Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Interview with Screenwriters Torry Martin and Marshal Younger

Writing team Torry Martin and Marshal Younger are two of the most prolific and talented screenwriters I know.  I had the privilege of working on their script Just 18 Summers, adapting it from screenplay to novel for my latest project.  Here's a look inside their minds!

RG: Torry, I’ve known you for awhile, and I’m amazed at all your hidden talents.  You act, write, speak, cook, just to name a few things.  Are there things that came harder for you than other things, or are these all natural, God-given gifts?

Typing is the thing that comes the hardest for me.  I’m a two-finger typist, and I think far faster than I type.  By the time I get everything typed, I… Wait.  What was I talking about?
Short sketches are easy for me—5 pages of material are about my limit.  But the structure for a full-length screenplay is like engineering.  The architectural type of thinking that is required for a feature length movie interrupts my creativity.  I don’t think that way.  In school, math story problems always killed me.  Why ruin a good story with math? 
Acting is what comes most naturally.  The hard thing is getting cast.  I have a unique appearance—also known as “too much sex appeal”—which limits my roles, particularly in the Christian film industry.

RG: Marshal, I’ve always been awed by your ability to churn out screenplays, and not just fast but really well done.  How long have you been screenwriting?  And do you prefer comedy or drama?

I have written screenplays since high school (my friends and I would film them with my Dad’s ridiculously cumbersome VHS camera.  One of the movies involved evil talking basketballs). Writing movies was what I wanted to do, and I even majored in Script and Screenwriting in grad school at Regent University.  But there was never any interest in any movies that I had written while I was in school.  That was because I needed to learn how to write first, and God knew it.  I got a job with Focus on the Family to write for a weekly radio drama called “Adventures in Odyssey”.  There, I received ten years of excellent training for not only writing, but for writing fast.  When you have a deadline, and you are forced to be creative NOW, you tend to get faster.  I think comedy is far more difficult to write than drama, but I still like comedy writing better.  I think the impact it can have is underrated. 

RG: Torry, tell us how you and Marshal came to be writing partners, and tell us a little bit about how the partnership works.  Are you elbowing each other at the keyboard or do you have a different system?

We met when he worked at Focus on the Family, and I became a freelance writer for “Adventures in Odyssey”.  Focus put me into a hotel room, but he introduced me to his house to have dinner with him and meet his family.  I liked him, and when you like someone, that’s the one you want to write with.
Marshal won’t let me type with my elbows (or any other part of me).  We don’t sit in front of a computer and hammer out dialogue, but we work in the same room on ideas, outlines, and notes.  We bounce things back and forth a lot, and we do a lot of drafts.  One script we recently did had 16 of them.  We rarely have to wrestle with each other, because we trust each other well enough to back off when one of us is passionate about a certain direction.  It’s this third voice that emerges that is neither me nor Marshal, but something better than both of us could have come up with individually. 

RG: Marshal, how did this project, Just 18 Summers, come across your desk, and what drew you to it?

I had written a film called “Godspeed Junction” for Dave Moody of Elevating Entertainment, and he liked what I did with it, so when Michelle Cox came to him with the project idea, he thought of me for the screenplay.  And since I write far better when I have my partner Torry working with me, I immediately knew I needed to bring him aboard as well.  As it turned out, Michelle had already talked to Torry about the idea, and he liked it, so he was on board even before I mentioned it to him. 
The thing that drew me to it was that my oldest daughter was about to graduate from high school, and the whole “You only have 18 summers with your child” concept was staring me down like an oncoming freight train.  And I also liked the concept that Michelle and Dave had come up with—the “anthology”-type of film, like “Love Actually”.  I thought it would be fantastic to see different sets of parents from different stages in their kids’ lives.

RG: Torry, I’ve worked with you on several projects now and I love your ability to “punch up” a joke.  When I think it can’t get any funnier, you always raise the bar.  How do you approach comedy writing?  Do you have a method to your brilliant madness?

I don’t know if there is an approach to comedy writing.  It’s just a clever camouflage for anxiety.  With Marshal and I, no idea, no joke, is off-limits at first.  If we both think it’s funny, but doesn’t quite work for the character or the moment, we either lose it or hone it until it does work.  When you open your world to everything, you’re going to find something. 

RG: Marshal, what advice would you give to a budding screenwriter?

First of all, don’t get in a hurry.  Developing a career in this business can take a LONG time.  Keep writing and don’t get discouraged.  Second, it’s so easy to write what’s expected.  Everybody does the cliché.  Go beyond that.  Work against the cliché.  Show us something we haven’t seen.  Third, read “Save the Cat”.  It’s the best screenwriting book I’ve ever read.

RG: Torry, do you have any rituals you go through before performing stand up comedy?  I’m a comedy writer but I do it under the safety of my own roof.  I can’t imagine how terrifying it must be to stand up on stage in front of people!!

