Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter James Milton

An interview with screenwriter James Milton regarding the Acclaim Film Writing Competition.

Q: What's the title of the script you entered in this contest, and what's it about?

A: The script is HOBBY AND FITZ, and it's based on THE PAT HOBBY STORIES by F. Scott Fitzgerald. When famed novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald is hired by a Hollywood producer in 1940, Pat Hobby, a self-styled "world-famous screenwriter," is assigned to him as a mentor. Hobby is an unscrupulous conniver who once wrote title cards for the silents and who will do anything to get back to the “big table” (or just get a buck for his next pint of bourbon). While the producer pressures Fitzgerald to come up with “the greatest movie ever written,” Hobby leads the innocent writer into a series of farcical misadventures on and off the studio lot. These include stolen credits on a ghastly ballet picture, an exploding ambulance, a fistfight in a room full of coffins, six stolen fedoras, a sex scene in the Coliseum and encounters with a Bavarian skin-flick star, Orson Welles and a nasty little dog named Rollo. Fitzgerald finally manages to spin a recurring nightmare into a brilliant movie concept, but he blacks out the ending due to a night of alcoholic celebration. Hobby drags Fitzgerald to visit his script-girl ex-wife in the psych ward, where she manages to turn Fitzgerald’s idea into the basis of an American cinematic masterpiece... which is promptly stolen out from under them. Hobby is fired for assaulting a director (or because of his pitch for a Jewish “Gone with the Wind”) and Fitzgerald is left to drink and write about the “slick-fingered weasel” who initiated him into the brutal ways of Tinseltown.

Q: What made you enter this particular contest? Have you entered any other contests with this script? If so, how did you do?

A: This seemed like a good contest and I found that the people there "got" my script. I have entered it in several other contests and was a semi-finalist in both the Blue Cat and the Nantucket Film Festival.

Q: Were you satisfied with the administration of the contest? Did they meet their deadlines? Did you receive all the awards that were promised?

A: Yes, it was all good. Also got some good feedback.

Q: How long did it take you to write the script? Did you write an outline beforehand? How many drafts did you write?

A: I knew the people who had an option on the original stories and I came to them with an idea for a spec script. It was a difficult project because the source is 17 short stories with little to hold them together beyond the Pat Hobby character. Once I got the idea of putting Fitzgerald into the story, the whole thing feel together. I started out with a 9-page treatment and the overall shape changed very little from that. There were a lot of drafts, and the whole thing was "finished" in 18 months... although I can still do a bit of polishing.

Q: What kind of software did you use to write the script, if any? What other kinds of writing software do you use?

A: Just Microsoft Word. The Nantucket Festival gave me Final Draft, but I was already too invested in Word to convert it over.

Q: Do you write every day? How many hours per day?

A: I try to do something creative every day. I am also a stage director, so I am often working with a playwright on a script I'm directing. Currently, I am working with an oncologist on a play about the relationship between a woman with ovarian cancer and her doctor, all told in alternating poems. I am also directing a Civil War play in the summer.

Q: Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with that?

A: Not really. As a matter of fact, when I am working on something, I often wake up at three in the morning with ideas about the script. It's annoying, but the stuff is usually good.

Q: What's your background? Have you written any other screenplays or television scripts?

A: I have worked in the theatre as an actor, director and writer for a many years. The screenplay came about because a producer from the theatre side had optioned the Hobby property and was moving it forward as a film. This eventually fell apart due to the recession, but I am still trying to drum up interest in the screenplay.

Q: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans to move there?

A: No, I live in New York and am staying put.

Q: What's next? Are you working on a new script?

A: I have some ideas percolating, but nothing solid. I'll get back to you on this.

Posted Thursday, March 7, 2013