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2013 – Feature Winners Interviews

MURDER IN THE LAKELANDS by PATRICK NASH

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

Going to the cinema as a boy. My father would regularly take me to see great films at the ‘pictures’ as we then called them and there was just something so exciting and fascinating about seeing a great story told on screen. I was enthralled and fell in love with cinematic storytelling. I particularly loved great epics like Dr Zhivago or Lawrence of Arabia and I also developed a love for thrillers, crime dramas and film noir. I liked learning how films were made and discovered the critical importance of the writer and the screenplay. Becoming a writer then became something of a dream but for many years it remained just that, a dream.

However, years later in 2002 when I was working as a production manager in a large computer disc drive plant I decided I wanted a career change. One busy night shift I decided I wanted to pursue my dream. I didn’t want to look back on my life when I was seventy or eighty and regret not doing it. Shortly afterwards, by chance, I met an Oscar winning Irish writer-director at the local Foyle Film Festival. I told him of my dream and picked his brains.  His key piece of advice – take the time to learn the craft first, write a lot and make all the beginners mistakes first and learn from them before venturing out into the big bad movie world with your best material. Secondly, its show business, make sure you learn about the business side as well. I took his advice and did both.

I devoted every bit of my spare time from around 2002 until 2006 to learning the craft, studying every film and screenwriting book or DVD tutorial I could find, attending festivals, screenwriting and filmmaking seminars, workshops and short courses and reading hundreds of scripts. I collected and developed story ideas and wrote my first drafts as a novice screenwriter, learning drafts that I knew would be full of mistakes and would never see the light of day. They were a place to experiment, refine technique and make mistakes. This period of learning and experimentation lasted until about 2006 when I finally felt confident enough to begin writing scripts in earnest, material I would finally show to others, and if it was successful I’d pack in the day job.

How long have you been writing for?

Excluding the ‘learning phase’ I mentioned above, I would say I only began seriously writing screenplays from 2006 or early 2007. At first, after one early attempt at a feature, I focused solely on writing short screenplays and half hour dramas. I think writing shorts is a great way to master technique.  Only later did I really move to writing features. At the time I was still holding down my very busy management job so writing time was often scarce and what there was suited short scripts more than feature projects. I found completing shorts gave me a sense of accomplishment and boosted my confidence as a writer.

Then in 2007 I joined a writers group called the Derry Scriptwriters Group and finally began to publicly read some of my material. The group contained an eclectic mix of novelists, poets, scriptwriters, actors, playwrights and journalists and sometimes they would do table reads of scripts using the actors in the group. One night they read the first script I’d brought, a 17minute short called ‘Time to Go’, which was an emotional end of life story that was really a love story in disguise. It sort of crept up on you by surprise. I was stunned by the end of the table read to see every member of the group in tears; they’d been so emotionally affected by the story.

For me it was a ‘light bulb’ moment – the moment I finally realised: ‘I can do this.’ That one event gave me confidence in my writing ability and I haven’t stopped writing since so much so that when my firm was looking voluntary redundancies in mid-2009 I decided to give up my management job (with a big payoff of course!) to devote myself full time to writing.  Now I’m happily chasing my dream on a full time basis and I found my productivity and success increased significantly after that decision.

Do you keep to a routine?

I usually write from around 9.00 am in the morning until maybe 2.30 pm on weekdays when my kids are at school and my wife is at work (in the local university).  For that five or six hours I have the house to myself and I find it’s the best time to do the more creative things like thinking up original material and developing new stories, as opposed to editing, rewriting, e-mailing, doing research and so on. I also often work late at night from around 10.30 pm until maybe 2.00 am if I’m facing a deadline or if I’m really in the zone on a script and I don’t want to lose the flow. At that time the kids are in bed, I can turn the TV off and there are fewer distractions.

It’s a routine of sorts but in reality I find I can write anywhere at any time if the mood is right.  I’ll often work all day on something if the creative juices are really flowing and I have written (using pen and paper) in cafes, on planes, at the side of the pool on holidays, between films at festivals, in fact just about anywhere.  When an idea strikes you just have to write it down there and then or you risk losing it.  I have little notebooks or memo pads stashed everywhere for that reason; in coat pockets, the glove compartment of the car, the cupboard beside the bed, all over the place.

