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Interviews
 
F. Scott Frazier
Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011
Author: Will Plyler
 
F. Scott Frazier lives in the greater Los Angeles Area with his wife. A Southern California native his entire life, he’s not quite sure how anyone could ever live without fires, mudslides, and earthquakes. Scott has sold three screenplays, including most recently “Line of Sight” to Warner Bros. He’s repped by Mike Esola at WME and Chris Fenton at H2F Entertainment.


Where are you from and where did you grow up?

Born and raised in Southern California. I grew up in the valley, just close enough to Hollywood to get the bug for the business. I never really spent much time actively pursuing a career until just a few years ago. I had few, if any, friends that worked in movies or television. I definitely approached it as a fan first.

When do you remember really becoming first interested in film? Writing?

My dad was a TV writer in the 70’s and 80’s, so I’ve always admired writing. My dad was a staff writer on “The Love Boat” and the showrunner for “Benson.” I was too young at the time to remember visiting the sets or seeing tapings, but I’m told I was there quite a lot. My dad offered encouragement when I told him I wanted to be a writer. And while our styles are quite different, he did instill in me the type of work ethic that’s needed to be successful in this business.

My dad is always there to read everything I write. To this day, he’ll always have at least one note to give.

Did you study film/writing in college at all?

I didn’t go to college. I got a job right out of high school in the video game industry. I’ve never really taken courses or studied writing in an academic setting. I learned from reading every single book on screenwriting that I could lay my hands on, as well as any script I was able to find.

I learned little things from individual screenplays. I learned how to do cool transitions from “Up in the Air.” Pacing from “Alien.” Dialogue from “Scream.” Action from “The Bourne Supremacy.” Any time I wanted to learn or teach myself how to do something specific within a script I would always find a script that did it well. At first I’d copy the style from those scripts, and then slowly developed my own style.

The writers I most admire are guys like David Mamet, Joss Whedon, and Aaron Sorkin. Guys who can find conflict in the everyday and whose characters speak with their own unique voice.

I’ve read more books on screenwriting than I could possibly count, but a few that stuck out are “Write Screenplays That Sell” by Hal Ackerman and “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier.

You started out as a video game producer/evaluator. What were your experiences like in terms of working on video games, especially considering how much they seem to be more and more like movies? Also what did you learn from working in the gaming world that you have brought with you to the world of screenwriting?

The types of video games I worked on were not the high quality, triple-A titles like “Call of Duty” or “Red Dead Redemption” that are verging more and more towards film. Although, I will say that working as a producer, I got to see the other side of the equation, which has made collaboration a much easier process in dealing with notes and suggestions. When rewriting I usually always do one or two passes with my producer hat on, looking at the script from a purely logistical standpoint where I’m able to critique myself objectively and without compromise.

The things that I admire in video games that I try to bring to everything I are a sense of pacing, stakes, and immediate goals. To me these are three things all the best scripts have and if you can get these elements right you’re on your way to having a compelling story.

Tell us about writing your first feature script? What was your approach? Did you write many scripts before your first deal?

I started writing as a hobby when I was a teenager, and I would say over the course of ten years I wrote anywhere between 25 and 50 terrible, terrible, terrible scripts, plays, and short stories.

In March of 2009, I quit my job. I had enough money saved up to be able to write for a year. I’d wanted to do it at that moment because I knew there would be very few opportunities to chase my dream. No mortgage. No kids. Few responsibilities other than to myself and my wife, who supported me.

I knew I needed to have a product done as quickly as possible in order to start the querying process and get my name out there. So I went back into my archives of everything I’d written and found one script that I felt was closest to being a movie and began the arduous process of rewriting it. That was “The Numbers Station,” which took me about seven months to rewrite from the initial draft to the final product.

In May 2010, you sold your action thriller “The Numbers Station” to Furst Films. The story centers on a black ops agent who is assigned to protect a female operator who works out of a “numbers station” deep in the Arizona desert. Can you tell us about where the idea came from? What was your process in writing the script? Also, what was the selling process like for you? What took place? And any updates on its status?

I got the idea from a news story on NPR talking about the mythology behind short-wave radio broadcasts. I thought it was a cool wrapper for a movie and my mind immediately goes to spies when developing any story.

Like I said, I already had a draft completed that needed a complete rewrite. I sat down and I outlined the bones of the story, then did a page-one rewrite keeping the premise and the characters intact. My goal with the script was to film it myself for $40,000 in someone’s basement if I couldn’t get any traction with a producer, so I focused on making it as contained as possible. Knowing that I couldn’t really have big set pieces, I worked on developing the character dynamic into something I felt like I hadn’t seen before in spy movies. The core relationship between the two characters eventually became the heart of the movie. And when I realized that, I spent all my rewriting efforts on bringing it to the forefront as much as possible.

“The Numbers Station” was not the script that ended up getting me representation. My managers (Chris Fenton and Chris Cowles, H2F) were contacted a few weeks after I signed with them by a producer looking for a very small, very contained action movie. It was at that point that they decided to send the script out to get reads around town., and about a week later there were number of offers. We went with Furst Films because they are amazing collaborators and seemed like the perfect team to produce the movie.

