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2014 – Feature Winners Interviews

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Contest. Screenplay Contests

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

When I was growing up in North Wales I was pretty much an aimless little drifter who wasn’t really good at anything except reading and drawing (which was a delicious escape from the tedium of school and being a teenager in the welsh countryside). It’s easy to slip through the cracks in the comprehensive school system there. But then, at the age of 14, I entered a GCSE English class which was helmed by a tiny ferocious little welsh woman who loved her subject so passionately it was a real call to arms. I already loved reading, but her enthusiasm encouraged me to challenge myself to write too. I remember getting a B-minus on my first assignment and being utterly crushed. I spent hours poring over the next assignment, on George Bernard Shaw’s view of war in “Arms and the Man”, and got an A. It was a tiny insignificant moment on one level, but it was the first time I realised I might be good at something.

From there it was a somewhat circuitous route to writing feature length screenplays. I was lucky enough to study Fine Art at Oxford University– making experimental films and videos. You have to be either blissfully ignorant or have balls of steel to want to be an artist when you’re not from a wealthy family. I was the former. I loved my time at Oxford, but after I left I found more pleasure and success in making documentaries. Art, at that time, was very anti-narrative and I thrived on the discipline of crafting a tangible story and engaging with issues. I made two micro-budget documentaries– one about the effects of occupation upon access to healthcare in Palestine, and one about the effects of the separation barrier upon life in a tiny isolated village (both premiered at Sheffield International Docfest). I also made a number of smaller pieces on different subjects such as Zimbabwean refugees in London, the exodus of British creatives to Berlin, the bloggers getting book deals craze, a band on tour… It became just a job though, and very formulaic. After a time I found I didn’t have the freedom or money to investigate and pursue the subjects I was truly passionate about. It was a natural progression to writing screenplays because I started to write the stories I wanted to realise as films. I needed help however, and I got it in the form of a Fulbright scholarship that took me to Columbia University in New York to study for an MFA in writing and directing. It was there that I learned how to develop and write a feature length script. I wrote two extremely messy ones, and then in my final 3 months I wrote the first draft of Little House.

How long have you been writing for? 

I’ve been writing screenplays since 2008, but before that I wrote comment pieces for the Guardian, articles for Filmwaves magazine, short scripts (some of which I turned into short films) and short stories that only lived inside notebooks.

Do you keep to a routine?

I had a wonderfully indulgent routine the last 4 or 5 months I was a student in 2010– working as a teaching assistant 3 mornings and 3 afternoons a week, writing the rest of the time, with yoga and capoeira a few evenings a week.

After I left my MFA I returned to the UK for two and a half years and struggled to establish, let alone maintain, a routine. It took me a long time to find a job, and when I did it was in the middle of nowhere, badly paid and unstable. Instability and unhappiness is anathema to writing– at least for me. With a small amount of funding I managed to write two more feature screenplays in that time, but I didn’t enjoy the development process at all. I had too much contradictory feedback and it confused me– I stopped writing for myself and found I was writing for other people. I finally managed to get a job that dragged me to London, to write and eventually direct a short film that was produced in 2013 with Parkville Pictures and Film Agency Wales (it premiered at Palm Springs this year) and to rewrite Little House. I’m still trying to establish a routine however!

How do you find time to write?

Now I live in New York where my husband is a medical student and my ‘routine’ is very strange. I work for perhaps 4-6 weeks at a time, for an average of 65 hours a week, as a script supervisor on feature films, then I write when I have time off. It’s not ideal because when your whole life is given over to a feature film, your time off needs to accommodate the million everyday errands you have been neglecting. It can be an interesting job though. I get to work directly alongside directors and consult on their decisions, I keep track of continuity across the entire film– in terms of narrative, action, wardrobe, hair and makeup, screen direction, and camera angles, I’ve worked with some fantastic actors (Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Oliver Platt, Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman, Matt Mcgorry and a number of wonderful as-yet-unknown but yet-to-be-knowns) and amazing crew. We have more responsibility than most people would give us credit for. For example, if the director or DP doesn’t have as much experience as the script supervisor, then it’s up to us to guide them, remind them of the basic rules of filmmaking and make sure no major screw-ups are made. Yet script supervisors are very often demeaned and called ‘scripty’ (please don’t do that, we all have names). You meet a lot of people, learn a lot about filmmaking, and it makes you more empathetic to crew. But it’s time-consuming, stressful and exhausting. I’ve managed to write the first draft of a TV drama pilot since I moved and started script supervising nearly a year ago, and I’m looking forward to some dark, cold January days holed away indoors to hopefully whip it into shape.

