Interview: Justin Kremer (2012, 2013 Black List)

May 19th, 2016 by

One of the best ways to learn the craft is read what professional screenwriters have to say about it. To that end for the next few weeks, I will be featuring interviews I have conducted with Black List screenwriters.

Today: Justin Kremer has written scripts which have made the Black List twice, McCarthy (2012) and Bury the Lead (2013).

Kremer Clipped

Here are links to the six installments of my six March 2013 interview with Justin.

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.”

Justin is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Spec Script Deal: “Bury the Lead”

January 20th, 2016 by

Elston Films acquires 2013 Black List script “Bury the Lead” written by Justin Kremer. From Variety:

Kremer’s screenplay centers on a talented journalist who, in his life-long quest for a Pulitzer Prize, fabricates the truth to create a compelling murder story. When his concocted conspiracy becomes real, right and wrong become entangled as he fights for his safety, career and family before time runs out.

Kremer’s script “McCarthy” also made the Black List in 2012. You may read my 2013 interview with Justin here.

Kremer is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

By my count, this is the 1st spec script deal of 2016

There were 2 spec script deals year-to-date in 2015.

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 16

November 16th, 2015 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 16.

November 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
November 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

I’m doing it. You’re invited.

To learn everything you need to know about the ZDT Challenge, go here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars to track your progress, go here and here.

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here. Over 300 members strong. Join us!

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Trumbo Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

I reached out to several screenwriters whose scripts have been selected for the annual Black List, asking them this: What do you focus on when writing a first draft? Here are some thoughts from Justin Kremer (2012, 2014 Black List):

Getting it on the page. That’s your job. Tell the story, and don’t worry about producing a masterpiece. You’re never going to bat 1000 on the first draft. That, of course, does not give you an excuse to write lazily or give anything less than a herculean effort. Rather, it means you shouldn’t spend days trying to perfect a line of dialogue or a character intro. You’re going to do plenty of rewriting, so don’t let yourself get bogged down in the minutia. Keep moving. Write. And enjoy it! The blank page is as thrilling as it is daunting. Have fun. This is the first time you get to explore a new world, new characters. Treasure the time you spend with them. And don’t be afraid to let them surprise you. Allow room for discovery. That’s what a first draft is about.

— Justin Kremer

Today’s Inspirational Video

11-year-old Brooke Raboutou is a rock climbing phenom who regularly breaks world records on elite bouldering and sport climbs once thought impossible for someone her age. With two former world champion climbers for parents and coaches, Brooke’s pedigree is unmatched. Now she has set her sights on pushing both herself and the climbing world to even greater heights.

If you have a writing quote appropriate for pounding out a zero draft, post to Comments, Twitter, or Facebook.

If you have a video to inspire or perhaps give us a laugh, post to Comments, Twitter, or Facebook.

But here’s the biggie: Head to Comments, Twitter, and Facebook to support each other!

How many pages did you write in the last 24 hours? Or if you’re prepping the story, what did you work on? How are you feeling about your story? Are you loving or hating your writing process? Did you have a good day or a bad day? Do you have any questions about your writing process? Ready to give a virtual hug… or maybe you need one.

Comments, Twitter, Facebook. That’s where the Zero Draft Thirty community gathers. Remember: Every day I’ll be handing out the coveted Trumbo Award to the best Comment, Tweet, Photoshop, anything you come up with to get our collective juices going.

And each day in November, I’ll be dishing out a special batch of ZDT-flavored creative juju for everyone who posts.

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 1

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 2

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 3

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 4

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 5

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 6

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 7

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 8

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 9

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 10

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 11

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 12

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 13

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 14

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 15

Nothing else to say. Just. Write.

UDATE: Great Steven Pressfield quote via Elizabeth Correal:

Sometimes writing is about getting in touch with and embracing both our Inner Artist… and our Inner Warrior. Writing can be a battle, certainly a test of wills. For that inspirational reminder, today’s hallowed Trumbo Award goes to Elizabeth Correal!

HSW Dalton Trumbo Bathtub Award Correal

Onward!

Go Into The Story Black List Writer Interviews

August 31st, 2015 by

In the month of August, I have been featuring insights on the craft from Black List writers I have interviewed over the years. That inspired me to complete something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: Aggregate links to all of the Black List interviews I have done.