Everything on the project is moving forward and the plan is to film later this year.

And after this deal, how did your life & professional career change? Did you do a lot of meetings around town? Were offers made for various rewrites, assignments, etc.?

After “The Numbers Station” sold, I began meeting with what seemed like every production company in town, as well as executives at studios and independent financiers. For the first six months or so, it was mostly just to meet and get acquainted with everyone in town. Some assignments and rewrites came about, but nothing that I was super excited about working on so I continued on my own specs, finishing up three in 2010, as well as a TV pitch.

As far as my writing is concerned, nothing changed. I woke up every morning and wrote every day, same as I had been before the sale.

This past February (2011), you sold your spec script “Line of Sight” to Warner Bros. with Joel Silver attached to produce. I know you can’t talk about the story line but can you at least vaguely reference what inspired the idea? What went into writing it? And also what went on during the time it was being shopped? Did you have to meet with Warner Bros. and/or Silver Pictures?

Unfortunately, most everything about the project is being kept under wraps right now, as is the case with most high concept movies these days. I can say that the idea for the movie was brought to me by Alex Heineman at Silver Pictures, who I had developed a relationship with during the previous year. The idea Alex pitched me was immediately intriguing and I knew I wanted to be a part of the project. I wrote it on spec. The story and script came together very quickly, and right after the New Year we all knew we had something really special. We sold it a few weeks following that.

You are repped by Chris Fenton and Chris Cowles at H2F Management. How did you find representation with them? What is your working relationship like on a week-by-week basis? How much do they guide and influence what you write? Any words of wisdom they have passed on to you?

After cold querying for almost a year with no responses, I was beginning to think that my decision to quit my job and become a professional screenwriter was literally the stupidest think I’d ever done. Luckily, a friend from out of town who I hadn’t seen in a while told me that his mom’s next door neighbor was a literary manager and asked if I would be interested in getting in touch with him. This was Chris Fenton. I can only imagine what he was thinking when his next-door neighbor sent him my email and said I was an aspiring screenwriter. He told me flat out to send him the best script I had ever written. At that point I had two scripts that I felt were ready and after flipping a coin, I ended up sending him the right one.

I signed with them a week later.

My working relationship with the guys at H2F, including Chris Cowles and Brian McCurley, can be described as amazing. Their feedback and advice on a day-to-day basis is indispensable. They help me navigate the tricky waters of this business. They help me understand the landscape and the politics, and they are always there to help guide my scripts to their best possible version. They are always willing to talk about ideas, break stories, and guide me toward projects that are both creatively stimulating and commercially viable.

Who is your agent currently? What is your relationship like? Do you talk often? Is there a lot of feedback from him?

I’m currently repped by Mike Esola at WME who is, as far as I can tell, the biggest rock star in town. Chris Fenton introduced me to Mike. We hit it off immediately. And based off the same writing sample I gave to Fenton, Mike signed me.

Over the last year, Mike and I have had an incredibly productive working relationship, selling three scripts. I’m always running ideas by Mike, as I think he’s a great barometer for what the town is looking for both now and six months from now. He’s always there with feedback on my concepts and scripts.

Do you rely much on feedback from friends, your managers or your agent?

There comes a point in all of my scripts where I am simply way too close and I need a set of objective eyes. To me, writing has always been rewriting. And the best rewriting comes from educated, well-informed outside opinions.

My wife is my first line of defense against adverbs, cheesy dialogue, logical inconsistencies, and plot problems. She gets to read the drafts that no one else does. She gets to read the works in progress, and every single “bad” version of every single script I write.

My managers and agent typically only get to see the “good” version. Which is usually anywhere from the third to fifth complete draft, at which point they are quick to point out everything I missed and I go back to the drawing board for another two or three drafts.

How do you handle the feedback on your writing?

I’m my own worst critic. There really isn’t any feedback ever given to me that’s any more harsh than my own critiques. It’s a collaborative business. The way I see it, a screenwriter’s job is to make a blueprint for hundreds of other craftsmen and artists to build upon. So, to me, feedback is an intrinsic part of the process.

That being said, for the first 24 hours after I receive feedback, I find myself hating every single word of the script and never wanting to work on it again. I take a walk. I get a delicious burrito bowl from Chipotle. Watch some TV. Play some video games. And come back to the script with fresh eyes. Any note or piece of feedback I’ve gotten for a script, unless absolutely ludicrous, I know has at least some grain of truth within it. Once I get some distance, I go back and figure out ways to address every note.

I try to cure what’s causing the note rather than put a band-aid over it. Notes inspire me. Just like rewriting, I love changing the script. I’m somewhat masochistic that way, in that I find no greater pleasure than deleting, editing, and completely moving entire chunks of the script. I focus on structure first, followed by plot, followed by character, followed by dialogue. Going in that order, fixing notes is never really a chore, but rather something I look forward to.

Do you do much research when preparing to write your scripts?

