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Screenwriter Interviews

Writers: If you've finished first, second, or third in any screenwriting competition listed on MovieBytes, we'd like to interview you! First, make sure the contest results for the year you won are posted on MovieBytes, including your name, so we can verify your submission. Then submit our online interview form for that contest. We'll notify you via email when your interview has been posted.

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter Ian Coburn

An interview with screenwriter Ian Coburn regarding the Hollywood Scriptwriting Writing Competition.

Q: What's the title of the script you entered in this contest, and what's it about?

A: "Amber Alert." Hmm, perhaps a clue to the plot in the title... It's a fast-paced thriller/mystery. I set out to accomplish what they did in "The Fugitive"; that is, tell a great story admist constant action and chase tension. I had a blast writing it! Normally one of the obstacles when writing is "How do I get from this exciting scene to the next one?" Not an issue here, as each scene had to be exciting itself, so there is no "down-time". It's constantly moving while it constantly tells the story and works toward solving the mystery. Every part of the script was exciting to write and I never paused to figure out how to "get from there to here."

Q: What made you enter this particular contest? Have you entered any other contests with this script? If so, how did you do?

A: I entered another script, "The Unthinkable", the previous month and got useful feedback, which is what I look for in a contest. They actually sent me the rating sheet they used to score the script, which earned an 8/10. More importantly, it contained notes. It's important to note that all entertainment mediums are subjective, so following one set of notes is probably not too helpful. But when these notes are compared to the notes of friends or other contest notes, etc, a pattern can be seen. In that pattern is where the good and bad can be seen about the script.

So, I decided to enter some other scripts, one a month. Next thing I knew, "Amber Alert" had won. I have not entered it into any other competitions and probably won't.

Q: Were you satisfied with the adminstration of the contest? Did they meet their deadlines? Did you receive all the awards that were promised?

A: The contest is run very professionally and I just mailed off a romantic comedy, not entered in any other contests, for the notes they provide. They met their deadlines ahead of time and while I have not followed up yet on the award package yet, I am sure it will be fulfilled. (I'm busy contacting agencies with the information on the win currently, trying to catch that all-important break.)

Q: Were you given any feedback on your script? If so, did you find the feedback helpful?

A: Oops, I already answered this question. So, I'll just babble on about something else... while camping in Canada last week, I saw a lynx. It was really cool!

Seriously, having written as a stand-up for so long, I had the fortune of learning that creating is a process. Feedback is important to that process but must be weighed by personal choices. Someone may tell you, "Don't do that!" but if that's exactly what you want to do, you probably SHOULD do it. I saw "8mm" years ago when my friend was late for "Analyze This" and it had sold out. I remember critiques saying it was too harsh and showed too much; that it was disturbing. I agree, it was disturbing, I literally had trouble sleeping that night. But I think that's what the director WANTED. He wanted viewers to find it unsettling. So, instead of telling them they went overboard, I say congrats on achieving your goal. Good job.

I haven't received my feedback for this script yet, but it will be useful, I guarantee it.

Q: Has your success in this contest helped you market your script? Were you contacted by any agents, managers or producers?

A: Too early to tell, but as a comedian turned scriptwriter-with-some-good-successes I used to work with says, "In this industry, any heat is good heat." So, I think if I use the results and market it properly, some good things will happen.

I have heard from a few agents, who have given me some good advice. Also, Radmin gets the results, so I'll be contacting them soon to see if they want a copy. (I'm horribly impatient, which is not good in a "hurry up and wait" industry, such as this one and comedy.)

UPDATE: Okay, ten minutes after finishing this interview, Radmin contacted me for a copy of the script. Good news! We'll see what happens, keep your fingers crossed.

Q: What's your background? Have you written any other screenplays or television scripts?

A: I started stand-up comedy at age 19, while I was in college. Soon, I was all over the road, touring. (I didn't go to classes much any ways, so I figured I might as well be making money!) I literally mailed in term papers or skipped exams to make gigs. My Junior year, I was hardly ever on campus. I was good and made a good living, thankfully. Sold my own t-shirts, etc, after shows even. (If you can actually have people pay YOU to advertise... well, it doesn't get better than that.)

I had ideas, though, that fit better into screenplays than on stage and couldn't tackle them. I wanted to do some scripts but found the format to be a pain and I knew nothing about it. To complicate things, back then, you had to put in some camera shots, etc. One day another comedian said, "Ah, you know, they have programs that will do that for you." Dah. So I got a small guide from the Writer's Guild and learned the basics. Later, when I got software, I tinkered a little and between it and the guide, I was good to go and finally got my ideas down on paper.

I actually wrote several episodes to my own created sitcom after college on an old wordprocesser, which I never tried to submit to anyone. They're very funny but served even a better purpose by "cutting my teeth".

Q: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans to move there?

A: Nope. I actually hit LA as a comedian and found that industry to be ruthless. Nearly every comedian I met that I didn't already know was busy plotting to screw other acts over and lied like the Titanic on the bottom of the sea. Like I said, I was successful, so when I got out there, I had plenty of stage time already setup. A bunch of acts who hung out every night for years w/out much experience were peeved and felt that they're hanging out should give them mic time, not experience. Two things to know about the entertainment industry: One, take every piece of advice, including any I've given, with a grain of salt. There are no real rules, outside of the basics. For example, emcees do 15 minutes, not 45. And scripts must be in the proper format. If you don't follow those rules, you'll never get past the door. But those are the only real rules. Two, build your talent before you market it. Too many times new comedians are concerned with selling t-shirts or getting more mic time, when they have nothing to sell or not enough to say to fill up even five minutes, just as new writers try to push their script or enter it into a contest before they've finished it or query agents before they've edited the script or had friends read it. TAKE YOUR TIME. Hone your craft and be willing to always hone it, no matter how successful you may be fortunate to become. That's where you will learn HOW to write for YOURSELF. (Many times new writers simply mimick advice--"Write five pages a day" "Outline first" "Take a class". Remember, grain of salt. Write and keep writing, finding what's comfortable for YOU.) Remember, I'm not a new writer; I'm a new writer for SCRIPTS. I already have the fortune of knowing how to write for me, I just had to learn how to adapt to scripts. And I constantly have to be willing to adjust. My task is to take my already successful writing skill and show the script industry that it will be successful on screen as well, which is not an easy task, believe me. Plus, I still have a lot to learn... and always will.

What was the ? Oh yeah, if I had to, I would move to LA, but I have a nephew in Chicago I help raise and until recently I was involved in taking care of my father, who unfortunately passed away last month (I guess I didn't do a very good job...) No, he had diabetes and then a heart attack. I learned some important things from him.

Q: What's next? Are you working on a new script?

A: I always have ideas for stories and thus scripts. My biggest obstacle with writing is to slow down and not get ahead of myself. Finish this story before jumping the gun to the next one. As I write, I'll have ideas that won't fit in the current script but I hang onto for use in another script. Some of them create a concept for an entire another story. I jot them down or make a mental note and continue with my current script. That's not to say I stick to the idea I'm currently writing. Many times writers try to hang onto an idea that just doesn't fit and force it into a "square peg", while a new idea is screaming at them to use it. I use the new idea and it is amazing how quickly the story develops and takes shape on its own. Afterwards, I simply go back and read, plastering any loopholes. I think that's a big part of why I avoid writer's block so often. Once I get in that zone, I fly. I wrote "Amber Alert" in three weeks and the previous script, the romantic comedy I mentioned earlier, in two. (Editing times tend to take another week or two and then friends start getting the scripts.)

My current script, my 5th to date, is a straight comedy with some slapstick humor.

Posted Thursday, August 5, 2004

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