FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards 2005 - Interview

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FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Peter Alan Stelzer
Ninth Place  Winner
Peter Alan Stelzer
of Scottsdale, AZ
Screenplay
SLAMMED!
Teen Drama
Biography:

Born in Chicago, to a military pilot father and artist mother, Stelzer did puberty on Long Island. Days spent haunting NYC movie theaters got him thrown out of high school. He also flunked out of college (too many films again), but ended up graduating U Mass with a BA in Theater. He went on to receive an MFA in Theater Directing and Management, from Carnegie-Mellon U.
Stelzer taught acting and directing, and directed twenty-six plays at Cornell University, over a seven year period. Then he worked in NYC as an actor, in off-B'way plays, soap operas, films and TV movies. He chased his girlfriend (now wife) to LA and, after two years as a freelance reader, he became VP of a celebrity's long form production company. Over his seven years there, he developed, co-produced, or produced eight exhibited projects, including some award winners.

After the 94 LA earthquake, Stelzer moved his family to Scottsdale, and commuted to LA for the next five years. In 2000, he moved there full time, hoping to re-invent himself as a writer. He also co-founded the Phoenix Film Institute, where he teaches film acting to teens and adults. He is still married and has two daughters, one fifteen and one twenty-one.

Interview

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

When I saw the Japanese film Woman in the Dunes. I had cut school on Long Island and taken the train into the city (NY). I faked a British accent and a story about being a foreign exchange student. A "nice" lady took me to the film. (It was very erotic and I think she may have had ulterior motives.) The dialogue (subtitles) was so deep that I realized film writing could be as powerful as novels and poetry. The line I remember is... "Are we digging sand to live, or living to dig sand?"

I know I've succeeded........ 

When I can write like Harmony Korine, as demonstrated in her powerfully economic Kids.
 

My inspiration to write SLAMMED!.......

When an on-camera acting student of mine asked me to write a script about her torturous years at the hands of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, I was hooked. As she had little memory of the details of her incarceration, and was still experiencing psychological traumas after being released three years before, I decide to take on the project. At first, to help her reconstruct her three years of hell, and then, hopefully to help her put the experience to rest. But when she revealed the nature of her lasting scars, I realized there was an opportunity to weave a surrealistic tale that could deeply affect audiences, and raise important social questions about how we treat our unmanageable teens. I felt I could write the story, despite the main character being female and a teen, as I am a long time feminist, living with two teen daughters, my wife and a female cat. I also spend much of my time coaching and directing teens interested in film and TV acting. Also, my early theater directing, before the feminist movement became somewhat restrictive, was entirely focused on women's plays and female characters. I was also inspired by my surrealistic concept behind Slammed, where I had the opportunity to create situations and conglomerate characters in a world I had come to know through research and interviews.

 

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FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Peter Alan Stelzer: When I was in fifth grade, my dad, who was an Air Force pilot, was stationed in Tucson. My "commie-pinko" teacher there read an anti-war poem called The Balad of the Ball Turret Gunner. I remember it ended with the line... "They washed me out of the turret with a hose." That was it. It blew my socks off and instantly made me the dove I am today. Although I didn't try writing seriously (except for academic papers) until my 30s, that poem showed me the power of words.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: Think. After necessary research and subsequent note taking, I like to spend some time working out the idea in my head before committing words to paper. I imagine situational improvisations to create scenes and dialogue.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: Slammed is my fourth script. Including two months of research and exhaustive interviews, the whole project took about six months from the beginning to its current incarnation.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer:
My current situation allows me time to write whenever I need to. Usually, my problem is turning the laptop off.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: Yes. As it is very hard for a writer to get "real" coverage on even a great script, contests can give a more public legitimacy to a screenplay, hopefully getting it read and produced.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: I entered the Filmmakers International Screenplay Contest because of the word "international." I felt an internationally oriented contest might be more open to my story, that is somewhat critical of American culture. It is the first (and only) contest I have entered.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: I recommend Kids, by Harmony Korine. It really speaks to young pepple. The film looks so improvisational that it almost seems like there couldn't be a script. But the 95 eloquent pages that are Kids dramatizes every breath and glance. It is an economic and poetic wonder. It shows writers (and all filmmakers) how to create a real world, with real issues, using the best elements of the economic form of the screenplay.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: I coach and direct teens in film and TV scenes, and teach them (and adults) on-camera film and TV acting techniques. It is the most inspiring thing I do. It keeps me young in mind and spirit, and insures an open mind.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Peter Alan Stelzer: Paddy Chayefsky has a body of work that I love. His presentation of cutting edge issues, his depth of characterizations, and his impeccable sense of "reality" I feel is unsurpassed.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer:
Larry Clark. His work on Kids, and Bully, is the kind of gritty, "realistic" treatment of teen problems that Slammed requires.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer: Clea DuVall. She was the actress I had in mind when I wrote Slammed. A young actress with Ms DuVall's strength, deep emotionalism and unpredictability would thrill me in the role of Jenna Beck.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer:
Keep your story close to your heart.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Peter Alan Stelzer: I hope to be producing and directing a geriatric Christmas comedy stage play that I wrote a few years ago.

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

Peter Alan Stelzer:
If it was totally up to me, I'd be back in LA working as a coach, writer, actor, etc. But, the reality is that the kids will be off to college in a few years, and my choices will be family oriented at that time (as they were when I moved them here to Scottsdale). If they drift back west for college (which is what I suspect), my wife and I are sure to follow.

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