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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 Sean Ryan

An interview with screenwriter Sean Ryan regarding the Gimme Credit Writing Competition.

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

A: My feature script is called SWAP. It is a science-fiction thriller set in the present (as I wanted it to be grounded science fiction). It opens as a cop thriller/action and that evolves into a science fiction conspiracy. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but responses have been very encouraging, so I am hopeful that my hard work and passion will serve the script well.

Logline: A homicide detective investigating a murder discovers that the killer is also a victim and uncovers a deadly conspiracy.

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 have entered different drafts into various contests during it development and it has always placed well. Each competition encouraged me to rewrite and improve it. The script has placed better with each revision and new draft.

It has placed as a finalist: in the Contest #27, and also a finalist in the 2011 AWS Award Winning Screenwriters contest. Before coming 3rd in the Gimme Credit Cycle X contest. Last month (August 2012) I entered the last draft in the Write Movies A/Exposure contest and it came 2nd.

As they say writing is rewriting and entering contests regularly makes me work harder to improve and make the script all that it can be. I am presently deep in a new draft and using the feedback from the last contest with my own ideas of what I wasn't happy with, to get the script to a stage now I think it is much tighter and ready to be shown around/pitched as a spec screenplay.

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

A: I entered Gimme credit back in 2009 with a short holocaust script of mine called Fading Numbers which has done well in a number of other contests. The feedback that Gimme Credit gave was very helpful in understanding why I was in the finals but didn't win. Without feedback you are flying blind as I always tell people it’s like studying for an exam, failing and never knowing why.

I was impressed that they followed through and also had clearly read the script. I remember entering another contest and getting feedback that actually proved they must have skimmed over and not read the script because they got the main character completely wrong. For a writer that type of reaction is heart breaking because you work so hard and then people claim to read it and don't (+ take your entry fee).

Gimme Credit impressed me enough to trust them with my feature script SWAP. I was nervous entering contests with it because I had pitched the concept to a few people well placed in the film business (to see if it would work as a commercial film) and they told me straight out I was onto something, I just needed the script to be as good as the concept, which takes work. So I needed to get into the gym and the best writer's gyms are contests but they have to be the right contests. I have won in contests that have promised production, mentoring through to prizes and some deliver while others don’t. Gimme Credit has delivered on all their promises and prizes and have been in constant contact to make sure everything has gone smoothly. I have found that a lot of contests are either too big or too focused on offering other services such as coverage. Gimme credit is a contest that the others should aspire to.

Q: How long did it take you to write the script? Did you write an outline beforehand? How many drafts did you write?

A: I have been developing the script since I conceived the general concept in 2010. I immediately wrote a treatment to nail down the plot points and outline the script/characters. I'm fairly amazed how much the script has evolved and grown since the treatment and first draft. Although I had written over a dozen features before I started SWAP and countless short scripts, I still found myself learning the craft and needed to constantly up my game to make the story pitch-able.

It is presently at its 13th draft and has gone through a lot of change in tone, story and pacing. To be honest very little of the treatment remains in the current draft. But as a writer you try things that work that could be better, so you have to learn to let go of what you love if it doesn't serve the story. A lot of my scripts are there and ready by draft 3 to 5. SWAP is such a high concept and commercial script; I had to relearn everything I had learned. On the other hand you know you work is something special when you are still rewriting it that many drafts later, because times change, tastes change and sometimes something too similar comes out on release and you have missed the boat.

But SWAP was not the only script I conceived and worked on during this time frame. While taking a break between drafts I wrote an action thriller, family drama and comedy features, revised them and wrote several short scripts, as well as worked on some short film productions. So you don't just work on the one story, but distance yourself from it before going back to revise, otherwise you are too close to it and don't give it enough air to breathe or time to evolve.

Q: What kind of software did you use to write the script, if any? What other kinds of writing software do you use?

