Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter Danny Howell

An interview with screenwriter Danny Howell regarding the Scr(i)pt Magazine/Open Door Writing Competition.

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

A: It's "The Paper Route", and it's a gritty coming of age drama about two brothers, 15 and 11, set in the hill country of southern Indiana in the 1960's. The boys have to contend with the pressures put on their relationship with each other by their abuseive, unemployed dad, who makes his sons pay rent -- or get kicked out -- when they turn 15.

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

A: I'm a workshop student of Marc Lapadula, who runs several screenwriters' workshops on the east coast in addition to teaching at Yale. One of his former students, who was a Nicholl winner last year, got his first break by winning an Open Door contest. Since winning Open Door, "The Paper Route" has won three other contests that were comparable in terms of prize money. Prior to winning "Open Door", the script had "placed" in about a dozen contests, including the quarterfinals of Nicholl in 2001 (then titled "The Paper Boy").

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

A: Shelly Mellott, the editor of Script Magazine, and her staff were fantastic in terms of delivering what they promised, and then some. For example, after I did a rewrite based on notes from the cosponsor of this particular Open Door contest (Max Wang's Pink Slip Pictures), Shelly sent the script to some of her contacts and shared marketing suggestions with me. More important, Open Door is (from what I have seen from other contests) unique in giving the winner real access to the contest cosponsor, which is invariably an industry insider. Max Wang and Karen Firestone of Pink Slip Pictures do some pretty exciting work (just read Moviebytes' interview with Max and you'll get the idea), and they truly like working with talented new writers -- but you can't just send them unsolicited material or pitches. In my case, they both read my winning script, really liked it as a writing sample, and committed their time afterward to offer advice and feedback on my other projects. Since then, Karen has read every script I've written, and she and Max have responded to pitches for new script ideas. Not only is it the kind of "access" that Open Door seeks to promote, it's been a great relationship that has helped me to grow professionally and that I value much more than the three thousand bucks I won in prize money.

Q: Were you given any feedback on your script? If so, did you find the feedback helpful?

A: It's funny, I had purchased "coverage" from a couple of services beforehand, but it was nowhere near as pointed and effective as the notes I got from Karen and Max. Was it helpful? The script hasn't sold yet, but since my rewrite based on Pink Slip's notes, I've won three other contests and nearly $9,000 in additional prize money, and have received over three dozen requests for the script from major studios, agencies, and producers -- everyone from Tony Bill to Warner Brothers Television to HBO Films. So yes, I think it was helpful.

Q: Has your success in this contest helped you market your script? Were you contacted by any agents, managers or producers?

A: This particular contest did not lead directly to many contacts -- again, because I think it has a different focus, which is on creating a realtionship with a single producer or manager or agency.

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

A: "The Paper Route" was my first spec script. Since then, I have completed two other screenplays, a psychological thriller and a kind of "slacker comedy"/horror. I'm a litigator in the Washington, D.C. area, but I grew up in southern Indiana and went to undergraduate school in Bloomington ("Breaking Away" was filmed there while I was a student), and I prefer to write about people who seem closer to the sort of folks I knew back in Indiana.

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

A: Against all logic I'm toughing it out here in the nation's capital.

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

A: I'm now working on my fourth screenplay, a romantic mystery. I'd previously pitched the idea to Pink Slip and they liked it, so we'll see. The truth is (as a lot of Moviebytes readers well know), even if you're a good writer, it's tough as all get out to learn to write a script that has real commercial potential. I'm still learning, and I have a lot of practice ahead of me.

Posted Saturday, December 13, 2003