Last month, indie filmmakers and long-time writing partners, Will Rubio and Kenlon Clark took home the grand prize in the WeScreenplay Feature Contest for their script, “FORGED”. Part science fiction, part thriller, FORGED tells the story of two scientists on the cusp of a genetic breakthrough that will test the moral boundaries of our mortality. We recently caught up with the writing duo to discuss their script, as well as their process, inspirations, and future goals.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First off – a big congratulations on topping the WeScreenplay Feature Contest. Where were you guys when you got the news? How did you both react?
Will: I was having lunch across the street from my place when I saw the email and started to cry— okay, maybe not actually cry but whatever the non-crying equivalent of crying in public is— that was me. I called Will and then we full on cried together over the phone. In all reality, it felt incredibly great and we’re grateful to be recognized for a project we’ve invested so much time and energy into. I was in Texas attending SXSW and visiting family. Ken called me and broke the news. I’m pretty sure I squealed like a schoolgirl. I was just filled with an intense energy and excitement. It was just awesome to have a script that we’ve worked so long and hard on receive such recognition, especially from such a legit screenwriting competition.
Let’s talk about your backgrounds. Where did you both grow up? How did you meet? Was writing always a part of your DNA?
Ken: I grew up in a small town in northern Alberta, Canada called St. Paul. It was about as far away from Hollywood as you can get but we had a one screen theater and a video store and as a kid in the nineties that was like having the entire cinematic world at your fingertips! Storytelling has always been part of my DNA going back to childhood, drawing my own comics, making animations on a whiteboard and shooting videos with my friends growing up. I won a few writing contests in school over the years as well.
Will: I was born and raised in Miami Florida to a big loud Cuban family. I have nine sisters and one brother. Yes. Nine sisters. So playing Barbie and House were part of my initial foray into storytelling. I have always had a knack for storytelling. As a kid I was the family entertainer. Whether through sketches or plays that I would write, I was always trying to impact people, and make them laugh in particular.
Ken became friends with my older sister Lily first. We clicked from the first time we met. I emceed his wedding and would like to think I was his honorary ‘best man’ behind his brother.
Ken: Will and I have always connected well – not just creatively but as friends, which makes writing together a lot of fun.
Sometimes, the best way to get a handle on an emerging writer is through their influences. Give us an idea of some of the films, and filmmakers (or authors, etc.) that have left their biggest mark on your artistic development.
Will: I’d have to say my father was one of my biggest influences creatively, or at least he propelled me in that direction. I don’t even think he knows that I feel that way. He doesn’t work in the industry at all, but I still remember as a kid, watching him own every room he walked in to. He was funny. He made people feel good, keeping them on the edge of their seat as he told them his latest story. It didn’t matter if it was a bank teller or a grocery store checker, my dad was a master at manipulating emotion and impacting people. Even from a young age, I saw the power in that. This led to Jim Carrey and Chris Farley to be some of my biggest heros coming up. Their influence combined with my chubby middle school years crafted the personality and creative sensibilities I enjoy to this day.
Ken: The list is endless! People have a tendency to box you in based on your likes but my influences range from the tiniest indie films to the biggest superhero pictures. As a child of the 80’s/90’s all of the popular films from those years had an influence and go without saying. If I were to be honest, my favorite films as a movie obsessed kid and the ones I tried to mimic with my friends were Speed, Face/Off and Bad Boys. I’ve probably watched those dozens of times each. Maybe it was because I lived in a far removed pre-internet town with three sets of street lights and a relaxed vibe, but those films were just so exciting to me. Face/Off had this cool approach to sci-fi. It felt just around the corner and our script Forged has a bit of that.
As I’ve gotten older films like the Apartment, Network and Apocalypse Now have taken root. As far as writers/directors: Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Sidney Lumet, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Terrence Malick and Christopher Nolan, whose scripts have an amazingly economical approach. I also really like Kurt Wimmer’s screenwriting execution on the page. Authors like Phillip K. Dick and Robert Ludlum and comic writers such as Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Dan Slott and Scott Snyder have influenced me. My favorite movie of all time though is probably Unbreakable. That’s my 2001.
Did either of you go to film school? Was it helpful?
Ken: I was always writing and filming my own movies as a kid but when I was 15 and 16 my parents, who have always been incredibly supportive of my ambitions, sent me to a 2 week filmmaking summer camp operated through the National Screen Institute of Canada. To this day I still approach a lot of aspects of filmmaking using techniques I learned there. I then went to film school for a year in Victoria, B.C. on Vancouver Island. It was called the Victoria Motion Picture School. It was a lot of fun and my short film from that year was aired on National TV in Canada. The biggest takeaway from film school is the great like-minded people you meet.
Will: I have a theory that the communications major at any given university has at least 35% of people who want to work in film or some other creative pursuit. Guilty. I majored in Comms with an emphasis in copywriting. However, my last year was filled with as many film and tv production classes I could take without delaying my graduation. Practical experience has proven to be a great teacher, but I still benefit greatly from the lessons and relationships I made in that final year of school.
One of the most challenging things about writing can be finding something worth writing about in the first place. How do you guys settle on an idea? Are there certain topics or genres that you feel more comfortable with?
Ken: I think if the idea feels like a movie to us and has a great hook, which you can tell fairly quickly, we’ll pursue it.
Will: I feel like we’re fairly diplomatic about it. Fortunately, we seem to always both get excited about the stories and ideas that offer a little something for both of us.
Do commercial considerations play a role in how you approach story? Do you try and keep tabs on what the audience “wants”, so to speak?
