Watch the Trailer for Splatter King Fred Vogel’s The Final Interview

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August Underground director Fred Vogel presents the trailer for his new feature The Final Interview

I’ll never forget the day my old editor at Rue Morgue magazine called me into his office with a warning, telling me that he was about to show me a movie that even he couldn’t defend. Of course i demanded to watch it immediately. That film was August Underground and within 15 minutes I was absolutely revolted and horrified. It was unflinchingly real and upsettingly cruel. I shut it off.

But I couldn’t shut it off.

Ever.

The film was the work of director Fred Vogel and his Toe Tag pictures and the ensuing years have seen Vogel and company become legends of graphic indie horror, setting new standards for shock with the August Underground sequels and then, refining his talents with films like The Redsin Towers and Sella Turcica.

RELATED: The 25 goriest shots in horror

Today, Vogel has shared with us the teaser trailer for his 8th feature film, The Final Interview, a movie that tells the story of a veteran newscaster, Oliver Ross (Grainger Hines), who visits Western Penitentiary for a live interview with death row inmate, and infamous Pittsburgh murderer, Darius Tidman (Damien Marusack) mere hours before his scheduled execution. Oliver, the show’s director, Rhonda Cox (Diane Franklin), and the rest of “The Ross Perspective” crew set up at the jail and begin the live broadcast. By the end of the interview Oliver and his crew discover there is a lot more to this murderer than meets the eye.

No release date set for the film yet but you can find out more by going to the official The Final Interview Facebook page.

Now, watch the official teaser trailer below.

Director Fred Vogel Intro/ The Final Interview Teaser Trailer from The Final Interview on Vimeo.

The post Watch the Trailer for Splatter King Fred Vogel’s The Final Interview appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

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Interview (Written): Susannah Grant

WGA Paul Selvin Award winner for her script “Confirmation”.

A Vulture interview with Susannah Grant whose movie credits include Pocahontas and Erin Brockovich, and the HBO movie Confirmation.

Your first writing credit was Disney’s Pocahontas in 1995. How has the business most changed for screenwriters since then?
On the most negative side, development budgets at studios have been slashed so the middle class of writers — like the middle class of our own country — has been gutted. It’s a lot harder for a straight-up screenwriter to make a living.

So the money that writers used to receive up front simply isn’t there anymore?
Yeah. Or, it’s “We’re going buy this script and keep it in our pipeline, but we don’t have a production or a release date for it.” Meanwhile, the profits of the entertainment industries have never been higher; companies are doing better than they ever have, but the downside is they’re making half as many movies as they used to. So that means half as much work for us. And I would say even less than half as much work because they’re also developing fewer films as well. On the upside, and there is a significant upside, changes in technology in the last 25 years have made the making of a movie really available to anyone. The democratization of the process is wonderful in that a creative voice like, say, Lena Dunham’s can emerge really quickly. She would have found her way eventually, but it was her ability to make her first movie inexpensively and powerfully — without interference from other people — that made people notice her enormous talent.

How did you land such a high-profile gig in Pocahontas so early in your career?
When I was still in film school, I’d won the Nicholl Fellowship, which I guess gets you a fair amount of attention. I met with folks at Disney Animation and they’d thrown out numerous scripts for the movie at that point, so they hired me, Carl Binder, and Philip LaZebnik. None of us had ever met. [Laughs] They said, “We have a release date and your first meeting is seven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Are there films you’ve seen this year whose scripts made you wish you’d written them?
I can never imagine writing something that I didn’t. [Laughs] But the opening scene of Hell or High Water was amazing, and the rest of the movie really delivered, too. I thought La La Land was spectacular. And Moana. I loved how she was drawn to have such a strong body. It made me remember my first day on Pocahontas. She was already drawn, and had this crazy, hot body. A very Disney body. And immediately it became my mission — though I didn’t have kids at the time, I was close to two young daughters of a friend — that if kids were going to see this girl, I wanted to show that her body was first and foremost of great use to her; that she was in control of it. That’s why the movie opened with the scene where she’s diving and swimming. To see Moana depicted as a such a healthy girl, with strong, earthy legs, I think is a huge victory.

For the rest of the interview, go here.


Interview (Written): Susannah Grant was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview (Written): Jordan Peele

Writer-director of the horror movie “Get Out”.

From the New York Times:

No serious fan of the sketch comedy show “Key & Peele” will be surprised that Jordan Peele (the shorter half of its starring duo) is making his directorial debut with a horror film. Their acclaimed Comedy Central series may have been best known for President Obama’s “anger translator,” but it often lampooned scary movies with a specificity that could come only from a connoisseur of things that go bump in the night. (No one has made a funnier parody of “The Shining.”)

