Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest screenwriter, director, film producer and author, Patrick Sheane Duncan.
Patrick began his film career as the manager of a small movie theater in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He later moved to Los Angeles, California, where he pursued screenwriting and film production.
He has written screenplays such as Mr. Holland’s Opus, Courage Under Fire, and Nick of Time.
He has also the writer/director of the critically acclaimed feature film 84 Charlie Mopic and the writer of A Painted House.
He is the producer of the HBO series Vietnam War Story and co-writer/director of the documentary series Medal of Honor.
Patrick has recently authored his debut novel Dracula vs. Hitler.
Norm: Good day Patrick and thanks for participating in our interview.
How did you get started writing screenplays and what do you want your screenplays to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?
Patrick: I got started in cheap hotel rooms as I travelled from movie theaters and drive-in theaters across Michigan.
I was General Manager for Goodrich Theatres and I had the hubris to imagine that I could write better movies than "Poor White Trash - Part II."
Moving to Los Angeles a few years later with the hope of making a living as a writer I got a job working for the "King of the Bs", Roger Corman as an accountant and harassed everyone at that company telling them I could write.
There I received my first paying job, a page one re-write of an entire script (overnight) for a hundred bucks.
It took another five yeas for me to make a living from just my writing.
What are my intentions as a film writer. Most of the time just to entertain. As a movie watcher there is nothing I treasure more than to be transported into another person's life for an hour or so, I have worked in a variety of genres and I mainly wanted to remain true to the genre and still make it fresh.
Sometimes a message came through, like "84CharlieMoPic" (I wanted to make a war film that was about the warrior, not the war and not a "rah-rah let's go kill some brown people" movie).
Norm: What would you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your career?
Patrick: My greatest success was being able to break into a very competitive, very insular business. I was a complete outsider, knew absolutely no one and I managed to climb a ladder that had a few rungs missing, make a damned good living and make very little crap.
Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write screenplays? What was least useful or most destructive?
Patrick: Most useful? Watching movies. Every time I work in a genre I watch as many films as possible that might relate to what I want to do, with the sound off so I don't get sucked into the drama, and I outline them, try to figure out what makes them work.
Also a bit of advice that Francis Doel gave me at Corman's - make your protagonist pro-active.
The story shouldn't just happen to the lead, they should make the story happen.
The least helpful or destructive? You go to a lot of meetings and everybody has an idea of how to change your writing to satisfy their version of the piece, some of these people are totally unqualified or not really doing their job and just talking off the top of their head about something that takes a lot of thought and due diligence.
Most screenplays are a house of cards and the smallest "idea" or change can topple it into a complete mess. So you have to be very cautious about what notes you use. Take what works for you - discard the rest. You can compromise, you can use a better idea than your own, don't be a prima donna but the stupid stuff you have to fight against. As best you can. Often you are the only protector of your character and the story.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Patrick: I come from a poor family, white trash.
I am the oldest of thirteen kids, my father was a drunk, dead when I was fifteen, my mother more than abusive, so I generally write about beleaguered people who are trying, some how, some way, to make themselves a better person, the same struggle I have fought my whole life.
I didn't want to be condemned to the low station I was born into, I didn't want to be like my father or my mother, I battled desperately not to be them. I cultivated a person I wanted to become and I have half-way achieved that goal - still working on it.
Books and movies gave me examples of the various kinds of people I could emulate. I hope I do the same for the reader and viewer.
Norm: What would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Patrick: Good enough? Who can judge if somebody is good enough? Only the readers and they vote by buying.
Whether the author's voice and vision matter enough to be shared can only be decided by the writer themselves.
My theory is that if you really want to write, to communicate; be it song, poem, book, journalism, film, TV - you will do it no matter what the obstacles are or what anybody says. You have to write - you are driven to write.
