FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards 2005 - Interview
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FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Marc Calderwood
Fourth Place  Winner
Marc Calderwood
of Albuquerque, NM
Action Adventure

Marc was raised in Anchorage where, I theorize, the influence of the Alaskan environment formed the framework of my desire and ability to write. Most distinct was the potency of light, and natureís northern trick ... the shift from no light in the winter, when we literally hibernated for months indoors, to vast seas of the stuff in the summer when our days became nothing short of a Tom Sawyer existence. It was in this setting of light and landscape that I formed the process of story as an intuitive measure of survival≠and celebration. During my junior year of high-school we moved to Palm Springs, California, where I graduated, then to Guadalajara, Mexico and finally to New Mexico, where I have lived ever since.

New Mexico is a high-desert plateau, a place where the thinner, dryer atmosphere and unobstructed vistas have, over the years, fixed in me a clairvoyance of light, sky and landscape. There is also a deep draft of history here, and like Alaska, much of it is filled with tales from itís core of Native Americans. Itís here that I began writing. I was a respiratory therapist working the slow swing-shift at a small hospital and at times I would listen to late night radio dramas. One evening the station made a call for radio plays, so I wrote three. All of them were accepted and two were produced and broadcast before the show went off the air. It was an unfortunate circumstance but it was also a measured epiphany; I had some ability and desire to write.

Itís easy to become so involved in life that oneís mission becomes -- not forgotten but ≠ waived away for a spell. Sidetracked by events, I took a job in the family business, helped build a significant company specializing in corporate travel and raised three fine children. But, at some point I began to feel that I had lost something and I needed to backtrack and recover my original route. So, I departed from corporate life at the end of 2001 and since have worked full-time studying the craft and art of writing. Along the way Iíve cemented my belief that talent is both a prize and a curse, as evidenced by the fact that there are many more untalented writers that are successful than there are successful writers with talent. Thatís because talented people donít necessarily like to work. With this in mind I developed a business plan directing my work, time and education. Still, when I first started writing I went nuts writing almost everything ... but screenplays. Then a friend asked me to join his screenplay group. I was reluctant at first, wanting to work on a novel, but I discovered that, like those early radio dramas, I enjoyed this type of work. Immediately, I started writing a feature, but soon realized how much I didnít know. I backed away, began over by writing short scripts and have had the good fortune to be somewhat successful. Now I spend most of my time learning, writing and more learning about the process of writing the feature screenplay.


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

Iíd like to say there was some magical attraction, or that I ďsee movies in my head,Ē but the truth is far less intriguing; it was a business decision. Early on there were two incidents that prompted this: 1) my first screenplay, a short, finished as a finalist in the first contest I entered, and 2) shortly after I made the decision to work as a writer, and during the flush of that first script success, I took a stroll through Barnes and Noble. Thereís a lot of books on those shelves and competition is as fiercely fought as the Indie 500. I decided right then that if I was going to be in that kind of brawl I wanted it to be in the arena that I enjoyed the most; film.

I know I've succeeded........ 

When I can sit in a dark theater and watch people laugh and cry and escape into a place that theyíll want to return to; a place Iíve been a part of creating, Iíll consider myself successful.

My inspiration to write EMILIANO DE LA GARZA AND THE GENIE.......

As you drive Interstate 8, West into San Diego, thereís a place where the road swings south and nears the U.S./Mexican border. Here you begin to see trails; foot-paths really, cut through the desert; everywhere. I was driving that stretch, and at first I couldnít figure out what these were, then I saw people≠northbound immigrants≠dashing quickly over these thin byways, and suddenly I knew . . . this is what wishes are all about. To walk through that wasteland, over those sweltering, dangerous trails takes an implacable desire thatís from the heart. This is what Emiliano is all about . . . itís about those people and their desire/wishes and how so many of us have lost the ability to wish from the heart. That, and my Grandma Concha De La Garza; an immigrant herself.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Marc Calderwood: I was raised in Alaska and during the long winters we spent a lot of time reading and being read to by our parents. It was our form of story-telling. My folks liked the old, great classics and I learned, early on, that I was more at home in the world of story than the real world. Still, I didnít take up writing until I was twenty-five and that experience≠writing my first story, a radio drama≠was, and is, the hinge of my inspiration. I love writing, the mere act itself is itís own inspiration.

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

Marc Calderwood: My first script was an assignment for my beginning script class. Other than the class itself I bought David Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible, and Syd Fieldís Screenplay. I read those then sat down and started writing. I didnít agonize about it much. Now that Iím more prepared, I agonize more.

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

Marc Calderwood: This is my third feature but the only one Iíve felt secure enough to enter in a competition. Iíve written numerous successful shorts, but features are a somewhat different story vehicle. I started writing Emiliano in January of this year as a part of the UCLA online program. My instructor, Scott Meyers, helped by continually prompting and encouraging me, but I set my own daily goals and had the first draft finished before the end of the course. From there itís gone to numerous local and on-line reading groups where Iíve continued to rewrite and refine the story. Iím currently on my ninth revision so it may be complete but itís not yet finished.

