Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?
The story takes place in a post-civil war, near-future America. It’s about an ex-Navy Seal who gets caught trying to flee the country and then forced to take on a mission: retrieve a device from the ruins of a research facility that mysteriously exploded, located in a ghost town in the middle of the desert.
2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?
Mainly science fiction and action, but there are elements of thriller and satire throughout.
3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
I like to believe it has a few interesting things to say about capitalism, consumerism and immigration, while offering the audience two hours of entertainment where the stakes progressively get higher as they get more insane. The film starts in familiar territory (highly trained soldier begrudgingly accepts a mission to free himself from the sins of his past) but then its genre-specific tropes and expectations are deconstructed as things begin to happen that had been gestating right under the characters’ feet. It taps directly into the collective feeling that the world is breaking apart at the seams because of things that haven’t been properly addressed.
4. How would you describe this script in two words?
5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
Probably A Clockwork Orange.
6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
I finished the first draft in March, 2017. It was actually based on a feature of the same name I’d written around 2010, when I was 19, which was heavily influenced by the videogame Half-Life. Feeling that I could accelerate the process of becoming a film director by writing screenplays that would hopefully get someone’s attention, I resumed writing features in English in 2016. I foolishly thought I’d save a lot of time by re-purposing, with everything I knew then, any of the scripts I had written in 2009-2010 and that I’d have something ready to send off to a competition in less than a month. I chose the then-Unwelcome but after a few days, as editing difficulties and vastly more interesting ideas arose, it became evident I had to start over. That was around December 2016. Two months layer, by February 2017, I had the beginning (heavily borrowed from the 2010 script) and the ending down. Two months later I had a completed draft which I went back to occasionally in these last two years, although in 2018 it began to gain recognition in different contests after many significant changes.
7. How many stories have you written?
Stories in general (prose and screenplays) it’s hard for me to give an estimate because I’ve writing since I was a teenager. As far as screenplays go, I’d say about 6 or 7 features and something like 20 shorts, although a few of those short screenplays were derived from short stories I’d written and vice-versa.
8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the
most times in your life?)
Uh, tough question. God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is a good candidate. The opening chorus of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion is a definite favorite, but not technically a song.
9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
So many I should write a book about my experience with Unwelcome and how it was a sort of an advanced screenwriting school unto itself. I’ve written three other screenplays in a faster and more assured way since then thanks to everything I learned while solving the problems I encountered, from narrative challenges to errors of judgement and mistakes that originated during (the lack of) preparation. I’d say the biggest three challenges I had to face were:
1) Fine-tuning exposition and character development to the point that they became inseparable, not easy in a story which entails a protagonist who has to navigate very carefully a situation that is out of his control (when, where and how does he react to things and reveal more about himself in a context that doesn’t encourage it?).
2) In order to avoid getting stuck in the writing process, I rushed to finish the beginning and ending without planning in detail much of what was supposed to happen in the middle. Naturally, subsequent drafts were full of major changes that took a lot of time to implement due to their ripple effect within the story.
3) Letting go of some plot elements to reach a balance between world-building and narrative progression that felt organic. Unwelcome’s rewriting journey has been one of finding more convincing ways to say the same thing and simplifying, in accordance with the themes and general mood, the many intricacies of the world supporting the characters. If you check out some of the scripts behind the current top movies you’ll find very short scene descriptions. This sometimes goes against one’s inclinations to fill the page with plenty of information about the story’s universe, particularly in science fiction and fantasy (Craig Mazin and John August have addressed this problem in their podcast Scriptnotes many times, saying that whatever details you leave out will be decided on later by the art department). While there are many factors to consider when comparing the script of an emerging writer with the shooting draft of a produced movie, all writers struggle with the process of taking a script to the point where it flows with the ideal amount of detail while none of its uniqueness is sacrificed.
10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
Film directing and music (piano, to be more precise, which I’ve been studying for more than ten years).
11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your
experiences working with the submission platform site?
My experiences using FilmFreeway have been mostly great. I usually use Coverfly to submit to competitions because it’s purely designed for that purpose and you can see the different distinctions garnered by your projects, but I use FilmFreeway both for screenplays and films.
12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings
on the initial feedback you received?
The main thing that attracted me to submit the screenplay to your contest was seeing part of it performed by actors. The feedback was very useful and constructive.
Watch the Screenplay Reading:
After a near-future civil war, a runaway ex-Navy Seal is sent to a ghost town to retrieve a special device from an underground research facility that mysteriously exploded.
Narration: Hannah Ehman
Andrew: Michael Ruhs
Punchline: Ron Boyd