Black List logo

Here they are:

Arash Amel (2011, 2014 Black List)

Nikole Beckwith (2012 Black List)

Roberto Bentivegna (2012 Black List)

Carter Blanchard (2012 Black List)

Christopher Borrelli (2009 Black List)

Elijah Bynum (2013 Black List)

Damien Chazelle (2010, 2012 Black List)

Spenser Cohen (2013 Black List)

James DiLapo (2012 Black List)

Geoff LaTulippe (2008 Black List)

Brian Duffield (2010, 2011, 2014 Black List)

Stephany Folsom (2013 Black List)

F. Scott Frazier (2011, 2014 Black List)

Jeremiah Friedman and Nick Palmer (2010 Black List)

Joshua Golden (2014 Black List)

David Guggenheim (2010, 2012 Black List)

Julia Hart (2012 Black List)

Eric Heisserer (2012, 2014 Black List)

Jason Mark Hellerman (2013 Black List)

Brad Ingelsby (2008, 2012 Black List)

Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman (2012 Black List)

Lisa Joy (2013 Black List)

Kyle Killen (2008 Black List)

Eric Koenig (2014 Black List)

Justin Kremer (2012, 2014 Black List)

Daniel Kunka (2014 Black List)

Seth Lochhead (2006 Black List)

Kelly Marcel (2011 Black List)

Donald Margulies (2013 Black List)

Chris McCoy (2007, 2009, 2011 Black List)

Jeff Morris (2009 Black List)

Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2012 Black List)

Declan O’Dwyer (2013 Black List)

Ashley Powell (2012 Black List)

Chris Roessner (2012 Black List)

Stephanie Shannon (2013 Black List)

Will Simmons (2012 Black List)

Chris Sparling (2009, 2010, 2013 Black List)

Barbara Stepansky (2013 Black List)

Michael Werwie (2012 Black List)

Gary Whitta (2007 Black List)

I consider interviews to be the equivalent of primary source material. In other words, when you read interviews with writers such as these, you are getting information from people who are on the front lines of the movie and TV business.

Interviews with over 40 Black List writers. You should read them. Who knows you may gleam some key insight which could transform your approach to writing.

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 3)

August 26th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I am running a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

The diversity of responses among the Black List writers I have interviewed is fascinating. Monday we explored various articulations of what ‘theme’ is. Yesterday we looked at some writers who begin the story-crafting process with theme. Today we hear from writers who discover theme during the writing process.

Eric Heisserer: “Theme. That’s something that I have such a hard time engineering. If I were given nothing but the tool of ‘Here’s the theme. Write something with this theme,’ that’s an impossible task for me. I can’t start a story with that. I can figure out later on, after I’ve written a story, what the theme is. I can’t start with that in the forefront of my brain. It doesn’t work for me as a storyteller. I think other people can. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for anybody else. I’m just saying it’s not how I’m wired.

James DiLapo: “I think theme is immensely important, but for me, it’s not always readily apparent when I begin the process. With ‘Devils At Play’ we were talking about the idea of redemption, that there can be angels and devils inside our own personalities and societies. That, for me, is the theme of the story, but I didn’t know it when I began. Eventually the story itself will tell you what the theme is.”

Nikole Beckwith: “I think it definitely evolves over time. I’m sure that there are things that I carry around with me while I’m writing and they emerge on their own, I don’t say, ‘I’m going to write something that explores identity.’ That’s all I do, immerse myself in it.”

Aaron Guzikowski: “Definitely that they emerge whenever I’m writing the story. I definitely think a little bit about it at the beginning, but usually it’s more after you’re writing the story, the theme just emerges. If it’s a story that’s working, then themes generally just start to bleed out of it, and they just present themselves to you. They just appear.”

Julia Hart: “My students would always get frustrated when we would talk about the themes that the author was using. They would always ask, ‘Did they really think about all this before they started writing it?’ And I don’t think that they do or I don’t think that good writers do. Of course when you’re writing a cohesive world the themes are going to rise out of it.”

Lisa Joy: “I don’t necessarily start with theme, but by the time I’m done – I always have one. And often, writing a script shows me what my theme is and allows me to deepen my own thinking on that theme. Writing becomes, in its own way, a philosophical investigation into theme. Sometimes I go back, once I understand the theme more fully and use it in the rewrite to enrich the scenes.”

