FilmMakers.com / The Radmin Company 2004 Screenwriting Competition

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Damilola Olorunnisola Damilola Olorunnisola
of
Ewing, NJ

Screenplay
PIANO IN THE DARK
Drama / Suspense

Gaba Ado
of
Ewing, NJ

Gaba Ado

Second Place Winners

Biography:

Damilola Olorunnisola (Dammy O’) is a screenwriter, playwright, novelist, actor and director. A native of Nigeria, he graduated from Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Albeit securing a degree in the Global business field, he took several classes in Creative Writing, Theater, Film and Acting and consistently took the top honors in all of them. It is also here that he took to stage to rave reviews as King Creon in the Greek tragedy, Medea, the Fantaastiks and A Few Good Men, to name a few. And while he has directed some of his own work for the stage, including Odysseus and Six Ways to say I love You, the short film, Sadness in A-minor, which he wrote and also starred in, was his film directorial debut. He actively and zealously continues to perfect his craft as the prototype "triple threat;” indeed not only reinventing himself as a selfless actor and visionary director, but also pushing and challenging his own limits as an extremely talented and impassioned screenwriter. While guest speaking at screenwriting seminars at Rutgers University and Princeton, he is also currently finishing another feature screenplay and completing a non-fiction novel that is already receiving a highly enthusiastic reception from the public and rave reviews in literary circles.

Gaba Ado
was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. While in school, his meeting with fate would not really come to bear until he was introduced to the stage. It was here, while acting in such plays as Samuel Harold and the Boys and God’s Children that he understood that acting was going to be his part in the creative world. And where better to pursue that dream than in America.

However, with the challenges most unknown talents will inevitably encounter initially, he decided to pen a script as a vehicle for himself. While a self-taught screenwriter, he fed his creative needs in books, screenplays and movies, and everything he could lay his hand upon. And while he co-wrote his first feature 3:32, it was in the short film, Beethoven’s Incubus, which he co-starred and co-wrote that his dream began to take form. And no sooner, good fortune would lead him to experience the big field as a bit player in films like Best Man, A Beautiful Mind and Summer of Sam.

He continues to work hard to perfect his craft as an actor and writer. He is currently working on a drama feature screenplay, The Ambassador’s son.

Interview

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

DAMILOLA (Dammy): The first time I saw A Few Good Men and Crimson Tide, I believe in ’92. In fact I remember shedding a tear when I saw Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in the confrontational scene in the latter movie and my date going, “There’s nothing emotional to cry about in this scene.” But I wasn’t crying because I was emotional, but rather because the performance and the writing were so lavish, operatic and impeccable, that all I could do was weep to keep myself from jumping up in a dark room filled with over three hundred people and scream “Halleluiah!” And it was also the time I knew I had to be an actor. And I’ve been incurably possessed by both ever since. And then I watched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck receive their Oscar for Good Will Hunting and I knew it…this is the dream that must not die! That moment was the purview of what could be. It was the prophecy of what would be. And I’ve tied that dream to the reins of a tireless chariot ever since.

GABA: When no one wanted to hire me as an actor J Seriously, I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and since I was about fifteen, I’ve always been telling stories back in high school. So being a screenwriter seemed a natural transition.

I know I've succeeded........

DAMMY: The day I’m standing on that podium in the Kodak Theater, receiving, in the eyes of the world and with the blessings of God, that which has become the insignia and golden scepter of achievement in our business. Then, maybe then, I can trust myself to believe I have succeeded. 

GABA: The day we completed our first screenplay, 3:32. And the day I received my first check on the movie, Best Man. I knew I was there. Or at least on my way there.

My inspiration to write PIANO IN THE DARK........

DAMMY: Writing has to come from a place of sacred and absolute belief, a place of destructive obsession or implacable inquisition…Piano in the Dark came from all three for me. My almost perverse obsession with the beauty and perfection of the piano. I heard it everywhere, saw it everywhere…it followed me everywhere. Then there was the big “What if?” that came even before that, because I soon became obsessed with beauty. The simple aesthetic perfection that is a woman. Then one day I thought what if I lost the ability to acknowledge or appreciate both? Or worse, had to give one up for the other? And that was the birth of the idea. And that is the romanticism and hell that drives the story. 

