Interview with writer/actor James McDougall (WALKING SUPPLY)

James’ short film “WALKING SUPPLY” was awarded “Best Cinematography” at the May 2017 CANADIAN Film Festival.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

James McDougall: I was reading about Russian history in the wee hours of the morning and stumbled across some terrifying true stories. During Stalin’s regime, when two prisoners would escape a Gulag, they would sometimes bring along a third man whose sole purpose would be for meat if they began to starve. That idea both disturbed me, and made me want to delve deeper into that story. I identified with the third man, and started to think about how scary it would be to find yourself in the middle of the Siberian wilderness with two men who are stronger and faster, and finding out that you were brought along to be eaten. I not only wanted to write this story but I wanted to play the role of the unsuspecting victim. I really connected with that character and knew I needed to play him from the beginning. That, coupled with the fact that we recently did a huge gear upgrade at our company Mountain Man Media and Derek Barnes and myself were itching to shoot something with the new toys made for a perfect combo that got our idea into action. I was also really motivated by the challenge of pulling off something this ambitious. It’s a period piece set in the wilderness, in 1950 U.S.S.R., and in the dead of winter. As an actor this felt like a role of a lifetime and I wanted to do it justice.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Well, I started thinking about making this short about three years ago but Derek Barnes and I began writing it January 2016, we wrote multiple drafts, and went to camera soon after in March 2016. We shot 2 days, broke for a month while the seasons changed and myself and the other actors lost some weight (about 20 pounds each), and then went back to shooting our final 4 days in mid April. We submitted some rough cuts to a few festivals before but our film was officially finished in Sept. 2016.

How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Russian cannibals.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

The biggest obstacle was probably shooting WALKING SUPPLY over 6 days in the wilderness. Lots of complications can come up when shooting outdoors, especially in the winter. We were an indie production, all out of pocket and we couldn’t afford trailers or heating tents and the cast and crew were notified in advance to dress warm and that they may have to poop in the woods. Everyone who came out totally played ball and lots of the shoot felt like an epic camping trip / hike. We had to journey up steep trails, trudge through swamps, get tied off on high cliffs, and the first 2 days were shot overnight in the blistering cold Canadian winter. It was a challenge, but tons of fun.

What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

My initial reaction to the feedback was just feeling very grateful. I was really happy to hear peoples thoughts on our film and to hear that lots of people loved it and were really invested in the characters and the story was really cool and the most an actor/screenwriter could hope for. Even the constructive criticism was great to hear as we were currently developing a feature version of WALKING SUPPLY and any feedback helps immensely. I was also honoured to learn that we won best Cinematography as Derek Barnes who is my co-producer / co-writer / and the director of the short also was the director of photography and he put so much effort into the overall look of the film. He and our awesome crew really went all out in shooting this with epic drone shots, some stellar crane work, and Derek was even was tied of on a cliff standing on a ladder at one point just to grab a shot. I’m so glad Derek received some recognition for his stellar cinematography.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the short film:

How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

It began when I was reading about some terrifying Russian history about how when two prisoners would escape a Gulag they would sometimes bring along a third man to kill and eat if they needed sustenance. So while the actual idea is inspired by true events, Derek Barnes and I came up with the story for WALKING SUPPLY by researching many historical facts from 1950 U.S.S.R. and coming up with fictional characters set in that world.

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Good Will Hunting

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

What I Got by Sublime

What is next for you? A new film?

It’s been a good year so far. I’m an actor first and foremost and was very lucky to recently book a principal role on CONDOR, a new TV series shooting in Toronto. That has been an absolute dream to be apart of. I also booked a supporting role in the upcoming rom-com feature THE PERFECT KISS which is set to premiere in winter 2017. On the filmmaking front I just finished producing my first feature film, an experimental piece called LANGUAGE directed by Elizabeth Lazebnik. It is essentially King Lear performed by 11 actors who all speak a different language. The creative team behind it is incredible and we are very excited to hit the 2018 film festival circuit. And lastly, Derek Barnes and myself are working with an amazing and accomplished producer right now developing WALKING SUPPLY into a feature. The script is coming along quite nicely. I’m loving the character development, twists, turns, action, and suspense we are able to explore in a full length version. Once we are happy with where the script is at we’ll be shopping it around and hopefully returning to the wilderness to shoot sometime in the near future.

