The following is from an interview with 2020 winner, the very talented James Raynor.
1. What's your background? How long have you been writing? And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?
I started in the arts at the age of 6 or 7 as a classical musician, playing french horn, piano, and singing. I developed very early on a strong love affair with classical composers, especially Ludwig Van Beethoven who I felt was speaking to me personally in his music. At the same time I found myself drawn to storytelling, and it got me into more than a little trouble as a kid. As I grew into adulthood, that bad habit of telling embellished stories developed into an obsession with plot and structure and a desire to formally pursue storytelling as a career.
2. What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?
I took a few screenwriting courses in college, but my real training came with my music teachers. I formed a friendship with a violin maker who introduced me to Aristotle's Poetics which changed my entire perception on writing. I had written quite a bit in my life up until that point, but when my friend showed me how the bulk of Shakespeare’s genius was just employing those techniques it occurred to me that certain writers were operating on a different level than others, and that I had a very long way to go. My second big breakthrough came during a creative writing course where I was required to write 20 pages a week- single spaced and 12 point font. It was painful to write that much but by the end I found that the more I wrote, the happier I was. Since that time my creative output has been effortlessly robust, and I have never developed a case of writer's block.
3. What else have you written? What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking?
I work in sales for most of my day which means talking endlessly to people, so it's been necessary for me to devote time to being alone each day to write. I take a mentality that I need to write a little every day no matter what. I find that the first paragraph is the most difficult, and it gets easier from there, so I make it mandatory to get out that one paragraph as soon as possible, regardless of quality. Last year I wrote two novellas and three feature screenplays, The Pinch being one them.
4. What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?
My winning screenplay is titled The Pinch. It's about a young woman who's brought on to assist in the rescue of a loving husband and father who's been trapped in a remote part of a deep cave by a massive boulder falling on his leg. Amanda, being childhood friends with the chief rescuer, is the only one petite enough and skilled with the necessary tools to have a chance at saving him before he dies. In order to free him, Amanda must scuba dive for three straight hours through a nightmarish environment, then crawl into the pinch- an unimaginably tight portion of the cave only certain people have ever been too. All the while she's dealing with the untimely death of her husband, as well as the psychological toll the cave begins to exert on her. Reality twists and bends as she fights for Justin's life, as well as her own sanity.
5. Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?
This script was inspired by my experience as a young boy exploring a cave not far from my childhood home in the midwest, as well as my experience scuba diving in the Cenotes of Mexico. I used the feelings accompanied by those experiences to enhance the wonder and the terror of being stuck underground.
6. Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?
The Pinch was unusually difficult to write. I first wrote out a treatment about 8 pages single spaced. After digesting that for a while, I transferred it over to a screenplay, but stopped about 40 pages in. There was something wrong that I could not put my finger on. I set the story aside for nearly a year while I moved on to other projects, until one day out of nowhere inspiration struck again and I got back to work. I wrote yet another 8 page treatment from scratch, revising the story to include Amanda's struggle with her deceased husband, and quickly put out a draft of the screenplay shortly thereafter. Most times when I write a play, the bulk of my time is spent ironing out the details of the story in treatment form first. By the time I open Final Draft the story has been so thoroughly developed that just about every detail is already established, and the screenplay itself is an afterthought.
7. What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?
The festival has been wonderful so far. The team has been super helpful and encouraging, and much more engaged than festivals I’ve had past experiences with in the past. They show a genuine enthusiasm about my work and a desire to see me succeed beyond their festival. I can't tell you how appreciative I am of that.
8. What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?
The Pinch is the third installation of a series of films I've
written over the last six months. I plan five films involving a group of friends with a dangerous love of nature and high adventure that I fondly call The Clackamas Kids because they're all from that neighborhood in Portland. My next project will be titled “The Clackamas Kids" and it's centered around a forest fire. At the same time, I'm revising an old historical action screenplay that did well at festivals years ago, titled The Code of Hammurabi.
9. Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?
My advice to someone writing their first screenplay is to write it as fast as they can and not worry about the result. Mine certainly wasn't perfect (no ones first work is), in fact it wasn't even readable, but getting through it showed me how easy it was and laid the foundation for a huge volume of works that definitely were.
My biggest win so far is that the festival reassured me that I was on the right track and helped me put pen back to paper. I love writing. I don’t feel like myself when I'm not crafting a story.