2015 – Feature Screenplay Winners Interviews

2015_louis

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I was about 8 years old and an older cousin of mine gave me the Robert Rodriguez book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ because I had shown an interest in films and filmmaking. It detailed the experiences of Rodriguez raising the money for and making his debut feature ‘El Mariachi’. Rodriguez included the screenplay for the film in the back of the book and this was the first time I had ever seen or realised what a script was. I must have read that script fifty times over. This book, and more specifically the script, became my bible very quickly and pretty much changed my life.

How long have you been writing for?

I wrote my first screenplay around the age of 8 or 9. Now obviously, this was a very bad screenplay. It was written in pencil on A4 paper and was about 30 pages long. Needless to say, I did not abide by the three act structure. But I wrote a new script every few months (some of which I still have somewhere) and I haven’t stopped writing since, although my overall quality of work has thankfully improved. So I’ve been writing for over 20 years.

Do you keep to a routine when you’re writing?

I write sporadically but often, whenever I can. Sometimes I have a day job and sometimes I’m freelance or self-sufficient for a time. I find keeping a set routine doesn’t help me personally. I just write when I’ve got to write, even if that means locking myself in a toilet at work and writing notes on my phone before I forget them. In my first job at a supermarket, I used to write my script ideas down on the backs of till receipts.

How do you find time to write?

As I said above, it’s less about finding the time and more about making the time when you’ve got something to write down. My head is exploding every single day with new ideas and stories. So much so I often have trouble deciding which one to focus on. I know I’ve hooked onto a keeper when I begin clearing a path in my week(s) ahead to sit down and start banging the thing out.

How many screenplays have you written?

Hmm, do I include those pencil-written scripts from childhood? If so, there’s far too many to ever count. But I suspect no one would seriously consider those illegibly handwritten classics as canon. I made my first genuine attempt at a real feature script when I was 14, so if I start from there and count all the feature scripts that have come since then I’d have to say I’ve written 21 or so.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

Firstly, I have a genuine interest in the idea of genetic engineering. Cloning is the endgame of all this really and human cloning is the ultimate taboo, even beating Artificial Intelligence by some considerable miles in terms of how much it freaks people out. And I’ve never seen a movie that deals with cloning specifically in a non-dumb way. There’s been good films about genetic engineering and test tube babies such as Andrew Niccol’s ‘Gattaca’ or the adaptation of ‘Never Let Me Go’, but films about human cloning always tend to end up being comedies or dumb action movies.

Secondly, and more practically, I wanted to write something that could be made on a smallish budget and that was set in a few locations. Something makeable. Something I could go out and make myself if enough people would listen to me. I wanted to write a high concept sci-fi story in an intimate real-world (almost pedestrian) setting. As if this could be taking place next door in your neighbour’s house right now. And let’s face it – that’s where all the biggest and most life-changing breakthroughs start – some guy’s garage or garden shed.

And thirdly, I wanted to tell the story of a ‘human’ life from birth through to death. The average human life cycle is a perfect engine for a film and that was how I structured the narrative. That way I could engage with the idea of what it would truly mean to clone a human being. Not just what it means spiritually or morally, but what it would really mean in terms of practicalities for both the experimenter and the experiment.

How long did it take to write?

I came up with the outline for pretty much the whole story in summer 2012 but didn’t start writing it until early 2013. Since then I have drafted and redrafted it many times, thanks to feedback from my closest friends – all of whom are either filmmakers or fellow writers.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I just like telling stories that I hope will elicit a range of emotions from the reader/watcher. Stories can really impact upon people cerebrally, emotionally and viscerally. It’s why we all watch films, or read books, or binge-watch TV shows – and I want to be one of the guys that helps people to achieve that kind of euphoria and immersion. I just love stories, and telling them is one of my favourite things in the world to do.

What do you struggle with the most?

Getting started. If I don’t have a set deadline or something to aim for, it’s often hard to get my butt in that chair and fingers tapping away. I can think and then overthink an idea I’ve been developing, almost to the point of abstraction. And then I put myself off that idea rather than simply writing out the story and starting a first draft. It happens less these days, but I used to find that without a deadline, I’d procrastinate.

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing?

