Interview with Screenwriter WH Clark (HELSTAF)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

WH Clark: A scientist in Antarctica trying to save the penguin population from extinction ends up having to save the whole planet from Noah’s Flood 2.0 when a giant solar superstorm hits and melts the polar ice cap.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Thriller, Sci-Fi, action/adventure

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

Hollywood is way behind the curve in informing the public about the many threats to the environment. Some major environmental organizations have complained about this in position papers. I guess Hollywood just doesn’t know how to get the idea across without seeming condescending or preachy. “OMG. Another environmental disaster flick? No effing way.” HELSTAF highlights two major environmental issues that people don’t know much about: the danger of Freon to the ozone layer (China is still manufacturing Freon-11) and the threat of a solar superstorm (which would knock out the entire electronic infrastructure for decades – i.e. no GPS or smartphones for 15 years). Global warming, as threatening as it is, is just a subplot. So you can still scare folks about global warming and not appear to be far-left liberal activist about it. All three major issues are related in the story in what one reader called the “ozone war.” LOL. I put all the hard-core tech details on my website whclark.com if you want to learn more about these issues. Lots of beautiful photos of Antarctica there. Great place to live if it wasn’t so damn cold (although in February 2020 it was in the 70s!)

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

Gripping, authentic. Plus: readers like that every problem the heroes solve causes three more, and that there’s a steady beat advancing the action forward. Readers also like the sheer scope and scale of the drama. Whatever that means.

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

The sci-fi trilogy of Dune

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

Ten years. It was an autobiographical novel before that; so make that 20 years. The original drama was set at the real HELSTAF facility at the US Army White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where I got into a boatload of trouble when I was in the service. Think sequel… White Sands is only a few miles from the 1947 Roswell UFO crash site. Actually, there were two sites – the craft HIT on one side of White Sands, BOUNCED, and CRASHED on the other side near Roswell, NM. The military said it was a weather balloon, but balloons don’t behave like that, do they?

7. How many stories have you written?

I have five feature-length thriller screenplays which I have been working on for ten years via notes, critiques, and feedback. Please tell me screenwriting gets better than this. Do all my best friends for the rest of my life have to be characters in my screenplays?

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

I like the theme song from Flashdance, “What a Feeling” by Irene Cara. Lousy movie, but a great song.

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

I’ve been through at least 30 coverages on this one project. The biggest issue was I tried to say too much. “The plot is too complicated, and you need to take some of the complexity out and focus on the character’s arcs.” I’m an engineer, very smart (close to a Ph.D. in mathematical physics) and very technical. I write the kind of stories that appeal to me. Which doesn’t work so well with everybody else. It’s hard to have lots of science, which readers say adds authenticity to the story, and to explain it well. So, with each draft, you cut out some tech things, get notes, see how that works, etc. Also, I have really bad vision problems (100% disabled veteran), which is frustrating. (Excuse me, but does anybody ever actually make money doing this screenwriting stuff?)

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

I’m an engineer by trade, and my passion is energy conservation. I published one of the first textbooks on the subject with McGraw-Hill back in 1997. A second McGraw-HIll text published a year later, on (saving energy in) electrical design, is still in print, still the first edition. I can only hope that I’ve helped some folks reduce their carbon footprint. Free copies and software on my website whclark.com

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

CoverFly works very well for me.

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

As usual, I think all the feedback is terribly wrong and the comments are unjust, cruel, bigoted, prejudiced, and hurtful. A few days later I cool off and discover that everything they said was spot on, and after making their suggestions the material is greatly elevated. Over the years I’ve used all the major coverage services and all the major screenplays that give feedback. A couple of years ago I decided that Wildsound gives the most consistently best feedback out there, comments that I can depend on and trust. Since I started using just Wildsound feedback the material has gotten consistently better. So, thanks.

Watch the Winning Screenplay Reading: 

CAST LIST:

General Volt: Bill Poulin
Adm. Ashray: Sean Ballantyne
Narrator: Hannah Ehman
Waco: Isaiah Kolundzic
Jaxx: Nkasi Ogbonnah
Col. Jinn: Cameron Stannard

Interview with Winning Screenwriters Jennifer Woldman & David Maddox (A STUDY IN SCARLETT)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

