Chatting with Harold L. Brown, WILDsound Feature Screenplay Winner

I like the idea of breathing life into a story and short of seeing it performed on the big screen I like the idea of actors doing live readings. There is nothing more humbling then having your work read by professionals or performed in front of an audience – and WILDsound has done this and so much more. WILDsound has provided invaluable insights into my screenplays and my novel, offering advice that has strengthened my scripts and novel; and made me a better writer.

– Harold L. Brown, on what influenced him to submit to the WILDsound Screenplay Festival (Review)

Harold was one of the early 2014 feature screenplay winners. We performed his entire script HOPE IS NOT A BLACK & WHITE RAINBOW back in March. Watch it here now:


NARRATOR – Becky Shrimpton
NIC BARRE – Odain Bailey
ISAAC/BEM – Mel White
GEORGE/ROBERT – Barry Minshull
NYA – Alicia Payne
ZAC/LLOYD – Sean Ballantyne
HELEN/KIM – Diane Tomaszewksi
CHERYL – Dorcas MacKenzie

WILDsound’s Matthew Toffolo chatted with Harold about his screenplay and writing career:

Matthew Toffolo: Why should your script be made into a film?

HB: I believe “Hope is Not a Black and White Rainbow” speaks to a global shift that has been slowly transforming the makeup of individuals, families and communities, and the struggle to embrace a new world and release the old world beliefs and values that have outlived their usefulness. The story explores the growing global village of interracial/mixed heritage families and the blurred lines of long held beliefs that we live in a very black and white world. Racism is man-made, while a world rich in diversity is God-given, as is free-will – the ability to choose the kind of world we want to live in.

The story speaks of the devastating affects racism has on the lives of individuals, families and communities. I hope audiences will immerse themselves in the shoes of Nic and Nya, individuals from two different worlds, who are brought together to tackle a universal problem – adapt or parish.

This is a story about overcoming racial obstacles, a story of humanity at its worst and best – a story about the human condition which at its core is blind to colour when the stakes are about survival. It is a personal journey of realization of how deficient the world is if everything was viewed as black and white, rather than as a world with an entire spectrum of colours, like a rainbow. It is a story of hope – the essence and reason to live – regardless of our cultural background and heritage.

MT: How long have you been writing screenplays?

HB: While I did not realize it at the time, storytelling has been in my blood since I was a kid and I got my first guitar. I used music to express what I was feeling. For much of my adult life technical and business writing has been an essential part of my working life. About fifteen years ago, in addition to my fulltime executive job, I started carving out time to more seriously explore storytelling through film and television. In order to more fully understand the industry and gain a better insight as a writer, I took some acting classes with a Los Angeles film director, got some time in front of the camera and pursued training and gained experience on the producer end of things.

All that being said I finished my first screenplay around 2000. When I look back at it, I realize how little I really understood about storytelling at the time, and how much I have learned and am still learning.

MT: What films have you seen the most in your life?

HB: While I enjoy a good thriller and mystery, when I look back at the films that have stuck with me, it is the stories of people overcoming adversity while dealing with their own “personal obstacles” or inner demons that have left a lasting impact. These are the stories that cause me to pause and reflect – to think. Racism has been a theme in several of the movies, such as “In the Heat of the Night” directed by Norman Jewison, “A Time to Kill,” “A Bronx Tale,” and “Thunderheart.”

While I did not realize it at the time, in looking back, two of my screenplays deal with racism – “Destiny of Tar and Feathers,” a story of one man’s struggle with his Metis heritage, and “Hope is Not a Black and White Rainbow,” a story of a man coming to grips with being born into a mix-marriage and the consequences.

I think it is part of my ongoing thirst to better understand humanity and why I have certain immediate responses to things. As someone once said, “If you go back far enough, we are all related.”

MT: What artists in the film industry would you love to work with?

HB: I had the good fortune of meeting Arthur Miller and Norman Jewison at the Edmonton Film Festival a number of years ago. They have told some fantastic stories and they are Canadian. I realize Norman Jewison is not as active now, but given the racial setting, I would love to collaborate with him on “Hope is Not a Black and White Rainbow.” Others would include David Cronenberg, Anne Wheeler, Sarah Polley and Deepa Mehta. In terms of actors that I would love to work with, it is really more about who is drawn to the stories I have written. I want to work with artists that feel the pain, joy and struggles of the characters in my stories. That being said one does not have to look too far to see that in terms of actors in Canada, the well is deep with talent.

MT: How many screenplays have you written?

HB: I have completed seven feature length screenplays that I have felt satisfied with and shared with a wider audience, including screenwriting competitions at film festivals.

MT: Ideally, where would you like to be in 5 years?

HB: Every day I get to write is a gift, and while I am unproduced at the moment, I get to pursue my passion for writing stories every day. What more does a guy really need? Now, as for wants, well… film and television is a very tough business to distinguish ones self and get a screenplay read, let alone produced, so to be realistic in 5 years I would like to have one screenplay produced on the big screen, and another at least in development – perhaps as a television series.

At the moment I am working on my eighth screenplay which is a story set in the not too distant future. I have also just completed my first novel and signed a book publisher deal and hope to begin work on my second novel in 2014.

MT: Describe your process; do you have a set routine, method for writing?

HB: With each screenplay I write, my process continues to evolve. Usually I have a germ of an idea that bounces around in my head for a period of time. If it continues to resonate with me I start jotting down thoughts about what the story might be. If it still is resonating perhaps a few months or even years later, I start to flesh out the idea and begin more serious research. I usually find that some aspect of the idea links back to a desire to grow and increase my knowledge about the subject. The writing process for me is also a learning process about myself and the world around me. I find that as the research process continues, I continually fight the temptation to jump in and begin writing the story. I usually try to outline at least the major aspects of what the story is, or is becoming, and once I have a solid sense of the major pieces of the story, I begin to write the screenplay. Writing the screenplay always provides some real surprises and new insights which add layers to the story.

When I first started writing, the results-driven part of me wanted to know how long it would take to write a screenplay. I would ask other writers how long it took them to write a screenplay, trying to apply it to my creative endeavors. I have written screenplays in as little as two-three months, and on the other end of the spectrum have taken up to two years. Now, I realize that the creative process takes as long as it takes to complete a screenplay.

MT: Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

HB: I am a people watcher and information junkie. I am constantly viewing people and world events through my “storychaser” lens, looking for kernels of insight into why people do what they do, why things happen and things that surprise me. I love music, spending time in the outdoors shooting video of wildlife, especially in the spring and fall; and spending time in Hawaii – all of which I am blessed to share with my soul mate.

MT: Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?

I have been fortunate to meet a few people in the business who offered some sage advice which I apply in my writing. Norman Jewison told me, “Harold just keep writing.” I do write – daily, some days I write a lot, other days I write very little. Some days it is a real struggle, other days the words just flow. Some days I write garbage, some days I don’t. One thing for certain I will sit down and write or type something daily.

Robert McKee told me, “Write the truth.” A simple statement with a very complex meaning. Stay true to the character(s), true to the story and true to the audience’s expectations – no gimmicks, no shortcuts. Robert McKee also told me that writer’s block might just mean that I have not done enough research in preparing to tell my story. Research that is rich in the right kind of detail gives a writer a lot to work with, and the challenge then becomes whittling down and selecting only the relevant (to the audience) details, and determining the order of revealing them to your audience. Don’t get me wrong, research is not everything to writing, but it makes it easier to focus on the writing.

Develop a thick skin and courage to stick to your guns. Honest feedback, brutally honest feedback is better, is the only way to improve a story and get better as a writer. That being said, only you the writer intimately know the story you are trying to tell. In the early going I found myself trying to assimilate all the feedback I was getting into the story I was trying to tell. In the end I lost focus and I lost the story I was trying to tell. What I have learned is that feedback helps me ensure I have a well-grounded understanding of my story, and it can help me refine my story.

One last thing, pay attention to details – grammar, punctuation, spelling and story details. A screenwriters’ calling card is their screenplay.

By WILDsound Festival

Submitters reactions to their feedback on their stories. New testimonials coming each month! Watch this month's winning readings. At least 15 performances a month: Submit your script, story, poem, or film to the festival today:

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