There are limited open windows in the UK, and about a zillion writers all vying to climb in through the same one. In order to protect itself, the industry has had to put bars on their windows to keep out the hordes of weirdos and wannabes. Now, in order to be read, you have to fold up your script into a paper aeroplane and carefully glide it in through the bar gaps, hoping it lands on the right desk. What I’m saying is; everyone wants to be a screenwriter these days and the industry is pre-set to protect and shield itself from too much congestion. In the face of such a predicament, the only option is to keep sailing those paper planes in through the window bars, and knocking on the doors occasionally to make sure they were received okay.

There are exceptions to this of course with networking events and online competitions such as this. All designed to help find new talent, but to the average outsider, it feels very much like a private club sometimes.

Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?

Not in the last year or two, but that’s mainly because my work has been optioned several times (though nothing yet produced), and people are more open to reading your work if you have had some prior success already, or you know someone they know.

How did it feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of the winners?

It was like Christmas come early each time, in all honesty. There’s a real validation in having complete strangers (and some industry pros at that) come back and say ‘Your work is good, we like what you’ve done’. Because they have no bias, they have nothing to gain from saying that so it means a lot. I was confident that I’d make the quarter finals shortlist because I know the script is good, but to get to the winners and then take 1st place position was a wonderful feeling and somewhat surprising. Had I not had flu at the time when I read the announcement, I would have been much more exuberant in my reaction!

I think everyone entering this competition wanted to make it to the top five just so they could have their work sent out to the glorious list of production companies and agents. That prize alone was worth the journey.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I believe it was through my university alumni group page on Facebook, posting links to competitions and lists of places to send your work. It’s always worth clicking on those links, that’s the lesson I learned.

What goals do you have for this script and your future career?

I want ‘Life Expectancy’ to be made into a feature very much. I think it would make a great film. It’s the kind of film I want to see at the cinema very badly. The closest we came this year to a film like it was ‘Ex Machina’, which is exactly the level of production I would hope for. As for my future career goals, I have a commercial ‘Blumhouse-like’ horror script I would like to sell next, a pretty unique independent feature about blindness I would like to personally make, and several smaller budget thrillers I would love to see optioned and produced too. With more to come…

2015-mark

 

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

My love of filmmaking started at a very early age with shows such as Night Gallery and Twilight Zone, which we watched together as a family. Then my father died when I was six, and about a year after his death, my mom briefly dated a movie theater manager. For those few months, we went to the movies like crazy. And I saw all kinds of things that I probably shouldn’t have. Movies such as Legend of Hell House, and Emperor of the North. But that experience gave me the bug for sure. When I was nine-years old, I saw Brian DePalma’s Phantom of the Paradise, and that became something of an obsession. It was the first movie I watched more than once in the theater. But it wasn’t until I saw John Carpenter’s Halloween that I began to think of this as a possible career path.

For how long have you been writing?

It is true that I self-published my first book when I was in the fourth grade. But I didn’t make a real effort at screenwriting until high school, when I got very serious about pursuing this as a career. So this marks year 33.

Do you keep a routine?

Sort of. I try to write every day. That doesn’t always take the form of sitting down at the computer and using my screenwriting software. Sometimes, it means going for long walks with a notebook in my hand and writing snippets of things as I think of them. It takes me a while to develop my ideas, so I am always working on more than one thing at once. Until one of them finally demands to be written. Then I put all my effort into that particular work.

How do you find time to write?

I don’t really have a choice. What I mean is that as a writer, I feel compelled to write. The writing makes time for itself and often pushes other things out of the way to do so.

How many screenplays have you written?

I think this question should be “how many *good* screenplays have you written?” That’s because I have written lots of things that I would never want anyone to read now (although when I first finished them I tried desperately to get people to read them). It’s important to fail as a writer. It’s important to write bad things so that you know what the good things look like. At this point, I probably have a half-dozen scripts that I would be proud to see made into films.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

I had made a pair of short films (“Peekers” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10diurwIa7Y and “The Ugly File” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzeY83rP2G4) with a group of very talented actors and I was anxious to develop a feature-length idea for them. So it really emerged from thinking about what sort of characters these actors could play. Once I had that down, I started writing scenes between them and soon discovered their remarkable story.

How long did it take to write?

I really have no idea. As I said before, I spend a lot of time holding an idea in my head and thinking about it. The benefit to this though, is that once I start physically writing scenes and dialogue, it tends to go fairly quickly.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I’m a problem solver. I love puzzles. I love to figure out how to make things work better. Writing satisfies all of those parts of me. But more than that, I believe that stories are the best way to investigate the truth of what it means to be human. And to me, that idea–letting others in on your own experience so that they can know they are not alone–is one of the best things we can do for each other.

