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Where Genre Has No Limits: Spotlight on Jon Enge

Screenwriter Jon Enge shares with Script what personally inspires him to write, the genres he's gravitated towards and why, and more!
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In this series, we will talk to up-and-coming Screenwriters, find out their writing process, what projects they are currently working on, and get some tips of the trade.

Jon Enge is a writer/director with 15 years of experience and a scorching case of adult-onset queer. For eight of those years, he worked on a variety of web series, ultimately producing over 200 episodes, many of which included exploding heads! With a skeleton crew of 2-20, he took the lead as writer/producer/director, edited and created visual effects for most of them and he’s won a handful of awards.

Jon writes action/adventure/sci-fi but he needs humor in his drama (or drama in his humor?) He likes to get you laughing and then hit you with the signature Enge gut-punch.

Jon’s unique perspective from growing up in a low-income family in a rich kid town, a queer kid in a time that was not accepted, left him an outcast... and he wouldn’t have it any other way. That perspective is ever-present in his writing where he likes to tackle themes such as found family, rejection, loneliness and hope... there’s always hope.

Jon Enge. Photo courtesy Jon Enge.

Jon Enge. Photo courtesy Jon Enge.

What is your favorite genre to write?

I love action/adventure. I grew up on Spielberg movies, Star Wars, Romancing the Stone, and now I am a big fan of Marvel. Fun, swashbuckling action with humor. But I’ve also written some very small indie movies which have gotten a lot of attention. As much as I pull my action characters from the depths of my soul, these come from my most raw places, straight out of my wounds.

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Tell us about your current WIP and favorite character and why?

Oh boy...well, I have three WIPs that I’m jumping back and forth to and from at the moment, my space pirate captain, Kit, is one of my favorites because she’s really at her lowest, driven away all her friends, addicted to pain meds and drinking, she’s on a suicide mission when we find her. During the pilot, she meets a mentor who believes in her and plants the seed that she might not be the piece of crap she thinks she is. The series is all about her healing and coming to believe in herself, just when she’s feeling good about herself, we pull the rug out from under her. All while having laser shootouts with intergalactic bad guys.

Mike, from my pilot Murder Mike, is desperate to be a David Copperfield-type magician and has become disenchanted with his job so he’s been slowly “quiet quitting" - which is dangerous when you’re an international assassin. In the course of the pilot, he finds meaning in his day job by using it to help less fortunate people who are really in need... of a killer. It’s an allegory for working a day job you hate while trying to break into the entertainment industry... which I’m sure none of us can relate to. He’s crazy, full of unearned bravado, and knows what he wants. He’s so much fun because he has no filter.

I worked the renaissance faire in Southern California for 20 years and was encouraged by a showrunner to write a series about it and have been feverishly working on that the past week. Finn is basically me. He’s come back to the faire after a divorce to just relax and enjoy his friends. He’s not interested in love or responsibility, he just wants to joke around, drink, and have fun with his friends...of course, he won’t get to. His “one that got away” is back, too, and totally interested in him. He desperately wants love but will not let himself have it, which was a big topic of conversation in therapy this week.

The thing they all have in common and that shows up in pretty much everything I write, they’re all at the bottom and are going to have to claw their way out.

If you had the chance to recreate an IP, what would it be and what would your spin on it be?

I would kinda love to do a live-action Thundarr the Barbarian. Post-apocalyptic. Magic and swords - Ookla the Mok! I loved that show growing up. My spin would be to give Thundarr a beard - how is he clean-shaven all the time in the apocalypse? But I think that about a lot of fantasy movies and shows. I think I’d keep it a bit goofy and campy while also making people explode. Did I mention I like to make people explode?

Another cartoon I was obsessed with growing up was G.I. Joe. When I saw the first trailer for the first movie, I leaned over to my friend and said, 'I have a new career goal. Reboot this series.' But, honestly, I don’t have a lot of ideas for a fresh take on it. Maybe a Mission Impossible sort of situation? Then again, militarization is not a theme that really pumps me up these days.

What story, film, or novel has left an indelible impact on you as a writer?

Like every other filmmaker of my generation, Star Wars absolutely changed my life, and Indiana Jones.

Dungeons & Dragons opened the way for me to write things that weren’t narratives. I started creating fantasy settings when I was about ten years old.

I’ve spent so much time creating worlds and adventures for my players. This is like the honing steel I constantly sharpen myself on. Whenever I’m between projects I’m like, 'Oh! The elves in this world need a revamp!' And I can dig into exactly zero-pressure writing that’s just for me. Currently, I think the website that holds my fantasy world is around 200 pages. 

However, I think the movie that had the most effect on me finally giving myself permission to become a filmmaker was Chasing Amy. As a queer writer, I really related and the love story was so much fun and the unhappy ending made me feel so deeply. My first screenplay was a straight-up comedy. It was funny but it wasn’t good. After Chasing Amy I realized I could dig deep down into my soul and try to relate my old wounds on screen and they didn’t have to be happy, they didn’t have to end neatly in a little bow. I could really make people feel and that was magic for me.

The next script I wrote was the one that launched my career.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I was absolutely enchanted by words from the time someone started reading them to me. In 3rd grade the teacher gave us a writing prompt, “Pat was walking down the road when [they] heard something walking behind [them.] [They] turned around and saw...”

We were supposed to write a sentence to a paragraph finishing this thought. My mom had to call the teacher and ask for more time because I was on chapter 6. I remember Pat was killed and it turned into a detective story with an old detective and a young detective and the old detective sacrifices himself at the end so the young detective could live. Oh, the killer was the bunny from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

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The first teacher to honestly encourage me to write was my high school English teacher, Mrs. Hewett. They’d cut all the creative writing classes from our school and teachers weren’t supposed to give out creative writing assignments but she kept me after class and would slip me writing prompts under the table. Help me with them. No grades. No extra credit, she just fed my love of writing and helped me get better at it. I will always be grateful to her for that.

What current show or movie do you wish you were in the writer's room?

The Boys! I’m very irreverent - I made a bit of a performing career out of it - and when I saw the pilot of this show I knew six minutes in, it’s where I wanted to be! Murder Mike is the perfect sample, if I could just get it to them!

Oh, and if James Gunn wasn’t so brilliantly crafting Peacemaker on his own, that’d be right up my alley, too! I love making people explode!

What keeps you motivated as a writer?

Fear.

What would you consider your "brand" as a writer?

Irreverent stories about loneliness and hope. I’m not cynical and I think at my age I’m pretty sure I will never be. Anyone who’s been in a room with me can tell you, I always have a positive attitude. I, personally, have come back from some pretty dark times and I love writing stories about people on the desperate edge who realize they’re worthy of something better and are able to work their way out of that hole and even make the world a better place!

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What would you like your legacy as a writer to be?

My biggest dream would be to have a beloved sci-fi series that people didn’t just think was cool but connected to the characters and really felt seen by them. As I told you once a long time ago, a lot of my friends have never seen themselves on screen and I’d like to change that. But also I’d like to cosplay at Comic-Con as one of my own characters.

What's up next for you?

At the moment, taking editing work to make ends meet while looking for new management. My short-term goal is to get a manager who can get me meetings with showrunners. I’ve been meeting some on my own, too, which is great! They even like my writing, but I need to actually get put up for jobs.

Visit Jon Enge's website to keep up to date with his projects.


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