Final comment

Thanks so much Matthew and your entire team at Wild Sound Festival! It’s been a joy to be apart of and it’s amazing what you do. Thanks for continuing to support indie filmmakers through screenings, feedback sessions, and just helping to get the word out about our films. I’ll definitely keep submitting our films your way and I encourage other filmmakers to do the same. All the best!

James McDougall – Actor/Screenwriter/Producer
Twitter and Instagram: @ActorJamesMcD
WALKING SUPPLY

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with director/writer Kurt Voelker (The Whole New Everything)

kurtvoeler.jpgIt was an honor to chat with the talented writer/director who is  having a busy 2017. He co-wrote the upcoming animated feature “Rock Dog” (Voiced by Luke Wilson, JK Simmons, Eddie Izzard, Lewis Black), and later this year his feature film “The Whole New Everything” will be playing at a cinema near you. A film he wrote and directed, it stars Julie Delpy and Kevin Dunn.

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about “Rock Dog”. Why should everyone go see this film?

Kurt Voelker: ROCK DOG is an animated film about a Tibetan Mastiff who decides that instead of being a guard dog, he wants to play rock ’n’ roll. His decision leads him on a wild and very amusing journey. I think everyone should to see it because it’s original, imaginative, funny and has great music. The talent voicing the characters is also extraordinary.

MT: You were the co-writer of “Rock Dog” with the director Ash Brannon. How did this collaborative job work?

KV: I was hired to write a script for the film. Then, when Ash came on board, we collaborated on the story for a while, along with Zheng Jun, the Chinese rock star and author of the graphic novel that inspired the project. Then I moved on to other work, and Ash and Zheng continued working on it.

MT: Are you a director who also writes? Or, a writer who also directs?

KV: I consider myself both, but I suppose since I have done more writing than directing over the course of my career, it would be most accurate to say I’m a writer who also directs.

MT: You have another film coming up (THE WHOLE NEW EVERYTHING) that you wrote/directed. How was your experiences making that film? What are you expectations for it?

KV: It’s a drama starring J.K. Simmons, Julie Delpy, Odeya Rush and Josh Wiggins. It’s based on a script that I wrote about a father and son trying to start their life over after the loss of their wife/mother. It was an amazing experience being able to direct material I had written. We shot it in 24 days, and I am very pleased with how it turned out. In fact, I am going to watch the very final version of it for the first time today. The marketplace for independent films is very crowded of course, but I am cautiously optimistic that the film will find its way in the world. It’s a character piece, and though I am obviously biased, I think the actors’ performances are excellent. My hope is simply that after people see it, they will walk away feeling like it affected them in a positive way and that watching the film was time well spent.

MT: What film, besides the films you worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?

KV: THE BREAKFAST CLUB. It’s five kids stuck in a library for a day, and John Hughes managed to make it hilarious and powerful. Amazing.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great screenwriter?

KV: To be a great screenwriter, I think you need to have an unending desire to create and a cockroach-like determination to survive whatever happens along the way.

MT: What advice would you have for people who want to be a screenwriter?

KV: This is not original, but I am not sure who said it first. Ass in chair. That’s what it takes. You have to write. Talking about it doesn’t get it done. You have to put your ass in a chair and do it.

MT: Where did you grow up? What working in the film industry something you always wanted to do?

KV: I grew up in Dallas, Texas. Working in the film industry did not occur to me until after I graduated from college and had ruled out all of the obvious career options that I could see around me. For the first time, I asked myself what I would genuinely like to do, and filmmaking was the answer.
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Actor/Screenwriter Bronwyn Szabo

Bronwyn Szabo’s short film played at the December 2016 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival to great success as the audience really responded to the movie.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Bronwyn Szabo: I was motivated to make this film because I was hooked on the story of this woman moving on from a past love, and I finding the humour and joy in tragedy.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

BS: From idea to finished product, it probably took about six months from the time I wrote the script to the time it was done being edited.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

BS: In two words, I’d describe this short film as sweet, and sad.

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

BS: The biggest obstacle in completing the film was finding the right team, and then getting everyone’s schedules to coordinate when there’s no money involved!