*****************************************************************

 

FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Damilola Olorunnisola:
Fire needs no more inspiration to consume than death does to annihilate. For me, writing has also always been equally innate and inseparable. And I’ve always done it as far back as I can remember. The word itself is what inspires. The rest, story, genre, medium, are just different clouds in the same sky.

Gaba Ado: People, situations, life, its faults and beauty, and watching other great films. 

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: I became a voracious reader! And I have possibly read everything, if not close, ever written on the art, craft and business of screenwriting. Such books like Linda Seger’s MAKING A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT to David Trottier’s SCREENWRITER’S BIBLE and everything between. I read books on structure, interviews given by professional readers and of course, watched a sleuth of good and great movies. Some people advice you to see bad movies so as to learn what NOT to do. But bad movies suffocate me emotionally and murder me artistically. But the books are a living, breathing, endless tutorial. I still read them today, even the new ones. Though by now, it seems all the information is redundant, but you just never know. And if nothing else, it keeps me grounded.

Gaba Ado: Research. I read other scripts and books on script writing. I think the first script I read was Leaving Las Vegas.

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: This is, in fact, my second script. And from idea to first draft, about three months. And then I walked away for a few months and came back to it. Then I tore the temple down and rebuilt it in ten days. 

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: When I worked for a financial firm, I would log in at 9:00am. And from that moment till I left at 5:00pm, I was in my own world with my characters, writing away. Then I would go to college at night (taking 15 credits a semester) and come home, do homework, then sit up till 3 or 4am writing, then go back to work with puffy red eyes later. Weekends were my Holy Grail. It was 11am to 11pm at Barnes and Nobles. And it felt like only an hour. Now, fortunately and unfortunately, I am not employed (I think they finally realized they were paying me with benefits to write screenplays and not tend to their clients as they had hoped). And if I have a looming deadline, then it’s every opportunity I get. And I love B&N because I love people and life happening about me. The aroma of a brewing mocha, the fight of new lovers trying to be private in a public place, a woman pulling her hair from her face while she reads a romantic tome…what’s not to love! Though twelve hours at Barnes and Nobles are a bit harder now that I have my incredibly beautiful wife. She once suggested a library (I think because it’s around the corner from the house), but silence is simply too much noise for me.. But she understands.

Gaba Ado: First thing in the morning, about 4am, I write till about 9am. My mind is well relaxed and fresh at this point, so it’s when I usually do my best work. And sometimes in the evening. At home mostly and sometimes in a bookstore. 

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: I don’t only think screenplay contests are important to aspiring screenwriters, I think they are invaluable! While there seems to be a plethora of fly-by-night competitions popping out of the wood works, entering the genuinely good-intentioned, astute contests, submits one’s writing to scrutiny, not at the hands of your girlfriend, uncle or mom who are most likely going to like it and haven’t the slightest idea what the disciplines and intricacies of this craft requires, but in the hands of professionals who will not be glossed over by sloppy seconds. You can’t fool them. And if you can’t convince these guys, then you probably have little chance of convincing an agent or a studio. And that type of feedback is worth the price of admission. It gives the writer an honest sense of his place and readiness- creatively and emotionally. Because if you can’t handle disappointments in contests, you can’t handle the more devastating blows Hollywood is likely to deal you. And when you win one…if nothing else, it re-affirms your commitment to this pursuit. It tells you you’re not wasting your time. This is the game you should be playing even if you’re not yet in the big league. You’re probably only a few shots away from the NBA. But do your homework before you decide whether to enter a competition with your last fifty bucks or starve to death for the sake of the art. They are not all worth it.

Gaba Ado
: I think it is not only important for the writer but also for the industry. It helps the writer understand the quality of his talent and how much more work he may or may not need and also helps the industry eliminate some of the garbage from unserious writers that create a problem for the others. It also gives Hollywood a chance to find and produce original stories, instead of recycling the same old thing. So it’s a win-win situation for both groups. 

