I think I saw the festival highlighted on FilmFreeway, if I remember correctly. I had just finished writing the script and wanted to kind of test the waters to see how it would be received. I’ve directed a number of film projects in the past and I may direct Gravel Heart this fall if I can raise the funds. And I think sending the script out for feedback is important before one spends a lot of time, money, and effort – yours and other peoples’ – shooting a script that isn’t working.
– Michael Curtis, on what influenced him to submit to the WILDsound Festival (Review)
Watch the Winning Screenplay Reading of GRAVEL HEART
NARRATOR – Angelica Alejandro
Tommy – Nathan Kohn
Brick – Jason Martorino
Cosgrove – Jason J. Thomas
Celia – Stephanie Seaton
Matthew Toffolo interviews Micheal Curtis:
Matthew: What is your screenplay about?
A 14-year-old puts his life in jeopardy when he confronts a neighbor for killing his dog. The script is loosely based on something that happened to me about 10 years ago when a man shot and killed one of my dogs for what seemed like sport. Just meanness. Gravel Heart is a reimagined version – kind of a gritty coming of age story that explores loss and the limits of retribution.
Matthew: Why should this script be made into a movie?
I hope it’s a very cinematic story that I believe will connect with a broad spectrum of viewers.
Matthew: How long have you been writing stories?
I’ve written short stories sporadically a few times in my life, never seriously, just hobby writing. Gravel Heart is my first solo short screenplay. I am working on my MFA in Film currently, so I will be writing more screenplays over the next couple of years as part of that effort.
Matthew: What movie have you seen the most in your life?
I’m not sure. I watch films so much. All the way through or just partially? If the latter, probably The Shawshank Redemption, because I love that film and it seems to be on television every 10 minutes. Talk about residuals!
Matthew: What artists would you love to work with?
Tons. Some are no longer with us like Sven Nykvist and Kieslow Kieslowski. Great actors like Helen Mirren, Robert Duval, Juliette Binoche. Directors and writers like Terrence Malick and Paul Haggis. I would have an impossibly long list.
Matthew: How many stories/screenplays have you written?
Gravel Heart is my first solo short screenplay. Prior to this script I had only partially re-written the ending for a film I just directed, a short called “Gift.” http://www.giftshortfilm.com
Matthew: Ideally, where would you like to be in 5 years?
Working as a professional screenwriter for film or television and living on the coast of Maine. (mutually incompatible, perhaps, but a great dream!)
Matthew: Describe your process; do you have a set routine, method for writing?
I’m just starting out, so I am pretty disciplined as I try to find what works best for me. I have a full-time day job, so I usually get up very early each morning and try to get in about 3 hours of writing work before having to go off to my job. I am a structuralist for sure. With Gravel Heart I probably spent a good 6 weeks just working and reworking the structure as a step outline before even beginning to write in actual screenplay format. So I do a lot of prep work, and I probably work very slow compared to “real” writers. I also do extensive character studies, probably a leftover from my college training as an actor. I will occasionally write first-person character monologues to help me find the voices and rhythms for certain characters. By the time I started writing the actual screenplay for Gravel Heart it came together very fast, because everything was already “there.” I had the structure worked out in my head very clearly and knew where I was going. It was just a matter of listening to the characters and getting it all down for them. If you hold off long enough, to the moment when it just has to be written, the momentum of the story just hums right along.
Of course, that’s just for the first draft. Then you spend weeks – or at least I did – cutting out all the stuff that you’ve overwritten. Cutting, cutting, cutting. Making things more visual so dialogue isn’t the cake, but just the icing. I spent almost 5 months, I think, from the initial idea to write a screenplay of this story to the completion of rewrites. On a script that’s only 13 or 14 pages long. So like I said, I’m super slow! Maybe I’ll get faster with more experience, or maybe I won’t. Hard to say when one is still learning the craft.
Matthew: Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
I love animals, as I’m sure my screenplay has given away. I also love jazz, movies, wild places and the sea. I’d like to see more justice in the world. More forgiveness, also, as we all need that.
Matthew: Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?
Not really. I realize I’m a novice myself. Don’t sugarcoat things with yourself. Writing is very, very challenging, but if you are committed and not afraid of the tremendous amount of work involved to do it well, you can do it. But you have to find the love of it inside yourself, I think. Without that, you won’t be able to sustain the discipline and effort required. I’m still trying to learn to be a better writer. And I hope to write an even better script next time.
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