Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book,Slavery by Another Name.
There are so many ways I could begin this article… Are screenwriting contests worth it? Is it possible to be dedicated to your day job as well as dedicated to your writing? Can someone who has never taken a screenwriting class ever make it in the industry?
Regardless which question I begin with, the answer is a resounding, “Hell, yes!”
Meet Eric Koenig. Or should I say Capt. Eric Koenig, 412th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Dental Flight Commander.
After being chosen as one of the Top 25 in Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Competition, Eric’s script Matriarchsold to Paramount for mid six figures. My own script is also in the Top 25, so I was anxious to sit down with Eric and discuss his experience.
JVB: First off, thank you for your service.
Eric Koenig: You’re welcome. I remember when I first talked to my reps, they said that selling a script is nothing compared to what the men and women of the armed services do. It’s kind of miniscule compared to the accomplishments of the guys and women deployed.
JVB: Agreed. I have deep respect for all who serve. So, how does it feel to have a sale under your belt?
EK: It’s amazing. It’s a great feeling.
JVB: Let’s talk about your decision to start writing scripts.
EK: I didn’t know what a beast it was until I started doing it. I foolishly thought it would be easier. I’d never written a novel. I guess I wanted to write something that would end up on the big screen.
JVB: How many years have you been at it?
EK: Almost three.
JVB: That’s actually fast in this industry. Did you have an understanding of the business side before you started?
EK: I guess I didn’t. When I started this, I had never even read a script before. I didn’t know what one looked like. My first script was inspired by a nightmare. I just woke up from this terrifying dream and wrote it down as a couple of sentences. Turned it into a page. Then thought this would be a cool story… and a cool movie. But how does a nightmare get turned into a movie? I Googled “screenplays” and saw what they looked like. Bought Final Draft. Wrote my first screenplay, and it was terrible (laughs).
JVB: Mine too. I won’t let anyone read my first (laughs).
EK: Matriarch is several down the road. I’m in the thriller genre. Definitely what I’m most passionate about.
JVB: Did you try other genres?
EK: I dabbled in a drama and family adventure movie. I tried to write a rom com. I ended up inventing a genre that was neither romantic nor funny. But I discovered I do love tense, scary and frightening things. Now, I’m hoping Matriarch gets produced.
JVB: Me too.
EK: By the way, I read your Balls of Steel column and Script all the time. Thank you. I think I’ve read every article on Script the past couple of years.
JVB: I appreciate that. I really do. I definitely feel like I’m “selling” hope when I write. But your story proves there is hope for all of us!
EK: I love that. Having hope is a big part of it.
JVB: I understand you didn’t go to film school but are self taught?
EK: The number one thing I did to get me to this point was to just write. I haven’t taken any classes, but I own every single screenplay book written and have read blog article after blog article. When I was starting out, I was trying to follow a formula way too strictly. I let that go. My secret is just writing. I write evenings and weekends. I’m a single guy so I have lots of time.
JVB: Ah, that’s your trick (laughs).
EK: (laughs) Not having a family frees up a lot of time. I’ll spend 12 hours on Saturday and another 12 on Sunday to write.
JVB: Having a day job is a huge challenge for a lot of writers. Do you like being a dentist?
EK: I love being a dentist, but I’m very passionate about writing. We’ll see if I can balance the two careers, or if one will win out over another.
JVB: Do you think being in the Air Force helped prepare you for a writing career?
EK: Being in the military is certainly a structured lifestyle, which fits me quite well. Maybe that structure has carried over in terms of allowing time. I’m disciplined, can sit down and bang out pages. I don't have a problem getting started. I’m not a procrastinator. Maybe that comes from 13 years in the Air Force.
JVB: Have you entered other screenwriting contests besides Tracking Board’s Launch Pad?
EK: It’s the first competition Matriarch has been in. I owe them everything. That recognition got the attention of producer Rock Shaink. He read it, loved it, took it to my current reps at Benderspink and Paradigm. It all happened so, so quickly. Previously, I was unrepped. Obviously, that’s step number one in the process.
JVB: Had you queried executives before this?
EK: Yes, people in the business read it and politely declined. That goes for what you said in terms of “selling hope.” I had gotten dozens of no’s on multiple things the past couple of years, even the exact same version that went out. Goes to show you can’t ever give up.
JVB: All it takes is one yes. Our job is to find that person who is going to champion us. So, what drew you to writing Matriarch?
EK: It’s influenced heavily by Silence of the Lambs. Such a great movie, so I tried to put my spin on it. Female hero. Female villain.
JVB: What's your favorite thing about this script?
EK: I think one of the things I really like is that it’s two females. It’s a female serial killer against a female psychologist. It’ s a dynamic we don't see enough of in movies these days. I tend to write female protags. I don't know why I do that.
JVB: What had you been doing to get noticed before Tracking Board?
