Interview with 2014 Short Finalist Jeremy Lerman
THE TWELVE PLAGUES
A Jewish painter travels to receive a prestigious award, coming head to head with his wife’s new boyfriend, Torah-thumping art patrons, and a slutty parapalegic.
How do you stay motivated during the writing process?
The early drafts are a slog. I’m not sure there’s a way around that, except knowing (or hoping) something will click where your theme and characters start to point your way.
The Twelve Plagues has many hilarious moments (the barber’s celebrity photos are a highlight). Discuss your approach to writing humor. How do you manage to be funny while still keeping the story grounded and emotional?
Anything I think is funny goes into early drafts. Eventually I’d hope that mostly the jokes that stay in are part of the world of the story and we can understand how the characters experience them. Also, I’m a film editor, so I’d rather give a joke its day in court in the editing room before deciding if it’s worthwhile.
The Twelve Plagues was adapted from a short story. Describe what the adaptation process was like. Was it your goal to stay faithful to the original story?
It wasn’t my goal to stay faithful to the original story. I really admire the original story, but for my film sensibilities, I wanted more arcs in shorter order than the original. The author of the short story, the late Gerald Shapiro, told me he recognized his story in the screenplay, so that was very nice to hear.
What inspired you to be a writer? What is it about screenwriting that attracted you?
My parents tell me I’ve always stopped them mid-sentence to ask what words or phrases meant, including connotation. So I suppose I’ve been interested in the nuance of words for a long time. As to screenwriting specifically, my creative writing teachers often told me that my writing should be fleshed out more, but when I found screenwriting, my to-the-point style fit in well.
When do you find the time to write?
I prefer writing to be at the end of the day. Most recently, I had a shoot date on the calendar for a short before the script was done. It was a healthy pressure to have to hand drafts over to collaborators in short order.
How do you tackle writer’s block?
Do chores or exercise. I’ve gradually come to believe that some of the best ideas will bubble up when you’re not officially thinking about the story.
What was your first script?
I don’t want to say what my first script was about, only that it excelled at being pretentious! The best part of getting a first script on paper was letting go of the feeling that everything you write — especially early drafts — is precious.
Do you have a certain page count you like to hit every day? Or do you set a time frame for yourself?
How do you know when a script is finished?
When any left-over ideas would do more harm than good. When I can imagine a version of it as a movie that functions well.
What do you do in regards to pre-writing? Do you outline?
I haven’t outlined much in the traditional sense of knowing your beats. I make a lot of lists of situations or details or lines of dialogue. Those details usually feel appropriate to the beginning, middle or end, so I’ll start organizing them into acts. Sometimes I think writing yourself into a corner means you’ll come up with something more unusual than you would in an outline—but that might be me rationalizing my process.
What advice would you give to writers who have just finished a script?
In terms of making it the best? Put it down for a while until you can read it with more independent eyes (“independent” meaning “less biased”; not having your left and right eye read independently of each other).
Why did you enter BlueCat?
I met past winner Andy Stock. He spoke highly of the competition.
Currently, who are some writers and filmmakers that inspire you?
Too many to name across all genres, but my sweet-spot as a filmgoer is comedy with good story/emotion. Current: Alexander Payne, Coen Bros. Past: Hal Ashby, Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch.
What advice would you give to writers who are in the thick of working on a script and struggling to get through it?
Lower the stakes. Assume the draft you’re working on is far from your best, but it will lead to your best. Take a shower.
For professional inquiries, please contact Jeremy at jmlerman AT SYMBOL gmail