Interview with Screenwriter Billy Smith (The Stafford Multiplex Theater)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Billy Smith: My screenplay, The Stafford Multiplex Theater, is about an outdated eight-screen movie theater in a small town. A new Megaplex has opened up about twenty minutes from them and a lot of people have forgotten about the Stafford. They’ve gained an unfortunate reputation as “that other theater”. On top of that, because of an industry mandate, they now must convert to digital projection by the end of the year or they will no longer receive movies. Between the new Megaplex and the digital mandate, the Stafford is trying to fend off death, just trying to survive.

It’s during this time, when all seems hopeless, that everything gets even worse. There is an outbreak of a zombie virus in their town. The Stafford’s moviegoers start to drop dead and come back as zombies. The employees of the Stafford love it and would defend it with everything they have, so that’s what they do. They set out to defend their theater and make sure that it’s still standing for something even during their town’s most horrific time. Their theater isn’t dead yet.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

The Stafford Multiplex Theater definitely falls under the horror/comedy genre. I would liken it to films like Burying the Ex, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and The Final Girls. The zombie threat is very real in the story and the characters take what’s at stake very seriously, but I felt like there had to be a healthy dose of comedy involved, too, and that really came from the characters. Once I started writing and experimenting with them, the comedy felt right to me.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

The Stafford Multiplex Theater should be made into a movie for a few reasons. The first and most simple reason is that it’s just a lot of fun. Audiences would have a lot of fun watching it and I imagine that it would be a lot of fun to make, too. The horror blends well with the comedy, the characters are a blast and there are interesting twists. It would be an entertaining experience. Also, it touches a bit on the change that’s happening in movie theaters and what’s happening to theaters that used to have character. It’s a unique horror story because, yes, there are zombies and there’s blood and gore, but that’s all in the background, in a way. Ultimately, this story is about the theater and the characters. It’s not just a zombie movie just for the sake of being a zombie movie. The zombies are there for a good reason. They’re a manifestation of a real problem and that’s a very interesting horror story to explore because, for the characters, the real horror would be the end of their theater. They’ll deal with the zombies.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Fun. Clever.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

I’ve been asked this question before and I always give the same answer: John Carpenter’s Halloween. I am forever in awe of its simplicity and impressed by every technical aspect of it, as well. The way the dread and the suspense builds and the way the music enhances it – it’s all so well done. It’s the kind of horror film that, if I could ever be a director myself, I would like to make. Something simple that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats and doesn’t go overboard. That film has always been a huge influence on me.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I have been working on this screenplay for roughly a few years. I’ve written and rewritten it many times at this point. I am constantly working to improve it because I believe in this story and I believe that it has a lot of potential as a movie. I have other things that I have worked on, but this is my passion project. This is the one that I have to see through. I have to see it succeed. I like being able to always go back to it and improve on it, especially because I am always improving as a writer. Every time I take another pass at it, it gets better. I’m very proud of it and the work I have put into it.

7. How many stories have you written?

Including The Stafford Multiplex Theater, I have written three. The other two started out as short stories, but I always had intended to develop them as screenplays, which is what I’m doing right now. I love coming up with a simple idea and then expanding on it. I find that to be such a thrill. Taking something and trying to make it the best it can possibly be. I have a lot of ideas in my head and I look forward to writing them in the very near future. My first script is just the beginning.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

“Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Just kidding. It’s hard to pick a favorite song, but if I had to pick just one, it would be “New Low” by Middle Class Rut. Aside from just being a cool and fun song, it has really spoken to me ever since the first time I heard it eight years ago. I can identify with the words and see myself in the situation the song describes. It’s probably my favorite because it’s always a reminder to me that I’m still not where I want to be and, while this may be hard to believe, it motivates me to get to where I want to be.

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The Stafford Multiplex Theater screenplay was very challenging for me to finish for multiple reasons. Firstly, it was my first screenplay. So, aside from the normal challenges of writing a story and getting over all of the hurdles that come with that, I had to learn how to actually write a screenplay. Learning the formatting, learning the structure, the things you shouldn’t do and the things you should do. Then, reading screenwriting articles and being told that you shouldn’t do the things that you thought you should do and that you should do the things that you thought you shouldn’t do. Apart from that, I think horror and comedy are very hard to write. It’s challenging to scare or surprise an audience and it’s a challenge to also make them laugh. It was a challenge that I truly enjoyed, though, and I think I succeeded, at least in the pages of a script. I think the real challenge would be to see if it works as an actual movie.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Besides being passionate about writing movies, I’m passionate about movies in general. I’ve been like that since I was very young. I love watching them, I love talking about them and I would love making them, too, if that ever became a reality. I love being able to get lost in another world for a little while and getting away from all of the stresses of my life. My love of movies is what led me to work at three different movie theaters and it is what has led me to pursue what would hopefully be a career being involved with movies in some way. I definitely eat, sleep and breathe movies.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

So far, this is the only festival I have actually entered on FilmFreeway, but I’ve had a great experience with the site. It was how I found this festival. The website provided all of the information I needed and submitting the screenplay was very easy. I am on the site a lot, searching through all of the festivals, trying to find where I should submit my screenplay next. I have a feeling that I will definitely be using FilmFreeway a lot in the future.

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

After working on my screenplay for so long, I was lost on how to go about doing anything with it. I’ve written this story and I am proud of the work I’ve done, but what do I do with it next? That’s actually when I found the Festival for Horror. It was almost like it was meant to be. Sure, I felt good about my screenplay and thought it had potential, but it would be nice to see if others felt that way, especially if they were others who know what they were talking about. I had to know if what I’d written actually had something to it or if I was just being crazy.

I was thrilled with the initial feedback I received on The Stafford Multiplex Theater. The feedback was very much what I had expected. I knew that whoever read it would find it to be fun and I knew that the script had some strong elements and that was the feedback I received. I knew going in that I still had a lot of work to do on it. I never expected to win or even place or anything like that. That wasn’t my goal. My goal was to see if I’m knocking on the right door and it seems that I am. The tips I received on how to make the script better were very valuable to me and have helped me tremendously. I’m glad that I chose to enter the festival. It was absolutely a great decision. From the feedback on the full script and then the best scene reading now being posted online, I have had a great experience with the festival.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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