In his new movie, “Get Out,” he plays the scares straight, writing and directing the rare horror movie that tackles racial politics head on. In a scenario that has been described as “The Stepford Wives” meets “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), an African-American photographer, is about to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time when he’s rattled to learn that she has not told them he is black. His anxiety increases when her father goes out of his way to tell him that he would have voted for Mr. Obama for a third term and when the forced smiles of the parents’ exclusively black servants start seeming a little uncanny. Racial micro-aggressions and ominous signs (bad dreams, dead animals) mount, as this fish-out-of-water story takes a foreboding turn.

Excerpts:

What do horror and comedy have in common?

The best comedy and horror feel like they take place in reality. You have a rule or two you are bending or heightening, but the world around it is real. I felt like everything I learned in comedy I could apply to this movie.

When a rule bends, how do you keep horror from becoming comedy?

In horror, the second you have people doing something you know they wouldn’t do, you lose the audience. With “Get Out,” what needed to be believable was the protagonist’s intentions. Why he’s there. I followed the “Rosemary’s Baby”-“Stepford Wives” model of inching into this crazy situation and alongside, justifying how the character is rationalizing staying.

In “Key & Peele,” Keegan-Michael Key once asked you what scared you most. You made a joke. What’s the real answer?

Human beings. What people can do in conjunction with other people is exponentially worse than what they can do alone. Society is the scariest monster.

For the rest of the interview, go here.


Interview (Written): Jordan Peele was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview: Rob Zombie on Heavy Metal and Horror Movies

Rob Zombie and Roberto D'Onofrio in Sitges

Italian horror journalist Roberto D’Onofrio talks with legendary rocker and filmmaker Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie movies have always divided critics and the audience between who loves them and who thinks they are just crap; whatever side are you on his work as a director never goes unnoticed. A filmmaker with a unique vision, Zombie has continuously challenged audiences as he stretches the boundaries of both music and film. His most recent film, the crowd-funded 31, was a return to the basics of crude and repulsive horror/schlock cinema, a fan-friendly rebound after the psychedelic and experimental The Lords of Salem that left so many disappointed. It was, as expected , controversial (read our review here).

We met with Zombie at the 2016 Sitges Film Festival, right on the cusp of 31‘s release and this marks the first time this chat has seen print. digital or otherwise. Enjoy!

ComingSoon.net: In your movies there are always psychopathic characters, which are crazy to the point that seem almost not from this world, where does this kind of fixation come from? 

Rob Zombie:  I always liked the most films with great villains and it feels like they started disappearing over the years. I love the Monsters, I love Frankenstein, Dracula, King Kong, then there was Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees and now there’s no Monsters, there’s no bad guys, it’s always like there’s a ghost or something like that. I always wanted to have a character that you can remember, as Captain Spaulding or Doom-Head, I just think that’s important for this type of movie. For me, that’s what I always liked about the movies, I like the bad characters, like in James Bond: I liked Goldfinger not James Bond.

CS: Your most recent movie, 31…why did you have to recourse to crowdfunding to finance this movie? Is it difficult today to have a film produced even for a filmmaker like you?

Zombie: Well, financing a movie is always a problem for everybody, it’s not just me, I always thought it was just me and then I’ve been reading interviews with just anybody with the same problem. George Romero or Martin Scorsese, these guys had problems too, everybody has problems. Getting movies made is a fucking nightmare, especially when you want to make things that are not mainstream. If you want to make a Horror movie that is easy to finance I guess it would have to be “PG13”, it would have to be for everybody and that’s not what I am really interested in doing so, every time I go to make a movie it’s a battle, it’s always a different battle, but it’s always a battle, because you try to get somebody to give you millions of dollars to make this crazy thing so, it’s not easy. This was the first time for me to try this new way to finance a movie and it did work out really good, I used the money that I raised for editing, music and things at the end of post-production. These days it’s really hard to get appropriate funding for certain type of movies, films that I made in the past, like The Devil’s Rejects, would be impossible to get a Studio to put that amount of money to make that movie now, therefore crowdfunding sort of became the necessary thing to do.

CS: Watching your movies it seems that you had a lot of influences from European and Italian filmmakers:  Lucio Fulci in House of 1000 Corpses or Mario Bava in The Lords of Salem. Can you elaborate about it?

Zombie: Sure, especially with The Lords of Salem I felt there was a lot of European influences, a lot of Argento, in the sense that for me, sometimes when you’re watching Argento movies I’m loving it and sometimes I don’t even know what the fuck it’s going on, like it’s not making any sense to me, like Suspiria, I love it and it just feels weird. It’s more about the feeling and the pacing, because American movies are paced a certain way, they are very fast, they are very worried that someone is going to get bored and walk out of the theater, but I found European movies are a little more patient, things can take longer to happen and that’s why, not 31 so much, but The Lords of Salem was a little more European. When it came out American audiences didn’t seem to understand it but when we went to Italy and France and Germany, everybody loved it, it wasn’t confusing outside of America. It’s very strange. I’ve also been influenced by seventies movies like: Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS or Dawn of the Dead, so that’s the type of aesthetic that I developed over the years. I don’t really try to make films that I think will make everybody happy, some people love them and some people don’t, and that’s good.