How many screenplays have you written?

I’ve written 5 feature screenplays, an original drama pilot and a spec script for an existing show. I’d say 4 of the features were just learning experiences and I don’t have immediate plans to develop them further or to show them to anyone. I have to fall in love with the project, and you can easily write yourself out of love with a story– particularly if you’re not careful about whom you allow to give you feedback at the embryonic stage. But I don’t think anything is wasted. A character, a scene or an idea can resurface in another project. I wrote Little House entirely for myself, with some very gentle and careful guidance on the first draft from my wonderful Columbia mentor Trey Ellis.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

Whenever anyone asks where the idea came from my kneejerk reaction is to try to scrape together some autobiographical relationship with the subject matter as if that somehow legitimises the script… But I don’t think it has to, and in this case there isn’t actually anything tangible beyond the setting and the gender of the protagonist. I wanted to write a small, domestic, teen drama about an outsider, and set in the Welsh countryside where I grew up. Almost every teenager feels like an outsider, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me to put myself in the same headspace as Mali. I had a tough time in high school too, but Mali is smarter and more determined than I was, even though her situation so much more extreme. I’m not a traveller, but I researched the characters by going to speak to some of the lovely women who work at The Traveller Movement and asking their advice and thoughts (they were very happy to tell me when they thought an idea stunk). Essentially I wanted to write a script that I could realistically direct on a small budget… therefore it had to be small in scale. That being the only limitation was quite liberating in a way. I was able to indulge my own passions– small communities, the relationship between mother and daughter, first love, feeling like an outsider, prejudice, the welsh countryside, comprehensive school, instability, the social welfare system…

How long did it take to write?

I wrote the first draft over 4 months in 2010. Then for various legal and personal reasons I put the script down until December 2013 when it was one of ten feature scripts selected to participate in the inaugural welsh micro-budget feature emerging talent scheme Cinematic. I redrafted the script pretty quickly– over approximately 4 weeks– and this was the version that went to Shore scripts.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Writing is so damned hard. Coming up with an idea is easy, coming up with a good idea is tough, and following through and developing that good idea is even tougher. My favourite part is those rare moments when you lose yourself in a scene and start really having fun and you can see the images and hear the voices clearly in your head as you write, then you look up and hours have gone by. I wish it happened more often.

What do you struggle with the most?

Money. Ha. I’m only half-joking. I wish I had more money and therefore free time to write (and to spend more time doing yoga and training capoeira too). But the actual writing process is a challenge too. I think plot is my nemesis. I love words and dialogue and relationships, but bringing them together with a strong narrative that drives the story forward is challenging.

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

It’s really hard to break into film and TV in the UK or the US, particularly if you don’t have financial backing for the years it can take to build a portfolio of work that will get you in front of the relevant people. So many ‘opportunities’, even the ones from major organisations, are low-paid or unpaid. It’s acceptable for a major broadcaster to pay less than minimum wage, or even nothing, for a writer to come up with pitches and develop ideas and even write entire scripts. It’s exclusionary, it’s wrong, and I have personally been burned by it. And whilst twenty years ago it was unacceptable to assume a doctor would necessarily be male, today most references to screenwriters and directors use the male pronoun, and articles about filmmaking generally feature images of men. The entertainment industry is way behind other industries in terms of the gender, economic and ethnic barriers that still exist. It’s a simple fact that most film and TV in the UK and US is produced, written by and directed by men of a certain ethnicity and social class. More public funding for short and feature length films goes to male-dominated projects, and most short and feature length films screened at festivals are written by, directed by and produced by men. What can we do to change it? I don’t know. Talk about it. Work really hard to make excellent work, go and see films made by women, lobby for film festivals to show more short and feature films by women, lobby for public funds to be allocated more equally between genders, and try to prove that female-helmed work has an audience too.

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

It’s particularly hard to get a coming-of-age drama screenplay out there because:

1). There are a lot of them so you’re asking execs to bother to separate the wheat from the chaff, and, 2). There’s usually no money in a small-scale domestic drama, so even if an exec of producer loved it, they would be wary of taking on a project that is statistically unlikely to make money.

