The Script Lab sat down with the finalist of last year’s New Media Festival, Laura Hesse, to talk about her project Gumboots. You can submit to this year’s New Media Festival through Coverfly! The final deadline is on April 25th!
Brief background and how you got into writing. From LA? Move to LA? Did you study writing? Did you always want to be a writer? Etc.
When I was eight years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, but the promise of adventure drew me north as an adult. I worked in the bush for ten years, but when an outhouse became a luxury item, I knew it was time to quit and moved to Vancouver Island. The proximity to Vancouver drew me back into the dream of writing, both fiction and screenplays. I took an intensive weekend course with Michael Hague at UBC. That was a long time ago. Since then, I have mentored with several professional screenwriters via online writing courses, took a playwriting course to learn how to write better dialogue, and studied hundreds of films and their respective screenplays. It took six years to make the switch from fiction writing to screenwriting.
Can you walk us through the process of how this project became a series? I know it started as a book, walk us from genesis up to now!
There were two people who really influenced this story. The first was my editor. She had just been asked to edit a slasher/horror book by a member of my writing group. The manuscript freaked her out as she lived on a remote farm at the end of a dead end road. Over a very long telephone call and a bottle or two of red wine, we discussed all sorts of bizarre ways that she could be murdered on her farm. A couple of the ideas are in the story. The second person was a fellow artist who lived on Lasquetti Island, a small island just off the coast of mid-Vancouver Island. He regaled me with hilarious stories about life on the Island including how Boz Skaggs rowed into shore one night and performed at the local pub for fun, how he never went hungry thanks to the wild sheep he shot at night, and how easy it was to make moonshine. That was how the original concept behind Gumboots was born. The idea to turn the book into a movie or TV mini-series came from my readers.
What helped you arrive at this format as the one in which you wanted to tell this story on screen?
I love mini-series. I remember sitting down with my parents to watch Roots and North and South when I was a kid. I always planned a 3 book set for the Gumboot & Gumshoe series and turned Gumboots into a 1-hour pilot with plans for six one-hour episodes.
I have seen the project referred to as Twin Peaks meets Fargo, which is pretty incredible praise. Were those inspirations for the work? Did you have any others?
Yes, both the original Twin Peaks TV series and the movie Fargo truly influenced what I strive for in my characters. Fargo is one of my favorite movies. I loved the intricacies of the Marge Gunderson character played by Frances McDormand. When several of my readers compared my novel to Fargo and Murder She Wrote, I was really touched. That, and my mother was British. I have a British style sense of humor, hence the introduction of a pot-bellied pig named Gertrude and her sidekick, a Jersey cow named Peaches, as comic relief.
Can you tell us through your experience with the New Media Festival?
I entered my pilot script into the New Media Festival for several reasons, the primary being that I live in a small town on Vancouver Island and have NO contacts in the industry. The New Media Festival opens the doors to “Hollywood” to anyone, no matter their geographic location, their age or their genre. Between the Festival’s ‘whose who in Hollywood’ Board of Directors to the caliber of the sponsors, it gives each entrant the chance to shine and present their best work to the people who can make a career. And this festival is REAL. There are a lot of scam festivals and screenwriting/film competitions on the internet, making promises of representation, etc. that are bogus. I was a victim of a publishing scam my first year as an independent publisher and am not ashamed to admit it. I learned a hard lesson. The New Media Film Festival delivers. Check out the festival’s website and read the testimonials!
For those who don’t know exactly what new media is, can you explain in your own words and iterate perhaps why it is so important for storytellers moving forward?
Jaime Ekkens won best SRC with A Life with Aspergers in 2015. It is an animated documentary that explores the challenges of growing up and living with Asperger’s Syndrome, it demonstrates that Asperger’s is not simply being a little awkward, rather it is about adapting. I live with an autistic adult who also suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. Watching this animated short by Jaime Ekkens helped me understand what this remarkable young woman deals with on a daily basis. That is what new media is about to me, opening a dialogue into areas of life and the human condition that may otherwise remain unseen. It is about exploring boundaries and developing new artistic expression and media.
When adapting this project, were there any aspects that were much harder than you realized? Anything that was easier?
Learning to switch from a narrative style of writing to a shorter visual form of writing is not for everyone. It takes time. Be kind to yourself during the process and cut, cut, cut!
Most writers have to find the time, energy and passion to still write while working full-time jobs. Do you have a regimen that works for you?
I write in the early morning and on weekends and edit at night. I work part-time as a legal secretary. Trying to be creative after a day dealing with death and dying (as I specialize in estates and wills) is difficult. Creativity takes the right mind set.
I think a lot of writers have a misconception about simply sitting down and having great writing come forth from their fingertips. Do you have a specific process or method where you work your material up to the professional level? Outlines? Treatments? Beat sheets?
I start with a logline and a one paragraph synopsis – whether it is a novel or a screenplay, I begin the same way. I then flesh out the characters and start to write the first act. Sometimes, the characters take on a life of their own and I wind up throwing the original plotline out the window. I like the story to explode in my mind’s eye as if I were watching a movie. Once the first draft is complete, I dissect what I have written and work out the beat sheet, making sure that the seeds to the ending are well written in the storyline and that the screenplay conforms to normal formatting and run times. Some stories hit the mark right from the start while others involve countless re-writes.
From a craft standpoint, what do you feel is the hardest part about getting a screenplay where it needs to be?
If you don’t have contacts in the business, it is tough to know where to turn. IMBD, bonafide screenplay contests and festivals such as the New Media Film Festival, and professional script listing services are the key. Know your audience and learn which companies are producing what you are writing. i.e. Don’t market a horror screenplay to a Hallmark film producer. Again, there are lots of scams going. Do your research.
Even for a writer as successful as you, surely you have had to face rejection at some point. Any advice for writers dealing with the discouragement that comes with rejection?
Rejection is the key to success. I had the President of an A-list production company take the time to tell me where I went wrong on one of the first screenplays that I wrote. He suggested some films and screenplays to review to learn how to draft a better screenplay. That was a big deal. I took his advice to heart. Prior to this, I had an editor from a major publishing house tell me my first novel’s manuscript was cute, but would never sell. I decided to self-publish the book and started my company, Running L Productions. I ran into the editor three years later at a book convention. She smiled and asked me how the book was doing? I told her I had sold 7,500 copies of that book alone and was just releasing the e-book. She asked me if I would consider selling the rights to her publishing house… I declined.
And for grins:
Favorite television series of all time: Game of Thrones and Murder She Wrote – it’s a coin toss.
Best script you’ve ever read: Rocky
Favorite book: The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas
Best music to listen to while writing: Dan Timinski. I start out every day listening to Southern Gothic. It gets my mojo going.
Tom Dever writes for The Script Lab.