Will: Art is meant to be seen. Consideration of the audience is incredibly important to me. I don’t think that means you have to have a glossy predictable story. In fact, you have to be willing to give them a solid structure, but not babysit them. Leave gaps, leave holes, plot points that need to be connected. It’s a balance. Erring on either side leaves someone unfulfilled.
Ken: I think a healthy balance between daring honesty while also keeping the audience in mind. People connect when you aim for authenticity. And commercial consideration is a good thing. You should be aware of the realistic aspects of filmmaking. Where it gets dangerous is when people assume commercial means “what the other guys did” and just replicate what’s been done in other movies too much without adding a personal twist. Commercial shouldn’t mean playing things safe so much as it should mean breaking new ground and giving the audience something new, fresh, worthy and interesting.
Moving on to process. Let’s talk about the gestation of an idea. How do you move from that initial spark, to the actual process of beginning a script? Do you outline? Is there a particular “story formula” that either of you think in terms of (eight sequences, save the cat, etc.)?
Ken: We both know we dig an idea when we get mutually excited about it. We have a few of those that we’re always toying with so it’s more of a matter of picking one and running with it. Once we’ve landed on a concept we spend a considerable amount of time in conversation with at least 20% of that conversation relating to the actual script we’re writing. But we keep notes! We’re big fans of structure so finding those story beats first helps a lot. They operate like bench markers and can be motivating. After that we work pretty hard on the outline and do our best to find as many surprises in our story as we can.
Will: Blake Snyder demystified the process for me with Save the Cat. So that book will always hold a special place in my heart. As you learn and grow other storytelling techniques can be absorbed into your process. It’s a continual evolution.
Tell us a bit about your daily writing routine. How do you mark daily progress? Page count? Hours spent sitting alone in a dark and lonely room? Do you keep a checklist of your day-to-day deadlines and writing goals?
Will: I try to write four hours a day. That doesn’t always happen, but it gives me a solid metric to work from. If I can get my hours in, I don’t have to feel the sorrow writers can feel when they feel unproductive. I’m considering installing some sort of electric zapper to keep me focused and on track. I’ll strap in and won’t be able to leave without getting zapped until I’ve put the time in.
Ken: Once you’re working to the first draft I think it’s about momentum. You’re not trying to have a finished script initially you just need something solid to read that has a strong beginning, middle and end. If I’m working on the “vomit pass” I’ll aim for 10-15 pages a day and write non stop for a week. I’ll disappear, sit at my computer and limit human contact until it’s done. It sounds drastic but it’s a way to get it to a readable place.
What’s it like working as co-writers? Do the two of you write together, or do you divvy up the scenes evenly? What’s the most important thing to look for in a writing partner?
Ken: Co-writing with Will is a lot of fun and definitely fast tracks the process in a lot of ways. I think writing is an inherently lonely process so a writing partner breaks that up and prevents writer’s block. Generally, we’ll divvy up scenes or write by acts separately after we’ve worked through an outline. We’ll trade those pages back and forth till we feel it’s there.
The most important thing in a co-writer is someone you vibe with creatively who gets excited at prospects and opportunities to tell the story. Me and Will are close friends outside of anything we do creatively and so having that rapport makes it easier to talk through story aspects.
Will: Ken is great. He makes me better in every way. You should find someone that challenges you and inspires you. That’s what I have in Ken.
Have either of you ever considered giving up on writing altogether? If so, why didn’t you? How do you stay motivated even when the going gets tough?
Will: Yes and No. I was a big fish in a small pond before coming to LA. It was a tough move. So in a psychological effort to mitigate the risk in my brain I would tell myself: “You can always go back and make a solid living on a smaller scale”. Jokes on me though, I never truly believed in going back. I’m in it to win it.
Ken: I’ve wanted to tell stories for as long as I can remember so I’ve never really considered other options. In terms of motivation, you have to do it because you really love writing and telling stories. You can’t control the outcome or how people will respond. We didn’t know we would win WeScreenplay so our writing was never contingent on expectations. We were motivated by telling a great story that we think would make an amazing film. Also if you need a jolt of motivation it helps to spend some time listening to great film scores!
Tell us a bit about “Forged”. What appealed to you about this particular story? How many drafts did it take to beat it into shape? How beneficial was the WeScreenplay feedback process?
Ken: Forged is a sci-fi thriller that deals with the consequences of genetic manipulation all wrapped up in a ‘whodunnit’ drama. We originally wrote it as an indie-style family drama and it stayed that way for about two years. After some feedback we raised the scope of the story to involve more of a thriller tone. It was a pretty big shift but we were both excited to give it a face lift. Not sure how many drafts but various versions would probably be 6 to 8.
Yes, the WeScreenplay feedback process is invaluable. We actually love getting coverage and feedback. People tend to get very precious about the writing process but generally I think it should be viewed as a fluid and flexible time. Ideally, it’s better to fix any storytelling problems on paper when it only costs your time rather than later when the film is made and not holding water properly.
Think back to your earliest days as a writer. What’s the one bit of advice you’d wish you’d been given?
Ken: Trust your instincts and have confidence in the story you want to tell. And get coverage! It’s worth it!
Will: Dunning-Kruger effect. I stumbled upon this concept on Wikipedia a few years ago and it gave me the confidence to make a go of things and stop selling myself short. . It basically states that oftentimes ‘dumb people think they’re smart, and conversely, smart people think they’re dumb’. I’m hoping I’m one of the smart ones, that’s yet to be seen.
Last question – time to break out those crystal balls. Where do the two of you see yourselves in ten years?
Will: I’ll still be writing and producing and creating with Ken. This is merely the beginning. We hope to collaborate with some of the most creative and talented people in the industry.
Ken: Yes, still writing and combining our abilities together and with great talented people. We’d love to be part of as many amazing projects as we can with produced credits under our belts.