Tuesday, 3 August 2010
An Interview - Spence Wright
I'm Spence Wright. I've been a horror fan since I was knee high to a Chucky Doll. Growing up as I did during the whole 80's VHS video frenzy I just fell in love with movies. Back then you got the video covers home with you I remember sprinting (well waddling) back home with my latest 'find' studying the sleeve wondering what lay ahead, effectively making up my own stories before the tape ever hit our Ferguson video star. The first chance I had to tell my own stories I did. Eventually I gravitated from short stories to screenplays with my first feature Red Mist released back in 2008 starring Arielle kebbel 'The Uninvited' and Directed by Paddy Breathnach 'Shrooms'.
Reviws have been .. er .. um .. mixed? My favorite being Bloody Good Horror.com with "For a movie deemed not high enough quality to make it into theaters, it displays surprising maturity and balance. Yes it's gory, but there is a lot more going on under the surface for those willing to look." And in the interests of balance, Mark Kermode quoted, "Worrying about the dialogue in Red Mist is like worrying about the deck chairs on the titanic."
Laugh? I almost snapped a rib ... his if I ever get him .. grr grr grr etc.
Q1. What are you writing at the minute?
As usual I've managed to get myself embroiled and excited about a whole host of projects. Top of the List is RUNNERS another Generator entertainment project which is shaping up to be a 'Blade Runner' meets 'Gladiator' esque cyber-thriller. Currently at third draft this is a bigger budgeted affair than Red Mist with locations varying from good old Belfast to South Africa. Which is all very exciting. Not that I'll get to South Africa. I reckon being a screenwriter is like keeping pigeons. They see the world whilst you sit shivering in your shed.
I'm also co-writing Teenage Kicks (Lord of the Flies ... on speed!) with local writer John Cairns. The script is looking good and again we're hoping for a 2010 lift off with Michael Kelly of Geronimo producing.
Silent Screams is a locally set horror feature which has raised a few eyebrows (mostly of the approving variety) I just got an option and a first Draft deal with Crawford Anderson Dillon (erstwhile screenwriters ink member and now development exec at Hub Media.) We're working with horror hound Jake 'Evil aliens, Doghouse' West and thus far the Omens are all good.
Biosuite - is an experimental short film in conjunction with Gawain Morrison and Chris Martin of FilmTrip and SARC at Queens. The film is due to shoot next month and follows the story of an old, vulnerable woman who encounters an intruder in her home. (think Misery meets One Foot in the grave) What makes the film experimental is the plan to hook the audience to ECG's, and GSR's [Galvanic Skin Response] to measure their responses. These signals are captured by a computer running software, created to process the incoming data from the audience, and depending on what the audience's response is measured to be, at any particular point, determines what changes occur in the film that they are watching. PRETTY COOL, right? So for the first time the audience will be active participants in the story. The plot will change at certain story juncture points, literally who lives or does is in the hands of the audience (or hearts in this case) It was a challenging project to work on but I firmly believe this is a new way to write, watch and think about films. It goes beyond the 3d/4d trickery to actually immerse people in the story. The results are going to form the bedrock for bigger future projects, including features. But who is to say that some day we won't all be hooked to our tv's actively influencing the events on screen in the same way a computer gamer does? It has been a real kick to be there at ground zero. I think this could be the next big thing. Keep an eye on Film trips website for updates http://www.filmtrip.tv/home/
Q2. Can you give us an idea of your typical up-to-the-armpits-in-ideas-and-time writing day?
I have the double edged sword set up of having a 9-5. That means the bills get paid but relegates writing time to; early morning intravenous coffee sessions, late nights and weekend shifts. If I'm not chasing down a deadline it works just fine, sometimes the limited hours mean you have to focus, get down and dirty fast rather than procrastinating a project to death. It makes for a slightly longer editing process but I think it's a small price to pay. If writing means time away from loved ones and the norms of society then I think you can afford yourself the luxury of enjoying the actual writing process. Everyone's different but I love working an idea in my head, hammering out some vague bullet point structure notes and then dive in to the white page like a ten year old finding a field of untouched snow. (soon to be blemished by a hundred other feet and oddly yellow pools :)But for a moment at least just yours.) That's where I get the buzz, the tingle when a character does something or gets themselves into a situation you seemingly had no idea about! A more measured approach for me has always been less satisfying. So I say 'work that laptop like you stole it', get some trusted editors around you for the next stage and enjoy the ride.
Q3. What do you do when you're not writing?
I suppose I go into a kind of recharge period. I catch up on whatever book I'm reading, dig out old and new movies, continue the battle to obsessively clear down my sky plus planner and just get on with the day to days with a slightly clearer head than usual. My wife would say when I'm not writing I'm a little more in the 'here and now' than when I am ie: not putting the tea bags in the fridge and the milk in the oven or staring gormlessly for hours at the toaster whilst my head is working through a never ending series of "What If?" or "What next?" questions.
In all honestly I probably never truly switch off. All it takes is an overheard line on the bus or a newspaper article and the wheels start churning. But downtime is essential to recharge and regroup. New ideas can suddenly solidify in your head or old ones re-invent themselves just by allowing yourselves some time away from the grindstone. So long as downtime doesn't become 'never again time' too many writers spend too long talking a good fight and not pinning their colors to the mast. The more comfortable my bum gets in the sofa the more likely I am to succumb. So I try to recharge and get back as soon as.
Q4. Any advice for a greenhorn trying to break into the screenwriting scene?
