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
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
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.
What inspired you to write?
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.
Is this your first script and how long did it take you to write
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.
Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?
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?
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
FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the
American Gem Short Script Competition?
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.
What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?
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.
Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?
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.
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.
Name the director you would love to work with and why?
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.
Name the actor you would love to work with and why?
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.
Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?
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.
What's next for you?
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
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.