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An Interview with Chicago Screenwriter John Henderson

November 19, 2010 | By | 1 Comment

Margaret Ann Stewart

John Henderson came from a family of writers and became interested in screenwriting while earning his degree from Columbia College in Chicago. He has been a quarterfinalist in the Nichol screenplay competition and has had two scripts optioned, including his feature, Downsizing, about a man that decides to murder his colleagues to save his own job. At the present time John is working on assignment with two producers to develop two different feature scripts that resulted in queries for his works, The War on Drugs and Night Flight.

As most new screenwriters discover, the chances of selling a spec script and making millions in today’s film industry are quite slim and the dream borders on being unrealistic. As John clarifies, being a working screenwriter now means being able to write a script based on a producer’s idea, whether on spec or for hire, as well as being capable of accomplishing rewrites of another writer’s work. But John also indicates that getting to the point where a screenwriter is invited to work with producers takes a great deal of conviction and the ability to be open to learn about the craft.

Producers and Development

Wisconsin Screenwriters Museum

I asked John how he came to work with two producers at the same time and what the experience has been like so far. John told me that he had sent e-mails to two producers querying for two different screenplays. Each producer liked his writing, but did not like the specific scripts that he sent. So, thinking quickly, he offered to send each producer the other script. Again, they liked his work, but were not prepared to make a deal. So, knowing that the most they could each say was, “no”, he offered to let them use his talents to develop a story that they would like and both agreed. John said, “The lesson I learned was not being afraid to speak up about having more time to develop ideas”.

John’s suggestions resulted in him currently working with one producer to adapt a story to film and working with another producer to develop a story idea that he had, but that had not been written. John remarked, “My job is to write a story that will put butts in the seats”, and through the development process he is perfecting that art.

Networking, Collaboration and Writing

John Henderson, Done Deal Pro

I asked John, if there were three pieces of advice that he could offer to new screenwriters, what would those be? He focused on three main concepts – the script, networking and collaboration. John said, “No matter what advice other writers, including me, tell you, it all begins with a great script. Put a dozen writers in a room and you’ll get a dozen different theories on the best way to market your script. If you think I’m kidding, go to Done Deal Pro and look at some of the posts in the forums on what should be included in a query letter”.

As for networking, John indicated that writers learn from other writers, writers share information about contacts with other writers and writers have the ability to assist other writers with their individual projects. John stated, “I run a private office on Zoetrope and many of the members share e-mail addresses and their experiences with other producers, managers and agents, which is key to contacting the right people”.

With regard to collaboration, John specified that the industry is filled with new writers who do not take criticism well and that refuse to consider feedback from others. But, according to John, that is just not realistic thinking because a screenwriter’s career is focused on rewriting and rewriting that is based on feedback. Additionally, many of the scripts that eventually make it to the screen, John said, do not do so until they have had multiple writers rework the material, such as in the case of Nottingham.

Recommendations and Advice

Hollywood Creative Directory

Because so much of the screenwriting process relies on making contacts, John said, “Done Deal Pro, IMDBPro, and a hard copy of the Hollywood Creative Directory are a great start. People may leave companies, but their e-mail structure hardly ever changes. The Wisconsin Screenwriters’ Forum is also a great resource for access to many of the above websites at a low price. It’s a low yearly price, but you get access to everything you could possibly need to start developing contacts”.

“Any other advice?”, I asked. John reflected for a moment and then said that one of the most eye-opening experiences that he could recall in his journey as a screenwriter was when he interned for no pay as a reader for a production company. John indicated, “The volume was HUGE!! It was like working at the post office. You’d delete one e-mail and five more would show up. Sure I could respond to everyone, but there are time management things to consider”. Ultimately the experience made John appreciate the producer’s side of the process and the immense volume of scripts that production companies are required to sift through to find one that they can put money behind to produce. So for writers just starting out in the business interning is a positive step in learning what it takes to get your script read by industry professionals.

John also suggests http://www.moviestaff.com/film_scripts.htm and http://sex-in-a-sub.blogspot.com/2010/05/robbing-from-poor-writer.html for additional info for screenwriters.

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Comments (1)

  1. A big thank you for the blog post.Much many thanks. Great.

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