CS: As a filmmaker are you interested in other genres other than Horror?  

Zombie: Yes, the next movie I’m making actually is about Groucho Marx, it is not a biography but it’s about the last three years of his life. I bought the rights to this book called “Raised eyebrows”, written by Steve Stoliar, and it’s the story of this college student who became his assistant for the last three years of his life, at that point Groucho was in his eighties and had some strokes and he had this woman who did take care of him, who was abusing him and drugging him and stealing his money. So it’s not like my other movies, it’s a sad movie but it’s kind of like part Ed Wood part Sunset Boulevard. That’s the next project I’m working on.

CS: Being a director and also a musician, how do you approach writing the music for your pictures?

Zombie: The music is very important, on my last two movies, for the score I’ve been working  with John 5, who  is the  guitar player in my band, and it’s been so much easier because in the past, when I’ve been working with composers, we were getting a hard time getting in synch, but with John he gets the idea that a simple score that you can remember is the best. That’s why I would always reference that I love the John Carpenter scores, because they are very simple and easy to remember, they are almost like songs. You know, most of time I walk out of a movie I can’t remember any of the music, I remember nothing, but certain films, like Suspiria, which is one that had great music, or The Exorcist or Psycho, all have simple tunes that I love. Therefore, it’s hard to achieve that, that’s always the goal, even if you can find one simple thing that people can remember, it’s not always appreciated by the audience. I hope that we did it.

CS: 31” in some parts it looks as if you had to do some cuts, did you have to fight against censorship?

Zombie.: Well, every time a movie is finished, you have to go to the MPAA because it’s always in my contract that you have to deliver an “R rated” movie, because no theater in America wants to show an unrated movie or “NC-17”, so that’s always the trickiest thing, but what is kind of weird is that there are not real rules, therefore the notes you get back are very strange and sometimes it’s really hard, when you have to cut out some violent scenes then they are not as effective as they would have been as you intended to be. It’s really bad, especially since sometimes I noticed that those rules don’t apply on television, you can actually put more violent things on HBO than you can put in a “R Rated” movie, so it’s kind of an outdated system that drives you crazy, but that the way it works.

CS: You seem to be fascinated by clowns, they are in almost all your films, why?

Zombie.: Why not, everybody loves clowns, everybody hates clowns, it’s a universal thing. Actually when I was a kid my parents for a while, until about 1978, did work in a circus for a living, so I’ve grown up around that. Most of the characters, especially in 31, are sort of based on people that I remember, even some of the names I stole from people that I met when I was a kid and the things they are talking about, like Malcom McDowell in 31 about the “Barnum Circus”, are things that actually I remember. There’s one character obsessed with the idea of a show where a girl turns into a gorilla, well that was a real thing and I remember seeing that when I was a little kid, with this girl coming out with a bikini, getting into a cage and then with some light effects the gorilla would be in the cage, a fake gorilla obviously and I thought it was terrifying. So these are all things that are from my real life, unfortunately these are the people that I remember

CS: Some people loved it and some people didn’t like it, are you worried about the audience judgments?

Zombie.:  No, I never worry about that, because I think part of the public is not going to like anything, I don’t know how you can make something that everybody loves, it seems impossible so I don’t mind. Therefore I just make it, some people is going to love it, some people is going to hate it and that is just fine, that’s all that you can do.

CS: You have many loyal fans, both as a musician and as a filmmaker, do you try to fill your audience expectations when working on a new project?

Zombie: Well, I just try to deliver things that I like, first. That’s all I really worry about, because if I don’t like it then it’s fake, I make stuff that I like and if they like it too it’s great, that’s all I can do. I hope they like it, but I don’t ever try to make things for that reason, then it’s fake.

CS: What do you think are the things that connect Heavy Metal and Horror movies?

Zombie: I see that Heavy Metal and Horror Movies are sharing the same audience and the same fate, both the films and the music are very, very popular, but the companies that put out the music and the films don’t take it seriously, although they have millions of bands and they are making a lot of money, they are trying to hide them. And movie  Studios push aside the Horror films as record labels push aside Metal acts, even though they make all the money with them. I like thirties Horror monsters, as Frankenstein and King Kong, I have transposed them on my live stage set, with massive portraits of the Wolfman, Dr. Jekyll, the Frankenstein’s Monster, King Kong and the Phantom of the Opera displayed on the back of my band. Rock and Metal Music have always been influenced by Horror Movies and their thematics, blood, violent imagery, skulls and monsters have been used on the covers of bands inspired by the Cinema of Terror.

CS: All of your films you seem to side for the bad characters, why?

Zombie:  I don’t know what goes to my head, it’s just the way I see life, I come up with these things and characters and I think that’s the way it should be, that’s why there’s not really good characters in the movie, there are just bad characters and worse characters. I guess I have severe mental problems.

What are the differences between your female character in this and in your previous movie?