A: I started my first ever screenplay in Microsoft Word. I read the Terminator script (one of my all-time favourite films) to get an idea of structure and formatting and wrote a 110 page high concept science fiction film set on the moon called Utopia-1. The formatting was just not right and I did the next draft in Final Draft. Using a piece of software designed for the job makes your work easier because you can concentrate on the story and script rather than wasting time on formatting. I've been using final draft ever since. Word is an excellent product but it’s just not designed for screenwriting and you can spot a mile off when a script has been written in an application that wasn't designed to do so. It not only makes your work/life harder but it will let you down if you want other to sit down and read your work. Remember readers are looking for a reason to stop reading. Poor formatting will land your work in the trash quicker than a poor story.

Q: Do you write every day? How many hours per day?

A: I try to maximise my time to two hours in a day, unless I'm under pressure to get something finished. But I feel you work suffers when you spend too much time in front of the computer screen typing. A lot of my writing happens in my head and on pages of notes or on my voice recorder app on my cell. For me I shoot a film in my head first, bounce scenes around and around and then make notes before I hit the computer and write it. So physically I could be writing two hours a day but my brain in working out plot and character problems for two to three times more than that. Writers spend a lot of time in their head so some days I get some of my best story ideas and problems solved in the gym.

Q: Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with that?

A: No, I don't really believe in writer's block. There will be times you can't think of a story or get stuck in one but often if you are stuck when physically writing it is because you haven't thought it through or planned it right. Take a break, don't force it. Like I said writers spend a lot of time in their head, so you need to let the process flow and it will come to you in time. If it doesn't work at all, don't force it, walk away and do another. Someday the solution may come, but don't get stuck in the trap of contrivance just to make something fit. A great story needs to be organic, needs to have life and flow.

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

A: I've just finished writing/co-writing my 18th feature script. I've written over 100 short scripts and had over a dozen of them produced in different countries (the internet is an amazing corroborated tool that truly has helped to make the world smaller). I've been writing since 2003 when I had an idea for a film and decided to write it myself rather than pitch a concept. I found myself writing another and then wrote my first short film and sold the first draft a week after I finished it. I've been hooked ever since and have tried to push myself to write in various genres rather than stick to a single one. I've written thrillers, horrors, dramas, comedies, action and science fiction ranging from low to high budget in scale and scope.

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

A: I live in Ireland and despite all the economic woes my kids have a good life here so no I have no plans to move to Los Angeles, because my one "life law" that I live by is family first.

To be honest with the internet and modern computing I think a writer can be anywhere and still be in the business. Video-conferencing such as Skype is too cheap and easy to use these days to insist people have to be in the room for each and every meeting. I've worked on low budget films in Los Angeles, New Jersey, South Africa, San Francisco, Dublin, Portugal, Detroit, Boston, Switzerland and New York and I've never had to be physically involved in meetings. There are too many excellent collaborative tools available today so I think no one has to limit their ability to be involved in film no matter where they live in the world.

More importantly remember how quickly film is evolving in this modern age of technology, distribution medium is no longer limited to cinema and the Hollywood studios. Youtube, Xbox live, Netflix and lovefilm to name but a few, combined with mobile HD smart phone (computing) means the goalposts of filmmaking have changed and will continue to change and evolve. Independent film is the future of the industry and it is global and not limited to your local movie theatre.

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

A: Presently I'm finishing the latest draft of SWAP as I want to push it as far as it can go and I think it is ready. I have just finished a high concept action/thriller that I want to go back and write a new draft for and I've just finished my first attempt at writing, directing, editing, producing and taking a short film from a blank page to a finished short film and I want to enter that into some festivals and see how it is received.

My main goal however is to get a feature script produced. I've started by writing shorts, tried feature spec scripts of various genres, had scripts produced and optioned and even made my own short film. But the main goal for some time is to get a feature script into production, so that is where a lot of my focus and energy will be centred for the immediate future. But I'm sure I'll write a few more features, shorts and treatments as I progress because the ideas keep coming.

Posted Saturday, September 8, 2012

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