I have other little subroutines as well if you want to call them that. For example, I always prefer to develop my ideas and stories on paper. I love scribbling away on A4 pads or in notebooks with a biro pen. It just seems to give greater creative freedom and scope. I’ll end up with pages and pages of scribbled notes, lines of dialogue, bits of an outline and so on. Once I’ve everything pretty well worked out then I’ll type up a first draft and work from there on my laptop editing, rewriting and so on. There always seems to be something formal about typing it up using a screenwriting formatter whereas when the ideas are whirling about and the creative juices are flowing I prefer the more casual feel of scribbled notes on paper.

When it comes to proof reading and doing in depth rewrites I also like to start with a printed copy that I can scribble all over. I find it easier to miss things proof reading on a screen and again being able to scribble all over a paper copy seems to give greater creative freedom and flexibility.

How do you find time to write?

Since leaving my previous job in 2009 I tend to work around my kids school times and wife’s working hours. It gives me a fairly predictable and stable five hours in the morning and if necessary three or four hours late at night when everyone else has gone to bed. It does require some self-discipline not to get side tracked into wasting valuable writing time on social media, surfing the web or doing routine tasks like admin or e-mails or even tidying the house.

I also snatch little bits of time to scribble when I’m flying, relaxing by the pool on holiday, sitting in cafés and so on. There are always little windows of opportunity that pop up especially if an idea suddenly occurs to you or takes on a life of its own. You have to scribble things down before the short term memory loses them.

However when I was working as a manager in a large hi-tech plant it was very difficult to find sufficient time. My job was so intense and demanding that it was difficult to find spare time to do anything and when I finished work I was often so exhausted I wasn’t capable of writing anything worthwhile. I think I only averaged maybe a couple of afternoon or mornings a week then if I was lucky. It was very difficult to maintain any kind of meaningful flow. Now, however, my work rate is easily ten times that and the last few years have been much more productive.

How many screenplays have you written?

Three features (plus two more I know I need to rip apart and rebuild), sixteen shorts ranging from 8 to 35 pages / minutes (six are really half hour dramas), two one-hour TV dramas and a partly written sitcom. I also have scores of ideas folders with partly written scenes, openings, endings, dialogue exchanges, outlines, character bios and miscellaneous bits of screen stories.

As well as these I have written a book called ‘Short Films: Writing the Screenplay’ launched in 2012 at a panel event in RADA in London and published by Kamera Books as part of their Creative Essentials series. I have written a crime novel adaptation of this same winning script ‘Murder in the Lakelands’ with the backing of the local Arts Council. It’s currently undergoing a final polish before going off to my agent, Julian Friedmann, and hopefully a lot of publishers. I’m also beginning work shortly on a second novel; a crime thriller called ‘The Trapdoor Spider’ which is also based on one of my screen stories which was a finalist at Euroscript in 2008 and which has also recently won an Arts Council Award.

I’ve written and directed some short films, made a music video and worked on a range of films and visual works with the local film centre and I’m also on the short film selection panel and juries at the Oscar accredited Foyle Film Festival.

Because of the success of my Short Films book I have also been a guest lecturer at the University of Ulster’s MA in Screenwriting, at the Nerve Centre film centre in Derry and also recently spent a week in Moscow at the Kultburo Film Lab helping up and coming Russian short filmmakers develop their scripts.

My screenplays have been award winners, finalists or runners up in thirteen international screenplay competitions over the last four years as well as picking up more than twenty other semi- and quarter-finalist results. I’ve been an award winner at the Page Awards in Hollywood and the Colorado Film Awards and have also won two Arts Council NI Awards and a City & Guilds Lion Award and Medal of Excellence for my work on a one year film and video course at the Nerve Centre in Derry (my home town in Northern Ireland) and of course I’m now a winner of the Shoreline Scripts screenplay competition as well!

