WILDsound 2010 Spring Short Screenplay Finalist - STEPHEN THEODORE BELL
1. What is your screenplay about?
With "The Quartering Act," I wanted to focus on grief and the effect it can have on a person. The main character Colette is a woman stuck in stasis because she refuses to accept the idea of losing her son. She's hurt and she's angry, but she's trying to suppress it, because letting it out means facing those demons. I tried to express that struggle through the nostalgic nature of her home as well as her mannerisms and actions. When we first meet her, she's cooking this giant feast, though it becomes quickly apparent that she's the only person who lives there. She's obviously not cooking for the Germans, but then that begs the question of who she is cooking for. I get a lot of people asking me whether or not Maxime is alive, where Colette's husband is and so forth, but I'd rather let the readers draw their own conclusions. I have my own idea of what her situation is and I tried to pepper in some clues, but that's about as far as I care to go with it. With the screenplay, I really wanted to focus on her emotional journey from paralysis to the glimmer of moving forward. Unfortunately, it takes a very desperate and brutal experience to bring that about.
2. Why did you decide to write this screenplay?
Years ago I fell in love with the old American pulp magazines like Adventure and Blask Mask. I'd read these bombastic tales, some of which were propagandistic war stories of soldiers and civilians thrown into dire situations very much outside their control. With "The Quartering Act," I wanted to tell a story like that and use some of the conventions of that genre, but do so in a different way. War stories have been done to death, but I wanted to tell one that focused more on how communication breaks down in the face of conflict, how grief and fear and desperation push us all into corners and keep us from letting our guard down. Everyone in this story is afraid or angry or hurt and because of that none of them are willing to trust anyone or actually communicate with one another. I really loved the idea of having the enemy under your roof, at your table. How do you deal with that? It's an enemy you're supposed to be diametrically opposed to, but you've the most you've known of it has been through papers and radio. You blame these people for taking your son, but at the end of the day you know it likely wasn't these particular individuals. And in fact, they seem to have abandoned that enemy. So what are they now? What do you do? I've always been fascinated with the idea of "staring into the void and having it stare back at you" and I wanted to examine that theme a bit with this piece.
3. How long have you been writing screenplays?
I've only been writing screenplays for about six years. I'm 25 and much of my experience has come in and around my formal education (receiving a Bachelor's in Film Studies and a Masters in Film Production) so I feel like I'm really just beginning my career as a writer.
4. What is your favorite movie of all-time?
Though it came out only recently, my favorite film of all time is unquestionably The Dark Knight. That film is so layered it's mind-boggling and I discover more in it with every viewing. This is a bit of a common rant for me, but I have to say that it was totally snubbed from the Oscars last year, which I attribute to its reputation as a "Batman film." Unfortunately it seems that the more relevant a film is to pop culture iconography the easier it is to question its credibility. I'd argue the same thing happened with Star Trek this year. Anyway, the only film that really rivals TDK for me is The Prestige, but I have a ton of "favorite films" from a number of different genres/decades and listing them all here would take forever.
5. What artist in the industry would you love to work with?
If my favorite film gave any indication, the artist I would love to work with most has to be Christopher Nolan. I personally think he's the best writer-director working today and to get the chance to learn from him would be a dream-come-true. Here's a guy that went out and made his own film (The Following) on almost no budget during his free time and ended up winning Toronto and now he's the go-to guy at Warner Brothers. His story is just amazing and yet he handles himself with such class and respect for others. He's a master of his craft and I'm happy to see him getting the praise he deserves. If I had to pick other artists I really look up to, I have to mention P.T. Anderson, David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, Spike Jonze, J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Martin Scorsese and the list kind of goes on from there.
6. Who was your hero growing up?
This might be a cliche but my parents really were my heroes growing up. The dedication, hard work and sacrifice they offered in order to enable my brother and I to chase our dreams is something I will forever be in awe of. Our family never really had it easy, but my parents never let that prevent us from having fun and enjoying our time together. I love them for that and I really owe any success I have in this industry to them.
7. Ideally, where would you like to be in 5 years?
In 5 years I'd like to be finishing up directing my 2nd feature film. That might be a bit specific, but you asked for "ideally."
8. Describe your process; do you have a set routine, method for writing?
My process as a writer changes a bit from project to project, but one constant is that I try to have all of my plotting and character arcs worked out as much as possible before I actually begin writing a screenplay. That means a lot of research and a lot of treatment writing and outlining. Once you're actually writing the script, things are going to change and even more so in the rewrite. I find it best to have a thorough knowledge of where I was intending to go should the opportunity arise to go somewhere better. It gives me the ability to see the bigger picture and weigh options, because every time you open one door, you close another. The only other constant in my process is that I (and I'm probably in the minority here) always do page 1 rewrites when approaching my 2nd draft. It's a practice I picked up from a friend and it really allows me to incorporate what worked in the first draft without being too beholden to it.
9. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
On top of writing, I'm also a director so a lot of my time is spent working on developing that craft, reading scripts and watching as many films as possible and learning about new technology that's being used. I'm also a huge comic book nerd so I'm constantly reading my favorite titles and am currently working on developing a couple limited series that I hope to put out this year. Other than that, my interests focus mainly on spending time with family and friends and scouring NFL.com for news on my New England Patriots while I wait for football season to return.
10. What influenced you to enter the WILDsound Script Contest?
I found WILDsound after being recommended by a faculty member at Florida State's College of Motion Picture Arts where we recently completed filming and editing "The Quartering Act." I'm constantly looking to improve my writing and, even though the film's been completed, thought that the feedback and constructive criticism that comes with a screenplay festival like WILDsound could really help me as I pursue my next projects. Being read by knowledgeable peers is one of the most helpful experiences a writer can have and the universal feedback that WILDsound gives its applicants made it something I just couldn't turn down. It is both an extremely generous and greatly appreciated helping hand.
11. Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?
The best advice I can give to other writers is the same advice I've been given from my peers and mentors. Write every single day and read as many screenplays as you can. Those are the only ways to improve and really make it in this profession.