Zombie: In all of my movies I always try to have strong female characters in there, they are either the villains sometimes or they are the heroes. I try to mix them up so they are not always the hero nice and strong, because I find that boring and doesn’t interest me anyway. In everyone of my movies there are strong  female  characters  as  in:  The Devil’s Rejects  or  Halloween and  The Lords of Salem, which is very much an all women film, the men are complete victims. I just find them more interesting…

The post Interview: Rob Zombie on Heavy Metal and Horror Movies appeared first on ComingSoon.net.

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Go Into The Story Interview: Justin Piasecki

2016 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winner.

Justin Piasecki wrote the original screenplay “Death of an Ortolan” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Justin about his background, his award-winning script, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to him.

Justin Piasecki

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “Read as many screenplays as you can. That is a total education in itself. Any time you see a scene in a movie or on a television show, and you feel something as a result of that scene, figure out how they did that. Figure how they accomplished that visual emotion, linguistically.’

Part 2: “I always thought last meals were inherently conflicting: ‘Here’s a refined symbol of our humanity on a plate before a blunt, unrefined inhumanity.’ Whether you support the death penalty or not, those ideologies butt heads.”

Part 3: “If you ask some people here, “What do you think of the death penalty?” They’ll say it’s savage. You go to another person next door that maybe has had somebody taken from them and they may say it’s just, or necessary. I try to respectfully acknowledge each of those.”

Part 4: “ I went into this having 15 things that I thought would… need to be. At the end, there’s maybe three of them. They were three things that I just loved. They were why I was working on the story.”

Part 5: “When I moved out here, I really had no connections by any means. I made a Google calendar of a bunch of screenplay contests and fellowships that I thought this would be a good fit for.”

Part 6: “People do vomit drafts. I don’t do that. But I’ll do vomit scenes, then I’ll go back through and I’ll cut it halfway.”

Justin is repped by CAA and Zero Gravity Management.


Go Into The Story Interview: Justin Piasecki was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview (Written): John Michael McDonagh

A revealing Q&A with the outspoken U.K.-based writer-director.

John Michael McDonagh

The Quietus interview with John Michael McDonagh whose writing-directing credits include The Guard, Calvary, and War on Everyone.

Do you mind being compared to your brother, since you have a somewhat similar cinematic voice? Do you feel competitive with each other?

I don’t mind being compared with him, even though it’s a really banal and pointless journalistic tic. As for feeling competitive, once my debut feature The Guard became the most successful independent Irish film of all time, I felt like I’d accomplished all I wanted to accomplish, so that was that.

Might the two of you collaborate on a film someday?

No, never.

What do you think of the critical reception the film (War on Everyone) has had?

Some critics say, “I really like this film.” Other critics say, “I really hate this film.” At the end of the day, it’s all meaningless. I got paid, and we’re all going to die.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Twitter: @theQuietus.


Interview (Written): John Michael McDonagh was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview (Part 6): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My conversation with the writer of the winning script “Death of an Ortolan”.

Justin Piasecki wrote the original screenplay “Death of an Ortolan” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Justin about his background, his award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to him.

Today in Part 6, Justin gives his take on the question: what advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters trying to learn the craft and break into Hollywood:

Scott: What about characters? If you’re developing characters how do you go about doing that?

Justin: I’ll read three or four scripts that I think are kind of the pace of what I’d like to see things go at for my own thing.

I’ll make a timeline across my giant dry‑erase board thing. For characters, I can literally see on the left side of the room, “OK, at this point this is where his or her mind is. If he was forced to make this decision on page 12, this is what he would decide.”

Then at page 37 or something and ask “Now he wouldn’t be sure because the things in the seven inches before that on this big ruler of story that I’ve made, those things would happen.” By the end you’re looking at the right corner of the room and you’re saying, “Now if he was asked the same thing as he was on 13 he would make a totally different decision.”

I’ll color‑code, too. Like you said, there’s a lot of plots that need to wrap up in the third act. One part is orange dry‑erase marker and that’s his relationship with Vince, the protege prison cook. I’ll say, “God, we haven’t hit all the steps we need to hit for that because I’ve got a little bit of orange down here, and then we never hear from him again.” For me, that sort of crayon system works. If I was color‑blind, I’d be screwed.

Scott: [laughs] It fits. They say movies are a visual medium, so why not write from a place where you’re organizing them in a visual way. How about dialogue? Your dialogue in the script is great. How do you go about finding your characters’ voices?

Justin: Super annoyingly to anyone around me. I’ll read everything out loud as I’m writing it which means a ton of bad Southern accents or what I think a prisoner is going to sound like or a bureau chief or a cop or a little girl. I’ll do them all, because if they sound stupid in a room read from me, then I think they’re going to read stupid on a page.

If I’m embarrassed to say it out loud in front of no one in my house, then I should be embarrassed to write it down. That goes a long way. That’s the rule, for actual voice, for dialogue.

Look up interviews, too. I read cook books, I read chef’s bios, I read Anthony Bourdain for how food is described.

