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ALTERNATE ROUTES: Blazing an Indie Trail - Gary King and 'Among Us'

Marty Lang talks with Gary King about how he developed the story of his new horror film 'Among Us', the challenges of producing your own work, and the value of the friends and family network.

Marty Lang is a screenwriter, filmmaker, journalist and educator. His feature writing/directing debut, RISING STAR, was acquired for worldwide distribution by Content Film in 2013. His producing credits include the 2016 Independent Spirit Award-nominated OUT OF MY HAND, and BEING MICHAEL MADSEN, starring Michael Madsen, Virginia Madsen and Daryl Hannah. Twitter: @marty_lang.

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 Mark DiConzo and Katie Morrison in AMONG US.

Mark DiConzo and Katie Morrison in AMONG US.

For all the time screenwriters spend creating their stories, as a speculative enterprise, there's no guarantee our work will ever reach the screen. As a result, some writers take their destiny into their own hands, and produce their own work, becoming produced screenwriters in the process. Next month, one of those indie filmmakers unleashes his newest work into the world. Writer/director/producer Gary King releases his horror film AMONG US through Gravitas Ventures on August 8, where you'll be able to see it on cable, and order it on iTunes.

This is just the latest film from Gary, whose musical HOW DO YOU WRITE A JOE SCHERMANN SONG won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Raindance Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the 2012 Phoenix Film Festival (where AMONG US world premiered this spring). He's written and directed four features, and directed a fifth, co-writing AMONG US with his brother Mike King.

Gary's an ideal case study for any writer interested in making the leap to becoming a multi-hyphenate.

I've had a unique viewpoint to witness the creation of AMONG US. We're friends, I helped him recruit part of his crew, and I actually had a small acting role in the movie, too. I got to talk with Gary about how he developed the story of the film, the challenges of producing your own work, and the value of the friends and family network.

Script Magazine: What was your process developing the idea for the film?

Gary King: The inception for the idea came from my desire to do something drastically different after making a musical film. I wanted to take a stab at making something scary. To play with people's fear of the unknown and unanswered. So films like THE ENTITY and THE EXORCIST were huge inspirations. Both endings still freak me out to this day. But those films also developed some really strong characters, before any of the creepy stuff happens. I love that. And ideally that's what we did with [lead characters] Mallory and Frank in AMONG US.

 Elena Sanz in AMONG US

Elena Sanz in AMONG US

SM: How did your brother become your co-writer? What was your writing process like?

GK: Mike has been a creative artist in the computer animated world for many years. He even won an Emmy recently! He's dabbled in script consulting for video game companies for quite a while, and had been dying to create something in the live-action world. When I told him about my basic supernatural premise, he offered to help write it. And it was a blast. We were able to talk through many plot points. Exploring characters. And when one of us was stuck, the other would take over. We did 95% of the co-writing over the web (Google Hangouts was our best friend). I think we only met up to talk about the script during the holidays.

SM: How has your writing process evolved over the course of your career?

GK: I'd say it has changed from script to script. I believe with time (over 13 years), and writing a ton of feature scripts, my actual style has evolved for the better. I'm having more fun now with my execution. Being less formal about things.

And my research process varies from watching films, reading scripts, visiting subject matter experts (sometimes even experiencing the topics I'm writing about), outlining, and making a ton of notes. I actually make more notes throughout the day on my phone or laptop, than I do sitting and writing. When I actually plop down to work on the script, I'm doing a lot of transcription of those notes into the screenplay, and then working from there.

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SM: One big challenge of indie film is putting a production team together. How did you put your team together for AMONG US?

GK: My production team was a mix of new and old. I always try to hire people I've worked with before. I consider them family. And it's fun to see them again after every few years. Like a summer camp. For AMONG US, I brought in Rick Gizzi, my usual sound guy, and two new people: cinematographer Chad McClarnon and camera/grip/electric Cory Maffucci, along with Susie King, my wife and regular producing partner. Yes, the crew was made up of just five people, including me!

I met Chad at the Phoenix Film Festival and knew we needed to work together. He's really cool and has a great eye. The amazing feedback on the film's look is all due to his talents and Cory's (who was basically both our gaffer and grip!). Cory came on board through a recommendation [writer 's note: Cory was my old film student – the recommendation was mine!]. He was an incredible team player and I was amazed at what he would do, without ever complaining once. I'd say he was the MVP of the set (even though everyone worked their asses off).

Mark DiConzo (who plays 'Frank') and I go way back. I met him in New York while casting a web commercial. We hit it off and I knew I wanted to work with him again. And we did, on my first feature NEW YORK LATELY. He's and incredible performer and a low-maintenance personality on set. So every time I have a role I know he can do, I offer it up to him. Sometimes I create something for him, while others I know he simply fits the character. I don't think I've auditioned him since that web commercial.

 Katie Morrison in AMONG US

Katie Morrison in AMONG US

SM: Were you able to get help from other people who felt a connection to the project?

GK: After completing SCHERMANN SONG, Mark told me he had access to a family lake house in the woods of Maine. That was the seed that sparked my script. I knew we had a location that would be very affordable, with a "friends and family" rate. I also knew I wanted to write horror for my next film, so the timing was perfect. Once we locked everything in, Mark's Dad and his partner became our local producers. Because of their knowledge of the area and knowing the local people, they were instrumental in helping our film become a successful shoot, both during prep and during filming. Anything that needed to be taken care of, they handled beautifully.

There wasn't anything too challenging that we couldn't tackle. A funny story though - our primary location, the one Mark first suggested, fell through. So during the summer, Mark and his family scouted another one that worked. Thankfully, we weren't filming until the fall, so we had time to look. And the place still was within the "friends and family" network.

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SM: You've made thrillers, horror films, comedies, dramas and musicals. Has moving between genres affected your career at all?

GK: Not sure if it's helped or hurt my career. I do know some managers have said they don't know how to think of me as a filmmaker, since my filmography is quite diverse. But I'm inspired by people like Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh and Howard Hawks, who enjoy playing around in various genres. To me, it's all about the story, regardless of the genre. I do what appeals to me at the time. So now, I'm dabbling in some sci-fi, as well as developing a few television series as well, which I never though I'd be saying.

SM: What advice would you give screenwriters who are interested in producing their own work?

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GK: Just be flexible. What's on the page, may not be what can be on the screen. Depending on the budget, and of course as you start collaborating with other people, who bring in their own interpretations of the story. I'm paraphrasing Woody Allen when he said something like "I have this perfect idea in my head, and then I slowly ruin it from script to screen.”

For more practical advice, write for locations you can get. Or create a scene that could take place in several locations, so you have a few options as you produce your film. I always tell people, have a plan A, B and C.

In the end, like most films, it's a bit of serendipitous fortune that has a hand in allowing AMONG US to be made. I always say it's a miracle that any film gets made. And this one was no exception. The stars aligned with the right people, the right place and the right timing. When all that's presented to you, you just go for it.

AMONG US is available for pre-order on iTunes now and on Blu-ray on Amazon.

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