Chris Borrelli: “If you don’t have a theme as you write, then you are writing blind… Sometimes the theme presents itself. Usually other themes present themselves as I write, and I’ve had a theme or two change as I write, but still become something I care about…I want to say. That’s the jumping off point for me…something I care about…something I want to say.”

Justin Marks: “I think theme comes very late in outlining. I don’t think it comes immediately at the beginning. I think at the beginning it’s a character that you really like, or it’s a hook that you want to figure out.  I don’t think it becomes a movie, though, until you find that theme.  Until it centers on some idea that is not specific to the plot. I think you need to know theme before you start writing dialogue.  I think you need to know theme before you start writing scene work.”

Declan O’Dwyer: “Thematically, I try to be governed by what my character is telling me it should be and not what I’m deciding it is on the outset, because it will grow and it will change as they grow and change.”

Daniel Kunka: “For me, theme is usually something I find as I write through the first draft. I probably have a general idea when I start, but theme becomes the unifying factor as I go. I always work better sort of discovering it rather than coming up with something early in the process or even before I start writing pages. That’s not to say it’s not there, but I don’t consciously make the decision ‘this is my theme.’ I think theme is directly related to voice. A lot of my themes are similar, because those are the stories I want to tell. And it’s not planned, it just is. Because of that I’ll sort of trust my theme to tag along with me until I’m done with the first draft, then the second draft is when I’ll go back in and add a few lines here or there to highlight some things that will help take the piece to the level I want it.”

Brad Ingelsby: “I don’t like to go into a script saying, ‘I want to write a story about forgiveness,’ and then try to fit forgiveness into every single scene. That feels maudlin and a bit silly to try to imbue every scene with a theme. It feels like a homework assignment and it doesn’t allow for much discovery or revelation. After all, you’ve already told yourself what the movie is about. You’ve limited yourself. What I prefer to do is say, here’s a character. I like this character and I know the journey I’d like him or her to go on. And then I write that journey, that arc, and then I let the audience or reader decide what the theme is. Let them take what they want from the story. If you say a movie is about forgiveness, then an audience or a reader is only looking for that theme in the material and there’s no discovery. But if you present them with a character on a journey, they’re able to take away from that character and that journey what they want. It’s less limiting, I think. Stories mean different things to different people.”

Justin Kremer: “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. 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.”

And why is theme so bloody damn important? How about this:

Stephany Folsom: “I think when I first find an idea that I’m not like, ‘Oh, gosh, let’s find the theme in this.’ But as I go through my steps to see whether or not this idea is going to be something that can actually make a good movie, one of my steps is, ‘What is going to be the theme?'”

And this:

Jason Hellerman: “I think theme is super important, but I let myself find what I’m afraid to talk about, and I let my fears and my own inhibitions dictate the theme of what I need to get off my chest.”

And this:

Chris McCoy: “A story theme is tremendously important, because it’s what you’re trying to say with the work as a whole. If there’s no theme, there’s nothing holding the script together.”

And there’s this:

Justin Marks: “Look at how Chris Nolan writes. Everything is written to theme.  Everything comes back to that.  That’s what makes the Batman movies so great is that they’re always about theme.  Every scene is about guiding itself towards theme.  When you don’t know what a scene is supposed to be about, the answer is theme. Yeah.  I think if you’re getting away from it, that’s when you ask, why doesn’t this scene feel right?  Or, why doesn’t this sequence feel right? Or, why does the third act feel right?  Oh yeah, because it has nothing to do with my theme.  It has nothing to do with what I wanted this story to be about in the first place.  If a script starts to meander beyond theme, I think you lose your reader.  Because they start to wonder, ‘Why am I reading this? What am I getting from this story?’ You’re getting theme.  If you don’t get it, you’re not going to read it.”

Takeaway:

* Trust the process: If you go in the story… if you engage your characters… if you live in, then reflect upon the narrative… the themes will emerge.

* Use your themes as a touchstone: For everything including how you approach scenes to how you handle character relationships to how you write scene description, from big to small, themes can help you expand your understanding of your story and focus how you convey it emotional meaning to a script reader.

How about you? Do you discover theme in your writing? How is theme important to you in your writing?