My approach to performing comedy on stage is to be willing to go where the story leads you.  Be willing to make yourself vulnerable.  That’s when people most often relate to us.  When we make fun of ourselves, it makes people feel better about themselves because everyone does stupid things.
And I’m always funnier when I get the check first.

RG: Marshal, what’s the worst parenting advice you’ve ever been given?

Torry once suggested a guillotine to scare my children into obedience. 
Also, there are a lot of hard-line parents out there who think there is only one way to parent.  Every kid should be homeschooled.  There is one single best way to punish.  Use the same parenting techniques for every kid.  But every kid is different.  The things they respond to vary dramatically from kid to kid.  There is more than one way to parent.  I wish I had known that early on, because it’s very freeing.  And if you’re generally a good role model for them, it’s way harder to mess up your kids than you think.

To purchase Just 18 Summers, go here:

Visit these websites to learn more about Torry and Marshal: 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Surviving the Audtion by Jami Harris

Surviving the Audition
 by Jami Harris

Let’s face it – no matter how long you’ve been doing this, auditions can be nerve-wracking.  If anyone tells you they love the actual audition experience, chances are they’re lying, they’ve never experienced failure, or they have sadomasochistic tendencies.  That, or they’ve been auditioning for Mr. Rogers (or the producers of Skid, who are really awesome and know how to make an audition fun).  

That said, something I’ve learned over the years is to stop letting my fear of auditioning control my life and dictate my success (or lack thereof) in this industry.  I’m a perfectionist.  I was the kid who cried if I got a 98 on the test instead of a 100.  I expect a lot of myself, and when I feel like I’ve failed, I’m my worst critic.  So the biggest step for me was learning to see auditions I didn’t book not as failures, but as opportunities.  

There are a million reasons you didn’t book the role.  Maybe you were too tall or too short, or you had the wrong hair eye color, or you were too thin or too tall, or they wanted someone younger, or they wanted someone older, or they wanted someone with blue hair.  Maybe you were exactly what they thought they were looking for until that other actor came into the room and gave them an unexpected interpretation of the character that they fell in love with.  I’d bet most of the auditions you didn’t book had nothing to do with your acting ability and everything to do with a factor beyond your control  or knowledge.  But for my first few years acting, I assumed every role I didn’t book was because I wasn’t good enough or blew my audition.

There have been several times I’ve auditioned for a role, not booked it, and beat myself up for not doing a better job until months or even a year or two later, the director of that project asked me to play a role in another project based on that supposedly “failed” audition.  I learned at that time the director had loved my audition but I hadn’t been the right fit for that particular role.  Then it finally hit me – I had been beating myself up for months for something that wasn’t a failure and had actually led to another opportunity.

There have also been some auditions where I genuinely messed up, and I’ve learned to be okay with that too.  Obviously I always strive to be prepared and give the best audition possible, but there are occasions where you walk out of that audition room thinking, “How on earth did I mess up that line?”  or “Did I really do that with a Scarlet O’Hara accent?”  (Okay, that happens a lot more often when you’re me and hail from South Carolina.  Sometimes the accent just comes out.)  I’ve discovered that one of the secrets to not making the same mistakes at my next audition is to give myself permission to mess up.  Once I’ve given myself permission to not be perfect, I de-stress and actually do a better job at my audition because I can focus on the scene instead of on some ridiculous standard of perfection I’ve set for myself.     

I used to be extremely nervous before an audition.  Okay, nervous is an understatement.  I was thrilled to find out it was okay to memorize my lines and not carry the sides (audition script) into the audition room with me because I used to be so terrified the sides would be shaking in my hands as I read.  I still get nervous before auditions, especially if it’s a project I’m really passionate about.  But now I use that nervous energy to motivate me to do my best at preparing for my audition, and when I get into the audition room, I let it all go, do my best, and make a decision to be content with either outcome.  And I’ve changed the way I pray before an audition.  Instead of begging God to give me the role I want, instead I pray that He’ll help me do my best and that I’ll book whatever role I’m supposed to have.  There’s something beautiful about being able to surrender a desire for a role and trust that life will go on regardless of the results of an audition.  

There are roles I’ve booked that I thought I had no chance at booking.  There are times I’ve auditioned against much more seasoned actresses and been shocked to find out I was cast as the lead.  And there have been roles I thought I had in a box and auditions I thought I nailed where I wasn’t cast at all.  Instead of trying to figure out why, I’ve learned to just go with it, be grateful for the roles I do book, and see the ones I didn’t book not as failures but as opportunities.     

So at your next audition, I hope you’ll be able to embrace the opportunity and have fun.  And if that doesn’t work, just go with the old standby and imagine the director in their underwear.