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

Marc Calderwood:
Sure do. My routine starts most mornings at eight. I write for five or six hours at any place that serves coffee and switch places often so that I don't get involved with visiting. Iím amazed that I can have my face stuck to my screen, fingers flashing away, a look of insane possession in my eyes and someone will sit down and ask me how much RAM I have. Iím not sure what thatís about but I continue to write in coffeehouses because I'm too undisciplined to write at home. I reserve later in the day for research, the business end of writing and reading.

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

Marc Calderwood: There is some derision of contests and competitions, in the industry, as wasteful effort but I donít believe anything can be further from the truth. For those of us out here in the cosmic dust of Hollywood contests provide some of the following for the aspiring writer.

  • Reality check - Writing screenplays isnít for everyone. If, after the 30th or so entry, one hasnít made at least Honorable Mention or Finalist one might possibly consider poetry or novels.

  • Hope - Writers donítí mind the alone hours, itís all done in the spirit of hope. Positive contest results can keep the vital element of hope alive.

  • Practice - Good results from contests can intimate that ones writing is improving.

  • Interest in your work - This is not the easiest way to get someone interested in your work because you still have to better than everyone else, but it is surely another way.

  • Resume builder - Itís difficult to build a resume in this business but it is necessary and contests are a way to do that.

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

Marc Calderwood: My experience from last yearís entry in American Gem, an off-shoot competition for shorts managed by FilmMakers, was handled very well. Secondly, based on personal feedback, Moviebytes lists FilmMakers as one of the best run and most influential. The other thing is the depth of prizes. Many contests only offer first, second and third, FilmMakers lists numerous as well as having the Top 20 and Top 10. This makes a difference when you approach someone with your script.

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

Marc Calderwood: Itís actually 3, the first is ĎBadlands.í I read it before I saw the film and I still canít shake the natural, clear, clean vision that the work evokes. The other would be the three versions of ĎThree Kings.í That will give the aspiring writer a clue as to how many times a good story might change in order to be a better story. The last would be Ď13 Monkeys.í I still donít have a clue what that script is about or how Terry Gilliam ended up with that film from that script.

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

Marc Calderwood: I love traveling with my wife, whether it's a trip through rural New Mexico or an adventure through Italy. She's my best friend, such an easy companion to be with and I would be a fairly one-dimensional person if it weren't for her dragging me away from my computer once in awhile. I'm hooked on in-line skating for the juice I get from exercise. I'm very passionate about history because when you dig deep enough truth is revealed. Last, I am passionate about all aspects of writing. I still write short stories, poetry, non-fiction articles and children's work. I had a piece printed in Highlights For Children and I am as proud of that accomplishment as anything.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Marc Calderwood: I have several favoriteís.

  • Charlie (often mistaken for Andy) Kauffman - for the body of his work.

  • Betty Comden and Adolph Green - for the enjoyment Iíve gotten from Singing In The Rain

  • Joel/Ethan Coen - for Oh Brother

  • Me - for the continuous hours of cheap entertainment Iíve given myself while writing.

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

Marc Calderwood:
I would love to work with Terry Gilliam, Jean-Pierre Jeanute, Peter Jackson and Robert Rodriguez. All of these guys make absolute magic happen on the screen better than almost anyone. I'm not a slice-of-life writer and find myself drawn to films that have that little twinkle of odd magic in their eye.

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

Marc Calderwood: Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise and Cate Blanchette are three actors that I find very appealing and the reason is the same for all three. Each and every time I see these people I am reminded just how good they are and how compelling it is to watch them.

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

Marc Calderwood: Yes.
Don't write in a vacuum, join script groups, go on-line (Zoetrope, Trigger Street) attend seminars, but find ways to get your work read by as many people as you can. Eat the feedback like it's your last meal, then go back and rewrite.

Always write a sense of yourself into your work, and never take that out no matter what the feedback says. Learn to change the elements of structure or format or style without surrendering the "you" in your work. I see, too often, very new writers trying so hard to be someone or something they're not on the advice of others who may know less. We are writing because we want to say something and this is the soul of the work. Soulless work should be reserved for advertising copy.

Andy Warhol said that "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." Develop an understanding of good business. I've found this one thing most lacking on the infant writer side of the industry (that's us). I have a written; 1 year, 3 year and 5 year business plan, and I would suggest strongly that anyone serious about the business of writing consider developing their own written business plan. It's difficult to gauge how things are going if you don't' have a way to measure progress, and having a serious business plan intimates that one appreciates the business side of the art of film.

Last, and most important, remember this . . .

"Never, never, never give up."

- Winston Churchill

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Marc Calderwood: More writing.

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

Marc Calderwood:
On the A list.

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