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Great Characters in a Great Situation: An Interview with ‘End of the Road’ Screenwriter Christopher J. Moore

Christopher J. Moore returns again to speak with Script about his new movie 'End of the Road,' and his latest books 'Justifiable' and' The Switch Family,' which are in the works of hitting the silver screen in the near future. Plus, we talk about his writing journey, how he conceives ideas and he provides insightful advice for all writers starting out in the business.

In this high-octane action thriller, a cross-country road trip becomes a highway to hell for Brenda (Queen Latifah), her two kids and her brother Reggie (Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges). After witnessing a brutal murder, the family finds themselves in the crosshairs of a mysterious killer. Now alone in the New Mexico desert and cut off from any help, Brenda is pulled into a deadly fight to keep her family alive. Directed by Millicent Shelton, END OF THE ROAD also stars Beau Bridges, Mychala Faith Lee, Shaun Dixon and Frances Lee McCain.

End of the Road is the last family road trip you'd ever want to go on, but it's also one of the most entertaining and thrilling, 'Did they really just do that?' kind of rides. The filmmakers behind this film bring style and action to screenwriter Christopher J. Moore's latest writing endeavor. 

Christopher is a writer's writer, first and first most. And when I say a writer's writer, he does it all. The Angeleno native took some time to come back and speak with Script about his new movie End of the Road, and his latest books Justifiable and The Switch Family, which are in the works of hitting the silver screen in the near future. Plus, we talk about his writing journey, how he conceives ideas and he provides insightful advice for all writers starting out in the business.

END OF THE ROAD (2022) Chris Bridges as Reggie, Shaun Dixon as Cam, Mychala Faith Lee as Kelly and Queen Latifah as Brenda. Cr: NETFLIX

END OF THE ROAD (2022) Chris Bridges as Reggie, Shaun Dixon as Cam, Mychala Faith Lee as Kelly and Queen Latifah as Brenda. Cr: NETFLIX

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: Where did this idea initially come from?

Christopher J. Moore: It's so funny, I have so many different ways to get ideas. And sometimes it's just me writing in my notebook, just whatever pops into my head, I do like, 'What if?' - 'What if the sky falls?’ I've always loved movies, even before I knew I wanted to write them. I've always been a big fan before I even knew you can make a living and be a professional writer or filmmaker. When I was in college, I went to Southern Illinois University Carbondale and I'm from LA born and raised. And I was out there on a football scholarship and one of the greatest experiences of my college days, just going down south for spring break, hanging out with my friends. And we drove from Southern Illinois through Atlanta all the way to Florida, Tallahassee and Fort Myers. And I'm an LA kid, and I'm like, 'Oh, OK. This is different.' Some real scary, scary roads. 

Luckily for me, I'm traveling with four of my friends, I got a linebacker next to me it's a little different than Brenda's situation. So, we were more in the, 'I wish somebody would say something' [laughs] But I just remember how scary it was just some of those dark roads. And you cut your lights off, it's like closing your eyes, you know what I mean? And if your car breaks down, and trust me, we were not in a new, dependable car, we just going on faith. And it was just some really scary moments. I used to always look at those motels, exactly like the one in the film, but I remember just being out one day and I was just looking at a motel and I was just like, 'Wow. What if?' and it kind of came to me.

Christopher J. Moore. Photo by Michael D. Lyons

Christopher J. Moore. Photo by Michael D. Lyons

I would say the whole story, the genesis of it came from just looking at this motel, this seedy motel in Illinois, ‘What if a murder happened next door and a family witnessed it?’ It sparked the idea. So from that, I came up with the idea, I wrote the screenplay, worked on it, and rewrote it. It was pretty amazing. I showed it to some people, and I just started getting these great responses from producers, and different people. And ultimately, it sold. It was just an amazing experience.

And trust me, it has been a long, long process because I've rewritten the script, I probably got 30 different drafts. For example, I've rewritten it where Brenda took the money, I rewrote it where her husband took the money before it became a little brother, the husband took the money, I rewrote it were at one point, because I had got the rights back, and I had my agent telling me, ‘Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep,’ so I was like it's gonna be grandparents [laughs] driving their grandbabies across the country. So, I have a grandparent's version. [laughs] It's been such a crazy ride.

And ultimately, Tracey [Edmonds], just kept believing in it, and she wanted to get it made. And she was just kind of relentless, as I was because I was on a mission as well. I just knew I caught lightning in a bottle, I wrote something great. As we were getting ready to go in production, they brought David Loughery in, and he did a good job.

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Sadie: Did you two work together on rewrites or did he do his own pass on it?