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

I was on a weekend break to the Manor House Hotel on the banks of Lower Lough Erne in the Fermanagh Lakelands in February 2008, not far from where the recent G8 Summit was held. One evening there was a glorious sunset and I happened to be standing at the end of a jetty in the hotel’s marina looking out across the lake. Far out across the lake I noticed this lone fisherman sitting in his little rowing boat sized motor boat. He was perfectly silhouetted against the orange red glow of the setting sun as it reflected on the lake and it occurred to me that it would make a great opening image or shot for a film.

I wondered what kind of film it would be and as I’m a big fan of film noir I decided it had to be a noir. As I watched I suddenly imagined a body surfacing right alongside his boat to the shock of the fisherman. By page two we discover that in fact the fisherman is the murderer and he’d been trying unsuccessfully to sink the body. I thought it would make a nice opening hook.

From there I asked myself a series of questions. Who is the fisherman? Who is the body? Why did he kill him? How is he going to get rid of it now? Will he get away with it and so on? From there the story grew into a classic noir tale with a femme fatale, police investigators, murder in dark places and a lot of twists and turns, sex and violence, treachery and betrayal all inevitably leading to a violent climax with another twist. It was very much about the characters, their flaws, motives and duplicitous behaviour and whether they would get away with it.

I also put a lot of emphasis on the emotional disintegration of the key murderer and the threat posed by his increasing instability as the story progressed. He increasingly becomes a threat not only to himself but also to the police and femme fatale. The femme fatale would of course have her own agenda which she’d pursue using a mixture of Machiavellian cunning and sultry sexuality. I felt it created a witches brew of conflict that would hold the reader’s and audience’s interest until it explodes in the dramatic climax.

How long did it take to write?

Initially the idea stayed largely in my head until a few months later in April 2008 when I attended a weekend workshop on writing short films at the Creative Writer’s Network in Belfast. During the course we were asked to pitch an idea for a short film and I remembered my fisherman and sunset opening. I pitched it along with enough of a story to make a short. The idea was still quite undeveloped at that stage with a very different ending but the hook got a positive response and afterwards I decided to write it down. It evolved over the following week into a half hour drama which I called ‘Gone Fishing’.

I tried this short version in a few short screenplay competitions with little result so I stuck it away in a folder and pretty much forgot about it. But the image and idea stuck with me and over the following 18 months I found myself repeatedly taking the folder out and adding more and more scribbled notes to it – little ideas for extra scenes, twists, lines of dialogue, things about the characters and so on.

In November 2009 I noticed the BBC’s Tony Doyle Awards screenplay competition and I thought about entering. At first I procrastinated because I was busy with other things and also attending the Foyle Film Festival where I was involved with the shorts competition. I left the closing night party at a local hotel at about three in the morning and woke hung over that same Sunday dinner time.

I somehow got the idea into my head that I was going to enter that BBC competition no matter what but the deadline was that following Friday!  I decided I’d enter my Fermanagh story into it but at that stage I had only the 30 page short script and a handful of scribbled notes.  I needed a ninety page feature script so I wrote around the clock, night and day, and somehow finished the renamed script just in time. It was now called ‘Murder in the Lakelands’ and I had barely time to print and proof read it before sending it off by express mail to London on the Thursday afternoon. It made the deadline by the skin of its teeth and months later ended up being one of the seven finalists. So in effect it was written in just 5 days.

Subsequently I received great feedback on it from Sarah Stack, one of the competition organisers and a senior script editor with the BBC at a four day BBC residential at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan. I also received feedback on it from Ursula Devine, development co-ordinator at Northern Ireland Screen, and from Fenella Greenfield of Euroscript  and I did several rewrites based on that taking it to 99 pages then 106 pages and finally to its current length. It picked up other results at competitions such as Scriptapalooza in America and the Amsterdam Film Festival and then I had the idea of turning it into a crime novel after listening to my agent talk at the London Screenwriters Festival.

He said that writers should think of themselves primarily as storytellers and there was no reason why a story worked out and told in one format could not be told in another if the writer had the talent and ability to adapt to the requirements of a different medium.  This is now complete and going through its final polish before sending to publishers.

It’s had an interesting journey from that first sunset on the shores of Lower Lough Erne to winning at a competition ironically called Shoreline as well!

What do you enjoy most about writing?

