- What is the first story you ever wrote?
The first narrative that I wrote was a science fiction/action adventure story called The Adventures of Gargo, which was inspired by my love of Star Wars and Louis L’Amour Westerns. I suppose you could classify it as a Space Western in hindsight.
- Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?
There are a lot of great films that I should give some credit to as inspiring my creative passion, but the most seminal films from my childhood I would be remiss not to mention include Jaws, E.T., The Extraterrestrial, Can’t Buy Me Love, Gremlins, The Goonies, Star Wars (Original Trilogy), Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Karate Kid, Ghostbusters, The NeverEnding Story, The Fox and the Hound, Dragonslayer, The Dark Crystal, The Beastmaster, The Big Red One, The Black Hole, The Outsiders, American Graffiti, Back to the Future, The Man Without a Face, Stand By Me, Dead Poets Society, The Gods Must Be Crazy, Always, Duel, The Mission, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Unforgiven, and The Lone Ranger, to name a few.
- For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?
As a non-WGA writer myself, my best advice is to find ways to invest in yourself as a writer. For me, that has included a combination of education, writing, and submitting. Much of the benefit of pursuing my MFA degree was the opportunity to work with industry professionals, real working Hollywood writers, who mentored me as a writer, while also giving critical feedback on my work. I continued pursuing the craft after finishing the MFA by taking additional professional film production classes at a local community college, where I was able to work with actor Dylan Kussman to refine my short script for Illation and broaden it into a longer script which has since been filmed and is in post-production. Also, finding likeminded filmmakers and writers to share work with is a huge benefit. However, beyond all of the education comes the point of application, where a writer must make a leap of faith and begin submitting scripts to well-vetted film festivals and writing contests, understanding that there is no guarantee of success, and knowing that there will be many rejections, but it is necessary work, and success will start to intersect with effort at some point. Persist!
- What experiences from your life influence your characters?
It has been said so many times that writers write what they know, and from the many experiences we meet in life, I do agree we draw from them. Growing up in a small rural town, there are many community traits and personalities that I likely evoke in my own work, in some ways becoming a regional writer. Vocational interests and personal and professional experiences influence situations, settings, conflict, and even dialogue in my own work as well. At the core of most writers, there are probably numerous memories, both positive and negative, that drive their narratives. I would say I am no different in this regard. I have a number of purposeful and meaningful things that anchor my storytelling, and I notice I operate at times from a position of rewriting my regrets and celebrating secret anniversaries that are a deep part of who I am, including my faith identity.
- Can you explain your character development process?
I like character driven storytelling, so I am attracted to developing characters who are laconic, meditative, deliberative, and somewhat risk averse when I write dramatic scripts, but I also like to develop characters who are still trying to figure things out. I do not set out to deliberately write mystery stories, but I do try to develop characters who are searching for answers to life’s mysteries, often anti-heroes or everyman characters who are in many ways underdogs. This allows a lot of room to psychologically explore characters from all walks of life, and it opens up numerous possibilities beyond the superficial aspects of people that we too easily see in everyday life.
- Do you write bios before you start writing?
I do write bios for feature scripts, and I utilize shorter lists for short scripts. It adds time, of course, but it is essential to know your characters.
- How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?
I am emotionally involved enough that most of my characters reflect much of who I am. To external readers, this may not be so evident upon first or subsequent reads, but those who know me most intimately usually come to identify the “me” in the characters I create.
- What are your thoughts on structure?
It depends. I believe the three-act structure is important for all writers, but I think as one develops beyond being a novice writer, there are creative ways that the accepted rules of structure can be broken, or at least adjusted. The Joseph Campbell monomyth template is operationally sound and makes sense in terms of narrative writing. And I really stress utilizing the Blake Snyder Save the Cat beat sheet for my own screenwriting students.
- Do you outline before you start writing?
As stated above, I do outline, and I find the Blake Snyder Save the Cat beat sheet most beneficial to me personally. After creating this skeleton of actual reality, or story spine if one prefers, I generally do a narrative treatment of my story before beginning the script. I have also found the advice helpful to think about the final image of the film and then write toward it. It generally works for me.
- What is the most important aspect of building a great character?
I think that authenticity is the most important aspect, personally. Creating authentic characters that are relatable in some small way to every potential member of one’s audience usually helps me stay on target with the characters and their narratives. Knowing your “who” is so important, and if a character is too stereotypical or predictable or unlikeable, it can create a recipe for disaster when you finally move the story from page to screen.