FilmMakers.com / The Radmin Company 2003 Screenwriting Competition

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John Morby, Jr.
Second Place
 
Winner
John Morby, Jr.
of Farmington,
CT
Screenplay
SANDMAN
Drama
Biography: Born and raised in Connecticut, John possesses undergraduate and graduate degrees, but prides himself on being an entirely self-taught screenwriter. He structured his creative energy by scouring over books dedicated to the craft. Because we're ultimately a product of our experiences, John credits his upbringing and all the special, understanding people in his life for his passion to touch the lives of others through screenwriting.

In addition to having success in screenwriting contests, John wrote and directed the independent digital feature, "Tides". John's desire is to continue to generate material that reflects his view of life: there's humor, there's pain and we're all in this together, so let's share the laughter, trust the crying will strengthen us and most importantly, remember to open our hearts and let love bring us all closer together.

Interview

I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter ....

I sympathized with a desperate George Bailey as he prayed for his old life on a bridge in Pottersville. My desire to write for the screen was reaffirmed a few moments later when George bound into the Bailey homestead and, with desperate longing in his voice, called out for his wife and kids. 

I know I've succeeded....

a)   I give focused, creative thought to whatever script/idea I’m working on.  What many folks fail to realize is that success in life has little to do with obtaining the overrated “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”, and everything to do with the relentless pursuit of something one has unbridled passion for.  If you make sacrifices and work hard for a noble pursuit you believe in, are you not a success if the end result is different from what you perceived it would be? 

b)   A character I’ve created connects with someone the way he/she connected with me.   

c)   A scene I create moves me to laughter or tears.

My inspiration to write SANDMAN.....

was similar to what inspires me to write all the scripts I write. Life is too damn short to live it with fear, resentment or hatred residing in your heart. For this reason, the creative thrust of my work typically revolves around folks who need to come to that realization.

 

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FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

John Morby, Jr.: Simply put, my passionate desire to make folks experience and value the range of feeling life offers to each of us.

FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to prepare yourself to write your first script?

John Morby, Jr.: I wrote a lot of stuff with great intentions but ultimately, poor execution. As a kid I wrote poetry and short stories. As a teen and young adult I wrote some children's books, followed by a 500-page novel. All of this produced a good foundation for my screenwriting career. And the real beauty of writing is this: as long as passion is present, results will improve with time.

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?

John Morby, Jr.: SANDMAN is not my first script. I typically work on 2-3 projects at a time, all in various stages of development. With SANDMAN, from the time of initial idea/premise to contest draft was approximately 2 years. However, the time between initial idea/premise and first draft is typically anywhere between 6 months-3 years for me. That's why I strongly recommend keeping some sort of Idea File. Jot down ideas, regardless of how scattered or seemingly incoherent they are. There may be a gem in there somewhere, which is exactly what happened with SANDMAN.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?

John Morby, Jr.:
I try to write at night, starting between 9-10 PM, and I continue for as long as I feel productive. This is usually anywhere between 1-4 AM. But the "mental writing" continues 24/7. This is productive (and mandatory), so long as it doesn't divert attention away from important people in your life (and in this instance, I mean family, not agents or executives). When I do finally turn in for the evening, I try to focus on a specific story problem. Once in awhile, I'll have an answer when I wake up.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?

John Morby, Jr.: Definitely. The beauty of screenplay contests is a) you get read by someone connected to the industry in some fashion. b) if the script is well received, opportunities will emerge c) it's not unreasonably expensive (and anyone who thinks it is must remember this is a career investment- it's no different than paying tuition for courses). 

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers.com / The Radmin Company Screenwriting Competition?

John Morby, Jr.: The specific opportunities this contest offers if the script is well received are impressive. However, I don't recommend waiting until the deadline to mail the script as I did.

FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?

John Morby, Jr.: Unlike many writers, I'm not an avid script reader. I prefer to watch films rather than read scripts, simply because I feel more of an emotional connection through viewing rather than reading. While watching, I "break down" the stories as a tool to understand the films. If I encounter problems, I then refer to the script. As a student, I was always told that to be a good writer one must be an avid reader. Maybe that's the norm, but I contend that good writers are simply those people who are passionate about the motive that drives their writing. So, from my perspective, if a person finds watching to be more appealing than reading, then I'd advise them to watch films that move them. While watching, try to get a feel for the emotional flow of the story. After, examine the feelings the film stirred in you as a guide to try and create those same feelings in your own writing. I'm a big believer that following your heart is the most important thing to do, especially in the early stages of a writing career.

FilmMakers Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?

John Morby, Jr.: Filmmaking. The primary reason I am attracted to screenwriting over writing for the stage is my affinity for film. From 2000-2002 I dedicated a great deal of my free time from screenwriting toward working on the independent digital film, "Tides", which I wrote and directed. It was an excellent way to learn first-hand how screenwriting blends with the directing process and to understand the importance of writing visually.