What do you struggle with the most?

I used to worry a lot about being liked. I don’t worry about that so much anymore. The most important thing for me now is that I feel good about what I’m writing. I have learned that lots of other people have lots of ideas about what is good and bad and very often I don’t agree. But that’s okay. As Paul Schrader said once when I heard him speak, “Be yourself. Don’t try to be Steven Spielberg. Hollywood already has Steven Spielberg. But they don’t have you.”

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?

I think good stories will always find a way to be made. I’ve been at this for 33 years. If I didn’t believe that, I would have given up a long time ago.

Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?

Yes. But thanks to contests such as yours, it is getting easier in certain ways. I don’t mean that as any sort of “suck-up,” either. Contests really are one of the best ways to get the attention of people who sign checks.

How did it feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of the winners?

It feels good of course. I think all of us like to be affirmed. But as I learned on some of my earlier efforts as a director, I am not going to be affirmed all the time. My documentary about Philip K. Dick has a 21% Tomatometer rating. But I’ve met people who love it. So I think you have to be balanced. Affirmation from outside sources shouldn’t be the motivation. But it is necessary, of course. I don’t want to sound flippant, but on the day that your contest announced my Second Place win, two other contests notified me about a different script of mine. I made the cut in one of them, but did not make the cut in the other. This is simply part of the process–something I think all creative people have to deal with.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I found the listing on FilmFreeway.com.

What goals do you have for this script and your future career?

I would love to make my living as a full-time writer. So I hope that this script leads in some way to that happening.

2015-ben

 

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I’ve always enjoyed storytelling. I used to love creative writing as a child. I then became more interested in drawing and painting. I suppose the two intertwine in scriptwriting.

How long have you been writing for?

I’ve been making short films for almost 15 years. I’ve written everything that I’ve directed.

Do you have a routine?

I’m an appalling procrastinator and time waster so I just get myself in front of the laptop as early as possible and stay there as long as possible while trying to ignore the lure of the kettle and the internet.

How do you find time to write?

I used to write in the evenings but now I’ve gone freelance so I write whenever I’m not working.

How many feature screenplays have you written?

I’m currently writing my fourth – a feature version of my short film The Stomach – but Dead Windows is actually the one I wrote first.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

An art installation by the Austrian artist Gregor Schneider. It was called ‘Die Familie Schneider’ and consisted of two adjacent houses on a desolate street in Whitechapel. Both houses were identical in every respect, down to the tiniest detail, and including the inhabitants which included a child in a bin bag in the bedroom and a man furiously masturbating in the shower. In the basement there was a secret passage leading to tiny cellar with a cot mattress in the corner and if you listened very carefully you could hear a baby crying. It was utterly terrifying and I was obsessed with it for months afterwards.

How long did it take to write?

A very, very, very long time. So long, I’m embarrassed to admit it.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The same as every writer I imagine: those moments when everything comes together and it feels like it’s writing itself. As a writer/director I also get to the pleasure of imagining how I’m going to shoot something as I’m writing it.

What do you struggle with the most?

Expanding an idea. My natural compulsion, as a short film maker, is to compress and reduce.

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?

I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be embracing new directing talent!

Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?

Not since the success of The Stomach short film. That’s opened a lot of doors.

How did you feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of our winners?

I actually missed the email that said my script was shortlisted. So I was amazed when I discovered it was a finalist and delighted when I found out I was in the top five.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

My producer Dan Dixon (co-founder, with me, of FUME FILMS) told me about it and suggested I enter. Thanks Dan!

What goals do you have for this script and your future career?

I want to direct Dead Windows and make all the other films on the FUME FILMS slate. And then keep writing and directing until I run out of ideas, go blind or die, whichever comes first.

2015-benwatts

 

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

Originally, it was a means to an end; I wanted to make
movies, and I figured if I was going make movies, I needed to
learn how to write movies.

How long have you been writing for?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid — short stories, poems,
whatever — but I didn’t really think about seriously about
my writing until I got to college.

Do you have a routine?

I like to write in the morning, when I’m fresh. I try to get
an hour or two in before going to work. There’s always a cup
– or three — of coffee involved.

How do you find time to write?

Much to the chagrin of my wife and my dog, I’m an early
morning riser. I get up early and write before I go to work.
Then, if I’m having a good day, I’ll pick up where I left off
when I get back home, because I’ve given myself enough of a
mental break throughout the work day.

How many feature screenplays have you written?

Three. I’m currently working on my fourth.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

At the time, I felt like I had seen a lot of teenage “coming
of age” films that looked back on those years as the best of
a character’s life, and while I really enjoy a lot of those
kind of films, I wanted to turn that trope on its head. What
if, instead of looking back on a summer with fondness, our
main character would say, “That was the worst summer of my
life.” That line was the genesis of the whole script.

Then, a day or two later, I was standing outside, and a plane
flew overhead (I live under a direct flight path, so this is
a normal occurrence). As I was watching it disappear, I
started to wonder about it: where did it come from, and more
importantly, where was it going?
Those questions, pared with the notion of a summer being the
worst of a teenager’s life, led to the central mystery in
“When The Devil’s Loose”.

How long did it take to write?

From initial conception to a completed first draft took about
four months. A good portion of that was writing and rewriting
an extensive outline, knowing that, because there are so many
moving parts to this story, I had to have (almost) everything
figured out before I really dug into the writing itself.
Having the Nicholl deadline looming around the corner helped
me stick to a consistent schedule.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I liken writing to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. When you
first start, you’ve got a thousand little pieces, and it’s
overwhelming. You have a picture of where you want to end up,
but those thousand pieces seem like they’ll never fit
together in any coherent way. Then you get to work, and all
of a sudden, you’ve got the edge together, and that’s a
little victory. Then you find a batch of similar colors that
make up a small section on the inside, and that’s another
little victory. It’s finding those moments along as I’m
writing a script that’s truly rewarding for me — a striking
image, a line of dialogue, or a newly-discovered plot twist.
Those ‘aha’ moments are what get me excited to keep writing
when I want to give up.

What do you struggle with the most?

I struggle with what I’m sure most writers struggle with, and
that’s self-doubt. When you sit down in front of the
computer, there are a million voices in your head telling
you, “Stop. No one is going to read this. Everything you
write is terrible.” Especially on a first draft, those voices
come in strong and steady, and it’s something I just have to
push through to get the work done.

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?

I think the industry is always looking for new talent, fresh
voices to be their next generation of storytellers.

Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?

Yes and no. On one hand, there are so many avenues out there
right now that could allow you to get your script seen — the
Blacklist, contests, etc — but because the process has
become democratized and saturated, I think it’s tougher to
stick out through all the noise.

How did you feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of our winners?

It’s always a feather in your cap when someone — not friends
or family — acknowledges that you’ve done good work. There
are so many days during the writing process, sitting in a
room by yourself, that you start to wonder if anyone will
like what you’re working on, and to have that positive
reinforcement from complete strangers makes you feel like
you’ve done something right.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I believe it was either through a Done Deal Pro forum or
Reddit.

What goals do you have for this script and your future career?

We write scripts because we want to see them as films, no? My
goal for “When The Devil’s Loose” is to get it produced. I’ve
directed a few shorts, so I’m hoping directing this script is
next on my list. 

2015-katie

 

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I have always loved film, television and writing, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager and discovered that the scripts to some of my favourite episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer were included on the DVDs that I realised I could marry these obsessions. I always knew I wanted to write professionally, and this was the moment that I found my direction. I’ve been writing screenplays ever since.

How long have you been writing for?

I always loved making up stories, keeping myself entertained on long journeys or rainy afternoons as a child.

I was very lucky to have a Writers’ Group at my secondary school, run by the amazing Sarah Moorhead. For an hour a week for five years I shared what had written and got used to regular writing, putting my work in front of others and receiving constructive criticism. Over the course of a couple of years I wrote my first novel (all copies of which were subsequently destroyed in a freak accident) as well as copious amounts of poetry and a short play. I got into the habit of writing every day and of listening to feedback and striving to improve with every draft and new piece.

I kept up writing through university and afterwards, applying for any opportunity I could find, including a writer’s development programme at Live Theatre in Newcastle, the Theatre in the Rough Festival in Liverpool and First Take’s Film Train course. I found it difficult to keep going without any support or clear direction, so in 2012 I began a Masters Degree in Screenwriting, which gave me a reason to write as well as deadlines to work towards. I made some brilliant friends and wrote with determination for two years. I graduated with Distinction in 2014.