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

BS: At first I was scared to hear the audience’s reactions haha, but I was grateful to hear that people recognized the good directing and editing work that came from Karena and the crew, and pleased that they appreciated our creative use of limited space, and pleased that that one woman completely understood the message in the story!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Short Film:

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

BS: I came up with the idea for this short film when I was trying to write something for another short film contest about “dreams” and was taken by the idea of being haunted recurring dreams, and how sometimes they parallel repeated things we do in waking life, such as revisiting the same places over and over again.

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

BS: I’ve probably seen Clueless too many times to count!

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

BS: Up next for me is the short film “Angela and Lila” in post production with the same director, Karena Evans, and then working on developing my new comedic web series, “Tight-Knit”

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Screenwriter Maria Nation (A Street Cat Named Bob, Salem Witch Trials)

It was an honor to chat with the very talented screenwriter Maria Nation. For any new or up and coming screenwriter, this interview is a must read as she gives a lot of insight on her profession and what it takes to succeed in Hollywood. Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: Tell us about “A Street Cat Named Bob”? How was the process writing a screenplay based on a best selling novel?

Maria Nation: How much creative control did you have? ** A Street Cat Named Bob is a true story about James Bowen’s unlikely journey from a vulnerable, homeless heroin addict to sobriety (and celebrity!) – thanks to the influence of a ginger street cat who refused to leave James’ side. It was a fun project to write, with interesting characters and the great challenge of creating a main character out of …a cat. I was brought into the project by the director, Roger Spottiswoode, with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working many times. It was late in the game, meaning the film was about to go into production but the script needed work. I ended up doing a page one revision. As far as adapting the best seller goes – I didn’t treat it any differently than any other adaptation job. Best seller or not, I think it’s important to respect the original writer and story while adapting it to the needs and limitations (and advantages) of the screenplay form. The key to doing this successfully is to understand which of a book’s elements are necessary for the screen story, which of these beats are cinematic and, when they are not, how can they best be interpreted for the screen. How much creative control did I have? Within the relatively narrow parameters of this particular project (time was of the essence, it was based on a well known story, locations were already being scouted, the director already had an idea of the tone he wanted, etc) I had a pretty free hand. But the notion of “creative control” as it applies to the screenwriter fraught. Unless you write, direct, edit and produce the project single-handedly there are always other creative forces at play. You don’t fly solo. That is the name of the game and if a writer can’t be comfortable with this he or she might want to find another line of work. That being said, there is a moment in the process, when we writers have complete creative control. It’s when we’re alone with the blank page and we go to work on it. As soon as we write the beautiful words THE END, and hand it over to the rest of the team it becomes a collaboration. That’s just the way it is.

PHOTO: A Street Cat Named Bob:

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MT: What screenplay that you have written has been your most valuable experience?

MN: I must say they have all been valuable experiences. One of my recent projects, a script based on the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise liner, pushed me to figure out how to write way outside my comfort zone. It was an action/disaster movie set on a ship. And, because I knew nothing about any of those things, I was pretty sure I was going to get my ass fired. But I studied how other writers write action – how are the scenes constructed? What is the scene description like that sets up the sense of pace and suspense? Etc etc. It was an interesting process – and in the end I didn’t get fired. Valuable experience: “No matter how long you’ve been writing, you’re always a student. Go study.” One of my very first assignments was based on the fine novel, Blue River, by Ethan Canin. I loved the book and figured out how to crack the story and handed in my first draft. The producers came back with such extreme notes – changing who the main character would be, which upended the entire story – that I had no idea how to even approach my second draft. Being a novice, I wrote notes back on their notes, wanting to know what they were trying to go for, etc. In the meantime they had hired the wonderful director Larry Elikann and before I had to launch into the revision that would have ruined the story, Larry told them not to touch a word of the script, and they were lucky to have it. Thanks to him they shot my first draft and I got the reputation for delivering shootable first drafts. (Which of course was a bit of a stretch since it was my first script – but it made my career.) I guess the valuable experience in that one is “hope to god you get a director like Larry Elikann.”

MT: Have you ever been surprised after a production wraps on the success or non-success of a film/TV show you’ve written?