The excitement of seeing a story coming together and really working. I love the feeling when the characters seem to come to life in your head and almost take on a life and momentum of their own. It becomes so easy to write then and everything just seems to flow and the page count quickly racks up. Then it almost feels as if you’re an audience member discovering the story for the first time as well.

I also enjoy the feeling of creating a world and story that people will hopefully enjoy watching or reading down the line. It’s a very creative endeavour and also has the added benefit of being a job I love where you’re also your own boss (at least at the first draft stage) and you can pick your own hours or working methods.

Another extremely enjoyable moment is seeing actors stand your work up for the first time and seeing them breathe life into characters that were previously just words on a page or an idea in your head. When it works it’s an exhilarating feeling.

What do you struggle with the most?

Procrastination and distractions; juggling multiple projects at once and deciding what to cut when editing and rewriting; especially when deciding to kill off favourite scenes or lines of dialogue.

I always tend to work on more than one thing at a time. Most of the time it works but occasionally there seems to be a clash when everything demands your attention at once. For example, currently, I’m doing that final polish on the Murder in the Lakelands novel; doing preparatory work for my next novel, ‘The Trapdoor Spider’; working on a treatment and application for an Irish Film Board development scheme; preparing a series of workshops based on my ‘Short Films: Writing the Screenplay’ book and of course writing this. I also hope in the near future to do extensive rewrites on two of my feature screenplays that I now feel need a lot of additional work.

Not surprisingly it can also be difficult balancing that workload with a family, domestic or social life and even harder convincing people that writing is actually your job!

I also find writing treatments a struggle but I’ve since discovered just how beneficial they are. It’s really worthwhile taking the time to stick at it and get them right before writing. It seems to make the writing process that follows so much easier.

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

Yes and no. It’s something of a Catch 22. Everybody in the industry says they want to find new voices and exciting new material and writers (and I’m sure they mean it) but very few want to take the risk of staking their careers and company’s money on being the first to go with them.  It’s perfectly understandable from their point of view of course. A lot is at stake if it all goes pear shape but careers and reputations are made (and big profits too) when it does all come together and produces one of those surprise hits.

I think it’s all about taking a risk. Writers have to take risks and I think producers and studios / broadcasters need to take risks too. Sometimes it seems as if it’s the little Indies or the mavericks who take the bulk of the creative risks, who ‘discover’ the new talent, rather than the bigger broadcasters or companies.  I think the bigger entities need to find ways to manage that risk – some system that allows them to find and nurture new talent without necessarily risking the family jewels if it doesn’t work out. It also needs to find a way to financially support that new talent as it grows otherwise it won’t survive long enough to produce the hoped for success. Many a promising talent has fallen by the wayside and gone elsewhere because of the need to put food on the table. Finding and nurturing new talent will always involve risk but playing it safe all the time will only lead to creative stagnation.

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

I tend to put more effort into networking than blindly sending material out with query letters etc. I find personal contacts work better and I’ve found attending things like the annual London Screenwriters Festival very useful. I make a point of meeting and chatting to as many people as I can, exchanging business cards and keeping in contact with people I’ve met whether by e-mail or through social media. Building contacts, relationships and networking do work. It helps people to get to know you and what you do.

Most of the things I got came by developing these kinds of links. Building writing credits and getting noticed through competitions and awards also helps to raise your profile and helps when applying to agencies, funders and so on. It gives you a track record and they can see you’re serious about your business. Personally I’m sceptical that a lot of material sent via query letters and so on actually gets read properly or read by the right people if it’s read at all. Many agencies and companies are swamped with material which can lie in a big anonymous pile. It’s much more effective if they can put a face and personality to it, especially if they know they asked you personally to see the script because of a personal conversation at an industry event.

Of course networking takes time, skill and typically an extrovert’s mind-set and you do have to spend money to go to festivals (especially if they’re abroad) or to sign up for the kind of events where you’ll meet the kind of industry people you want to meet. Furthermore, not everyone has the social skills or indeed brass neck to ‘work the room’ and make the best use of the opportunities available but if you can then I think you’ll find you’ll reap the benefit.

