts are beautiful documents, ditto anything by Wes Anderson, who’s a huge inspiration. Miranda July is probably my all-time hero; then there’s Holofcener, Dunham, Baumbach, Duplass – geniuses who, unlike some in the mumblecore canon, tell human stories with tenderness and hope. (Although I’m not nearly cool enough to be her friend, I’m hoping I might one day persuade Lena Dunham to adopt me as some kind of pet? I wouldn’t be any trouble…)

Who do you go to for feedback?

One of the best things about doing a formal writing programme (I did an MA in screenwriting at the University of the Arts London) is the chance to find like-minded souls. I couldn’t function without my writers group. Also, since I entered BlueCat, I’ve been signed by an agent. He is a diamond – reads every bit of nonsense I put in front of him and gives constructive and insightful notes.

It’s important to be able to present your ideas, otherwise the only feedback you get is from the voices in your head (mine are mean and, at times, screechy). But pick your people carefully: I disagree with the advice that friends and family are a good sounding board. In my experience, if they say something nice you don’t entirely trust it because they probably don’t want to hurt your feelings; if they criticise you feel hurt and betrayed and want to stab them with their evil amateurish pencils.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

As a UK-based writer, I’m pretty much at the whim of our very small and cautious industry, which seems to be divided into clear factions: There’s the Period Drama industry, the Cockney Gangster industry, and the Bleak, Baffling Art Films about Poor People industry, and not much in between. (Don’t get me wrong – I admire the BBAFaPP’s but there’s only so many a person can watch without wanting to jump in the Thames.) BlueCat is an opportunity to present material to American readers and get a sense of whether or not it works for a US sensibility. The feedback is really valuable – certainly the best bang for your competition buck.

What advice can you give to aspiring screenwriters?

As I feel like I still am one myself, I should probably limit my advice to subjects about which I’m qualified to comment. To that end: 1) if you’re making mashed potatoes don’t peel them first – all the goodness is in the skin. 2) Unless it’s August, wear a vest for heaven’s sake. 3) The donuts will get you in the end.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Kitty at kittypercybutter@gmail.com

butter-on-toast-1

 

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Interview with 2015 Joplin Award Winner: Leonardo Noboru de Lima

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

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Best Screenplay from outside the US, UK and Canada

 

 

George!

 

 

An unhappy family man faces another level of his mundane existence when he wakes up to find himself inhabiting a sitcom version of his life.

 

 

George! is a unique and captivating story filled with both drama and laughter (literally). Can you talk a little bit about how you approached the themes and how you came up with the idea?

My first contact with international culture came in the form of Friends episodes, so I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’ve been watching American sitcoms for as long as I can remember. It took me a while, however, to notice how uncanny their conventional format was; it wasn’t until I found out about stuff like Modern Family and Community that I realized not every comedy show had to have cardboard furniture and disembodied laughs and the like. Then, once that bubble was burst, watching multi-camera sitcoms became a somewhat bizarre experience, to the point that I started wondering how weird it would be to actually live in a universe that operated under those rules. I think I was watching some terrible pilot for one of those cheap star vehicle shows when I had the idea to actually explore that contrast.

At first, I had no intention to write anything other than an all-out parody. I was going to have the main character lose his mind and start screaming at the other characters, tearing down the fake sky backgrounds, pointing out how artificial all of that was right to the audience’s face. I was a very angry 14-year-old, I see that now. Of course, when I did get down to outlining the story, it became clear that I couldn’t write a hundred pages of some angry guy reacting to assorted absurdities — at which point the real core of the story emerged, and I began to fancy a redemption tale about a man in midlife crisis who has to confront his own fantasies of a better life. I struggled with that hypothesis for a while, because I kept imagining how fun it would be to just bang out a whole feature-length screenplay with nothing but escalating genre madness, but the more I considered, the more I thought that a story that outlandish might turn out to be a lot of sound and fury signifying squat.

And so it was that the sitcom universe, initially just an inconsequential comedic gimmick, ended up as a metaphor of sorts for the empty “this could all have gone another way” illusions that people sometimes nurture when they’ve hit rock bottom. Part of the reason it seemed to work was that, these days especially, comedy stars often get starring roles in autobiographical sitcoms when their careers are at a low point, and there’s something to be said for the overlap between career slumps and midlife crises. On that note, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that the script’s emotional bulk is largely based on my own relationship with my family, what with our recent participation in the same suffering economy as everybody else in the world.

George! (Applause Sign)The laugh track in your script can almost be viewed as a character itself.  Where did the idea of having audible laughter as an element in the story come from?

That was actually one of the first concepts I came up with. I do enjoy and appreciate a fair amount of traditional sitcoms, but the one thing I’ll never be able to get past is the laugh track. I mean, I understand the appeal of emulating a room full of people giggling with the viewer, but the way they do it is just so over-the-top that it would have been a wasted opportunity not to add that to the pile of obnoxious idiosyncrasies that Marvin has to put up with. It was a little risky, because I didn’t have any formal reference points for writing an invisible meta-audience, but a sitcom world without laughs would have felt incomplete so I had to play that gambit. In the end, I think it paid off.

What is the significance to the name of Marvin’s alter-ego, George?

I wish I had a more profound answer, but the truth is that Marvin’s pseudonym isn’t symbolic or anything. You see, another thing that’s funny about old-fashioned sitcoms is that they frequently name their main characters after the stars who play them — take Roseanne, or Two and a Half Men, or The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, or Everybody Loves Raymond. I wanted to work that into George! somehow, so I gave the main character the least usual name I could think of for a TV show lead — Marvin — and then I had everybody in the sitcom world call him by the name of the actor I was picturing. A fading comedian would probably have been more on-point, but what I thought was, “Which actor’s presence would look the most jarring in a sitcom set?” So if this script ever gets made into a movie and for some tragic reason someone other than George Clooney is cast, I guess that pseudonym’s gonna have to change or it won’t really make sense. Either way, Mr. Clooney, if you ever read this interview, you should know that I have a good part for you!

This is frankly a little embarrassing.

At 16 years old, you are currently the youngest Joplin Award winner. How long have you been writing screenplays and what is it about screenwriting that drew you in?

First of all, allow me to express how happy I am about that fact. I’ve always dreamed of being the youngest person to do something! I guess I can cross that off my Before I Turn 18 list now. Really, I can’t thank BlueCat enough times. Because God has a sly sense of humor, next year will probably see an 11-year-old win the Joplin in an unprecedented outburst of precociousness, and I offer my sincere congratulations to that 11-year-old of the future, but, even then, this has been one of the greatest honors of my life so thank you again.

As for the actual question, I’ve loved writing since I was in elementary school and my dream for almost a decade now has been to make movies, but I didn’t get around to trying my hand at screenwriting until I was a teenager. My first serious attempt was, fittingly enough, a sitcom pilot. I was 12, I think, when I wrote something like two or three episodes of this very derivative show about middle school students. You have to write what you know, right? But then I got bored of that project, and eventually I moved on to some of the movie concepts that I had. I think what fascinated me about screenwriting was the idea that you could tell a complete, detailed, even deep story with nothing but very basic action cues and direct speech. When I started searching for real shooting scripts to read, each one felt like a lesson in film anatomy, like I was dissecting everything I’d seen on screen. It was revelatory. And extremely challenging, as I would eventually learn; there’s this very delicate balance of dialogue, structure, flow and subtext that needs to be maintained through and through in screenwriting. I completed two other scripts before George!, but that was the first one in which I think I really got that balance right. Seeing how difficult it was, to say nothing of things like character or plot, made me feel very sympathetic towards movies whose scripts I’m otherwise inclined to dislike.

What’s your writing schedule like – do you write everyday at a set time, for example?

I’m a high school student, which means I don’t have a lot of spare time. In the past, when I got started on a project, I was able to put some of my school duties aside in order to be able to work on it every day, but this is the Brazilian equivalent of my senior year so it’s been a lot harder to find time to write. Unlike homework, writing is a responsibility that I’m more than happy to attend to, which pretty much forgoes the need to set a proper schedule — I’ll spend almost all of my free time writing if given the opportunity. Lately, that free time has basically amounted to the breaks between classes, so a lot of my creative process has been confined to the pages of my notebook. I might be well into my fourth or fifth script by now if it wasn’t for this darned education system.

Do you have a certain page count you like to hit every day?

Because page counts are extremely volatile, I find it more productive to aim for the completion of certain scenes or sequences. If there’s some kind of deadline to meet, I’ll sit down and think, “Okay, I have to write these two scenes, and I can’t call it a day before this thing has happened in the story.” Most of the time, I don’t even pay much attention to the page numbers until it’s time to rewrite.

Who are some writers and filmmakers that inspire you?George! (Sitcom Set)

This is a hard question! I obviously have favorite movies, but I think inspiration is a uniform process. Every movie will have something to tell you, because every movie, good or bad, is inevitably a work of art. I guess there are some directors, like the Coen Brothers and Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson, whom I particularly admire and look up to for their ability to bring out the best in their screenplays and weave them into the fabric of their vision, but generally I’d say there’s equal inspiration to be found in broad action movies and Best Picture Oscar nominees. There are a few exceptions, of course: Asghar Farhadi, whose character dramas are so astoundingly complex that I measure my every attempt at naturalism against them, Charlie Kaufman, who is just unbelievably awesome and inspiring even though his movies are impossible to imitate, and Pixar, the only studio capable of making a masterpiece out of a story about a cooking rat.

