2006 FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards - Interview - Paul VanDevelder


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Paul VanDevelder
15th Place Winner
Paul VanDevelder
Corvallis, OR
Political Thriller

Author and investigative journalist, Paul VanDevelder, has covered wars, natural disasters, and international conflicts for twenty years. His work has appeared in periodicals and newspapers around the world, including The New York Times, Paris Match, Esquire, Audubon, Forbes, Outdoor Explorer, News Watch, and The Los Angeles Times. His book, Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial that Forged a Nation (Little, Brown & Co, 2004) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and was one of five finalists for the American Bar Association's prestigious Silver Gavel Award.


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

when I saw The Deer Hunter.

I know I've succeeded........ 

I've never 'succeeded', but I've come darn close.

My inspiration to write REQUIEM.......

was the personal memory of remarkable men and women journalists who lost their lives in pursuit of 'the story.'




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Paul VanDevelder: I'd have to say Mr. Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. When I read the last lines of that novel I knew, without a doubt, what I wanted to do ( I once asked Joan Didion the same question...she gave me the same answer).

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

Paul VanDevelder: I read every book I could find that made a stab at teaching the form. Also, I spent time with friends who were successful screenwriters (John Nichols - The Milagro Beanfield War) and picked their brains. Then, I read a dozen scripts.

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

Paul VanDevelder: No, it's not my first, but it's the story that my first script prepared me to write. I wrote the first draft of this script in nine days. It was like being chased up a mountain by a forest fire. Then, I spent the next several years tearing it apart, peeling it back, rewriting and rewriting. What I learned along the way is that nobody masters this form, but some learn to endure it with more grace than others.

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

Paul VanDevelder:
Yes. I run five to eight miles early in the morning to clear my head, to think through the day ahead. Then, I sit down to write, usually by 9 a.m., and work until 3 or 4 p.m.. During those hours, whether I'm working on a script, a book, a magazine piece, or an essay for a newspaper, I'm gone.

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

Paul VanDevelder: Yes, even though contests, by definition, are a bit of a crap-shoot, they represent the new method of getting your work noticed by people in the industry.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards?

Paul VanDevelder: My sister. She won the Final Draft contest last year. When she read REQUIEM she urged me to submit it to Filmmakers (Final Draft was closed). Glad I did.

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

Paul VanDevelder: I would urge any aspiring screenwriter to read a variety of scripts, including Chinatown, Fargo, Lonestar, and Traffic. Each of these made great movies, but stylistically, they spread the field and demonstrate the great
latitude of the form.

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

Paul VanDevelder: Justice. My book, Coyote Warrior, tells a remarkable story of one man's pursuit of justice against all odds. In many respects, REQUIEM tells a similar story. It seems to be a theme that drives my life.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Paul VanDevelder: In my very limited and humble opinion, John Sayles has few peers when it comes to crafting story. His characters are messy, nuanced, complex, and painfully real. You never quite know where the pages are going to take you, but you're going to love the experience of getting there.

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

Paul VanDevelder:
Walter Salles or Peter Weir - both are superb dramatic story-tellers.

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

Paul VanDevelder: Sean Penn, or Robert Downey Jr.. Although these actors represent very different styles, they both have the the ability to project 440 volts of emotional complexity in an environment that seethes with ambiguity. That's a gift, a gift that makes for a four dimensional experience in a two dimensional medium. I've imagined both of them as Jesse, the lead character in REQUIEM, and it's always been a flip of the coin.

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

Paul VanDevelder: Yep. Stay out of the bars and get a solid education in the classics. While you're doing that, eat and sleep well, and take care of your earth suit (your body). Develop physical stamina - it's the best medicine for a clear head. Develop a routine that suits you, then stick to it, even if you don't write a word, day after day. That's okay. Those days of silent anguish are the dues you pay for the days when you get to roar. And when you're finished writing, laugh, go for a bike ride with the person you love, make dinner for friends at least one night a week, grow a garden, and learn to take others more seriously than you take yourself.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Paul VanDevelder: I have a contract for a new book, and my first book, Coyote Warrior, has just been optioned. If the producer decides to turn it into a feature rather than a cable production, I'll probably write the script.

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

Paul VanDevelder: Right here, in the silence of my office, doing what I love.

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