A Study in Scarlett is a re-imagining of the classic Sherlock Holmes, with inspiration also taken from American history circa late 1860s-70s. The enigmatic genius Scarlett Holmes is a bi-racial woman. She meets her loyal friend and partner Joanna Holmes, a struggling doctor, to solve a murder and save an innocent man from hanging. Throughout the series historical situations and events are explored through adaptations of Doyle’s classic tales. To solve each episode’s puzzle, and the interlocking season-long mystery, the legendary sleuths must navigate issues of race and inequality, and the complicated nature of justice.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Mystery, Historical fiction

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

It is the right moment in America for a television series like A Study in Scarlett. Through the eyes of these diverse characters we explore a time in American history whose echos we feel today in our laws and culture. As past readers have pointed out, A Study in Scarlett gives us an opportunity to explore modern themes of race, gender, equality, and justice through the lens of classic Holmes tales. These are conversations that we need to be having in modern day America as we confront our own history, and our future together, and this series can be an access point.

This series can reach a broad audience — classic Sherlock fans will find the stories and characters familiar, and we stay true to the spirit and rollicking fun that has made the original work a classic, and it’s more recent reincarnations huge successes on the big and small screens. The diversity of the characters and the compelling issues we tackle will appeal to a younger, more modern audience, who might not have seen much for them in recent Holmes remakes. History fans will love this exploration of an under-represented, yet critically important, era of American history. There is truly something in this series for everyone.

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

Scarlett Holmes

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

Jen – Probably Empire Strikes Back. Or maybe Harry Potter, because it is always on television, and sometimes we put it on like background music in my house.

David – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The film changed my life as a child, that’s why I do what I do now.

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

About 9 months. The idea for A Study in Scarlett came to me last summer in the middle of moving. I was finally able to get the basic story down by October, and then David and I worked on it daily for about a month. We continue to make revisions based upon feedback.

7. How many stories have you written?

A Study in Scarlett is our first screenplay working as a team, but we each have been writing on our own for a long time. I have a completed novel named Redemption, and a work in progress novel named Earth Tour. David has a SciFi screenplay named Greetings from the Vortex, and an animated pilot called The Adventures of Darryl Springbornne.

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

Jen – Listened to most in my LIFE? Probably something by New Kids on the Block, lol, as I played those tapes on my boom box until they ran out in the early 90s. Hello from Generation X.

David – Jesus Jones. Their slight hit in the 90’s International Bright Young Thing. All the remixes of it!

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

We were very eager to obtain feedback from people of color, particularly Black women. We center diverse characters, and we want to make sure we are true to that lived experience. As a mixed race woman who as often felt “other” like Scarlett, this is a very important to me personally, and frankly it can be difficult to find professional readers with that background. If A Study in Scarlett were to move forward as a project, we would want to make sure the team we work with is appropriately diverse.

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

Jen – I have two teenage boys with special needs, so they are my main passion! Politics, and my career in technology, and theatre.

David – I’m a performer and filmmaker so that takes up a good deal of my time, and I have a casual interest in astronomy.

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

Coverfly has been a great experience for us!

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

We entered an early draft, in the hopes that we would get some valuable feedback to help make the script better. The feedback we got was helpful, and we’ve incorporated some of the notes in recent revisions. Hearing our words performed by actors is a thrill, and also a learning experience. Our goal at the end of the day is to see A Study in Scarlett on the TV screen, and we’re hoping exposure through Wildsound will help us connect with people who can help make that happen.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

A re-imagining of the legendary sleuths, multi-racial Scarlet Holmes and aspiring-doctor Joanna Watson solve mysteries during the cultural upheaval of post Civil War America.

CAST LIST:

Officer: Isaiah Kolundzic
Narrator: Hannah Ehman
Male Doctor: Bill Poulin
Watson: Nkasi Ogbonnah

 

Interview with Winning Screenwriter Shane W. Smith (BLACK MIRROR)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Shane W. Smith: Matchsticks 2.0 is a Black Mirror spec script about a family caught up in a government push to genetically normalise its citizens, using biometric user data gathered from a popular game to target imperfect subjects.

But at its heart, this is a story about the dangers of allowing advanced technology to drive social change, and the dehumanising ways in which people with disability and other vulnerable people are too often treated in public discourse.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

In true Black Mirror style, Matchsticks 2.0 is first and foremost a dystopian sci-fi story. Its secondary genre is family drama.

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

Honestly, it probably shouldn’t. At least not until we strip the Black Mirror aspects out of it.

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

Tech-led genocide.

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

I’ve got four kids, so it’s no doubt something Disney. But if we’re talking by choice, it’s probably a three-way tie between Star Wars, Children of Men, and the M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen movie-length finale.

