July 26, 2004
LDSScripts.com is pleased to have the opportunity to visit with Professor Eric Samuelson. Professor Samuelson received his Ph.D. from Indiana University in Theater History and Criticism. He has been teaching fourteen years; the last twelve at BYU, where he teaches Screenwriting, Playwriting and the Writers, Directors, Actors Workshop.
He has written several stageplays and screenplays, one of which is in pre-production with Richard Dutcher signed on as director.
Q: When did you begin screenwriting and what
drew you to that field?
story, really. I was originally hired to teach history, theory and
criticism. On the side, I wrote a few plays which were produced at BYU and
elsewhere. Then about five years ago, Tim Slover, who was teaching
playwriting and screenwriting, left. The department decided it was easier
to hire a History/Crit person to replace me than a writing person to replace
Tim, so I moved over to take over the writing program. But my main
interest was playwriting and fiction Singled Out, my first novel, was
published about three years ago. But I started teaching occasional
screenwriting classes, and absolutely loved it. So I started writing
screenplays too. Then I got some work reviewing screenplays and stuff, and
we started reading outside work in a class I teach. Itís just evolved.
Q: Have you written any screenplays,
stageplays, or teleplays, that have been produced? If so, what? (Please include
dates and other relevant information)
A: Not really. Three of
my plays have been optioned: Gadianton, The Seating of Senator Smoot and A Love
Affair with Electrons. My screenplay Peculiarities, based on my play by
the same title, has also been optioned by Cue Media, which hopes to produce it.
Richard Dutcher has signed on as director for that project, which is right now
in the fundraising mode. Iíve also written any number of Church
videos and shorts.
Q: Have your works won any awards?
Q: Have your works won any awards?
A: I won the
Association for Mormon Letters award for Best Play three times; often enough
that they decided I wasnít eligible for it anymore. Iíve won some
A: Well, Iím a stage
director with some twenty credits. Most recently, I directed Tony Gunnís
Smart Single Guys and Michael Fraynís fabulous play
Q: What other relevant experience do you
A: I donít really
know. I guess the fact that Iíve directed the BYU Study Abroad program
Q: What classes do you teach at BYU? Do you
teach any workshops or other classes for non-students?
screenwriting, dramatic structure and analysis, and WDA, the Writers Directors
Q: What do you feel are the biggest mistakes
people make when writing screenplays?
A: First of all, they
often approach screenwriting without a strong sense of structure. Second
of all, they very rarely are willing to re-writeóthey want readers to tell
them that what theyíve written is brilliant. Third of all, they want to
recycle tired ideas from other movies, rather than look closely and intensely at
life, at what human beings really do in different circumstances. Fourth of
all, theyíre result oriented ĎI want the audience to feel such and such
here,í rather than simply tell the story. Fifth of all, itís
hard to write dialogue that sounds like people talking, like conversation.
Sixth, too many beginning screenplays have to preach at us they want to convert
the world, rather than tell a good story. Seventh, too many beginning
screenplays want to spell everything out, rather than just suggest and hint.
Q: How is writing for films different than
writing a novel or magazine article.
A: I think writing for
film is quite a bit like writing novels, because theyíre both very visual you
need readers to be able to see clearly what it is youíre describing. I
tell students that a screenplay is a lot like a novel with a whole lot of very
short chapters. I find itís easier to go from a novel to a screenplay
than it is to go from a stage play to a movie, because with stage plays,
youíve really only got dialogueóreally thatís your main tool.
A: I love Tarantinoís
films, because of his ear. I love movies like A Simple Plan, where the
characters are so rich. I loved the subtlety of Lost in Translation
thatís just a lovely screenplay, so evocative and real. I loved a great
structure I adore Amores Perros in that regard. Charlie Kaufman I find a
little overrated, though I loved the nice, unfussy job he did with Confessions
of a Dangerous Mind.
Q: I once read when someone starts out in
screenwriting, they should write three full length screenplays then throw them
away because they are probably rubbish. What separates the amateur from the
A: I donít know about
throwing out early work, but I do know that the main difference between an
amateur and a pro is not writing, but REWRITING. Youíve just got to keep
fussing at it. Get people to read it who will tell you the truth and
LISTEN to what they tell you.
Q: What do you recommend a writer do when
starting a new screenplay: Just start writing and let the creativity flow? Or do
an outline, and a treatment first?
A: Different strokes
for different folks. Iím very much a flowing creativity writer, but some
people (Tim Slover comes immediately to mind) have to get the structure right
first. Either way, you have to get the structure right, but I find it in
rewrites; I canít do a first draft that way. I have to explore.
Q: M. Night Shyamalan once said that he
rewrote the Sixth Sense something like 20 times before he was satisfied. Is that
sort of rewriting really necessary?
A: Absolutely, totally.
Shyamalan is a fine writer, and he works fast, probably does FEWER drafts than
other writers just as good.
Q: Is there a market for freelance
scriptwriters in the LDS film industry, or are most of the scripts being written
by those who direct and produce them?
A: The latter.
Richard Dutcher can get away with it, because Richard is a real writer, and he
takes the time to get the screenplay more right than anyone else. But
A: Iíd work through Excel.
Theyíre interested in getting into producing, and theyíve got people with
good script sense.
Q: How much do Hollywoodís unwritten rules of screenplay submission apply in the LDS film industry?
For example, if someone submits a script to an LDS filmmaker with three brads
instead of two, will it get thrown away?
A: Probably not. But
why not make the work as professional as possible.
Q: What is
your impression of where the LDS film Industry is: Cute Toddler, Gawky Teenager
or Mature Adult?
A: Obnoxious Toddler, mostly,
though we have had some Gawky Teenager films.
Q: Where to you think the future of the LDS
Film industry lies? Will it expand beyond where it currently is into the
mainstream? Should it?
A: It will either expand into
the mainstream or itís going to die. Right now, I think itís probably
going to die. Too many lousy films in a very tight market.
Q: Any final thoughts or comments on
screenwriting or the LDS Film industry?
Thereís no reason our culture canít be presented as compellingly as any
other culture in the world. We just have to make our work as good as we
can make it.
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