Hello and welcome to the second part of Joe's interview! If you have yet to read the first half (which was so good, I promise you!) click right here and read it before continuing with this part.
Ferenc Igali: I'm an aspiring writer myself, and I read your writing routine that you mentioned; but do you have any special conditions to set yourself up to write? Or can you write comfortably in any situation?
Joe Gazzam: I don't have any special conditions, other than I have an office in my back yard. I've tried to arrange it, in a creative fashion as possible. It looks like Indiana Jones' museum. There's a lot of crazy stuff in there, I'm just trying to surround myself with the right vibe. But in terms of a process it's literally just forcing myself into the office, sitting down and just staring at the screen, till something clicks. That's the hard part, the gut wrenching part! You can really get side tracked with the internet and a million other things.
FI: Do you use any particular software or just the industry standard of Final Draft?
JG: I just use Final Draft. I think most people do, I don't know any writers that don't. I've never asked any studio people if they take any other formats, I'm assuming they probably do. It's just so prevalent and it works. Once you become a professional writer and you've been doing it for a long time, you don't really need much out of a screenwriting program, just the basics. You're not really using all the tools and the wacky stuff they have on there, so Final Draft works well for me.
FI: How do you go about building up an idea into a full fledged script? Do you use outlines, beats? Perhaps a large map of sticky notes on a wall or index cards?
JG: I use a very detailed outline. What I do is start off with the big, big points; my opening, my first turning point, my midpoint, my second turning point and the end. Literally as four or five different lines. Then I start working in between those lines, so I start with the first act and I say, "Okay, how am I going to fill in from the start and how am I going to get to my turning point." I sort of start putting beats in there and I do that for all of it and it starts to balloon out, a little bit and then once I have that I go through it again and it fills up and fills up until some point every scene is accounted for. And then I'm pretty much ready to go!
FI: Obviously moving to places that are the epicentre of filmmaking, like LA, becomes a strong advantage, but in today's digital age and with the advent of sites like the Blacklist - would the necessity of moving to one of these hubs of film still outweigh the benefits of working online? What about international screenwriters attempting to break into the industry?
JG: In terms of being in LA, it has some advantages. You can go to a lot of meetings, you can run into people who are developing stuff. It definitely has its advantages. But if you have a good script, no one cares. The key is just getting it to the right hand. So really I would think that the biggest hurdle, being international, is just getting an agent. If you can get an agent and write a good script, you're pretty much done! Things like the Blacklist, certainly help and all the different contests, you can enter those because the agents do scan those things. But with the internet you have a much better access to agents, then I ever had when I came out here. It's definitely not a necessity to live out here. You could totally make it without living here.
FI: Independent film, and so independent screenwriting is thriving today; crowd funding, cheap(er) pro-sumer cameras and growing film schools/courses mean that there are more chances than ever before for new writers. Do you think that the direction we're heading in will make life easier for the novice screenwriter? More projects will equal opportunities, but there is also growing competition.
JG: I think it will make life a lot easier for the novice screen writer. You can shoot your own film these days and there are a million more opportunities to get your stuff out there and to have some job opportunities. Like the studios now are making less films than they ever did, they are developing less films, the assignments have shrunk. Everything is sort of shrinking because they are only making a few big movies a year. So this is exactly what we need, the independent aspect of this to get more stuff going. So I think it's great and that it will provide a ton more opportunities because the studios are harder to break into than ever but screw them! Go do Kickstarter, do whatever you want. You don't need them anymore if you have something you want to get off the ground.
FI: You mention that you may want to adapt a series from fiction to screen - have you worked on any adaptations before? If so, any advice to offer about the experience?
JG: I have not gone from a novel to a script! I've gone from a tv show to a script, an existing movie to a script but never from a novel. I don't have much to lend there!
FI: Your novel is out soon - how was the process of writing a novel compared to the process of writing a script? Did you have to adapt any working habits or particulars?
JG: It was actually pretty freeing, to be honest with you. I've done scripts for so long and it's five people looking over your shoulder telling you how to do it. Giving you notes, pulling you in every direction. So getting to work on something like a novel was great, because no one could tell me what to do, I could write what ever I want and I was not limited. There are so many limitations in script writing; page count, set structure. This you can just go off and tell your story! I honestly couldn't imagine a situation where I didn't do both from now on. I've really grown to love both! That's the thing with Hollywood, what they always say, if you don't want to get notes, if you don't want to collaborate on your writing, go write a novel!
FI: Time for our final two questions; first up - if you could have worked on any production, in any capacity (including that of being a writer or co-writer), from any era of film, what production would it be and why?
JG: This may be the geek in me coming out! But I would have loved to have written Terminator! In the crazy 80's, with Cameron at the helm, I just think that would have been pretty cool. I know you probably want me to say Casablanca or something, but that's what I would choose!
FI: Lastly, and this is our reader favourite; what are your favourite films (or screenplays in this case) - and do you have any professional idols or heroes? And do you have any tips for novice screenwriters?
JG: In terms of favourite films it's probably going to be the same ones you guys like!
Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, all the Spielberg stuff. Terminator! Tarantino's True Romance is one of my favourites of all time. Cohen Brothers - pretty much everything they have written!
In terms of idols, Shane Black, I love his voice. Robert Towne, William Goldman - there's so many! I love the guys with the real unique voice; like the Cohen Brothers. That's always inspiring.
And advice for novice screenwriters, I would say just write, write, write! I know that's stuff you're always hearing because it's true. If I look back on my early stuff I want to vomit! I had no idea what a craft writing was when I first started, I was just writing and really amused with myself. But it really is a learned craft, there's structure, characterisation, there's all these things that you really only get a hold of in your brain after you've been hammered. When someone reads a script and goes "This doesn't make sense or this doesn't work!" and having to confront that and realise why and learning that craft of why it doesn't work and what you should be doing. All that stuff just requires doing it and a lot of it! The chances are you're going to throw away your first couple screenplays, there's no way around it! I think that's the key, just write it and don't be really precious with it. Get feedback and be willing to figure out the note behind the note. That's what they say out here. What are they really trying to say?
FI: Thank you very much for 'sitting' down with us in this transatlantic chat and taking time out of your day to do so!