MN: I’m assuming you’ve experienced both pendulums – A film that you assumed was going to be a hit and the audience/critics didn’t respond. And a film that you assumed wasn’t going to do well and then ended up doing very well. William Goldman said it best: “No one knows anything.” So, yes, it’s always a surprise. The network had high hopes for a miniseries I wrote years ago. The Salem Witch Trials had a huge, prestigious cast, with Alan Bates, Shirley MacLaine, Peter Ustinov, Rebecca de Mornay, Kirstie Alley etc etc and the important subject had not been done on US networks, and it was a big deal. It died faster than one of the witches on the gallows. I recently wrote the Gabby Douglas story, which the entire world already knew thanks to the Olympic coverage a year earlier, and two unknowns cast as Gabby… and it has been a huge success – around the world. Go figure.

PHOTO: Winona Ryder in “The Salem Witch Trials”:

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MT: How many uncredited “ghost writing” assignments have you had? Do you enjoy working on these assignments?

MN: Boy, I’ve done quite a few. Do I enjoy working on them? First, it’s important to understand that there is no such thing as a “ghost writer,” per se. When I am hired to doctor a script no one knows at the outset if I will get a credit – or not. The WGA has guidelines that define which writer or writers deserve a credit, and an arbitration team of fellow/sister writers makes the ultimate determination. On Street Cat Named Bob I was hired to do a small revision of a couple of the characters prior to casting. But the assignment snowballed and I ended up getting a shared credit. I actually love getting called to revise scripts. All screenwriters fall in love with certain scenes or characters (and if you don’t, god help you getting through your script.) The revision writer brings fresh eyes and there is no loyalty to any scene or beat or character. While I really hate knowing how painful the process is for the first writer (I was rewritten once – and it’s just awful) it is a fun challenge to make a script work; to see the weak spots and come up with solutions. It’s a different muscle than writing from scratch – even though very often the revision ends up being a page one original. But what I really love is that, generally speaking, I get called in to revise a script that is going into production. The pressure to perform is huge. There is no time for procrastination – or many notes from the network or producers. Often the director is already on board and I really l love working with directors (with some exceptions, of course). It’s all business; no nonsense and the entire vibe of the project is different than writing for development or on spec.

MT: What film, besides the films you worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

MN: Probably The Big Lebowski – which has zero influence on my work or career but I could watch it every day and be happy. Or perhaps Chinatown to be reminded of what it feels like to be in the shadow of Mt. Everest looking up.

MT: What makes a great screenwriter?

MN: A great screenwriter isn’t made; he/she is born. But, a working screenwriter? This person needs to build these muscles: determination, patience, imagination, curiosity, diligence, more diligence, humility, a desire to learn the craft, an understanding of human dynamics, human dysfuntionality, an ear for dialogue, a love of the art, a respect for your team – even when they drive you crazy, the art of collaboration – and did I mention diligence?

MT: When receiving notes from Producers and/or Production people on a screenplay you’ve written, what are you looking to receive to help you improve your story?

MN: And what are you not looking to receive? The best notes – rather, the notes I hope to get – respect the script but bring fresh eyes to my work. They show me the weak spots – and push me to try harder. Some of the best notes I’ve gotten are the ones that are the most difficult to hear because I don’t know, at first, how to accomplish them. They push me to dig deeper. The most fun notes to get (if any are fun) come from the production team, because they are 100% pragmatic: “We don’t have a staircase; rewrite the scene with a window.” “We’re over budget. Give us the same, rich story but lose five characters.” They aren’t easy to accomplish but they are pragmatic – not ego driven. The worst notes? The ones from frustrated writers who are directors or executives. Luckily these have been few – but they’re memorable. They aren’t pragmatic. They are completely subjective – and sometimes notes for notes sake.

MT: What advice would you have for people who want to be a screenwriter?