For example, becoming a finalist at the BBC’s Tony Doyle Awards with the earlier version of this ‘Murder in the Lakelands’ script, led me to a four day BBC sponsored residential in the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and to making a series of contacts including ones with Northern Ireland Screen. In turn those contacts at NI Screen led to me being sponsored to the first London Screenwriters Festival in 2010. In turn that got me an agent, a book deal for writing my ‘Short Films: Writing the Screenplay’ book and a lot of other contacts and ideas which in turn led me to my Arts Council Awards and my first novel.

Publishing the book got me lecturing work on screenwriting at a range of venues as well as doing a panel event in RADA. Additionally contacts I made at that first LSF who were now working with a screenplay consultancy in Madrid recommended me to the Russian organisers of the Kultburo Film Lab in Moscow when they were looking for people to help their short filmmakers develop their scripts. That got me a well-paid week of work with all expenses paid and a great opportunity to see Moscow. Every door that opens, every contact or opportunity that you find leads to work and to another door and another opportunity. Networking is vital, it’s part of the business side of show business that I mentioned earlier. Seize every opportunity you get and make the most of it.

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

At first I was quite calm at the quarter finals stage because this same script had done well elsewhere like the BBC’s Tony Doyle Awards or Scriptapalooza and a number of other competitions so I half expected it might make the Quarter-Finals okay but when it got to the Semi’s the excitement certainly built. When it made the Final Five I was delighted especially because of the calibre of the judges who’d now be reading them. Then to have to wait on the final ordering was a nail biter especially when the date of the announcement was postponed from the 31st Aug to 2nd Sept. In my mind I’d convinced myself it wouldn’t win because I knew some of the other scripts on the list had done well before and the competition was really stiff so when I saw the final announcement I was over the moon.  Many thanks to all concerned.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I saw it mentioned almost simultaneously on one of Shooting People.Org’s online newsletters, a Screenwriting Goldmine e-mail and a Facebook message from Lucy V Hay’s website and soon after on MovieBtyes.Com. I’m on circulation lists for a lot of different online writing and industry groups.

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

Obviously to have the screenplay produced and to have it do well and I’d also like my book version of the same story to be published and do equally well. My feeling is that success in one format could help stimulate and reinforce success in the other. I’m also hopeful that the recent success of Nordic Noir films and television series not to mention books has put film noir firmly back on the agenda as far as popular film genres go. I’d be hopeful that that would help increase interest in my ‘Murder in the Lakelands’ story. I’d also like for it to be filmed where the story is based in the picturesque Fermanagh Lakelands. It’s a contemporary crime story set in Northern Ireland that is not a troubles story. The film industry has recently been having a lot of success here and building a strong infrastructure and technical support base and I’d love to see my film added to that list.

As for my future career, I very much want to continue writing not just screenplays for both film and television but also to continue adapting some of my stories into novels and to have them successfully published. I feel I’ve enough material and ideas to keep me busy for years to come.

I’d also like to produce and direct some of my own short screenplays (I have at least four in mind) when I get the chance and if they’re successful and I enjoy the filming experience I’d maybe even consider moving into the area of low budget features. But that is probably a few years off yet.

I also intend to further develop my short film book into a series of workshops and seminars and hope to deliver them at a variety of venues initially around Ireland but maybe later abroad.

Although I’ve had a degree of success over the last few years I very much feel I’m still just getting going and slowly building up a head of steam. I’ve a lot of projects on the go that I hope will come to fruition in the next few years. I look forward to more success and seeing some of my projects on screen. ‘Onwards and upwards’ as the saying goes.


ONCE IN ROYAL BRADFORD CITY by MATTHEW COOMBES

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I first became interested in screenwriting whilst working as an actor in my mid-twenties.  I started out writing for radio drama for the BBC with a view to moving into film as a number of my favourite writers had done, such as Lee Hall and Anthony Minghella.

How long have you been writing for?

I’ve been writing, very much on and off, for fifteen years.

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

When I am writing a script I try to keep a fairly rigid routine.  I’ve found that I work best early in the morning, so like to be writing by 6.00am for roughly three or four hours with breaks and then another couple of hours in the afternoon.

How do you find time to write?

