Annual American Gem
2016 CONTEST |
Interview | Synopsis | Script Excerpt
and synopsis are unavailable)
All Tapped Out
American Gem Short Script Contest
All Tapped Out
To date, Ron
Podell has written three feature screenplays (and is close
to finishing his fourth) and 14 short screenplays, three of
which have been produced. His scripts have won 36 top awards
at films festivals/screenwriting contests, along with too
many nominations/script finalist statuses to count.
Podell will be
included in the upcoming book, titled “Top 50 Indie Writers
in the World,” that will be released in 2016 through Apple
iTunes. He served as a panelist for the “Screenplay Contests
– Paths to Recognition and Production” seminar at the 2009
Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles.
A tap dance instructor, haunted by personal loss, appears
slightly unhinged. But, appearances are not always what they
Interview Part 1.
I knew I wanted to be screenwriter when
I saw a movie (I’ve seen tens of thousands) and I sat there
and could predict every plot point and bad line of dialogue.
I said to myself, like I’m sure many others have, “I could
write a better movie than that.” I just decided I would
write scripts of stories I haven’t yet seen that I would
like to – and hopefully audiences would like them, too.
Every genre has been done. The key is to find a new twist or
new way of telling something familiar that will entice an
audience to take that journey and experience a little
something new along the way. The first script I ever wrote
is called “Pulp Science Fiction.” Basically, I wanted to
write “Pulp Fiction” as a horror movie, using Tarantino’s
tricks of characters overlapping into multiple stories and
writing the story out of sequence. Maybe it was a little too
ambitious for a first script. But, the first festival I ever
entered, a little horror festival in Milwaukee, named it the
screenplay winner and presented me with a $250 check. That
certainly provided positive incentive to keep going.
I know I've succeeded as long as I keep writing. As
long as I keep writing, there will be opportunities to get
my work produced. The ultimate success, to me, will be to
make a full-time living as a screenwriter and see more of my
work produced and seen on the big screen.
inspiration to write All Tapped Out
arose from my
desire to write a mystery in the vein of Hitchcock. I’ve
always enjoyed the suspense in his films. I wanted to create
a mood and atmosphere that was slightly unhinged, off-kilter
with a number of red herrings to keep the reader (and, now
hopefully viewer) guessing as to what is really going on
with the central character.
Interview Part 1.
inspired you to write?
Ron Podell: Since I was a small boy, I’ve always had
a lively and vivid imagination, and enjoyed stories. That
eventually led to writing sports in high school and college,
and eventually becoming a professional journalist. That
experience has and continues to put me in contact with
people from all walks of life. Subconsciously, I’m sure I’ve
used characteristics/tics/nuances of people I’ve met in my
various scripts’ characters. I can tell you, I certainly
have a laundry list of villains at my disposal. You meet a
lot of unscrupulous people in government, unfortunately.
But, when I really think back, my first foray into movies
was playing with action figures -- Planet of the Apes, G.I.
Joe, cowboys and Indians -- with my brother when we were
both kids. We always had plots and stories that went on for
hours. We did the same thing with comics. When we were
finished reading our Marvel/D.C. comic books, we would cut
out static and action poses for each hero and villain. We
could play for hours and create storylines on the fly.
Sometimes, we would write out quote bubbles for the
characters. We even had rules, a pecking order of when
heroes and villains could be killed based on their powers.
For example, with the bad guys, Attuma always had to go
before Dr. Doom. And Dr. Doom always had to die before the
Red Skull. So, in a way, we had our own story bible with
FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script
and how long did it take you to complete?
Ron Podell: “All Tapped Out” is actually the 13th of
the 14 short scripts I have written. It was only 16 pages.
If I recall, it took maybe four writing sessions to
complete. But, it took a couple more writing sessions to
manipulate the script and place the red herrings at
strategic points to keep you guessing as to what was
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set
routine, place and time management for writing?
Ron Podell: I write in my day job as a communications
specialist. So, I work at a computer most of the day. As a
result, I need that break after work and usually don’t write
until late at night on the weekdays and late afternoons on
the weekends. Of late, I have been experimenting writing
script pages longhand at different locales --both quiet and
loud -- rather than at my computer in my den all the time.
Because my day job always includes writing deadlines, I
don’t suffer from writer’s block when I work on my scripts.
When I sit down, I can always write something. I shoot for a
minimum of a page a day. More, if I’m on a roll. I always
say in 30 days, you’ve got at least 30 pages. And that’s
Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are
important for aspiring screenwriters and why?
Absolutely. Film festivals, too. Any opportunity a
screenwriter has to get their work in front of people who
can provide exposure and recognition for the script is a
good thing. The contests I find most helpful are those where
the judges are connected and/or well known in the industry,
which can lead to more opportunities; and those, like
American Gem, where the winning script actually gets
produced. Every writer wants to see his or her work made and
splashed up on the big screen. And, of course, cash is
Magazine: What influenced you to enter the American Gem
Short Script Contest?
Ron Podell: Well, obviously the main reason was to
see how my work stacked up against 1,000 to 1,200 other
short scripts -- and the outside chance my script would win
and get produced. I say this humbly. I thought “All Tapped
Out” was good enough to be a finalist and a Top 10 winner in
your competition. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure. But I was
pleasantly surprised and excited to learn that I was the
overall winner in your competition. So, thank you. I
actually have entered American Gem in previous years. In
2008, my short script “Time and Tide” placed seventh overall
and “Silence of the Bees” finished 20th in 2009. So, I have
knocked on the door in the past.
FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you
urge aspiring writers to read and why?
Ron Podell: "Chinatown” by Robert Towne. That movie
is still an American classic and the screenplay is a big
reason as to why. It is the first script I ever read when I
decided I wanted to learn how to write a screenplay.
is dense, dark and complex. In a nutshell, a private
detective investigates a case of adultery that leads to a
conspiracy involving the L.A. water system during the 1930s.
The first 15 pages are a blueprint of how to draw the reader
in. It grabs you by the throat and hooks you in for the rest
of the story.
dialogue is classic film noir, but holds up and still sounds
fresh today. It is written so smart, in that the audience
learns the clues to the mystery at the same moment as the
main character, Detective Jake Gittes, played by Jack
Nicholson in the film. Usually, in film, the audience knows
things well before the main character discovers them.
Additionally, the script contains great subplots and strong
character development, which includes nuanced backstory.
Even the bandage that covers Gittes’ sliced nose throughout
is a symbolic reminder of “his sticking his nose where it
doesn’t belong.” But, this makes the detective more curious
and he perseveres.
And the film ends with one of the best lines, if not
certainly one of the most cynical, in cinema history:
“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate
about and why?
Ron Podell: Traveling. Exercise, working out. Mostly
lifting weights, various aerobic activity and boxing. Being
fit gives me energy and clears my brain to write and fire on
all cylinders. If my body was mush, my brain would be, too.
If you stop moving, you start dying. I don’t feel quite
right on days I don’t exercise.
FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite
Screenwriter and Why?
Ron Podell: I Many writers today would say Quentin
Tarantino. I can understand why, as I enjoy his work, too,
especially his use of dialogue and dark humor at the most
inappropriate moments. It always makes for a good surprise.
the history of cinema, I still believe Billy Wilder is the
greatest screenwriter who ever lived. He was great for many
reasons. His writing came from his life experience, not
watching movies. He was a journalist in Germany. Three of
his family members were murdered in concentration camps.
Because he moved often as a child, he never was able to stay
in one place long enough get close to people. This led to
developing an acerbic wit, which is on display in much of
his screenplay dialogue.
written and or directed such classics as “Sunset Boulevard,”
“Some Like I Hot” and “Double Indemnity,” among many others.
One of my favorites is “Ace in the Hole,” a 1951 film
decades before its time. It was a virtual precursor to
today’s tabloid-style news coverage. One of his well-known
quotes is “I just made pictures I would’ve liked to see.”
When people ask me why I write what I do, I always say “I
just write movies I’d like to see.” It’s true. Every genre
has been done, but I always try to write a variation -- add
something fresh or a new wrinkle -- to a familiar story.
Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with
are too many to count. Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood,
Michael Mann and Christopher Nolan come to mind. A lot of my
scripts have a gritty and dark atmospheric sensibility, so I
think Darren Aronofsky would probably be another. His
“Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler” were dark human
portraits of a heroin user and a professional wrestler,
whose time has passed. Derek Cianfrance is another. I really
admired the haunting mood and lyrical quality with which he
directed “The Place Beyond the Pines.”
Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and
Ron Podell: Anthony Hopkins. He’s one of the all-time
greats, in my opinion. He’s solid in everything he does,
even if the movie is not always top-notch. He takes his work
very seriously, but I think there is a sense of fun about
him. He always seems to have a twinkle in his eyes, as if
he’s amused by much of life. He’s probably the smartest guy
in the room when he’s present. He has this great quote in
which he says, “We are dying from over thinking. We are
slowly killing ourselves by thinking about everything.
Think. Think. Think. You can never trust the human mind
anyway. It's a death trap.” I agree with that. People are
always over thinking everything. Love. Work. Even what to
eat for dinner. It’s like paralysis by analysis. When it
comes to my screenwriting, I never over think it. I write on
gut instinct and from the heart. The characters I write have
to be authentic and believable. If you over think your
characters, they will not be authentic, in my humble
opinion. And the audience probably won’t buy it or relate to
FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things
learned along the way to pass on to others?
Screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. If screenwriting
was a sprint, everybody could see the finish line and would
be doing it in no time flat. But it takes a long time to
become good and solid at the craft. I’m still learning and
want to get much better. I’d say watch a lot of movies. Read
a lot of scripts that have actually been made into movies.
And write. Try to write every day. Have something to show.
If you have nothing to show, who is going to know?
FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?
Ron Podell: I’m very close to finishing my latest
feature script called “Blood Trigger.” I have just a couple
more scenes and then the final edits. It is about a female
assassin who, rather than killing her latest mark, falls in
love with him. Because she didn’t finish her assignment, the
company does. Her night of passion results in her becoming
pregnant. As a result, she has to protect her unborn child,
learn how to create a family she has never known and,
ultimately, take down the company that has sworn to kill her
if she is ever going to find true peace. I also have two
other short scripts I’ve written that two very talented
directors -- who have a passion for the subject matter --
want to make. Right now, it’s a matter of finding and
securing the proper financing.
FilmMakers Magazine: Where do you see yourself in
five years from now?
If things go right, I’ll be
living in Hollywood, making a comfortable living writing
screenplays by the swimming pool, and seeing my work enjoyed
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