American Gem 2006 Short Screenplay Competition - AUTOMATA
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Lawrence Whiteside

Tenth Place Winner

Lawrence Whiteside
of Marietta, GA

Lawrence Whiteside began telling fantasy adventure stories starring his friends, in 4th grade. He then started writing in earnest 2 years later. In high school, while heís sure everyone else was getting laid, Lawrence was in his room, typing short stories, trying to imitate J.D. Salinger. He ended up getting into NYUís Film School and Dramatic Writing program where he quickly alienated the squares with his ridiculous opinions on story theory and the blasphemous content of his work. Luckily the freaks took a liking to him.

Since graduating Lawrence worked for a number of years in production for reality television in New York, a profession which he luckily got out of in time to pursue his writing and filmmaking while heís still young. He is the creator of an independent anarchist filmmakerís collective with several cells capable of operating independent of central leadership. This fact has probably gotten him at the top of many lists. He spent his summer a friendís low-budget feature in Sun Valley, Idaho. He currently lives in squalor.


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

when I was 14 and I saw Pulp Fiction. At that point I spent a few months trying to figure out the format of a screenplay. My mom eventually ended up buying me the Pulp Fiction screenplay and I realized screenwriting is a lot harder than just format. At which point I gave up. I gave it another try a few years later after getting into film school at NYU.

I know I've succeeded.......  

when Iím snorting Christmas out of Hollywoodís jeweled navel, avoiding calls in a dirty hotel room, blocked and nearing the deadline that pays the bills for the gun pointing at my temple. Sexually transmitted from one agency and studio to another. Sick, fat, bored, dropping dead outside of Johnny Deppís nightclub.

My inspiration to write AUTOMATA.......

came from an overall feeling of emasculation while living and working in New York. My then girlfriend belittled me. My women friends had bigger balls than I did. I was a push over. I did not feel like a man. So I wanted to write a story about a man who had to live with a full sex organ castration. Iíd probably just read Lolita around then as well and it sort of grew out of rewrites. The doll maker aesthetic is something I always loved and wanted to include as atmosphere.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Lawrence Whiteside: I used to write about characters who had girlfriends, before Iíd ever kissed a girl. The girlfriends were compilations of Hollywood personalities, and what Iíd hope theyíd be like. I knew I was doing good work when I ended up having a crush on my own character. When I wanted to keep writing her to keep her alive. And thatís what I still hope for every time I sit down to do the work.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: That was a long time ago. I donít know. I mustíve copied Tarantino a million times, or Woody Allen, or Andy Kevin Walker. I would get inspired and sit down to create what I thought was something original but it ended up being derivative and half-baked. This happened more often than not for the first decade I was at it.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: No, itís not my first script. But then again itís hard to say which number this is because sometimes I donít exactly finish what Iíve started. It took a couple months, from concept to completion. But the draft that went to the competition probably involved four miserable long days. A lot of sitting and waiting, a lot of laying down and closing my eyes and a lot of stalling before the ďA-ha!Ē moments that moved me into the next scene, came to save me.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: I hear that never works. Iíd like to make screenwriting a real 9 to 5 job. But Iím not getting paid for any of it so feeding my belly usually takes precedent. Iíve noticed Iím a night writer, which may lead to darker subject matter. Iím an insomniac and a workaholic, which helps me work more. Sadly, Iím also lazy and a perfectionist and easily distracted by the simpler pleasures in life, like beer and women. So itís a wonder anything ever gets done on spec.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: I believe itís pretty much the only way (besides nepotism) to get noticed in Hollywood. I thing there should be more short screenplay contests because of the long turn over times in full-lengths. I could personally enter a short competition every few months. Thereís really a lost art to the short script. Itís not the first act of a longer work and itís not simply a cute start and a twist at the end. Itís a medium for expressing the ideas a writer might not want to spend years of their life working on. Itís an exercise in how quick you can get a laugh, or a tear, or a scream. How many pages it takes to make people care.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: It was a helpful deadline in the otherwise wide-open endless nebula of the working adult. It was one of only two short competitions I found last May and I wanted to see what I was made of when pitted against the rest of the writers looking for a place in this industry. It made me feel productive in my work.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: Charlie Kaufmanís stuff is great, as is Andrew Nicol, Neil La Butte or the Cohen Brotherís. But as far as a single script, the most enjoyable script Iíve ever read was Tim Burtonís Batman by Sam Hamm. Itís the kind of thing to absolutely get an aspiring writer into the fun and the dialogue as well as how a story builds scene to scene. But donít take my word for it. Iím not old enough to know what Iím talking about.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: Iím very passionate about the alternatives to capitalism and the opportunities in anarchist collectives. Iíve in my own small way created a brotherhood of filmmakers who share equipment and resources to help each other create meaningful independent cinema. Iím working on establishing a method using emerging technology by which my filmmakers can distribute the finished product and collect revenue. It was right on the tip of everyoneís tongue. I just gave it a name. Cinema Set Free.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Lawrence Whiteside: Working today, Iíd have to say Charlie Kaufman exhibits the greatest capacity to consistently amaze me from piece to piece. Of all time, Iíd say Igmar Bergman was able, in his heyday, to create the most complex characters and situations out of the most commonplace subjects: a family, a womanís mind, a marriage. Everything that Bergman made is at the very least worth a look but the scene work and the using of startling unique visuals is second to none.

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

Lawrence Whiteside I would personally love to work with Terrance Malick. Sure heís unyielding and eccentric, not to mention the fact that he writes all his own stuff. But to be a fly on Malickís wall or get a sense of his thought process. He sounds like heís writing prayers when you read or watch his work. And his mastery of the forces of nature is unmatched. The man cues the sun.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: I have a lot of favorite actors, artists whoíve enriched my life. Michael Keaton could seriously use a comeback. Joe Pesci and William Hurt need more work. But the most truthful actor working in Hollywood today would have to be Phillip Seymour Hoffman whoís real talent is creating meaningful supporting characters with minimal screen time. Iíve never seen a more disciplined use of an actorís Id since Brando took his pants off.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: Iím not a teacher... I would say art school is not worth it, but I donít know where Iíd be without those years of devotion and feedback. The only thing Iíve learned in 15 years of writing is the ability to cut myself some slack when I canít do it. Iím not a structured person. And I canít do 5 pages a day. The only thing I ever remembered about writing was how to tell if you love it. If youíre still at it years and years after it became a struggle, you love it. Thereís no other reason to hang onto a relationship that hurts and frustrates and leaves you so empty so many nights a year, except for dumb blind love.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Lawrence Whiteside: Iíve just moved to Washington State, which means new opportunities and new resources. Making friends, building my community to start production of a slew of short films and writing a feature about a woman I knew a couple years ago. Iíll probably go back to New York in the winter to film a short about a renterís strike in Brooklyn.

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

Lawrence Whiteside: I canít imagine. Five years ago I was excited about graduating college and working in production. Now Iím excited about never working in production again and funding my own projects however I can. I hope to be able to finally call myself a paid writer in that time. I hope to not be blocked quite so often and maybe have a couple more features in the done drawer. Those are the humble estimates. Iím working on the delusions of grandeur.

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