Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Interview with Screenwriter Bragi Schut, Part I

For the unfamiliar, a “reveal” in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.

FADE IN: 

INT. CARDINAL’S CHAMBER – NIGHT 

A room with a massive domed ceiling. The marble floors are littered with rare furs. At one end, seated on a darkened dais surrounded by PHYSICIANS, is CARDINAL D’AMBROISE (note: in the dim light, seen only In silhouette). 

          DEBELZAQ 
     Gentlemen, the Cardinal 
     D’Ambroise.
       (by way of 
        introduction) 
     Your eminence, the Knights. 

The Cardinal leans forward. And as he leans into the torchlight, we see he is deathly pale, almost ghostlike... 

          CARDINAL 
     Is it true? You are 
     called LaVey? 

LaVey steps forward. 

          LAVEY 
     Yes, but how--? 

          CARDINAL 
     Please! Come no closer. 
     I am stricken. 
       (COUGHING) 
     The Black Death is in me. 

He glances sidelong at his PHYSICIANS who are hovering just out of arm’s reach. 

          CARDINAL 
     Leave us. Go! 

          PHYSICIAN 
     But your eminence... You 
     grow weaker. 

          CARDINAL 
       (sharp) 
     No. I die. And your leeches 
     and ointments are of no 
     use. Now go! 

The Physicians – they share a look. And quickly gather their jars and medicines... and make a general exit. Once they have left, the Cardinal turns to LaVey. 

          CARDINAL (CONT.) 
     France is in the grip of a 
     terrible evil. The King has 
     fled his kingdom, and left 
     his subjects to die— 

He is interrupted by a sudden COUGHING fit, which wracks his entire body. He tries to stifle it with a handkerchief. When he draws his hand away, we GLIMPSE the white silk, flecked red with blood. 

          CARDINAL 
       (recovering a bit) 
     --it is whispered over all 
     the land that the end is 
     near, that the hour of our 
     judgment has come. 

He looks up, as if to gauge LaVey’s reaction. But LaVey doesn’t have one. 

          CARDINAL (CONT.) 
     What do you believe? 

          LAVEY 
     That we live in dark times. 

          CARDINAL 
     A guarded response. 

          LAVEY 
     I’m a knight, not a priest. 

          CARDINAL 
     And as a knight... as a 
     soldier of God, you hold no 
     belief? 

          LAVEY 
     What would you have me 
     believe? 

The Cardinal looks to DeBelzaq, who takes his cue and steps forward. 

          DEBELZAQ 
     The truth. The plague is a 
     curse, called up from Hell. 
     Brought upon us by the Black 
     Witch. 

          LAVEY 
       (with a touch of 
        surprise) 
     ...black witch? 

DeBelzaq, registering the tone of LaVey’s voice, raises an eyebrow. 

          DEBELZAQ 
     The charges have been proven 
     without question. I myself 
     heard the confess-- 

          CARDINAL 
       (a placating gesture) 
     DeBelzaq. Please. 

          CARDINAL 
       (to LaVey, again) 
     Three weeks ago a woman was 
     found in the forests, wander-
     ing...mad, muttering strange 
     words that none could under-
     stand. She came to a small 
     village near Marseille. 

          DEBELZAQ 
     Louresse. 
       (darkly) 
     That place is gone now. 
     Wiped out by the plague. 

          CARDINAL 
     From there she traveled west, 
     from Marseille to Avignon...
     and everywhere she went it 
     was the same. In her foot-
     steps followed death. 

          LAVEY 
     I don’t understand. Why are 
     you telling me this? 

          DEBELZAQ 
     The witch must be taken to the 
     abbey Severac, in the mountains, 
     where our Benedictine brothers 
     are preparing an ancient ritual 
     to destroy her. Only there can 
     the witch be slain and the curse 
     lifted. 

          LAVEY 
     And me? 

          CARDINAL 
     You... must deliver her. 

CLOSE ON – LAVEY 

His eyes darken, but he says nothing. 

From SEASON OF THE WITCH, screenplay by Bragi Schut

Bragi Schut is a writer & director living in Los Angeles who has written projects for Sony, Universal, MGM, Relativity, Syfy, and CBS among many other film & television companies. His original adventure/horror script SEASON OF THE WITCH starred Nicolas Cage & Ron Perlman and was released by Relativity in 2011 grossing $92 million worldwide. Schut also created CBS’s cult alien invasion series THRESHOLD directed by David Goyer, executive produced by David Heyman, and starring Carla Gugino & Peter Dinklage. 

Bragi has written numerous other screenplays including horror spec THE LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER at Phoenix Pictures, original sci-fi project SINGULARITY for director Roland Emmerich, comic book adaptation CRIMINAL MACABRE at Columbia for Dark Horse, and franchise adaptations of popular anime series BATTLE OF THE PLANETS for producer Chuck Roven and GAIKING for Toei and producer Gale Anne Hurd. 

Recently, Schut wrote sci-fi disaster tentpole INVERSION which is prepping a Spring 2016 shoot with director Scott Waugh (NEED FOR SPEED) and rewrote neo-noir script REAPER for director Brad Anderson and Amasia Ent. He is currently writing event miniseries THESEUS for Syfy, rewriting his original pilot MAGICK for Eclipse Television, and attached to direct thriller FAMILY ALBUM. 

Bragi, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - Madison, was previously selected for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting Award. He was also chosen for the exclusive Writers Guild Showrunner Training Program

Q – First, give us a little more on your background: where you’re from, your interests, any writing, screenwriting, or film-making training, etc. 

A - I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York but I spent some years abroad as a very young child. I lived in both Thailand and Germany. I attended LaGuardia High School of the Arts in New York City, which is the school that the old TV series Fame was based on. That was a pretty formative experience for me. That's what got me thinking seriously about a career in the arts. 

