Eric Mithen

Why did you start writing screenplays?

When I was in the third grade I saw a war movie on TV – something about fighter jets in Korea. I went to my parents’ typewriter and rewrote a third-grader’s version of the movie. Then I had my friends act it out until they got bored and demanded to ride bikes. For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to writing. The reasons don’t matter, but I chose to ignore writing in earnest until my mid thirties. Today I write short stories, poems, essays and screenplays. I especially love the aesthetic of screenwriting – that I must show the story rather than tell it.

How many screenplays have you finished?

I’ve completed four screenplays – each slated for drastic rewrites. I entered two of them in BlueCat’s Fellini contest last winter. Today I’m comfortable sharing just one.

How do you find time to write?

Around this time a year ago I got an idea for a movie and had a reasonable first draft hammered out a month later. Then my twin sons were born. Now my rare moments of freedom are spent showering, eating and sleeping. Today I think about writing scenes instead of screenplays. I focus on a page or two. And there’s less meandering with my writing time. When I sit down I know exactly what I’m going to say, and I focus my efforts on saying it well.

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

The work. It took years to discover that there is no experience, no book, no formula, no idol that will make me a better writer. That stuff helps, but it’s only the labor of sitting down and writing that will actually improve my work. In the paradigm of screenwriting I’m currently having trouble identifying what it is my protagonists really want, what drives them, what makes them do what they do. And I’m always challenged to make sure that what I’m writing is from me, and not a mere re-stitching of movies I’ve already seen.

What do you feel you do well as a screenwriter?

My dialogue gets the most positive attention, and it’s the only part of my process I languish in.

How does screenwriting make you happy?

Happy? About writing? How about satisfied? It took a long time for me to inwardly acknowledge that I’m a writer. I still refuse to say, “I’m a writer” out loud. When I write I’m being true to myself. What could make a person happier – er – more satisfied? Plus – nothing beats writing “FADE OUT” on page 110.

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

This probably is not the biggest problem, but I resent the perpetuation of stereotypes. This would probably make some people from BlueCat’s recent Seattle workshop laugh since I submitted pages from my script about a Latino lawn care mafia. However, I find Hollywood’s simplified, sensationalized spin on things like military combat or drug addiction extremely harmful.

How can you improve in how you handle feedback?

A writing mentor in college once said to me, “You need someone to edit the living shit out of you.” I try to remember that when taking feedback, but I often take it too far. When a reader says, “I had trouble with this” I’m liable to either reject it outright or trash the entire script – neither of which is constructive. I would love to find some peace between those two extremes.

What are your greatest fears about screenwriting?

The classic “What if they say I’m no good” used to keep me awake at night. Now that my sons John and Charles keep me awake at night I worry less about approval and more about when I’ll get time to work.

What is your highest screenwriting goal for yourself?

I rehearse my Oscar/Golden Globe acceptance speeches on long drives. 

What do you do to achieve that goal?

Sit down and write.

What screenplay have you written which you feel most proud of and what’s it about?

FREEDOM HIGHWAY is the story of a young guy who tries to find himself, but instead finds America. Having barely graduated from college, and afraid of getting a job he crafts a sloppy, get-rich-quick publicity stunt to hike across the United States waving an American flag. His passage is marked by a series of disillusioning encounters — each step taking him closer to adulthood and a glimpse of what it means to be an American.

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