Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter John Martins

An interview with screenwriter John Martins regarding the Big Apple Writing Competition.

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

A: Inspired by true events, "Aktion T-4" is the story of two men, a Lutheran bishop and a Catholic deacon, who come together try and stop Hitler's forced euthanasia program, known as "Aktion T-4." "Aktion T-4" predates the Holocaust and the Wansee Conference. Zyklon-B was even used to eliminate those Germans, Jews and non-Jews like, who had either mental or physical challenges, so it was somewhat of a precursor to the horror that was going to be committed a few years later. To this day, no one knows how many Germans were murdered under this program, but conservative estimates range at approximately 60,000 men, women, and children.

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've written a few theatrical plays over the years, and it's always been a dream of mine to have one of them performed somewhere in New York City. Of late, I've placed more of an emphasis on screenwriting, and thinking that since it's probable I'll never have a play performed off-Broadway, perhaps I could visit the Big Apple via a Film Festival's screenwriting competition. Fortunately, I was awarded the grand prize for unproduced screenplay at the 2018 Big Apple Film Festival in November. It was moving for my father and me to visit Manhattan's Chelsea District where the Festival took place.

A few years ago, I was also awarded grand prize for "Aktion T-4" by Act One's Screenwriting Competition in Los Angeles. Another honor which I deeply appreciate.

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: Very much so. Festival directors Jonathan Lipp and Erica Rubin followed through on all promises and awards in a timely manner. They are both wonderful human beings who love film deeply. Thank you, Jonathan and Erica.

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

A: After a solid year of research, it took another five years, off and on, to bang out a first draft. From there I sent it to a script analyst, who offered some solid suggestions that made perfect sense. From start to finish, the length of time was about 6 1/2 years.

Yes, I always try to write an outline so I can get a handle on a story's pacing and rhythm, and finally its resolution. I've heard of novelists letting their characters lead them through their story, which often takes them places the author didn't think he or she would originally go. I can't write that way; I'VE got to know where I'm going, because I've only got 100-120 pages to tell the story. I also have to consider a film's budget in this business. I try to think of how much everything is going to cost while I write my story. Is there a way I can lessen its budget without lessening the impact of the story? I TRY to do that. Some writers like to work that way; others don't. It's a personal preference. I don't believe in "rights-or-wrongs" during the process; whatever works for you. So my stories are framed tightly--in part because of a thought-out-in-advance outline. It works for me, and I can still tinker with it in minor ways along the journey, while still getting it to end in the place where I think the story is most satisfying.

For "Aktion T-4," as well as my other screenplays, I typically write right around 20 drafts. And that's not just changing a line or two of dialogue; that's a thorough scrubbing. Sometimes, it just takes time to see a scene differently, whether to add, edit, or completely delete, and to proceed with a rewrite. The proverbial "Can't see the forest for the trees," if you will.

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

A: Old habits die hard. I don't use software, although I have nothing against it. If it helps, use it!

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

A: I try to write every day. If I'm not writing on paper, I know I'm writing daily in my head, thinking through character, plot, story, etc.

When I am writing on paper, the process can easily take two-three hours a day, but depending on how much free time I have, sometimes longer.

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

A: I'm a little uneasy answering this question, because I've never had a deadline, as so many other writers do. My "method" of writing is quite methodical and time-consuming, so I feel it almost prevents any kind of writer's block I can experience. I try to do everything I can to eliminate stress in my life, which I believe can contribute to writer's block. If you recognize and address stress, I think that can help in eliminating it, and, thereby, putting an end to writer's block. Easy for me to say.

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

A: A school teacher for many years. Over the years, I've written a total of about 30 scripts, mostly screenplays, but including theatrical plays, a radio play, and two TV scripts.

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

A: I live presently in Arizona, but, given the right circumstances, I would move to Los Angeles.

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

A: Yes, I'm working on three scripts simultaneously, two faith-based and the third historical. And an idea bouncing around in my head.

And the very best to the Big Apple Film Festival (BAFF) in the future.


John Martins III

Posted Saturday, May 11, 2019