Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List)

March 3rd, 2013 by

Kremer Clipped

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Here are links to the six installments of the entire interview:

Part 1: “I wrote my first script when I was 16 on Microsoft Word with no formatting, no margins. It was 80 pages and a disaster.”

Part 2: “It’s something that’s at the forefront of your mind because you want the audience to feel like they’re on one continuous journey as opposed to a disjointed narrative that’s all over the place.”

Part 3: “The first draft took about three months, and that was just spewing it all out on the page and seeing what I had.”

Part 4: “I’m glad that all of the representation stuff has been settled because I can finally get back to doing what I love – just getting in there writing.”

Part 5: “I’m more character driven, but to be able to pitch your idea in a really concise and concrete way is something that is unbelievably important.”

Part 6: “As long as you’re writing something that is representative of your voice and your experience, I think you can’t go wrong.”

Please stop by comments to thank Justin for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List) — Part 6

March 2nd, 2013 by

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Justin was kind enough to do an interview and we had an extensive conversation. Today in Part 6, Justin talks about more aspects of the screenwriting craft:

Scott:  How about dialogue? They talk about some writers having a good ear for it, or may be born with that talent at an innate level. Do you think that’s the case, or do you think it’s something that writers can develop their ability with, to write good, effective dialogue?

Justin:  I think it’s a little bit of both. I think what I’m thinking of when I’m writing dialogue is, “Don’t overwrite.” That’s always on my mind. I tend to underwrite rather than overwrite, just because I hate exposition. I think what I learned, actually, from reading so many scripts is that there’s nothing better than subtext, that it’s something you see in not that many scripts, and things tend to be much more explicit and on the nose. But if you can create dialogue that is more nuanced and actually says more than it does on the surface. That is invaluable.

Scott:  How about theme? What do you understand theme to be?

Justin:  That’s the ultimate question. It’s interesting because some guys ‑‑ like I listened to an interview with Steven Gaghan — he is one of those guys I have in my Writers Rushmore. — he operates very much from the theme first. Then he’ll draw his narrative from that. I think what I found to be most helpful is to find the arc and work on the character and then the theme will organically emerge. That’s been my experience.

Scott:  Yeah. I think that’s probably the case with most writers, is that they just want to dig around in the dirt a bit, get to know the lay of the land. And I concur with you. I think if you zero in on the characters, particularly what is going on, where they start and where they end up, that that will inform and hopefully just generate naturally some of those thematic elements that are in a script.

Justin:  Yeah. With McCarthy, people have said things to me on the thematic level — “oh, I enjoyed this thematic element of the script” — and I’m surprised by it. Often, that thematic element wasn’t even something that was intentional on my part. Reading is obviously inherently subjective and people can take away so many different things from a work. As long as you have a strong character and a clear arc, it tends to come together organically.

Scott:  That just resonates with me. It’s like you give yourself over to this story universe and these characters and you act in some ways as if they are real. That’s why I don’t think in terms of theme. I think in terms of themes. Stories have multiple layers and levels to them and multiple themes because you see that. I could watch a movie or you could watch a movie and we’d have completely different reactions to it, in terms of what we pick up and identify with. And that’s often times the case, isn’t it, that we have no clue? I had no idea that that was in there but, you know, now that you mention it, yeah. It is there and I see it. So there’s that wonderful kind of magic that happens when you’re writing.

Justin:  Absolutely. Look at a classic like The Godfather, it can be this intimate father son story or an epic about American capitalism and the American dream.

Scott:  That’s why movies are so terrific when they’re done well because they have so many different layers and levels of meaning and understanding, and ways of connecting to them. How about this? What’s your actual writing process? Are you everyday? Sporadic bursts? Do you work in private? Do you go to coffee shops? Do you like to listen to music? Does it have to be quiet? How do you write?

Justin:  I tend to write every day, usually about 11 to six. Music at the beginning to kind of set a tone, but then silence. Sometimes the light’s off if the stuff I’m writing is particularly depressing (as it often is). I try to make it my day as structured as possible because, as a writer, you know there’s nothing easier to do than not to write.

Scott:  OK, just a couple more questions. Let’s see. You went to NYU. You went to Purchase. You’ve studied this. You’ve read all these. Do you have any screenwriting principles that are really important to you?

Justin:  Always be aware of your arc. Underwrite and don’t overwrite. I’d rather leave something open to interpretation and ambiguous, than have it explained in painful detail, although not to the extent that underwriting leaves it confusing, of course. Keep your tone consistent. Looking at a guy like Terrio again, one of the things that amazes me about “Argo” is that it is so totally consistent, and yet if you look at the script, the film could be so manic and messy. There’s an interesting, diffuse blend of comedy and drama. The first act is much more comedic. The third act is very tense, incredibly dramatic. Terrio (and Affleck) knew exactly how to balance the tone, so the work doesn’t wildly vacillate back and forth. That, I think, is the sign of a master.

Scott:  Finally, here you are, as recently as gosh, Justin, three months ago?

Justin:  Yep.

