Interview with Winning Screenwriter Zach Closs (RED RIBBONS)

What is your screenplay about?

Two years, a month, three weeks and six days after a controversial exposé forced him to flee, a young journalist returns to his hometown, hunting the pardoned rapist that was the article’s subject, and rekindling a tormented relationship with one of the victims.

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Romantic Drama & Psychological Horror; atmospherically, I wanted the script to play as a horror movie about emotional and sexual abuse.

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

I think most films that tackle subject matter like this tend to do so in a very glossy, very safe way, and while it is important to be respectful and considerate, I think there’s something to be said for more visceral, honest depictions that resist deifying the sufferers or simplifying their situations. I tried to accomplish that here. I also tried to explore the way society mishandles rape and sexual assault by painting the men accused of it as victims and bemoaning their ruined reputations, something I haven’t seen often on the big screen.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Raw, surreal.

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

Probably a three-way tie between The Godfather, Hard-Boiled and all of the Star Wars movies.

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

I started working on it in the tail-end of 2015 and have been revising ever since!

How many stories have you written?

I’ve written 17 feature-length screenplays, 12 shorts, and about 100 poems.

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

Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd I’ve listened to the most, favourite would probably be Dreams by Fleetwood Mac.

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

I wanted to be sure that Kim and Caleb both got equal screentime, and were developed enough that audiences didn’t feel like they were siding with one more than the other when it came time for them to confront each other. I also wanted them to be very likable and have a lot of personality, which usually calls for humour. It’s tough working humour into a story like this, and making sure the moments of levity didn’t feel out of place, or too much, was tough. It’s also pretty radically structured, which I felt was necessary to get into the heads of people who feel fragmented and stuck in the past; deciding how much information to give the audience without being overtly expository was a challenge.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

I love acting, especially onstage, which I think is more of an actor’s medium. Supporting and spending time with my close friends, family and loved ones is very important to me. I’m a bit of a wine snob, I love hiking, skiing, a good novel, and reading/writing poetry. I’m not always good at them, but I think video games are a fascinating up-and-coming medium.

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

I think FilmFreeway is a great tool for artists to discover and submit to festivals that best suit their work; my only advice to anyone using it is to carefully research any festivals they submit to, as unfortunately some (usually the ones that sound too good to be true) are scams.

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

I think the promise of feedback was a big reason for my submission, as constructive criticism can be hard to come by. The feedback I received was incredibly helpful; I could tell the script reader fully engaged with what I was trying to do, and suggested very clear, straightforward fixes.

****

Genre: Romance, Drama, Crime

Two years, a month, three weeks and six days after a controversial exposé forced him to flee, a young journalist returns to his hometown, hunting the pardoned rapist that was the article’s subject, and rekindling a tormented relationship with one of the victims.

Narrator: Sean Ballantyne
Kim: Lauren Toffan
Dancer 2: Clare Blackwood
Dance Leader: Val Cole

Producer: Matthew Toffolo http://www.matthewtoffolo.com

Director: Kierston Drier
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: John Johnson

Camera Operator: Mary Cox

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Interview with Winning Screenwriter Kristen Nedopak (ÉIRE’S SONG)

  What is your TV Pilot screenplay about?

The Irish Celtic goddess of war The Morrígan gives a prophecy that rules our series that an ancient cult—The Fir Dorcha (The Dark Men)—will unleash a “storm of death” on Ireland (endless blights), but that three heroes could connect to the old magic to defeat the enemy, heal the land and save her people. Should our heroes accept their fate. Mary Beaumont, a 21-year-old daughter of a wealthy English landowner, an Irish witch and a descendant of the Druid bloodline is one of the three, along with a poor, spiritual Irishman Connor Ryan and a rebellious-yet-broken English nobleman William Stewart. This series takes place during the Great Famine (1845-9) and uses real history as a backdrop for a story about abuse of power, specifically England’s oppressive rule over Ireland during that time. I’ve combined facts with Irish mythology, a dark cult and magic to tell the tale. At it’s heart though, this is a story about a young woman who has to find her self-power, her magic, to save the Irish from extinction. It’s her spiritual journey to reconnect to the Old Ways that we follow. The series has so many complex characters; side stories, including parent/child relationships and love; and powerful themes, there’s so much more!

Why should this screenplay be made into a TV show?

