A couple of weeks ago my friend, screenwriter Josh James contacted me about his friend screenwriter Timothy Mannion’s new film ‘Brake’ starring Stephen Dorff. I watched the trailer for Brake and was pretty blown away actually. So I asked Mannion if we could pick his brain about what makes a successful screenwriter write a successful action movie. Here’s what he had to say:
1. Where did the concept/inspiration for your script Brake come from? Also, what was your AHA! moment while writing it?
Timothy Mannion: My initial inspiration for BRAKE was realizing that writing epic, sprawling action films wasn’t working for me. I wanted to bring it down to a minimalist level, so 1 location with 1-2 actors. Keep it simple, keep it contained. But I also wanted action. I didn’t want to just sit there for 90 minutes. Somehow I got a hold of these terrifying 911 calls of people calling from trunks of cars after they’ve been kidnapped, and the proverbial light bulb went on. It’s such a visceral situation. After figuring out my protagonist I basically built the story around their profession, trying to raise the stakes as much as possible with every turn.
2. How long did it take you to write Brake from start to what we will see in the movie? How many drafts and revisions did you go through during your process?
TM: First draft of BRAKE took two weeks to write. It was abnormally quick. The only major changes were dialogue touch-ups, adding of technical terms and and increasing the spatial awareness inside the trunk. Even today about 90-95% of the original plot is going to be on the screen. It was a very smooth process from page to finished product thankfully.
3. Did you at any point get into the trunk of a car yourself to help you gain perspective with your writing process for Brake? Be honest.
TM: I didn’t get in a trunk for perspective, but I have been in one before years ago, and I will say it was one of the scariest three minutes of my life. Not fun knowing you have no control and all you hear are the tires chewing up asphalt.
Somehow I got a hold of these terrifying 911 calls of people calling from trunks of cars after they’ve been kidnapped, and the proverbial light bulb went on.
4. Can you describe for us how a typical “Pitch Meeting” might go from a screenwriters point of view?
5. What does Hollywood really mean when they say “High Concept”?
6. What was the “Logline” you used when pitching Brake?
7. When you got word that Brake had been picked up and was going to be made; Who was the first person you called and shared the news with and why?
TM: I was actually living in Connecticut at the time so I immediately went to my parents house. It was a great moment.
8. How involved should the screenwriter be in the production side of filmmaking? Meaning at what point do you fully pass the baton with trust to your director and his production team. How involved were you in the casting process?
TM: I personally was on set for the entire production. I was very fortunate with that. But I will say, after the script is sold it no longer belongs to you. It’s the director’s job to bring his vision to the project. And unless he/she wants advice from you, you don’t butt in. I wasn’t involved with the casting process, I was kept up to date though. And again, collaboration means
9. What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve received for your profession?
TM: I had a pro writer tell me that every line of dialogue and every line of action had to “crackle with life”. No lazy lines. Ever. I looked at my old scripts and some of them weren’t fun to read. If they weren’t fun on the page who’s going to get excited reading them? Make everything pop.
10. What is the most useless piece of advice you’ve received for your profession?
TM: Write everyday. People stick by this. But for me, personally, days off are the best time to ferment ideas. Sometimes you’re too close, you’re blocked. Getting away from the keyboard is the best way to free it. After getting the idea right, it’s basically just downloading words to the page.
11. With all of this Digital Technology evolving so rapidly, where do you see Hollywood in 10 years?
TM: This question is hard and kind of scary. I hope we still have theaters, but home televisions are becoming small theaters. It’s going to be an interesting battle moving forward because VOD is increasing its volume and theater prices keep going up. At some point the model is going to adapt, it has to. As far as everything else, I don’t know. I can’t predict anything because every day something new is invented or improved. It’s crazy. And yes, kind of scary.
Sometimes you’re too close, you’re blocked. Getting away from the keyboard is the best way to free it.
12. If technology is advancing so rapidly it’s scary, that would be by the “old ways” of doing things. Might there be some exciting opportunities for artists under the “new ways”?
TM: There are a ton of new opportunities for artists. Even now, I see other writers working with cover art, doing 80 page look books for producers, writers hiring people to cut sizzle reels for their projects. More and more of this is being done to sell producers and studios. They literally are “seeing” the film before they even read the script. It’s crazy. But I don’t know if it’s “right”. It’s a slippery slope that could go in a couple of directions. I know the old school writers rely only on their words. But new school guys are wowing people with style. But that could cripple the story. It’s going to be interesting moving forward.
13. Do you think all this is a Digital Evolution, or is it a Digital Revolution?
TM: I think both. It’s evolving into something far more complex, but it’s also on a straight path. It was supposed to be this way. It’s like anything. Improve on something that was already there. That’s how the great ones do it. They figure out what works and what doesn’t and then turn it.
14. Has this recent boom of Social Media and Social Networking helped you in your career, please explain?
TM: The only social networking I’ve used to push my career was a Facebook group I joined that is strictly a private writers group. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it because of how many inspiring people are on there that are trying to do this. It makes writing not as lonely. There is a connection that just works so well.
15. What are some of your favorite films from the past 2 years?
TM: I loved two films in the last couple of weeks: ‘Hugo’ blew me away as well as the ‘The Grey’. I also really liked ‘Toy Story 3′. ‘The Social Network’ is one of my all-time favorites now. I really enjoyed ‘The Fighter’. ‘Let Me In’ was fabulous. Also ‘Limitless’, which I think on second viewing is really fantastic.
16. How do you feel about the marketing campaign behind Brake? Does the trailer and poster set the right expectation for your audience?
TM: I think the marketing was very good. Poster choice evokes questions. With this kind of film that’s exactly what you want. The trailer is well done, it’s hard for me to step back and look objectively at it because I’m so close to everything. But I really liked it and I heard from people, who know nothing at all about the film, really loved it and can’t wait to pay for a ticket.
17. At what point in life did you realize your gift for storytelling and decide screenwriting was the path for you?
TM: Ha, great question. Probably the first time I got a phone call about BRAKE. I never really knew what I had until that point. But after that I knew I had something inside me that could turn anything into a compelling story.
18. If you weren’t a screenwriter, what direction do you think your life would have taken?
19. What “classic” films do you draw the most inspiration from to revitalize your passion for the artform?
20. Last question Tim. And before I ask it, I’d just like to say thank you for taking the time to talk with us and share your experiences in the industry, because it’s important and it does matter. Your film Brake looks very exciting and I wish you much continued success with your future projects. Speaking of which, what are you working on next?
On Friday, February 17th, you can stream or download BRAKE a full month before it hits theaters on SundanceNOW.com, Amazon Streaming, iTunes, XBOX Zune or Playstation Video Unlimited!
For some great behind the scenes photos and more, go to Facebook and join the conversation for Brake!
*Editors Note – AwesomeBMovies.com neither suggests or endorses the idea of getting into the trunk of a car for any reason. Anyone who does so, is doing so on their own free will. AwesomeBMovies.com is not accountable or liable for any consequences that result by participating such activity.