Interview with 2020 Creative World Award Winner Ross L. Mayberry
Ross L. Mayberry is a Clinical Psychologist in Seattle whose pirate tale Sailing Off the Edge of the World was named the Grand Prize Winner of the 2020 Creative World Awards Screenwriting Competition.
Q: What inspired you to write the feature, SAILING OFF THE EDGE OF THE WORLD?
A: One day an image came to me of a pirate staring out over a Caribbean harbor, (wearing only a sword) but deeply regretting marooning a beautiful but annoying nun on an island some months before. Serious pirate regret – a rare event. Now, this is ridiculous because pirates are not supposed to regret anything, let alone throw away a perfectly ravishable nun. Then it dawned on me that this is exactly where William Goldman would start one of his wonderful, backward tales like the classic BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. So, I decided I would try to write a pirate version of BUTCH CASSIDY in Goldman mode - where everything defies the audience's expectations.
Q: What is your background and what initially inspired you to become a screenwriter?
A: I have a day job as a Clinical Psychologist (PhD) in private practice in Seattle. Before that I ran programs treating Vietnam combat veterans for about ten years, very important and meaningful work. Great guys. I have a BA in English and an MA in Cultural Symbol Systems/Comparative Religions (a covert Jungian studies program) and studied at the CG Jung Institute in Zurich but am, honestly, a lapsed Jungian at best. Maybe a Campbellian. Can you say "hero cycle?" My life is actually all about stories and that may be a result of the fact that I integrate information via images. In other words, I see images of whatever people say to me well before my mind grasps it rationally, or perhaps so that my mind can grasp it. I watch "moving pictures" all day. My inner world sometimes feels like a moving montage of images layered over what one might refer to as reality.
Is this your first script or one of a few that you have written? And how do you typically choose your subject matter?
A: SAILING is my fourth finished script (two for courses in the 90's) and I wrote it just for fun. Two of the other three are semi-autobiographical. There is a Greek word -Xenythia- which describes both a type of music and a tragic circumstance that befalls many people on this planet. It translates roughly as "an unbearable longing to return to one's home after catastrophic loss." A very rich word or concept. My first script, FINDING ANNIE (about adolescence) and CROSSING OPEN GROUND (the struggle of Vietnam veterans finding help after the war) both addressed this subject. I'm not at all sure we choose themes; I think themes choose us.
Q: Do you do this full time, or juggle it between other work? If other, how do you manage it all & what words of inspiration do you have for other aspiring screenwriters?
A: Juggle. If you can, set aside mid-day writing time (30-90 minutes) and use any 10-20 minute lull to scribble on index cards. As they say, "If not now, when?" Also, if you happen to be a psychologist, hair stylist or family law attorney you can totally ignore your clients and think about your script throughout the "hour" and if you get caught just toss out an "Interesting, tell me more" kind of phrase or better yet, have an office parrot say it. Whoops, that's in another script. Damn. Have Alexa say it, but move your script forward.
Q: What is your creative process when writing scripts? Do you have a set writing time? Length it usually takes to complete a script? Sources of inspiration, etc.?
A: Ok, you asked. This answer could be a clunker. So, the human mind is polycentric - meaning we all have an internal "cast" of neural networks that perform different functions... ergo, many centers. It's a "team of rivals" as one neuropsychiatrist put it. What does this look like on the ground? A writer, a critic, a manager and the weasel brain – to name just a few. And since they're talking to each other anyway (to the tune of three trillion messages per second), I think we can just do it out loud and shape it from there. You might think of this as rewriting the software your parents downloaded into you without your permission, lol. Doesn't that add a little urgency? Personally, I start by letting the "Critic" review yesterday's writing, make 'soft mental notes' to go back to this or that and then the critic needs to shut the...up so our goofy genius or tragic "Writer" can take over and just write uninterrupted. The "Manager" arranges the writing schedule but otherwise doesn't actually seem to care about the internal drama as far as I can tell – like a lot of managers. But then there's always the "Weasel Brain" trying to get us to check email, phone etc., get a snack. It never ends. But it's actually a network trying like mad to divert our attention to irrelevant subjects to keep the Writer from getting too close to danger...yup, vulnerability. It's always about deepening your vulnerability.
Q: What was the feeling like winning the Grand Prize Award at CWA & how has it impacted you so far?
A: Well, honestly, I thought it was a clerical error so I just waited for a correction. But I was carpet-bombed with emails from the lovely CWA folks and I was forced to believe it. They liked it for the same reason I wrote it - good clean fun (with swords.) Impact? Working with CWA's Heather Waters and Marlene Neubauer has definitely made me a better and more thoughtful writer. The submitted first draft only took about four months to write and you could hardly find the story buried underneath all the rookie errors. I mean, riddled. Poor Heather...so patient. I think the real impact of having CWA's blessing will come when the script gets promoted. Stay tuned.
Q: How important are things like flexibility in rewrites as a screenwriter, networking with other industry professionals, and promoting yourself and craft? Is there a particular path and balance to it all that you personally have found works well for you?
A: Rewrites are inevitable and you have to know this going in. But getting good feedback is essential to going deeper into your story. So rewrites bring you closer to you. As far as networking and promotion go, I've already had one highly successful career and the only self-promotion I ever did there was be real, as odd as that may sound. So the promotion part I will leave to others or it won't probably happen. Unless you are writing for rent, write what your heart insists on writing. No. Write from the heart anyway.
Q: What are your plans from here for SAILING OFF THE EDGE OF THE WORLD? And your other projects? And where do you see your career in five years?
A: I haven't got any plans for the script. I'm hoping other people will run it around LA and do whatever they do to get it considered. I would not be surprised to see my masterfully revised script sail right off the edge of the film world and disappear. As for other projects, I'm currently working on DSM-V: THE MUSICAL, a political vaudeville folly based the last four years in Washington DC and a pop psych book tentatively titled THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF SLIGHTLY DEFECTIVE PEOPLE. I'm kidding... I'm closing my practice in April and thinking seriously about going back to live in Greece. A different arc than many writers. I'm very fortunate. I'm also writing a World War One novel that moves from Paris to Thessaloniki to Constantinople to Smyrna. Boom.
Q: Any final words of encouragement you would like to pass onto other writers who may have not gotten a lot of accolades for their work yet?
A: Get professional feedback! I've been very fortunate to have had the funds to hire John Rainey, a terrific script analyst, as well as confer with my longtime friend and playwright Elizabeth Clark-Stern. In addition, producer Deborah Moore has been extremely generous in her feedback on my previous winner, CROSSING OPEN GROUND. Beg, borrow or steak, folks, but get a pro to look deeply at your work.
Q: And any last words for producers out there that may be looking for new material & why they may want to consider SAILING OFF THE EDGE OF THE WORLD?
YES, of course. What is there not to like about a character named Shlomo the Jew who takes on the Spanish Inquisition and is savvy enough to hire pirates and succeed? C'mon. You gotta love this guy. I mean, he started a book club in 1717. I have friends that call up and before they ask about me, they ask "Hey, how's Shlomo? He still trying to take over the script?" Oi. I got an eye on him. At the end of the day most industry professionals should know that pirates invented democracy, disability payments, retirement schemes, money laundering and some chunks of capitalism, not to mention a wide assortment of skullduggeries and great tales about things that never really happened. Great for cocktail parties. But honestly, who among us doesn't want to be a pirate?