Christopher: He did his own pass on it. But I was giving notes, along with Tracey and everybody else. It was really cool, because Tracey really kept me involved in the whole process, which I know is rare. Sometimes it's like, ‘We'll call you when it's time for the premiere.’ [laughs] And that's it. I was giving notes the whole time. And he really loved the script too. I think he said all the right things, because what they definitely didn't want is somebody to come in, and just change everything and that's the worst thing, I think when you have writers that want to come in, and they just want to change everything, so they can get a credit, or as much credit as they possibly can. And he came in and he did what was necessary for production and the story and things that needed to be changed. Of course, he has a great track record with a lot of different films that. Which made me feel good about it because nobody likes to be rewritten, but I understand this business. I got lucky with David because David is a good guy.

Sadie: That is nice that it worked out that way too. It's rare that the original writer gets anything.

Christopher: The one thing I've learned about the process, you got to protect your story by - that's everything. So, I was glad I was able to protect that and keep that intact. And I didn't have to share it. It worked out. It's been a process, but it's been a long journey. And sometimes I feel like I've been in labor for a decade. [laughs]

Sadie: [laughs] Well it’s almost showtime and ready to be shared and seen, streaming in every household. I really enjoyed the family group and their dynamic. And I really liked Brenda played by Queen Latifah, who is just phenomenal in everything she does. Where were you pulling these characters from?

END OF THE ROAD (2022) Queen Latifah as Brenda. Cr Ursula CoyoteNETFLIX

END OF THE ROAD (2022) Queen Latifah as Brenda. Cr Ursula CoyoteNETFLIX

Christopher: A lot of times, I'll use the people in my life. The bickering between the kids - I got three kids, I done heard every type of bickering back and forth. [laughs] The women in my life; my wife, my aunts, my sister in laws, my parents, things that they say. I really pay attention to the people around me and the voices. It’s funny, because, I write novels as well, and my target audience is women, and I get all the time, ‘How do you write women so well?’ And a big part of that is I attributed to I'm a good listener. I hear the way women sit around during the holidays, and birthdays when they're talking, I'm listening. I'm paying attention.

Sadie: You write in several mediums from television, and films to books - how do you know which idea or project will best suit that medium?

Christopher: You kind of know a lot of times what would make a great book, but this is the thing I am a natural screenwriter. I consider myself when it comes to screenwriting, I'm a black belt. I know how to get under the hood. I know character, structure, all that good stuff. When it comes to being a novelist, I feel like I'm a yellow belt. [laughs] Books take me longer. And I just do the best I can. And people love my books, I think because my books move so fast because of my screenwriting training. I'm not going to spend five pages on describing a room when I walk in, I get straight to the story. So, I feel I'm definitely a more natural screenwriter.

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I write the screenplay first. And then if I think the screenplay would make a great novel, then I turn it into a novel. So, I do it backward. [laughs] Because when you think about it, a screenplay, it's the most amazing outline ever, when it comes to a novel. If you have a 115-page screenplay, and you use it as a guide as you're writing your novel, of course, you're going to create other stories, you're going to expand stories, you're going to create other little subplots, and things like that. But it's just such a great guide.

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And also, it's been a way for me to keep my sanity, and not totally lose my mind waiting on Hollywood [laughs] to give a call and say, ‘Hey, we're gonna make your movie.’ I can be out there selling that story, selling that book, going to book fairs, and conventions, doing all those different things, and feel good that, hey, if it doesn't work out, I still got the story out there. And if it touches 10,000 people, then that's beautiful. If it touches 50,000, that's even more beautiful. It's been my savior, because yes, I'm talented, yes, I worked my butt off, but I realize how lucky I am. It really takes a little bit of a miracle to have your script bought, then put it into production, then made well. Most screenwriters who have 20 credits or something, a lot of times they're writers who are in that small group of people who get to jump on scripts that are already going into production, it's been greenlit, and they'll do a pass and they'll get a credit, but to come from concept to writing the original script to selling it and all that stuff, it really is a little bit of a miracle. And so, like I said, I work hard, I write every day, but I do know how blessed and fortunate I am, and I don't take it lightly.

Sadie: It’s certainly a process, doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years and thirty drafts

Christopher: Yes, absolutely. I think my blessing is that I do know how to write in different forms. know how to write one-hour dramas, I know how to write half-hour sitcoms. I was writing for a producer for a film, and he got thrown into the Tyler Perry camp, was running his studio at an early stage – then I find myself writing in television, but I loved it, because it's good for a writer to be able to see your stuff get made. Go through the process and cast and producing. You're constantly progressing, while your films are progressing as well, just at a slower pace, but you're doing other stuff, as well to keep you inspired and keep you motivated. And to me, that's everything.

