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.
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: