2008 FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards - Interview - Mark Penberthy


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Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Mark Penberthy
CATEGORY 2 - (Drama)
Diamond Prize Winner
Mark Penberthy
of Las Vegas, NV



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

as soon as I realized I wanted to make movies. I wanted to write a screenplay for the kind of movie I’d like to go see.


I know I've succeeded........ 

when I’ve finish reading one of the drafts and it flows without any glitches or moments that take me out of the story.


My inspiration to write THE BLACK CAT.......

came out the relatively small, but in fact, misguided decisions people make all the time. You enter the lobby of a building. Someone is walking in front of you and they drop a five dollar bill. You have time to say something but you don’t. You pick up the bill and they step into an elevator. The next thing you know, you’ve justified keeping the money because the elevator doors closed before you could give it back. It’s those kinds of actions, heightened into larger, overwhelming scenarios that provided inspiration.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Mark Penberthy: I’ve always loved pictures told in visual form. I wanted to direct some short, three minute films with my wife. We would discuss some themes and situations and then I’d write a script.

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

Mark Penberthy:
I really didn’t have any specific conscious preparation. It was more of an evolution from the above silent short film scripts, which were more like a shot list, to short scripts with dialogue. After a number of these it just seemed inevitable to write a feature length screenplay.

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

Mark Penberthy:
This is my third screenplay. The first two have interesting ideas, but frankly, need more work. This script is the first one that, at least for me, has a sense of completion. In terms of time, it took about a year on a first draft and another six months on subsequent drafts.

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

Mark Penberthy:
I like to write first thing in the morning for at least three hours, which is what my current schedule allows for. I’ve written in lots of different places, but for this screenplay, much of it was written in the back of a coffee house.

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

Mark Penberthy:
I recently saw a “how to” screenwriting book wherein the author stated he thought screenplay contests were a waste of time. While it’s true there’s no guarantee a screenwriting contest will get a script sold, it doesn’t therefore mean aspiring writers shouldn’t enter them. At some point, it’s important for artists of all kinds to put their work up for evaluation. Entry fees and tangible business contacts aside, entering a screenplay contest is a moment when the writer is ready for people that are outside his or her immediate circle to evaluate his or her screenplay in a competitive environment. This takes some courage and I believe it strengthens the writer.

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

Mark Penberthy:
The contest is a dedicated screenwriting contest. It’s not bundled with a film festival. There were separate categories, for example, drama, comedy, and horror. I like genres to be compared to and compete with similar genres. The contest, being international, has a wide open feel to it.

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

Mark Penberthy:
It’s tempting to say Robert Towne’s, “Chinatown” for its structure, plot twists, and themes, but it’s so often discussed, that instead, I’ll urge aspiring writers to read Woody Allen’s, “Broadway Danny Rose.” While there are any number of excellent scripts adapted from novels, short stories, and graphic novels, this was written directly for the screen. Like a good Motown song, the script is tight and polished. The characters are beautifully drawn. The plot is big and anything but subtle. It’s funny, at times even goofy, but then suddenly the end of the story just crushes you. “Broadway Danny Rose” is an amazing example of an artist completely in control of his medium.

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

Mark Penberthy:
I love to paint and have done so for many years. I’ve been deeply inspired by Rembrandt’s self portraits, Van Gogh’s landscapes in Arles, Edward Hopper’s urban scenes, and Lucien Freud’s figure paintings. While obviously different from screenwriting, the artistic goals in painting are similar. You’re trying to create something worthwhile, something with strength to it. You keep looking at it, evaluating it, changing it, until at one point you think it’s the best it can be.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Mark Penberthy:
I have to put Ben Hecht at or near the top in terms of overall career. He worked on or wrote over seventy screenplays, including such classics as, “Scarface,” “A Star Is Born,” “The Prisoner Of Zenda,” “Angels With Dirty Faces,” “Gunga Din,” “Stagecoach,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Foreign Correspondent,” “Spellbound,” “Gilda,” “Notorious,” and “Duel In The Sun.” He could write in many different genres, adapt from novels, and fix existing screenplays, earning him the nickname, “The Shakespeare of Hollywood.” He claims to never have worked on a script for more than eight weeks and could produce one in as little as two weeks.

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

Mark Penberthy:
I would have loved the chance to work with Carol Reed. His three films, “Odd Man Out,” “The Fallen Idol,” and “The Third Man” made respectively in 1947, 1948, and 1949 are one of the great achievements in filmmaking. The fact they were made in a three year period is even more impressive. The actors’ performances are first rate, the set-ups, lighting, and editing are seamless. Nothing gets in the way of the storytelling. I can only imagine how much I would have learned by watching him work.

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

Mark Penberthy:
I love film noir. Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, and Humphrey Bogart have all played significant roles in class film noir movies. My favorite, however, is Sterling Hayden, and if I could, he is the one actor I would love to work with. I think he has the ultimate damaged tough guy demeanor that personifies the male character being led to his doom by a femme fatale (preferably Linda Darnell). Sterling Hayden is perfect in “The Killing,” “Crime Wave,” and of course, “The Asphalt Jungle.”

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

Mark Penberthy:
I think one difficult aspect about any creative process is to know when to be critical and when not to be critical. At times criticism can be counterproductive and actually block or shut down the whole creative process. At other times, objective and specific criticism can stop a flawed concept or premise from ballooning into a lot of extra work. Knowing when to relax and let the work flow versus taking a long look at it is not always easy. Every artist has to find that balance.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Mark Penberthy: I’ve got a couple of script ideas that I’d like to get going on. One is a rock and roll story about the nature of talent. The other is about a guy whose obsession leads him to a third world country. Also, I’ve done a series of desert landscapes in watercolor and I’d like to do a dozen or so in oil.

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

Mark Penberthy: Hopefully continuing to be observant, creative, and trying to put out the best work I can.

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