Scott:  You were not necessarily outside looking in because you’ve been involved in the film business and whatnot, but you weren’t, at that point, an established screenwriter, not represented. Now, here you are. You definitely made that big leap. This is the archetypal question, but it’s a critical one. What advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters about the craft?

Justin:  Above all, write something unique that showcases your voice. Readers read so much – at times four or five scripts a day. So many of those scripts become one blob in your head – a singular voice. It’s the scripts that really strive to do something unique, whether it works or whether it doesn’t, that stick with you. As long as you’re writing something that is representative of your voice and your experience, I think you can’t go wrong.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

For Part 5, go here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @Kremsicles.

Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List) — Part 5

March 1st, 2013 by

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Justin was kind enough to do an interview and we had an extensive conversation. Today in Part 5, Justin talks about some aspects of the screenwriting craft:

Scott: How about some craft questions here, Justin?

Justin:  Sure.

Scott:  OK, let’s start from the very beginning. How do you come up with story ideas?

Justin:  There’s rarely one concrete way. I find myself consistently attracted toward source material, not just because there’s stuff already there for you. I think it’s just the most rewarding to crack.

With “McCarthy,” obviously, I had at least some structure and some narrative already in place, but it can really come from anything.

There are a bunch of sites I like to read every day that just kind of stimulate the mind and get you thinking about stuff.One of those that has been an invaluable resource is a site called Longform, which posts these amazing long‑form articles about everything from crime to science. It has everything from that initial “Wired” article that inspired “Argo,” to the more contemporary stuff. It really gets you thinking about character and story in a different way.

Scott:  What’s your take on high concept?

Justin:  I’m more character driven, but to be able to pitch your idea in a really concise and concrete way is something that is unbelievably important.

I know, for example, that when John Logan was trying to figure out his next spec would be in the mid to late 90s, he told his agent that he wanted to write “King Lear meets football”, That became “Any Given Sunday.” If you can very simply describe exactly what you’re trying to do and give someone else a clear sense of that, that is so valuable.

Scott:  How much time do you spend on prep writing, like brainstorming, character development, plotting, research, outlining?

Justin:  I’m heavy on research. I spend as much time researching as I do outlining, normally a couple weeks for each. “McCarthy” was particularly heavy on that front, because I had to figure out exactly what time period I was trying to tackle. To figure that out, you have to know exactly where Joe was in each part of his life and what best encapsulates McCarthy’s arc as a character. I had legal pads full of notes, creating a timeline of Joe’s life and trying to figure out what was most suitable for adaptation.

It’s so clear when you’re reading scripts what’s well researched and what has had less thought put into it. The scripts that tend to amaze me are so detail‑oriented. It can be the littlest detail that grounds me in the world of the piece.

Scott Myers:  In terms of outlining, are you one of those three‑by‑five inch index card guys or do you have some sort of sophisticated software you use to wrangle the plot?

Justin Kremer:  I’ve tried index cards, never really fell in love with them. I’m more of a big Microsoft Word document kind of guy. “McCarthy” was interesting because I didn’t outline nearly as much as I did on other projects. It was more research heavy. With “McCarthy,” I gave myself three to four major points to hit in the first act, six in the second, and another three in the third, to know “This is where I need to go”. The rest is up to you. I left a lot of room to play around in between those beats.

It was interesting to work like that. On one hand, it’s frightening, but on the other, it really gives you a lot of room to play and be creative.

Scott:  For years, I’ve had the same approach, where I figure out 10 Plotline points. That gives enough structure. You have these sign posts where you know where you’re going, but then that also allows you the freedom to have the story emerge in a more organic fashion. Is that what I’m hear you’re saying, a similar approach that you did with “McCarthy”?

Justin:  Totally.

Scott:  How about character development? Now, this is a little different because you’re adapting a biopic here, an actual historical figure. Yet, you’re opening up a side of the figure that the world had not quite seen. How did you go about developing the characters in your script “McCarthy”?

Justin:  I think each character had a very distinct arc from the jump except for Don Surine, who was Joe’s confidant. Don is a creation of a few staffers that Joe was close with. He required quite a bit of creative license. I think Joe and Jean, their arcs were very clear. Part of what fascinated me about Joe, and this is eventually something that I took creative license with as well, was how unrepentant he was. I decide to present him with a climactic choice in the third act – a chance to apologize for his actions.

What happens is that Joe is essentially given two choices. He can be censured by the Senate and publicly disgraced, or he can stand up on the Senate floor and he can say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong,” and this venom will go away.

Joe didn’t have that choice in real life, but I wanted to give him that choice. He’s presented with this decision and ultimately, he unleashes on his colleagues…ranting and raving. Telling them-  “I’ll never apologize for what I did. How dare you try and criticize me when I’m trying to protect the country?” I thought it was a great character moment, and I think it was really crucial for him to be presented with a choice.

Scott:  Are some of the projects you’re considering now, are they completely fictional, not based on historical characters?

Justin:  Yes.

Scott:  What lessons will you take from “McCarthy” in terms of developing entirely fictional characters, or have you thought about that process?

Justin:  I’m not sure that I have. I think what’s most important to me is entering with an understanding of exactly what the arc is, because without that, I feel lost. Knowing where our characters are starting up and where they’re ending reigns supreme for me. The impotence of providing your protagonist with a climactic choice was one of the bigger lessons of this script. Some of my writing unfolded with this banal inevitably prior to McCarthy. My protagonists didn’t always have to be active – to make a crucial decision. That has changed now. When it comes to the idea of the climactic choice, I always think of “Apocalypse Now” – which is one of the greatest examples of how much tension can be derived from that moment.

Tomorrow in Part 6, Justin talks about more aspects of the screenwriting craft.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @Kremsicles.

Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List) — Part 4

February 28th, 2013 by

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Justin was kind enough to do an interview and we had an extensive conversation. Today in Part 4, Justin shares insights into his first experiences of making the rounds in Hollywood and yet another reason why screenwriters should be reading scripts:

Scott:  Eventually you meet with a bunch of managers and agents?

Justin:  Yep.

Scott:  What were the key elements of the script they were responding to when you were having these conversations?

Justin:  Yeah, I think the the Kennedys of it all was something that people were really surprised by, as was I. As a whole, it seemed like people just responded to a new take on someone they thought they knew so much about, which was what attracted me to the material.

The agency and managerial process was overwhelming and gratifying, because you get to meet so many amazing people who are so kind and intelligent. It’s definitely tough to navigate when you’ve never been in that position before.

Scott:  Who did you settle on in terms of your representation?

Justin:  I ended up signing with CAA ‑‑ Matt Rosen, Jon Cassir, and Ali Trustman, and Madhouse Entertainment on the managerial side with Adam Kolbrenner and Chris Cook.

Scott:  The next thing, you make the 2012 Black List. You already talked about it a little bit. Let’s roll that out a little bit more. Where were you when you found out and what was your immediate reaction?

Justin:  I was on the LIRR, on the train… about to go through a tunnel. I got to the train station. My train was at 12:30, and it takes a half hour to get to the station, so I was like, “All right. I don’t want to be on the road when the list starts getting announced.” I woke up early, got to the station, and sat in my car for a half hour updating the Twitter app on my phone every three seconds.

Every minute felt like the longest minute of my life. Time passed. I had to get on the train. It was, like, 12:30. The first 30 or so scripts had been announced. I think it was around 12:50 or so ‑‑ just when I was about to get into Penn Station and my cell reception was going to cut out ‑‑ that I saw a notification pop up on Twitter. I was amazed.

Scott:  That’s funny. Franklin just started that this year where he was announcing the scripts, before the full list went out, on Twitter. I was following him trying to accumulate them all, updating them on my blog. While we were doing that, you were on Long Island and watching all this. Right?

Justin:  Oh yeah. I could not get off the phone.

Scott:  How has it impacted you, being on the Black List?

Justin:  It was great. I actually went to LA the week before the announcement, which was the first time I had been there since I was a little kid, to take some meetings and meet my representation in person, since I’m all the way over here in New York. It was a fantastic trip.

I’m amazed by how wide the site’s reach is. I had heard from a couple production companies, before I had any representation, who had just read the script from the site. There just seemed to be so much goodwill towards what Franklin was doing. After the Black List announcement, it was incredible. I had an opportunity to meet with a few more companies. Hopefully, it will turn into even more good things.

Scott:  What’s the current status on “McCarthy”?

Justin:  We’re looking for the right team, whether it’s a producer or a director, or an actor, it’s about finding someone who’s passionate about the material. I know it’s not the most commercially exciting property, but at the end of the day I think it’s a compelling story.

Scott:  What projects are you working on currently?

Justin:  At the moment I’m actually in a fairly embryonic stage. I’m working on a treatment for a company based on an original idea that I pitched. Hopefully the stars will align there. I’m in the midst of basing out a new spec idea, and still scouring websites and books for interesting material.

I’m glad that all of the representation stuff has been settled because I can finally get back to doing what I love – just getting in there writing. That’s what the next few months will be all about.

Scott:  This first go‑around of those meetings, what are some of the things you’ve learned off that process?

Justin:  You know, I think my first meeting I was pretty nervous because I just didn’t know what to expect, but it quickly becomes comfortable and natural. Everyone treats you really well and you just need to tell them your story. Some meetings will be very brief, ultra professional half hours, and others, when you really connect with someone, will last a lot longer.

Generals aren’t nearly as daunting as I thought they would be because everyone’s so intelligent and sweet. You just need to give people a good idea of who you are and what you’re trying to do.

Scott:  What I’m hearing is two things. One, have a narrative, have your personal story in order, and two, be flexible because you never know which way the meeting is going to go. It could just be, as you say, a 30‑minute meet‑and‑greet or it could evolve into something more substantive where you’re actually batting around ideas at a creative level.

Justin:  You don’t even need to know exactly what you want to do next, because that’s what everyone will ask you when you’re on that first round of generals, “What’s next? What are you working on?”

It’s great to have ideas. That certainly helps, but you also just need to give them, I think, a sense of who you are from a writer’s stance, who you admire and what kind of stuff you want to do.

There were a bunch of guys I talked about — guys that I admire so much — like Chris Terrio, Steve Zaillian, and John Logan. That gives people a tangible sense of what you’re aspiring to do as much as any idea might.

Scott:  That’s a really good point because that’s what they traffic in: scripts and movies by these other writers. So if you’re well versed in the content and material that screenwriters are producing nowadays, that’s a really good shorthand for the people you meet with on the other side, producers and studio execs, for them to be able to grasp your sensibilities.

Justin:  Exactly. There’s no one who knows those guys’ work better than these execs, and so to give them a really concrete example of what you’re striving to do, it really helps.

Scott:  Well, I’ve got to thank you for that because it gives me yet another way I can promote the importance of reading scripts. You can become familiar with current screenwriters, and that provides you not only with their talent, and how they write their various styles, their approaches, their voices or whatnot, but also enables you to have more of a base of communication with the people you’ll be meeting with at these general meetings and whatnot.

Justin:  Yeah.

Scott:  Thank you.

Justin:  I actually ended up sending execs writers’ scripts… writers that I’ve never met in my life and would have no idea who they were if I walked by them on the street — scripts that I loved, that we kind of connected about. The more you know about what’s out there, what the marketplace is like, the better. It only serves you well.

Please stop by comments to thank Justin for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Justin talks about some aspects of the screenwriting craft.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @Kremsicles.

Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List) — Part 3

February 27th, 2013 by

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Justin was kind enough to do an interview and we had an extensive conversation. Today in Part 3, Justin rounds out his insights into the writing of “McCarthy” and how he got his script into the hands of people in Hollywood.

Scott:  There’s a pivotal set of scenes in the script early on toward the end of Act One between McCarthy and General Dwight Eisenhower, then a candidate for president. The first scene is a contentious private meeting between them in which Eisenhower essentially said, “I don’t like what you’re doing.” The second turns out to be a surprising public endorsement of Eisenhower of McCarthy’s efforts to ferret out communists. First of all, is that historically accurate?

Justin:  It is. That was one of those moments where when I stumbled upon that, you just laugh because it’s too good to be true. Eisenhower and Joe, shortly before Eisenhower was set to give a big campaign speech in Joe’s backyard in Wisconsin, meet privately. There are no public accounts of what happened inside this hotel room. But those on the outside, waiting by the door, say that all they heard was Eisenhower screaming and screaming and screaming nonstop for 15, 20 minutes, and Joe did not say a word.

Eisenhower just ripped him to shreds. When Joe exits the hotel that they met at, a reporter asks him, “Hey Joe? How was your talk with Eisenhower?” Joe says, “It was very nice.” They head to Eisenhower’s campaign rally. What happens is that instead of publicly rebuking McCarthy, as he was allegedly planning to do, Eisenhower essentially bends to Joe’s will and gives him the ultimate endorsement in many respects. That’s a real moment for Joe, where he realizes that, “I can’t be stopped.”

This guy, who’s going to be the next president of the United States, doesn’t even have the fortitude to criticize me. I think now he becomes even more consumed by hubris. His dream, in many ways, is to become the man Eisenhower did – to become the president of the United States. To have that constant fawning and love and attention. But now he’s seeing that, well, even the president’s afraid of me. That’s a good step, right? Because, if he’s afraid of me, it’s a testament to my power. I’m only going to get more powerful, and I’m going to be in his seat some day.

Scott:  I can see why you would be excited about having seen that, discovered that historical set of events. It really is a capstone on act one and springboard into act two. But if there was no actual accounts of what went on in terms of the dialogue, so you really felt, you knew the kind of arc that went on in there but you had a kind of a clean slate didn’t you, in terms of the actual dialogue?

Justin:  Exactly. It was kind of the opposite of what happened in terms of the hearings in the script where the dialogue is partially verbatim. In this case, I knew the tone of the meeting, and ust played around with it in an attempt to make it as honest to the accounts as possible.

Scott:  There’s an interesting subplot involving McCarthy and his relationship with the Kennedys, in particular Robert Kennedy. Thematically what was the point of that subplot do you think in your view?

Justin:  I was struck by Joe’s relationship with the Kennedys. That was one of the first jumping off points for the script. I picked up this book and in the foreward was an anecdote about Bobby Kennedy, a guy who I was taught was the paragon of good in politics, and a guy that I never thought existed in the same world as Joe. I couldn’t even imagine it.

Bobby is off the coast of Hyannisport with a couple of reporters and it’s the day after Joe’s death. The reporters are asking Bobby, “McCarthy’s dead now. Isn’t this kind of a good thing? Aren’t we better off? It’s sad, but he’s done some horrible things to this country.” Bobby says, “He was a complicated man.” That’s all he says. That was the moment I realized I knew nothing about McCarthy.

Bobby’s presence in the script changed a lot as the piece evolved. I think initially he was a background figure. There was less of the Kennedys. But that stuff just became so compelling to me. I think Bobby provides Joe with a moral compass. Because he’s one of these few guys who’s willing to say to Joe, “What you’re doing is wrong and I can’t be a part of it. I have to leave before this becomes toxic.” He’s foreshadowing what’s to come.

Joe’s relationship with the Kennedys was intimate. He dated two of Bobby’s cousins and they worked together for a brief period. I think Joe Kennedy saw something in McCarthy as well. There were very few Irish Catholics in power at the time, and they shared a real kinship in that respect. That relationship really fascinated me because Joe Kennedy is the first one who puts the idea of the presidency in McCarthy’s head. That becomes a key aspect of the script.

Scott:  It has a kind of a Shakespearean quality, doesn’t it, their relationship? Particularly as a way of measuring their respective rises and falls where there is a meeting between Kennedy and McCarthy early on in their relationship where one’s in a position of power, and the other is seeking some help. Then that’s completely reversed at the end of the story.

Justin:  Exactly.

Scott:  Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of this process. How long did it take you to write the script and how many drafts do you think you wrote before you were able to send it out?

Justin:  The first draft took about three months, and that was just spewing it all out on the page and seeing what I had. To become what it did, it took a little over a year and a good five drafts of comprehensive passes. There were a number of things that changed. I think the second act, for the most part, stayed entact, but the first and third acts underwent enormous shifts throughout the process.

Because I started initially in that first draft with Joe at the top, what became the first 20 pages or so of the script now did not exist until many months in. There’s something in the third act that I had always tried to squeeze in that I found interesting. Joe and Jean adopted a child. Shortly after the censure, when Joe fell out of favor with the Washington elite, he adopts a child. It was this tragic and heartbreaking attempt to revive him. To give him some hope again.

By all accounts the child actually did. Joe loved the girl. But at the same time he just couldn’t stop drinking, and was only alive for I believe the first nine months of her adoption. That was always an interesting moment that I tried to encapsulate in the script, but ultimately like you said, it’s as much about what you omit as what you put in. That was something that had to be omitted.

Scott:  You’re working on this while you’re working at Black Bear?

Justin:  I had finished the script right when I got to Black Bear. It’s been done for a little over a year now.

Scott:  At this point in the process, how are you getting feedback on the script?

Justin:  I had an incredibly valuable mentor and teacher at Purchase named Dean Bell, who’s an excellent screenwriter in his own right. He gave me notes and operated as my sounding board. Outside of that, I showed it to a few friends and family, but Dean was  the central person that shaped the script in terms of getting notes.

Scott:  Two points for a teacher who has committed to his craft beyond the student getting their degree.

Justin:  Absolutely.

Scott:  You had this done for a year. What did you do with it after you wrote it?

Justin:  I submitted it to a contest, to the WriteMovies contest. At a certain point, you lose all objectivity and perspective when it comes to your work. I wanted to use the contest to gauge the quality of the script. I submitted it to the contest and ended up receiving an Honorable Mention and placing as a Finalist, but there was no attention generated from that.

I felt like the script was at a dead end. I started working for Black Bear, but I loved those guys too much to show them the script and was too intimidated too, so I put it in a drawer. It stayed in that drawer until October of 2012, when I submitted it to the Black List site.

Scott:  At some point, you intersected with Franklin Leonard.

Justin:  I did. I’d always followed the Black List and loved it. I left Black Bear in June and was looking for a new opportunity, trying to find something in development because that was as close as I could get to the writing process.

I saw Franklin post a Black List internship notice, I think, in early July. It was a remote internship, working from home, and I loved what the Black List was doing and what Go into the Story was doing, so I figured why not? I’ll send my resume over, I’m not doing anything else.

I connected with Franklin and was lucky enough to work on a few little projects. I transcribed your interview with Elgin James, which was great. One of the most exciting projects that I got to participate in was reconstructing and updating a big spreadsheet of what Black List films were produced, and breaking those films down in two dozen categories to chronicle what awards they won, what festivals they played, how much money they grossed at the box office.

It sounds tedious, but to a movie geek, it was really interesting and drilled certain names and figures into my head. It was a valuable experience.

Scott:  That was remote. You were living where you were living and Franklin’s out in LA and that was the nature of the participation, right?

Justin:  Exactly. I still haven’t met Franklin, which blows my mind, but hopefully we’ll rectify that soon.

Scott:  Then Franklin and the Black List, they launch this new service where essentially people can submit scripts, anybody can submit scripts to be reviewed by professional readers. For a nominal fee, have the script hosted where industry insiders can read it. When you saw that, you took advantage of that. What was it about that you figured this would be something smart to do?

Justin:  I trusted Franklin and knew the brand so well. It seemed like too interesting an opportunity to pass up, especially when for $75, you’re getting so much in comparison to so many of these contests, whose fees are just as expensive, if not much higher in some cases.

I already had a Black List account from my time doing little projects for Franklin. At one point, Franklin even offered to read any of the interns work and provide notes. I was intimidated. This was the guy that created the Black List. I nixed the idea of showing him the script.

I created a new account when the site launched its writer initiative and submitted the script blind, hoping I would get a decent rating and some good notes. I figured that would be that, and was completely amazed by what happened next.

Scott:  What happened next?

Justin:  I submitted the script on a Saturday night. I got my notes, I want to say three days later and received a positive rating I was really surprised and happy with. The script was highlighted in the first Black List email blast. These are the first high‑scoring amateur scripts on the new site.

I think because the site was so new and so many people were interested, being on that first email blast was a huge asset. I’d say, probably a day or two after that, Franklin emailed me and was like, “I just read your script. Why didn’t you show this to me? This was great.” That was the first surreal moment of the journey. Two days after Franklin sent that email, I heard from my first agency, and everything happened from there.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Justin shares insights into his first experiences of making the rounds in Hollywood and the importance of reading scripts.

Please stop by comments to thank Justin for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @Kremsicles.

Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List) — Part 2

February 26th, 2013 by

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Justin was kind enough to do an interview and we had an extensive conversation.  Today in Part 2, Justin discusses “McCarthy” and why he decided this story would make a movie and how he went about crafting the script.

Scott:  Perfect segue. Let’s talk about “McCarthy.” That’s not the first script you’ve written. How many scripts had you written at the point when you wrote “McCarthy”?

Justin:  It was my fourth feature.

Scott:  You were able to put on your development executive’s cap. You know that this is not something that conventional wisdom would say is in the wheelhouse of what would get made. What about this idea, this story concept, suggested to you this should be a movie?

Justin:  I was amazed by Joe’s life, in terms of our perception of him as a historical figure, our very limited perception, versus the reality, and who he actually was. I knew that this was a very tough script, but I believed that if it was executed well, it could shed light on a guy who played a enormous role in the Cold War and American domestic and foreign policy in the ’50s. I was completely amazed when I was reading about Joe, about who this guy actually was. I had known so little about him previously.

I’ve always been a bit of a history buff. The extent of my knowledge about Joe has always just been he was a villain who created the House of Un‑American Activities Committee. He blacklisted people. Some of them were in Hollywood. Then he fell, and that’s that. I didn’t know who he was or why he did what he did.

When I first picked up this book called “Joe McCarthy: Reexamining the Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator,” I thought, “That’s an interesting title.” I was blown away by what I found. I thought Joe was simply an opportunist. He’s just a guy that wanted attention, that wanted to be loved and that’s something we see throughout his life.

When Joe was in the military, he, by all accounts, had a low‑level desk job. Joe returns home to Wisconsin and he’s telling everyone that will listen, “They called me Tail‑Gunner Joe in the army. I shot down 30 planes. I’m a war hero.” He always craved attention and love, desperately. That fascinated me. It’s just a very human side of him that we haven’t seen.

So I saw him as this opportunist who took an issue that was already at the forefront of our country’s dialogue, seized it and used it to ascend, but then…something crazy happens. Joe grew so deeply to believe in his own BS to a certain extent, and became incredibly paranoid by the end of his life.

There’s a scene at the end of the script where Joe is tapping a phone with a pen because he thinks he’s breaking up a wiretap from the Reds… that’s real. Thats how deeply paranoid he was. I was really amazed by his journey. As a writer, I am always attracted to the heavy drama and this certainly had Shakespearean qualities to it.

Scott:  Pragmatically what did you think about the fact there were movies like “Good Night and Good Luck” or “J. Edgar” that had come out before?

Justin:  ”Good Night and Good Luck” was actually one of the inspirations for the script. I knew nothing about Edward R. Murrow prior to seeing that film. When I did see Good Night, I fell in love with it. I think what Clooney does in that film — that I aspired to do with this script — was capture the pervasive sense of fear and paranoia that hung over everything in that time period.

I felt like that really related to where we were as a country in post 9/11 War on Terror America. I had written the script before “J. Edgar” so I was completely unaware as to that piece, but “Good Night and Good Luck” was definitely a big inspiration.

Scott:  I’ve tried my hand at a few biopics. I think it’s safe to say adapting a real person’s life as a screenplay is one of the most difficult tasks there is. First, most people’s lives don’t lay out with a coherent narrative structure, like a beginning, middle, and end.

Justin:  Totally.

Scott:  And yet, you seem to have found one of them in the script, in “McCarthy.” Did you think of his life, as depicted in your script, as that kind of three‑act structure: rise, power, fall?

Justin:  I actually didn’t. I was really resistant, when I was writing the first draft, to showing the rise. I came at this thing like this – I’m going to show you Joe at his peak on page one and then at page 100 I’m going to show you him at the bottom. It would just be a story of descent.

But, I think, as the drafts evolved what became most interesting to me was Joe’s rise. I think it’s the most revelatory. That’s actually the part of the script that I like most now, ironically.

It was really difficult figuring out how many years to tackle and how you encapsulate a life. How far do you go? I think films that have done it beautifully, like “Moneyball,” hone in on a very specific and contained period but simultaneously leave you with the sense that you’ve seen all there is to see. The goal was to find that moment – that peak.

Scott:  Well, you led right into something I wanted to talk to you about. Let me present this statement and get your reaction. In a biopic, it’s almost more important what events and dynamics you choose to omit than include.

Justin:  Absolutely. There’s just so much there. Joe’s life, “McCarthy,” in many respects, could have been a six part miniseries. He had a fascinating relationship with the infamous Roy Cohn, that I tried plenty of times to include bits of that in the script, but ultimately, it just didn’t work.

Scott:  I’m assuming you’ve seen “Lincoln,” yes?

Justin:  I have.

Scott:  Did you get a sense that both of you, with your script and what happened with “Lincoln,” they took a similar approach. It’s really a slice of life. I mean, it’s like, they’re not attempting to say, this is the beginning to end of this character, rather this is a critical moment or period of time in the character’s life. Did you see a similarity between what you did in “McCarthy” and what they did in “Lincoln”?

Justin:  I did not. But I’m honored you even made the comparison.

Scott:  Another challenge for the story is handling all those time jumps, not only the transitions from time period to time period, and you must have had, I don’t know, 20, 25, but also, building a sense of narrative drive so that one scene or a set of scenes flows naturally and with energy to the next. How much of a struggle was that for you? How much effort did you put into that?

Justin:  It was a struggle. I think the biggest challenge in scripts like “McCarthy” that cover a number of years and follow one character, is that audiences are often taken out of the story when there’s a time jump, especially in the first act. I didn’t want that emotional disconnect to exist. I desperately wanted a sense of continuity there, and struggled through multiple drafts to find that, but hopefully I did. It’s something that’s at the forefront of your mind because you want the audience to feel like they’re on one continuous journey as opposed to a disjointed narrative that’s all over the place.

Scott:  I noticed that you used several pre-laps to help with those transitions. What were some of the other tricks and techniques you used to handle all those time jumps? Do you remember?

Justin:  Very good question. I think montage was key in a number of respects. There are two big montages in the script. The first involves Joe’s coworkers beginning their first investigation into the US Army Corps. This is Joe’s first big stab at the issue, and he thinks that he’s onto a massive earth‑shattering conspiracy that will make him a hero. Finding a way to encapsulate the investigation into two or three pages was key. Toward the end of the script, Joe is about to be censured by the senate – which is this very rare demerit by which you’re completely publicly disgraced by your peers.

Joe has an opportunity to avoid that, but what he tries to do first is to rally the troops. Get out the vote. He meets with his fellow senators, jumping from state to state, and pleading his case. He’s telling them, “This is why I did what I did. You can’t censure me. I’m just a guy like you. I’m just fighting for the people.” I think placing those conversations, of which there were many, in one tight montage really helped compress the story.

Scott:  You zeroed in on something that I think is probably key to the success of montages. Basically to come up with a central theme, a narrative for each montage that has a beginning, middle, and an end. There’s a flow to it. There’s this own unique little storyline. You did that with both of those montages. Were you conscious of that as you were writing those?

Justin:  That was the hope. Yeah, thank you. You need to have a clear idea of exactly what the montage is, and not be writing a montage just to write montage because it’s fun and because it’s easier in some respects. When you have that clear beginning, middle and end, the tool is beneficial. It can work in such a limited amount of space.

I think Joe’s plea to his colleagues takes up a page or a page and a half, and that was something that was much longer in the first draft. But when you have a clear understanding of the thematic core of the montage, and understand exactly what needs to be accomplished, it becomes significantly easier.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Justin rounds out his insights into the writing of “McCarthy” and how he got his script into the hands of people in Hollywood.

Please stop by comments to thank Justin for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.

For Part 1, go here.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @Kremsicles.

Interview: Justin Kremer (2012 Black List) — Part 1

February 25th, 2013 by

No matter what other good things happen to screenwriter Justin Kremer, he will always have this fact as part of his personal history: His script “McCarthy” was the first one to generate enough interest in the new Black List script-hosting site to land the ‘new’ writer representation — with CAA and Madhouse Entertainment no less. The heat generated off that resulted in “McCarthy” circulating rapidly around Hollywood, leading to it making the 2012 Black List.

Justin was kind enough to do an interview and we had an extensive conversation.  Today in Part 1, Justin discusses his background, how he wound his way to Hollywood, and started as a screenwriter:

Scott Myers:  First of all, congratulations. You must be terribly excited by everything that’s happened to you of late.

Justin Kremer:  Thank you, I appreciate it. It’s beyond my wildest dreams. Even after all of the craziness of getting signed, being on the Black List was always a thing that was on my bucket list…something that I never expected.

I was so overwhelmed to be among people like Young Il Kim, Julia Hart, Tyler Marceca, and so many incredible talents. It’s a tremendous honor.

Scott:  It’s a terrific achievement and I think you certainly deserve it with your script “McCarthy.” Let’s start with the basics. How did you start writing? When did that become part of your life?

Justin:  I had always written as a child. It was never usually about film. I started in second or third grade writing about the previous night’s Yankee game or little sports diaries. Those journals became a wrestling chronicle when I grew obsessed with wrestling back in fifth and sixth grade.

