NYC MIDNIGHT:Why did you enter the Screenwriter’s Challenge and what did you hope to get out of it?
Luke Kalteux: Thank you very much. Last year I garnered fifth in my first round heat and could not advance, so this year I wanted to move further. 2009 was all about challenging myself and being fully devoted to the competition. I was also hoping to build my portfolio with shorter, faster reads. Short screenplays are a perfect sample to send out. I haven’t written any short scripts since college—that is, before I entered your competition last year. Now I have three short scripts.
NYC MIDNIGHT:How did you get started as a writer? Where are you now in your writing career and what are your goals?
Luke: My original goal was to be a comic book artist. I’ve always enjoyed storytelling. It’s what I liked about drawing comics—with every new picture, I was creating a story. Eventually my love of art shifted into storyboarding and my love for filmmaking was forged from a desire to make people laugh. Scriptwriting evolved from those outlets. I’m still at the bottom of the totem pole, trying to get my work read and my ideas
heard. I’m seeking representation. Ideally, I would love to work on a TV show. There is so much to learn from that kind of fast-paced environment. It would be invaluable experience to constantly hammer out ideas under a deadline. Eventually I’d like to focus on features, but there is something very appealing about creating a TV pilot and watching a character grow in front of the world, keeping people in suspense for years. I would love to be a major part of that process.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Do you write on a regular basis? What is your general approach for writing a script, from idea to final draft?
Luke: I write almost every day. When I’m not writing, I’m a set lighting technician in Hollywood, so I’m able to spend a lot of time on movie sets. I get to read scripts during down time and see what’s working and what’s not and how directors interpret the material. It’s rewarding, but the work is hard and the hours are long. Especially
now, while production work is slow, I’ve been writing every day—outlining or revising my scripts and sending them out.
As far as my approach, a lot of ideas pop up while I’m doing other things, so I carry a pocket-sized notebook on the job and write down ideas, characters, and situations as they come to me. When I feel I have enough material, I’ll outline. I used to despise outlines, but when I wrote a CSI:NY spec, there were so many characters and pieces
of evidence, I was getting lost. I forced myself to outline on notecards and now I swear by it.
Pushing through the first draft is always the most difficult. When I outline, beats are mapped out and some dialogue is roughly written, so it makes completing the first draft less daunting. I love revising—it‘s like sculpting. I want to get the material down quickly, because after I have something concrete, I’m better able to shape it to my
original intent. I also tend to over-write. A big part of my process is cutting pages, but it trains me to eliminate every ounce of fat. In the end, there’s no excess dialogue or action because everything remaining is essential to the story.
NYC MIDNIGHT:In the first round, you received the assignment of genre (monster movie) and subject (a circus). You won your heat with “It Came From Beneath the Big Top!” : (Logline - Subatomic mutation rampages a college's homecoming circus in this play-it-straight homage to 1950's B-movie monster flicks.) Were you happy or disappointed with your assignment? Were there other 1st Round assignments that you would have preferred or despised, and if so, which ones? What genre(s) do most prefer when writing your own material?
Luke: I laughed when I received my assignment. I thought it was great. I saw postings on the message board about “historical fiction” and empathized with those contestants. That’s a difficult genre. So I do feel fortunate to have received a genre and subject I considered fun.
I’ve never written anything like a monster movie previously, but molding elements foreign to me into something I connected with was a fun process. I thought of monster movies I’ve seen and realized I looked forward to the next laugh more than the next scare. I infused that feeling into the script, creating intentional bloopers and celebrating the clichés instead of trying to think around them. I had so much fun writing it that my first draft came in at 30 pages.
I never want to pigeonhole myself. Despite my love of comedy, my scripts tend to be darker. My portfolio contains a number of dark comedies and dramas. Usually though, even my more dramatic scripts have comedic elements because I feel that people watch movies to be entertained, and I know I’m most entertained when I’m laughing.
NYC MIDNIGHT:In the 24-hour final round, you received the assignment of fairy tale (genre) and dreaming (subject) You won the finals with “GNATE_A Gnat's Tale” : (Logline - An animated fairy tale that proves big dreams come in all sizes.) Why did you choose to write an animated fairy tale? How was your experience writing a screenplay on such a tight deadline?