If you quit because it is too hard on you or the rejection letters pile up - then you most likely didn't want it enough. Anything worth doing is difficult, every business and art form has its idiot factor and asshole quotient - but the people who are driven to do something do it despite all of the obstacles and in fact use those obstacles as fuel for that fire inside them.
The obstacles are good for the writer, actually, they make you think hard about what you are writing, to defend it, to fight for it. That makes you dig deep into what you are trying to do or say. The deeper you go, the more honest you are about the work and yourself, and the better it will be.
Norm: How was writing Dracula vs Hitler different than writing your screenplays and could you tell our readers a little about the book and could you tell us a little about the book?
Patrick: When you write a screenplay you have an arbitrary limit on the number of pages you can submit - 90 to 120, more for an epic.
This is only because some some fool created the rule that a page equals a minute of screen time and the readers at the studios and the television executives are lazy.
They usually only read the dialogue. (Hence a meeting where the development executive asks "Where does it say that the lead has only one arm?" - Response, "Page three. In the description.")
To keep within that page limit you leave out as much description as possible and when you do describe something or somebody you make it as succinct as you can. (But still make it fun to read. For example; Big Carl enters the room - imagine a refrigerator with a head" Or, "A shotgun bungalow. the contents would render an alarm system moot.")
But the author still needs to know all the things they leave out. They know everything about the characters; description, back story, what they are thinking, what they are afraid of, what they want.
The writer knows the wardrobe, the layout of the town, the dwellings, inside and out. Of course, rarely does anyone on the production ever ask the author about any of this.
But when you write a book you are allowed to describe every damned thing, all that stuff you leave out of a script.
It is freeing and intimidating and you can over indulge but it is a lot more fun.
Dracula vs Hitler was an opportunity to tell everything I knew about the characters, Van Helsing, his daughter and their fight against the Nazis in World War Two Rumania.
And I was able to use a lot of the research I did about the resistance fighting the Germans, and then invent all sorts of good stuff about Dracula and then, since the book is written like the original Dracula, made up of letters and journal entries, I had a great time writing Hitler's diary as he finds out about Dracula and decides that he could benefit from being immortal. Big fun,
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book and did you write the story to express something you believe or was it just for entertainment?
Patrick: Dracula vs Hitler came about when during this latest vampire revival, I was curious about the early film versions and watched some of them.
A few were made during the run up to and into World War Two but with little mention of the conflict.
That seemed odd that Dracula would be unaffected by the war around him.
At the same time I began to answer that oft irritating question "What are you working on?" with the answer "Dracula versus Hitler" because it would get me a laugh and the questioner off my back. But the more I said title more the whole idea tickled me and my creative instincts so I wrote the thing just because the process amused me. I enjoyed every page, I loved the re-write (rare), I loved the editor's notes, (even rarer) and I love the results. Hell, I would even read it.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Patrick: The difficult part was all the research, dozens of books on World War Two, Romania, reading the original Dracula, about the resistance, British spies, all that stuff.
And Hitler, of course. Dear Adolph's diary was the hardest part, I kept failing at it and then realized that I was writing the myth and not the man (the same problem I had with Dracula at first). The solution was treating Hitler just like every other character, create a back story, find out what he wants, what he fears the most, what does he eat, what kind of movies did he like. So, a lot more research (reading Mein Kampf - what a drag) and then combining what I found with some imagination.
And the strange thing is that I really enjoy the research. Being a curious fellow who wishes he could go to college forever the research can be as much fun as the writing.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Dracula vs. Hitler?
Patrick: People can
find out about me on IMDB and about the book at INKSHARES
Norm: What are you upcoming projects?
Patrick: Currently I am working on a novel about the Vietnam war, a black comedy about the corruption and futility of that conflict. Also I am doing research for the Dracula vs Hitler sequels -=Dracula vs the Werewolves of the SS and Dracula vs Frankenfurher.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Patrick: Shouldn't the man who invented Dr. Pepper be honored with a Medal of Freedom?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors