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Articles > Behind the Scenes with Eric Johnson

 

 

 

Eric Johnson (Oak Park, IL, USA) speaks about his experience in the Short Screenplay Challenge 2010.  His screenplays, Pumpkin Hunting, Gone Biddin', Suicide Circus, and The Mission helped him take home 1st place out of over 300 writers.

 

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Congratulations on completing four tough challenges and placing first out of over 300 writers in the Short Screenplay Challenge 2010!  Why did you enter the Short Screenplay Challenge 2010 and how was your overall experience? 

Eric:  I've been entering the both the Short Screenplay Challenge and the Screenwriter's Challenge for years now, and each year I enter for the same reasons - it's fun, and it keeps me in practice. I don't do as much writing these days, but these challenges force me to dust off the ol' scriptwriting cap and produce something creative.

 

As always, my experience with the competition is highly enjoyable, although perhaps even moreso this year (for obvious reasons).

 

NYC MIDNIGHT: What was the most difficult aspect of the writing challenges for you: the deadline, the required genre, location and object assignments, or the 5 page limit?

Eric: The genre, location and object assignments are my favorite parts of the competition - the main reason I enter. I love working creatively within specified boundaries. It helps me focus. And the deadline is more than fair - it adds the pressure to actually complete the work. So for me, the hardest part is squeezing everything into 5 pages. I often write way too much, so then it's a game of chiseling away enough to get it down to 5 pages, yet still have a story that makes sense. I suppose it does teach you to write economically, though.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Throughout the competition, you received the genres of Romantic Comedy, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy (twice).  What genres do you prefer writing when writing your own material and which assignments proved to be the most difficult?  Was Fantasy easier to write in the final round after being forced to write it in an earlier challenge?

Eric:  My writing tends to gravitate towards the fantastic and the absurd, so Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror are my favorites. Romantic Comedy was probably the hardest assignment this time around, as the genre itself is not something I partake in often. Plus, it's hard to build a relationship between two people in only 5 pages.

 

I don't think getting Fantasy for a second time was any easier, or harder, really. If you compare the two scripts, I don't think you'd find that they are very similar.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  How did you get started as a writer?  Where are you now in your writing career and what are your goals?

Eric: I went to school for Film Production. And while actually lighting and shooting film projects was enjoyable, writing was one aspect that really grabbed me. The other part of filmmaking that I am really drawn to is editing and post-production, which is more of what I've been focusing on lately. But this contest has really started a fire inside me to get back to writing, and I'm looking forward to that.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Do you write on a regular basis?  What is your general approach for writing a screenplay, from idea to final draft?

Eric:  I don't write nearly as much as I'd like to. But the times I've put together a feature-length screenplay, I found it best to just force myself to write every day, even if it's garbage. You can always take it out later. And I try to leave off each day in the middle of a scene. That way I  have a starting point next time I come back to write. I don't generally plan out every story beat, because I find I get bogged down in little details and end up stalled in the process. Instead, I have notes of things that I want to happen, and more often than not, an ending that I'm heading towards, but I just start writing and let the characters do all the hard work of coming up with what to do and say.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Many writers that have participated in NYC Midnight competitions have mentioned that having forced constraints and a deadline helps them push through any blocks they may encounter.  But, how do you deal with writer’s block when writing your own material outside of competitions?

Eric:  Writer's block can be tough to get through. Sometimes I'll just give the current project a break and focus on something else for a while. Sometimes the solution will come to me out of nowhere, after not having thought about the project for a while. Other times I'll go back and re-read what I've written. Sometimes the solution is there the whole time. I can't count the times I've found a line, a character, or a detail that I threw in there, for no real reason at the time, comes back to be a pivotal part of the script. Sometimes I think my subconscious knows more about screenwriting than I do.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Who or what has influenced your screenwriting and what are some of your favorite films / screenplays?

Eric:  Everything I've ever seen has probably had an influence on my writing, for better or worse. I love bad movies as much as good ones, as sometimes it's more valuable to learn what not to do. My favorite filmmakers these days are Christopher Nolan, the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez and the fine folks at Pixar Animation. My favorite film is Back to the Future - it's got everything: science fiction, action, comedy, the 80's - and it all comes together so perfectly. And all the changes from the original draft to the final product goes to show how important rewrites are. Can you believe the original time machine was not a Delorean?

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  We included a dedicated review forum where writers could share their screenplays 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?

Eric:  Not this year. I did the first year I entered the contest, but was just too busy this year with other things to spend time in the forums. The more I read in the forums, the more emotionally invested I get in the competition, so it's that much more disappointing if I don't do so well.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Do you have any ongoing or upcoming projects you would like to discuss?

Eric:  I've been doing more in the way of editing and post-production recently, creating music videos and the like. You can check out our YouTube page at: http://www.youtube.com/user/TrackTwoProductions

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to get started in screenwriting?

Eric:  Just do it. This contest is a great way to start. You get some fun writing assignments, feedback on your work, and the practice of having to create something.

 

NYC MIDNIGHT:  Will you be back to defend your title in 2011?

Eric:  Absolutely.

 

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Screenplays by Eric Johnson

 

Pumpkin Hunting by Eric Johnson

LOGLINE - If only women were as easy to pick as pumpkins.  Challenge #1   (Romantic Comedy / A pumpkin patch / A moving van)

 

Gone Biddin’ by Eric Johnson   

LOGLINE - Legendary sea creatures hold a real estate auction after the foreclosure of Loch Ness.  Challenge #2  (Fantasy / An auction / An octopus)

 

Suicide Circus by Eric Johnson

LOGLINE - In the future, reality TV show Suicide Circus streams live acts of death and dismemberment to the masses, and one contestant wants to give them a show to remember.  Challenge #3  (Sci-Fi / A circus / A nuclear warhead)

 

The Mission by Eric Johnson

LOGLINE - A little girl goes on a rescue mission to save her dying grandfather Challenge #4  (Fantasy / A hospice / A goldfish)

 

 

 

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