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?

A: Long 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 names, 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?

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 other things.

Q: Have you done any other work in film, stage or TV? If so what?

A: Well, Iím a stage director with some twenty credits.  Most recently, I directed Tony Gunnís Smart Single Guys and Michael Fraynís fabulous play Copenhage n .  Iíve acted for years, most recently in the BYU production of The Crucible.  Iím done some church films as an actor and director.

Q: What other relevant experience do you have?

A: I donít really know.  I guess the fact that Iíve directed the BYU Study Abroad program to London a couple of times.  Iíve seen a lot of London theatre.

Q: What classes do you teach at BYU? Do you teach any workshops or other classes for non-students?

A: Playwriting, screenwriting, dramatic structure and analysis, and WDA, the Writers Directors Actors workshop.

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. 

Q: What are some movies that are examples of great writing?

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 successful pro?

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 Brigham City desperately needed at least one more draft.  The real problem is people who essentially film a first draft.  The Book of Mormon movie comes immediately to mind.

Q: What would you suggest a person who is interested in writing a screenplay for the LDS film industry do to get it sold?

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?

A: 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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