First Steps In The Screenwriting Process by Jack Perez

Film Courage: What are your first steps in the screenwriting process?

Jack Perez, Filmmaker:   I think the first steps are when I begin to write are a lot of thinking about it. I’m not really good at just sitting down and beginning to bang it out. And oftentimes I don’t write it out. It’s not like I have to make an outline first and then make the script. So for me it’s usually a couple of ideas that just won’t go away. If those ideas won’t go away then that means hopefully there is something there and I just let it percolate (sort of marinate) and if it’s a good idea it’s sort of rare. I’ve never been one of those guys who was able to spin a good yarn and have a million stories I want to tell. But in the case of SEARCH & RESCUE a couple of ideas started to bind together.

And I think some of them were ideas that I had for other movies that didn’t go anywhere. Now that I think about it they were several different ideas and characters that I had been developing for other movies that didn’t sustain themselves. They were good but for some reason they didn’t belong in whatever movie I was trying to make and so it all started to combine into this one film. But that’s specific to this particular movie and every writing process is different.

If someone comes to me and says “I need you to write MEGA SHARK VERUS GIANT OCTOPUS” that’s a different process…okay Act 1: this stuff should happen and then this…that’s when I do that. So work-for-hire, I think that’s easier. A simpler genre is easier to do then this. But I really did have to think about it. I really had to draw from a lot of ideas that had been dormant that all sort of coalesce to form this thing. That’s how it started and then I had to sit down and write everyday, like everybody else you had to write it. You can think about it all day long but you have to write it. 

Film Courage: Did you have dedicated times to write?

Jack: I did. I kept talking about it and finally my wife finally said “You need to write this thing. You just need to do it.” And certainly without Valerie’s insisting that I just get down to it, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I did, I just basically realized that if I got up at five in the morning everyday that I would be in this…you know a lot of writers talk about this kind of haze where you’re not really judging, you’re not in a critical mind, you’re just in a semi-dream state. That if I got up at five and wrote until nine or something like that, if I wrote for like three or four hours in the morning that I could bang out without me judging myself I would just knock out four pages or five if it was a good day over however long it was (a month) just every day I just knocked out a little bit.

At least if you do the math after five pages a day times 20 days is what…a hundred pages? So within shy of a month you can get a draft. And then you go back and you’re like “Oh, this is bad and this doesn’t work.” And you are actually able to tackle it critically but at least the hard part of getting it out was accomplished if I was diligent and got up and just did it. And that’s hard, it’s like going to the gym or whatever, that takes…anybody will tell you that.

And some days you don’t have anything, you just sit there and you’ve got one line. But I think as all real writers will tell you that’s necessary. The writer writes. You can’t expect to just not do it and then have great stuff pour out. You have to go to the gym. So that’s how it happened.

Film Courage: You said something earlier that you have a friend who is a “real writer writer.” And I was just wondering how is that different? 

Jack: I think a real writer writer is someone who just writes all the time. That’s all they do. It’s not even about physically making the movie, it’s about writing. They write one script and they start working on the next script. Or they write one novel and they are already outlining the next novel. They are just what I consider dyed-in-the-wool writers. They are not hyphenate writer/directors, they are just writers. And I have real respect for that because it’s very myopic. Because it’s like this is their skill and it’s a very difficult thing to be a good writer. So I have a lot of respect for that. 

I don’t think I’m a writer naturally, I’m a writer out of necessity. In other words, I became a writer because I couldn’t expect screenplays to fall out of the sky for me to direct. So I became a writer so I could have some control over the films I wanted to make. But I feel like it was a longer process to become a pretty good writer. Whereas being a director felt more natural to me. I just had a more natural instinct for it. Whereas writing felt like work. Writing still feels like work to a certain extent. Whereas when I’m making a film even though it’s hard, it never feels like work. It just feels natural for some reason.

I feel like writers that are the real writers are the ones that they speak that language, they hear that music. That’s their primary way of expressing themselves.

Questions For The Viewers:  What are the first steps in your writing process?

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