Luke: Animation today is amazing. Not just from the visual standpoint, but some of the best stories in the last ten years have come from animated films. I’ve always admired how Pixar and Dreamworks are dedicated to creating good universal stories before they focus on the animation. Part of that I think stems from necessity. With an animated film, you can’t just reshoot what isn’t working; the man-hours required to fix any element would be painstaking. They have to know what they’re doing from top to bottom firsthand, before moving on. I really
respect their method.
I couldn’t think of how to write “dreaming” into a fairy tale without it being one mammoth cliché, until I thought of it as an animation. Gnate was born out of a desire to tell a story like the old great cartoons. Tom and Jerry never really speak, it’s all a visual game of tag. Some of my favorite Disney shorts tell complete stories with instrumental music. I wanted elements of old school animation mixed in with modern humor.
The impending deadline was valuable as a writing tool. It forced me to be creative under stress, which is never fun, but very necessary in a writing career. I was happy I planned my attack beforehand: initially jot down notes, take a walk, get an outline, nap, and hammer it out all day Saturday. I followed my regimen with only a few bumps. My first idea was too big. I decided after five hours of planning that I needed a more controllable location and story. Once I put Gnate in the new situation, the rest kind of fell into place. Although, I did realize upon waking up Saturday morning that I almost forgot the love story—after all, it is a fairy tale.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Have you done any rewrites on your first and final round entries since the competition ended and do you have any plans for the scripts?
Luke: I haven’t yet, but I definitely owe a revision to both scripts. It’s the least I can do for my protagonists: Chip Thompson and Gnate the gnat. I’m really proud and entertained by my first round script and would love to direct it as a short film someday. I received good feedback from NYCMidnight.com and plan on improving both screenplays in the near future.
NYC MIDNIGHT:This was our fourth year with our dedicated review forum where writers could share their scripts from the competition with each other and provide/receive feedback. Did you participate in the forums and/or get a chance to check out some of the scripts that were posted? If so, what were some of your favorites?
Luke: I actually wasn’t able to spend much time on the forums. However, I kept up with a few message boards while awaiting results or taking a brain break. It was a relief to see peers openly freak out about certain genres and subjects. It was nice to see most writers in good spirits about the competition. No one was cocky; people were
joking around, and everyone genuinely wanted to help each other.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Do you have any feature length scripts completed?
Luke: Currently, I’m working on rewrites for a feature draft I completed this spring. I hope to have that done by August.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Do you have any ongoing projects or scripts that you are currently working on?
Luke: I’m always writing something. I would like to polish the scripts from the competition as soon as I receive the second round feedback. By the end of 2009, I hope to have my two features completed and cycling through festivals and contests. The world of television moves so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if I wound up writing a fourth TV spec in the near future as well.
NYC MIDNIGHT:You took home over $4,000 in prizes including $1,500 cash, a $2,500 Scholarship to Writers Boot Camp, an ID messenger bag from Tom Bihn and one free year of screenplay promotion at Screenwriter’s Showcase. What prizes are you most excited about? Have you taken a WBC course in the past and if not, is this
something you are looking forward to?
Luke: The prizes this year were great, and I’m really looking forward to the Writers Boot Camp scholarship. It’s a wonderful tool I want to take complete advantage of in order to create a stronger portfolio. I’m looking forward to sharing ideas and thoughts with other writers and seeing what else is out there—what’s being created.
NYC MIDNIGHT:What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters looking to get started in the industry?
Luke: Always keep writing, even if it’s complete garbage. I think good writing comes from admitting most of your own writing sucks. I’m a learn-by-doing person, and I learn more from taking the action and writing—making mistakes and failing—than I do from pumping out a phenomenal first draft...which has yet to happen. I consistently hear the average time it takes to break into the industry is ten years, so keep at it. Enter the contests. Use the forums. Network with other struggling writers. Be patient.
Unfortunately, talent isn’t all that’s necessary; it takes people skills and other people to get the industry door propped open. Treat people with respect, and they will in turn respect your work.
NYC MIDNIGHT:Will you be back to defend your title in 2010?
Luke: Absolutely. This contest is great because it challenges every writer to think outside his or her comfort zone. I’ve learned more about myself as a writer through the Screenwriter’s Challenge than any other competition I’ve entered.
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