It’s difficult and depends what my work situation is like but, as above, going to bed early and waking up early really helps to carve out productive hours in the day…if making you socially a tad boring.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

The inspiration is really from memories of my own childhood (not that I’m really anything like the young boy in my film) and the music I remember from going to church as a small boy.

How long did it take to write?

It took me about four months.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Writing the first draft, when you realise that the story is working.

What do you struggle with the most?

My only real struggle is with the industry itself and being read.

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing?

I’m not sure if the industry does embrace new writing talent in comparison say to the theatre but competitions like Shoreline are a great help.

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

I have found it extremely hard to get my work out there and read…and I’m one of the lucky ones with an agent.

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

It was progressively more exciting each time as I passed through the rounds.  Becoming one of the winners was great.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

Interestingly, I found out about the competition from one of last year’s winners, Amanda Duke, who I know from the school gates.

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

My goal is to get this script optioned and produced.  As for any future career, I just want to be in a position where I can continue to write.


GET ME THIS WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE by PEARSE LEHANE

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

There wasn’t a “silver bullet” moment. That said, I do remember watching lots of black and white movies during the era when BBC2 would randomly show “Key Largo” at three o’clock in the afternoon, or “Angels With Dirty Faces” or a Marx Brothers feature or collection of Harold Lloyd or Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello shorts (I believe it was during a time now known as the 1980’s). The lack of sunlight and meaningful human contact made me wonder how films were really made. And if Superman and Humphrey Bogart had a fight, who would win? No, really.

How long have you been writing for?

When I think back to being a nipper, playing and writing was often the same thing. I was totally into the Asterix the Gaul comics, and I remember drawing new characters into the picture frames beside Asterix and Obelix. Initially my (sacrilegious, stick-man) additions just stood there, observing the main actors. Later, I would add speech bubbles and have them talk to the background characters (especially in the really big set-piece frames – like for a battle or a feast). I remember it being really difficult to think of something for my guys to say that wouldn’t seem totally out of context when set against the midpoint crisis of the second act. That’s right. Another childhood destroyed by Robert McKee.

Do you have a routine that you stick to?

When I’m writing full time I keep business hours, 9-5.

How do you find time to write?

This is the hard part.

How many screenplays have you written?

Get Me This William Shakespeare is my third screenplay. The mistakes I made in the first two, blisteringly painful as they were, kept me honest third time round.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

I was working with an exec on a drama project who had never heard of Dostoevsky, or his novel “Crime and Punishment”. I’d made the mistake of telling her a character in the script had been named after Porfiry, the detective in C&P. The result of my telling her about Porfiry was her having a minor freak-out about rights issues (a moot point in any event as common names aren’t copyright protected). To get out of embarrassing her on her double faux pas, I suggested to her that I email Dostoevsky’s agent to get the OK on our using the name Porfiry. She made me promise to get the permission in writing from Dostoevsky himself – and not just the agent. I said I thought that was an excellent suggestion, and promised her I would do just that. The upshot was, she never asked me about it again. The incident made me wonder who else she didn’t know existed, and from there I got to Get Me This William Shakespeare.

How long did it take to write?

The first draft took two months – full time, Mon to Fri, 9-5. There’s been an additional two and a bit months in fits and spurts with rewrites and polishes. Five months all told is probably no lie.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

My grandmother said there are only three types of job in the world: the job you do standing up, the job you do sitting down and the job you do on your back. Writers sit down.

What do you struggle with the most?

Not only do you have to grind the meat and make the sausage, you then have to go out and sell the sausage. I hate selling the sausage.

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

It always has and it always will.

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

My experience has been that it’s very, very difficult to get a response from production companies and/or agents.

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

In the following order: nervous, disbelieving, ecstatic.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

A man called Google told me.

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

In a click my heels three times and think of Kansas way – I’d die happy if Jack Nicholson played Harvey Steinwein in Get Me This William Shakespeare. While we’re on the subject, can Anne Hathaway please play the femme fatale Clara Day – and Ryan Gosling, you’re our hero, Walt Werth. 


NIKI SWEET TALK MOVES by DANA MYSKOWSKI

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I wrote an unpublished YA novel that I saw cinematically unfold in my head. I researched how to write a screenplay, and I adapted the story; it was my first unskilled attempt at screenwriting. About a year after that, I took classes via UCLA’s Professional Programs in Screenwriting Online.

How long have you been writing for?

Since I was four; my mother still has my first poem–something about a cat, I think, for Halloween, though I recall more of the snowmen poem I wrote for Christmas that year.

Do you keep to a routine?

I used to, especially in grad school a few years ago. I’d wake at 4:00 a.m. and write for two hours daily; then I’d take care of getting my kids off to school or ready for homeschool lessons, and finally I’d tackle my other homework and try to weave in a bit more writing time. I’ve been out of my writing routine for the past two years due to a prolonged illness; now I write whenever I can.

How do you find time to write?

I schedule it into my to-do list, or else snatch the time when I can. When my kids were young, it was the wee hours of the night. My daughter awoke at 3 a.m. for years; I’d get us each a snack and we’d head to my office where she “worked” on her coloring and I wrote. She’d fall asleep on the cot I kept there, and I’d get a couple great quiet hours to write.

How many screenplays have you written?

I’ve written almost 20 feature scripts, teleplays for a couple dramas, a handful of sitcoms, and more than 20 short screenplays. I’ve also written numerous industrials for companies and nonprofit organizations.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

I’d been hired by our local planetarium, which is now known as the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, to write a 45-minute screenplay about global climate change for a junior high audience. I interviewed numerous scientists and ended up with heaps of notes. Some of my extra notes have seeped into two different screenplays, including this one.

How long did it take to write?

As my thesis project for my MFA in Creative Writing/Screenwriting at Goddard College, I wrote the first two drafts over the course of a semester, staged a reading and critique at residency, and revised the drafts, ultimately turning in about the fifth to seventh draft of the screenplay to graduate a semester later. That draft was stage read before an audience at the University of New Hampshire, where I am an adjunct professor. Afterward, the script went through a few more revisions before I submitted the current version to Shoreline Scripts.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Meeting new characters and inventing new worlds, then getting to know my characters on a deeply personal level as their stories unfold. I’m never lonely when I’m alone writing.

What do you struggle with the most?

Currently, due to my long illness, I cannot concentrate as long as I used to, though with therapy, holistic treatments, prescriptions, and a new diet and daily regimen that includes yoga and now Qigong, I am regaining my strength and cognition skills. I’ve actually recently written another BBC-style sit com episode for a series I developed with a team, and am ready to dive into a feature project that a friend and colleague has asked me to consider co-writing with him.

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

The film industry is in a state of flux. If you’re referring to the old Hollywood system, I’d say no way, or at least on a very limited basis. However, with new technologies for both creation and distribution, there are a wealth of opportunities for new writers in the growing indy market. The one obstacle though is funding. Not everyone can find the necessary funding through traditional channels. Supportive audience members can help fund many projects via the crowd-funding sites, but not all of the projects that are out there will find the necessary funds.

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

Yes and no. I’ve found different outlets that have been helpful, and I’ve run into obstacles such as friends of friends who are too polite to tell me they don’t care for my writing…and then a couple years later I find out from their former assistant who becomes an agent. In that instance she loved my writing and eagerly repped me, though we had little success as a team. I had one big-budget script optioned, only to see it fall apart when the financiers backed out. That was a sad day for all of us; even the costumer had begun designing the pirate costumes.

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

It felt good. It’s always nice to be validated. I like my writing, but I’m too close to it to be objective, so it was thrilling when my screenplay made it all the way to the Top Five. The experience has actually opened up a new screenplay that I am beginning to outline; I hope to submit it to next year’s Shoreline Scripts competition.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

Probably on Withoutabox, though I’m not certain where I first heard of it two years ago. Last year another script I wrote, “My Father’s Dairy,” made it to the next-to-last round. I was determined to make it to the Top Five this year.

