Jacob Gillman and Matt Diebler Interview

BlueCat Fellini Award (2011)

BlueCat: Tell us a little bit about your script Horse Girl.

Matt and Jacob: Horse Girl is the quirky yet disturbing tale of Bethanne, an unpopular 12 year old who wants a horse more than anything in the world. Accompanied by her trashy younger best friend Sheena, Bethanne tries everything she can to raise the money to buy a horse. Driven largely by her general naivety, Bethanne begins a downward spiral of questionable and at times pseudo sexual money making ventures to bring her dream to fruition.

Horse Girl takes the audience on a darkly comedic and disturbingly endearing journey through the world of an innocent girl who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. In the end, you cheer her success and identify with her cause, but you may be a little unnerved by what she’s become in the process.

BlueCat: How long have you been writing screenplays?

Matt and Jacob: To be completely honest, this is our first feature length screenplay. Matt’s been writing in other media for years and Jacob has worked in film as a practical FX artist, but this is our first screenplay.

BlueCat: How many screenplays have you written? Is this the first screenplay that you’ve written together?

Matt and Jacob: Matt’s written one short film and 3 television pilots. The short was a live action thriller/horror/psychological drama kind of deal (which Jacob intends to direct). Two of the television pilots were animated (one for kids and one for adults), and the third is a live action comedy.

This is the first screenplay we’ve written together, although I imagine it’ll be one of many. We’re already kicking around ideas for others, so keep your eyes peeled.

BlueCat: What was the inspiration behind this story? How long have you worked on the project?

Matt and Jacob: Every middle school in the United States has a “horse girl”. She’s that weird, naïve, and immature girl that won’t shut up about horses. Even though everyone else in her class had moved on to thinking about adult things like sex, she still has a horse covered trapper keeper and two French braids. And her hair smells like powdered milk. Both of us have been fascinated by these girls and we wanted to understand what makes them tick. So we created Bethanne and let her tell her story. We wrote on periodic weekends, so it took a while to write, but as a whole, it took us about 8 months and a case of wine to complete.

BlueCat: What made you decide to enter BlueCat?

Matt and Jacob: After we’d finished the script, we weren’t really sure what to do with it. Neither of us had tried to make a movie on our own before, nor had we tried to sell anything we’d written. So we asked around, and a good friend of ours suggested we try out a few screenwriting competitions; BlueCat was at the top of his list.We did some research, saw that BlueCat offered feedback and criticism for every entry, and immediately entered. It was going to be our first professional critique and, win or lose, we knew that it would be extremely valuable.

BlueCat: Are there any writers that have influenced your work?

Matt: I’m more of a TV guy, so singling out individual writers is a little difficult.  Arrested Development and Strangers with Candy have influenced me more than anything else, really helping to shape my sense of humor and the way I integrate it into my writing, encouraging me to push the boundaries of taste. And beyond that, Daniel Waters ofHeathers fame, Darren Stein of Jawbreaker, and Lona Williams of Drop Dead Gorgeous have influenced me somehow (although I can’t say how directly)… I’ve seen each of those movies so many times that they’re seared into my brain.

Jacob: When I was Bethanne’s age, I began watching an unhealthy amount of John Waters and Todd Solondz. I think they’ve collectively made me laugh harder than anyone in the world. They are by far the heaviest influences on this script. Other than that I love Jodorowsky, Pasolini, Makavejev, Hennenlotter, and tons of other weird culty writer/directors.

BlueCat: What’s your writing process like? (As a pair, and as individuals)

Jacob: I haven’t done much writing on my own, but when I do, I like to do it in the bathtub. And I just write down whatever makes me laugh.

Matt: I prefer to lock myself in a room with as few distractions as possible and work until something is done, which is a process that obviously lends itself much better to short films. That’s why when I write more lengthy works, I need company top keep me entertained. I love to write with partners.

As for writing as a pair, that was actually an interesting situation. We are actually a couple, and when we started writing, we’d been dating for about two and a half years and had never taken on something like this. We’d had a lot of people warn us away from it, telling us that working on a project like this can easily kill a relationship. And we did fight. A lot. It took us a number of writing sessions to really pinpoint what each of our strengths were and to learn how to give and take when it came to creative ideas. Eventually, we worked out a system: we’d start every session with a glass or two of wine. We’d write until we started fighting. If it was something that we could both easily let go of, we’d at least try to finish the scene, but if it was something one of us was particularly angry about, we’d just stop for the day. It took a lot of patience and a lot of arguing, but we were both so excited about and invested in the story that we stuck it out. And now that we’re on the other side of it, both the script and our relationship are better for having passed through that fire.

BlueCat: What are your goals with the script after winning the Fellini Awards?

Matt and Jacob:  In a perfect world, we want some generous benefactor to come to us with one of those oversized novelty checks and give us the funds we need to make the movie ourselves. It’s a “filmmaker” kind of movie that would come out the best if we were able to see it through, which is ultimately what we’ve been hoping to do since the beginning. Right now, we’ve started our own production company and we’re getting a budget together so we can start wooing investors, so the ball’s already rolling. It’s going to be a challenge to produce, as it involves both children and animals, but a number of friends have read it, have loved it, and are offering to help us move forward. So hopefully you won’t have to wait too terribly long before you’re able to see Horse Girl on the indie circuit, if not in theaters.

BlueCat: What have you learned from your BlueCat experience?

Matt and Jacob: We learned not to count ourselves out. After we’d seen our criticism from the judges, we really didn’t think we were going to win. They had good things to say, but they obviously had a number of things they didn’t love about it. We were convinced we were down for the count, so we checked out mentally.  And we decided against entering other competitions. But lo-and-behold, here we are. Horse Girl was chosen as a winner, and we couldn’t be more thrilled or honored to be here.

And we learned to write the movie we want to see. Just because something doesn’t fit within the norms or the guidelines that everyone expects, or just because something doesn’t feel “Hollywood” enough doesn’t mean it’s not worth making.

BlueCat: What’s next for you as writers?

Matt and Jacob: First, we’re hoping to pull together the funds and direct Horse Girl. But in the mean time, we have a number of ideas we’re working on. Judging from the response we’re getting from this exercise in cooperation, we foresee a long and fruitful creative union.

Our thanks go out to Matt Diebler and Jacob Gillman for taking the time to join BlueCat for an interview. Congratulations Matt and Jacob on being chosen as one of the five winners in our Fellini Awards. Look for more interviews with the winners of the Fellini Awards in the coming weeks. To learn more about the Fellini Awards Winners, you can read their profiles here.

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