Award-winning screenwriter Dr. Andrew S. Horton, The Jeanne H. Smith Professor of Film & Media Studies, University of Oklahoma, taught me how to be a screenwriter. Andy’s films include Brad Pitt’s first feature film, THE DARK SIDE OF THE SUN and the award winning Yugoslav film SOMETHING IN BETWEEN directed by Srdjan Karanovic. He has given screenwriting workshops around the world including Norway, Germany, England, the Czech Republic, Greece, New Zealand, Switzerland and throughout the United States.
Screenwriter Andrew S. Horton
Andy is also the author of twenty books on film, screenwriting, and cultural studies, including SCREENWRITING FOR A GLOBAL MARKET, HENRY BUMSTEAD AND THE WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD ART DIRECTION , WRITING THE CHARACTER CENTERED SCREENPLAY, THE FILMS OF THEO ANGELOPOULOS, and LAUGHING OUT LOUD: WRITING THE COMEDY CENTERED SCREENPLAY.
Andy is an amazing, creative spirit! He is also my dear friend and mentor. Andy continues to inspire me to write often and well, and to remember that life is short…be happy!
The Library Journal wrote about screenwriter Andy Horton’s CHARACTER CENTERED SCREENPLAY,“Horton walks away with an Oscar in the valuable books for the prospective scripter category with his latest rendering.”
THE ANDY HORTON INTERVIEW:SCREENWRITER AND AUTHOR EXTRAORDINAIRE
1. What are 3 qualities you believe to be essential to a marketable script today, and why?
Begin always with William Goldman’s quote that in Hollywood “Nobody knows anything!” Still so true! I mean look at why so many of the Big Hollywood films fail at the box office and are, frankly, BORING AND TOO LONG!
OK… WELL, let’s start with it’s getting harder and harder to sell a script since the whole world and biz of filmmaking has changed so much as the average American only goes to a movie theater 2 times a year and now films appear on line as Netflix, Amazon or many other formats and then there are the fine TV series from HOUSE OF CARDS, DOWNTON ABBEY, GAME OF THRONES, BREAKING BAD, SHERLOCK HOLMES and the list goes on, not to mention “everyone” making shorts and posting them on you tube and beyond!
So the first question these days has to be; ARE YOU WRITING A FEATURE SCRIPT OR A TV SERIES OR YOUR OWN FILM TO MAKE AND POST ON THE INTERNET!
ONCE you know what kind of script you are writing there’s really only ONE QUALITY and that is WRITE THE SCRIPT YOU WANT TO WRITE, THAT TOUCHES YOU, THAT YOU CARE ABOUT! It never works to try to write a script to SELL or for a MARKET. Totally ignore all of that talk and go for what story comes from your heart, mind, guts! Examples that were clearly not “high Hollywood projects” that surprised everyone by their successes?
A few include JUNO, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER, THE KING’S SPEECH, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, and SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE.
Screenwriter Andy Horton with JUDGING AMY producer, writer Karen Hall, and Karen’s sister, writer and producer Barbara Hall, in L.A., circa 2001 on our L.A. adventure Andy sponsored for his then-screenwriting students. I had the honor of meeting the legendary art director, Andy’s dear friend Henry Bumstead, in “Bummy’s” home on that trip.
2. You have authored numerous books and screenplays. What has been your favorite writing project so far, and why?
Ha! No easy answer here either for my strong feeling is that LIFE IS SHORT AND YOU SHOULD ENJOY EACH PROJECT YOU TAKE ON!
That said, there is also the fact that screenwriters have two basic categories of scripts that get written: those written alone or those that are teamwork.
And both approaches have their pleasures and hard moments too, of course!
So let me go with one of each!
OK, in the thought up, explored and written by me alone category, let me choose ROUTE 66! I love comedy of all types including this week’s (JULY 18th), Amy Schumer hit TRAINWRECK, so some eight years ago I decided to write a Big Fat Greek Native American romantic comedy that takes place on Route 66 in Oklahoma!!
Trust your gut is so important in writing and my years of living in and visiting Greece came together with my pleasure of getting to know Oklahoma’s rich Native American culture and heritage in this story.
Add that I had by then become good friends with one of Greece’s most popular young film and stage stars, Renos Haralambidis, and we had already begun to kick around projects to do aimed for an audience beyond Greece and thus I came up with ROUTE 66! Simply put, this is a road movie comedy as Renos leaves Greece to ride his father’s motorcycle down Route 66 to California but in a small Oklahoma town he falls in love with a young Sac and Fox storyteller who wants to get out of Oklahoma.
A large part of the “fun” of writing this script which, of course, I do hope will get made, is the bringing together of two “nations” in one romance as each gets to appreciate the other for who they are rather than what nationality they are!
But of my pile of “co-written” scripts I have to mention one that did get made, SOMETHING IN BETWEEN (NESTO IZMEDJU) in 1983 in Yugoslavia. I co-wrote this, yes, cross-national comedy with the director/writer, Srdjan Karanovic and Milosav Marinovic.
Like many good things in life, it was really by accident that we met up in Belgrade the year before and when he heard that I was a screenwriter as well as a professor of film, he explained that the script he was working on was about an American woman winding up in Belgrade and falling in love with two Yugoslav fellows who were best friends.
