American Gem 2006 Short Screenplay Competition - THE RENDERING
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Dale Culpepper

Runner Up

Dale Culpepper
of Sedona, AZ

Dale Culpepper grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, where in elementary school he was introduced to theater at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, of its kind the fifth largest in the world. In 1997 he graduated from Auburn University, where he studied communications, history and geography. Since then he has lived in various parts of the country, including northwestern Montana and south Texas, working in arbitration, journalism, and horticulture. I was also a used car salesman, janitor, and cook. Currently, he resides in Sedona, Arizona, with his wife, Reid.


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

Shortly after graduating college I had an idea for a story that I thought would make a pretty good movie. I had always thought I wanted to produce and direct films, but the more I worked on the story and read about the craft of screenwriting, the more I appreciated the magic of words on a page. When I am working on a story, or even simply daydreaming, I canít help thinking in scenes: action and dialogue, beats, etc. The economy of this process intrigues me. It seems to me to be more like poetry than prose, in that there is no room for superfluous action or description. In screenwriting, everything counts. It requires clarity and precision. And Iím drawn to that.

I know I've succeeded.......  

when I have completed a story, I know I have accomplished something. Completing a project is a success in itself. People everyday set out to do things they never actually finishĖ myself included. But whenever you follow through on a creationĖ whatever it isĖ all the way to the end, and whatís left standing before you is something new, something that now exists on its own, you have succeeded. Success of any kind starts with finishing things.

My inspiration to write THE RENDERING.......

for more than a year I had carried around in my head the image of a man staring at a wall covered in notecard-sized drawings of dreams he has had. Dreams that wonít leave him alone. Dreams that seemed to be trying to tell him something. I had also carried the image of him having to break a glass jar in which were hundreds of these dreams written on scraps of paper. One afternoon, after learning of the American Gem Contest, I took a long walk with my wife and told her about these images. I shared with her some ideas I had about this man and his story, and that week I started working on it. I donít really know where the rest of it came from.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Dale Culpepper: What initially inspired me to write was a desire to give some sort of shape to my own worldview. Now, though, I think it is more of a desire to explore. Not just myself but my neighbor, my country. I was a journalist for more than two years, and the license that gave me to learn was invaluable. All writing forces you to step outside yourself, go beyond what you think you know, and seeĖ for the first timeĖ the world as it really is.

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

Dale Culpepper: To write my first script, I prepared myself by buying half a case of beer and a can of Skoal, then borrowing a friendís computer. Since then Iíve learned that those three things have little to do with writingĖ even less with good writing. I canít really say what I did to prepare for writing The Rendering. Note cards were involved, a disjointed outline or two, some scribblings on loose paper. I know that before I set to typing a single word I daydreamed about the story a great deal. I donít think enough can be said about the worth of simply staring out a window for about an hour.

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

Dale Culpepper: This is my first completed script. It took me a little more than two weeks to write the first draft another week to get it into the draft you now have. So between Fade In and Fade Out about three weeks in all.

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

Dale Culpepper: I usually write six days a week, four to six hours each day in two-hour increments. I write in my office at home. Sitting in a chair or sprawled out on the floor, bouncing back and forth between my computer and a spiral-bound notebook.

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

Dale Culpepper: Contests, I believe, are extremely important for aspiring screenwriters. In an art form that is linked inextricably with commerce and budgets, filmmakers understandably are hesitant to turn over any project to an unproven writer. Contests give screenwriters without credits a place to prove themselves. Much more important, though, I think, is what contests do for the writerís confidence. Writing is a lonely and cerebral venture. There ainít a whole lot of encouragement youíll hear during the actual work. You canít say with much objectivity whether or not your script works, much less whether or not itís any good. But making any cut in a contest, or being named a semi-finalist or finalist or top-whatever, helps to validate your work. Helps you to know with a little more certainty that what you are doingĖ putting thoughts on paperĖ is worth your continued efforts.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the American Gem Short Script Competition?

Dale Culpepper: My wife influenced me to enter the American Gem Short Screenplay Competition. Iíd been working on another, longer script when I told her about it. She encouraged me to push that aside for a while and try this, something shorter and with a deadline. I work better with deadlines.

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

Dale Culpepper: Iíd urge aspiring screenwriters to read every script they could get their hands on, particularly those written by writers who are not also directing the picture. That way theyíre focused more on story than camera shots and angles. Of course, that being said, I learned a lot from reading Raising Arizona and Matewan, both of which were written by the directors.

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

Dale Culpepper: Beside screenwriting I am passionate about poetry, traveling, and footballĖ especially football. Poetry, because itís more spiritual that all the religions. Traveling, because it forces you out of yourself, humbles you, causes you to see the world from other perspectives. And football, because it blends mental acumen with physical execution. It is chess with real live knights and rooks.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Dale Culpepper My favorite screenwriter is David Mamet. First of all, he is a craftsman with words. With dialogue. Itís rhythm and beats. Everything is sharp and precise. Nothing is wasted. Secondly, I read somewhere once that when Mamet is talking story he is first concerned with plot. It was freeing for me to read that. Iíd let others convince me that the ďartisticĒ way to begin your story is with character. And this seemed to work against the direction in which my mind wants to move naturally. The truth is, if you are really paying attention to your own work, plot will lead you to character as much as character will lead you to plot.

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

Dale Culpepper: The director Iíd most like to work with is Clint Eastwood. What you hear actors say about being directed by him is truly remarkable. Without exception, they all speak of how wonderful the experience was and how eager they would be to work with him again. They talk of his professionalism, his quiet demeanor on the set, and his trust in them. While actually filming, he is known for going with the first take, believing itís the one thatís truest. Itís not surprising, then, that he plays jazz, for movies most closely resemble a long songĖ albeit a visual oneĖ and jazz is all about the harmony that comes from each musician playing intuitively, and with freedom.

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

Dale Culpepper: The actor Iíd most like to work with is Owen Wilson. He, too, is a writer, and Iíve read interviews with him in which he talks openly about how the writing doesnít stop once the actors are on the set. Known to improvise quite a bit, Wilson has said that in every scene he is simply thinking: Does this serve the scene? Will it make it better? Will it weaken it? In a collaborative art form, working with someone who has worn both the actorís and writerís hat would be a unique experience.

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

Dale Culpepper: The only tip I know of is to find your own way and follow it. What works best for others might not work best for you. Also, I think Mark Twain said something to the effect that anybody can write. It just takes a pen and the willingness to nail your ass to the chair.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Dale Culpepper: Currently I am writing the first draft of a feature-length script, which I hope to be finished with in the next month. I donít know the first thing about shopping it around or getting an agent, so I guess thatís whatís next for me. Figuring out how to do that.

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

Dale Culpepper: Five years from now Iíll be supporting my family with my writing. Iíll also be reading poetry, traveling, and watching football. Lots of football.

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