Screenwriting and Perseverance

Film has always had a special place in my heart. During my childhood, I wanted to be in movies. I had this limitless amount of energy that I would use to perform in front of family members and friends. My earliest impressions of film began when I around eight years old. Remember the classic opening theme to the Wonderful World of Disney Pictures? As a young kid, I can still remember that special feeling I got when a Disney movie started. Once the music started playing I knew to be ready to see and hear some wonderful actors with some amazing stories to tell. That was magic!

From an early age, I knew that I eventually wanted to create my own magic. Not having the tools or resources as a kid to experiment with cameras, I started to draw cartoons. My brother and I would have an ongoing contest on who could draw the most original character. We soon learned that if you draw a succession of images on multiple pages, and flip the pages with your thumb, you could create a moving image. I could not count how many books or magazines I used for this purpose during this creative spark in my life. It was just so much fun. Later on in my teen years, I realized that my interest shifted and my ambition leaned toward telling stories. I found that the better I could tell a story, the better story I could write. Life was moving fast during my teenage years and the discipline just didn’t exist for me to write a script or a book.

Fast forward to my 20’s and living on the edge, literally. I spent several years living in Northern California, skiing just about every resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. “I couldn’t tell you how many movie ideas I would brainstorm while riding a chair lift…” This is when and where I started my education in filmmaking. My skiing buddies and I would take turns being the camera operator. The cameras were a Sony HI-8 or a Panasonic VHS, the best we could afford at the time. It was a blast chasing each other down the ski slopes and filming at the same time. We would setup for shots in the trees, bumps and even film small cliff jumps. I was our self-appointed editor since I was the only one that had two VCRs and two TVs. I would play the footage from one VCR and record with the second VCR. I soon learned that I had to hit the pause button for each splice. I found that if I hit stop and start buttons there would be a jump gap in the edit. This was low budget editing at its finest!

Knowing that I wasn’t going to be paid for skiing and making home movies, I needed to settle down. I eventually found a promising job working in communications. This is what led me to a job transfer from California to Seattle. October of 2001 I packed everything I could into a Chevy S-10 Blazer and drove 14 hours north. It was here in the wonderful state of Washington that I started writing.

As I began to write more regularly, I learned that pulling from first-hand experience shapes your characters and gives your story heart. It can sometimes be tricky to come up with a satisfying personal story, but if you have the experience to draw upon, the words will often just flow. I found that your background could have a large impact on your character’s beliefs, personality, and purpose. I believe this is where the essence of one’s originality in writing comes from. Another reference point for me is watching as many movies as possible. The more movies you watch the more you understand how movies work. A good screenwriter needs to immerse him or herself in the world of film. Before Netflix and movies on demand, I was proud of my DVD collection. Whatever form of media you have access to, watch as much as you can.

It’s now 2015 and I’ve completed 14 screenplays, most shorts. I look back at most of my early work as class study. The more I wrote the better a writer I had become. I also found that reading books on screenwriting and filmmaking helped me tremendously. One of my favorite books is “How Not To Make A Short Film: Secrets From A Sundance Programmer” by Roberta Marie Munroe. What I absorbed from her book is that a great short has a solid story, interesting characters and the appearance of a high production value. Whether you have a big budget or a next-to-nothing budget, your film must have the appearance of money well spent. “How Not To Make A Short Film” is definitely a recommended read for any screenwriter and filmmaker.

I love a gripping story and I love reading biographies on individuals that followed their dreams and forged their way through life to make their dreams a reality. These kinds of stories serve as tremendous inspiration to me and show what is possible when applying ambition and perseverance to your life goals. If you can believe it, you can achieve it. Another recommended read is “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead” by Jerry Weintraub. I was awestruck by this story of the now-famous and intrepid Hollywood dealmaker that started his life on the streets in Brooklyn. Throughout his life, Jerry found a way to put on a show and sell tickets at the door. Jerry Weintraub did not simply follow his dream, he built it.

You can never be afraid of rejection or of the unknown. If you approach certain aspects of your life like a salesman, you will always have the upper hand. Get used to people telling you “no” and you will work harder and smarter for the next person to tell you “yes”. Along the way, you will also find that some people are actually willing to help you out.

Perseverance is the key to success.

David Spies

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