Interview with Screenwriter Mark Violi (THIS NEXT YEAR)

1. What is your screenplay about?

In a word, This Next Year is about trauma, in its many forms. The heroine, Kate, is a school shooting survivor living with PTSD. She returns to work as a high school counselor maybe too soon and we are on the journey with her as she deals with her own trauma and also with the troubles of her students. A recent student suicide is revealed and there is of course trauma among the students that Kate has to unravel. I developed this series along with Dr. Steven Dranoff, a career child psychologist, he really wanted to create something that examines the epidemic of trauma that has overtaken our communities.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

It’s certainly a drama but I intend to keep it well grounded. So throughout the pilot and the series overall you’ll encounter all the emotions and characterizations you might find in a diverse community. I want the series to be relatable to students, parents, teachers and multiple generations. So I’m trying to capture that variety of emotions and situations. And I don’t know how to write without inserting some comedy so even though we’re often dealing with complex and serious issues, don’t be surprised if you crack a smile every now and then.

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

As creators, one of our goals is to shine a light on trauma. We’re telling a gripping fictionalized story through the lens of a damaged heroine in a new environment where she is learning the characters and rules along with us. She becomes obsessed with a recent student suicide and what she reveals puts more students at risk. So we think we have a pretty compelling situation and story. And there’s always the undertone of trauma; who is dealing with it and how it manifests in a diverse community. There’s a lot of surprises there. Dr. Dranoff would point out that trauma really is an epidemic. This is evidenced by the rash of school shootings in recent years, the dip in graduation rates and the trauma resulting from Covid is still being discovered. This Next Year tackles these issues head on and doesn’t pull any punches. The wrapper of our heroine, characters and story comes together to forge a series that is entertaining, captivating and important.

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

Shocking reality.

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

I saw Pulp Fiction eleven times in the movie theater. But I’m sure the movie I’ve seen most times in my life is Star Wars: A New Hope. I’m sure I’ve watched it thirty, forty times.

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

Dr. Dranoff and I began developing the pilot script about two years ago. Once complete, it sat largely dormant during Covid. Since the story is set in high school and there was real doubt for a time about what high school might look like going forward. I wasn’t comfortable putting it out there if public school was going to drastically change long term, making This Next Year seem old or out of touch. But I’m happy to be finally pursuing avenues for the pilot and series now.

7. How many stories have you written?

I’ve written ten feature screenplays. A good portion of these have been collaborations or adaptations. I’ve been fortunate to have several options and development deals for these scripts. I’ve written two full-length stage plays, these have been performed a combined seven times across three states. This Next Year is my first television pilot.

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

I’m not sure it strictly measures as the song I’ve listened to most but lately I’ve been drawn to Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. When you consider the state of the world when the song was written and how it’s still relevant now, it’s quite amazing. It’s also meaningful on a personal as well as political level. And it just sounds great. Really great.

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

Again, I point to the timing with Covid. Both the future of Hollywood and of what high school might look like were in flux for a while. Thankfully this uncertainty seems to be abated.

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

I am a long-frustrated Philadelphia Phillies fan. I love traveling with my family. I’m also an active performer; I’m a SAG/AFTRA actor occasionally getting to appear in a movie or television episode. And I’ve got a long list of past stage performances.

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

This was my first submission using FilmFreeway. I have to say it was a better platform than other similar services I have used.

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

A friend of mine entered and got some great feedback. The best part of my feedback was finding out I had won! But I also found my initial feedback quite on target with other notes I had received, that’s always something I think writers should be sensitive to. when you’re receiving similar notes from different trusted sources. The entry fee and turnaround time is really attractive I think to anyone looking for some useful feedback regardless of whether you’ve got a winning script.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

Year, by Mark Violi

After surviving a school shooting and now suffering from PTSD, Kate takes a position as guidance counselor at a Pennsylvania high school. In crisis herself, Kate must navigate new rules and deal with a haunting past while employing unconventional methods to identify and help those students most at risk.

CAST LIST:

Narration: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Dr. Dennis: Kyana Teresa
Kate: Hannah Ehman

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