Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter Graham Moes

An interview with screenwriter Graham Moes regarding the Kairos Prize Writing Competition.

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

A: "Men of Iron." It's an adaptation of the Howard Pyle classic adventure tale of the same name. The story follows a teenage boy forced to survive life at a medieval combat academy in order to become a knight and rise to a level he's able to fight the powerful earl who's forced the kid's family into hiding. Failure will mean his father's execution for treason by King Henry IV. So it's a swashbuckler that could be rated anything from PG to R depending on how the violence is handled. I see it as a family film, the sort of thing Disney was doing in the early '60s with "Kidnapped," "Swiss Family Robinson," etc. There's a little Harry Potter "fish out of water" boarding school angst... A little romance... History... But essentially it's a coming-of-age action story.

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 was familiar with Movieguide, but somehow my wife ended up hearing about the competition before I did. Given the family-film potential of the story, I thought it would be a good fit with what they and The Templeton Foundation want to accomplish with this prize. I guess they thought so too. I've entered this in a handful of competitions, some big, some lesser known. It's never finished lower than an honorable mention. Highest before this was top-five in a pool of 3,000-plus entries. Contests aren't sales, but at least you know you're on the right track.

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: Very much so. Great, easy to reach people. The award included a gala awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, same venue as the Golden Globes. Complete with red carpet walk past the flashing camera bulbs, dinner and champagne, and the chance to rub elbows with some pretty big-time producers and stars. I shared the press room backstage with Paige Hemmis from Extreme Makeover: Home Improvement, which was fairly cool in itself. I've received most of the extras that come with the award already. Certainly all the big ones, including the money and industry exposure.

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

A: I entered two scripts. They sent written coverage on the one that didn't make the cut. Obviously done by a reader with industry experience, because it was really complete. Feedback on "Men of Iron" was the win I suppose. The organizers, of course, were on hand to give their reactions to the script and why it did well in their eyes. So yes, all very helpful stuff.

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

A: I landed a manager after the first contest I tried. The problem with this script is its timing. With the last few swashbucklers from "King Arthur" on down underperforming, I really think we're going to have to wait for the genre cycle to come back around, which it will. The Kairos win has it in the hands of four or five studio heads, but I haven't heard anything back yet. But it's still early. Based on the award fallout, I have received few calls and email from a few people interested in developing projects. Nothing solid yet but things are moving in the right direction.

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

A: I've written two, this one and a true-story western based on the Montana vigilante movement that gave birth to the state. My day job is staff writer for The Clovis Independent newspaper in the Fresno area. Been doing it for a few years now, and I've found the whole deadline-driven environment and need to cut to fit for space requirements -- even the need to be compelling in hard news writing -- has really helped hone my screenwriting skills. Living abroad as a teen helped broaden my perspective too. Quite a culture shock moving from rural Montana to Sweden for two years at the impressionable age of 15.

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

A: I lived in L.A. for eight years before I just burned out on it. Totally drains your creativity and keeps you locked into a certain mindset not conducive to maintaining your own voice. At least for me. I have friends who totally disagree. The Central Valley is an easy three-hour drive to Southern California and that's about as close as I'm willing to get. Better to live where you're in a good place mentally and spiritually. Maybe you'll have to spend more on gas or airfare once you're successful. So what? Life's too short. I do think with technology what it is today, the industry will continue to spread out physically over the coming decades regardless.

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

A: My manager (Ken Atchity of AEI) was able to get my first two scripts into the hands of Jerry Bruckheimer's people. They had good things to say about the writing, so I'm working on a contemporary action treatment we're getting to them soon. It's a "small unit combat"-themed piece set in Iraq, though not technically a military picture. Not unlike TV's "The Unit" is some ways, I guess. A bit more right-of-center than a lot of what's out there right now. I've got high hopes for it. But then, I always do.

Posted Thursday, May 4, 2006