Sadie: And keeps you sane, I’m sure too.

Christopher: Keeps me sane. I teach as well. I'm an adjunct professor at USC. I teach television writing, I teach feature writing. I use teaching screenwriting to inspire not only the students, but myself, because, I tell people every time I teach a class, I learn something. And also, the fact that they're young - I teach at LA Film School, too, as well, I've taught at Chapman University - you get to talk to these young people, and they kind of keep you in the loop of what's going on now.

Sadie: What types of stories or themes are you interested in exploring through your written work?

Christopher: My favorite movies, Chinatown, The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, I loved Get Out, which was heavily influenced by Rosemary's Baby - I love films like that. I like different genres. I just love character. So, give me a great character, and put that character in a great situation, whether it's drama, whether it's a thriller, or horror, just give me some great characters to put in a great situation.

My first script that started my professional career is a script I wrote called God's Child, and it's a family drama. And it's about a father striving to be a successful businessman and trying to give his family everything and forgets what is really important, and it takes drama and tragedy to make him realize, family comes first. And that was my first script that really got me attention. It won the Nickelodeon Fellowship Award in 2000. I was the first, when they first started the Nickelodeon program, I was the first to win it. They only gave one feature writer and the rest were for TV.

So, people saw me as a drama writer. I then turned it into a novel. And I sold that book all over the country and it did extremely well. It's one of those things where I like drama, like one of my favorite films is Terms of Endearment. It breaks my heart every time I watch it.

Sadie: So good.

Christopher: A lot of people who would read my book, who know movies, they will say, It's like Terms of Endearment with Black people.’ [laughs] I like that. I like thrillers. I wrote a book called The Switch Family, which was my first YA novel. I wrote it as a script first. I feel like that has a really good chance. I got producers that are excited about that. Tracey, who's super excited about that being our next project. And it's about a family of witches and all hell breaks through. So, the books out and the script is obviously done, and we're working on getting that set up now.

JustifiableA-2 alt

My newest book just dropped, it's called Justifiable. I don't want to say who it is, but we got an A-list actor attached. I'm super excited. My manager is on the job and they're trying to get that made as well. I don't know if you've ever seen John Q, starring Denzel - it's John, in the suburbs with the police. And it’s about race, people, love, relationships, respect, it's just about so much. It's a powerful suspense thriller. And that's in the works as well, but the book is out. I'm so excited about that, because when I wrote it, I felt like this book can change the world if people read it. It's pretty powerful. That's what I'm super excited about, at this moment, too.

Sadie: Oh, that's awesome, crossing fingers for you. Looking forward to watching that one as well! Any advice for writers honing their craft?

Christopher: What I could tell young writers - you have to be dedicated. I think you have to be honest with yourself, do you love this art form as far as being a writer? Do you love being a writer? Because if you do not, there are so many other ways for you to make money. There are so many other ways for you to be successful in life. It is a tough thing to do. But if you love it, it's almost like you got to have faith as you're pursuing it. And I honestly believe things will work out, if you put the work in, you write every day, and you read books - I'll go in my office, and I'll just pick a book, whether it's Robert McKee or Syd Field, whatever book that I've read probably 10 times and I'll just go through it, because something in it might just spark an idea or a way for me to fix something that I'm working on at that moment. And it's also a great way to stay inspired. I think so much of this is about staying inspired. Because the game of screenwriting will push you to the limit, to the point where you question yourself, 'Do I want to do this? Is it gonna happen for me? Am I wasting my time?' That's why you just gotta kind of have faith and you got to love what you're doing. Because if you love what you're doing, then you're a success, you're doing what you love, and that's how I had to reprogram my brain and not let Hollywood define my success. I define my success by I put out a book, they like it. I wrote a script. I'm proud of it. And live life.

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I have a quote on my desk that I took from an article that Scott Frank had. He was a bartender while he was writing and he said, ‘Everything you do, should serve your writing.’ Ga job that maybe doesn't totally mentally blow your mind, so when you go home, you can't write because your job is so stressful. Find something that you can do that can allow you to write, but not only is it good for you to make money, and to be able to live and have a life, but it's also important for experiencing and working with people. Find a job that allows you to write and do that. And that way, you'll have more stamina in the game, you won't tap out after four years, like, ‘I can't do this. I'm starving to death. I'm waiting for Hollywood,’ you'll tap out. And you won't have to operate from desperation.

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Sadie: Starving artist.

Christopher: Yeah, starving artist. And it's also the best way to get taken advantage of too. People will take advantage of you and you will get deals on your lap that aren't good deals that you shouldn't take.

End of the Road releases in the United States on Netflix September 9, 2022. 


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