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My interview with Bill Broyles Jr. posted today to CS magazine

10 Feb

Cast Away for Real: Taking Research to the Extreme | Creative ScIn an exclusive interview with Creative Screenwriting magazine, writer Bill Broyles Jr. talked about why he feels he must always first walk in his main characters’ shoes.

   “You have to ground things in an honestly felt experience of your own. Sometimes that is an experience you’ve had yourself; other times you have to talk to people and try to get into their heads and try to experience what they did,” he said.

He also said the concept for Cast Away in 2000 came from reading Daniel Defoe’s book, Robinson Crusoe and that The Odyssey by Homer helped him to write the plot lines for Apollo 13 in 1995.

Cast Away

In 1999 Broyles called upon Mormon survivalists in Utah to deliver him to an isolated island in Mexico and to teach him how to make fire; then they left him there alone for ten days without food, tools, or shelter.

“I had to learn to make a spear out of rock and I had to spear a fish – or a stingray actually and eat it raw. I had to lick water off of leaves. Everything he (Noland) does in the movie, I did,” Broyles said.

Alone, Broyles discovered his own metaphysical need for companionship.

“I went down to the beach the next morning and there was a volleyball washed up on the shore. It was a Wilson. I put some shells and seaweed on it and talked to it,” he said. “That became like the core of the movie.”

Bill Broyles tall

Broyles called upon his five senses — and then some — to tell his Cast Away story without voiceovers or a musical score.

“What was so powerful was just the sound of the ocean and the silence. I didn’t want the audience to experience anything but what the character did,” he said.

He also recalled the isolation he felt when as a first lieutenant in the US Marine Corps returning to the United States in 1971 after earning the Bronze Star and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry in Vietnam.

“I realized that all of the things that were important to me back in the civilized world meant nothing to me anymore,” he said.

In Cast Away, as in all of his films, Broyles used symbolism.

“There is the feeling that the ocean represents both birth and death,” he said. “It’s not human; it’s this other being. It’s kind of a mystical whale. That is all kind of biblical in a way.”

Broyles called Cast Away his favorite film because the character shows what he thinks by doing.

“A lot of it is beneath kind of rational thought – there’s just this kind of instinct,” he said.

“Everything he does, everything he handles – every piece of wardrobe is in the script.”

An everyday object such as a Port-a-Potty became a vehicle, while a FedEx box represented a spiritual totem.

“The thing that ultimately saves him is the painting (image) on the FedEx box that he doesn’t open. That one box that he does not open gives him the image of the wings and he realizes that’s how he is going to get out – on the wings of this Port-a-Potty.”

“I just really enjoyed the visual storytelling of that.”

Broyles stripped away the most elementary of his writer’s tools – words – to create a character – the Wilson volleyball – that he called “my favorite character.”

“Because he is made out of the blood of Tom Hank’s character. In a way, it’s a creation story,” he said.

Broyles said he inevitably experiences a sense of loss every time he watches Tom Hanks character release Wilson to the ocean.

Apollo 13

Broyles’ initial research for Apollo 13 began as a youngster growing up in Baytown, Texas. Later as journalist he wrote about the programs designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

“One of my favorite scenes from Apollo 13 was when the crew is trying to make the filter and the guy dumps everything. He says ‘You have to take this and make that.’ I think there’s a kind of fascination with tapping into that primal thing we have,” Broyles said.

“This survival instinct and our ability to improvise and to learn – that’s really fundamental.”

Like the character in Cast Away, the main characters in Apollo 13 get into trouble, they figure out a way to survive, then return home.

“I like a structure that’s simple like that because you can tell the character’s story more deeply,” he said.

Broyles channeled both real life astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 much as he did his fictional character, Chuck Noland, in Cast Away.

“There’s always a part of me in every character,” he said. “You have to really try to inhabit each one.”

China Beach

During filming for the television show, China Beach, actors helped to develop the characters that Broyles imagined.

“Just watching these actors, we used to say ‘they think they’re Marines, but they’re really not.’ They become them, convincingly so,” he said.

In China Beach, experienced actors contributed to the show’s success. Actors Dana Delany and Marg Helgenberger and others taught Broyles how little dialogue that he needs to write into his scripts, he said.

“They would say, ‘I don’t need to say this – I can do it with this,’ and so we gradually wrote less and less dialogue. Finally, we would write a scene that just had two words, or we would write a scene that just said ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Or we’d write a scene that said ‘Yes has to mean No and No has to mean Yes,’” he said.

Broyles did more than write China Beach as a multi-dimensional view of the Vietnam War to a television audience.

“Something film and TV can do, besides just entertain, is they can be a way to express and confront those deeper things in life,” he said. “You want it to make people’s lives better and deeper if you can, as opposed to just entertain them,” he said.