There are, however, ‘emerging talent’ schemes out there that are designed to support scripts and projects of this scale… but I feel that the UK in general is very reticent to take chances on new talent, particularly female, and that this is an unconscious prejudice. They need someone or something fairly major to give their seal of approval before they’ll dive in and support a project, which is why you’re likely to see public film funds allocated to the same people over and over, or to famous actors turned writers and directors, or writers and directors who have already found success in TV or in Theatre– despite the fact these are all very different disciplines. In the US, where there is very little public funding, it’s all about hustling and bringing on board private investors. I think that’s possibly why, in general, low-budget filmmaking is more successful in the US. The writer-directors out there are taking chances on passion projects that execs would run screaming from in the UK. And these US filmmakers are able to do it because they don’t rely on the public purse-string system curating their output. The irony is that when a weird and unique US indie film is a success, it then becomes a point of reference for the UK execs.

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

I liked it a lot. I didn’t expect to win. I’ve been shortlisted for a few things, but I had to get used to coming second. Winning is really weird– it’s both amazing and embarrassing because I really don’t like being the centre of attention and I feel kind of a tool for telling people about it, but then I want to let them know that I don’t suck. And that’s the nature of working in film I guess.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I can’t remember how I learned about shore scripts. Probably via a friend posting something on facebook or twitter.

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

I want to direct Little House myself. I’m ready. I’ve spent a long time developing it, I’ve made short films on practically no budget, I’ve script-supervised numerous indie features and so unlike most first-time feature directors, I have a lot of set experience and know first-hand the practical aspects and challenges of making a feature-length film. And I would call my script supervisor by their name. On a more general note I would love to write and direct for TV. I also want to write a novel or ten one day 🙂

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Contest. Screenplay Contests

 


What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I have had various formations of loneliness in my life. Loneliness creates boredom. Boredom creates imaginations. Quiet nights often plague the life of the lonely and the reclusive. Sometimes a film was my only friend. A chance to escape. And so an affair with celluloid dreams began.

How long have you been writing for?

Since I was seventeen. Thirteen years.

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

I write on the weekends, late at night, when the city is sleeping. Never at work. Never in a café. Only shrouded in silence in the comfort of my home.

How do you find time to write?

I do not watch television or involve myself in obligatory social outings.

How many screenplays have you written?

Ten.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

An old producer once told me that each screenplay should be better than the last. And with that I attempted to write something I had never approached before. This of course was coupled with a lack of understanding of the seed that grows inside our hearts and destroys friendships. I wanted to unearth that particular seed.

How long did it take to write?

Since 2006. Eight years. I lost the screenplay in Romania in 2009, which is another story for another day, and only had a hard copy buried somewhere at home. I forgot about it for a while and returned to the story in 2012. Losing the digital file forced me to retype the screenplay, word for word, and also forced me to discover its true imperfections and complete further drafts.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Falling in love with characters as though they were real people. And when someone produces uncontrollable emotions such as crying or laughing when reading my stories.

What do you struggle with the most?

Fear. Not believing my screenplays will ever be produced or that the ten or so years it takes to write and rewrite a screenplay will forever be a waste of time.

Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing?

Having been a finalist in three of the biggest screenwriting competitions in America with three different screenplays and being inundated with requests to read those screenplays by managers and agents, I would say yes.

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

Mentioning the screenwriting competitions in my query letters often results in having my screenplays read by the right people. But for every answered letter there are a dozen that go unanswered, lost in the ether.

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

With each stage of the competition I grew more and more excited. I often scanned the website to see my name on the list and leapt into the air. My goal was to reach the top five.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I was seeking screenplay competitions in the UK as I have always admired the British film industry. I was seeking a different opinion of my work, from a different culture and place in the world as I had only ever been exposed to readers in Hollywood. A quick search on Google yielded certain results which lead me to Shore Scripts.

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

I will continue to write and direct short films. I am currently in pre-production on a short stop-motion film with the hope of using this medium to further attract producers to my work.

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Contest. Screenplay Contests

 

 

What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I first became interested in screenwriting as a teenager making films on a camcorder in the 80’s.  I thought that it would be more beneficial to work from a script and try to tell a story instead of running around in trilby hats firing cap guns at each other on the streets of London.

How long have you been writing for?

I suppose I seriously started to write when I was studying the craft as a film student about nineteen years ago.

Do you have a routine that you stick to?

Yes, when I’m working on a project I make sure that I work for at least one hour per night even if I’m blocked up and can work well into the night.

How do you find time to write?

It can be difficult to juggle a full time job and writing especially when I find myself procrastinating before getting started although on positive side I do get a lot of housework done.

How many screenplays have you written?

