Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Interview: WOTS winner John Dummer

“In the summer of 1969, an awkward teen is befriended by a reclusive old fisherman who may just be keeping an interplanetary secret...”

"The Moonbeam Fisherman” enchanted our entire team this year. Algonquin, Illinois-based screenwriter John Dummer took home the check for 10 grand… then buckled in for a couple months of solid development. We caught up with John to say, “you rock!,” and also just to introduce him to you guys.

Jim Cirile: Congrats again on winning WOTS, John. Tell us a little bit about your background as a writer.

John Dummer: I've been writing as long as I can remember -- short stories, song lyrics, sketch comedy -- but there's something special about telling a story visually and creating a world. In my head there's this wide screen just begging to be filled, and a bucket of imaginary popcorn already half-empty (damn I love that salty popcorn). I've been fortunate to have some wonderful screenwriting teachers along the way, including the late, great Mimi Roth at USC. Working with you on the rewrite in the last couple months has been a terrific experience. Nobody has ever made me feel better about killing my babies and making that creative leap of faith that will take the script to the next level.

JC: Thanks! Can you tell everyone a little about “The Moonbeam Fisherman"?

JD: It's a nostalgic fish tale about a troubled teen befriended by an old fisherman who may or may not be from another world. It's about dealing with loss, and the human gift for escaping a too-painful reality by fleeing into a fiction. It's also fun, because that's life -- painful, silly, and sublime.

The story was inspired by an experience I had with my mother a few years ago. She was confined to a wheelchair with congestive heart failure, and one day I took her for a walk and entertained her with the story of a half-finished script I was working on. Weeks later, out of the blue, she asked me how the story ended. I smiled and said, "I guess you'll have to wait and see." I was scrambling like mad to put together an ending on the morning she died. “The Moonbeam Fisherman” completes that conversation.

JC: So what's been happening with the script? In addition to WOTS, it was top ten for Slamdance this year also, right?

JD: Yep. Slamdance came first, so exciting was topped by thrilling.

JC: How do you feel about the whole Writers on the Storm experience? Did it meet your expectations? And what we can improve?

JD: I feel like I got paid $10,000 to take a masters class in screenwriting. Actually it's better than that because I received one-on-one mentoring with you. "Draft and a polish" doesn't begin to describe the thoughtful, in-depth guidance. You’re great with story and have a real nose for the market, which is something writers often lose sight of, consigned as we are to whatever lonely cubbyhole in our head we write from.

JC: John, you are a poet in screenwriter’s garb. What's happening with the script now?

JD: Having completed the rewrite, we're just now getting it out to agents, managers and producers. I hear a lot lately about how folks are flocking to the theaters for cinematic comfort food, so maybe our timing is right.

JC: What advice would you give to other writers hoping to be in your shoes this time next year? Anything you'd like to say to your peers, or any shout-outs?

JD: I never seem to be able to let a script go, even after I start sending it out to contests. Because WOTS came a little later in the contest season, it got the benefit of a more polished script. I'm sure every screenwriter is tired of hearing "write the best script possible," but that's the best advice I can give. Again, part of that is getting feedback from others, and being open enough to let them help you see a whole new set of possibilities. And then work very hard to fully integrate those new ideas, because it takes conscious effort to let go of the old stuff even after it's long gone from the page. (Shout-outs? What's the reach of your newsletter? Fire up the moonbeam gizmo and I'll give a shout-out to Millie and Mimi, my two moms.)

JC: Writers need to be careful of possible scams. You've entered a bunch of contests. Any candid views on the whole process -- disappointments, companies who didn't deliver on what was promised?

JD: I've made the semifinals of the Nicholl Fellowships a few times, which was exciting at the time but did not do for me what WOTS and you have done for me, which is to make me a better writer. Winning a contest is a long shot. Selling any given script, even if you win a contest, is a long shot. Money and prizes come and go, trust me. Investing in those things that make you a better writer -- classes, feedback from whatever source, butt-time in the chair, writing, writing, and more writing -- is what will make you a success in the long run.

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