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

I’d love to see this script filmed, but realistically, I’m not sure it will happen since it’s a bigger budget, especially if it’s filmed in Nunavut, Canada, where the majority of it is set. Otherwise, I hope that this level of success will help me in chatting with producers who may like my writing style and want me to pen something in collaboration with them, or want to see something else I’ve written. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and working with my university students and with the teens I mentor; one of my teens and I wrote a historical comedy stage play that we’re hoping to see produced locally next February on the 100th anniversary of the historical figure’s death. Eventually, if I get well enough, I’d like to produce my own feature film; I’ve produced short films, and that would be the logical next step in my career.

Thank you!


BLAST by JUSTICE WHITAKER

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

It took me awhile; after editing, doing sound work, and mostly shooting movies and tons of photographs, to realize that what I love most about the entire filmmaking process is actually the story. The adventure, or interwoven nature between characters. More than directing or any other part of the creative process it’s that initial spark of the screenplay in which I feel the most free to work.

How long have you been writing for?

I wrote many projects coming through film school and several short films after, so almost 10 years. But “blast.” my first feature was written in 2010, and I have been taking things much more seriously as a writer opposed to directing and cinematography since then.

Do you have a routine that you stick to?

I have some routines, but not necessarily writing every day. Each script or project idea has a specific process that I step through, which usually enjoys toying with the idea in my head for several years before I even start outlining and eventually writing. This allows me to really be retelling a story that I know already… because I wrote in my head years ago.

How do you find time to write?

Usually I write the first draft of a screenplay in a week. It may be several months of pre-production, outlining, character profiling, and research but when it comes time for the story to manifest it happens rather quickly. So that means between teaching semesters or shooting larger pictures – its not that hard to block out one week of 52 once the time is right and the idea is ripe.

How many screenplays have you written?

“Blast.” Is my first feature screenplay.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

“Blast.” is a story that is specifically woven from 3 specific times in my life. What gave me the inspiration directly was I wanted to create a story that would capture my experience as a public school teacher in Brooklyn NY. Then I set it against 2002 which was my first year in NYC, and the political climate just 9 months after 9/11/2001 was still thick enough to cut with a knife. And lastly I combined those times in NYC with my own HS experience – which was nothing like what Mr. Marino creates in “Blast.”, but I do remember being a little blossoming Activist mostly through organizations outside of school, and I wanted to make a story about inner city High School the way it should be. Each of the students is directly inspired by a real student I have taught in my life, with generous artistic license of course.

How long did it take to write?

Again, The actual writing of the screenplay was about 10 days. Before that I workshopped the story scene by scene for about 4 months with two close colleagues and artists who I have known since childhood.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Limitless. Although I am strong with visual images, visual art and cinematography, my words have always been my greatest strength. Therefore the blank page feels limitless, more than any other medium.

What do you struggle with the most?

Knowing when the research and planning is done, and it is time to write. I am always eager to start writing but also always feel a little underprepared, until I start, and then I know that my imagination is truly ready and in control of the process.

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

I think there is plenty of new talent, and almost no new ideas. Plenty of new stories but nothing that is controversial, cutting edge, or drives us to truly look off the screen at the world around us. When they do its usually excused through the guise of history, or regurgitated from previous successes.

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

To be honest I haven’t tried too much. Shoreline was in a batch of about 4 competitions in which I entered my screenplay. Before that I was mostly focusing on submitting completed films. I know this is an uphill battle, but I have faith in myself and the quality of the stories that I hope to tell that people will continue to pay attention to my work. I think getting agency representation for this will be key. Its time for a new era of cutting age writing on the silver screen. I hope to bring that forth.

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

Obviously I was hoping to earn a higher ranking than 5th, and the process was nerve racking – but in the end, and even throughout the process it felt redeeming. Writing is a job that is only really rewarding in one way…. some publication of your work. Or at least a nod to its deserving such. Shoreline has driven me to push “Blast.” further out into the world and to start working on my 2nd independent feature script.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I heard about Shoreline Scripts through Withoutabox, but I was specifically drawn to enter it because of the UK base of the competition. I believe Americans and Brits differ quite a bit about how we view politics, and especially how open we are about them, this script is controversial and timeless – I thought a British Audience may appreciate the story’s bluntness a little more.

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

I am hoping this script will help me get representation. I believe it has great potential as a 4 Quadrant film that will be attractive to audiences around the world who are concerned with the War on Terror and how it might affect them.