Patrick Byrne has spent the last decade working in TV and film, honing his craft as a screenwriter. His big break came this spring after Coverfly put him in contact with a producer, and he was fortunate enough to sign with Gavin Dorman, his manager. Recently, we had the chance to ask him a few questions about his journey and the craft of screenwriting. His answers are below.
1. What’s it like to go from a Production Assistant (Lost, Battleship, Incursion) to a signed screenwriter? How did this come about and how many years has this dream been in the making? What’s it like working with your new literary manager?
Working on a show like Lost was invaluable as a screenwriter. I was the costume department PA for the last three seasons of Lost. On my first day, the department head told me if I worked for him for a couple of years it would help my writing. He was right. Seeing how a show like Lost is put together from the production end gave me a whole new perspective on how to write for TV and film. Plus I was able to read all those awesome Lost scripts before they appeared on TV.
After Lost, I was working on various productions in Hawaii. I started to enter screenwriting contests. After a few years, I won PAGE Awards. I continued to hone my screenwriting skills and eventually, The 405 caught the attention of a producer working with Coverfly, who introduced me to my manager. Altogether it took about eight years of grinding away writing scripts before I was signed.
Working with my manager is like having the ultimate writer’s guide. He’s all about generating ideas. Generate generate generate. I get how important that is for a newbie screenwriter. He’s also great about challenging me to write better prose and dialogue, and pointing out where my writing bumps and how to massage out those bumps. The best thing about my manager is having someone I trust to guide me and my screenwriting career.
2. How has living abroad in Tokyo impacted your screenwriting journey?
If you’re a feature spec writer like me it doesn’t really matter where you live. I work from Tokyo. It works for my family. I Skype regularly with my manager. We email. If I have to fly to LA for meetings I’m able to do that. I’m very comfortable in Tokyo. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It constantly inspires me.
3. How did your screenplay The 405 come to be and what was your experience writing it?
I was working the night shift at the main Honolulu bus maintenance facility, about two years ago, and I had a What if? moment. What if a zombie apocalypse struck the city and the only safe place was in a moving bus? The rest came from there. I was inspired by movies like 28 Days Later, Children of Men and Train to Busan. I put together a fast and furious outline with set pieces, and a few days later I started writing. We were moving to Tokyo at the time, and I had about six weeks to write before we left. I finished the first draft the night before around 2 a.m. I spent the next year doing rewrites based on reader feedback while submitting the script to contests. I eventually won a couple contests and placed well in others, all of which helped me get on Coverfly’s radar.
4. What are you currently working on?
A contained horror/thriller script. One of the things I’ve learned working with my agent is to be aware where the stories you’re thinking about writing fall budget-wise. It’s challenging for a newbie screenwriter like me to get a big budget movie made. Thinking contained, low budget horror/thriller scripts just makes sense when you’re trying to get that first sale under your belt.
5. What’s a movie or show we need right now that hasn’t been made?
A good old-fashioned action adventure movie. Pure escapism. I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark on Netflix last night. It’s one of my all time favorites. And it got me thinking there must be a minimal approach for the action adventure movie to return to the days of Raiders of the Lost Ark and the days when there were real heroes, with plenty of flaws, to cheer on as they fight evil. We could really use a period era, hero-driven, action adventure movie these days.
6. How have screenwriting competitions helped your career?
They are a great way to break into the film industry as a screenwriter. If you win or place well, they get attention on you and your script. In the same vein, reader feedback like that offered by ScreenCraft, WeScreenplay and others are also very helpful. The feedback often includes a pass, consider, or recommend. This is another great way to get attention on you and your script.
7. What’s your writing schedule and process?
When I’m working on a script I write whenever I can get a block of time. I do my best writing alone on the weekends. I lock myself away for a block of time and go to work. I work every day until I’m done. I’m a teacher in Tokyo and I often bring my laptop to work and write during my free periods. I don’t have a daily page count. I just write until times up. If the writing is going well, and the time gods are with me, I can usually finish the first draft in about six weeks.
Before I start to write I outline the story with set pieces. First act, second act, third act. If I’ve done all my homework, I can have the parameters of the story and I can see where it begins and ends. The story usually comes out fairly quickly after that.
8. How did you get your start as a screenwriter? What resources have helped you?
I actually started out writing books. I am a big fan of Stephen King. I wrote a couple of novels inspired by King’s writing. I had an agent in New York for a while, but he was unable to sell any of my books. For about a year after I wrote nothing at all. Then I discovered screenplays. The structure was very appealing to me. Eventually, I was accepted into a year-long screenwriting program in LA that gave me a solid foundation. I’ve been writing screenplays ever since.
9. What’s something you wish someone would have told you when you were first starting out?
You will understand what rejection means. That’s what I wish someone had told me. No other art form offers this level of rejection on a constant basis. But it’s through rejection that we learn and get better, right? That’s the theory anyway.
10. Finally, what is one surprising fact about you?
When I was 16 I was pulled over because, so I was told by the ticketing officer, I was driving so fast my car was picked up on a nearby airport’s radar. I did 100 hours of community service for that infraction. These days I take the bullet train.