I read Nancy Mullane’s book Life After Murder. Those are four or five in‑depth stories of prisoners, and they’re interviewed. You really do get a dialect from that, I would have never been able to come up with.

The guy that wrote “Lincoln” read an entire dictionary of 19th century English in order to make the dialogue absolutely authentic. That was a little inspirational or at least made me feel a little bad for not doing homework. That guy did his work.

Scott: Tony Kushner.

Justin: Right.

Scott: How about theme? Do you start with theme? Do you find it along the way? How do you surface central themes, sub‑themes?

Justin: Along the way. I’ll start with the character. I think if you stick with your arc and your three tent poles there’s only so many themes that will work. I didn’t want to force anything in there, and staying true to your character and his journey will determine the themes.

Scott: How about writing a scene? Do you have any specific goals in mind, top of mind, when you’re writing a scene?

Justin: People do vomit drafts. I don’t do that. But I’ll do vomit scenes, then I’ll go back through and I’ll cut it halfway. “

Scott: Basically give yourself the freedom to explore long, write long, but then go back and trim and tighten so that it’s efficient.

Justin: Yeah.

You look at your scene and you say, “What is the goal of that scene?” If you realize that you have 30 lines of dialogue, but you actually reach that goal by line seven, stop at line seven. That keeps your best stuff in there. As much as you like that joke that you came up with for line 15, as much as you’re proud of yourself for making the scene directions on line 26 only three lines instead of four because you hyphenated something…

I just found myself doing that a lot. Probably originally came from that Blake Sneider school of I’d like to be here by 12 and here by 18 and here by 25. Page real estate was something I really had my eye on. I think you need to try to ignore that if you can the first time.

Scott: Have you moved away from that now? You said ignore that. Do you mean just allow yourself the story, the freedom to exist wherever the page count need to be?

Justin: It’ll naturally happen. If you look at the three or four guide scripts that you map out on your dry erase, those moments are happening within plus or minus four of the Blake Sneider page rules anyway. Whether it’s his rule or just the good pacing or the pacing of a good story, I think they’ll happen no matter what, but the first time you’re writing, I would just write dialogue freely.

Scott: I like your approach that you mentioned earlier. You find three or four scripts that have that kind of tone and feel and pace that you’re looking for. Go through there. Read those scripts. Analyze them. Track their timeline of plot points and just see, generally, what that is and let that be more informative of your process than say some strict adherence to these rigid so‑called rules.

Justin: Right. I’ll do it watching the movie too if I can’t find the script, then you sort of have the input of an editor.

Scott: Let me ask you a couple more questions then we’ll let you get back to your holiday festivities. Five or ten years down the road, Justin, perfect world, what are you doing?

Justin: I’m doing what I’m doing right now, which is waking up and writing for my day and then doing family at night. But I can only do that right now because I saved up a lot. [laughs] I would love to be working in features. I’ve got a few assignments in front of me now that I might jump on.

Scott: Finally what advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters trying to learn the craft and break into Hollywood.

Justin: From the perspective of someone that had no connections and is getting on in years, I’d say this:

With no connections, the route I found luck in was competitions and fellowships. Do your research, because there’s a million of them, some more professional than others. I’ve placed in a few, and how high you place matters of course, but personally I’ve had good results with Bluecat, TrackingB, Script Pipeline and Tracking Board (and of course, Nicholl). Some come with money, but they all came with exposure, that was my first pipeline to getting representation.

The fees can add up though. Film festivals usually host one, and there may be some niche places that could fit your script really well. So, like with anything, do your research.

And in terms of age, I was about to turn, I think it was 29. Lots of people go the assistant route for connections, I sort of found myself priced out at that age though. So for writing, there’s no rules on what age this can all happen, but I realized that if I didn’t take this seriously right now, then I was screwing myself. So, go work. It’s a full time job.

Peter Samuelson, Justin Piasecki

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Zero Gravity Management.


Interview (Part 6): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview (Part 5): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My conversation with the writer of the winning script “Death of an Ortolan”.

Justin Piasecki wrote the original screenplay “Death of an Ortolan” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Justin about his background, his award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to him.

Today in Part 5, Justin describe what it has been like to be a Nicholl Fellowship recipient:

Scott: At the Nicholl ceremony, Peter Samuelson introduced you. He described Walter, the protagonist’s situation as being “an ordinary man with an extraordinary moral challenge.” What do you think about that?

Justin: I thought Peter did a wonderful job of presenting the moral conflict. I was incredibly proud of it being read that way.

This is a moral decision. Capital punishment is a moral decision. This is a system, but these are people.

I didn’t want to take a high ground of saying, “This is right, and this is wrong,” but I did want to take a strong stance in saying, “This is happening. Are you OK with it? What do you think?” I wanted to write something that mattered to people. So that was wonderful to hear from him.

Scott: Let’s talk about the journey of the script to where it is now. You write the script, and then what?