This series is an allegorical piece of literature that comments on our current political climate today, and how human beings still feel the only way to survive is through fear, domination and greed. Mary is a young woman who doesn’t fit into “normal” society and is trying to find her place in that world. I think many people can relate to that feeling of helplessness and will connect, and hopefully be inspired by, her journey. Plus… magic and Irish mythology! I truly feel this series is unlike any other I’ve seen before, so it’ll be unique and fresh. Let’s not forget all of those English and Irish accents. *wink*

How would you describe this script in two words?

An enchanting page-turner. Or so I’ve been told. 🙂

What TV show do you keep watching over and over again?

Game of Thrones! That series did a lot for the fantasy genre by showing the world what fantasy fans already know. That our beloved genre is not cheesy! It’s dark, dramatic, political, mysterious, complex and the characters are always incredibly real and flawed human beings trying to survive, just like us. On that same note, I also loved Handmaid’s Tale. Especially considering every disturbing moment is based on something that really happened or is happening to women. Reality is scary, isn’t it? Oh, and you can’t say no to Stranger Things! So many shows…

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

As soon as I returned from my trip to Ireland in April 2016, I knew I had a story in me. It took me a few months of fiddling around with the plot (which was very different in the beginning!). Then the characters started coming to me. I actually wrote what now looks like an outline for the first season as a film, and as soon as it was complete, I knew it wasn’t working. I didn’t have enough pages to tell the vast story I wanted to. Around February 2017, I began transforming it into a TV pilot.

How many stories have you written?

Though I’ve worked in film and digital for some time (and technically wrote a play in 4th grade that my class performed!), this is my first television pilot. What. A. Challenge! This is the most complex piece of writing I’ve ever done. I honestly had no idea how complex television was until I sat down to write it. The structure of the pilot alone is harrowing.

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

I listen to music that fits my mood, and I’ll get obsessed with a song for some time while I’m writing, letting it drive the story. If I had to choose, I’m a huge fan of Loreena McKennitt and I love The Dark Night of the Soul (one of my episode is named after this, very personal, experience). Though, if I’m doing karaoke, it’s definitely Journey Don’t Stop Believin’! I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s.

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The emotional roller coaster this story took me on. There were many times during my writing sessions where I would uncover my own personal wounds (this story is based on my journey set in another time). I would break down in tears and want to set the story aside in the beginning. Then I learned to just sit with it to see where it led me. Without fail, the scenes that came out of those sessions were the most powerful, and also healing to me personally. Mind you, I’ve written well beyond the pilot. I have many scenes already written for seasons 1-4, including the ending. There is one scene in season one in particular that makes me bawl like a baby every time I think about it. It’s about Mary and her father. Kleenex would be wise to sponsor this series!

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Traveling. I’m addicted to exploring other cultures and in particular, sacred places. I’m writing this while in Ireland! I’ve got a huge bucket list I’m working through with Peru and Tibet on the top of that list. I’m also passionate about good whiskey. Can I say that?

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

Though I entered quite a few festivals, I was specifically looking for those celebrating sci-fi and fantasy. The feedback was incredibly thorough and inspiring. I’ve gotten some ridiculous notes before that were clearly opinions, like my female lead being “too smart;” however, the feedback for this festival was professional, insightful and related more to how I could make a bigger impact with some of my plot points. I took a lot of the notes and and it made a huge difference. Thank you!

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

FilmFreeway is… the… best. Zero hassle. I literally uploaded one file and I was done. I use it for everything.

Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?

First, I always tell stories that are tied to my life experiences and are connected to me emotionally because that is what I’m passionate about. Write something you’re REALLY passionate about. Something you need to tell. If it’s a story that you can relate to and have lived through, it will be that much more real. The material will just flow out of you. It’s passion that will keep you going.

Second, use that voice of yours and make a statement. Whether it be political or just a great story that moves us, that what art is all about. Art is an experience we are meant to feel. It creates an emotional bond that connects us. Strong voices create powerful art that influences people and changes the world.

Lastly, and most importantly. When you’re tired, beaten, rejected and ready to give up, remember these words: it is not about you. Your story came to you for a reason, and it is your gift to share because the world needs to hear it. When you get stuck thinking only of you and your success, your failures and your ego, you’re blocking the power needed to manifest. Consider all of the people who are relying on you to change their lives. They need you to believe in yourself. If you don’t, who else will? Then tell your ego to pipe it and get back to writing!

Interview with Winning Screenplay Writer Jimmy Prosser (BETTER CALL SAUL)

What is your TV Spec screenplay about?