Broyles learned to improvise scripts and to use all of his resources in order to save money.

For the episode of “Vets,” Broyles intercut recorded interviews with real veterans talking about their wartime experiences as anecdotes into previously recorded scenes from China Beach.

Writing techniques

Broyles said he interviews and records real people talking about real life events and he also reads a great deal of research before he ever begins to write.

“Often when I start writing, I don’t even look at it (the research.) I put it all aside and just try to feel it,” he said.

“It’s kind of one of those parasite-host situations. If I let the parasite in too much it changes the behavior. So, I am inspired by it – I can’t do the writing without the research. I can’t really write until I’ve done enough research to write.”

Broyles’ attention to detail stems from his formal education at Rice where he earned a bachelors of arts degree in history and from Oxford University where he earned his masters degree in politics.

He also understands the importance of historical accuracy from working a decade as an editor at Texas Monthly and two years for Newsweek. Yet, he admits that he still encounters pitfalls while writing.

“The biggest pitfalls I encounter in writing comes when my writing sucks, or I feel that it does,” he said. “So you have to be able to write things that you know aren’t that good,” he said.

“Then that crappy screenplay is like scaffolding. I build it so that I can see to the next place and then I write the next one.”

During the writing process Broyles often subconsciously includes details that ultimately prove valuable to the success of a script.

“Like those wings in Cast Away on the box. I had no idea why I put those wings there. But when I was trying to figure out how he (Noland) would get off the island, I put in all these different versions – he was rescued by pirates, or by drug dealers. Then I realized he had to get off by himself and he had the wings on the box.”

However, Broyles said he has become his own worst critic.

“I’m rarely satisfied with my work. I’m not motivated by praise ‘this is so great.’ I’m motivated by ‘this sucks; you could do so much better.’ That keeps me going, but because of that I keep getting new ideas. It doesn’t stop.”

Broyles admits that for him, the writing process becomes cathartic.

“I don’t write what I think; I write to see what I think,” he said. “If I don’t write I don’t learn, so I’m always seeing,” he said.

Writing the China Beach television series exercised his talents in a way that helped him to improve his writing process in a non-linear way.

“I was always able to write the future episode even though we were in pre-production on one and filming another and in post-production on another,” he said.

“So instead of going ‘A, B, C, D, E, F, G,’ you say ‘Wait, I can go A, G, and the audience will know exactly what’s so going on.’ So I can cut all that other stuff out.”

Broyles moved from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Santa Fe, New Mexico recently. He enjoys isolating himself in order to write.

“I like to live away from the business of film,” he said. “I just want to think about doing my job, which is the writing and then if I need to go to LA, or New York or London to get it made, then ok, I love doing that.”

However, Broyles prefers writing film scripts to those for television because he enjoys sitting and watching audiences react to his movies.

“The religious celebration around the fire, telling stories or celebrating rituals in the dark — whatever those things are, I miss that with TV,” he said.

“I just feel so lucky that I’ve got to make a few movies.”

Please see my article posted to Creative Screenwriting at:












My Judy Collins’ CD review posted today to Elmore magazine

6 Feb

Elmore Magazine | Judy Collins – Both Sides Now: The Very BestFolk pop icon Judy Collins has rerecorded and re-mastered 28 of her most beloved songs with Both Sides Now, The Very Best of, released by Wild Flower Records in association with Cleopatra Records Inc.

Collins’ clear, crisp and soprano voice once carried a troubled nation through the most tumultuous times of the 20th century, the Vietnam War.

This collection spans her vast catalog of original songs including a duet with Joan Baez on “Diamonds and Rust,” to create an unforgettable interpretation of the 1975 hit song.

Stephen Stills sings “Last Thing On My Mind,” with Collins and also showcases his craft skills with Dave Cleveland on guitar.

Collins and soloist Christopher Warren-Green Collins recreates an unforgettable version of the 1977 Stephen Sondheim’s hit standard, “Send in the Clowns.”

Arlo Guthrie together with Eric Anderson and Tom Rush join Collins to sing an uplifting live version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”

Collins’ distinct song craft, at once intimate, melodic and emotional, breathes new life into song standards “Amazing Grace” and “Over the Rainbow,” for fans and millennials alike. –

 Please see my review on Elmore magazine’s website at:

My interview with Dana Brunetti posted to CS magazine 2-2-2015

2 Feb

“The camera doesn’t know what it’s shooting” – Produci
Seventeen years ago a chance meeting between actor Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti led to a successful professional collaboration in the movie industry. Today, Brunetti pays the favor forward by giving unknown screenwriters their first shot at filmmaking with Jameson First Shot short film competition.

