SCREENWRITER PROFILE: JACK MESSITT

jack messittGrand Prize Winner of the 2011 Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition. Chosen from nearly 1,000 screenplays, ADVENTURES IN BABYMAKING is the story of a reluctant father and his persistent wife as they navigate the frustrating and often ridiculous world of trying to have a baby.

Please check out what Jack had to say about his approach to writing, and what has been happening since winning the competition.

FV: How long have you been writing? 

I have been writing for a long time. It started as a hobby for me just to fill the downtime I had as a young cameraman, but it has turned into much more than that over the years. It has always been something that I have enjoyed doing, but now I look at it as another facet of my filmmaking career.

FV: Did you go to school to study film or screenwriting?

I have a degree in Film Theory from Indiana University. Then after working in the Chicago film industry for a few years, I went to The American Film Institute and earned an MFA in Cinematography.

I never took any formal classes in screenwriting, but whether you are telling a story visually or on the page, it is all about finding the right beats to a scene and the right way to tell a complete story.

FV: Do you have any favorite screenwriting books?

I have not read that many, but I like the Save the Cat books by Blake Snyder and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. They have both been very helpful.

FV: What’s your mentality/ philosophy as a writer?

Write what interests you. It is hard enough to sit down at the computer and type… If you aren’t fascinated by what you are writing, you won’t find the time to sit down and do it.

I think that approach is why I have such an eclectic pile of scripts: Thrillers, horror, drama and Sci-fi. I just write what I want to watch..

FV: How many hours do you spend writing?

I don’t write any certain number of hours each day. I sit when it is time to write. So I often go months without writing and then bang out a script in a few weeks. If I have done the right planning process in my head, then the script can flow really fast. I already see the scenes. I already see the characters.

FV: What’s your writing process? Do you outline, write treatments first?  If so do you deviate or stick strictly to the outline?

I start with the kernel of an idea and brainstorm from there. I jot down a ton of notes and story ideas, but nothing as formal as a complete outline.

Being in LA, I spend a lot of time in my car. This is where I beat out the story, retelling it to myself time and time again until it starts to gel in the right way. When there is something solid in my head, I finally start writing…

I like to be surprised by things as I write. I like to allow the characters to start making their own decisions in a matter of speaking. Sometimes, this way works. Other times, I spin my wheels for a while and toss out several days of work.

My goal is to create a first draft as quickly as possible. I much prefer to rewrite than to write. At least I have a starting point to work from. The blank page is much more daunting to me.

Once I have a first draft, I bring in the Save the Cat system. I apply it to my script and see where is deviates. Generally, that is where the script lags or goes off track. I know that I could save a lot of time if I did this the way they suggest, but my brain works better this way for some reason.

Then I go in and start rewriting. And rewriting… And rewriting…

I never stop rewriting. You can always make it better. That’s why I love to get story notes from people. I don’t take them all, but they can help spur on an idea of how to improve a scene or a section of the story.

My philosophy is that it isn’t done until it is sold and pulled out of your hands…

FV: Do you submit to a lot of screenplay competitions? How often do you enter competitions? How did you do? Did anything materialize from any of the previous screenplay contests you placed in?

I have submitted to a few and have been reasonably successful. I’ve been a semi-finalist with a few scripts and a finalist with others. But even the finalist spots have lead to little in terms of getting the scripts made.

FV: What was your experience like with Fresh Voices – Communication, Quality of Feedback, Prizes? 

Fresh Voices is a great contest. Not only did I get intelligent, constructive feedback from them, but they were great in terms of keeping in touch. There are so many contests that you enter and basically never hear from again. Fresh Voices was very different.

Winning the contest was the real prize, so the other prizes were gravy to me… A cash prize always helps, but the tools that Fresh Voices includes as prizes have been very helpful. My favorite has to be the On the Grid subscription! It’s a great way to know what is selling out there.

FV: What was it like winning Fresh Voices? What has happened in the weeks since winning?

I was totally floored when I got the call that Adventures in Babymaking won the drama category. But when I got the call that I won the grand prize, I was speechless.

Really, I don’t yet know the full story about what it is like to win the contest because the announcement was just the start. Fresh Voices is not content to let it stop there.

There has been a lot of activity with Adventures in Babymaking in the past few weeks. My managers have been able to use the traction that a win like this offers. But more than that, Fresh Voices has gone out of their way to help promote the script. It is already out to a bunch of producers and production companies that heard about the script through the contest. I can’t thank them enough.

FV: What’s next? Are you writing a new script?

I am always writing something. At least, something is always swirling through my head.

I am just about to start a heist thriller framed around the butterfly effect. That means coming up with alternate realities and different outcomes for every scene.  Mapping out the different timelines in my head has been a real trick, but I think that I’m almost ready to start writing. Wish me luck!