Interview with Screenwriter Matthew Nicholson (SENIOR DITCH DAY)

1. What is your screenplay about?

When Gwen Wiley hears handsome, local weatherman Hudson Blake announce a rare occurrence of the northern lights, she hatches an escape from her nursing home to spread her late husband’s ashes. Gwen goes to extraordinary lengths and through various hijinks to say goodbye to the love of her life on their anniversary. In the end, her senior (citizen) ditch day manages to bring Gwen even closer to her daughter who’s tired of her mother’s mischief.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

“Senior Ditch Day” started as a comedy. I mean, I certainly think Hudson marching through Harvey’s ashes is pretty funny, but I guess you could also classify that as horror. However, there are certainly heart-breaking moments like when Gwen spreads her husband’s ashes and looks up at the aurora borealis and says, “so, that’s what they mean by breathtaking” which is beautifully read by Hannah Ehman. So I’d also call it a dramedy.

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

This little story packs big heart and compelling characters. Logistically speaking, it’s a small cast with accessible locations. I think there are many cinematic tools to convey the northern nights without having to go shoot on location somewhere or use graphics. “Senior Ditch Day” reminds us to live our adventures while we can and that it’s never too late to make good on a promise. There aren’t enough stories about people living rather than dying in nursing homes. It’s past time we change that.

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

Elderly mischief.

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

“Practical Magic.”

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

I initially came up with “Senior Ditch Day” during a screenwriting contest hosted by WritersDuet. We had 48 hours to write three pages while incorporating two prompts: sunglasses and the theme of “Now or Never.” While I didn’t place in that contest, I loved the characters and wanted to expand the idea without the 48-hour time crunch. Initially, the story ended with Gwen laying down in the meadow and the northern lights dancing on Harvey’s glasses. But Gwen’s story didn’t stop there for me.

Parts of the screenplay have been simmering in the back of my mind for years. My mother suffered from Huntington’s Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. She spent many years in a nursing home and often dreamed of escaping the bland walls and colorful characters that also resided there. This piece is dedicated to her.

7. How many stories have you written?

Not enough! You can often find me in the middle of the night jotting down something about a new short script or television pilot in the notes app on my phone. I have a spreadsheet full of ideas that I would love to transform into scripts. I am currently working on a one-hour fantasy television pilot called “New Olympus.”

It centers around Liz Payne, the modern-day descendant of Pandora from Greek Mythology set in the fictional town of New Olympus, Connecticut. Liz vows to clean up her ancestor’s mess once-and-for-all after her mother is murdered. Can Liz claim her destiny as the new owner of Pandora’s box before her hometown is overrun by evil?

It’s “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” meets “Once Upon A Time” with a mythological backdrop rather than fairytales.

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

To stick with the sky motif of “Senior Ditch Day”, “Cassiopeia” by Sara Bareilles.

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

I’d be lying if I didn’t say myself. Procrastination is hardwired into my DNA, but I have a great accountability system set up with my writing group: Morgan, Kathleen, Ryan, and Tiffany. They keep me sharp and on deadline. It took me a while to get the formatting of Operation Breakout right. My trusted writing partner Morgan suggested I use a VoiceOver to maximize the great escape, and that’s when the piece really clicked for me. Thanks, Morgan! I also want to thank my partner Sean for his constant support and for tolerating living with a writer for 10 years. He puts up with a lot of 4 AM writing nights, and, for some reason, still puts up with me.

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

I am a pretty serious television fanatic. In my ideal life, I would solve crimes, save lives, slay vampires, and still make it home to watch all my favorite shows.

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

Film Freeway is my go-to method for submitting scripts to contests. It helps me track all my submissions and notifications. The interface is not only easy to use, but it’s fun. There’s an eruption of stars and confetti anytime you place in a contest or festival. It’s like the rush of finishing a marathon without ever having to leave your desk. Film Freeway has introduced me to festivals and opportunities I would have never found on my own and I am so grateful for that.

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

The northern lights are the backdrop of “Senior Ditch Day” so I was immediately drawn to the Environmental Film & Screenplay Festival. Their mission to “advance public understanding of the environment through the power of film and storytelling” really spoke to me. I was honored to be selected.

It came as quite a delightful shock when I received an email letting me know that I’d not only won but that you had organized a reading of my short script! I was thrilled with the written feedback provided. It went into great detail about some formatting and story things I could clean up. The suggestions were actionable and really clear.

There is also no better feedback than getting to hear your words out loud with a talented narrator and cast. Immediately, there were tweaks I wanted to make to punch the story up even more. I cannot wait to dive back into Meadowlark nursing home to work on these characters. I highly recommend writers submit to get constructive feedback, hear their work aloud, or to promote their works. The exposure and benefits are more than worth the cost of entry.

Watch the Screenplay Reading:

An elderly woman plans an escape from her nursing home to keep a promise to her late husband during a once-in-a-lifetime meteorological event.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Steve Rizzo
Ruth/Hudson: Val Cole
Iris/Nurse Johnson: Kyana Teresa
Gwen/Stacy: Hannah Ehman
Harvey/Jerry: Sean Ballantyne

By matthewtoffolo

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

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