I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter ....
TONY: I've always known I wanted to write. As a kid I lived to hear my grandfather's stories. He was the definition of raconteur and could hold my attention for hours. That's probably where I got the bug. I've been writing short fiction for as long as I can remember. I'd do every writing class I could get into as a kid. I was an English major in school. For me it's just about telling stories. It stems from that oral tradition and grew as I became aware, through my father's love of the movies, that film is currently the most powerful storytelling medium there is. I've wanted to be a part of that tradition from a very early age.
MITCH: My mom and dad took my brother and I to movies all the time. I'll never forget the first time I saw what is still my favorite movie, The Commitments. In school, I got exposed to all kinds of stories. I fell in love with Flannery O'Conner and John Steinbeck. Honestly, I hate to say it, but I chose screenwriting because I thought it would be the easiest way to make a living at writing. Then when I saw things like Lawrence of Arabia I realized the power screenwriting
I know I've succeeded....
TONY: When my writing partner, and my girlfriend approve. Mitch's taste and mine have pretty much locked since day one and Kate just has an innate sense of story.
MITCH: … when someone asks me this question.
My inspiration to write DOWN THE DIRT ROAD.....
When Tony was working as an intern at the Shooting Gallery, he read a fax that described how Bob Dylan's camp at Columbia records was interested in turning his then current album, Time Out of Mind, into a screenplay. He's a Dylan freak so he had the brilliant idea that he would write a draft in his spare time and turn it in to the execs before they'd even decided who to hire. It didn't quite work out as planned but Down the Dirt Road came out of that. Four years later, it's evolved into something that stands on its own, but it was born out of Dylan's Time Out of Mind.
What inspired you to write?
Tony Mosher: For me it goes back to that storytelling idea addressed in an earlier question. I love stories. I'm fascinated by the core idea of story, and how it's the one thing that we hold in common with our ancestors and their ancestors and their ancestors. All that Joseph Campbell stuff. It really frustrates me when people come out of a theater and talk about how "unreal" everything is they've seen. For me storytelling has always been about reminding people, and myself, what is possible.
Mitch Larson: I had a teacher in high school named Tom Ferderer who taught a class that changed everything I was thinking. He introduced me to Joseph Campbell (who is a living god, or was when he was alive anyway). It was the first time I understood what subtext was, and that writing doesn't need to be and isn't supposed to be just a frivolous entertainment. Suddenly, the idea of writing was much more interesting.
FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to prepare yourself to write your first script?
My first script was based on an idea that my father and I worked out together. I think it was originally his idea, actually. It was a period piece, and I really didn't know what I was doing, so I just invested all my energy into the research. It was a very emotional father and son story and I'm not sure I had the life experience yet to aptly convey that kind of thing, which is probably why it's gathering dust. I want to revisit it. I still think it's a wonderful story.
Mitch Larson: I was completely unprepared. I had a screenwriting class in college and had to show up to the first session and pitch my feature! I had a loose idea based on the Bob Dylan song "Isis," but no story. After suffering through the pitch, I started writing it, and it turned out all right. I still love the idea that I ended up with, but it was clearly written during my "be different to be different" years. Knowing what I know now, someday I'll go back and do it right.
FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?
and Mitch Larson: No, it's not the first for either of us. This one's been gestating forever. It's changed significantly-- much for the better-- since the first draft. There are still things we'd like to tweak, but there always are. It's been four years in the making.
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?
We work on a deadline system. We have regular meetings where we talk about what we've done individually and then set new deadlines and meeting dates to work toward. I live in Manhattan so my "office" is also my bedroom. I live above a bar, with a jazz club on one side, a cabaret on the other, and one floor up from the busiest street in the West Village so though it makes for eclectic background noise and can provide fodder, it's not exactly that ideal of the clean, well lighted space. I've found the deadline system to be crucial. Writing is hard, and we're lazy. This system really seems to be working wonders for us though.
Mitch Larson: Absolutely not. We keep each other going with deadlines and regular story meetings. But we both have jobs. It's really hard to keep a story in your head when you can't work on it for the majority of the day. And we're lazy.
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring
screenwriters and why?
and Mitch Larson: They're critical. We've been working in the film industry in NYC now for a few years and have come up with some pretty nice contacts that we still hope will get us somewhere, but the contests allow you to have that little bit of validation that makes the struggle worthwhile. You make a stride in a competition and it makes you feel like you're more than an assistant or whatever it is you're doing to pay the bills.
FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the
FilmMakers.com / The Radmin Company Screenwriting Competition?
and Mitch Larson: Tony had had brushes with The Radmin Company through the Shooting Gallery and Miramax. They're a nice, relatively small outfit that would make sense as a first place of representation. That and the cash.
FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?
Different scripts for different reasons. Of what's published: Taxi Driver and Adaptation to remind yourself that rules and limitations (when it comes to form and structure) should be questioned. Ed Wood for a lesson in tone. Seven for its seemingly effortless and efficient characterization (not to mention the plotting). Any of Wes Anderson's scripts to remind you what the word "original" means.
Mitch Larson: On the Waterfront by Budd Schulberg has been the most important script I've read. I read it after seeing the film. They're two separate masterpieces with the same heart.
FilmMakers Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?
People; family, friends, strangers, all of them. People in bars, people on the train, people in the park. What they do, how they do it, why they do it. It's all fascinating to me. I could watch people for hours. That and the components of film: story, image/photography, acting, music. Music is a big one. It informs nearly everything I do.
Mitch Larson: Definitely music. Music provides a variety of visceral experiences that can't be had any other way. And I really want to travel the world and see things, like that random boat in the middle of the desert… have you seen that thing?
FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?
I don't think I can put all my chips on one. I'm a really big fan of the legends from the seventies. The guys that writers of my generation venerate as the screenwriting Gods: Schrader, Towne, Chayefsky, Goldman, et al. I'm just sort of getting into the previous generation of Ernest Lehman, Neil Simon… Of the current batch I seem to gravitate towards those who have something in common with these guys; Kaufman, Anderson (both of them), Cohen, Payne and Taylor. I once had the good fortune of reading an unproduced screenplay by Herman Raucher (Summer of '42) which completely changed the way I thought about writing scripts. It definitely had the biggest impact in terms of the way I write.
Mitch Larson: Whenever I feel I'm getting cocky, I remember Ingmar Bergman. It would take me three or four lifetimes to come up with something like Wild Strawberries or Persona. As for non-dead writers, I gotta go with the hometown boys, the Coen brothers. Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and Barton Fink are brilliant. Their worst scripts are still damn good.
FilmMakers Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with and why?
David Gordon Greene. I'm a huge fan. I instantly fell in love with George Washington. I know he mainly writes his own stuff, but I just love what has made up his work to date. Small crews, small casts, small budgets-it's so incongruous to what's going on in the film industry at the moment. I can't wait to see what he comes up with now that he has a budget at his disposal.
Mitch Larson: If he could be reanimated, I'd love to work with the greatest director ever, Alfred Hitchcock. No one has ever been able to give the audience a ride quite like him. I'd also love to see what David Lynch would do with something we wrote. Like him or not, he is truly original, and I think he's a genius.
Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and why?
Again, I have to take the easy way out. I think Meryl Streep is inhumanly good. I'm fascinated by Samantha Morton. Billy Crudup and Mark Ruffalo. I'm always interested in what young actors are capable of doing if they weren't taking risk-free roles. I think there are some really talented younger actors out there who could really show their chops and do amazing things if they just chose meatier parts.
Mitch Larson: Clint Eastwood. Because he's Clint Eastwood.
FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?
Oh man. What do I know? One thing I have learned is that your chances are better if you focus on just doing your thing. If your goal is nothing more than to land an agent, chances are slim that they're going to pay attention to you. You do your thing, if you're doing it well, the agents will find you. At least that's what I've seen. And I'd add that the clichés definitely seem to be true. There are definitely dues to be paid. If it's something you have to do, you just find ways to do it. You wait the tables, do the temp work, put up with the nightmare industry jobs, whatever it takes to allow you to get close to people that can make a difference or to get your stuff seen.
Mitch Larson: Two things. First, find resources where you are. In New York, there's all kinds of great organizations for young penniless aspiring writers. Things like the Stellar Network
(www.stellarnetwork.com) where Tony and I won our first screenwriting award. Second, focus on structure. I learned the hard way that you shouldn't write a word of the script until you know exactly where it's going. You can really waste a lot of time trying to figure it out as you write.
FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?
Tony Mosher and Mitch Larson: We're going to make a short film this summer. We have feature scripts in competitions. We have a couple of things out to people that we think might spark to our stuff. Oh, and we're going to buy a radio station.
FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from now?
Tony Mosher and Mitch Larson: With a director credit on a feature. And out of debt. Definitely out of debt.