Interview with Screenwriter Arthur Tiersky (I DON’T KNOW)

1. What is your screenplay about?

I DON’T KNOW is a romantic comedy with a “meta” twist, in that the leading man, after his obligatory “meet cute” with the leading lady, then runs into me, the screenwriter, at a Starbucks, and soon learns to his amazement that his entire world is the romantic comedy that I’m writing and that we’re all in. Then he further deduces that his leading lady, while a seemingly poor match for him, is in fact MY dream girl, sharing all my likes and interests, and thus is a better match for me than him. Which leads to my frustration that he’s screwing up my script, while at the same time, I can’t resist connecting with the leading lady, and it kinda goes from there.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

It’s basically a deconstruction of the romantic comedy genre. I’ve been calling it a meta-romantic comedy.

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

To me, the selling point for this script is that it takes the “meta” idea to its logical, mind-bending extreme, goes places other entries in the genre haven’t gone before. There was Wes Craven’s “New Nightmare”, which had some great stuff in it, but gradually devolved into just another Freddy movie. Then there was the obvious model of “Adaptation”, which is very clever but doesn’t quite have as much fun with the idea as I’d hoped. And it has Nicolas Cage as Kaufman, whereas I would (ideally) be playing myself; it would literally be ME, the writer, entering my own script/movie. Finally, everyone mentions “Stranger than Fiction”, which is also quite inventive, but it’s not really a “meta” movie so much as a meta STORY. Meaning the character learns that he’s in a STORY, specifically a novel, but the movie itself is not aware of itself as a movie the way “I Don’t Know” is, with the writer constantly mentioning what page he’s on, characters actually saying the “typos” that the writer is making, and even a character from one of the writer’s other scripts wanders in and gives him advice. Basically, it’s for anyone who enjoys having their head messed with.

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

Ultimate meta-movie.

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

Hmm. I mean, there’s the nearly annual ritual of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, which I still adore, but beyond that, I’d say STOP MAKING SENSE ranks very high, as does LOST IN AMERICA, MILLER’S CROSSING, BLUE VELVET, THE EXORCIST, JAWS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, and THE USUAL SUSPECTS.

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

Oh Lordy. So this was originally a script named FIST IN THE EYE that I wrote in 2003 (!). It had the same core premise, but was very, very different from I DON’T KNOW, as my life back then was very different. But what followed is a very complicated and rocky and horrible history, which, nutshell version: I became friends with a filmmaker who loved it and really wanted to make it, so I managed to get some money from various relatives, at which point the filmmaker “friend” promptly embezzled most of it and spent it on himself long before we ever started shooting, which was in 2006. Naturally, we ran out of funds long before we finished, and it took me a year to piece together what had happened, and it was absolutely soul-crushing and humiliating, and such a traumatic experience that I basically put the script away for years. And then last year, I was in the process of polishing/updating/revising various other older scripts of mine, and I thought of “Fist”, and realized a way that I could update it to my current life and make it much better and sharper than it was before. I worked on it for the first couple months of 2020 and finished it the first draft exactly on my birthday, in mid-March, just as COVID took over the world.

7. How many stories have you written?

Jeez…A lot. I’ve been at this since the early 90’s. I came out here in 1993, more focused on sitcoms, so I had a stack of sitcom specs, but I gradually started gravitating toward features as I learned about the business and have been almost entirely focused on those since 1996 or so. I’d say I have maybe 20-ish complete features? Some of them are adaptations or based on true stories, but…yeah, that sounds about right.

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

“Once in a Lifetime” – Talking Heads

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

This was actually a pretty easy one, partially because I’d already written “Fist”, and partially because I just went into it knowing what I wanted to do, and what my options were for the ending. And what they weren’t.

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

Poker, jazz, cooking/baking, my girlfriend, my cats, movies…Pretty much everything my character in the script is into.

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

It’s a very useful site that makes it easy to pick which contests to submit to and keeps your submissions organized. It’s almost TOO easy, as I may have overdone it with this script and am continuing to keep my eyes out for more contests, but I mean…It’s COVID. Not a lot is getting made. What else can we do with our scripts these days but enter them in contests?

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

I’ve been feeling pretty good about this one and been pretty confident about how it would fare in contests, mainly because it’s ABOUT screenwriting, so the readers and judges would be mostly likely to appreciate the humor, the in-jokes, the entire portrayal of being a struggling screenwriter. And I think it’s been doing better in contests that categorize by genre or specialize in comedy, so that it’s not necessarily competing with every type of script out there. I mean, horror and comedy, are basically apples and oranges, it’s tricky to judge them against each other. So thanks for being a Comedy Festival! The world needs more of those.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

An initially conventional romantic comedy is disrupted by the presence of the screenwriter himself, who seems to be a better match than his leading man for his leading lady.


Narration: Allison Kampf

Rob: Geoff Mays

Dana: Julie Sheppard

By matthewtoffolo

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

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