To date only three, I’ve almost been obsessed with trying to write the perfect short film with the ultimate aim of getting a production company to fund it or make it myself (still working on that one).  Black Creek has been the first time I’ve shaken off the shackles and set my imagination free.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

My primary inspiration for writing it was that it was a film that I wanted to see, I love creature features and gritty westerns and wondered what a western-horror would look like.  After that many of the themes of the piece fell into place: man versus nature, the pioneering spirit of the last frontier, greed, faith and redemption.

How long did it take to write?

I’ve been working on the idea for Black Creek since 2005, but it was only after receiving some positive feedback when entering a pitch contest in 2012 through the Fresh Voices website, that I decided to develop it into a full screenplay.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I enjoy playing out each of the parts in my head when I’m writing the dialogue for the characters which is probably hiding some kind of deep rooted psychosis.

What do you struggle with the most?

I find developing characters can be difficult, trying to make them real and interesting enough for an audience to care about as well as keeping them fresh and original can be a challenge.

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

I think the industry prefers writers who are a safe pair of hands with a track record, but I understand that film making is as much a financial investment as it is an entertaining art form and as a producer you want to put your money on someone who has a bit of form.

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

To be honest I’ve not been prolific enough with my work to find this out.  I think the industry may have become more accessible with internet sites such as Pitchfest and competitions such as the Shore Screenplay Contest, but I guess networking is still the best way to get your work read.

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

How can I put it into words?  It started with a quiet stirring of satisfaction, which then developed into a simmering soup of excitement, before boiling up into a froth of anticipation and then finally erupting into a shower of joy!

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

If I remember rightly I found out about Shore Scripts on the website Done Deal, which I found through the BFI website.

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

Ultimately I would love to see Black Creek optioned and produced into a slick motion picture, which people will want to watch.  As for my future career I would like to be earning a living out of writing, with an ambition to possibly direct; I think there’s still a market for films about trilby wearing hoodlums firing cap guns at each other.

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Contest. Screenplay Contests

 


What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I have been writing ever since I was a student. My graduate thesis was an unpublished novel entitled EASTERN DRY ROCKS, then I was a technical writer, grant writer, and popular magazine writer, before I became interested in screenwriting. I have a day job as professor of English & Communication, so screenwriting was like ‘swinging for the fence.” Why not go for a HOME RUN?

How long have you been writing for?

I finished my first screenplay, HALFWAY HOME, in 2010, but I began writing shortly after a paralyzing spinal cord injury in 1971. Being a quadriplegic, I needed to find my voice. I became an English major in college, because Math & Science did not have the answers for me. I had so many great teachers and mentors, including Nobel Laureate IB Singer. I have been a professor of composition and creative writing at Miami Dade College since 1984.

Do you keep to a routine?

 Yes, teaching composition and creative writing at Miami Dade College. Five days a week.

How do you find time to write?

I steal it. In the past, I would stay up all night and write between 2am and 6am. More recently, I would get up and write between 2am and 6am. Then go to school.

How many screenplays have you written?

My six completed scripts have won 64 ‘Best’ unproduced screenplays since 2010 (IMDB). I am working on another feature, and a TV Pilot. My award winning short script, THIS MODERN MAN IS BEAT, directed by Alex Merkin, has premiered in 20 Countries and won 108 best film awards.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

My inspiration for LOST CAUSE came in a moment on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, CA. It was my first time in Los Angeles, and I had just pitched two feature screenplays, when they said, “What else do you have?” I did not have anything else, but I had been working with a group of naval architects and salvagers from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. I enjoyed their stories of salvage-at-sea. Also, I had been a member of the US Disabled Sailing Team, and my teammate was a Navy ‘Wounded Warrior’ – his specialty was Explosive Ordinance Disposal. Again, I enjoyed the stories. But it came together in a moment when I realized that the black office building across from my hotel was the set for DIE HARD.

“Die Hard-at-Sea,” I say, and after a pause they say, ”You have that script?” No, but they wanted to see me write it.

How long did it take to write?

I wrote a treatment for LOST CAUSE at the University of Miami, mentored by Paul Lazarus (ON GOLDEN POND). I used Hyperlinks for embedded technical information, and Pinterest.com to create my inspiration boards. After that, the first draft went quickly for me.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Writing.

What do you struggle with the most?

Writing.

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

I am not qualified to answer that question, but I am hoping that they do.

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

It’s not difficult getting read; there are plenty of contests out there. The difficulty is getting read by people that can move your project forward. The main reason for entering Shore Scripts was the quality of industry judges!

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

Surprised and delighted. Writing for different audiences is one of the biggest challenges. I have won honors in L.A., NYC, Amsterdam, St. Tropez, and now London!