On my first draft, I will do as little research as possible to get the bare bones of the story down. On subsequent drafts, I’ll do more and more research for anything that requires it.

Do you outline all your stories first? Write treatments? How do you prepare first before you begin a script?

I’ll do a very vague outline mostly to figure out plot and structure but allowing myself room to discover characters, set pieces, and twists within the narrative. Once the outline is done, I’ll take a day off, come back to it with fresh eyes, read over the outline, and then get to work on the script. Usually while writing the very first draft, I’ll only read the section of the outline that I’m currently working on to give myself room to improvise and discover pieces of the script along the way.

What’s a typical writing day like for you?

Wake up between 6:30 and 7:00 am, get some coffee, do all my morning internet-ing, then write original material for anywhere between three to five hours. I typically try to get between 15 to 20 pages done a day on the first draft, and while working on rewrites, I usually stop after the five-hour mark. I’m working Monday through Friday, writing every single day. Saturday and Sunday I’ll take off, get some space from the work. Unless I’m working under a deadline, in which case I don’t want to lose momentum on the project and I’ll write every day until the cycle is complete.

Rough drafts – I tend to be crazy while working on them, and no matter how bad it is, I have to write it as quickly as possible to keep myself from losing interest or getting distracted. I typically work eight to nine hours a day on a rough draft until I have the skeleton of the script with a beginning, middle, and end. And then the rewriting begins…

How do you approach rewrites? Any method or path that you typically follow?

For me, every script is different. Sometimes my first draft will have good structure and weak characters. Other times I’ll have bad dialogue but great set pieces. So, for me, the most important part about starting the rewrite process is knowing where I’m weak. I like to take anywhere between two and three weeks off from finishing the first draft and starting the rewrite. It helps give me distance and objectivity, and I feel I am able to better critique my own work having not thought about my work for a good chunk of time.

Every major rewrite I do is a page-one blank slate. I like to have my previous draft open in a window but I do not every really cut/paste from the old draft into the new. I love the physical process of writing. It helps me find the purpose and momentum behind scenes. It helps me hear the characters form their own voices. And it makes me an active participant in the rewrite, rather than simply going through and disrupting older drafts.

I start every day by reading everything I have in the current draft, line by line, word by word, and depending on how hard I’m being on myself, this can sometimes take upwards of three hours to simply get to the place where I’m actually writing new content. I’m not only meticulous about every word in the script, I’m meticulous about the way the script reads and looks. I try to eliminate as much text as possible and attempt to find the perfect way of presenting scenes so that the pace of the writing and the pace of the reading mimic the pace of the scene.

I’ll know I have a pretty good draft when I can read through the entire script in less than an hour without feeling the need to change all that much. At that point I’ll begin my polish process, which entails doing passes on dialogue, subtext, transitions, pacing, and word choice. I’ll typically spend at least a day on each character, doing a pass where the only thing I’m concentrating on changing and fixing are their lines of dialogue, actions, and goals. I find that sectioning off the process in such a way allows the characters to have unique voices and distinctive goals, while maintaining a logical consistency in the story.

I’ll know I’m ready for feedback from my reps when I can read through the entire script multiple times in one day without wanting to change anything, and when I get excited at the prospect of sequences within the script becoming real.

The game is rewriting.

What things do you feel more writers need to know or recognize about themselves and the industry? (What “hard” realities do aspiring screenwriters need to be aware of and keep in mind?)

While screenwriting can be an outlet for artistic expression, and many amazing movies have been made following such paths, the majority of this business is just that – a business. There are very few people making movies that don’t want to make money doing it. Even the producers of something small and independent – like “Little Miss Sunshine” – have a business model for monetizing their product.

Creativity is absolutely necessary in any artistic field, and as my favorite writer once wrote, “There will always be a struggle between art and commerce.” The reality is, now more than ever, people want entertaining and exciting scripts that can become profitable movies.

I’ve found success in writing the kinds of movies that I know I would want to go see on a Friday night. Write what you love, but know that the more accessible your work is, the more potential buyers there will be, and the better chance you’ll have at breaking in.

Also, it will take time. My “overnight success story” has been years in the making. You have to be able to write every day. You have to be able to produce content. And you have to be able to treat it like any other career. You’re either in it one hundred percent, or you’re not.

What else are you working on now or next? More spec scripts? Assignments? What are they are about or at least one genre?

I usually try to work on two projects at the same time. I have a number of my own ideas in the pipeline, as well as some ideas brought to me by producers. I’m working on an assignment I was hired to write with a director, as well as a new spec in the spy genre. Everything I do has a heartbeat of action-adventure to it, and I like finding different subgenres and different tones as a way in to that type of script.

Based on what you have experienced so far, what are some things that you know now that you wish you knew before your deal? (Do’s and don’ts?)

Don’t ever wait for anybody to bring you an idea. Sometimes it works out that way, but what the town really wants to see is a writer who writes. You just put the finishing touches on a new spec? Fantastic. What are you going to be working on come Monday?

Be prolific.

 


 

 

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