Justin: When I moved out here, I really had no connections by any means. I made a Google calendar of a bunch of screenplay contests and fellowships that I thought this would be a good fit for.

I just applied to as many early birds, deadlines as I could get to in time. But when you apply that early, you don’t hear anything for six to eight months. I applied and then the next day, I started working on my next script because nothing is promised, nothing is guaranteed. I wrote a pilot immediately after that.

Then I started working on another pilot when the first competition I entered, came back. I was at the top eight or something like that. I read somewhere that “Apply at three competitions and see how you do.”

I said, “OK. That’s a good science.” I’m going to send it to my next one. The next one, it was top five.

I sent to another one, and it was a finalist. I was like, “I’m going to keep sending this one out. It seems like it’s resonating with people.” It certainly didn’t place in all of them but it placed in something like the first four that I sent to. Off of the second one or third one, I signed with the manager and through that I signed with an agent. That’s where things went from there.

Scott: So it was before the Nicholl?

Justin: Yeah. I was fortunate enough to have found reps before Nicholl, but they were very happy about Nicholl.

Scott: How did you hear about the Nicholl? What was that like?

Justin: Honestly, Nicholl was the pipe dream. There are other ones that I really held out for, that I think I have a tangible, feasible shot at this.

Nicholl was never that. The first time they reach out to you in person, they do it over the phone. I didn’t understand [laughs] what was going on. I don’t know. I never thought I would get that far. Also, it was my first year ever applying to Nicholl.

I’d heard and read these stories of, “On my 12th try or something, I got this far” or whatever. For it to be the first year and it to do as well as it had done that far, it really did take me by surprise.

Justin Piasecki

Scott: And your week‑long experience, of course, you didn’t have to travel anywhere. You were in Los Angeles but how was that pulling over the Beverly Hills and hanging out with all the people in there.

Justin: It’s wonderful. It’s a cram session of, “Hey, we think that you’re going to get to do this.” That alone is like, “Oh, great.” That’s a huge education in itself and here if we have five days, we’re going to try to get you as ready as possible. It’s really wonderful. They do a great job. They teach you about…you meet with reps. You meet with lawyers.

You enjoy yourself just by talking with other writers. Then of course, there’s the Nicholl committee you get to learn from. That’s an incredible opportunity in itself. There’s a just a continual mentorship with a lot of people. Now, I’m able to reach out to Peter. I was actually telling him about the next script that I want to work on.

He’s like, “You know, I know someone so you can meet with…” This is the script that I’ve been trying to research forever. In a 40‑minute lunch I’m suddenly able to meet the two heads of that industry and I was like, “This is something I could not get anywhere else. It’s hope, that you’re going to actually get to do this, no longer as your second night job but as your day job.” That’s incredible.

Scott: Let’s jump to a few craft questions here. You mentioned earlier massive outlining. That phrase jumped out at me. And research, and by the way, the research you did ‑‑ you speak with complete authority in that script. It completely feels authentic ‑‑ the cooking, the prison, all that stuff. What are the things you spent most of the time doing in prep writing? Outlining, research? Anything else that you do?

Justin: I try to read everything I can. Final Draft, which I write in, certainly has its tools, but for outlining there’s…. It’s called SuperNotecard Mindola, it’s from 2010 or something. It’s a digital notecard program and it’s got a really old draft of some Coen brothers movie as the tutorial.

Anyway, it’s a grid of notecards and you’re able to move them around and. not to make this a commercial, but honestly, this almost decade‑old software thing, super‑simple, but also really helpful in terms of outlining.

Tomorrow in Part 6, Justin gives his take on the question: what advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters trying to learn the craft and break into Hollywood.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Zero Gravity Management.


Interview (Part 5): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview (Part 3): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My conversation with the writer of the winning script “Death of an Ortolan”.

Justin Piasecki wrote the original screenplay “Death of an Ortolan” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Justin about his background, his award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to him.

Today in Part 3, Justin details his creative process in coming up with a key character in the Protagonist’s Walter’s life — a death row prisoner named Reed. It is an intersection that will change both men’s lives:

Scott: We’re going to jump ahead to one of the inmates that he befriends, Reed. We’ll talk about him in just a second. That the same sort of empathy he has for the bird he projects onto Reed. It’s a similar sort of thing. It’s like the bird and Reed both are the death penalty. There’s a kind of savagery or brutality I think is the word you used earlier. Is there some sort of connectivity do you think between those two?

Justin: Sure. There’s certainly thematic parallels. Everything that’s done to the bird, describe that meal here, someone else will say savage. If you go to some places in France, they would say it’s delicious.

If you ask some people here, “What do you think of the death penalty?” They’ll say it’s savage. You go to another person next door that maybe has had somebody taken from them and they may say it’s just, or necessary. I try to respectfully acknowledge each of those.

Then there are the physical parallels. The recipe’s steps to prepare the bird: caught, caged, blinded, force fed, and ultimately killed. Those are all mirrored by the prisoner, and plausibly so, those steps all happen in our system, either through fate of prison life or actual policy.