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

I use Withoutabox.com and Moviebytes.com. Most recently, I use Filmfreeway.com too.

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

My goal for LOST CAUSE was to write an Action/Adventure, Techno/Thriller. Furthermore, I was intrigued with setting a story in the Caribbean. Done. Hope this moves me closer to representation. Next is another Caribbean thriller, HAVANA RUN.

Having a successful festival run with THIS MODERN MAN IS BEAT, my next step is finding representation and getting a feature project going. I’m hoping there is a new career for me. 

Shore Scripts Screenwriting Contest. Screenplay Contests

 


What first got you interested in screenwriting?

I fell in love with films at a young age; the earliest I can date back my conviction to be a filmmaker is fifth grade, when I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring at a local theatre.

Though my work in screenwriting has been in different genres, I think my experience with that film encapsulates everything I try to do as a screenwriter: I want an audience to be fully immersed in a story and to live in the world it presents.

How long have you been writing for?

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; I’ve been seriously pursuing screenwriting for two years.

Do you have a routine that you stick to?

Something like that. I like to write on weekends for long stretches at a time. This gives me time to gestate during the week and to let my mind work behind the scenes on storytelling issues. I like to know what scene I am writing next and then sort of meditate on the best way to write it, and what possibilities it can open up. Then I race to get all my ideas down on the weekend.

How do you find time to write?

I have to!

Honestly, at this point in my life, I need to write like I need to eat, sleep and exercise. If I’m not doing it with regularity, it is unhealthy.

How many screenplays have you written?

One—this one.  I’m currently working on my second.

What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?

I wrote a short screenplay a couple of years ago called “Nothing to be Done”. The protagonist was based on Samuel Beckett and it was a highly fictionalized and sensationalized version of his time in the French Resistance: it had him writing and performing a prototypical “Waiting For Godot” for his fellow resistance fighters while they plotted to blow up a train. It was fast, fun and highly satisfying, and when I finished an idea grew in my mind to make it one of three chapters in a larger film about the final days of the occupation of France.

The idea began to morph after a while, and I began to think more about the character of Sam’s sidekick, Prudent, who, before the war, was a flat-out violent criminal. But the war and the circumstances he found himself in turned him into something of a hero: in fact, the very skills that made him a criminal in the past were the same things that made a hero as a resistance fighter.

This seemed to get at an important theme for me: how a crisis, like a war, can take a person and change the way we look at them, and change the way they look at themselves. This is on a societal level and an individual level.

The other characters, such as Brandt the Gestapo Officer and Claude the child, were born from exploring other aspects of this theme.

How long did it take to write?

Three months for a first draft (which is really a second draft to me—I write most of my scenes by hand and then completely revise them when I type them into the computer, it’s sort of like doing two drafts at once). Then a process of on-and-off revision and polishing for another two months.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

Fully realizing characters that seem to live in my head. Also finally getting to write giant set pieces like the Louvre shootout was exhilarating—these scenes are little milestones; the thought of getting to write scenes like this makes me more aggressive about writing the rest of the script so I can arrive at them sooner.

What do you struggle with the most?

Not having clear deadlines. Deadlines are super-important to a writer. Also I like to have an audience to show my work to periodically. It winds up making me competitive with myself; I write to out-do myself, I write to impress the reader, and it winds up making the script better and more entertaining.

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

I think the word “new” is highly relative. You hear “overnight” success stories, but in reality, the people behind them usually have been working hard at their craft and their career for a long time. An avalanche of success may really be the result of years of chipping away at a mountain.

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

It’s always a challenge to get your screenplay read. I’ve been able to get some great feedback, a lot of which has come from submitting to screenplay competitions like Shore.

The great thing about screenwriting competitions like Shore is that they are entirely quality-based. Sure, the judging process is subjective (like anything else), but the cream tends to rise to the top, regardless of who you are: the judges just want to read scripts that make them excited.

It feels very validating to have the script be selected only on its merit, and it’s very encouraging as I go into beginning other projects—namely, my second feature screenplay.

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

It felt great! When I enter a competition, I remain cautiously optimistic throughout the entire process. But to actually achieve the success and distinction of being one of five is highly exciting.

How did you hear about Shore Scripts?

The website Without-a-box—it’s a great resource for early career screenwriters to find screenwriting competitions and gauge what the best opportunities are for them.

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

I’d like to get this script made, dammit! My goals for my career are to become a working writer and director. Just chippin’ away at that mountain.