The Brunetti and Spacey partnership formed Triggerstreet Productions, the company that produced Captain Phillips, Shakespeare High, 21, The Social Network and House of Cards.

In an exclusive interview with Creative Screenwriting magazine, Brunetti talked about what it takes to produce the award-winning House of Cards, one of the first original series ever streamed on Netflix. He also discussed The Social Network, the movie he produced in 2010, and the soon-to-be-released 50 Shades of Grey.

CS: What did you see in the 2009 book, The Accidental Billionaires, by Ben Mezrich, that became part of the movie, The Social Network?

It’s hard to say what part of that book was crucial because we set up the film when it was just a book proposal, a 14-page proposal. It was a weird step away from how that process usually works, whereas Aaron (Sorkin) was writing the screenplay at the same time that the book was being written. So, it’s hard to say what part of the book was crucial to that. I think it was more that we tapped into a bit of a zygote that is both the spirit and the culture of Silicon Valley and its entrepreneurs in general. Mark’s (Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder) character in that film was such a tragic character, but a successful character that I think a lot of people related to him and just what happens in the world right now. You’re connected to everybody, but just like him in the film, he’s sitting there hitting ‘refresh’ trying to see if the girl who he screwed over – or who he ultimately disappointed, will accept his friend request. Some of that same research was shared with both Aaron and the author. Based just on the book proposal and what the movie could be, Aaron kind of went off and did his own thing with the force of it. While it’s a lot different as a process, it sort of isn’t either — because sometimes screenwriters will get a book and we’ll get a lot more from it even than the Social Network did from the book. Aaron had enough to go off of with the shared research and it ended up how it ended up, with the best possible result in my opinion.

jameson-first-shot with Spacey and Brunetti

CS: What options do you feel will become more available to screenwriters in terms of writing for Netflix productions? The fact that Netflix now is doing original content, is fantastic for all creators – writers, directors and producers like myself because A) it’s another place to take material to another buyer; it’s always good to have more buyers out there, and B) it’s also good for the audience because they have more options to get their entertainment and content. For writers specifically, I think the real advantage is that Netflix is going to begin to change up the format a little bit. When you don’t have to do commercials and it’s viewed as we do it, in chapters, for release at once, it gives writers the ability to tell the story or the art by episode or chapter or however you want to refer to it and in whatever time you need to tell that bit. Just like a chapter in a book, some chapters may be 30 pages long and some others might be 60 pages. It’s determined by how much it takes to tell that story. What we’ll eventually see in the future may not be what any of the (House of ) Cards or any of the shows that are on now, but Netflix is going to offer whatever a story needs, whether it be chapters or episodes or whatever. Some of those could be 25 minutes or you could see episodes that are an hour and a half, back-to-back as there are no set formats that they have to fit into. I think that could be really exciting for filmmakers obviously, but also for writers because they don’t have to be wedged into a certain number of pages or fit within a specific time period. They will fit whatever format is required to tell the story.

CS: I know that screenwriters wrote the entire first Season of House of Cards before you ever began production due to a scheduling conflict with Kevin Spacey. How did the writing for Season 2 change? We went to a more traditional schedule where we tried to get as many episodes written as possible before we went into production, but the production caught up with the writing, so the writing was coming in at the same place that we were ready to begin shooting. In any production, that can be a bit of a problem because it gives everybody in production less time to prepare in advance for it, so it can create some hurdles, but that’s just production in general. When we release, it doesn’t affect anything as far as viewers are concerned. When we release, we release all of the episodes, but within our production schedule, the writing has to be done. The first season, all the episodes were written and ready to go, so we were relaxed a little more. The second and third seasons our production moved pretty quickly, so the writers had to stay on top of it. I would always prefer to have all of the scripts written and available before we start shooting, because then you have more time, more flexibility and more advance preparation, but it doesn’t always work that way. It doesn’t work that way in film either. A lot of times scripts are being rewritten as we’re in production. There are adjustments in every project; there are always adjustments being made as we go along.

photo of Brunetti with Robert Luketic for CS mag

CS: What if any differences exist between producing a television series to be streamed on the Internet and one to be viewed on network TV? The time frame remains the same, because there are countries that restrict the time within that format now. But like Kevin (Spacey) always says ‘the camera doesn’t know what it’s shooting.’ It doesn’t know whether it’s shooting for a TV screen or a computer screen, and iPad or iPhone. It doesn’t know what it’s shooting for, so we approach it the same exact way. We shoot it the same way we would shoot anything.

