For one reason or another, I seem to get a lot of interview requests. These run from legitimate book interviews, like Dave Santo’s “Screenwriting: A Practical Guide for Writing a Film” (http://www.amazon.com/Screenwriting-Practical-Guide-Writing-Film-ebook/dp/B00KF0M25G) to school newspapers, student research, and those considering screenwriting as a career. I thought I’d take this time and answer many of these questions for all who are interested to access:
- How did you get into screenwriting?
In my case, it started with a joke; a play on words, actually. Driving down the 405 freeway one early Sunday morning on my way to an awards show rehearsal and set-up, I thought of a joke, which lead to, what I thought, was a funny character that I later called “Junior Simple”- a village idiot, who through incredible and accidental events, becomes a multi-millionaire virtually overnight, and saves his town from an evil land baron. This was the premise of my first concept. Having been in the Hollywood arena for a number of years already (not in production or writing, however), I did own a few copies of scripts. Using them as a basic model, I devoted twenty hour days and typed out the first draft in six weeks- in Word. My wife edited it for grammar and spelling; I told her there were absolutely NO spelling errors and she only found about 100. Needless to say, the script was horrible. The story is great, and I’ll still work on it at some point, but the script itself was terribly done. Why? Because I had no idea what I was doing; I had absolutely NO FOUNDATION of having learned the craft. I spent the next two years, and every day since, learning more and more about the screenwriting craft.
- What is a typical day like for you?
A typical day for me depends upon where I am during certain projects, and where my concentration is at the moment. At the moment, I’m producing a television reality docudrama about the lives of a group of Elvis Tribute Artists, so I’m engaged in raising funds, working on a shooting schedule, staying in touch with the cast members which we chose this past winter. I recently completed a paid screenwriting assignment for an overseas production company, and we hope that gets produced sometime this year. I’m also lining up a number of ghostwriting and book adaptation assignments from various clients. These contracts have very strict, often tight deadlines, and I’ve yet to miss a deadline, and that’s very important to me, so the writing always takes priority at the moment. I also do as much networking as possible on social media. Personally, my formula for time spent on social media is 2:1 work. If I spend 8 hours working, I try an additional 4 hours in networking and touching bases with people in the industry. This is a very important, yet an often overlooked or abused part of the process. Sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. can be real time-sucks if you’re not careful. Try to keep it as close to business as possible until your work day is over.
- Do you ever bring your work home with you?
Yes. In fact, I work from home, that’s how much I bring it home. But, yes, in a way, I still “bring it home”. I discuss my business day with my wife, and my kids often ask about the projects I’m working on, but home and work crisscross in other ways, too. I just had my taxes done, and I’ll be a portion of my accountant’s name as a character in a future script. My son gave me the name of the character for “Secret Agent Bob” script. My other son had creative input in my screenplay “Undead Redemption”. My daughter’s personal experience during a tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, Al and the events surrounding our Alabama football team that year was the impetus for the concept of the script “T-Town”. I think every script I’ve written has at least one line of dialogue that was actually spoken by one of the kids, which struck such a chord with me; I had to include it somewhere. The home is a big influence on the writing, much more than the other way around.
- How do you juggle your private life with your work life?
I’m 56 years old, with 2 children in college, 2 kids with full-time jobs, and one boy soon to be a senior in high school. I don’t HAVE a private life! But, in all seriousness, I could see how this might be an important question to those several decades younger and considering this as their career. As in ANY career, be it screenwriting, acting, electrician, dog walker or office worker, you put into it what you want out of it. I’ve never had an 8-hour work day or a 40-hour work week in my life. Almost every job I’ve ever held, from my days of being a police detective, was a salaried job, or I was running my own business so I was often the first one in and last one out. I’m not sure if that’s because I had a great work ethic and I was super dedicated, or because I worked harder, not smarter, but in either case, I was not a good example of juggling a social life with a work life. These days, I have found a better balance. I still work long hours, but I do so looking out over forty-plus acres of land and trees, surrounded by all sorts of wildlife and mostly peaceful serenity, which helps me to be successful.
- Do you work with a lot of people in your job?
On a daily basis, the answer is no- I usually work alone. I have enjoyed several collaborations over the years, with various writing partners including Rick Brady (“Secret Agent Bob”); Brent Jones (“Bad Priest”, “Model Family”, “Taking Credit”), and Nancy Newbauer (“The Tomb”), among others, but as a general rule, writing is a solitary existence. While I may not work with someone directly, you are always working in conjunction with others on various projects. I’m an Executive Producer with Owen Ratliff on his feature film “Black Salt”- the first superhero feature film in history with a lead originally written as a minority character. I’m also the Executive Producer of “Debris”, a Nicole Jones-Dion horror script. I currently ghostwrite for a number of clients, many of them well-known celebrities, and I also adapt novels into screenplays. It helps tremendously to be able to work along, but able to adjust and work collaboratively as well when the situation calls for it.
- What is the best advice you could give someone who wants to make screenwriting a career?
I alluded to it earlier; get a solid foundation in the craft. However you choose to do it. My advice would be to forego all of the other advice about what books to buy, what courses to take, what “gurus” to listen to- it’s all a waste of your time and money. Buy Dave Trottier’s “The Screenwriter’s Bible” and read it, cover to cover, several times. Keep it next to you while you write. The only other thing you’ll need to purchase the screenwriting software, “Final Draft”– whatever version is current. Don’t cheat yourself on this. There are free software packages out there, but most of the people in the industry use- and expects- Final Draft, so don’t stand out as a newbie. Those two purchases will put you light years ahead of others when starting out.
Taking any technical writing courses, or any of those $1100, 8-month screenwriting programs are a total waste in my opinion, at least at this stage (to me, their rip-offs, even later). Write on subjects you know and in genres that interest you. They may not be the best selling genres, but you’ll be more interested in the craft.
Learn- always, but don’t go crazy with all of the conflicting information out there; you have to live in L.A., you don’t have to live in L.A., enter contests, don’t enter contests, follow a formula, formulas are for losers; etc. Soon, you’ll find someone in the business whose opinions and advice you trust and they’ll help you through it.