For Part 1 of this week’s series with Black List writers, go here.

Part 2, here.

Come back tomorrow for more about this important subject: Theme.

Black List writers on the craft: Theme (Part 2)

August 25th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I am running a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you understand and work with the concept of ‘theme’?

The diversity of responses among the Black List writers I have interviewed is fascinating. Yesterday we explored various articulations of what ‘theme’ is. Today we look at some writers who begin the story-crafting process with theme.

Joshua Golden: “I typically start from theme and character. I don’t want to start writing and halfway through, ultimately figure out what the story is about. I mean thematically, what it’s about. I need to know that going in… I want everyone’s journey to be reflective of whatever the theme is. Some might argue that maybe it’s not as important or as necessary. But theme and character, for me, are my two starting points.”

Brian Duffield: “I almost always start with the theme. I can’t even really think of a situation where I didn’t (if it was an original). Usually it’s a theme I want to explore because it’s really locked into my head as a person, as something I’m going through or struggling or interested with, so even if I throw out the characters or genre surrounding that theme a dozen times, the theme stays intact because it’s an itch I need to scratch. I think theme is deathly important. I read a lot of scripts and watch a lot of movies where I couldn’t tell you what it was really saying beyond a couple of interesting characters doing something interesting. Which is fine sometimes, but it always feels a little surface level to me.”

Kelly Marcel: “I’m personally a big fan of knowing what your theme is before starting. I think they can arise as you tell the story, but writing within and for a theme seems to me to help the process along. It allows for much more intricate storytelling, ways of speaking to the theme and letting your theme to speak to you, even unconsciously. I said ‘theme’ four times in that last paragraph. I shouldn’t be allowed to be a writer.”

For some writers, whether they start with theme or not is an open question:

Barbara Stepansky: “It really depends on the script. Sometimes I have a very clear theme in mind and I know this is a story about these people discovering a certain aspect about life. Then every scene has to be geared toward that. Then sometimes, like with “Sugar in My Veins,” honestly no, I never spend much time on theme with “Sugar in My Veins.” I just wanted to tell this particular story and so it didn’t bother me that thematically, it wasn’t that clear in my head at the beginning. It became much clearer later on.”

And some may wonder about starting with theme, but it’s just not their thing:

Justin Kremer: “It’s interesting because some guys — like I listened to an interview with Steven Gaghan — he is someone 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.”

Takeaway:

* Knowing your theme is important in shaping the narrative, understanding the characters and their purpose in the story, and tying together every scene into an organic whole.

* If you start with theme, you have some company…

…But honestly, most writers I’ve interviewed, like Justin Kremer, discover their story themes in the process of working out and writing the story, seeing it “organically emerge.”

How about you? Do you start with theme?

For Part 1 of this week’s series with Black List writers, go here.

Come back tomorrow for more about this important subject: Theme.

Black List writers on the craft: Story Prep (Part 1)

August 10th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I will run a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: What aspects of story prep do you devote the most time and focus to?

I often say this: There’s no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. Going through these interviews, I doubt there is an area of the story-crafting process where this statement is more apt than in relation to story prep. As we will see this week, there is a big divide between Black List writers who embrace working up a comprehensive outline and those who take a considerably less formalized approach.

Today let’s consider what some writers had to say about what is a key starting point for many of them: Research:

Stephany Folsom: “I’m really methodical in how I write. I do a ton of research up front.”

Stephanie Shannon: “For ‘Queen of Hearts,’… I researched for about two months. I researched the whole time, but I didn’t start writing, just purely researched, for about two months.”

David Guggenheim: “As far as research, I do as much as I can to make sure I have a working knowledge of the world I’m writing, but if I’m feeling inspired, I’ll do the research as I go or sometimes after I get a draft down.”

Will Simmons: “I try to become an expert on whatever subject I’m writing about. It’s a fun part of the process. I’ll consume everything from biographies and memoirs to archival news clipping and documentaries. It’s about mastering a field of study, so that you can write with confidence and verisimilitude. After you’ve thoroughly researched a topic, the writing becomes second nature.”

Chris Roessner: “I love research intensive things. I think I have somewhat of a journalistic approach, at least from the outset. But I try to limit myself on how much time I’m going to spend doing research, because it’s one of those things that can be arresting. It can prevent you from sitting down and writing. So for me, I spend however much time researching as I think the particular project merits.”