He already had the title of “Something In Between” and as you see, the American is already “in between” two loves and two friends but she is also “in between” the West and the East and Communism and Capitalism and thus between laughter and tears as well.
Since I had lived my life “in between” for some years in Greece already and in England as a child, I had a lot of “fun” building on that caught in the middle feeling and helped develop it with my Yugoslav co-writers with a lot of humor too!
It was also great fun that we got to work on the script both in New York when Karanovic came over for two weeks and in Belgrade when I was able to get back there. And of course it was a great pleasure to be at the premiere of the film at the Pula Film Fest with 4,000 people in the audience all laughing out loud with many of our scenes.
The fact that it went on to win awards around the world and became a box office hit in Yugoslavia that still plays on television frequently is also a pleasure! Long live multi-cultural romantic comedies!
Screenwriter Andy Horton and his wife, Odette, in Greece!
3. How would you describe the differences in American and foreign cinema? You have extensive screenwriting and film experience in the U.S. and abroad, especially in Greece. How would you contrast foreign films and their audiences with those here in the U.S.?
We need a book or two to answer this one! And we can’t give any simple generalizations for the Whole World, for Bollywood is so different from Irish cinema which does not resemble Chinese cinema!
But start with the fact that Hollywood over the years has dominated world cinema to the degree that some nations have limited the number of American films that can be playing at one time and thus competing with national films.
That said, I would say that comedy walks off with the box office in most countries including the good old days of the 1950s and 60s in Greece, especially with the blending of musicals and comedy much like old Hollywood musical comedies but with the humor reflecting the Greek times and troubles as well.
Again, if we return to the former Yugoslavia, humor was always a way to even take on the horrors of the wars they went through in the 1990s. Danis Tanovic’s NO MAN’S LAND covers the Bosnian war with unexpected humor and walked off with the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2001, for instance.
Of course, add also that filmmaking in many nations is helped by national film funding methods that do not exist in the United States. New Zealand which has done so well with Hollywood investing mega millions for Peter Jackson and others to make LORD OF THE RINGS type films, also provides financing for New Zealanders to make small independent films that often gain international success such as Niki Caro’s WHALE RIDER and Lee Tamahori’s ONCE WERE WARRIORS.
4. When I took your screenwriting class, which was a magnificent experience, by the way, I learned about the delightful role of the Mardi Gras Carnival celebration in our everyday lives. Would you explain to screenwriters how Carnival inspires you, and the optimistic, comedic foundation it provides?
Carnival is not just a holiday when you can dress in funny costumes and dance all night in the streets as in New Orleans where my family and I lived for 20 years and where our son and daughter have returned to enjoy and, yes, make movies since New Orleans is a major filmmaking location!
Carnival is a spirit that is both individual and social and which celebrates what I call the “3 Fs!”: Freedom, Fantasy and Festivity. In the spirit of carnival, you are FREE to be and do as you wish and use your FANTASY to do so going beyond what everyday life is for you. And finally you must do so with FESTIVITY which means sharing it with others, not hiding in your room in a costume with a bottle of wine!
The “carnivalesque spirit” is what any good screenwriter needs to cultivate. Yes there are script writing “rules” such as format, etc, BUT the actual scripts you come up with should come from YOU AS YOU ALLOW YOURSELF TO TAKE ON ANY STORY OR CHARACTER YOU TOTALLY LOVE, ENJOY OR ARE FOR SOME REASON CAPTIVATED BY!
Of course, much of this spirit has led me to writing scripts that have a comic spirit at the center even when drama is also involved including my DARK SIDE OF THE SUN script which was as you know Brad Pitt’s first feature film role (1988). But letting the spirit of carnival loose in your heart and soul can also lead to strong dramas as well. I mention, for instance, DEAD MAN WALKING (1995) based on the New Orleans nun Sister Helen Prejean’s book about her experience dealing with Louisiana men on death row in prisons.
Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins made the film not as a Hollywood blockbuster but as a film they took no salary for but made because they were so touched by Sister Prejean’s life story.
5. What 3 pieces of wisdom do you have for aspiring screenwriters?
1: Let that first draft of a script simply roll on out of you and don’t count the pages or worry about the tons of advice in script books. So, hey, if you wind up with 240 pages, no problem! That’s where the REWRITE comes in, but
2: Leave your first draft alone for several weeks or even months before going back to it! That will give you time to “digest” the whole project and approach it with fresh eyes so you can build on the strengths and SHORTEN it as well if you did indeed come up with 240 pages!
3: And my third suggestion is, LET YOURSELF BE OPEN TO SURPRISES! So many of the good things in life are not part of planning but are building on the unexpected or folk unexpectedly met, yes!
Example? Years ago I gave a script workshop in Tulsa and one participant was Jim Butcher who had a career as a journalist. He stayed in touch and had several script ideas based on true pieces of history that he wrote and I wound up helping co-write because I too became fascinated with these Oklahoma true tales including one which we now entitle BLACK GOLD FLOWS RED which covers the killing of oil-field wealthy Osage Indians in the 1920! We’ve already won a national script contest with an earlier version of the script and now hope to have a producer on board in the near future!
THANK YOU, ANDY! Your insight and wisdom are much appreciated!