The logline is “Suspended lawyer Jimmy McGill endures community service at a high school where he meets an accused teen, while Mike searches for the distributor of Cheese, a popular new drug.” Going deeper, this episode provides viewers a better understanding of why Jimmy McGill cares about his clients, and particularly those over their head and in situations they did not anticipate. In a flashback, we see teen Jimmy (along with young buddy Marco) devising a clever money making scam but abandoned by older brother Chuck once caught. In present day, Jimmy identifies too closely with an accused teen as he struggles to find a way to defend him. We also learn more about the Hector/Gus rivalry as they make moves to expand from meth to a new heroin derivative that became very hot in this time frame.

How does this episode fit into the context of the TV series?

“QUESO” would be Episode 26 ½ (during Season 3 between episodes 6/7) and opens on Jimmy’s first attempt to satisfy his community service requirements following his suspension by the New Mexico Bar Association.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Achilles heal

What TV show do you keep watching over and over again?

The show I’ve watched repeatedly over the years is “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Each of the characters are perfectly drawn and I admire the writers’ willingness to really push boundaries. However, the show that I currently admire most is “Black Mirror.” I have been focusing on one-hour drama and, as I work on my own pilot and series bible, the tone and structure of “Black Mirror” is what keeps coming to mind. If I could write for one show, it’s “Black Mirror.”

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I will be graduating in a few months from New York University’s (NYU), Tisch School of the Arts, where I study Dramatic Writing and Producing in the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. I’ve written plays, screenplays and sitcoms, but this script, QUESO, is my first one hour drama spec, which I wrote over 12 weeks this past summer.

How many stories have you written?

I’ve always liked to tell stories – but mostly orally to my family and friends. About 4 years ago, I began dramatic writing in earnest so over that time I must have written 20-30 short stories, plays, screenplays, sitcoms and now television drama scripts.

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

Being a kid growing up in San Diego during the 2000s, I have to say “I Miss You” by Blink-182.

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

I believe I’ve been able to capture the characters/dialogue and tone of “Better Call Saul” pretty well so the toughest part for me is to formulate the proper four act structure in a way that really communicates the right arc for the A, B and C stories.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Music, definitely. My favorite escapes are listening to music alone or grabbing instruments to play with my buddies as loudly as we can. When I write, a soundtrack always is in my head.

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

As I mentioned before, I’ve written a lot but this is my first drama spec so I was anxious to hear objective feedback. Some of the feedback I received was right on; some I think missed aspects of the script, especially when it comes to Jimmy’s motivation to help Bobby.

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

FilmFreeway has been great. My first experience with it was submitting a short screenplay, “NOTEWORTHY,” which won several festivals and is going to be shot in January. We hope to submit that completed short film to several of the best festivals next year via FilmFreeway because it is very easy to use.

Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?

As painful as it is, I feel that you must create a full beat sheet before trying to write the script! Once that solid outline is in place, the writing comes much easier. It is tempting to write a fun standalone scene as soon as you think of it, but if you don’t have your structure in place you may find yourself spending too much time trying to wedge that scene into the overall story.

****

Genre: Crime, Drama

Suspended lawyer Jimmy McGill endures community service at a high school where he meets an accused teen, while Mike searches for the distributor of Cheese, a popular new drug.

Narrator: Val Cole
Jimmy: Noah Casey
Mike: David Schaap
Bobby/Nacho: Gabriel Darku
Talbot/Hector: Neil Bennett
Secretary: Clare Blackwood
Kim: Lauren Toffan

Producer: Matthew Toffolo http://www.matthewtoffolo.com

Director: Kierston Drier
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: John Johnson

Camera Operator: Mary Cox

Interview with Winning Screenplay Writer Eric W. Carlson (THE SPIRIT OF COLUMBUS)

November 2017 Winning Feature Screenplay writer.

What is your screenplay about?

In 1964, Ohio housewife and amateur pilot Jerrie Mock races professional aviatrix Joan Merriam Smith in a daring attempt to become the first woman to successfully fly solo around the world.

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

True story/Adventure/Drama

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Jerrie Mock is an inspiration to all women (and others) who wish to achieve something meaningful, despite significant odds against success. (As a trivia note, her small Cessna 180 hangs in the Dulles annex of the Air and Space museum. If you are in the area, go look at it. You will be surprised at how small and fragile her airplane looks. It’s amazing she flew it 23,000 miles in 29 days.)

