Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter VerLynn Kneifl

An interview with screenwriter VerLynn Kneifl regarding the Wildsound Writing Competition.

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

A: In TO DIE IN TENNESSEE, William Clark recalls the perilous Lewis & Clark Expedition and its aftermath, casting new light on the impetuous life and mysterious death of fellow explorer, Meriwether Lewis. Lewis died on his way to Washington to defend actions he'd taken as Governor of the Louisiana Territory. He was troubled. He was known to be ill, probably with malaria. He died at Grinder's Stand, an isolated accommodation for travelers on the Natchez Trace. James Neelly, a man of dubious character, informed Thomas Jefferson that Lewis had died by his own hand. Neelly was later known to be in possession of several of Lewis's personal effects, among them a costly set of custom-made pistols. No official investigation was ever conducted into Lewis's death. Lost in the pages of history were the words of someone who was present at Grinder's Stand that night, a black man who insisted until the day of his death that Governor Lewis was murdered at Grinder's Stand.

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

A: We liked what we read about WILDsound, including the glowing comments of some who had entered it. We've placed in a number of contests. Finalist, quarter- and semi-finalist. Honorable mention. "Exceptionally high marks in both storytelling and concept." "The dialogue throughout shines. The characters are well-developed, their relationships complex and believable." "Fascinating and little-known story from American history, beautifully told. This is a killer script!" One contest administrator surprised me with a phone call. He said, "I really love this script."

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: We're extremely satisfied with the administration of the WILDsound competition. We were offered the opportunity for a table read of our script. Okay, I admit it. We were skeptical. We weren't convinced they could do an effective reading of such a large-cast script. But they completely blew us away. They came up with an amazingly effective presentation using two talented actors as the main characters and three playing revolving roles. In addition, WILDsound has provided post-win guidance. They're cordial, helpful and quick to respond to questions. On one occasion, I emailed them at about two a.m. and was astonished when I received an immediate response. This is the first contest experience in which we really feel our screenplay is being actively promoted.

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

A: The script evolved over a period of several years. I read a magazine article recently. "What is the most gripping true story you've ever read?" Answer: "The Journals of Lewis & Clark." The wealth of possible dramatic scenes is overwhelming. We did a rough outline, but it was riddled with question marks. We'd cross something out, then go back and put it in again. We found an excellent script analyst. He was extremely encouraging and helped us focus on what was vital to the story and what wasn't. How many drafts? We lost count!

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

A: In the beginning, we hadn't convinced ourselves we were actually going to write a screenplay, so we didn't invest in software. We played around with it and somehow it started coming together. It was funny. We'd end up with a section of dialogue that didn't fit at the bottom of the page. We'd go back and trim something to make it fit and maybe discover we'd actually improved it. It was a rigorous exercise in tight writing. Or we'd end up with a scene heading floating unattended at the bottom of the page. We'd add something on the page and maybe realize we'd just come up with an inspired line of dialogue. It reminded me of a friend turning her canvas upside down in an oil painting class so she could work on a different area. She said, "I don't think Rembrandt did it this way!" I doubt we'd want to attempt a screenplay without software again.

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

A: I write whenever life doesn't get in the way. Left untended, I'm liable to write all night and be awakened all day by telephone and doorbell. I'm angle-parked in a parallel-parking world.

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

A: Writer's block? Co-author Laurie is my muse. She's a never-ending source of fun things to write about. (See answer to next question.)

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

A: My articles, short stories and poetry have appeared in local and national publications and anthologies. I served as editor/contributor for a community-written book about local history. It was two years in the making. I received an award for the first stage play I'd ever written. Then I was suddenly stricken with the doldrums. I had the worst case of writer's block I'd ever experienced. Out of the blue, Laurie called me with an interesting idea for a play. We belonged to the same church. I knew her as an accomplished musician who'd played in Nashville. We went on to write eleven plays. They've been produced all over the United States and in Canada. Then out of the blue, Laurie gave me a book about Lewis & Clark...

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

A: We live in Lewis & Clark country. Think Calumet Bluff, where Lewis & Clark met with the Yankton Sioux in late August of 1804. Think first capital of the Dakota Territory and George Armstrong Custer marching off to Little Bighorn. Think hanging of John McCall for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok. We have no immediate plans of moving to Los Angeles.

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

A: At the moment, I'm trying to finish I novel I started when I was in college. It's Contemporary Fiction, but if I don't finish it soon, I'll have to reclassify it as Historical. I have an idea for another novel waiting in the wings. I think both might have potential as screenplays.

Posted Wednesday, March 11, 2015