Do you outline before you write? Describe your pre-writing process.

Oh, yes, I outline before I write. In fact, I’d say my outlining process takes at least twice as long as the proper scriptwriting. Right now, the piece of writing that’s dearest to me, other than George!, is a list of loglines for the movies that I intend to make; sometimes I go for months, even years with an idea just developing in my head and getting gradually structured before I sit down to turn it into a screenplay. If you were to hack into my computer, you’d find dozens of Word documents with notes, beat sheets, theme descriptions and attempted synopses, and maybe five or six actual Final Draft projects. For George!, it was a little different, because the action takes place nearly in real time so the scenes followed each other naturally, but even then I had to basically write a whole treatise on the nature of Marvin as a character in order to figure out the third act.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you and what do you do to stay motivated?

I think the hardest part is starting the screenplay. When you have a story in your head, it feels like it’s going to be the greatest story of all time, so it’s very sobering to begin translating it into something concrete and fallible. You’ll almost certainly be a little disappointed with what you actually manage to put out, no matter how good it is, because that’s how a writer’s mind works, but we have to go through that if we want our brilliant ideas to be known by anybody other than ourselves. I stay motivated by reminding myself that every great film began as an arduous struggle with deadlines, contradictory perspectives, undefined characters and narcissistic instincts, and that writing really is supposed to be more difficult for writers than it is for other people.

Do you have any interest in directing your own screenplays in the future?

One day, yes, absolutely. The language of film fascinates me tremendously, and I have more than a few story ideas that won’t work completely unless I’m the one to tell them. I still have no clue how I’m going to acquire the formal knowledge I’ll need for that, though.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

This is actually the third time I’ve entered it, but I had never placed before. To the best of my knowledge, screenwriting contests are the wisest route overall for aspiring screenwriters. BlueCat is special because it offers truly insightful feedback regardless of your placement, in addition to having wonderful opportunities like an award for the best international script. Most screenwriting competitions are primarily concerned with giving a handful of writers a little bit of industry access, but BlueCat is all about developing new voices and giving everybody a chance, which is what drew me in. It’s also one of the few contests open to people under the age of 18, so take that, Nicholl; it’s not like I ever needed you anyway.

What advice can you give to other young aspiring screenwriters?

Honestly, the most grating part of being a young writer, or any kind of young artist, I guess, is that people will always tell you all about how you’re not ready, and how you still have a lot to learn and live before you can make something worthwhile, and how everything you produce now is going to be an embarrassment in five years. I’m not going to come out and say that none of that is true, because some of it is — I can barely get through five pages of my first script without cringing — but my advice to anyone who has to hear that on a daily basis is this: don’t let any of that keep you from doing what you love. If you’re an artist, you’re an artist, and your art will be valid regardless of your age. A few more years of experience may give you a firmer grasp on technique, or a better understanding of people, or even an entirely new outlook on the world, but none of that negates the importance of the work you’re doing now. So if you’re a young person trying to find your voice as a screenwriter, take yourself seriously. Keep writing however much you feel like writing, about whatever it is you want to write about. Eventually, it’s all going to come around and you’ll create something that will make you proud for the rest of your life.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Leonardo at leo.noboru.delima@gmail.com

George! (Friends Set)

 

Watch an interview with Leonardo on Brazilian talk show, Manhattan Connection, here!

 

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Interview with 2015 Short Screenplay Winner: Susan Fleming

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

View More: http://sixview.pass.us/susan-fleming
Susan Fleming

writer of

Six Months of Wonder Woman

On her twenty-first birthday, a fledgling poet plans her escape from an alcoholic father; but before she can leave home, her superhero-loving mother has one last questionable lesson to teach.

 

8de57da9a865a8f3fff33ba7e220c0edSix Months of Wonder Woman offers a fresh perspective on the coming-of-age story and the fantasy genre. What inspired you to combine the two?

I don’t think it was a really conscious thing – it just seemed to happen for this story. I do love magical realism because in a weird way it seems more realistic than “reality.” Maybe because the world as it stands doesn’t make a ton of sense to me – it seems kinda surreal when you think about how things should be and how they really are. So I see that in a way as an invitation, I guess, to go outside of what is expected. I think for the world of this story, Mary is not completely aware that she is outside the norm. She wants to teach her daughter what she has to teach, though it’s debatable whether it will help or hurt. But I wanted to honor Mary and her love and hope for her daughter, which is real.

Your screenplay is fascinating in that it works great as a short, but it could also easily be expanded to feature-length. Do you have any plans to follow Elsie further on her journey?

These characters have been interesting to me for a while and I sketched out a pretty bad novel using variations of them. I’m working on another short screenplay that has two similar mother-daughter characters, so these characters do seem to keep popping up.

Do you have a strong interest in comic books, and if so, which characters are you most drawn to?

I have an interest in people and our coping mechanisms, the beliefs that help us make it through the day. The concept of a superhero, I think, gives people a sense of security – that there’s always Batman to watch over the city. Kids say their prayers at night, and it makes them feel safe. We all want that comfort. Superheroes are different from gods though in that they start out as regular people, and I think that’s important to this story. Anyone could be a superhero, anyone could take off into the skies.

What’s next for Six Months of Wonder Woman?

What’s the next six months for Six Months? :) I am honored to win this prize and to have the chance to make the movie, so that will be the focus.506afb8d74c5b64af70014ac._w.540_s.fit_

What made you interested in screenwriting?

I went to graduate school in fiction, and when I moved back to Portland from the East Coast I was ready for a new take. I took a class at Portland State from C.S. Whitcomb that was a great introduction. Screenwriting just made sense. I love the form and the traditions, but also the innovations. I find it hard, I can’t lie, but it’s so worth it and so satisfying when you struggle and struggle and then amazingly something breaks and you come out the other side.

Do you have any writing habits or routines?

I just need a laptop and a chair, and I’m not fussy about the chair.

What are the greatest challenges you experience during your writing process, and how do you overcome them?

Writing is such a beautiful and terrible activity. It reminds me of running. The first 10-15 minutes of running are so hard, my legs hurt and my lungs hurt and I wonder why the hell am I doing this. Then somehow you just get past it and things get smoother. With writing, also, I start out feeling thick and clunky and then, somehow, you get in the groove and it takes off.

Are you interested in directing your screenplays?

I’m interested in story-telling, whatever it takes to do that. There are so many opportunities now for sharing stories, and that does open up new ideas in my head. Writing can be so solitary, the idea of collaborating with other professionals is appealing for sure.

What is your ultimate goal as a screenwriter?

Just to connect, to get people to feel. All the “busy nothings” of our days, it can make people forget their own depths. I would like to write things that invite people to remember themselves.

What drives you to further develop your craft as a screenwriter?

I owe it to anyone I set out to write for to develop in every way I can as a writer. If I’m not going to push myself all the way, I really don’t think I should be in this field.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

I was fortunate enough to take a BlueCat workshop last summer, and also entered another contest of theirs. Just for the feedback it was worth it. But overall, BlueCat also strikes me as completely sincere and genuine, and it reflects just a great love of writing.

What advice can you give to aspiring screenwriters?

I don’t think a screenwriter could ever read too many screenplays. I like to watch movies and follow along in the script – it reminds me how talented everyone on a film set is and how you don’t have to micromanage the story. Actors know how to act. They get it. Just tell the story.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Susan at susanceciliafleming@gmail.com

 

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Interview with 2015 BlueCat Feature Award Winner: Kimi Howl Lee

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

KIMI HOWL LEE

Kimi Howl Lee

writer of

 

Mouth

When a broke Fem-studies major with an unwanted pregnancy assumes an alias and delves into a transactional relationship with an affluent family man, she must masquerade as a suburban trophy wife while finishing her degree––before her dual identity is unveiled.

 

Your script has an authentic story line with interesting main characters and oddly satisfying relationships. What can you share with us about character and story development for MOUTH? Furthermore, how did the idea of this script come about?

Having grown up in Manhattan, I have always been interested in the suburban anomie. I’ve often debated with friends whether growing up a city kid with easy access to trouble, or enduring the homogeneity of suburbia is more damaging.  After hearing suburban horror stories from friends, I was compelled to write something within that milieu.

MOUTH explores the notion that in a sense, all relationships are somewhat transactional. The title is derived from Sam Shepard and Patti Smith’s play Cowboy Mouth, which is featured in the script, about two alcoholic lovers disintegrating in the Chelsea Hotel. I was drawn to the idea of two people who were irrevocably in love, yet at war with one another. That was the main impetus for my script––examining relationships that, despite their toxicity, were also nourishing.

While ruminating on an idea for MOUTH there was a lot of media hype divulging the underworld of “mutually beneficial relationships” that was taking college campuses by storm. These themes, suburbia, “soft-core prostitution”, infidelity, percolated on the back-burner until I was able to flesh out a cohesive narrative. The script contains all of the antics and sexual misadventures typically reserved for male-centric comedies, yet they are experienced by the risk-taking, mistake-making heroine, Raina.

There are many instances where your main character reverts to flashbacks. This keeps the story progressing forward as well as sharing past information. What can you share about this storytelling choice?