How would you describe this script in two words?

Courageous women.

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

To Kill a Mockingbird.

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I began the research in the summer of 2016. I finished the first draft in February 2017, and immediately started the revisions and editing.

How many stories have you written?

Well over 20 screenplays.

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

I Saw Her Standing There, by the Beatles – the true essence of a rock and roll song with its simple premise and pure raw sound.

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

I wanted to get this story right to honor Jerrie, so my editing process was long (and is still ongoing). Her story needs to be told.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Music (I’m a drummer), history, movies, and traveling.

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

It’s a great submission platform. I’ve entered over a dozen scripts into numerous contests, and never had a problem.

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

The feedback I received was the best from any contest, bar none. I have advised all of the writers in my screenwriting group to enter if they have a script that would fit the tone of your contest. I used the notes I received to do a rewrite, and they really strengthened my script. The fact that you had actors breathe life into my story was the absolute icing on the cake. It’s rare that we writers receive such an honor and opportunity.

****

(Adventure/Drama; based on a true story.) In 1964, Ohio housewife & amateur pilot Jerrie Mock races professional aviatrix Joan Merriam Smith in a daring attempt to become the first woman to successfully fly solo around the world.

Genre: Family, Drama, History, Adventure

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Jane Hailes
Jerrie: Penelope Park
Joan: Kelci Stephenson
Russ: Todd Thomas Dark
Williams: Charles Gordon
Sharp: Nick Wicht

Producer: Matthew Toffolo http://www.matthewtoffolo.com

Director: Kierston Drier
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: John Johnson

Camera Operator: Mary Cox

 

 

Interview with Winning Screenwriter Barry Brennessel (ÁNH SÁNG)

November 2017 Winning Feature Screenplay writer.

What is your screenplay about?

Two teenage boys in 1917 French Indochina discover their feelings for one another transcend mere friendship. But the hardships under French colonial rule, and the effects of the Great War, alter their lives forever.

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

LGBTQ historical drama

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

I like movies that carry me away to another time and place, especially when the setting is one rarely visited. I also like characters who overcome unimaginable hardships and prejudice. The characters in this screenplay face many obstacles in a land both enchanting and brutal.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Heartbreaking. Hopeful.

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

Orphée by Jean Cocteau. I first saw this in a college film studies class and I was mesmerized.

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

About 8 months

How many stories have you written?

I’ve written 4 novels, 3 short story collections, 3 stage plays, 8 screenplays, and 5 teleplays.

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

“Moon River”

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

This required a ton of research, aspects such as clothing, food, mail delivery, employment statistics, number of and make and model of automobiles, rule of law, weather patterns, etc.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Architecture, gardening, animals, travel, languages, and dessert.

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

So convenient! Once your screenplay is up, it takes just a few clicks to enter any competition or festival.

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

It’s not often you find a festival celebrating and championing LGBTQ stories. And the feedback was detailed and encouraging. Plus, Toronto! I love Canada. Many family vacations there when I was growing up. And I’ve been a fervent Degrassi fan since 1987.

****

Genre: Romance, LGBT, Drama

French Indochina, 1917. Two teenage boys discover their feelings for one another transcend mere friendship. But the hardships under French colonial rule, and the effects of the Great War, alter their lives forever.

CAST LIST:

Narration: Carina Cojeen
Minh: Xavier de Guzman
Thao: Anthony Yu
Laurent: Fabio Abreu
Minh’s Mother: Angelica Alejandro
Sovann: Isai Rivera Blas

Producer: Matthew Toffolo http://www.matthewtoffolo.com

Director: Kierston Drier
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: John Johnson

Camera Operator: Mary Cox

 

Interview with Producer/Writer Dan Dark (SPEECHLESS)

Dan Dark’s short film SPEECHLESS played to rave reviews at the October 2017 HORROR FEEDBACK Film Festival.

 What motivated you to make this film?  

I have loved horror movies since I was a child. I lived within walking distance of a rental store that didn’t have any age restrictions for R-rated movies, so much of my young life was gathering a few dollars in change from around the house and walking to the Mr. Video down the street. I’d rent the movie with the scariest box art and watch it when everyone else at home was asleep. I had wanted to be involved in the making of a horror film as long as I could remember.

When the time came to finally achieve this dream, I was also motivated by the number of great filmmakers, artists, musicians and writers who were willing to help on the project. It was easy to stay motivated when I knew I had some truly talented people working on the film because, like me, they all wanted to work on a fun little short horror film too.