In both cases, the challenge isn’t complication, the original Kobayashi Maru approach. The meal is not difficult in the same way it’s difficult to safely prepare a poison blowfish. It’s a challenging meal to make because it takes a certain turn off switch of consciousness to finish it.

Scott: It does. Let’s talk about this other primary character in this script, Reed, who’s one of four death row inmates who are transferred to this prison.

The way that Walter’s got this chief kitchen officer gig at this prison that’s pretty white collar crime type…but then there’s an incident that happens at another prison which requires them to transfer four death row inmates there, which is really almost like a call to adventure. How would you describe Reed and his circumstances at the beginning of the movie?

Justin: Jeffrey Reed is a death row prisoner who was partially blinded in prison, a bit of a psych case, and when he’s transferred to Walter’s facility the chef discovers he’s refusing to eat.

Scott: I really like the way that you track that arc. Reed is a character who is the one that’s most tied to Walter’s emotional and psychological transformation. They start off in this conflictual manner where basically Reed is complaining about or critiquing Walter’s cooking, which he really gets upset about, Walter does.

But we find out that’s a ruse, that essentially why he’s saying that he’s not going to eat this food is because he’s going on a hunger strike. The reason he’s going on a hunger strike is to try and elevate his situation, get somebody’s attention, because he contends that he’s innocent of the crime that he was convicted and sentenced to death. Then that sets into this central mystery once Walter gets into that sphere of influence. Is Reed guilty of murder or not?

How soon along in the process did you come up with that idea, that you wanted Walter to get involved with a prisoner who may or may not be guilty and in effect put Walter on this path of I guess it’s almost like an investigation, a clue gathering thing? How soon in the process of crafting the story did you come up with that idea?

Justin: I always knew he’d be looking into the case, but I wanted to stick with his expertise. I wanted to keep his battle in the culinary arena. What’s the most challenging thing for somebody that makes food and not just for the love cooking but hunger issues seeded in his own backstory. A hunger strike was truly the antithesis of everything he knew, and would make for a very great, but also very personal challenge.

Scott: Because he himself, Walter, as a youth because of this condition, circumstance in his life, he knows what hunger is like, like really powerful hunger.

Justin: Right.

Scott: Walter has this powerful arc. He starts off very isolated in his life and living…In many ways, this is going to be a strange association, but he reminds me of Rick in Casablanca. He’s become this kind of closed off guy. He doesn’t want to do anything with anybody else. He’s gotten out of touch with his original…For Rick, it was more of a political idealism. For your guy, it was the joy of cooking.

I’m reminded of Joseph Campbell who says that the point of the hero’s journey, it’s not a journey of attainment, it’s a journey or re‑attainment, that Walter becomes in a sense revivified through this experience of getting to know Reed, of his exploration and investigation. He’s kind of drawn back and pulled into life. Isn’t that a fair assessment of his arc?

Justin: Yeah. The challenge was how to reintroduce food to him. That was a rotating door of first act tries. I needed to figure out how do you put this guy in front of death row meals as a new experience for him. This is something that reignites him.

Scott: You have an interesting set of ticking clocks going on in the story because there are these four prisoner and some of them get executed. So Walter does have to do these last meals for them. Each one of them is almost like a chapter heading in his progression of becoming more and more connected to what’s going on here, potentially particularly for Reed. It’s quite a fascinating arc that he goes through and very nicely done and handled there.

There’s a couple of other relationships I want to talk about real quickly. One is the young black inmate Vince who himself aspires to be a great chef. That actually reminded me a bit of the Andy Tommy relationship in “Shawshank Redemption” where Andy was teaching Tommy so he could get the high equivalency. This is like that father son type of a relationship in a way.

Justin: Yeah. This kind of a begrudging father dynamic, like, “Oh shit, I have a kid.” He doesn’t want to help Vince at the beginning of it, probably because that enthusiasm for food reminds him of himself at one point which is the last thing he wants to be reminded of.

That was actually a spin-off from that rotating 1st Act door, spin one if you will, which was to make the inmate that he really forms a relationship also be a surrogate foodie. I decided that they’re just two separate relationships that he’s going to have.

Here is a script reading from “Death of an Ortolan”:

Tomorrow in Part 4, Justin and I do a deep dive into some of the key creative decisions he made in writing “Death of an Ortolan”.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Zero Gravity Management.


Interview (Part 3): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

Interview (Part 4): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner)

My conversation with the writer of the winning script “Death of an Ortolan”.

Justin Piasecki wrote the original screenplay “Death of an Ortolan” which won a 2016 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Justin about his background, his award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to him.

Today in Part 4, Justin and I do a deep dive into some of the key creative decisions he made in writing “Death of an Ortolan”:

Scott: You started thinking maybe I’ll do this Vince-Walter relationship will be the key one, but then eventually you moved more toward the Reed character as being the focal point of Walter’s emotional change.

