1. What is your screenplay about?
It’s about a 12-year-old boy named August and his relationship with his father Gustav–an abusive fundamentalist preacher in the early 20th century. It explores how this oppressive mixture of religion and patriarchy unleashes trauma upon the whole family, first via Gustav’s humiliating abuse, then subsequently through August’s violent dreams coming to life.
This is partially based on a true story. It mirrors some traumatic childhood experiences of my film hero, Ingmar Bergman–who was likewise raised by an abusive preacher father, forced to wear a red dress whenever he wet the bed, and locked in a closet for minor transgressions as a child.
This project is intended to be an ode to Bergman; the title itself, Soli Deo Gloria (translation: “Glory to God Alone”), was something Bergman wrote on all of his screenplays, in its abbreviated form: S.D.G. (which he borrowed from J.S. Bach, who wrote it on all of his symphonies).
Even though Bergman himself claimed atheism in adulthood, he could never fully escape from religious themes creeping their way into his work. It’s almost as though the specter of Jesus followed Bergman around and haunted him the rest of his life. I just wanted to make this ghostly presence both more literal and metaphorical in this story. I’ve always felt a kindred spirit to Bergman: not just as a filmmaker, but as a person riddled with conflicts about their faith.
I was also raised in a fundamentalist context (thankfully not *this* violent), and I even went to Bible college with the intention of becoming a pastor. I left that life behind long ago–though some format of the Christian faith lingered with me, up until shortly before I wrote this script.
2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?
I consider it “Religious Horror”, but it contains elements of Period Drama, Psychological Horror, and Folk Horror.
3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
Even though it takes place over 100 years ago (and the story it’s based on took place in Sweden), I think it’s more relevant than ever.
As of the last reliable polling statistic I’m aware of, 77% of North America still identifies as Christian–though admittedly that number is shrinking in recent years. Beyond that raw number, this isn’t even counting people who were raised religious and walked away from the faith.
The context of the story will inevitably be relatable on some level to most audiences. Since religious affiliation is in decline–and there’s a growing number of people who have either deconstructed their faith or de-converted entirely in recent years, there will be many people who will easily latch onto the symbolic language of this family’s struggle.
I see all art as a form of therapy. The medium of film, specifically, touches and titillates our senses in a way that no other media can. Zooming in a bit further, still–I see the horror genre (at its best, at least), as an even more focused version of therapy for traumatized individuals to express all the anger, sadness, grief, and disgust they feel about a certain subject.
To summarize: we filmmakers and storytellers are uncertified trauma therapists. I’ve even heard some rather enlightened folks argue that movies are just a cheaper form of therapy. As a disabled filmmaker friend of mine once put it, “The articulation of pain is, itself, an act of joy.”
I’m hoping to spread the love and the joy, by having us all confront our pain. In the case of this film, we do that by calling out and exposing the monstrosity that is violent theology, which is too often used as a tool of child abuse, not to mention abuse of women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Yet I would also like this project to not simply act as a blunt indictment of an entire religion. There are readings of Christianity I still find very meaningful in their mystic symbolism (e.g. the works of Peter Rollins, John Caputo, and Richard Rohr), which cherish peace, self-reflection, and justice in a more pragmatic and humanistic sense. With this film, I’m aiming to make a statement most specifically about the white “Americanized” Jesus that so many of us are familiar with.
This Jesus is a crawling corpse that is oppressing and weighing down people who are not deserving of such treatment. Hence, we must take its place as martyrs of true goodness and justice. Is there still room for faith beyond the rejection of orthodoxy? Though it no longer fits on me, I do see it working in others–and I still think there’s value and beauty in the Christ story.
4. How would you describe this script in two words?
5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
If I’m being honest, this is going to be an embarrassing answer.
As a child, I watched Batman Forever, Hook, and The Flintstones movie so many times I wore out the VHS tapes. One of those probably wins, not sure which.
However, as an adult, the answer has gotta be either American Psycho or Blade Runner.
6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?
I wrote my first draft late last summer (of 2021). I completed my last draft a few months ago.