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

A lot of things fell into place pretty quickly. From my first meeting with Bayonet Media, the film production company that made SPEECHLESS happen, where I was told that yes, this was possible to make and to make right, it was maybe 4 months until we had our finished film.

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

This is a tough one. I would say that the words I would want people to feel or experience are “creepy fun.”

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

Dustin Demoret, the director and editor of SPEECHLESS works at Bayonet and kept us from hitting many obstacles. Lauren Harper, another producer on the film, provided a ton of support and let us film in her home over two evenings and really made sure we got the most out of the limited $10,000 budget.

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

I am a bit of a perfectionist and so I was a little nervous about the feedback part. I didn’t want them to notice all the tiny things that bother me after watching it 100 times. But, seeing film fans give honest feedback was really fun because that’s what movie making is about! You go and have an experience with a piece of work another group of people made and you get to interact with it. Watching movies shouldn’t be passive, it should be something that inspires a conversation and seeing the feedback video really drove home that feeling.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of the Short Film:

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

Funny story, actually. I have a friend whose son accidentally locked himself in the basement of their hom. The son wrote SOS on a piece of paper and slid it under the door. My friend took a photo of the paper by the door and posted it to Instagram. I loved the idea of something communicating through a series of notes and initially the story was going to follow a boy who kept receiving notes first from the basement then directly into his room as the evil gets closer and closer. I had to pare down the story to the most basic elements for this short, but that is where the idea came from.

  What film have you seen the most in your life?  

I love this question! It’s so hard to say because I was a very obsessive compulsive kid and teen. If I liked a movie I would watch it over and over again, sometimes three times in a day. So what movie have I watched the most? Maybe Little Giants with Ed O’Neill and Rick Moranis or Homeward Bound with the dogs and cat that get lost. Since this was a horror film festival, I should probably include the horror film I have watched the most which would either be Jaws or Return of the Living Dead.

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

Again, I love love love this question. I would have to guess Bohemian Rhapsody since it has been around forever and I have listened to it my entire life.

  What is next for you? A new film?  

I have several short film scripts in the works which are mostly in the horror/thriller genre, but I would eventually love to try my hand at some comedic work too.

Interview with Winning Screenwriter Hazel Allan (THE RECEIPT)

October 2017 Winning Short Screenplay Writer.

What is your screenplay about?

It’s the story of Zak, a coffee shop customer who allows his ignorance to get the better of him.

What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama/tragedy.

Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

Many years ago I witnessed a waitress having her hair pulled by a huge bully of a man. I chose to turn a blind eye and that decision has haunted me ever since. I want her to know I’m sorry and that I still think about her.

How would you describe this script in two words?

Harrowing. Chilling.

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

‘Barefoot in the Park’. It’s my “go to movie” whenever I need cheering up.

How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I scribbled the original at the breakfast table one morning and typed it up later that day. The re-write took about two days to get to a point where I was happy with it.

How many stories have you written?

Hundreds, possibly even thousands, since I was a little girl. I now have three published children’s novels and approximately twenty screenplays of varying lengths.

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

‘Let’s Go Crazy’ by Prince. I love the lyrics. And what about that guitar solo! He’s my musical hero.

What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

The ending was the most difficult part to write. I have a tendency to write in shorter time than what appears on the screen. I desperately wanted to get across Zak’s desolation and regret but found this a challenge within the constraints of such a short piece.

Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

My family, books, animals, food, politics, music, coffee. Not necessarily in that order!

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

I wanted to try my hand at writing something short and snappy. I tend to get carried away and write too much so this felt like the ideal opportunity to practise a spot of self editing. I was most impressed with the initial feedback and found the comments very thorough, encouraging and constructive. I took on board the recommendations and felt they really helped me to reflect and develop my story and my style of writing.

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

My experience of Film Freeway has been a really positive one. I now look forward to their emails which have some great advice about festivals and competitions. At one point during the process of entering this competition I posted the wrong submission (duh!) and Film Freeway was extremely helpful and swift in replying to my call for help and sorting out my refund. Highly recommended.

Genre: Drama, Crime

A coffee shop customer allows his ignorance to get the better of him.

CAST LIST:

Narrator: Carina Cojeen
Esme: Lindsay Gerro
Zak: Nick Baillie
Man: Dennis Barham
Police: Fabio Abreu