Justin: I just realized that Vince was a really good vehicle for personifying Walter’s younger self. I think that because that haunts him so much, that was an important thing to be present in there.

Scott: There’s a “Charlotte Observer” reporter Corddry. What was her function in the story?

Justin: That goes back to the rotating first acts. Walter’s first reincarnation after being fired was a food critic, essentially another version of an antithesis of his former self, somebody that snobs on food. And death row was for a column. I realized, like with Vince, that needed to be a separate relationship as well.

She’s the perfect sidekick too. A food critic Robin to his Batman.

Scott: Also someone that he can talk to. You can get him to convey whatever’s going on, also provide just some information, like facts and stuff like that.

Justin: Right, Like you said, he is not a social guy. He’s not a friendly guy. He’s definitely a shut‑in. I needed him to rebloom and rebud with someone.

Scott: I’ve got a metaphor for you because I’m sitting here listening to you. It’s fascinating to hear you say, “I started off with this character being over here, but then thought this.” You’re like a chef. You’re changing ingredients around. This is a screenwriter as chef.

Justin: Yeah. I started off making a frittata, and then I ended with something way more dramatic, which is good. It just took a while to figure those out, but that’s what outlining and notecards on the wall are for.

Scott: Great chefs do. They experiment.

Justin: Absolutely.

Scott: I wanted to talk to you because you have a series of shots in this script. Normally, I tell my students, “Really just try to avoid this,” because there’s hardly any way that you can make this approximate what’s going to be on the screen.

Most readers, their eyes glaze over when they see these things, but your series of shots were actually really I thought quite compelling because I think you have the benefit of, A, you’re watching these ingredients go together. It’s series of shots of a cooking preparation type of thing. Then there’s this mini‑story, a beginning, middle, end as the food goes from ingredients to final product.

Then a couple of times you did that the last step involves serving the food to a death row inmate. It’s like they’re really a compelling little mini‑stories whereas I think oftentimes in scripts these series of shots sort of lay flat. So I compliment you on that. Thoughts on the series of shots at all?

Justin: To start, I totally agree with you. Typically when I read it in other scripts, I’m like, “Did that need to be there or not?” You’re telling your students the right thing in my opinion for sure. In this case, I think that there were a few expositional things that I knew were important to see. I wasn’t going to get it through dialogue.

The main example for that is the inmate head count. Again, it’s a really small medium security prison. They have about 200 inmates. This is a real thing that they do every morning just to figure out the logistics of prison meals and how much to make, but I think it was important to see…He’s used to this static number. If you go in every day and it’s…

Scott: 199, I think was the number.

Justin: Yeah, it’s 199. Then they get four.

Scott: So it’s 203.

Justin: For the first time ever, he sees this number change. It’s almost like “Truman Show” when the sun comes up three minutes late or something. It’s just like, “In 30 years I’ve never seen that change.” Then you saw them ticking down.

That was a stab at saying, “Listen, to a lot of people, to a lot of state budgets, these are numbers on a page.” We’re going to see those numbers on a page, but we’re also going to get to know those numbers intimately.

There are some really hard cuts after executions where you see that number and you see it’s changed, you’re like, “Geez, that’s…”

Scott: Somebody’s just died.

Justin: Yeah, that’s a cold wake up. That’s why I made the exception for some of these things was…

The other example is a blue book that the White House chef has. It’s basically a chronological history of ever meal ever made in the White House. That’s a real thing too, though I took some liberties. A lot of this stuff I discovered while researching and was like, “Gotta have that. Gotta have that.” At one point you could buy Linden B. Johnson’s chef’s blue book. In fact, if you have an extra 7,000 lying around of something and Christmas is coming up, I’ll give you my address. That would be so cool.

There’s a montage later in the script where it’s famous meals throughout history. JFK’s birthday. Reagan’s assassination attempt, etc. I used that book to portray that mystique without a weird picture thing or archive footage.

Scott: That third act is quite powerful, and I would imagine took quite a bit of effort and rewriting to get to the point where you got it where you got a lot of cross‑fitting going on between parallel stories. How about that ending? Now that you think about it, what were some of the bigger challenges that you had in writing that third act?

Justin: That was a product of massive outlining ahead of time, but it was also a product of letting go of what you thought the ending was going to be the entire time. You’re really bitching and moaning when you’re just like, “Ah, it’s not going to work.”

I always knew that I wanted to bookend with that opening monologue, that opening voiceover. That is probably the biggest piece of advice if I’m ever at a point where someone would want to know advice from me, is I went into this having 15 things that I thought would either be cool or interesting or that would need to be in there because it’s this type of script or whatever. At the end, there’s maybe three of them. They were three things that I just loved. They were why I was working on the story.

So tent poles are important, but you can only have a few of them.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Justin describe what it has been like to be a Nicholl Fellowship recipient.

For Part 1, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Zero Gravity Management.


Interview (Part 4): Justin Piasecki (2016 Nicholl Winner) was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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