Brad Ingelsby is one busy writer with at least six projects in various states of development and production including Hold on to Me and Run All Night [both on the 2012 Black List] and The Raid. Plus in a nice bit of synergy for us, he sold a high-profile pitch “Merry Men” just last week to DreamWorks.
Brad was kind enough to do an interview and we had an excellent conversation. Today in Part 1, Brad discusses his background, how he wound his way to Hollywood, and started as a screenwriter:
Scott: Have you always been a movie fan?
Brad: Yeah, I’ve always been a film fan. When I was younger, my local video store would offer this weekly special: 10 movies for $10 dollars. So I would rent ten movies a weekend and watch them in my parents’ basement. I was always a film fan, but I wasn’t interested in becoming involved in the business until around my junior year of college. That’s when I started writing.
Scott: You went to Villanova?
Brad: Yeah, I did.
Scott: Your major was business. How did you end up making that switch?
Brad: I took a screenwriting course my junior year. My teacher was a woman named Sloan Seale who was overly generous with her time and recognized that I had a real passion for writing. I may not have been very good, but I was more interested than the other students. So I would send her pages of my scripts and she was really supportive and encouraging and sort of said, ‘Go for it’. That was the springboard. You need people like that in your life, I think. People who say ‘yes’. People who to tell you to jump. Luckily I’ve had a few over the years.
Once I got into writing and had someone willing to push me, I started writing all the time. I went onto the Internet and tried to mimic the screenwriting format I saw in scripts that had been posted online. In fact up until I got into the writing program at AFI, I was still writing in Microsoft Word. I didn’t know anything about Final Draft until about halfway through my first year at AFI. My workshop teacher Daryl Nickens actually gave me a copy of Final Draft.
Scott: How did you end up deciding to go to AFI (American Film Institute)?
Brad: I did some research on film schools and basically applied to all the ones that I felt were worth applying to. I didn’t expect to get in because I had no background in film or writing. I took a chance and was just incredibly lucky to get into AFI.
Scott: What was your experience like there?
Brad: AFI was really fantastic. Especially for me because I had no experience in writing. A lot of the other students had gone to NYU or USC or had worked in the industry for a while. They’d studied writing or had been around film for a number of years prior to AFI. For me, everything was new. So I was able to fall in love with it for the first time. At the time, I didn’t know anything about three act structure, or inciting incidents or act breaks. I didn’t know anything at all really. AFI was sort of my formal introduction to screenwriting. And it helped that I had two really smart, really caring workshop instructors in Daryl Nickens and Len Schrader. Unfortunately they both passed away, but I think about them a lot and what they gave to me as a writer. I feel very lucky to have known them.
Scott: You made your first big splash with the spec script “The Low Dweller” which made the Black List. What is the story behind that?
Brad: Well, at AFI I had written a very small, quiet character piece my first year. So I was interested in branching out during my second year and doing some different, something dark and violent and edgy. Len Schrader, my second year workshop instructor, was very interested in dark and violent material. So we worked the story out together.
Scott: The premise of “The Low Dweller”: “A man trying to assimilate into society after being released from jail discovers that someone from his past is out to settle a score.” What was the original conception of that story concept?
Brad: It has an interesting origin. After my first year at AFI, I decided that I didn’t really want to be in Los Angeles over the summer. I didn’t have any classes to take and a friend of mine from back home had taken a job in Ohio for the summer. He invited me to work with him, doing bungee jump rides outside an amusement park. It sounds crazy, but I needed to get away. So I drove across the country to spend the summer in Ohio. And along the way I stopped in various small towns in the Midwest and just sort of walked around and tried to get a feel for the place and the people and that’s where the setting for “The Low Dweller” was born. On that drive.
What I wanted to do with the story was to subvert the revenge genre a bit. I wanted to write a story about a man who thinks he’s doing the right thing, the noble thing, by avenging his brother’s murder. And through his own foolish pride, he ends up getting everyone he loves killed. I wanted to look at the folly in seeking revenge rather than the glory.
Scott: The project has gotten produced, it’s now called Out of the Furnace?
Scott: You’ve got a great cast, Christian Bale, Zoe Saldana, Casey Affleck, Forest Whitaker, and directed by Scott Cooper. That’s pretty exciting for you.
Brad: Yeah, it’s exciting. It’s an amazing cast. I haven’t seen the film, but hopefully it turns out well.
Scott: Does it have a release date sometime this year?
Brad: I’m not sure. I think it’s going to be released in the Fall.
Scott: Let’s jump to “Run All Night,” which sold us a spec in January 2012 and also made the Black List. That log line: “An aging hit man goes up against his boss over a single night in order to protect his family.” What was the inspiration for that story?
Brad: Jimmy, the main character, was a character that I had in mind for a while. He began with a Bruce Springsteen lyric, ‘Now I’m gonna get birth naked and bury my old soul/And dance on its grave’. It’s an intriguing lyric. Can you really burn your old soul? Can you really have a second face, a second life? I’d also been interested in doing a very contained, ticking clock story about a father and son and I had this idea of a hit man who has come to the twilight of his career, the end of his heyday, and he’s haunted by the things he’s done and questioning why he ever did those things. He’s come to believe that everything he valued in his life, all these relationships, everywhere he’s placed his loyalty, is false. And over the course of this single night he attempts to redeem himself. Tonight he’s going to burn his old soul.
I also felt that a smart way to study a character like that would be to put him with his mirror image in many ways, the person that he could have been had he not decided on a life of crime and murder. In this case his son. It was a relationship that appealed to me and felt like fertile soil.
Then I started to put the pieces around that central father/son relationship, and deciding what the conflicts were and would they would face together. Who is the boss that Jimmy is still loyal to? How did they know each other? What’s the backstory? Why did Mike reject his father’s sins? You begin to filter in all these pieces.
That was how it started. I knew where I wanted to start the story and I knew how it would end. Then it just became having to put the middle in there.