MN: Write. Watch movies or tv. Write some more. Read as many scripts as possible (there are a million online -no excuses). Write some more. Try to get a job as a story analyst (a reader). Do it for free if you have to. Out of college I was paid 50 bucks a script to read, synopsize and critique scripts for various producers and studios. I did this for years. Did you get that? For years. …Read. Synopsize. Critique… It forces you to think about a script in an entirely different way than watching a movie – and it’s better than any screenwriting course you can take. Finally: When you’re writing your script and you think it’s just too hard to go on and you’re tearing your hair out and you’re miserable… congratulations, you’re thinking like a professional writer. Except for, maybe, pouring cement, screenwriting is the hardest job out there. And there are days I’d rather be pouring cement. Good luck. Go tell a story.
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Screenwriter Ryan Katzer (JACK IS PRETTY)

Ryan Katzer’s written short film “JACK IS PRETTY” was the winner of Best Film at the July 2016 FEEDBACK Film Festival. 

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Ryan Katzer: None of us had made a film. Jarek had the equipment. I had the script. Why not? We had to start somewhere with Indy film, and figured a short with limited dialogue would be easy…..like I said, none of us had made a film.  We liked the story, the fairy tale quality and innocence blended with darkness. The rest was a summer-long blur.

MT: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

RK: I plead the 5th.

MT: How would you describe your short film in two words!?

RK:  Modern Fairytale? Dark Fairytale? Take your pick. Not sure. Never been that concise, 7 pages transferred to 26 minutes, you know?

MT: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

RK: Time constraints and limited days at locations each week.

MT: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

RK: Joy. Intelligent audience. They got it.

MT: How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

RK: Always loved fantasy and fairytales. Originally it was simply about a protagonist dealing with pain. The protagonist finds a magic box, puts her pain in the box, and the box changes her pain into an avenger of some sort that hunts down the antagonist. Then magic happened. The “what if’s” came into play. “What if the protagonist is a little girl?” “What if the story is inspired by ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’?” “Oh! What if the box is a Jack In The Box!”  Bingo!

 

MT: What film have you seen the most in your life?

RK: Let The Right One In (Scandanavian Version, not to be confused with Let Me In, American) 9 times. Maybe more.

MT: What is next for you? A new film?

RK:  Just shot “Away From The Ribbon” with some of the team from “Jack”.  After that “Broken Crown”, the first part of the “Jack Trilogy”.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of JACK IS PRETTY:

Interview with Screenwriter Simon Kelton (Eddie the Eagle)

It was a joy chatting with the screenwriter one of the the hit films of 2016 in “Eddie the Eagle”. Simon talks about the process from development to distribution of the film, plus shares a lot of insights on screenwriting . Enjoy!

simonkelton.jpgInterview with Simon Kelton

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to write the screenplay for Eddie the Eagle?

Simon Kelton: Like any Brit who loves the mountains I already knew a lot about Eddie’s magnificent adventures at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. After graduating from Oxford University, I had set up a ski company in Chamonix, France, to pursue my great passion for skiing and was so inspired by Eddie’s bravery and wild ambition that I ended up competing in the British Snowboarding Championships and World Extreme Snowboarding Championships in Alaska. Like Eddie I was over the moon just being able to watch my heroes doing what they did best. Actually being able to take part with them in competition was quite incredible so when Rupert Maconick, an English independent producer in LA, approached me with the idea for making Eddie’s story into a film I had absolutely no hesitation. I had already been working as a ski and snowboard journalist for the British press for several years at that point and I knew many of Eddie’s teammates. The fit seemed not just natural but perfect.

MT: What were your memories of the Winter Olympics in 1988? Did the Eddie the Eagle story jump out as something that would make a great film even then?

SK: Eddie had been so famous in 1988 and for at least five years afterwards that there really seemed no point in doing a movie about him. He was everywhere. After ten years it suddenly felt like a great idea and, of course, COOL RUNNINGS had also been a hit. In the end it felt like an advantage to be so far removed from the actual date of the Calgary Olympics because it allowed Dexter Fletcher, the director, and Matthew Vaughn, the producer, to make good story decisions and practical production choices without being too rigidly confined by the truth.

MT: When writing a screenplay based on a true story, there is a fine line to set up an overarching message/theme while also making sure you don’t go too far off the real story of what happened. How were you able to balance this in your screenplay?