EK: I had sent out quite a few emails and quite a few snail mail queries and got a whole bunch of “no” responses and a whole bunch of, “We don't accept unsolicited material” responses. I did enter a different script in PAGE awards that didn't even make it to the next step. I think competitions are a great way for unrepped writers to break in. I owe everything to the Tracking Board. I will always praise them for being what got my foot in the door. I didn't have any contacts. I didn't know anyone in the industry. I think contests are a great way to do it.
JVB: I have to ask, what’s it like getting the call?
EK: My reps had given me excellent notes Friday night to make a couple of changes. I agreed with all of them. I implemented them on Saturday. Got them the script by Saturday afternoon. They liked them and didn’t want any more changes. We then changed the title to Matriarch, and the script went out Monday morning. Tuesday night, the phone rang. It was on Veterans Day. I had it off. I was at a dental continuing-ed course. My phone vibrates at 8PM. I silence it. It vibrates again. I finally excuse myself, and it’s my reps saying we got an offer from Paramount. I asked them, “What do you think?” They said it was an amazing offer and we should take it… done.
JVB: Did you walk back into class after that?
EK: I did! It was wrapping up. Maybe only 5 more minutes.
JVB: Did you hear anything they said in those 5 minutes? (laughs)
EK: Absolutely not! (laughs) Good thing I didn’t have to do any dentistry that night!
JVB: Good thing! (laughs) So, what now? Will you keep the same routine or try to break free and write full time?
EK: I’m wrapping up a super natural thriller now. Hopefully my reps will like it. My focus is definitely on Matriarch. Goal number one is to get Matriarch to the point it’s greenlt and produced. There will be rewrites, but I look forward to the challenge. I’m also taking meetings around town, meeting producers that liked the script.
JVB: And it might lead to some writer-for-hire gigs.
EK: That’s the plan.
JVB: I want to talk a little bit about your process. I’m a rewrite junkie. You clearly aren’t intimidated by tackling the beast either.
EK: I love it when notes make sense, and as soon as you read them, you’re wondering why you didn't think of that, and yes, this will make the story better. Regardless of how hard they are to implement, it’s important to do it. During one re-write of Matriarch, I deleted the last 25 pages. The entire 3rd act got a rewrite, and it made the story better. Not an easy decision at the time, but in hindsight, definitely the right thing to do. As long as the script is progressing and getting better, then as writers, we have to accept that, and I fully realize there’s going to be more rewriting in Matriarch. That’s part of it, and I don’t mind it.
JVB: With new projects, do you outline or not?
EK: Very rough outline, as in a half page of scribbled notes. I have to know my ending. I have to know my midpoint. I know a couple of big turns and that’s my outline. That being said, I will write down pages and pages of handwritten notes, 20 pages of ideas, before I fire up Final Draft. Character arcs I have to know, like how the protagonist arcs. When I finally can’t take it anymore, and I’m excited, I start Final Draft and get writing. I don't write in order, but I do write the first 10 pages first, then I’ll jump around. 95% of the script is written in order, but a couple of the things I do out of order. It’s all about character. Concept is important but character is vital.
JVB: So, now the tough question. If you could go back in time and give advice to your 18-year-old self, what would it be?
EK: That’s a good one. I guess I would just say to enjoy the ride, that’s not talking about selling Matriarch. That’s life in general. I’m 41 and have had multiple careers, from working on planes, criminal investigator, massage therapist, screenwriter. All of that has combined to make me who I am today. All those experiences, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, all of that has given me experiences to draw from as a writer. It’s certainly not a bad thing. So, I would tell my 18-year-old self to be thankful for all the experiences because they have made up for an enjoyable 41 years.
JVB: And I’m guessing you’d also recommend flossing (laughs).
EK: (laughs) You’ve gotta floss guys.
I wanted to add this little P.S. to the post: Note that Eric didn't even WIN the Tracking Board LPFC (Frank Longo was the winner with Cooties). Eric ultimately was in the top 10. But if he hadn't entered at all, the script would still be on his hard drive. Unread. Unnoticed. Unsold. So, there's that...
In case you haven't heard of the Tracking Board's Launch Pad before, it's probably because it's only 18 months old. So far, the Launch Pad Alumni for 2013 and 2014 have a total of 89 Projects with 60 writers signed and 23 Projects set up. In just one month after announcing the 2014 Top 25, 16 of those 25 have been signed with reps already with more meetings on the horizon. In every TB competition, a project has sold to a major buyer within the first week of announcing their Top 25 (2013 LPFC - Tranquility Base - sold to Fox; 2014 LPPC - Paradox - sold to Imperative Entertainment; 2014 LPFC - Matriarch - sold to Paramount). I don't know about you, but those are pretty good odds in my book.
Eric is agented by Paradigm, managed by Benderspink and lawyered by Jeff Frankel. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricKoenig123.
- More articles by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman
- Meet Jake Wagner of Benderspink
- Balls of Steel: The 'Magic Trick' to Selling Your Screenplay
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