Welcome to week five of the #WritersQuick5 series - where we learn about writing from fellow writers.
This week I’m thrilled to feature filmmaker J.C. Reifenberg. I’ve known J.C. for a long time, so long in fact I don’t even remember when we met. I will spare you the photos from our high school prom group, but suffice it to say, I have long thought the world a better place for J.C. being in it. Our day-to-day paths do not cross often, but I have watched J.C.’s projects with a great sense of hometown pride, especially his epic short film, Hughes the Force (Spoiler Alert: he talks more about his film below in Question #5).
When The Force Awakens came out, J.C. also created the amazing short called Summer ‘78 which I have watched too many times to count. It’s hard to describe the short without spoiling the ending, so I’ll just quote the synopsis, “Watch as a young boy during the late 70's plays with his favorite Star Wars toys and learns how his simple, but elaborate, front yard adventures inspire his future.”
These are just two J.C’s incredible projects. I could list many more. For example, he has also had characters from his feature screenplays licensed and used in the movie Yoga Hosers. How cool is that? Okay, I’m officially gushing now, so let’s just see what he has to say…
Question #1: Where do you write and why do you write there?
I think mostly I write in my office. The office is decked out with toys, action figures, artwork, and memories. Everything has a story or memory attached, it's all stuff that inspires me or inspired me at some point in the past. Sometimes though if inspiration strikes I've written on the notepad on my phone on airplanes, in bed, even at a red light while driving.
Question #2: What is unique about writing for your particular genre?
Writing screenplays is different than most types of writing because you can't write what you can't see. Meaning, you can't say a character 'feels' a certain way, because you can't film what is in a person's head. It's a fun challenge because you need to create situations for your characters to demonstrate what they are feeling. The audience learns about the characters only through the choices that you have them make, there is no voice of God that can convey the emotion and situation you're trying to get across like in a novel - unless you use a voice over, which I consider cheating. You're also not supposed to call out camera shots unless they are completely essential to the story. If you see a scene as one long camera shot sweeping across a room, you need to style the way you write using punctuation, formatting and language to make the reader infer the shot you see without blatantly saying it. A great example is the opening shot in Back to the Future. The camera pans across a room of clocks, uneaten dog food, uranium canisters, and a TV report. But you can't really write "The camera floats through the room." A screenwriter needs to use language such that when the director or cinematographer reads it, they see it as a camera that floats through the room. Basically I feel that a lot of the art to screenwriting is being able to make the reader or audience understand your intent and characters, without ever actually blatantly saying what you're trying to achieve.
Question #3: What are some of your grammar or punctuation pet peeves?
To, Two, Too. Your, You're. We're, Were, Where, Wear.
Question #4: At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?
Most times I'll actually work with a co-writer. But if I'm going solo, I'll bring people in almost from the get go. I'll pitch my idea around to people. Talk to them about the characters, plot line, themes that I'm trying to hit on. A lot of times they have some great ideas that I can incorporate into my outline before I even really start typing. Screenplays are typically around 90-120 pages. If I'm struggling I'll start showing people stuff after the first 30 pages to start a discussion about what parts they liked and didn't like, and where they think it would be fun to take the story, then I'll go back to the drawing board, do another 30 pages and show it off again at page 60. But, if i'm really cruising, (usually on a short film) I'll write the whole thing and then show it off at the end.
Question #5: What advice would you give to a new writer about the writing process?
I actually don't love writing. I love storytelling, but the most cost effective way to tell a story is with writing. It's way cheaper than a movie, video game, TV show, play, etc. There are no limits to what you can write, no boundaries, but I think that's also the challenge, limitless freedom, where do you start? My advice to that is what they always say, pick something from your experience that is special to you. The first kinda real thing I ever wrote was called Hughes The Force. It’s a comedy that mashes up Weird Science and Star Wars. I've loved Star Wars my whole life and know it back and forth. I also literally grew up in the same town the John Hughes based all his movies around. I knew both genres and subjects inside and out. I loved Star Wars and lived the John Hughes movies. Find something you've experienced and something you love. Write about those things. Also, I think the hardest part about writing is the self-discipline to do it. Sit down, write, even if it’s terrible just write. You don't get better at writing by thinking about writing. You only get better by writing, reading, sharing, re-writing. Another thing, don't quit. The only way you can fail is by quitting.
Thank you to J.C. for these thoughtful answers! Makes me love you even more! My favorite line has to be the last one, “The only way you can fail is by quitting.” SO TRUE.
To learn more about J.C., visit his IMDB page or follow him on Twitter @Reifenberg.
Thanks again J.C. - it means the world to me that we are still supporting each other after all these years.
If you would like to be featured as a writer in the #WritersQuick5 series, please just reach out and let me know. I’d love to promote your work as well!
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