I knew I wanted to be screenwriter when........
- I realized that some stories are best suited for film.
- when some small ideas came into my head that grew into
coherent stories that could become movies.
I know I've succeeded when........
- my characters begin talking and acting on their own, even
if they deviate from what I want them to do.
- the characters develop and stories come together on paper.
inspiration to write Fer-de-Lance.....
- came from my writing partner Ben. His initial idea,
characters, and allegories sparked my imagination. Writing
was surprisingly smooth from then on.
- came from trying to create a story about the current
socioeconomic problems in the U.S. today. These include the
difficulty finding work due to the economy still struggling
from the recent financial crisis, the difficulties of
ex-convicts finding work due to their felony histories, and
prescription pain killer addiction being able to strike
anyone. All of these issues are reflected in the Robert Bias
character's current struggles and the decisions he makes.
inspired you to write?
I started writing as a kid to give my comic book characters
a reason to have flashy action scenes. Since that time
writing has become a physical necessity. I become ornery and
unpleasant when I go too long without writing. It's my
passion and finally, after years of education and struggle,
that I had some good concepts for films in my mind, I needed
to at least try to put the stories together in writing. If I
did not try to write them, I would have to live the rest of
my life wondering if I could have written any good movies.
FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script
and how long did it take you to complete?
completed one other script about a month before beginning "Fer-de-Lance".
I'm in the process of revising it. After a few months of
brainstorming with Ben, the original draft of "Fer-de-Lance"
took about two months to write, primarily because my
computer's hard drive crashed twice in a month.
Benjamin Tsai: Fer-de-Lance is my first script and
took several months to complete from brainstorming to the
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set
routine, place and time management for writing?
habits typically change based upon the project. I found that
"Fer-de-Lance" came easiest to mind at night. I'd set a page
or scene goal and work at it until that goal was completed.
Benjamin Tsai: My time management plan depends on my
schedule. If it is tax season, I do very little work except
small brainstorming and note-taking. When tax season ends, I
take a little break and then go through my notes on the
characters and the scenes that I know will be in the
screenplay. The first organized notes I take are the
characters to develop them before the screenplay actually
begins. After developing the characters, I think about the
parts that I know will be in the screenplay and think about
how the characters will reach those parts of the screenplay.
Then I begin writing my draft and let the characters further
evolve. Once the draft is complete, I send the draft to Jess
for further development because of his expertise in bringing
out the best in a story and its characters.
Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are
important for aspiring screenwriters and why?
Definitely. I think screenplay contests are excellent for
screenwriters looking to gauge their work with that of their
peers. Writing is art and personal expression, but the
profession of writing is competition. One can't succeed in
any business if one isn't offering something equal to or
better than others in that business. The same is true for
screenwriters. Contests are also a good way of gaining
unbiased opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of a
screenplay, while also serving as a reminder that those
opinions are by nature subjective. Screenplay contests are a
good way for aspiring screenwriters to learn that not
everyone is going to fall in love with their work, but that
doesn't mean their work isn't good.
Benjamin Tsai: Screenplay contests are important for
aspiring screenwriters because these contests provide them
with the ability to assess their abilities. The unbiased
feedback helps screenwriters see their strengths and areas
they can improve on to become strong screenwriters.
Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers
International Screenwriting Awards
/ Screenplay Contest?
appreciate Filmmakers International's focus on supporting
emerging artists from all around the world as well as the
organization's commitment to quality work. Receiving
approval from an organization as familiar with filmmaking
and aspiring artists as Filmmakers International would mean
that Ben and I have created something worthwhile.
screenplay contests only help the winners get their
screenplays in the right hands. Filmmakers International
understands that the winning screenplays are not the only
good screenplays in the contest, which is why Filmmakers
International will help screenplays that finished well but
did not win find producers and representatives to read the
FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you
urge aspiring writers to read and why?
Jess Kroll: "Citizen Kane" by Herman J. Mankiewicz
and Orson Welles. The script's grasp of structure,
character, setting, dialog, and storytelling form the basis
of the best film ever made. The film and script may be old,
but the fundamentals never go out of style.
Benjamin Tsai: "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller. The
script utilizes fear mongering from the historical Salem
Witch Trials as an allegory of McCarthyism's fear mongering
at the time Arthur Miller wrote "The Crucible". Writers who
read "The Crucible" and compare the script to the society
Arthur Miller lived in can see how writing can be used to
Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate
about and why?
extremely passionate about political and social issues such
as healthcare, human rights, economic inequality, gun
legislation, and education. Other than entertainment
journalism - primarily film-related - most of my reading
time is devoted to news and research on these issues. A big
part of what appeals to me about screenwriting is the
opportunity to examine these issues in a creative and
Benjamin Tsai: Trying to understand how everything
that goes on society affects our everyday lives, including
policy decisions and education attainment. I read newspaper
articles to help me develop my understanding of the world.
FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite
Screenwriter and Why?
Kaufman's characters aren't always the most authentic, and
the dialog isn't the snappiest, but his imagination is
unlike that of anyone else. His scripts move so far into
surrealism and postmodernism yet never lose their connection
to some aspect of the human experience. Kaufman is the
screenwriting equivalent of Terry Gilliam in that his work
has become its own genre.
Mann because of how he allows various characters to develop
in his movies, from the main characters to the supporting
characters' personal issues.
Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with
Jess Kroll: After watching "Mud" and "Take Shelter",
I think Jeff Nichols has a great understanding of
slow-building tension. His films have a very authentic look
and feel and excellent performances through the entire cast.
Benjamin Tsai: Andrew Niccol because his films focus
on controversial issues occurring in society through the use
of his characters and stories. For example, in "Lord of
War", Niccol shows the devastating consequences amoral
weapons dealers like Yuri Orlov have on people around the
Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and
Jess Kroll: Robert Bias in "Fer-de-Lance" was
inspired by Steve Carell. Everyone knows that he can be very
funny and often quite warm, but his performance in "The Way,
Way Back" displayed a distance and potential menace that
audiences didn't expect. "Foxcatcher" later proved he can
excel at drama. The part Ben and I wrote requires an actor
who can make that switch from light and caring to dark and
dispassionate. Carell has displayed all of these in
different parts. It would be great to see them all put
Benjamin Tsai: Steve Carell. Robert Bias's warm and
friendly behavior in his personal life is based on the usual
protagonist characters Carell plays, such as Cal Weaver in
"Crazy, Stupid, Love". At the same time, Carell has the
ability to turn on the switch into darker characters such as
John du Pont in "Foxcatcher". Robert Bias has the same
ability to switch to a cold and calculating killer when
called upon to do so.
FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things
learned along the way to pass on to others?
what you start. The biggest difference between an "aspiring
writer" and a "writer" is completing the work.
the critiques from your writing peers. Learning from these
critiques will help screenwriters develop better work in the
future as their skills evolve over time.
FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?
Jess Kroll: Ben and I have already started plotting
out a new screenplay. I just completed a six-book young
adult series for publication next spring and have an offer
to begin on a new series due for publication next fall. I'm
also revising my first screenplay and continuing to work on
my second adult novel, which I put on hold for "Fer-de-Lance"
and the YA series.
Benjamin Tsai: Now that tax season is over, I am
planning a political satire screenplay with Jess and
catching up on other things at work that I had to put off
during tax season.
FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years
Jess Kroll: On imdb.com as co-writer of both "Fer-de-Lance"
and the script Ben and I are currently developing.
Benjamin Tsai: Continuing my career as a tax analyst
with the University of California while still developing
ideas into screenplays.