A Working Screenwriter Never Stops Learning The Craft by Erik Oleson at the USC Scripter Awards

Watch the video interview on Youtube here

 

Erik Oleson: Hi, I’m Erik Oleson. I’m here from THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE.

Film Courage: Erik, how many years did it take to get this television show made and how did it finally happen?

Erik Oleson: I was hired to join the show for season two. Well, I know from the novel which was written decades ago [author Philip K. Dick], the original producers of the series struggled for many, many years to bring it to the screen. It was a long development process, over a decade. So I was fortunate enough to be brought on in season two.

Philip K. Dick’s book The Man in the High Castle

Film Courage: Had you already watched the show?

Erik Oleson: Oh yes! I’d watched all of season one. And I came on board and ended up being the head writer of season two.

Film Courage: Do you remember when you sat down to write for them? I don’t know if you prepared a spec script for them or what the process was? What was the first presentation of your work to the show’s developers?

Erik Oleson: Well, I had written on 15 other television shows series prior to THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, so my work was kind of known. I’m also an executive producer so they knew I could handle a lot of the other aspects that go along with writing a big television show like this. But the thing that I’d written that probably put me most in contention, I’d written a pilot about Nazi occupied Paris, which was a historically based pilot. So I think a lot of the folks read that and said “He knows how to do a Nazi show.”

Film Courage: What are your first steps for writing a screenplay? Do you have a set of tried-and-true set of rules that you use? Or is every script different?

Erik Oleson: My process evolves every time I do another job. I realize how much I didn’t know in my prior job. So I’m someone who reads pretty much every trick, every screenwriting book, every script that I can get my hands on and I’m constantly trying to evolve as a craftsman. I am also fortunate enough in this job to surround myself with really talented people and you learn a lot from other writers. There were writers on THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE that won Emmys, or Martin Scorsese’s best friend…you really want to kind of learn from the people around you and that makes you better. So I can’t say that I have any set process, although right now I have to say I’m a big fan of the John Truby stuff. I think he kind of hits the sweet spot for me. But I’ve taken them all. I’ve taken [Robert] McKee. I’m one of these guys who likes to learn new stuff about the craft and think if I can learn something from any book, if I can learn one thing from it and it makes me a better writer, I’m all for it.

Film Courage: Have you ever written a screenplay that has no structure?

Erik Oleson: I am more of a planner than a “pantser.” Obviously like Stephen King will say he swears by the seat-of-your-pants approach. But I’m much more of an outliner, an engineer when it comes to that. And you throw that out and you let the character speak to you and gather the moment and things change. But I’m also a big fan of structure I have to say. So no, I haven’t sat down and tried to write a final product from page one. I kind of construct it over time. I’m a grinder I guess you could say.

Film Courage: When you begin to write, are you envisioning the people watching the final product or does that not even enter into your mind? You’re so involved with the beginning and what’s in your own head?

Erik Oleson: You want to keep the audience in mind somewhat but you also don’t want to pander. Like, if you’re in the moment, much as an actor is in the moment, you’re trying to find the humanity and the truth behind what you’re writing about. And whether you’re doing a superhero show, whether you’re doing a big, deep, socio-political show like THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE you actually find yourself lost in the moment and how the characters are speaking to each other as real people and that’s the joy of discovery that happens when you have enough (for me) of the structure figured out that you have the correct characters in the scene. You’re in the moment and they start to talk to you when it works.

Film Courage: Well speaking of talking, this will be my last question but with dialogue, how much are you refining the dialogue and making sure that you’re researching it for that specific time period and trying it out on other people?

Erik Oleson: Constantly. There is a constant polish process that goes on for dialogue. Also, we had researchers who were making sure that we didn’t use words that didn’t exist and sometimes they would catch us making an anachronistic, modern kind of “Oh yeah. That doesn’t work. We have to change the line.” Because we all are creatures of pop culture, as well. In THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, which takes place in the early 1960’s, I had to avoid references from some of my favorite superheroes.

Film Courage: Any other terminology, I mean definitely not using the word “Bro.” That’s become part of the culture. Were there certain things in the 1960’s that we don’t even realize it wasn’t part of the vernacular?