Although we’re forced to live our lives chronologically, the beauty of film is that we can distort time. The crux of the story focuses on a liminal period in a young woman’s life surrounding finances and love. Raina, the protagonist, who has recently undergone an abortion, is suffocating under the financial burden of student loans, and finds it utterly unfeasible to continue her education if she does not secure a financial lifeline. While all of her friends are experiencing the typical post-grad existential malaise, she’s stuck in summer school trying to navigate her transactional relationship with a much older father of two teenagers.

In this script, as in life, the past informs the present. It was important, in order to adequately portray the ramifications of Raina’s choices, that we understand what led her to make these destructive decisions. So much of the script, thematically, is about this bifurcated identity that she’s traversing. While on campus, Raina conducts herself as a normal college student, but as soon as she returns to the lavish Wolmer residence, she assumes the role of upper-middle-class trophy wife. The flashbacks provide insight into the starkly different person she was a month ago––before becoming a seasoned pro at stealthy vodka consumption and navigating church while stoned.

What inspired you to become a screenwriter?

As an adolescent I was fortunate enough to attend one of those “so special” progressive Brooklyn schools with a terrific playwriting program. With the encouragement of my playwriting teacher, I immediately became obsessed with eavesdropping and concocting my own little worlds. Eventually, I was seduced by the permanence of film, and wanted to create something that could be preserved. Switching to screenwriting was a natural transition.

Do you have any particular writing habits or routines to keep you motivated?

I really adore public libraries. They’ve got the right ratio of tranquility and grit. I avoid writing in cafés at all costs because doing so feels like an elaborate charade. I’m also crippled by the constant paranoia that someone is reading over my shoulder.  In terms of routine, I bought this book entitled “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” with the hopes that I might cop a ritual, but reading it was mostly just another form of procrastination.

What movie or screenplay inspires you to be a better screenwriter?

Little Children is a terrific script about suburbia that seamlessly integrates exposition via voiceover. Structurally, Blue Valentine was an inspiration for Mouth. As were Je t’aime Je t’aime and the bizarre Art Garfunkel psycho-thriller Bad Timing.  

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

The hardest part about writing, as cliché as it sounds, is silencing the inner critic. I have the self-sabotaging tendency of deleting as I write. To combat this, I’ve found it helpful to work from two documents. One is the “Shit Draft” where I write with abandon. The other is the “Permanent Draft” where I copy and paste the salvageable material from the Shit Draft.

How do you overcome writers’ block?

When I’m stumped, it’s because subconsciously I know that what I’ve written is either unbelievable or insignificant. So in order to proceed, I have to retrace my steps and reinvent some aspect of what I’ve previously written so that it’s both convincing and crucial.  If I’m immobilized by a specific scene, I’ll write it purely in exposition.

Are you interested in directing your screenplays?

I’ve written two features that I feel very differently about in terms of directing. Kindergarten, my first script, is something that I’ve completed and feel would benefit most from someone else’s direction.  It’s liberating, in a way, to feel that you’ve given all you can to a piece.  Mouth, on the other hand, is something that I’m potentially interested in directing.

What is your ultimate goal as a screenwriter?

I’d imagine like most screenwriters, the end goal is to see my writing come to fruition on screen.

Who do you go to for feedback?

The first person I seek feedback from is my boyfriend, who is also a writer, because he’s tremendously helpful in dissecting underlying themes and overarching structural issues. He’s also very generous with his time and easy to track down with follow up questions.

I’ve only met my other reader once in person, so he’s practically a stranger. Getting an unbiased take from someone who doesn’t make assumptions about your work based on what they know about you as a person is invaluable. It’s a completely objective cold read, from someone who isn’t too concerned about offending you. I love the detachment and the honesty.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

After Kindergarten found success in other competitions, I was told that I should apply to BlueCat with my next script. I was drawn to the fact that BlueCat provides free feedback, unlike other competitions that require additional fees.

 

For professional inquiries, please contact Kimi at kimihowllee@gmail.com

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Interview with 2013 Joplin Award Winner Rachael BernSousa & Mary Lusted

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

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Hand Lit Match

by

Rachael BernSousa &
Mary Lusted

Perth, Australia

 

A teenage tomboy escapes her dead-end Australian country town by joining a visiting sideshow as a wrestler – then sets her sights on the top of the American female league in the 1950’s.

For professional inquiries only, please contact rachael.and.mary@gmail.com.

Rachael_BernSousa

Rachael

Mary_Lusted_1

Mary

INTERVIEW

 

How did you become screenwriters?

Rachael: Many years ago, a friend of mine asked me to adapt another friend’s novel into a feature script for him to direct. The lead character intrigued me and I took up the challenge! I hadn’t written a screenplay before, so it wasn’t a particularly amazing piece of work, but it got me started into something I’ve been in love with ever since.

Mary: I had always had stories and pretend conversations going on in my head to entertain myself – I thought everyone did. Apparently not! Rachael was the obvious person to confess my madness and ideas to. If she had not taken me on as a writing partner for this project, there is no way I would be here with the knowledge I have now. That said, if I’d known how much work it was going to be I might have not bothered! But now that I’ve done it, and the ideas won’t stop streaming in, I’m completely hooked.

83207_ca_object_representations_media_6_mediumWhere did your idea for your screenplay originate?

R: When we lived on opposite sides of the world, Mary and I used to chat online quite a lot. One day, Mary suggested that women’s wrestling in the 1950’s was an untapped and very interesting background for a story – so we happily got lost in the research for quite a while, and then fashioned a fictional story into the real scene that was absolutely huge in America at that time. I am very much into creating engaging and relatable female characters that go against the grain of expectation, so the seed of this story and the potential of all the characters who populate it appealed to me enormously.

M: Years ago I saw a documentary about women wrestlers and could not believe there had been so few stories about these amazing women on screen. In the mid twentieth century, when women were being encouraged to embrace caring and domestic roles at home, these women made themselves up to look like movies stars and to step into the ring to beat the hell out of each other. Why? It seems that they were drawn to it in ways that made them shun social norms. I loved that these women were prepared to risk being outcasts so they could do what they loved.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?tumblr_m57timnwWn1rs2xzto1_500

R: I don’t tend to stick to a routine due to years of shiftwork and now managing my young children, so it can be difficult to make sure I sit down and actually get started. The toilet gets cleaned a lot in the period between drafts.

However, once the train leaves the station, I tend to ignore everything else around me until it’s done, so finding that balance between disappearing into the imagined world and not wanting to return to it when it’s time to rewrite is often tricky for me.

M: The discipline; I don’t have any. I’m still new to this and I feel like I’m only just starting to get a routine down. I’m also a professional procrastinator, so that can be a problem too. I seem to work best when my back is to wall, but I would prefer to learn a far less stressful method of getting things done.

Do you see yourselves directing your own screenwriting?

R: I have already directed one of my own feature length screenplays in the form of The Plans of Man, which was released by Cinequest in 2008. Writing and directing fulfill different parts of me, and I would very much like to direct another of my own smaller stories and sell the bigger budget ones! My nature is pretty insular though, and directing requires a lot of collaboration with others that doesn’t come easily to me. One of the scripts I’m working on now could be made for a very modest sum and so I’m thinking I could slowly work up to it.

M: Not at this point. I feel like I still have so much to learn about screenwriting and I would rather get as many stories out of my head and on to the page as possible. I want to get better at this craft before beginning to consider anything more.

What is your ultimate goal as a screenwriter?

R: My goal is very functional – to make my living by writing entertaining, meaningful and engaging stories that focus on female protagonists. I feel as though women on screen often get short thrift and I’d really love to see more female representations that I can relate to, are believable, and as fully rounded as the male characters!

I also get a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction helping other people fix problems in their stories, so to continue doing that and getting paid for it would be brilliant.

M: Telling stories for a living is the dream. I would love to tell tales that people could see themselves in, while entertaining them. I want to see more stories on screen that women connect with. As a woman who likes precious few rom-coms, I feel that many filmmakers too often underestimate women’s tastes and needs and would like to tell stories that fill in some of those gaps.
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What movie would you recommend for great storytelling?

R: It’s hard to pick just a single example, but one movie that really stayed with me and thrilled my appreciation of storytelling was Never Let Me Go. I hadn’t read Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel when I saw the film and it managed to surprise and move me beyond my usual level. I love Sunshine and 28 Days Later too, so I really rate Alex Garland as a screenwriter.

M: Alien has so many things that entertain me. I love the pacing, the great mix of sci-fi and horror, the strong female lead that I connected with even at the young age I was when I first saw it. Also, Tarsem Singh’s The Fall is full of beauty – both on the page and on the screen.

Do you have any writing habits or routines?

R: Sadly no routines as such. I believe it is very important for writers but the way my life has played out over the past five years has made that difficult. Now that my kids are a little older, I have plans to set concrete writing periods – I know that I need a timetable in order not to get caught up in everything else!

In terms of habits, I absolutely must have nibbles on the desk. It used to be chocolate and that kind of thing, but nowadays it’s more likely to be homemade banana chips.

M: I keep a writers notebook and have found that all aspects of writing do not feel as hard since I started doing that. I’m amazed at how quickly you can forget ideas or snippets of dialogue that come to you. Sometimes I see things in the notebook that I wouldn’t believe I’d put there if it weren’t in my own handwriting. It’s a great feeling when I find an answer to a writing problem I have in there. It’s also a relief to get ideas out of my head, even if it’s just to make room for new ones.

Who do you go to for feedback?

