Long-time writer and massive genre fan Jose Prendes claimed the top prize in the 2017 ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Contest. His script, a clever horror-sci-fi hybrid story entitled Killing Time, centers on a teen who teams with his friend to use time travel technology to stop the brutal murder of his sister and uncover the identity of her slasher. The script is also featured on this year’s Bloodlist, which collects the best of the best when it comes to unproduced genre screenplays with a dark twist. Fortunately, Jose recently agreed to sit down with us to answer some of our questions.
Tell us a bit about your background. How long have you been writing?
I’ve been clacking away at the keys since I was a kid. I’m terrible when it comes to dates, but it was way before high school. I scoured the libraries and found every book on screenwriting and taught myself the ins and outs of format and structure and just went to town. I knew from a very early age that movies were the bees knees and that I belonged to that world.
Since winning, what has changed about your writing? Any unexpected challenges or successes?
It’s too early to tell, but I think a win shouldn’t change your writing, it should act as a validation that your stuff isn’t total crap. One of the biggest successes so far is getting a chance to chat with you, Jeff!
The feeling is mutual! What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing?
I wrote a book called THE HIGH-CONCEPT MASSACRE, where I interviewed 13 genre screenwriters and picked their brains about the business. I always asked them what they would advise, and most said “caution”. I like that, and I stand by it, but the best piece of advice I ever received about writing came from Mr. Ray Bradbury, who said “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” How beautiful is that?
Tell us a little about your writing process. What is the most important part?
The most important part is sitting down and doing the damn typing. It’s the hardest part, the most time-consuming part, but also the most rewarding and liberating part. Beating that story out of those keys is just about the most amazing feeling, but you have to do it enough so it doesn’t feel like tedious work. You have to get to a point where it feels like you’re going to a playground, and if you love it then it will be easy to achieve that nirvana.
What does your editing process look like? How many drafts of a single script do you usually produce?
I tend to write very fast. I can turn out a solid first draft in a week, and then I have my wife read it, because she is my first line of defense. She can spot the bullshit and give me some very candid notes, which help me spot the rough edges that I can sand over. Drafts vary for each script depending on whether it’s for me or for a producer, of course. I don’t like too tinker much.
What does your daily routine look like? How do you mark progress?
Every day is different, man. That’s the fun of the freelance writer. If I’m working on a script, then my goal is either 10-20 rock solid pages. If I’m writing a book, then it’s anywhere from 6 to 20 pages a day before I call it quits. I mark progress by pages. If I don’t have pages down, then no progress has been made on this story and I’ve failed that day. I used to be very hard on myself, but since having kids and working at home, I’ve learned to take it a little easier.
In terms of craft, what’s the greatest challenge you faced during the writing of your script? How did you solve it?
The greatest challenge I’ve faced is working for a producer, who shall remain nameless, who wanted me to pull off the impossible with a boatload of changes to be implemented overnight. Everything from complex dialog tweaks to taking out entire characters and spackling over those missing elements were included in those notes, and let me tell you, you get real good at juggling script elements when you are under the gun to make that script look as presentable as possible, especially if it has your name on it. Of course, you can’t always control the production phase, and that ultimately is the bane of the screenwriter.
On that note, what’s your favorite aspect of writing for the screen?
I never really thought about it, but I suppose my favorite thing is that I will hopefully, eventually, get to see these paper characters come to life and pull off the wonderful things I’ve created for them. That’s also the most heartbreaking, because sometimes the finished product doesn’t match your blemish-less ideal version in the script, as I mentioned above. It’s a love-hate thing, I guess.
Have you ever written in another medium? What unique challenges do different mediums posses and how does it inform your screenwriting?
I’ve written novels and non-fiction books as well, and everything is basically the same, except the format changes. It’s all storytelling and characters building and hooking the audience and providing entertainment. One form might require more research than another, but beyond that it’s all very much the same process, in my opinion.
What about other aspects of filmmaking. Do you ever direct, act, edit, shoot? What’s your favorite?
I’m a writer/director by trade, so if I can direct what I write, then all the better. That way I can control production, as much as possible, and make that paper vision a real one. Directing is a blast and yes, it comes with its own challenges, because instead of writing in a dark room by yourself, now you have to be a leader and deal with hundreds of people, but it’s honestly the best job in the world, better than writing, to be honest.
What is one challenge writers face that you feel isn’t talked about enough?
That’s a good question. I think everything is a challenge and I think they’ve all been talked to death. Being an artist, at any level, is incredibly challenging, especially if you want to make a living out of it. Writers face different circumstances than a painter would, but it’s all basically the same. We’re all trying to get what’s in our heads out into some physically medium to share it with others. We just have to embrace the challenge as much as we embrace the passion and keep slapping keys until we shake the world loose enough for us to get in the game.