My writing kept evolving and I took a film class in high school when I was 16 and really fell in love with the form. It was the first time I had been exposed to stuff like the “The Godfather” or “On the Waterfront.” Stuff that completely blew my mind and opened me up to this new world.

I fell in love with the form and was thinking, “What if I decided to write a script?” I read a little book, I don’t even remember which one. It was not a Robert McKee and wrote my first script when I was 16 on Microsoft Word with no formatting, no margins. It was 80 pages and a disaster. I fell in love with the craft and even though looking back, the script makes me cringe, it was a nice stepping‑stone to keep developing.

Scott:  Were you always as movie person or was it when you discovered it in that class when you were 16 years old that really turned you on to movies?

Justin:  I always was, but I don’t think I had the taste until I saw the classics. When I was growing up, I think I saw L.A. Confidential and I was 11 or 12, and that movie blew me away. Taking that class was a really formative experience in terms of allowing me to really delve into the form and fall in love with it.

Scott:  Did you pursue film and writing when you went to college?

Justin:  I did. I went to NYU, the Tisch School of the Arts for Dramatic Writing my freshman year. I had a good experience there but ultimately I decided I needed a change of scenery, so I transferred to SUNY Purchase’s dramatic writing conservatory.

I think what’s interesting is that I got a very unique experience, accidentally, because the two schools cannot be more different in terms of how they teach screenwriting. Both are great but they’re really different.

NYU, at the end of our freshman year, we had to write 30 pages of a feature and a seven or eight page treatment for the remainder of that feature. At Purchase, we spent my first year writing a five‑page scene, and it was very much the macro versus the micro.

Both approaches really helped me. It’s so easy to overlook the little stuff. At the same time, it’s so easy to overlook the overall art when you’re so focused on the minutia. Both experiences were really valuable.

Scott:  How many scripts did you end up writing when you were at Purchase?

Justin:  That’s a good question. We built up pretty slowly because it was so much about the micro and we studied playwriting, television writing, and documentary filmmaking as well. The emphasis wasn’t completely on screenwriting until our junior and senior year. I wrote one feature when I was there, one three‑act play, a pair of TV specs, a short Updike adaptation, and a variety of other smaller projects.

Scott:  You graduate from Purchase and you set your mind toward becoming involved in the development side of the movie industry.

Justin:  Yep. Once I fell in love with screenwriting, I became a huge screenwriting nerd, so when a new spec was sold, I’d be dying to read it and get my hands on it. I was lucky enough to have some access to what was out there and stuff that had been on the Black List, so I was always reading a ton to try to learn.

Reading’s always been one of the most important learning tools for me. My senior year of college, I started interning for a film‑financier in New York (Black Bear Pictures), a company that I loved and shared the same exact creative sensibility as I. It was a place where I actually had a voice and didn’t feel like just a measly intern with no credibility and that the work was just dead end.

I worked for the company for a couple months. At the time, the company was limited to two people. I was looking for a job when I graduated. I stayed on after graduation, despite no promise of a job, because I loved the company and believed in the films we were making. Eventually they ended up hiring me, which was great. I think the most valuable part of that experience for this world is twofold. Being able to read a little bit of everything – because the company was genre‑agnostic, so we would read everything from the 500k micro‑budget to the hundred‑million‑dollar tent poles.

That was really valuable in terms of understanding the marketplace, and just as a reader, the thing that I found the most that almost nothing surprises you at a certain point. It’s those rare scripts, that few dozen that you encounter out of the hundreds that are so unique, like Graham Moore’s “Imitation Game”, SR Bindler’s “The Bone Game”, Jez Butterworth’s “Flag Day.” They have such a unbelievably unique voice from page one.

As I was writing, I began to think – how do I subvert expectation? How do I write something that will actually stand out? So many of these scripts I read were very well written but so very strictly adherent to formula. I was just looking for a really unique angle. On another note, I think what was also really valuable was getting to actually work with a writer on the development side, because we were developing a property. Having the opportunity to contribute notes and listen to the conversations that occur between a writer and producer was very informative.

Scott:  Is it fair to say that one of the lessons you took away from that experience was being able to put on your development executive cap as a writer, looking at your material that way?

Justin:  Totally. And not just that too. I also, because we were a financier, have the financier cap drilled into my head now. Whenever I’m thinking of an idea, not just on the creative side, I’m thinking about, how could I make this attractive to financiers? What is its foreign value? Stuff like that that we dealt with on an everyday basis.

Scott:  That’s a really valuable skill set to have, to be able to have that kind of understanding, that what you put on the page has a practical impact in terms of what happens in production ‑‑ not only production, but marketing and everything else. So it sounds like that was a tremendous education for you.

Justin:  It was, but at the same time, you also have to throw all that stuff out, at a certain point. “McCarthy” is not a commercial idea. It’s not something that anyone would have encouraged me to write. A lot of the stories I’m attracted to are in a tougher space. If you’re passionate about it creatively, then you ignore the financier side of your brain. You just have to.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we dig into “McCarthy” and learn why Justin decided this story would make a movie and how he went about crafting the script.

Please stop by comments to thank Justin for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @Kremsicles.