R: Mary has always been my first port of call for feedback, which is why it made sense for us to write Hand Lit Match together. Although she is newer to the writing process than I am, she watches a lot of long form drama and has a great natural grasp of what works and what doesn’t.
I also once sought feedback from a working Hollywood writer who graciously ripped my work to shreds! It was humbling and painful, but the most useful learning experience in my writing career so far – it taught me so much about story structure and character.

M: Rachael is my number one go-to for all things to do with writing. I’m starting to extend my network to a few select storyteller friends. I find the sharing process difficult, and I am actively tying to embrace the feeling of vulnerability that is inevitable if this is going to happen. Feedback is so important. I now know that I can’t get better at this without it.

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What do you do when your story is stuck?

R: There are lots of techniques available to help un-stick a story. I often find walking away from it for a few days is helpful and then THE ANSWER strikes whilst I’m in the shower or trying to go to sleep. If the luxury of time is an issue, then I examine the bare bones of the story and work out why the problem is there, and what the character could do differently that would move the story into a new direction. Getting an outside opinion is also very valuable.

M: I have no choice but to step back and do something different. My brain seems to hit a wall and I’m done. Reading and getting lost in someone else’s story often reinvigorates me and seems to trigger the lateral thinking that is often needed to solve the problem.

Why did you enter BlueCat?

R: I was somewhat suspicious of screenwriting competitions because there are just so many out there and you’d be bankrupt and foolish to enter them all. BlueCat has a genuine pedigree of interesting stories coming to the fore within its competition structure, and then helping those stories get into the hands of the right production teams.

I already knew from experience that not everyone ‘got’ our story so we figured it was definitely worth entering this particular competition. I am so thrilled that BlueCat recognised the potential in Hand Lit Match – I think it could be a very successful mainstream movie.

M: After working for a film festival for years, BlueCat came up in conversation enough that its reputation could not be ignored when it came time to let our baby Hand Lit Match out into the world. Getting feedback is a huge selling point too. Of course you are never going to really know why your screenplay doesn’t make the cut, but it’s good to see the opinions of others, especially from people who’ve read hundreds of screenplays.

What’s your best advice to the new screenwriter?

R: It’s that whole inspiration versus perspiration thing. I rec all reading years ago that no matter what your chosen area of interest, be it screenwriting or playing tennis, you need to put in ten thousand hours before you’re any good.

I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but generally writers need to write a lot to improve, just like folks in any other profession. I’ve now been writing for over a decade and have seen how much better each progressive script is, so hopefully I’ll approach the ten thousand hour mark in the near future!

M: Don’t be afraid to write badly. It stopped me from writing for a long time – fear of the ‘vomit’ draft being seen and judged. It only has to be you who knows it exists, and it feels good to get it out. The first bad draft may well end up being the foundation for something a lot better, and you will soon forget how bad it was.

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Ashleigh Powell Interview

Monday, May 7th, 2012

UPDATE: Ashleigh sells script to Warner Brothers! 

 
“What a year! First I place as a BlueCat finalist and now this… I am so thrilled to share that a spec script I wrote this past summer, called SomaCell, has been bought by Warner Brothers with David Goyer attached to produce. SomaCell is my first official feature to hit the market, and the response has far exceeded anything I could have hoped for.  Earlier this year, I mentioned in my BlueCat interview that my biggest screenwriting dream was to be able to make a living doing what I love most, screenwriting. Hard to believe, but it looks like my dream is coming true! Without a doubt, being involved in the BlueCat competition helped keep me driven enough to get to a place where I can actually call myself a professional screenwriter. Wow.”

 

Ashleigh Powell made waves as a BlueCat finalist with her script MALLPOCALYPSE.  Now, she talks to us about her origins and devotion to writing, as well as her willingness to sacrifice sleep for creativity.

 

A Mallpocalypse is… 

A down-on-her-luck nail salon employee is happy making the world a better place one pedicure at a time, until a near-death experience awakens within her strange supernatural abilities, and she suddenly becomes part of a giant battle of Good vs. Evil… played out in a shopping mall. 

 

When did you start writing screenplays? 

I discovered screenplays during my junior year of college. I went to college in my home state of Virginia, and I was an English/Creative Writing major. We had no real film program to speak of, but we did have an Introductory to Screenwriting course. I took it as a fun departure from the prose medium, and immediately fell in love.

Why did you start writing screenplays? 

First, I’ve always loved movies. And the stories I’d written up until that point all had cinematic qualities. But what really pushed me toward screenplays was the structure. I’d written two novels by my junior year of college (neither of which will ever see the light of day), and each one was several hundred pages that took several years just to get through a first draft. I found the idea of being forced to tell a full story in 120 pages or less completely refreshing. I also got it in my head that it would be easier to break into the screenwriting world than the book-writing world. I don’t know if that’s true or not… but, for me, it’s a choice that seems to be paying off.

How many screenplays have you finished? 

Over a dozen, though I only have two or three that I’ll actually show people. Every new project has been it’s own  learning process, and I like to think I’m improving my craft with each new script.

How do you find time to write? 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “Yeah, I want to write… I just don’t have time.” The truth is, everyone has the same amount of time. There are a million other things you could be doing with your 24 hours a day besides writing screenplays. Dedicating a specific time for writing takes discipline and sacrifice. In my case, I decided to sacrifice sleep. I was an executive assistant at a production company for a few years, which meant 80-hour work weeks and bringing work home on the weekends. Since I’m a morning person, I’d wake up at 5:45am and write for about an hour and a half every morning before I had to start my day. And that way, no matter what else happened during the day, I’d feel a sense of accomplishment knowing that I’d already met my writing goal by 8am.

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most? 

Strangely, getting a foot in the door by getting representation has made the process of finding a new project more of a struggle. It’s no longer as easy as coming up with an idea that appeals to me personally. Now I’m learning to take into consideration things like – Is there an audience for this script? Will it sell? Is it commercial? How does it define me as a screenwriter? Now that I have a strict vetting process, it means a lot of my new ideas get pushed to the side, which can be frustrating. But it also means that, once I’ve found an idea that meets all the criteria, I know it has a strong potential for success.

Why do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter? 

I feel like I’m a natural story teller, and have been since childhood. And I like to think I have a good ear for dialogue, which is important in any writing medium, but perhaps most important in screenwriting.

How does screenwriting make you happy? 

Ha, you should ask my husband! He can always tell when I’m in between projects or stalled on an idea because my mood noticeably shifts. I get dark and gloomy and preoccupied. For me, writing is more than just a passion – it feels like a compulsion. 

What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood? 

I think Hollywood tends to be a bit conservative about embracing new ideas. Studios seem to always be on the hunt for something that’s “the same, but different” – they’re looking for a new twist on a familiar genre or convention that audiences have proven to love… which can make them hesitant to take a chance on a project that’s too “outside the box”. It can be frustrating, but thanks to all the leaps that we’re making in new media, it’s easier than ever to circumvent the Hollywood system and get new ideas out there. 

How can you improve in how you handle feedback?

I’m learning that a big part of handling feedback involves understanding which notes to use and which notes to disregard. This is especially true if you’re in a writers group, and you get half a dozen conflicting opinions on one topic. Ultimately, it comes down to having an innate understanding of the story you want to tell. That said, if you keep getting the same note from multiple sources, chances are it’s a note you should use. 

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting? 

Just the usual – complete and utter failure. But I find it comforting that even established and award-winning screenwriters have this exact same fear. Comes with the territory, I guess.

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself? 

To be able to make an actual living off telling stories. That’s the dream. 

What do you do to achieve that goal?

Write, write, write. That’s what’s so great about screenwriting, as opposed to say acting or directing. It costs no money to do what you do, and there are no limitations to what you can create. Also, I’m not sure I could be where I am now without living in LA and immersing myself in the industry. And you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get people to read your stuff. Competitions (like BlueCat!) can be extremely helpful in that way – especially competitions whose judges work in the industry and can pass your work on to producers, managers, and agents.

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Nick Luddington Interview

Monday, May 7th, 2012

If we had to describe Nick Luddington in three words, we’d probably say ‘dashing, talented, English.’ Of course, then we’d be leaving out that his script Life In A Box won the most recent Cordelia Award for outstanding script from the United Kingdom. So let’s just say that you’re about to read an interview with Nick Luddington, Cordelia winner and all around good chap.

 

Life In A Box is…

A young man struggling with the death of his girlfriend unwittingly commits suicide, condemning himself to purgatory. Now in a world where memories are all that is left, his desire for life is renewed and a desperate fight to escape begins

 

When did you start writing screenplays?    

I have been playing around with a number of screenplay ideas for a few of years now, but only seriously starting writing a year ago. Before this I was concentrating on other writing mediums and had to learn the format of proper film writing etiquette before starting out.

Why did you start writing screenplays?    

For me I’ve always had these other worlds inside my head, I know that sounds cheesy but for as long as I can remember I would immerse myself in an idea and create whole storylines within it. This led me to writing short stories, a book, short films and eventually into the world of feature screenplays. Without this outlet I’m pretty sure I would have gone crazy, or at least people would have thought I was crazy if I ever told them what was in my head.

How many screenplays have you finished?    

LIFE IN A BOX is actually my first completed screenplay, so in a way I feel like I’ve cheated in getting this recognition. However, I am on the verge of completing my second and I have a number of others and two TV series that I’m now writing.

How do you find time to write?    

It’s a struggle I’m not going to lie, but I generally try and write late each evening, starting around 10pm. This way I get the quiet and solitude I need.

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most?    

The planning of a screenplay is something that I always struggle with. You have to be meticulous in the structure of your acts, know the backstory of every character and understand what it is you are trying to tell the audience. However, I’m always over eager. I get this great idea and straight away I’m ready to write the first 15 pages, but unless you take the time to plan, I guarantee you’ll hit a brick wall. I know I have many times.

What do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter?    

I believe that I can create a world that engages a reader; submerging them into a story that takes them somewhere they haven’t been before.

How does screenwriting make you happy?    

Ha that’s a good question! Screenwriting for me is something that provides massive highs and lows, that initial idea springing into your head and driving you to write page after page of concepts and story arcs or the completion of a first draft is truly amazing! However, there are days when you are in the midst of your screenplay and you just don’t know what you’re doing, sure you carded the script, wrote a treatment, but until you start writing you never know where you’ll end up. It is a daunting and challenging thing, but the personal sense of achievement at the end is incredible.  

What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood?    

For me Hollywood is all about “tentpole” films, those blockbusters they pour hundreds of millions of pounds into and hope they create a franchise. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I’ve paid my money to watch a fair few, I always feel that this limits the cinema experience. It is a rare occurrence that I can go to my local cinema and find something truly inspiring or engaging to watch.

How can you improve in how you handle feedback?    

Feedback is one of those strange things that every writer needs to make their work better. I know this and actively ask people for it, yet there is always that brief 30 second period when you get criticism where you immediately want to defend your work. As time has gone on I’ve become a lot better at receiving it, swallowing my pride in order to make something I love even better. Without feedback I wouldn’t have got where I did in Bluecat.  

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?    

Every time someone reads my work I fear that they will come back with a generic “yeah it’s good”. I want to connect with people and create a reaction; if I don’t then I’m doing something wrong.

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself?    

To sit in a packed cinema and experience an audience’s reaction to my work on screen. Hopefully it won’t be awful.

What do you do to achieve that goal?   

I constantly play around with new worlds inside my head, re-working ideas, characters and backstories. Above all I continue to write.

Do you feel that life in the United Kingdom has uniquely affected your writing and creative output, and if so, how?   

Naturally my life here in the UK can’t help but influence my creative output and give me a certain perspective, but to say exactly how it has been affected is difficult to say. Everything that I write, like all writers, comes from something I’ve experienced, seen, read or connected with; none of which might be British. Writing is an incredible thing that can lead you anywhere and more often than not I use it to go somewhere else other than the UK. 

 

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Zeke Farrow Interview

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Zeke Farrow won $2000 for his screenplay Untitled Sarah Palin Sex Doll Project, the screenplay so controversial that the title alone made one newsletter subscriber request that we quit sending him newsletters.   

 

 

Untitled Sarah Palin Sex Doll Project is..

When the last virgin in high school creates a fake girlfriend on Facebook as part of an elaborate scheme to get a real one, the woman whose pictures he stole shows up and his fiction becomes a reality. 

 

When did you start writing screenplays?    

Can we get one quick thing out of the way before we get started? Zekeness™, @Zekeness, #Zekeness, /Zekeness.  Okay, I can relax now.   I started writing screenplays in 1999.  

Why did you start writing screenplays?

Picture it, New York City.  Summer.  Y2K was fast approaching.  Drastic times.  I had been acting in some amazing downtown theater with a radical group of awesome people who are still a big part of my creative life today.  I was a bit of a spaz and more than a bit directionless.  I ran into a friend of mine from college on the subway.  He was going to NYU Film School and asked me to write his thesis film with him.  It was a real movie moment.  My life could have gone in two different directions separated by the heavy-handed metaphor of sliding subway doors.   Just think, I could have ended up like Gwyneth Paltrow.  Luckily I found screenwriting.  I mean, can you imagine the pressure of coming up with content for Goop.com?      

How many screenplays have you finished?

 

I just looked on my active hard drive, the old orange LaCie in my closet, my defunct laptop which miraculously booted, Dropbox, and iCloud, and counted 20 features and a dozen or so teleplays and shorts.  A few of these projects I had totally erased from my memory — swings and misses.  Some of the older concepts are like totally dated.  Others I may revisit one day with fresh eyes.

How do you find time to write?

Well, after my morning Bootcamp™ class, what else am I gonna do with my day?  I read this essay once by some really smart guy who talked about how you can be a Consumer or you can be a Creator.  The more you consume, the harder it is to create.  The more you create, the less you need to consume.  A lightbulb went off in my head.  The less media I consume, the more I will create.  The more I create, the less I need to consume.  I limit my movie watching because it’s important to keep movies special to me.  I like an engaged viewing experience, not a mindless one.  I try to not “zone out” to media.  I could be engaged and writing instead…

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most? 

Plot.  And it’s silly because plot is the easiest thing to steal and change when you write genre movies, which I often do.  I think it feels stifling to me if I know too much plot before I start.  I usually know the beginning, the middle, the end, and a bunch of fun stuff that could happen along the way.  Some of my best set-ups and payoffs come to me during the act of writing.  It keeps the project alive and thrilling.

Why do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter? 

(I love how your questions have subtly built-in compliments.  I appreciate them and hope they keep me from sounding smarmy.)

I do well because I’ve put the time in and worked hard to learn how to write.  If you were born with the ability to write perfectly structured, entertaining, original, compelling scripts, then you were touched by angels.  I meet a lot of people who confound their knack for writing quippy Facebook status updates with a preternatural skill for writing screenplays.  It takes just as much practice to be a writer as it does to be a painter, violinist, or ballet dancer.      The practice of writing is like the practice of yoga.  The thought of doing it is romantic.  The motivating to do it is excruciating.  The doing it is challenging, but stimulating.  The having done it is ecstasy.  If you want to get better, you have to practice, and like with yoga it becomes bearable.  I hate yoga and love writing.  You pick your battles.  

How does screenwriting make you happy?

The cafe where I write is filled with writers and bound by strict rules.  We sit, silently working, for hours on end.  Answering an iPhone call will elicit the wrathful eyebrow of a dozen scribes.  For me, the best moments are when I fall into a writing trance.  The story sort of leaps onto the screen as quickly as it comes into my head.  And suddenly a character reveals something unexpected or says something amazing.  There was one line that a character in one of my scripts said once that was so funny I jumped up, threw an air basketball, and yelled “Two points!”  I’m not kidding.  I ran around the cafe for a round of low-fives from all the other writers.  Is that totally embarrassing?  If it makes any difference, I eventually cut the line from the script.  

What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood?

The biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood is not enough Zac Efron, though I’m not sure my thoughts on the matter mean much to anyone.  I mean, who do you think I think I am?   But since you asked…

Implicit in your question is an agreed upon deficit in Hollywood storytelling that I can’t get onboard with.  This is what I know:

It’s really, really, really hard to tell a great story.  I see a lot of bad movies, both independent and Hollywood.  I see a few outstanding movies, both independent and Hollywood.  At the end of the day everyone wants to tell great stories. Movies require teams of people, working on multiple story incarnations (script, direction, acting, editing) leaving plenty of opportunity for everything to go terribly wrong..

Some Hollywood films suffer from the compromise necessary to make something that costs 100 million dollars happen.  The result is usually a story with no subtext.  Then again, indie films often suffer from an under-developed script because there are limited resources on the front end of most indie projects.  The unfortunate result is the feeling of subtext where there is none.  If a film has no subtext, I don’t care who made it, there is nothing that will keep me awake.  

If I’m going to pay 15 bucks to get lulled into a hypnotic state, it had better be the most vivid and experiential event possible.  So would it hurt people to give me a little subtext?   

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?

My greatest fear is always that I won’t be able to figure a story out.  It’s like a constant suspense that keeps me going.  I have to find out how it’s gonna end.  Am I gonna do it?  Or am I gonna fail?

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself?

I want to win an Emmy for my Oscar acceptance speech.  

What do you do to achieve that goal?

Keep fooling myself.  Luckily, I am most happy when I’m alone, typing away at my coffee shop.  And I figure, as long as I keep practicing, I’ll keep getting better.  The rest is circumstantial.  Who knows, someone like REALLY important could be reading this interview like RIGHT NOW. Be on the look out.  Hopefully you’ll get to see more of my movies on the big screen really, really soon.

Oh, and don’t forget to tweet this link and follow me…  Who knows where we’ll end up… 

 


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Guy McDouall Interview

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

New Zealand-based screenwriter Guy McDouall won this year’s $1000 Joplin Award, given annually to an outstanding script written outside of the US, Canada, and the UK, for his script Random Acts of Violence. Now, as is the tradition, he answers our questions.

 

Random Acts Of Violence is… 

A quarantined pacifist fights to help find a cure for the fits of murderous rage he and other test subjects have become afflicted with. 

 

When did you start writing screenplays?

 I sat down to write my first one over ten years ago but didn’t do anything for years after. It’s only been about the last five years that I’ve got my act together and started writing with a bit more discipline, focus and consistency.

Why did you start writing screenplays?

Creative writing was the only thing I had shown a natural flair for in school and one of the few things I really enjoyed. I also love cinema, so it seemed like a natural thing to try my hand at.  

How many screenplays have you finished?