7. How many stories have you written?
I’m somewhat proud to say, I’ve lost count!
I went through a phase about a decade ago where I joined a “Story League” with a few friends, in which we were all forced to write one micro-short story per week. Some of those stories I developed into longer-form short stories, some I tossed, and a few others influenced other stories and scripts I pursued in years since.
8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)
I’ve been a metalhead since middle school, so take that into account here:
I have to say “Fear of the Dark” by Iron Maiden. Perhaps a bit on-the-nose…but I’m a horror filmmaker, damnit!
9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
I sent my first couple drafts to some trusted friends and a writers group I created some years ago. Most everybody told me “it’s great!”, “it’s your best work yet!”, etc., and didn’t seem to suggest making any changes.
However, I later had a lengthy conversation with my friend Kristen, the lead actress on my previous short film, Eclipse (who is also a very talented writer/filmmaker herself), and she gave her honest opinion that the ending needed a bit more of an “oomph”.
She was right. I knew there was an element that needed a bit more teasing out at the climax, something to give the film a bigger “pebble in the shoe” of the viewer after they walked away (to quote Lars von Trier). Once I mulled it over for another month or so, I came up with the current ending, in which August achieves a more bombastic sense of catharsis.
10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
All kinds of filmmaking–I’m also an editor and director.
The last documentary I edited, Lalito 10, won Best Documentary Short Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this year, and is currently competing in multiple Oscar-qualifying festivals. I’m very excited for the world to see it, because it’s a tremendous story.
I mentioned this a bit above, but I’m a music enthusiast–especially when it comes to all sorts of heavy metal. From the classics to power metal, folk metal, black metal and other extreme genres, I love it all. The outlandishness, power, artistry and operatic aesthetic is another kind of art that I find immensely satisfying and cathartic.
I also have a soft spot for the world of stand-up comedy. I worked as comedian Ben Gleib’s personal assistant for a few years when I was still living in Los Angeles. I learned A LOT about the entertainment industry from doing that job alone–including the fact that I never want to plan or host a massive birthday party again–even if I do get to serve drinks to Moby or Craig Robinson.
11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?
I really like the format of FilmFreeway. I submitted my last film to lots of festivals there, and frankly I didn’t get into quite as many as I was hoping or expecting–but I learned a lot about the whole process.
FilmFreeway makes it easy to track your submissions and it’s very convenient for filmmakers to keep all their projects in the same database.
12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
I have been racking my brain for how I could pursue getting this project produced since finishing my first draft. Producing a film is tough, and feels near-impossible if you don’t have the money or resources immediately at your disposal.
Since I was quite happy with how my script turned out and was receiving lots of good feedback early on, I tried to think of creative ways to build buzz behind this project. I submitted a pitch to one festival, and developed a pitch package after getting some advice from a studio producer.
I actually did not know that it was possible to submit unproduced screenplays at that time, but one day I got an email from FilmFreeway marketing the Horror Underground Film & Screenplay Festival–and figured, why the hell not! After getting used to a certain degree of rejection (as pretty much any filmmaker has to), I wasn’t expecting to get accepted, much less win.
In fact, the night before receiving news of my win, I was actually in a pretty bad existential rut, since I’ve been hitting dead-end after dead-end in my career recently. Needless to say, the news of my win was remarkably welcome and encouraging!
The festival’s feedback was wonderful. I’ve had a marvelous experience, and I’ve felt so validated in the fruits of my work after immersing myself in it for so long. I definitely plan on submitting future projects to the festival. I have another thing currently cooking–when it’s ready to serve, Horror Underground will definitely get the first tasting!
Watch the Screenplay Reading:
In a rural early 20th century midwest American town, young August must face frequent abuse by his fundamentalist preacher father. As domestic troubles intensify with August’s family, so do visions of a monstrous presence chasing him. Can August escape both the source and the symbol of his trauma?
Narrator: Val Cole
Gustav: Steve Rizzo
Anita: Hannah Ehman
Farmhand #1/August: Sean Ballantyne
Magda: Kyana Teresa