Justin Kremer: “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.”

Some takeaways:

* In part, research is about being able to “write with confidence”. Readers can detect that. They need to trust the writer knows their way around their story universe.

* In that vein, research can help a writer achieve a sense of “verisimilitude” in their script pages. What transpires – everything from settings, customs, dialects, and more – has to feel real to a reader.

* Research can also enable the writer to immerse themselves in the story universe, making it come alive in the writer’s imagination. That sense of connection can get translated onto the page.

* By extension, if a writer does enough research so they really know that story universe, they can surface the “littlest detail” that “grounds” the reader in the story.

* However a cautionary note: A writer may get caught up in research which can “prevent you from sitting down and writing.” So be cognizant of that during the research phase.

Speaking of which, every writer I’ve interviewed who has discussed research has talked about it as something they do in the front end of the prep process — except one:

Aaron Guzikowski: “I don’t do a hell of a lot of research. I usually research after I’ve written the script to make sure I haven’t gotten anything too terribly wrong.”

For some writers, it’s possible research may get in the way of their creative instincts. But even then, it’s important to do due diligence at some point, even after a draft, to make sure what you’ve written passes the authenticity test.

Do you do much research for your stories? If so, what type of research do you focus on? What resources do you use? If you have some thoughts on the matter, please head to comments.

Tomorrow and for the rest of this week, we will learn how other Black List writers I have interviewed approach story prep. It’s a fascinating look at a key part of the story-crafting process. I look forward to exploring the subject with you.

Black List writers on the craft: Story Concepts (Part 2)

August 4th, 2015 by

Over the years, I have interviewed over 40 Black List screenwriters. This month, I will run a series featuring one topic per week related to the craft of writing.

Black List logo

This week: How do you come up with story concepts?

With this next set of responses, we see writers who take a more proactive approach to generating and developing story concepts, here most notably using what they read as source material and inspiration:

Barbara Stepansky: I read a lot. I surf the internet. If there’s a post that interests me, I think about it and see if there’s a story there.”

Carter Blanchard: “I read the news every morning. I look for ideas in there.”

Stephany Folsom: “I’m an avid reader. I’m constantly reading articles. I’m constantly reading books. I devour information like crazy, and I’m always running across interesting ideas. Being open and being curious brings so many great ideas to your doorstep.”

David Guggenheim: “They come from everywhere really. For example, I had read a bunch of articles about narco trafficking and reading about these narco subs, I just said, ‘Well, that’s a movie.’ Right then and there I knew that’s a movie. I was going to do a story about transporting drugs on narco mini‑submarines. The concept that drug cartels had submarines blew my mind. That got me really, really excited. The idea of doing a twist on the submarine genre. Run Silent, Run Deep scenario, but with drug lords.”

Ashleigh Powell: “I was an English major, and I was a total bookworm growing up. So I’ve read a lot of stories over the years and I’m fascinated by this trend of taking classic mythologies or classic stories and finding new ways to reimagine them or reinterpret them. I think there’s something very cool about that.”

Seth Lochhead: “I’ve been inspired by great books (I turned ‘Turn of the Screw’ into an action movie and wondered what would happen if the creatures in the Island of Dr. Moreau spawned and became a sub-class of humanity). I’ve been intrigued by news items. In all instances, it’s not necessarily a concrete idea. It’s more like a starting point, a drive to articulate something that could not possibly be articulated.”

Justin Kremer: “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. 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.”

Source material. Whether it’s magazine or Internet articles, news stories or books, there is a whole world of preexisting content writers can adopt and adapt into a story concept. All it takes is for you to have part of your brain in a state of awareness so that every time you read something, you think, “Can this be a movie”? Hell, any article or news snippet can become source material for a hit script idea.

That said in my interviews with Black List writers, they shared a lot of other ways to generate story concepts including observable real life experiences, something we will delve into in tomorrow’s post.

How about you? Do you use reading news items and books to inspire your creative process? I’d love to hear from you, so please head to comments and share your thoughts on the subject.

For Part 1 of the series on story concepts, go here.

Tomorrow and for the rest of this week, we will learn how other Black List writers I have interviewed generate story concepts and the variety of ways they engage in that practice.

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.