By Sophia Kercher
Skim the resume of Steven Peros
, and you’ll be inspired to rise out of your chair and go make something. Why, you ask?
Steven has created award-winning films and is a twice-published Samuel French playwright. His research into a mysterious death on board William Randolph Hearst’s yacht led to his original screenplay, “The Cat’s Meow
” (Lionsgate, 2002), directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Kirsten Dunst and Eddie Izzard. The film was highly regarded by critics and appeared on a dozen year-end “Ten Best” lists, including Film Comment. When he’s not speaking about screenwriting at film festivals and universities nationwide, Steven dreams up budget-friendly movies. His microbudget film “Footprints
” comes out next month.
On Sunday, November 13th, Steven will be teaching Writing Pad students how to turn unwieldy real life events or characters into a three-act script in his class “Writing the Royalty Free Screenplay
.” Before this weekend, we had the chance to pick Steven’s brain and, like we imagined, it was quite a ride.
How does L.A. inform your work?
I become very immersed in where I live and have always incorporated it into my scripts. L.A. has a special draw for me because even as a boy on Long Island, I dreamt of Hollywood. Now I can walk to Grauman’s Chinese. For me L.A. has so much history, so much energy of the creative souls that have come, fought so hard to be heard, and won or lost the battle. It’s a crazy, beautiful, ugly, frustrating, and exciting place.
Your movie “The Cat’s Meow” was based on your research of a mysterious 1924 real-life death. Can you explain how people looking to write a screenplay can draw stories from real-life events?
How can writers draw stories from real life? How can they not? Flip through an encyclopedia to any random page. Type arbitrary interesting words or people into Wikipedia and see what pops up or pick up a book on famous murder trials or unsolved mysteries. If a story involves a public figure and that figure is deceased – guess what? – there are no rights required. It’s free! We will go more into this on Sunday (Nov 13) at Writing Pad, so I urge everyone with a true story from history, their family tree, or their own lives to join us so they can take the next steps to putting it on the page.
As an experienced screenwriting teacher, as well as a film professional, what are some of your suggestions for writers who are sitting down to write their opening scene?
Whether you are writing a subtle character piece or a kick-ass action film, you must make us sit up and say, “This is a writer who I want to spend the next 90-120 pages reading.” Your dialogue, description, economy (so important!) lets the reader know they are in good hands. In addition, surprise us with something that we were not expecting in that first scene, a detail we couldn’t predict that tells us your characters will keep us compelled and on our toes. Most people write scripts with scenes unintentionally copied from a million other movies – make your first scene something we haven’t read before.
In addition to your playwriting and screenwriting career, you have made several films on a budget such as “Footprints.” Can you tell me more about what led you to that process?
I have always been a screenwriter with a goal of making the films I write. I tried for years to get four different “first directing features” off the ground with four different producers, each budgeted between $1M and $6M. After a rollercoaster of “almosts” with those films, I finally said, “I’m going to make a movie for an amount of money I can actually raise, instead of for an amount I can’t.” From there, “Footprints” grew. You can read more about how the film happened at The Huffington Post and find out how to do it yourself during our Microbudget Madness class on Dec 11 at Writing Pad.
You have two films coming out next month, can you tell me more about them?
Yes, I’m very excited about them. The first film, “Footprints
” was a microbudget film shot entirely on Hollywood Boulevard and stars Sybil Temtchine. We had a limited Engagement in April in NYC and LA. In July, the Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle called it “One of the 10 Best Films So Far This Year” which led to us being booked into more cities beginning Dec 16. The second film is a larger budget supernatural thriller called “The Undying
” which stars Emmy nominee Robin Weigert (HBO’s “Deadwood”) and Wes Studi (“Avatar,” “Last of the Mohicans”). That movie will be released on DVD/VOD on Dec. 12 and will be at every Redbox in the country as well as Blockbuster, Amazon, and Netflix afterwards.
What are your tips for people who are considering writing a screenplay and/or producing their own film on a budget?
Write a film for an amount of money that you can actually raise with a unique script that excites you. In my one-day Microbudget Madness class, we will go through a series of great in-class exercises to help you utilize all that is already in your life and therefore free or very inexpensive (locations, crew, actors, props). If you came to L.A. to not only write, but to go out and make a movie, I hope that you will join us.
Thanks, Steven for sharing your expertise with us! We can’t wait for your classes Writing The Royalty Free Screenplay and Microbudget Madness: Writing A Script You Can Actually Go Out and Shoot! at Writing Pad this weekend and on Dec. 11th.