SK: The trickiest issue with any true story adaptation is that life is usually too long and too complicated to fit neatly into a well-honed two hour movie. My job writing the original script and drafts was to try to take a huge amount of real detail and turn it into something manageable, fun and emotional. Having made enough choices to focus the story into 120 pages, you then have to work on the emotional heart of the piece. I liken the process to reducing a great demi-glace sauce. You add a ton of delicious ingredients and then boil it and boil it and boil it. When Sean Macaulay came on after me to continue the development process this is what he was doing, refining the story, making the relationships more dramatic, cutting down the number of characters, locations and incidents so that in the end Matthew Vaughn and Dexter Fletcher could make a film where the emotional through line was really powerful and clear.

PHOTO: “Eddie the Eagle” banner poster:

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MT: How much did the film change from your original screenplay to the now final product?

SK: I think I am probably extremely lucky to be one of a small group of screenwriters who can watch their film years after first writing it and feel emotionally satiated by the result. Dexter managed to capture everything that was delightful, fun, moving, exciting and inspirational about Eddie’s journey. Although there were all sorts of changes here and there to the key characters and details, the positive feelings, the comedy, the drama, the social satire, the tone and the euphoric ending all felt totally true to my original vision, which was just fantastic.

MT: How many uncredited “ghost writing” assignments have you had?

SK: I have never done a ghost writing assignment and would have to be paid a lot to consider one. To me a large part of the joy of creating something is knowing that you did it for good or bad. I can imagine a scenario where you might want to take you name off a film, but I can’t imagine going into the process already having decided I didn’t want my name involved, unless, of course, it was simply a minor polish.

MT: You were also the Executive Producer of the documentary “Jeff Lowe’s Metanoia”, a film about the legendary climbs of the alpinist. From this to Eddie the Eagle, one would assume that you have a soft spot for mountains, adventure, and daring stunts?

SK: The mountains have always been as important a part of my life as the movies. I know the American West incredibly well and have skied and boarded almost everywhere. I have been to over 130 resorts around the world, climbed a lot of mountains, and done over 450 helidrops exploring the Chugach Range in Alaska where every run is quaintly referred to as an NFZ… a No Fall Zone. I am also an adventure traveller and have been on all sorts of somewhat crazy trips from swimming with pink dolphins and piranhas in the Amazon to reading the Dalai Lama’s palm in India. I have been followed by the Chinese secret police in Tibet and tailed by Soviet cops all the way from the Polish border to Moscow after the Wall came down. Whether it’s firing a AK-47 in the mountain passes of Afghanistan with a Mujahideen warrior or hanging with a notorious drug dealer the jungles of Colombia, if there is an exciting story to dig out I’m there.

MT: What film, besides the films you worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

SK: Right now, because I have an eight and a two-year-old, my most watches films are rapidly becoming KUNG FU PANDA, SHREK, DESPICABLE ME, THE LEGO MOVIE and any other wonderful animated movie that they find on iTunes. Prior to that it was probably James Bond.

MT: In one sentence, what makes a great screenwriter?

SK: A great screenwriter is obsessed by movies, is a voracious reader, worships the power of the written word and fully understands that only by polishing the rough carbon of a first draft with the endless fire of relentless rewrites will they ever produce a diamond truly worthy of someone else’s attention.

MT: When receiving notes from Producers and/or Production people on a screenplay you’ve written, what are you looking to receive to help you improve your story? And what are you not looking to receive?

SK: I believe great notes can come from anywhere. The difference between an observation made by a top studio executive and your local car mechanic may be nothing more than the professional’s ability to communicate the source of the itch that any reader might want to scratch. That means that I listen to the underlying substance of what any reader may bring up. It is usually their solutions that are less helpful than their observations because they are not as close to the underlying structure of the story. By driving your car almost anyone might be able to notice that the wheel is wobbling or the suspension is broken, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are qualified to fix it!

MT: What advice would you have for people who want to be a screenwriter?

SK: First, go online and find as many great screenplays to the movies you have loved and read them carefully. They are often even better than the movie itself. Read classics, read genre, read Oscar winning scripts and the very latest releases. If you then discover you love reading them and feel both a burning desire to give it a go as well as a deep-seated belief that you have visions in your mind that you must share with the world then give it a try. Do not be falsely attracted by any perceived glamour or a quick and easy road to riches. There is no industry in the world more competitive, more confusing, more seductive, and more full of brilliant talent that has yet to find its moment in the sun. Be wary, be strong, be realistic, and then be bold.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.