Rick – writer of THE PROPOSITION (2008), STIGMATA (2009) and TV series’ HAUNTED and PEACEMAKERS – created THE SCREENPLAY SHOW because he wanted to prove to others that if he could do it, they could too. In the promo video (see end of post), Rick says himself that this won’t be a dry lecture on how to write your first screenplay, but a source of industry knowledge. Rick reached out to WRITESOFLUID to let me know about this exciting new show, and agreed to answer a few questions for us… You can read part one of the interview HERE. Here’s the second part!
Was THE PROPOSITION (1998) your big break as a screenwriter? How did it come about? And was this the moment you became a full-time screenwriter? What did you do before (or indeed alongside screenwriting) to pay the bills?
There’s no doubt — “The Proposition” was my break. At the time, it was a spec called, “Shakespeare’s Sister”. I wrote it pretty much right out of film school. A friend of mine (who went to film school with me) knew an exec at Disney who agreed to read it. She didn’t buy it, but it got great coverage, and before we knew it, the script caught fire around town. Agents starting looking for me, and then the script sold. That was the moment I became a full time screenwriter. (I preferred that over selling Kubota tractors!) But in all honesty, that one writing sample literally opened every door in town. To this day I’m not sure how many rewrites, adaptations, and pitch meetings I got due to that one script.
You then shifted from drama to supernatural horror with STIGMATA (1999). Which of the two is your favourite genre to write and why?
“Stigmata” was a re-write. Frank Mancuso Jr. asked me to do it. I didn’t even know what “stigmata” was at the time. But I’m drawn to a premise where you don’t always know what the answer is – or might be. I enjoy writing all genres, but I’m totally jealous of comedy writers.
I’d love to write a comedy, but I’m not funny. Fun, but not funny : )
I love the following quote I saw on your Twitter timeline. Tell us about it…
“Have you ever noticed that the best arguments on screen always happen when both people are right?”
I live by this rule as a writer … I’m not even sure where I picked that philosophy up anymore. But I really believe it’s true. Great drama is born when you get your reader to identify with the characters. If you can get him or her (the reader) to say, “What would I do here?” You’ve got them. They will read your script all the way through to see how you solved the problem – or argument – dramatically. If both characters are right, it’s safe to say you’re going to get almost everybody to identify with one or the other. Or as my wife likes to say, “She’s always right, and I’m never wrong …”
Talking of favourite movies, do you have one that serves as your inspiration for good screenwriting? No cheeky cheating by picking one of your own! 😉
I love “Braveheart”, “The Patriot” and any David Lean movie. But I would never pick one of my own movies as my favorite – yikes! I’m too critical for that. But here’s how I relate to good writing on screen: when the film makes me forget that I’m a writer. When I disappear in it – and become a watcher, voyeur, fan, whatever.
If I can detach and go for a ride, that’s a good movie. And you can’t have a good movie, without a good script. Just sayin’.
Now for a tough question! What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever heard/been given regarding writing/making movies?
That’s a great question … I think the worst piece of advice that I ever got was from a director who didn’t want to read. He told me to think of a script as a blueprint. I totally disagreed with that.
I try to think of all my scripts as a literary work. Why? Because it is first and foremost a story – both for my readers and me.
I work really hard at trying to write my scripts so that they read like a narrative, not a blueprint. I’m also on the page as a writer. I once had a very respected producer tell me that I cheat because I sometimes tell the reader what the character is thinking. But I just smiled and told him that there was no charge for the extra words : )
Your latest movie is a Christmas one. It’s a great season for scripts, but often writers don’t even think about writing for the season and if they do, it can be hard for them to know when and how to go about getting your seasonal script noticed. Do you have any tips for us about the seasonal market? Should we be writing seasonal scripts alongside our other genre ideas?
I’ve only written one seasonal script – so I don’t consider myself much of an expert on the subject. I never worry too much about the after-life of my scripts. Agents and managers are the gatekeepers. They know the market much better than I do, as well as who is looking for what material. But if I were a new or unknown writer, and didn’t have an agent to rep my script, I would still only worry about one thing:
Holiday theme or not, am I passionate about the story? A great script will find its way through all the noise.
I know a lot of new writers don’t trust that, because it seems so hard to get your scripts read – but that is really the key to everything script related in Hollywood. If it’s good enough, the powers-that-be will find you.
Did you always want to produce and direct as well as write? Or did this develop from taking part in the process and seeing how interesting and creative the other roles were?
After I sold a few specs, I was invited very early on to attend a “director’s school” … but I turned it down. At the time, I thought learning to tell a story on paper was hard enough. I have to admit that I loved my one shot at directing a small film, but I really only think of myself as a writer/producer.
Do you think this is a good move for writers to get themselves noticed, and do you think that writers stand a better chance in the market if they produce and direct their own work?
Great question, because the business has changed so much in the last five years. If I were starting out now, I would definitely write to direct my own material. But only if – and it’s a big “if “- I was totally confident in my storytelling abilities on paper.
You have to know that you’ve written a good script before you can direct a good film.
I think too often today very visual, talented directors are shooting their material before the script is ready. A bulletproof script is essential to the success of any project. And “bulletproof” doesn’t mean perfect. I’ve never read a perfect script. Bulletproof just means people can’t shoot obvious holes in it – the story is sound and well crafted.
A fun one! What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at a meeting/on set?
Without a doubt, my first pitch meeting at Orion was my most embarrassing moment. Before I went in, I was confident that I would do well, because I had a sales background … but what I wasn’t counting on, was stage fright. I sat down in front of the exec, and his assistant opened her notebook to take notes and he said, “Go” … I can still hear it echoing in my head, because I went utterly and completely brain-dead. After fumbling for a few of the longest minutes of my life, I had to admit that I forgot my pitch. I was shown the door with a polite but firm smile. I didn’t even try to pitch for over a year after that, I was too scarred (and scared!).
As for the most embarrassing thing on set? That’s easy. While filming The Proposition the director allowed my little boy to visit on set. She treated him like a little star, even gave him headphones so he could hear what was going on … Well, during a scene, he was listening very intently, when one of the actors missed a line. He looked at me (and with his headphones still on) shouted, “Hey, dad – she didn’t say what your script says!”
But she was very cool. From the back of the set the actress in question shouted, “Sorry, Ryan! You’re absolutely right!”
I can just tell that your show is going to be a great thing for aspiring and professional writers alike – we can kick back after a hard day (or indeed start the day with some coffee) and watch the show for inspiration. Do you think you’ll do more after this initial 10-show run?
I really hope to take The Screenplay Show on the road … The first ten episodes will concentrate on my method, and the way I do things, but the real message of The Screenplay Show is to illustrate that there is no “right or wrong way” to be creative. What is important is that you find a method that helps you get the work done. We plan to take The Show to other writers to find out how they make their stories work – the writer’s process is as individual as his or her story. How and why a writer works the elements of storytelling a certain way can be fascinating.
It all sounds fantastic, Rick, and we wish you all the best with it! To keep up-to-date with THE SCREENPLAY SHOW and its IndieGoGo campaign, check out thescreenplayshow.com.