Alongside all of this I have also entered scripts into contests and often done quite well, making it through to the shortlist or semi finals on a number of occasions. This is the first time I have won a contest, and it feels amazing to have made it here!

Do you keep to a routine?

When I’m working on a project I generally write on and off from about 6pm to 11pm, once I come home from my regular office job. If I’ve hit a good groove I might work later or cram in a bit of extra work before I leave in the morning. I tried writing in my lunch break but that was exhausting, so I prefer to go for a walk and let things percolate in my head or just zone out listening to music to have a rest.

At the weekends I usually devote one day completely to writing. I get quite excited in the week thinking about all the time I can spend writing once Saturday rolls around! If I’m struggling with a particular scene or just tired from the week I put the writing off till Sunday.

Once I finish a project I need a bit of time to recharge  before starting work all over again.

How do you find time to write?

I get it in wherever I can. I draft scenes and outlines in my head when I’m walking to work and write every day if possible. I write longhand notes to keep track of my thoughts.

When I sit down in front of the keyboard I try to be as disciplined as possible with my time and make the most of what I’ve got. I aim for a minimum of a page a day in the week and five pages on a full day of writing, as I find lower targets encourage me to push harder without becoming demoralising on a slow day.

How many screenplays have you written?

I have written two features, four TV pilots, a sitcome spec script and two shorts. I have entered most of these into contests or opportunities wherever I can.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

I originally thought up Black Ice several years when I was working in a Marks and Spencer’s food hall and building up a murderous hatred of everything and everyone around me. It was the snowiest December in years and I had just enjoyed my family’s annual viewing of White Christmas. As I was restocking the chilled aisle one day it occurred to me how lucky Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby were to visit an empty ski lodge in a remote area and not encounter a vicious serial killer. The thought of a horror version of White Christmas kept me entertained for the rest of my shift.

Over time this idea took root and became its own creation, built from memories of family holidays in the Lake District, the image of a tree decorated with hundreds of faded ribbons, research into serial killers and childhood trauma and the cold oppression of heavy snowfall. All these things came together to form the foundation of my screenplay and grew into the finished version.

How long did it take to write?

About four months to write the first couple of drafts, once I actually sat down to properly write it. I had a break of a few months and then spent a couple of weeks refining the script to get to the version I submitted.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

When I can slip into the quiet place in my head where it’s just me, the keyboard and the scene I’m writing, where the only thing that matters is putting one word after the other on the page. It’s almost meditative and quite addictive as well as just plain fun.

I also love getting to the end of a project and scrolling back through the whole document, seeing how far I’ve come and enjoying that little moment of satisfaction before getting to work on rewriting.

What do you struggle with the most?

I struggle to keep myself focused on the story I want to tell. I can drift quite a long way in the wrong direction before I realise what I’ve done. Though it hurts to scrap the majority of a draft I’ve learned that it’s always better to bin what’s not working and start again, sometimes from scratch, to get to the heart of the story.

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?

There are lots of opportunities geared towards young writers and new talent, which is very encouraging, but at the same time the industry can feel like fortified castle that can’t be breached with the limited tools of the new writer. I hope I can find the secret entrance before too long…

Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?

It is difficult, because you are always in competition with at least a thousand other writers, all with their own screenplays and the same drive to succeed. There are plenty of contests to enter, but every time you have to put yourself through the emotional wringer for sometimes quite limited rewards. That being said, I’m grateful for every contest I’ve entered and have learned a lot from each one.

How did it feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of the winners?

I was thrilled when my script was shortlisted, especially as two of my friends from my Screenwriting MA were on the same list! Making it to the next round was amazing as well, and when I found out I was a winner I had to fight very hard not to jump for joy in the office.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I was searching the internet for screenwriting contests, found Shore Scripts and knew I couldn’t pass up such a brilliant opportunity.

What goals do you have for this script and your future career?

I would absolutely love to see this script made. I can see it so clearly in my head, and I would love to be able to see  it up on the screen and share it with others.

My goal is to be a professional writer. I want to be able to write full time and get my work in front of an audience. No matter what happens I’ll keep writing, but I would absolutely love to have my scripts brought to life and to make that my career.