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

The first words of this story hit the page way back in 2016, but other projects took over. The bulk of this screenplay came together in the month of August 2019.

7. How many stories have you written?

I’m a lifelong writer, with around ten published graphic novels and a number of shorter published stories under my belt.

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

Tricky question, and so many viable contenders! Edging out the others, partly because the dystopian sci-fi angle is tonally in line with Matchsticks 2.0, I’m going to go with Save Yourself and I’ll Hold Them Back, by My Chemical Romance.

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

One of the options presented to us when my son was diagnosed with ASD and ADHD several years was a regimen of powerful medication that would radically change his personality, an option that – after careful consideration – we turned down in favour of a more involved road of occupational therapy and intensive one-on-one time. Being presented with this choice triggered a range of conflicting feelings, and this conflict was absolutely central to the concept of Matchsticks 2.0. In comparison to the real-life issues that underpinned it, the actual act of putting the script together was practically a non-issue.

From a technical standpoint, Matchsticks 2.0 was one of my first attempts at a TV script and as such, earlier drafts of the script were a bit overwritten. Thankfully, my local screenwriting group helped me smooth out the narration and tone, with a view to keeping things punchy and simple.

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

Apart from writing? Only my family: my incredible wife of twelve years, Katie, and our four amazing children, Annie, Liam, Nella and Molly.

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

I have a complicated relationship with Coverfly. I love the convenience of having information centrally available, and how easy it is to locate festivals and competitions. The homogenous layout for each event makes it really easy for writers to find key dates, prices, and eligibility rules, as well as tracking updates for submissions.

At the same time, however, the ease of the platform also contributes to it being quite addictive and, if a writer like me gets a rush of blood to the head, it can be worryingly easy to spend a small fortune on competitions in a very short amount of time.

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

Although I’m a lifelong writer, I’m a newcomer to screenwriting, and I was looking for some indication that I was on the right track. There were several reasons I chose to submit Matchsticks 2.0 to this festival:
reader feedback for every entry was a huge draw;
accepting spec scripts for existing shows set this festival apart from most others I found;
and the potential to hear my words brought to life by a cast of professional actors was an incredibly enticing prize too.
The feedback I received was very positive in nature, and mirrored the positive reaction I’d gotten from my local screenwriting group. It was tremendously heartening and encouraging to feel like I was indeed on the right track.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

“Perfect is the enemy of special.

When the government starts to use data mining software in order to identify genetically imperfect citizens, the software’s lead designer must come to terms with what it means to be perfect, and decide what kind of life he wants for his children.

CAST LIST:

Sally: Rebecca MacDonald
Brad: Peter Valdron
Narrator: Justine Christensen
Daniel: Nick Hendrik
Mara: Georgia Grant
Tag: Thomas Fournier

Interview with Winning Screenwriter Joe Kourieh (Voosch And Helina)

“Voosch And Helina” was the March 2020 SCI-FI/FANTASY SHORT Screenplay Winner.

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Joe Kourieh: This Sci-Fi short is about something all too familiar – a World War – but in an unfamiliar place (under the sea). Humans’ dominance over the planet has been lost and they are now at the mercy of warring animal alliances. The characters in this scene represent a drastic hierarchy, and are trapped within it (for some, literally). The moral truth of the situation is different from everyone’s perspective. The Octopoids blame the humans for some grave developments on Earth – but does that justify a genocide?

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

It is a Sci-Fi and also a drama piece. I would imagine that if produced it would likely be animation.

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

I believe it does the ideal job of a short film which is to capture a powerful and relatable emotional moment but with a distinctive twist to enhance the perspective given to the chosen emotion. It lets a very human conundrum breath freely in a new setting.

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

Tragedy, tentacles.

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

Cable Guy.

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

Not long, it’s one of my smaller projects. But still a fun one.

7. How many stories have you written?

In my head, hundreds. In screenplay format, about a dozen.

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

Opeth – “Heir Apparent”

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

I was challenged to keep it to just 5 pages.

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

Video games, shows, heavy metal, Boston sports, cats.

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

Coverfly is absolutely awesome. Staying organized is so important, and their interface is just about flawless. I use it pretty much daily and recommend it. Also there’s no simpler place to browse quality screenplay contests and film fest listings.

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

I will enter just about anything related to Sci-Fi and Fantasy or animation. I am always working toward breaking into these industries. The feedback provided for this entry was excellent – positive, and focused on the nature of the short film format.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

In the far future, the world is engulfed in a war with genocidal implications. One young soldier, faced with an innocent victim, juggles the pressures of duty and conscience in his many arms.

