Sam Borowski is an internationally published, award-winning writer, director and producer. After selling his first option in 1999 and attending the Cannes Film Festival, Borowski has gone on to produce five films - including two shorts - with a sixth on the way; Murder-A-Go-Go, which he co-wrote with Daniel Roebuck and Duane Whitaker. Sam also has a big-budget franchise feature in development, Nigel Read. Most recently, he wrote, directed and produced The Mandala Maker, a short for Academy-Award consideration in 2010 that is already getting Oscar buzz.
Screenwriting by Sam Borowski
In some ways, a screenwriter’s approach is very similar to writing novels. Now, keeping in mind that I am also a working director/producer, just in terms of screenwriting, it is similar in most ways, except the parameters are a little different. You don’t have as much space to play around with – for neophyte screenwriters the max page count is 120 ! But, people in the industry usually like anywhere (depending on the genre of the script) from 95-110 – and the old adage always applies: ‘when it doubt, take it out!’ Also, unlike novels, everything you write has a cost to it. How can this be filmed, and for how much? Will it make the script harder to sell. Who could play a role like this?
Still I prefer to think of the similarities such as character development and story development, and of course, it all starts with an original story. Are your characters interesting? Are they different? I see films all the time where the characters are no more interesting than the people you spend time with – that isn’t good from an audience perspective. What would make industry people want to read about it (in the script), and an audience want to view these characters, or this story? Is it about some guy who is obsessed with Marilyn Monroe that he cross-dresses and acts like her at night, all while acting as sort of a strange superhero? Or is it a story about some accountant that is so true-to-life, it makes all non-accountants squirm in their seats and head for the exits (nothing against accountants ).
Which brings me to my next point: what kind of scripts are they looking for? The answer is simple; original stories. Look at movies like CLERKS and PULP FICTION, MEMENTO (which strangely enough works the same backwards or forwards? See the movie and you will know what I am talking about) or even the documentary, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (in which several of the writers and narrators helped tell the story as much as the filmmakers who froze their butts off in those well-below freezing climates.) All those films couldn’t be more different from each other, but they were all different in general – and each one achieved a measure of success. The industry is always looking for new, inventive and different ideas, and it all starts with the script.
You may have heard that phrase, “you can make a terrible movie from a great script, but you can’t make a great movie from a terrible script.” Well, guess what? It still holds true to this day. It all starts with the script. Yes, a director, producer and some poor acting can change that script – often not for the better. But, if you start with a terrible script, there isn’t much you can do. And I would wager to guess, a lot of the great screenwriters, whether it be two-time Academy-Award-Winning scribe William Goldman (who writes novels as well), who might just be the best of all-time, or one of my friends who passed away recently Arthur Ross (a great writer in his time, may he rest in peace), or any of the great working writers today (whether it be Cameron Crowe, Goldman, Quentin Tarantino or Diablo Cody) would likely agree with that.
I was recently asked by another web-site why it is I do what I do and the answer was quite simple to me: It is the chance to do two things: entertain people, but also bring some positivity into this world. Ultimately, I write – and make films – because, it's the chance to touch people in some way. With my short, THE MANDALA MAKER, which I made for Academy-Award consideration, I’ve had more people - women especially - come up to me, and tell me it has moved them or spoke to them in some way. And that, to me, is as valuable as any award I can win.
Here’s another thing I would like to touch on: I once read an un-attributed quote that said a person who doesn’t risk, doesn’t truly live. So by those standards, the only failure is not trying. And I know Four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw once said that, “every successful individual, at one time or another, would have to have failed. But remember, failure is a great thing; it humbles us, keeps us on our toes, keeps us hungry, and always keeps us coming back for more.” That quote would apply to anything really, and writing is no exception.
However, I am a firm believer to be a writer of any kind, be it novels, short-stories, poetry or screenplays, it has to be in your soul. This profession is not for everyone. It can be a great life, but it is also at times, not an easy life. As it is for actors, it can be a life of rejection and struggling, which ultimately strengthens you as a person, and grounds you – even prepares you for success. It can be very humbling. Do it because it’s in your soul. Because when you wake up in the morning – other than the person you love – the first thing you think about is a new script idea. Because you wake up in the middle of the night and scrawl some ridiculous dream you’ve just had down on a napkin or whatever is sitting right next to the bed. Do it, because, as someone very special in my heart once put it, “you didn’t choose it, but rather it chose you.”
In my business, you will find that everyone wants to be the writer. I don’t think I ever heard it put any better than when Scott Frank adapted Elmore Leonard’s wonderful Hollywood satire, GET SHORTY, for the big screen. The shylock, Chili Palmer, played wonderfully by John Travolta, is talking to a coke dealer, played incredibly by Delroy Lindo, about how easy it is to write a script. Now, this is almost word-for-word, but I may be paraphrasing just a bit: “You can write one of these?” Travolta asks. “Oh, man, there’s nothin’ to it!” shoots back Lindo. “You get an idea – you put it down on paper; then you hire somebody else to put in all the commas and sh*t. And to fix the mis-spelled words. But, I’ve seen scripts I know there were words spelled wrong, hardly had any commas at all, so I don’t think that’s all that important. You get to the end … you write in FADE OUT.” And unfortunately, that hysterical scene is an opinion I’ve found most people share in – whether it is true or not. Remember, perception is often greater than reality.
Finally, I would like to share one other thing with all writers out there: believe in something BIGGER than yourself. In other words, trust that there is a power or a force that made everything we see that is good,( I call that power God) to protect you. Talk to it. It will help keep you grounded. My relationship with God has gotten me through some of the most trying times in my life and my career. I am not here to preach to you – but rather to tell you believe in something greater than yourself … reach out to that force (again I call that force God). Have some quiet place where you can meditate and pray, be it a church or a park, where you can go the times you need to ground yourself, and to spiritually re-charge. God is everywhere – you just have to seek Him. No matter what you believe, believe in something greater than yourself, and you will always find a way through it. And, as a writer, everyday I thank God for having food on the table. And if at all possible – try and do one positive thing for the world each day. Be it talking to a lonely person, or giving a dollar to someone on a street corner. Do a favor for an elderly person. Be there for a special friend – or the person you love – when they need you the most. Doesn’t have to be monumental in your eyes, but in someone else’s eyes, it will be. Those are my thoughts, for better or worse. Now, in the words of an aforementioned aspiring writer, “You get to the end … you write in FADE OUT.”
More about Sam's work: The Staten Island Advance touted, “The Mandala Maker is expected to be a major contender in the live-action short category for the 2010 Academy Awards,” while www.yadacity.com wrote, “THE MANDALA MAKER is on the fast track to get a nod in the live-action short category, for the 2010 Academy-Award.” The New York Daily News said of the signature moment in the film, "It's a real scene stealer." He previously wrote and produced the feature-length documentary, Creature Feature: 50 Years of the Gill-Man, which features Academy-Award Winner Benicio Del Toro and is narrated by A-lister Keith David. He also produced, wrote and directed the feature film, Karloff and Me, currently in post-production, about a modern-day thespian, attempting to make it later in life like his idol, Boris Karloff. It features the talents of Ron, MacCloskey, Academy-Award Nominees Peter Bogdanovich and Gloria Stuart, among others. In 2007 he produced and was the second-unit director on the feature film. REX, which has gone on to achieve quite a bit of success on the festival circuit. Sam has done rewrite work for both studio and independent projects, and is available for rewrite work and script consultation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Thanks to Angelique Armae for inviting Sam to blog with us.