Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter Jonathan Miller

An interview with screenwriter Jonathan Miller regarding the AAA Writing Competition.

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

A: "Garbo's Last Stand" is set on the eve of World War II, with screen legend Greta Garbo embarking on a secret plot aboard an ocean liner bound for Nazi Germany to assassinate her biggest fan - Adolf Hitler. The script is inspired by true events that occured to a legendary associated press reporter by the name of Seth Moseley. Seth actually found Garbo in the men's room of an ocean liner, hiding from the press corps on one of her many transatlantic trips just prior to the war. She said later, that if the war didn't start when it did, "I would have gone and I would have taken a gun out of my purse and shot him (Hitler), because I'm the only person who would not have been searched." In the screenplay, Seth stows away aboard the same ocean liner, trying to get himself out of debt with a candid photo of the star, only to realize there are also Nazis aboard intent on bringing Garbo back to the fatherland to make her the mother of the Aryan race. But when war is suddenly declared, a stand off on the open sea becomes inevitable.

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

A: The AAA contest is one of the better and more respected contests out there. Since I've won the Grand Prize, they have featured me in the May/June issue of Creative Screenwriting and will be sending out my script to over 400 industry companies. That's a pretty amazing prize, in addition to the $5,000 cash! Last year, "Garbo's Last Stand" made it to the quarterfinals of the Nicholl fellowships, in addition to another script of mine which reached the Semifinals. Winning the AAA contest has given me newfound confidence in my writing, and I'm hoping it will lead to a first sale, or, a writing assignment. Until then, I'll keep entering contests like AAA and the Nicholls, which have real pay-offs and keep me writing.

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 staff at Creative Screenwriting who administer the contest are really wonderful and supportive people. I know they received a lot of flack this year for delaying the results of the competition until after the writer's strike was resolved. Since being notified in February, Pasha, the contest coordinator, and the rest of the staff have worked diligently to make sure that the script gets the best chance at industry exposure. They made sure that I was featured in the May/June issue, prior to the script being released. They made sure I received the prize money. But even more valuable than the money, they allowed me to contact producers I already knew and included them on the list of companies the script would go out to. I think that is service above and beyond the call, and I really respect them for that. And last but not least, there is the Expo in the fall which I have a gold pass to all the pitch sessions and seminars. With this contest, it seems like the gifts and exposure keep on coming and I'm hoping with the sustained attention will come my big break into the industry.

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

A: Danny Munso from the magazine did talk to me on the phone and via e-mail about the script. He essentially told me what elements attracted them to it and made it stand out from the other entrants. It was very gratifying to hear and gave me a big vote of confidence to keep me pushing the envelope regarding my writing. I think that was as valuable as any of the other prizes I received.

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

A: I've already received a few inquiries regarding the script and it hasn't even gone out to companies yet! That tells you that the contest is respected and matters in the industry, when people request your script off the win alone. Right now, most of the attention I am getting is from producers, which is what I'm focused on. Hopefully, if I find a buyer, then an agent will follow.

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

A: Since graduating film school, I've written several screenplays and worked in cable documentaries. My dream, of course, is to have a feature screenplay credit, but I also wouldn't mind writing MOW's for the networks or cable. I've also written a few specs for tv shows, but I think my heart is really in the feature format.

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

A: I lived in LA for five years, before moving to Northern California. I still visit quite often on business and would definitely consider moving back for my writing career. I know my way around pretty well having lived there and it's definitely easier to make meetings when you're in-town.

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

A: I'm very excited about my latest script, because it's a departure for me - a contemporary psychological thriller. I actually got the idea for it from watching Hitchcock's Psycho late one night. I realized that the character of Mother was just as vivid as any of the other characters in the movie - even though she only existed in Norman's mind. It's really challenging to base an entire movie on a character you never actually see, only hear and learn about by how they affect the other characters. I don't want to give away any more than that, but I think it is the kind of story that will really make people jump out of their seats!

Posted Thursday, May 29, 2008