Erik Oleson: Correct. In the case of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE it’s an alternative world also where history has turned out differently from the tale of World War II, so a lot of the language that we would use in a first draft kind of would be slightly different like given the way the world turned out and cultural experience. And in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, white people are not the overclass in the Pacific States. They are kind of treated as an oppressed minority and so there are all sorts of textures that seed into the language when you have that kind of story. So it’s an alt-history storyline and language was very important to us and we had a lot of very smart people making sure that we were polishing it up right to the moment the cameras rolled.

Film Courage: Excellent! Thank you, Erik.

Erik Oleson: Thank you!

 

CONNECT WITH ERIK OLESON
IMDB
Twitter

 

 

Advertisement

 

Watch The Special Need on Vimeo here

THE SPECIAL NEED: Enea is 29. He has blue eyes, likes trucks, and loves girls. He hasn’t found the right one yet. Still he has never stopped looking for her. One more thing about Enea: he is autistic. One day, after taking a photo of a girl on the bus, he is pushed to the ground by her boyfriend. Enea’s therapist convinces his mom that the time has come for the man to cope with his sexual desires. Enea’s friends Carlo and Alex get involved and try to find a way for Enea to have sex in a safe and legal environment.

Watch Problemski Hotel on Vimeo here

PROBLEMSKI HOTEL: For the inmates of the multinational residential center somewhere in Europe, the circular, black comedy that is the cross-frontier migrant’s life ‘within the system’ becomes even blacker in December. For we are in the European ‘season of gladness and joy.’ Bipul doesn’t want to admit it to himself, but the Russian girl’s arrival makes a difference: Lidia. Hope? Surely not! A future? Get real! December is also the ninth month of Martina’s pregnancy. Pregnancies don’t go round in circles; they end in eruptions. Because when the situation is hopeless, rescue is near.

Watch Surviving Skokie on Vimeo here

SURVIVING SKOKIE: They survived the horrors of the Holocaust and came to America to put the past behind. For decades they kept their awful memories secret, even from their children. But their silence ended when a band of neo-Nazi thugs threatened to march in their quiet village of Skokie, Illinois “because that is where the Jews are.”

Surviving Skokie is an intensely personal documentary by former Skokie resident Eli Adler about the provocative events of the 1970s, their aftermath, his family’s horrific experience of the Shoah, and a journey with his father to confront long-suppressed memories.

Hi, Mom!” Zooppa has partnered up with T-Mobile on a brand new project! T-Mobile gives its customers unlimited data and texting in over 140 countries and destinations—at no extra cost. T-Mobile wants to inspire those customers to travel and get off-the-beaten path—to be explorers, not tourists—and unlock adventures they can share when they take their phones. The ‘Hi, Mom’ project focuses on sharing the most extreme moments of adventure outside of the United States with family and friends back at home. The project is open for submissions until February 21st, 2017 at 4:00 PM PST. There are $40,000 in total cash awards available that will be assigned to the top eight videos chosen by T-Mobile. In addition to the cash awards, all winning videos will also be featured on T-Mobile’s social and web platforms or as a part of a compilation celebrating adventurous moments from around the world.

Watch THE WEEKEND SAILOR on VOD January 10, 2017

THE WEEKEND SAILOR is a new feature documentary about the unexpected victory of the Mexican yacht Sayula II in the first crewed sailing race around the world in 1974. The most demanding sailing quest in history. Sailor, Ramon Carlín visits his rebellious son, Enrique in the United Kingdom and comes across a magazine advertising a sailing race around the world. Although he had been sailing casually for two years, Ramon embarks on this race and brings his son along as an opportunity to not only teach him discipline but real life experiences as well.

Watch CATCH 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue – coming soon on January 17, 2017

Catch 22: based on the unwritten story by seanie sugrue: With Hurricane Sandy looming on the horizon, five hard-lived friends come to from a send-off celebration alongside an unexplained dead girl. What are friends for?

 

Find out more here!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT): Zooppa and Nickelodeon are inviting filmmakers and motion graphic artists from around the world to reimagine TMNT on a global scale through depicting what they are up to in various home towns or cities. The goal is to show how the Turtles would come to life in any given location, using local city or pop culture influences to help tell the story. Zooppa and Nickelodeon are looking for imagination and creativity, the videos made should be a fun way to share Turtle stories from across the globe––authenticity is key! The project is open for submissions until February 23rd, 2017 at 4:00PM PST. There are $25,000 in cash awards available to the top 10 videos that will be chosen by Nickelodeon.