CS: The Jameson First Shot contest sets seven as the limit for the number of typed pages writers may submit as scripts. How did you come about choosing that limit? Because it’s streaming online for one, we know the format that it’s going to be released in that it has to be pretty short, but also one of the bigger reasons is because when we bring the filmmakers here to L.A., for their shorts they hit the ground running. They go right to casting and then they go right over to production. They only have two days to shoot before the next filmmaker starts to shoot their project. So, basically the limit was set up based more on production limitations and the resources we have. If we started going much longer than that, we wouldn’t have the ability to make a film with the caliber of talent that we get. It’s basically a limitation on our resources. Generally, we would hope that it’s going to be seven minutes or somewhere in that range. We’ve had some shorts that have gone on for over ten minutes, but the story supported that and it kept it going, but generally we shoot for around seven minutes.

CS: I understand that you also prefer that writers use a “less is more” approach, or a “lighter touch” when writing their scripts for the Jameson First Shot contest as it is stated on the website. Explain that. Most shorts tend to be dark. The ones that play the most, or the ones that audiences enjoy the most are a little lighter and so we give preference to those. That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t take one that is a little darker. We have, but also we have to look at from a production standpoint what we’re capable of doing. If there’s something like an action film, with car explosions or races or things like that, unless the filmmaker has a very unique way of doing it within our limitations, that’s generally going to get it booted from the final list. That definitely factors into what we choose, such as what the tone is, what the production requirements are going to be.

Fifty Shades of Grey

CS: The Jameson First Shot website provides a script template for writers to download that matches the industry standard; it’s really similar to The Screenwriter’s Bible format. However, the contest criteria sets limits of no more than seven characters for the seven-page scripts. Explain why fewer characters are so crucial. Again, it’s for the production restraints. We want avoid a large cast and having to bring them all in and having to create the short outside of the short time frame that we have. The seven pages and the seven characters and all of the limitations that we put on the writers force them to be more creative. It also really tests their writing abilities by having those parameters.

CS: How many screenplays do you plan to produce? We do three every year. We release them online to YouTube video on the Jameson website which gets quite a bit of traffic and gives the filmmakers quite a bit of exposure. I mean they get millions and millions of views. At least the previous ones have.

CS: Define “freshness” as a trait for screenwriters. Familiarity is all right. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be similar to an old film, but with a new perspective or a new angle. We want anything that is unique or gets our attention, whether its fresh or new, or old, or a story that we’ve heard a million times, or it could just be their take and their angle on it. Whatever story someone has inside of them that they’re dying to tell is a good way to do it as long as they can do it within the parameters that we’ve set.

CS: How will the film Gran Turismo differ from other racing movies that already have been released? What we’re doing is including the series of racing video games as a part of the story. They created an (GT Gran Turismo) Academy, and the creator of the game wanted to see if it was possible to move those gamers from virtual to reality live racing. Gran Turismo created a virtual reality competition online and found 32 of the best gamers of this game and then brought them all together and put them in a head-to-head (Nissan) racecar competition. They sent them to Silverstone Circuit track in the UK and put them through a racing boot camp. They took gamers and turned them into actual racecar drivers. We have taken that idea and we’re going to make a movie based on that.

CS: Regarding the upcoming biopic, Life of Evel, starring Channing Tatum as Evel Knievel, how will the movie handle some of Knievel’s life? That’s still in development. That script isn’t done. We’ve had a first draft. We’re still waiting for the next draft to come in. That’s the challenge with any project, particularly with a biopic, you have to decide what part of someone’s life do you take, do you take their entire life or do you take a segment of their life? I think what we’ll do is take a segment of his life and tell that story, but there’s lot of ways of doing it and that’s part of the creative process – figuring out how’s the best way of doing it. Just like the Social Network, it wasn’t a biopic about Mark Zuckerberg, but it was about a small period within time.

CS: What issues regarding script changes were required for the adaptation of the book and production of 50 Shades of Grey? It’s the same as any book that you translate. Basically what it boils down to is a love story. When we said we were going to make a movie about Facebook, a lot of people asked ‘Well, how do you make a movie about Facebook?’ We face the same challenges you do with the adaptation of any book being that a book is a theater of the mind. The way you might read a character or read a story might be a lot different than how I or someone else might read it. The challenge lies in just meeting the expectations; there are so many expectations by so many people. That is the biggest challenge really, making a film that you hope that the fans will enjoy.

CS: What specific changes did you need to make to 50 Shades of Grey or what notes were given and/or relayed to the costume designer, the set designer, or the director. That’s the case with any project; making a movie is a collaborative process. Working with department heads and getting to that point where they’re all artists in their own way and they all fit into the mold that ultimately is going to make the film. It’s a close representation to the book. It may not be exact, but it’s certainly a very close representation. It wasn’t necessarily changing anything – it was mostly just scaling down what was in the book. We can’t put everything that was in the book into a movie.

 Please also see my story that posted to Creative Screenwriting magazine’s website at:


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