Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter David Bertoni

An interview with screenwriter David Bertoni regarding the PAGE International Writing Competition.

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

A: It's called The Stunning Box, and it's about a passionate young psychiatrist who can only solve a perplexing mystery by mending his relationship with his father. Overall, it's a trip into the subconscious mind, which is a pretty frightening place. At least for me.

This is my fourth Moviebytes interview about this script, and it's weird to trace the evolution of my thoughts about the story over time. I would say, however, that I have a good deal of distance from The Stunning Box right now, and may actually be in a position to offer some words of wisdom to other writers.

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 PAGE on the strong recommendation of a fellow writer. He thought that it offered a better opportunity for certain genres that are often overlooked in more generic contests. PAGE offers Gold, Silver, and Bronze prizes in about six genres (in addition to an overall winner), and mine was entered in the Fantasy/SciFi category.

As you can see from my listing, I've entered a lot of contests. Luckily, I've made back more than the entry fees in prizes, so I feel pretty unscathed. I've won contests outright, and have generally made it to the finalist or semi-finalist rounds in almost every contest I've entered. Given the genre of The Stunning Box, I think that's a fairly unusual set of results. It has not done as well, by the way, in the specific Horror/SciFi contests, and, having read a couple of winning scripts in those contests, I think it's because these genres appear to be very tightly defined. The Stunning Box isn't easily categorized, as it's part thriller, part horror, part psychological drama, and part science fiction. And so, my guess is that it wasn't what the judges in those contests were expecting to read or measure. Or maybe they just didn't like it that much. As my first workplace mentor told me, "Not everyone is going to like you." Well, I'll add to that, "Not everyone is going to like your screenplay."

One other point. There's a joke a screenwriter told me about the guy who calls his agent and asks, "Did you like my screenplay?" To which the agent responds, "I don't know. No one else has read it yet." Trust me on this. You only need one passionate person with some connections to love your screenplay for the doors to open, even if it gets a bunch of "ehs" from the big agencies. Once one person goes out on a limb and says, "This is great!" others tend to follow. Remember that once the agency and production company requests come in ... and they will if you perform well in the PAGE contest.

Let me be blunt: I've won other contests. PAGE has, by far, generated the most requests for my script. Unbelievably so. People who never responded to query letters for the same script. And I now have several companies who wish to represent me, which, while an enviable position, presents a set of new questions and concerns that I never believed I'd face.

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: Run like clockwork. Very communicative. Awards are coming in as promised.

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

A: Great written feedback from three judges.

Plus, when PAGE promotes it, they include the Judges' very helpful (marketing-wise) comments:

JUDGES’ COMMENTS: A thought-provoking, high-concept sci-fi thriller along the lines of THE SIXTH DAY or 28 DAYS LATER. Dark and challenging. A haunting, powerful story with a brilliant kicker.


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

A: Yes. Over a dozen requests, and they keep coming ...

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

A: I've written screenplays, one teleplay, and one novel.

I can't believe how bad my earlier screenplays are. It makes me cringe to read them, but, amazingly, I think I know how to fix them. The Stunning Box, which started out as a writing class project with Kyle Rankin, has been the equivalent of my Ph.D program in dramatic writing. Kyle, who is a real screenwriter, has been a terrific mentor and instructor.

I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that I'd throw away all of my screenwriting books (okay, most of them) and keep SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder -- which has become my screenwriting bible. Blake's books is terrific front to back. (The only quibble I have is when the "inciting incident" should occur -- he says page 12, I say page 17. Mere quibbling, however!) If you don't own it, buy it. Read it over and over and keep it handy.

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

A: I live in Maine.

Presently, I have no plan to move to Los Angeles, but life can be fluid.

I must say, however, that Maine is a pretty perfect place where kids can walk to school, there are never any traffic jams or waiting lines (except at the DMV), the scenery is breathtaking, and live proceeds just a little a little less frantic. Plus, it's conducive to writing. Just ask Stephen King the next time you run into him at the Bangor bagel shop ...

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

A: I think my next script is a doozie, since I actually think I know what I'm doing this time. I'm working with a writing partner, and it's been a bit slow-going since we both have full-time jobs. We meet, on average, once a week to write. If we did nothing but write, the screenplay probably would have been finished six months ago. In any event, we came up with ten titles and log-lines each, and, as Blake Snyder suggests, we "focus-grouped" them. Not only did we test them out on family and friends, we tested them out on complete strangers (they were all flattered to be asked). Then we tested them on over 200 high school students. The winner was quite clear, and, despite our fears, it received strong, favorable reactions from men and women, adults and teens--just about everyone. We put together a solid beat sheet, characters, and set pieces, and are now finishing up a detailed outline. It still makes us laugh--which is a good thing as it's a comedy.

Posted Wednesday, October 11, 2006