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: This is one of the few verifiably good-intentioned, astute and rewarding competitions out here, where there is a genuine intention for the good and favor of the writer. It’s not about taking advantage of a generation of talentless dreamers with delusions of stardom and a generous allowance from mom and dad. There is a sincere commitment to see the committed writer succeed with the FilmMakers.com & the Radmin company screenwriting contest. And at best they want to be your benefactor. And at worst, the conduit to your inevitable success. What more can one ask? 

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: There are so many great scripts out there that no serious writer should fail to read. But on my writing space, you will find the following: Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, Pulp Fiction, the Hours, The English Patient, Usual Suspects and Gladiator among others. And for TV, there is only the West Wing. God, what fantastic writing! Simply, find the top ten movies you love and even wish you wrote, and seek out the scripts to them and study them. Then when you think you’ve mastered them, do it all over again. 

Gaba Ado: Definitely GLADIATOR. Because it demonstrates the entire gamut a script should fulfill. 

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: Directing. It’s the courage behind every great performance, it’s the voice and limb inside every operatic and seamless scene, it’s the eye behind the opulence of light and landscapes, it’s the breath and pulse inside the sculpture of every writer’s work. Simply, it’s the canvass upon which all come to be. And I love it!

Gaba Ado: That would have to be acting. I simply love it!

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Damilola Olorunnisola: I’m not sure I have a favorite. Especially in a business where so many chefs play a part before the final chef d’oeuvre is served, it is so difficult to point to any one person. But a few whose work I really admire are Tom Stoppard, Aaron Sorkin, David Franzoni, David Curtis and Julian Fellowes.

Gaba Ado: Baz Lurhmann. I like his approach to writing. But there is a host of others I really enjoy.

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: Again, it is an area where one would be terribly difficult for me. But the top five I admire and would gladly work with on any project or trust to direct my projects are- Anthony Minghella, Baz Luhrmann, Francois Girard, Copola and of course, the veritable Spielberg. These are five amongst about a hundred I truly admire.

Gaba Ado: For me I would have to say Steven Spielberg and Francois Girard.

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

Damilola Olorunnisola:
Nicole Kidman. She is an explosion of talent, emotion and grace; Al Pacino in anything; he’s the only man alive who can make reading the Yellow Pages sound like opening night at the Rose. Anthony Hopkins because he makes it all seem so bloody effortless! And Denzel because…well, he is Denzel. What can I say?

Gaba Ado: Anthony Hopkins. I simply love his body of work. And Al Pacino would be a close second.

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

Damilola Olorunnisola: Never confuse desire for talent. Never confuse intentions with actions. And never confuse trying with succeeding. Whatever your dream is in the business or in life for that matter…it will never happen unless you become compulsively obsessed with working towards making it happen. Write. Write. Write. And never believe that your dream or ambition is impossible. It’s only impossible until one person does it. Then it’s plausible, but incredibly difficult. Then the next person does it and it isn’t even difficult anymore, but just incredible!  To survive in this business, one need be equipped with four weapons- tenacity, humility, temerity, and an implacable contention with your failure. Some will argue talent, but if nothing else, the last decade has proved that to be a serviceable non-factor.

Gaba Ado: : In order to create a great screenplay, you have to have a love and hate relationship with it, just like you would a child. Be able to recognize and praise the good, and be ready to discipline out the bad.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Damilola Olorunnisola:
I’m currently finishing up a drama suspense thriller that is probably my best work thus far. I’m also completing a memoir that is already receiving rave reviews in literary circles. And of course, there’s the indie-feature I’m going to be directing this winter or early next year. And already I have a pending writing assignment I have to get to, pronto! 

Gaba Ado: Working on a script that I’d like to direct and star in.

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

Damilola Olorunnisola:
If God still bothers with the prayers of mortals, published, produced, still writing and directing some of the actors I mentioned above in one of my screenplays.

Gaba Ado: Making great films, hopefully.

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