Five features and eight shorts. I’ve established contact with some producers for my shorts via inktip. Production was completed on one of them three weeks ago in Ireland, my first produced credit! Producer/director Steve Hall is releasing it under the title “Harvey: The Monster Catcher” and will be trying to get it to screen at some festivals. Keep an eye out for it if you’re in Ireland or the UK.  You’ll look very cool a few years from now when you can say you were watching Steve Hall’s films before his career blew up.

How do you find time to write?

I didn’t have a steady job for a lot of the period for the time I did the bulk of the work on my screenplay that did well in the 2011/2012 Bluecat contest. While this created some problems of its own, it was fantastic for writing! Now that I have a job, I just don’t tend to be as sociable as I’d like to be.  I spend a lot of Friday and Saturday nights alone at my computer writing. Not ideal, but necessary as I still need my day job.  

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most?

Striking a balance between having a well paced story and having great, well fleshed out, characters. I think the ideal is to have things happening in your script that simultaneously reveal things about your characters and drive the story. However, I often feel like I’m trying to balance character against story. This usually ends up in me creating a very story driven script, without characters that are not as engaging as I’d like them to be.

Why do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter? 

I feel workshopping has been really helpful to me. Not just because of the feedback I’ve received but because of the feedback I’ve given. Really taking the time to examine another writer’s work and provide honest, respectful feedback that examines both what you liked and didn’t like is, in my opinion, a practice that benefits the writing of both parties involved.  I sometimes swap notes with people on zoetrope.com but spend most of time online on a web forum called thewritersbuilding.org. I’ve had some great support and encouragement there over the years but our number of active members keeps yo-yoing. We could use some fresh talent, especially from motivated writers who can give and receive constructive feedback in a respectful manner.

How does screenwriting make you happy?

It actually drives me mad sometimes! That aside, I get a real sense of satisfaction and fulfillment from carrying out my own creative ideas. There are also a few magical times when I get into a mental state of flow, where I’m fully immersed in what I’m doing and a lot of the ideas my subconscious spits out seem pretty decent when I go back and critically examine them later. I’m a big believer in outlining, planning and being your own worst critic but there’s also times where it’s extremely useful and enjoyable to let go and let things flow.  

What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood?

For the record, I’m not anti Hollywood. It’s chock full of talented people and still turns out some pretty amazing films. The biggest problem from a story telling perspective is, in my opinion, that studios are hesitant about backing films that push creative boundaries and deal with challenging subject matter.   I would love to see more films that take risks and break new creative ground. I think a lot of the best narratives do this. That said, some the worst ones do this as well, they just don’t do it as successfully. With those kinds of stories there’s a pretty thin line between getting it right and getting it really wrong, without a lot of middle ground in between. With the huge costs involved in making a movie, I think Hollywood will always be justifiably reluctant to take a risk investing millions and millions of dollars on an avant-garde, execution dependant project that will die a horrible financial death if it falls anywhere short of brilliance. However, when they do take that risk, and it does work out, we get some fantastic cinema.

How can you improve in how you handle feedback?

I normally get feedback via written online correspondence. This is pretty good for me, as it gives me a chance to digest what’s been said and “cool off” if my fragile ego has taken a beating, before getting back into a dialogue. This means I’m always able to express gratitude and build relationships with people who are comfortable giving me useful and honest feedback. Where I need to improve is with personal interactions where there is no cooling off period. This way, my poor, long suffering and all around wonderful fiancée doesn’t have to deal with my tantrums every time she has the audacity to point out a gaping plot hole in my work. (Please note, that they are quite manly tantrums.)

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?

That my hopes, dreams and ambitions will go forever unfulfilled. That and coming across as arrogant or too self assured by forgetting to thank the academy in my acceptance speech.

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself?

To be able to execute creative projects that I am genuinely passionate about, to a high enough standard to make a good living doing it.

What do you do to achieve that goal?

This year I’ll be putting myself out there a lot more to try to build more connections with people in the New Zealand film industry. I’ll continue to write, workshop and, of course, read the Bluecat newsletter religiously!

 

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Anthony Easton Interview

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012


BlueCat Finalist Anthony Easton won $2000 for his script ‘The Hosanna Tree’.  Now, he answers our questions. 

 

 

The Hosanna Tree is..

A tale of good versus evil set against the desolate backdrop of Dust Bowl era Oklahoma. 


 

When did you start writing screenplays?  

I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, and I’ve always loved movies. I don’t know when I actually started to write screenplays, because I’d always make up movies in my head, but I remember the first one that I attempted. It was probably around my sophomore year in high school when my friend and I wanted to make a really stupid mockumetary. (I mean really stupid). We tried writing a script for it that failed miserably after about eight pages. We had no idea what we were doing. It was typed up in Microsoft Word with absolutely no formatting… Recently, I actually found that script on a really old hard drive I discovered in my attic. It was hilarious.    

Why did you start writing screenplays?


I wish I had some super cool reason, but I really don’t. I’ve just always loved movies, watched way too many of them, loved writing, and decided to try to write one. After I wrote one, I found out that I loved writing them. From there, I just have continued to hone my craft. I’m guessing that’s about as unoriginal of an answer there ever could be, but it’s the boring truth.    

How many screenplays have you finished?


I’ve written 9 full features, and started/worked through about probably a dozen more. However, I have 4 that I’m quite proud of and satisfied with. I also just started another one that, so far, I’m madly in love with. Basically, I’m always forcing myself to write. If I’m not writing, I feel rather bad about myself.    

How do you find time to write?


I have to write. It’s a priority. If anyone wants to be a writer, yet they don’t force themselves to write, or find time to write, then they aren’t doing themselves any favors. Between classes (I’m still a student) and work, I find time to write at night, very early in the morning, and in my head throughout the day. I’m always writing somehow. I think any writer is the same way – always looking for stories in every mundane thing they see, almost to the point where it drives everyone around them crazy.    

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most?


Breaking the story. What I mean by that is the process of breaking down my screenplay to its engine. I do this with every single thing I write – Before I continue past the first act, I find the catalyst, the heart, the engine. It’s a struggle. Sometimes I write something I love, but I can’t figure out the engine for it, and it forces me to abandon the script. However, when I finally break a story, it’s also the most rewarding part of writing – a true accomplishment.  

Why do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter?


I feel I have great skills to write cinematically. From my time as a reader in Los Angeles, reading every script I could get my hands on, I discovered the ones I loved the most were the ones that used specific language in their action descriptions that made the screenplays pop off the page and into the movie-projector in my head. I studied those scripts a lot (many of them were Black List scripts) and learned to craft my writing from that. A screenplay is a blueprint, but it should also be unbelievably enjoyable to read. I try to make my screenplays have specific tone that cannot be found in anyone else’s screenplays but mine. I feel like I have a very clear voice.    

How does screenwriting make you happy?


I don’t know if it really does! I’m only half-kidding, but writing is a struggle. The truth is that I struggle with writing just like everyone else. Sometimes that struggle is overpowering, but when I complete a story that I’m unbelievably proud of, the feeling I get is amazing. It’s a feeling made up of pride, glee, and often terror because if I’m writing something I love, I almost never want to finish it (because then the story is over!). But beyond that, I love being with other writers, too. I’ve made so many great friends through this process who are unbelievably kind and talented. For me, being with those important people and developing creatively as a writer and a human being are the most gratifying part of my short time as a writer.   

What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood?


Personally, I don’t think a problem actually exists with storytelling in Hollywood. Of course, you have big budget movies that are spewed out year after year, but that doesn’t mean a problem exists. In fact, many of my all-time favorite movies are more recent movies. With the advancement of technology and the ability to bring to the screen nearly anything a person can imagine, I think Hollywood has the potential to reinvent storytelling. I believe the problem is perception. From my brief stint working in Hollywood, I can say that there isn’t a lack of creativity or storytelling – everyone is working as hard as they absolutely can. But, that being said, the movie business is still a business, and it is run like a business. Often, the best stories aren’t quite the best business, but there still is, and always will be, a market for great storytelling both in Hollywood and in the independent world.    

How can you improve in how you handle feedback?


I think the only way you can improve how you handle feedback is to get more and more feedback. Find people you trust in, and let them know they have permission to be as harsh as they want to be. Personally, I’m much more satisfied hearing something I did is not to its potential rather than hearing “I liked it,” or “It’s good.”   

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?


Like many people, security is the biggest fear – making sure that I understand the unbelievably difficult road ahead and the constant struggle it is to be in any type of creative field (especially screenwriting). On top of that, though, my biggest fear would probably be becoming satisfied. I don’t think, as a curious being, that I could ever want to stop learning, growing, or exploring new possibilities in myself and my writing. I hope to never be satisfied with my experiences and I always want to yearn to keep growing and evolving.   

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself?


As boring as it sounds, I just have a goal of having a steady career doing something that I love. I think that if anyone just sits and thinks for a minute that their career is to write movies, that alone should sell how amazing of an adventure one’s life could be.    

What do you do to achieve that goal?


I work. I constantly, always, restively work. I’m writing persistently, reading relentlessly, and always staying current with events. I read Deadline like it’s the Bible, I familiarize myself with writers I love, I research companies and producers, I reach out to anyone who can help me grow (or I can help them grow), and I try my best to be a good person. If you are talented enough, and a genuinely good person to not only work with, but also be around, I honestly believe that you can achieve most any goal you set for yourself. It all just comes down to exactly how bad you want it.  