At LaGuardia I majored in art taking a lot of classes in watercolor, oil painting, human anatomy classes, art history, that sort of thing… But I also was reading a lot of comic books at the time and was heavily into comic art. I think in some ways that led me to my love of film. After all, comics are essentially movies in sort of a storyboard format. 

I still have an interest in comic books to this day, and I am partners in a small comic company called Mythos Comics. We go down to Comic Con every year and Wonder Con and put out a bunch of our own material. 

Q – UW-Madison doesn’t have a screenwriting or film-making program or major that I’m aware of, correct? 

A - Correct, UW-Madison doesn't have much of a filmmaking program. The best you could do when I attended was to major in communications and focus on filmmaking and screenwriting. But they did have a number of very good classes. There was a professor named David Bordwell. Bordwell wrote a book called Film Art, that's actually used at a lot of the bigger film schools. I heard, at one point that it was one of the text books that they used at USC and UCLA. 

So anyone who was serious about filmmaking at Madison tried to get into all of Bordwell's classes. Other than a couple of screenwriting classes, that was the extent of my film education. But I made it a point to read a lot of books about the trade when I got out to LA. Syd Field, Robert McKee’s “Story,” “Save The Cat,” “The Hero With A Thousand Faces,” a lot of Joseph Campbell stuff, Bruno Bettelheim, etc... 

It's something that I still try to do every so often. I find it helpful to continually brush up on that stuff.  

Q - Prior to your breakthrough, how did you get into screenwriting, and how many scripts did you write? 

A - The Nicholl fellowship was really my breakthrough. I think I had written two or three scripts before the Nicholl. One of those ended up getting optioned after-the-fact. LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER was actually written before SEASON OF THE WITCH. I remember there was some concern about my eligibility for the Nicholl at the time. But because of the wording of the Nicholl eligibility requirements, and because of the fact that I hadn't actually received any payment yet for LAST VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER, I was still eligible. That made all the difference. 

Q - Did you find representation prior to your industry break-through with the WGA and the Academy? 

A - Yes, I did. I was rep’d (managed) by BenderSpink. They had helped put me in touch with an agent by the name of Brant Rose. I had signed with Rose weeks before the Nicholl win, if I remember correctly. So that certainly helped put me on my agent's radar. And then, after the Nicholl win, SEASON OF THE WITCH sold. So it was sort of a one-two punch. 

Q – New writers are often told that querying is a waste of time, that you have to network and develop contacts and relationships to the exclusion of all else. Some advocate just focusing on getting an executive assistant job or starting in the mailroom at a major agency instead. I’ve always thought you should do all of the above, attack on a broad front. How did you connect with BenderSpink? 

A - I get asked that question a lot. New writers are always worried about getting an agent. And I understand it because I had the same worries. But it does take care of itself. Once you've written a number of scripts and if you keep submitting them to festivals and screenwriting competitions and friends, someone will notice it. 

Agents monitor and look for talent at all of those competitions. Frankly, the competitions make their jobs easier. They do all the reading and the agents just ask for the winning scripts. 

You should also be giving your script to friends, colleagues, anyone you know in the business. If they like it, they’ll fight for it and pass it on... 

That's what happened with BenderSpink. I had written a script and given it to a bunch of my friends. One of them was an assistant at Imagine Entertainment. He liked it enough to send it to a couple of managers. 

I still remember that. It was an exciting moment, because I was a PA at the time sweeping the floor at the Jim Henson stages. My cell phone rang, I picked it up and it was Brian and JC Spink telling me that they had just read Demeter and liked it. 

Getting an agent happens a million different ways. But the bottom line is that if you’re a hard-working writer and keep writing scripts and keep pushing your material, agents will notice you. Somebody will find your material. Getting an agent isn’t the hard part. Writing ten scripts and sending them to several dozen script competitions, and not losing hope after receiving back dozens of rejection letters, is the hard part. Facing the blank page and pushing through it is the hard part. 

Q – Where do your writing interests lie? Specific genre(s)? Favorite films, writers, directors? 

A - In general, my writing interests include horror, action, science-fiction, fantasy... genre fare.... I've written one comedy. But I don't really consider that typical. I grew up in the 80s, so my list of favorite films would include things like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR WARS, GHOSTBUSTERS, MAD MAX, DIE HARD, THE THING, E.T., ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, all the usual stuff that a kid in the 80s would probably have been into… 

That said, it's hard to have a real love of film without discovering some more obscure films. I love stumbling on obscure films that nobody's heard of, and being blown away by it. I have lists and lists of movies like that that I don't want to bore you with. 

Then there are films that I love for the sheer creative energy behind them. Like AMELIE, or THE ARTIST, or PAN’S LABYRINTH... Speaking of Foreign films, I have a huge love for those. SEVEN SAMURAI is one of my all-time favorites. THE WAGES OF FEAR. METROPOLIS. The list goes on and on… 

Q – Besides the Nicholl Fellowship, you were selected for the Writers Guild Show-Runner Training Program. Which came first? 

A - The Nicholl Fellowship came first. The Show-Runner training program came in the wake of THRESHOLD (Bragi’s 2005 CBS television series). 

Q – Were you more interested in television or features? What, if anything specific, were your career goals? 

A - My interest was predominantly in features. But we live in a very interesting time right now where television has really become a sort of long-form version of film. Production values have exploded, the stories and creativity are just stunning... So I feel very fortunate to be able to play in both arenas now. # 

FADE OUT

Quote of the Post:

"I still remember that. It was an exciting moment, because I was a PA at the time sweeping the floor at the Jim Henson stages. My cell phone rang, I picked it up and it was Brian and JC Spink telling me that they had just read Demeter and liked it."

Watch for Part II in a few days! 

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