I knew I
wanted to be a screenwriter.......
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
can’t 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 I’m drawn to that.
I know I've
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
finish– myself included. But whenever you follow through on a
creation– whatever it is– all the way to the end, and what’s left
standing before you is something new, something that now exists on its
own, you have succeeded. Success of any kind starts with finishing
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 won’t 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 don’t really know where the rest
of it came from.
What inspired you to write?
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 see– for the first time– 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 friend’s computer. Since then
I’ve learned that those three things have little to do with writing–
even less with good writing. I can’t 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 don’t think enough can be said about the worth of simply staring out
a window for about an hour.
Is this your first script and how long did it take you to write THE
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.
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?
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 writer’s confidence. Writing is a lonely and cerebral venture.
There ain’t a whole lot of encouragement you’ll hear during the actual
work. You can’t say with much objectivity whether or not your script
works, much less whether or not it’s 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 doing– putting thoughts on paper– is worth
your continued efforts.
FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the
American Gem Short Script Competition?
influenced me to enter the American Gem Short Screenplay Competition.
I’d 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.
What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?
I’d 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 they’re 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
Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?
Beside screenwriting I
am passionate about poetry, traveling, and football– especially
football. Poetry, because it’s 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.
Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?
screenwriter is David Mamet. First of all, he is a craftsman with
words. With dialogue. It’s 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. I’d let others convince me that the “artistic”
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.
Name the director you would love to work with and why?
The director I’d 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 it’s the one that’s truest. It’s not surprising, then, that
he plays jazz, for movies most closely resemble a long song– albeit a
visual one– and jazz is all about the harmony that comes from each
musician playing intuitively, and with freedom.
Name the actor you would love to work with and why?
Culpepper: The actor I’d most like to work with is Owen Wilson. He, too, is a
writer, and I’ve read interviews with him in which he talks openly
about how the writing doesn’t 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 actor’s and writer’s hat would be a unique
Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?
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.
What's next for you?
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 don’t know the
first thing about shopping it around or getting an agent, so I guess
that’s what’s next for me. Figuring out how to do that.
FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from
Culpepper: Five years from now I’ll be supporting my family with my writing. I’ll
also be reading poetry, traveling, and watching football. Lots of