CAST LIST:

Human 2: Nick Hendrik
Human 1: Peter Valdron
Narrator: Justine Christensen
Helina: Rebecca MacDonald
Gaard: Thomas Fournier

Interview with Screenwriter Ma Troggian (FOREIGN)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Ma Troggian: Foreign is a story about love, loss and immigration in a politically polarized America.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama, Romantic Drama.

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

The script is timely. Foreign sheds light upon the importance of immigrants in America, while spontaneously telling an LGBTQ love story.

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

Sincere and political.


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

Moulin Rouge…

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

Four years.

7. How many stories have you written?

Two plays, one pilot, one short film and one feature film.

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

That’s hard. I listen to A LOT of music. Lately, Prière Païenne by Celine Dion.

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

Many. I was born and raised in Brazil. It took me a lot of work to research vocabulary and to feel confident writing in English. On top of that, I didn’t go to school for writing. I’m learning as I go. It took me many, many versions and a lot of honest feedback to get to this version.

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

Music, acting and politics. I’m a queer latina woman. I love to dress up and dance. Right now, I am about to release the fourth single of my career, followed by its music video. (You can check my music at http://www.matroggian.com, under music.)

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

Really great!

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

I was researching platforms that cherish LGBTQ work. I had a great experience with the festival in general and I loved the reading.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

Foreign is a romantic drama following the journey of Julia, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil, trying to survive in Brooklyn. Julia’s dreams of being a singer are far left behind, and she now searches the city for a safe place to work as a server. After being assaulted by Davis, a business man who takes advantage of her status, Julia ends up hired under the table by Barbara, a successful restaurant owner. Julia and Barbara fall in love and impact each other’s realities. They live a profound love story, eventually threatened by Davis.

CAST LIST:

Various: Patrice Henry
Davis: Allan Brunet
Narrator: Kat Smiley
Barbara: Esther Thibault
Julia: Amiee Poulin
Ian: Gabriel Davenport

Interview with Screenwriter Andronica Marquis (DARK ANGELS)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Andronica Marquis: Dark Angels is about the struggle we all face to understand the true beauty of our nature despite the distraction of our pain, disappointments and insecurities.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Fantasy


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

While the screenplay is currently undergoing significant revisions to strengthen and clarify the characters, relationships and theme, it should eventually be made because it’s a dramatic and moving display of both what makes us human and beautiful beyond our mortality

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

Powerful and entertaining


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

Terminator 2


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

Over a year


7. How many stories have you written?

Four short films and three feature films

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

Etta James, I’ll be seeing you

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

Digging deeply to understand the heart of it

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

Dance and Film Producing

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

Excellent

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

I entered because I believe in the screenplay and believe it will be produced; I always appreciate feedback and anything I hear helps me grow and get better
 

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

Cast from Heaven to Earth, a beautiful demon, torn between her conflicted dark angel clan and the flailing human race, fights her demon nature to find love and fulfill her destiny.

CAST LIST:

Narration: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Ronny: Gabriel Darku
Desiree: Katelyn Varadi

Interview with Screenwriter Samantha Loney (HUSH)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Samantha Loney: My screenplay is a television pilot about an FBI psychologist who comes back from maternity leave to be tasked with watching over a former special agent to solve the only case that she’s let go cold. They find that a string of child abductions might have connections to a dark government conspiracy.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Procedural, crime thriller, mystery.

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

This show has two strong female lead and discusses topics that are relevant to today. Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women in America.

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

Dark, fearless.


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

The Exorcist.


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

2 years.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have been writing ever since I can remember, always working on something. But I have two completed feature scripts, and five original pilot scripts.

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

My favourite song is Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel.


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

The main obstacle is always the research. Finding ways to let myself be creative while staying true to cases that this piece is inspired by.


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

There is nothing I am more passionate than writing, but you can always find me watching documentaries or reading biographies. I am fascinated by people’s strong feelings toward Hillary Clinton, one of the most polarizing people of our times. I would love to write a biographical film of her one day.


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

FilmFreeway is an easy way to keep track of submissions and send your work to places.

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

I submitted to this festival because it is always helpful to hear your script being read, and I am always looking for feedback to make my work better.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

A psychologist, back from maternity leave, is asked to review the mental state of a former FBI agent, who is brought back to solve a case that destroyed her career and home life.

Can you be a woman and have it all?

CAST LIST:

Narration: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Retired Man: Ted Powers