Now there's a question and a half! I suppose it plays a little into what I said above. You need to really love what you do to endure the late nights and rejections along the way. And like love (let's grab that loose analogy and thrash it to death shall we?) you'll make some mistakes along the way, so what? Who doesn't? Get your thoughts on paper, get it 'out there' and see where it takes you. With love comes respect; too many writers don't truly respect the craft, don't think they need to look at structure or even read other screenplays. They take an all too altruistic high ground and forget that we're writing primarily to entertain. That's not to say I think we should all follow some prescriptive formulaic, welcome to McDonalds, 'meet the new script same as the old script' blue print but I think to be a good writer you have to know the rules before you break em.
Be prepared to compromise. A lot of people need to invest in your script if that means changes I say go with them. There will be things you really won't want to lose. Been there buried the burned t-shirt at a cross roads. The only defense against that is to have damn good reasons up your sleeve for every moment in your story, that way when somebody suggests a cut or a change you can hit them with both barrels. The change may still have to happen as once a movie rolls so much is out of your hands, logistics and all kinds of factors come into play. The best you can do is make your case and roll with the punches. If the changes are going ahead you have the choice; let someone else make them and live with it or suck it up, make the changes yourself and try to bring something to these new moments which makes you proud.
See other people (but not too many!) there is a tendency for first time writers to court feedback early on and try to please everyone. Before you know it the story no longer seems your own. A double edged sword this as I think being part of a circle of similar minded people is invaluable, people you can trust for feedback when the time is right. I was a founding member of screenwriters ink, we done our best to raise the profile of writers in Northern Ireland but in a way which kept the attention on writing (not talking about writing) So be wary of getting too embroiled in groups and forums where the order of the day is slagging off every film that ever makes it to screen. You need a critical voice in your ear when you sit down to write but what you don't need is a legion of unseen nay sayers holding you back. The process is scary enough. Least for me.
Q5. Which writers have impressed you this year?
Graham Joyce - The Tooth Fairy. Was weird and wonderful whilst conjuring up very real memories of growing up. A great read. I also got to touch base again with Edgar Allen Poe via an anthology book which was a deliciously dark delight. I've been devouring the uber cool speak of Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandlers Playback. None of whom I realize are up and coming writers! I'm trying to get more hip and with it. I heard there is a compilation of Irish crime stories just released, worth checking out .... great editing by all accounts :)
Q6. What are you reading right now?
Just finished The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce borrowed from the wonderfully goateed and uber-talented Gerard Brennan. I have an anthology of ghost stories compiled by Roald Dahl which I'm looking forward to and Stephen King's Lisneys Story to come after that. I also had a week in Donegal and stocked up on a range of irish Myth and Wb Yeats collections which will ensure I'm scared witless next time I'm walking the dog at night. (I really must try to read a rom-com)
Q7. Plans for the future?
I guess I'm still hoping to earn enough from writing to reduce some of my 9-5 hours just to make the writing process a little easier. The over arching dream of penning a locally set horror/thriller is edging ever closer with Silent Screams and Teenage Kicks looking good. (We almost got there with Red Mist.) So in terms of script writing I have plenty on for 2010. I've been thinking about having a pop at novel writing. I started out writing short stories and as you said novel writing would be 'exercising a whole different muscle' which I think would be challenging but well worth doing.
Q8. With regards to your writing career to date, would you do anything differently?
I'd like to have been a little more 'contract savvy' before I signed up to some projects ... 'any other drafts as needed' can be a killer in the small print! But that's a minor quibble (now the rose tinted specs are on anyway) At times I cringe at the drafts I sent way back in 2000 to EVERY producer in the artists' yearbook! But even the most raw of them had some kind of energy, at least enough to get me a contact and/or a meeting. So every cringe has a silver lining. This answer has turned out a lot more Sinatra "regrets I've had a few, then again too few to mention." than I thought it would! I'm 37 with a locally shot horror feature under my belt so all told I'm happy with things. BUT the longer in the tooth you get the longer the development road can seem. Once you are on the road you get whisked along but I'm getting a little more wary before making the first step than I was. I've tied up some decent projects to companies who, it has later transpired, didn't have the backing to make them.
Q9. Do you fancy sharing your worst writing experience?
Are you sitting comfortably?
I attended a read through at which I was doing all the reading, although a useful experience it also served to remind me that the words you write actually do get said. I had a few tongue twisters which played better in the head than from the mouth. Also in Red Mist; Kenneth the 'Monster' possesses people and wreaks his vengeance etc. In script that character's possessed introduction was Kenneth/Bill or Kenneth/Sally etc. I didn't get the sniggers until Kenneth possessed Clark ...
On Red Mist I fought my corner a little too aggressively with the then director Peter Howitt. It was one of those breakdowns in communication that happen when fast and furious emails start flying in the heat of production. It certainly would not have occurred in a face to face. Peter and I got on well before and since. Anyway, it ended with me threatening him with a bone mallet insertion to the rectal area and him writing a five page diatribe and sending in the production big guns to scold me ... naughty, naughty ... I was right though :)
On one project I discovered at the eleventh hour that a character was killed, autopsied, buried and mourned within the course of a day ... you don't lay long in my stories.
I volunteered to be in a key scene for a short script (DOA) entered as part of the short steps scheme years ago. It involved me laying half naked on a morgue slab, complete with wooden neck block, cold metal and eerily hot heating pipes .. freaky ju ju, chief.
That was cathartic, this house feels a little cleaaannnnnner than before.
Q10. Anything you want to say that I haven't asked you about?
Nah my friend I'm spent. Keep truckin.
Thank you, Spence Wright!