 

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Michael Hamblin Interview

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

2012 Winner Michael Hamblin

 

Preston, Idaho based screenwriter Michael Hamblin is the winner of the 2012 BlueCat Screenplay Competition for his script ‘The Emperor Of Wyoming.’ To balance out the joy of the $10,000 cash prize he’ll be receiving, we forced him to submit to an exhaustive interview for the BlueCat newsletter, which you’ll find below.

 

The Emperor of Wyoming is…

The fractured and dysfunctional family of an Idaho mortician and struggling author falls apart – and comes together – as he and his estranged son grapple with the moral and ethical implications of a bizarre mission from God, delivered by way of a talking corpse. Dark yet whimsical, tragic while infused with awkward hilarity, The Emperor of Wyoming is a heartwarming, fascinating meditation on familial love, bus theft, murder, and the importance of butterflies. 


 

When did you start writing screenplays?

I would write strange little outlines and dialog on paper when I was seventeen (I just turned thirty-four) – I wasn’t sure what exactly consisted of a screenplay at the time.  I just know that I was inspired by films and thought I would give it a try.  By age 21/22 I was using a word processor and I wrote a lot of really poor stuff on that processor.  A got a lap top a couple years later and finally purchased a copy of Final Draft.    

Why did you start writing screenplays?

My Mother is an English Teacher, an avid reader, and a phenomenal writer.  I started writing short stories in middle school and I imagine in the beginning it was to gain her approval and make her smile but I discovered I loved stories.  I loved telling them and I loved writing them.  I was fortunate to grow up in a home where movies and music was a large part of my parents lives.  My Dad was a huge fan of all the classic Westerns, Jimmy Stewart, and by the time I was fifteen I had seen every film starring Steve McQueen.  I believe it was my love for movies that instilled in me a desire to write screenplays.    

How many screenplays have you finished?

Six.  That includes “The Emperor of Wyoming” – And I have 25-50 pages written on another half dozen.  A couple of those finished screenplays are co-written with my older brother Jacob.  We spend a lot of time together talking scripts and writing.  However, with our young families and jobs we haven’t always been able to get together and write and so each of us work on separate material independently.  I really enjoy writing with him and I also enjoy writing alone – I think the mixture of the two is the best of both worlds for me.  

How do you find time to write?

I make it a priority of mine.  All of us have the same 24 hours in a day and you make time for those things that are most important to you.  And even then it can still be a challenge but I find it quite satisfying to my soul.  It has to be something you want really bad or you won’t find the time.  Because sitting alone staring at a blank page is a daunting task and it’s a hell of a lot easier to find something else to do than sit down and write, like go to the dentist even.  The brilliant Margaret Atwood says it best, “I have long decided if you wait for the perfect time to write, you’ll never write.  There is no time that isn’t flawed somehow”

What aspects of the writing process do you struggle with the most?

I sometimes struggle to move forward.  I will get caught up in the first 20-30 pages and rework them over and over.  For me that has been a real battle.  I think it’s paramount to get the story on paper, in its entirety rather than get caught up in writing Act One a hundred times.  However, every aspect of writing is a challenge for me in some way.  It has not come natural to me and I work hard at getting better. 

What do you feel like you do well as a screenwriter?

I think I have a knack for dialog.  And only recently do I feel I’m beginning to understand the true structure of a script.  I didn’t understand sub-text for years but I’m starting to get it.  I’m amazed at how long it has taken for me to start understanding this craft.

 How does screenwriting make you happy?

Just writing in general makes me happy.  There is no question that I write for myself before any other reason.  It’s a terrific outlet for me, I find great joy in the written word and I adore the challenge.  Especially with screenwriting.  I’m not certain many people out there know just how difficult it is to write a good script, let-alone a great script.  It’s all about story, character, and structure and to be able to pull that off in 90-120 pages while attempting to remain original is not an easy thing.  I can’t think of any other form of writing more challenging than screenwriting but then again I’m quite biased.

 What do you think is the biggest problem with storytelling in Hollywood?

Story is no longer an emphasis in Hollywood, they create products and masterfully market them to our youth.  But I understand, Hollywood is a business and they run it like a business, which makes total sense.  The only thing that will stop Hollywood from regurgitating the same movies over and over is if audiences stop paying to see them.  And as a business I suppose your objective is to limit all risk and they have become quite skilled in doing so.  It takes great courage and integrity to produce an original film, a fresh story, something that makes audiences feel and think.  And for me, it’s sad that audiences are not demanding more of this.  My greatest fear with Hollywood is that our “next” generation is getting so accustomed to these hundred million dollar budget, fast-paced, predictable movies that the demand for smarter, wittier, and more complex stories will not just subside but will disappear altogether.  I would love to see “story” become the most important ingredient in Hollywood, it was that way in the 70’s and let’s hope someday audiences will force Hollywood to get back to that.  

How can you improve in how you handle feedback?

You have to be thick skinned, especially in screenwriting, you cannot take anything personally.  Feedback from trusted readers is priceless.  It’s fascinating to me what I miss in my own scripts, certainly in the early drafts and getting a set of fresh eyes to go over it has saved me – It saved “The Emperor of Wyoming” – Had it not been for my most trusted reader (Thank you Tom) giving me first rate feedback-I would not have the script I have today.  You can improve by being humble and listening and really pondering what others say about your writing.  And they are not always correct but I have discovered that most of the time they are.  And be willing to be that great reader for others.  Find yourself a community of writers you trust and give the same effort in reading their material as you hope they give to yours.  I cannot think of anything more beneficial than quality feedback.  And as much as I love each member of my family (it seems they love about everything I do) their feedback is adored but not too helpful, simply based on the fact that emotions and feelings will always stand in the way.  And so steer clear of accepting quality feedback from those who care more about you than your script.  

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?

I suppose I used to fear that I had no idea what I was doing but then I read a wonderful book by one of my favorite screenwriters, William Goldman  – And he believes that no one knows what the hell they’re doing so what is the point of fear.  And I agree with him.  And also, fear is a silly thing, it’s a state of mind and I made up mine long ago that fear will no longer play a role. 

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself?

I’m a big time dreamer but I’ve always been willing to work as hard as I dream and that has led to great things for me.  I believe I will have a wonderful and long career in screenwriting.  That belief comes from my perseverance and my willingness to work at getting better.  I’ve never given up and I have learned to enjoy the journey, which makes all the difference.  

What do you do to achieve that goal?

Work at it.  Work at it.  Work at it.  I read, I write, I read, I write, and over and over I do this.  And you have to believe if you do that you will eventually catch a break.

How did the inspiration for your script, The Emperor of Wyoming, come about?

In 2004 I was in my car, preparing to turn left at a traffic signal, the light turned yellow and as I was about to go a hearse came bustling by.  It nearly hit me and I thought to myself…”Perhaps he was trying to kill me in order to drum up business” And I wrote that thought down and knew I wanted to write a story about a Mortician.  The first draft of this concept was completely different than what is now “The Emperor of Wyoming” – I love the synopsis that was written by Bluecat concerning my script.  I am impressed how well they were able to convey the story in just those few sentences.  I believe that is exactly what the story is about.

How long did you work on Emperor, from conception to entry in BlueCat?

I wrote my first pages of this script in 2004 but I got stuck early on and didn’t force it.  I remember Stephen King talking about his novel “The Body” which was adapted into the wonderful film by Rob Reiner “Stand by Me” and I remember Mr. King talking about his idea of these four young boys that are directly on the cusp of becoming men and wanting to write a story about them on a journey.  However, he got stuck and rather than force through it he knew he needed to set it aside and come back to it.  Years later he came up with the idea of these four boys going to find a dead body.  That thread or catalyst happened to be exactly what he needed in order to move the story forward. I had the same experience with “Emperor” – I put it to the side and came back to it in 2009.  I worked on it extremely hard for about 2 years with a couple breaks between.  The array of changes this script went through is quite astonishing but once I discovered my story, I felt (for the first time ever) I might be onto something special.  I just never gave up on it.  I really fell in love with my major characters and just continued pushing forward in telling the absolute best story I could possibly tell.  My focus was on story the entire time.

How did you first hear about BlueCat?

I’m not sure but I’ve known about Bluecat for years.  “Love Liza” is a really wonderful film, I’m not sure if my interest in that film led me to search out Gordy Hoffman or if I discovered Bluecat in another way.  After every great film I see I am quick to look up and research the writer.  My submitting to Bluecat was a very conscience decision.  I love what they’re about, I love that you get two script analysis’s back with every script and I truly believe Gordy’s emphasis (and the entire Bluecat team) is and has always been on story.  I think they have great integrity, I absolutely believe they read and ponder every script and you get a whole lot more than you pay for.  I can’t say that about every competition but I can say that about Bluecat.  

What was it like finding out first that you were a quarterfinalist, then a semifinalist, then a finalist, and then the winner?

With each passing round my excitement grew.  To become a finalist was an absolute thrill and I felt quite satisfied but winning was an awesome thing.  I poured everything I had into “The Emperor of Wyoming” and winning is a sort of validation to my hard work.  Had I won with luck involved I’m not sure it would mean the same thing to me.  But I know my efforts, I know of the sacrifices I made to find the time to write this screenplay and that has made winning even more beautiful.  The entire process was great, my wife and our families followed along with us and we all had a blast with it.  My seven year old Son thinks we’re rich!  He asked if we could buy a new car.  I told him for ten thousand dollars we can barely afford to put gas into a “used” car.  He doesn’t quite understand. 