Beyond that, I love road trips. The diversity of people, places and events that can be experienced from state to state are an excellent way to foster one's growth as a writer and a person.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

John Morby, Jr.: Refer to my response to the earlier question regarding recommended script readings. In general, screenwriters who have provided the blueprint for films that are able to touch the masses are the ones I respect most.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with and why?

John Morby, Jr.:
Robert Redford. Although he's only directed a handful of films, the projects he has completed feature characters dealing with issues revolving around elements of human emotion I have a great deal of interest in. I'd love to spend time with him and learn from a person whose concerns seem to mirror my own.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and why?

John Morby, Jr.: It's difficult to beat Denzel Washington for a number of reasons. First, his dedication is evident in every film he's acted in and every interview he's conducted. That's key, as professionalism is the first step toward an effective working relationship. His acting range is phenomenal and his performances are always believable and incredibly moving. I have to stretch this answer a bit and include two more actors: Kevin Kline and Amy Madigan. In addition to also having admirable dedication to craft, Kline's sense of humor and wit appears to mirror my own and I feel it would be a joyous experience to collaborate with him. Although Madigan's acting credits aren't as well known, she won me over in "Field of Dreams", as her feistiness in that role resonates in many of the female characters I create.

FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?

John Morby, Jr.: I could go on forever here. As briefly as I can and in no particular order, here are my "10 Commandments" for screenwriters, based on my experiences thus far:

  1. Search for what you're passionate about- TRULY passionate about- in life. If it is screenwriting, fine. Just make certain it is the PROCESS of screenwriting that gets your juices flowing and not the benefits that may result from a screenwriting career (refer to my "I know when I've succeeded when…" response). Take a good week to ponder this question: "If I never earn a dime as a screenwriter, would my passion to write be unaffected?" If you can truly answer "yes" to this question, without reservation, then you are doing the right thing because you are PASSIONATE about the FEELING writing gives you. Great! Remind yourself of this gem whenever the struggle of writing gets you down. 

  2. Read lots of screenwriting books. And I don't just mean browse through them. READ AND RE-READ. Take it very seriously. Make copious notes and don't blow by stuff you don't get. Struggle with it until you understand it in a way that makes sense to you. Treat it exactly like you would if you paid a hefty tuition to attend film school.

  3. There are a lot of opinions, mostly conflicting, regarding EVERYTHING about screenwriting. Be patient as you struggle to decipher the "best" way of doing things, but remember this: when in doubt, follow your heart.

  4. If you're frustrated with your script and things aren't working, just remember that your disgust will be reflected in your writing. If you're miserable when you're writing it, folks will be miserable when they're reading it!

  5. Give yourself realistic but challenging deadlines to work toward- break up completing a screenplay and learning to become a better writer in chunks (for example: Monday-Tuesday: read/understand McKee chapter 5, Wednesday: script research, Thursday-Sunday: outline1st Act of draft 1, etc).

  6. Understand the sacrifices. As I write this, it is 3:30 AM on a Thursday morning and I'm still struggling to solve story problems in a script that's been haunting me for weeks. The point is this: if you view this as a big inconvenience, maybe screenwriting isn't for you.

  7. Film is about entertainment. It's commendable to explore thematic purpose, but if you make that your sole or primary objective, it will result in boredom for the reader/audience. 

  8. Decide on a time management strategy. Figure out what the "musts" in your life are. And by "musts", I don't mean staying glued to a Dukes of Hazzard marathon all weekend (unless spending that much time with Boss Hogg and the Dukes really does it for you). What I'm getting at is this: if you are planning to pursue screenwriting, writing talent isn't nearly enough. It demands a great deal of consistent effort, which equates to dedicated time each day. So you need to arrange your life around your writing schedule. In addition to eating, sleeping and taking care of odds and ends, it is important to identify all other activities that you need to have in your life (for me this includes exercise, watching films, playing basketball once a week and spending time with loved ones). Once your list of "musts" is completed, you'll have an idea of the time left over you can contribute to writing. Decide on how much that amounts to each day (I'd recommend an hour minimum), and go to work. If adjustments are needed, make them and move forward. But always adhere to some sort of schedule; it's the only way to stay on track.

  9. Try not to take out your frustrations on those around you. Remember, nobody is making you pursue screenwriting. 

  10. And my personal favorite and the one I'm most proud to live my life by: Never, EVER listen to anyone who suggests your passion (whether it be screenwriting or whatever), is a) stupid b) a waste of time or c) financially a bad idea. Ignore this horrible advice and be grateful you have a calling in life. 

And above all, always write what you CARE about. Best of luck.
 

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

John Morby, Jr.: I'm in the midst of working on two drama/comedy scripts, both with high concept fantasy hooks.

FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from now?

John Morby, Jr.:
I'll counter this question with a wager: $20 to anyone who knows anyone who can honestly admit to having enjoyed being confronted with this "crystal ball" type of question. Easy to ask, agonizing to formulate a response to. Let's see, for starters, I hope I'm still vertical. If I pass that test, then it is my hope that my dedication to the craft of screenwriting will have aided my career and growth as a writer and a person. Most importantly, I hope my family and all the special people in my life I care for are happy, healthy and pursuing their dreams. Peace.

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