Jared Hess, director of Napoleon Dynamite, is from your hometown of Preston, Idaho, and shot the film there several years ago. Did you know Jared Hess, and were you at all involved with the production of Napoleon Dynamite?

I do know Jared.  He moved back to Preston his Junior year, I was a year older in school and he is a really great guy; humble, smart, the kind of good guy that deserves all of his success.  I have stayed in contact with him a little bit.  Telephone calls and emails here and there and he has always been willing to give advice or read a script of mine.  As far as being involved with the production, I was at film school in NYC when the production of Napoleon Dynamite began and so I was not a part of any of that.  In fact, we didn’t know each other had interest in film until after Napoleon was selected by Sundance.  The fact that both of us are graduates of Preston High School is completely coincidence.  

Has news of your victory caused a big stir in Preston?

Once a movie from your small town of less than five thousand residents has premiered at Sundance, grossed millions of dollars world-wide, is picked up as part of Sunday nights “animation domination” and becomes a staple of American pop-culture, the winning of a screenplay contest doesn’t even make a whisper through the trees of that small town.  I’m thinking the only thing left for me to do is win an Academy Award…Or move.

What advice do you have to other writers who hope to win BlueCat?

Read and Write.  Read whatever you can get your hands on.  Good books, poetry, short stories, fiction or non, screenplays, etc… And write as much as possible.  It’s with everything you do, you simply get better by doing it.  And my most valuable lesson has been the importance of patience.  You can’t rush a good screenplay, they take time, deep down you’ll know when it’s finished and when it’s good.  And don’t be afraid to write a bunch of bad ones in order to find that good one.  I know Stallone says he wrote “Rocky” in one week but I don’t buy it.  Imagine the countless hours he spent thinking about that story, dreaming it up, living with it in his mind, hoping and yearning for it to become a reality.  Sure, the actual writing of “Rocky” (Which I believe is one of the great scripts) may have only taken him one week but there is a whole lot more that went into that screenplay than just seven days.  I think of “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid”, another terrific screenplay – William Goldman wrote that over Christmas break during the time he was a Professor.  However, when asked how long it took to write “Butch..” he says eight years.  Though during those eight years he didn’t write a single word but it was always in the back of his mind, he was thinking about it, researching the characters etc… – Because to write something great or even good is going to take some time.  And also, you have to start somewhere, I’m certain I would be banned from screenwriting if some of my early work was to get out.  It really is that bad.  I also believe it’s wonderful to dream but those dreams have to be equal part work, equal part dream.  But above all, you have to be willing to follow the direction of my Mother’s personalized license plate, which reads…WRITE.      

 

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Steve Ruttley Interview

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

When did you start writing screenplays?

Roughly, ten years ago…

Where are you currently based?

London, England

What has been your experience screenwriting in England?

Challenging.  England’s old school, it’s been producing incredible writers for centuries now.  The bar is therefore set rather high..

What happened following winning the Cordelia Award?

The screenplay (now retitled “The Last Witness”) was optioned by Poisson Rouge Pictures here in London.  Which has been great.  And which I’ve found is when the real work begins.  I’ve realised it’s important to be prepared for that.

How did Poisson Rouge Pictures find your screenplay?

I’d already established a relationship with the company in the past, as well as having introduced them to previous incarnations of “Tilford”.  Without doubt that was an important factor.  Though I was still fortunate that Poisson Rouge responded to the material, and, in particular, to that draft. 

Did they give you notes after they optioned the screenplay? 

Absolutely.  In fact, they won’t stop!  We’ve been through numerous drafts in the last twelve months and each one demands careful consideration.  In doing so, I’m happy to report I’ve seen the story and characters evolve and grow beyond my expectations.

What was your biggest surprise after they optioned your script?

I guess it felt less of a surprise and more of a reality check.  Reaching that stage of the process is by no means a finishing line.  It’s actually the starting line…

What local resources have you found to be helpful?

Mainly the good friends and acquaintances that have humbled me by giving up their time to consider my work.  Brave souls all… 

I also take full advantage of Starbucks.  Did you know that it’s possible to nurse a single extra shot latte for four hours?  (While banging out pages of course.)

Describe your experiences with finding representation in England.

I can’t say it’s been easy.  But I guess to even think that it might be tells you something right there.  Representation is a golden chalice and should be approached with respect…

How do you think the industry in the U.K. can improve?

Damn.  Really?  I struggle to improve my own screenplays, so I’m genuinely not a great candidate for this question.  However, my instincts tell me there needs to be greater respect shown to screenwriting as a craft in its own right.  By and large, I think this country (or at least London) remains steeped in its theatrical heritage.  No bad thing either.  There’s a lot of respect and nurturing shown to emerging playwrights and it’s no accident there’s terrific theatre work achieved around every corner…

What are your largest mistakes so far as a screenwriter in the industry? 

Trust me, I’ve made some clangers.  But I will say that’s also how I navigate and (try and) improve.  For quite some time I was blind enough to believe my writing was in good shape when it wasn’t.  Not by some margin.  So I believe it’s important to find grounding, to know where/how/why/when/if your work stands, to seek out healthy independent advice…

Enter Bluecat.

What do you see for yourself in the future?

I’ve recently had the good fortune to have another London production company bring me in for work; so no doubt that will keep me busy.  Also, I’ve been blessed that my most recent spec has managed a finalist berth in The 2011 Page International Screenwriting Awards.  Again, much like winning Bluecat’s Cordelia Award, it’s hopefully a sign that the writing is heading in the right direction, as well as a great reason to crack the whip on my marketing department!

How do you know when your work is ready to show to professionals?

The truth is I don’t ever really know.  But what I do know is there comes a time on each screenplay when I feel incredibly excited and proud and I want to share that with other people.  In other words I’m fit to burst.  So I burst… 

What advice do you have for fellow screenwriters in the U.K.?

It’s universal, isn’t it.  Keep writing.  Keep believing.  Keep discovering.  It’s all a process of discovery.  And I can’t imagine that ever changing.

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Maurizio Marmorstein

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

When did you start writing screenplays? Why?

A friend of mine was writing a play while I was working on my Master’s thesis in Florence, Italy in the mid ‘70’s. What he was doing seemed like so much more fun, so I put away my thesis and we started constructing a crazy ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ farce together. The play was later produced in a little art house theater in Santa Cruz, California, which really surprised me. I’d never even considered writing as a possibility before that. I went on to write a few other plays, some one-acts, that made it into festivals in San Francisco and New York, but in the back of my mind I knew I would venture into screenplays sooner or later. Although I really appreciated how a stage play would ask the audience to bring its imagination into the theater, freeing up the playwright to concentrate on words and ideas to tell the story, the visual power of the movies eventually won me over. 

Where do you currently reside? Where are you from?

I seem to have come full circle in my life. I was born in Rome, Italy. When I was about two years old my family immigrated to a little town on the Jersey shore near Asbury Park where I lived for about twenty years. After another eighteen years in California and a short stint back in Jersey I returned to Italy. I’ve been living here with my family for the past sixteen years. 

What is your experience writing in English in Italy? 

Well, if you know anything about Italy you know nothing is easy. At first I thought of finding an Italian agent and trying my luck with a fast paced comedy I’d written earlier in my career. I found an agent, but the Italian film market was struggling at the time – and still is – so nothing came of it. I even translated it into Italian. While I was living in a little hilltop village near the Umbrian foothills I became interested in the Etruscans, an indigenous people predating the Romans. Inspired by the exploits of some of the locals, I wrote a crime drama about a young American man lured to Italy in search of illicit Etruscan treasure. I actually acquired an agent in the States on the strength of that screenplay and have remained more connected and attuned to the American film industry ever since. 

What is your professional experience as a screenwriter in Italy? 

Since I write primarily in English my experience in the Italian film world is limited. I’ve collaborated on projects slated for Italian TV and ran screenwriting workshops, but as I mentioned earlier my focus is mostly geared towards the States. I should also mention that the opportunities for a screenwriter in Italy are quite restricted by what I guess you’d call an auteur’s approach to film where the screenwriter is often viewed as simply someone who transcribes the director’s ideas onto paper. Currently, I teach Italian theater and film as well as screenwriting at The American University of Rome, which has been my ‘day job’ for the past fourteen years. 

What’s the current status of your project? Working on anything new?

After winning the Joplin Award at Bluecat for my dance drama, One Night in Asbury Park, I immediately got some attention from a manager in L.A., TJ Mancini at Crossroads Entertainment. The script is making the usual rounds, and I’ve got my fingers crossed. I guess TJ liked how I handled the location, time period (1964), and some of the shady characters in the story because he has since commissioned me to work on a crime drama based on a true story about a Jersey street kid who becomes a sports legend in the late 1960’s, but whose wild lifestyle and ties with the Mob bring an abrupt end to his dreams. I’m also putting the finishing touches on a psychological thriller, Joyride, which has received some pretty encouraging notes, but could use a polish.

What are your goals as a screenwriter?

I realized a long time ago that I wasn’t doing it for the money, or even the potential of striking it rich. I suppose you can say it’s more a matter of mental and emotional health than of wealth. I’d like to be able to work as hard and as unrestricted as possible on what inspires me, and to tell the stories I feel rumbling around in my head. 

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