Interview with screenwriter Jack Sekowski
I recently had the privilege of interviewing screenwriter Jack Sekowski, co-writer of scripts for such films as "Who's Your Daddy?," "Passion Fruit," and "Break a Leg." He has sold scripts to everyone from Universal to Disney and co-produced the Dakota Fanning movie "Father Xmas."
A graduate of the American Film Institute (AFI) , Mr. Sekowski has won several film awards including the Nissan FOCUS Award,
Cotswold International Film & Video Festival (UK), and the Big Bear Lake Best Digital Short Film Award. He also won the audience award at the Visionaria Festival Video Internazionale (Siena, Italy).
Below are Mr. Sekowski's answers to the questions that I thought would be most helpful to screenwriters, both aspiring and professional.
Mr. Sekowski was also generous enough to provide the original screenplay (see after the interview) for downloading so you can compare it to the movie!
Writing comedy is known to be one of the most difficult forms of screenwriting because of the wide variety of audience tastes. How do you go about considering what your audience will find funny?
Sekowski: I write what is funny to me. And I hope the audience...or some portion of it agrees with my tastes.
In many comedic movies, the physical performance of the actor plays a large roll in whether the situation generates laughs (Charlie Chaplin, Jim Carrey, etc.). How do you balance leaving extra room for the actor's performance in the script and describing the situation tightly enough so a performer without the best timing will still strike the proper tone?
Sekowski: I/we try to make the script as funny as we can. The first people reading it are readers/development executives/studio executives. And they need to be entertained. Need to laugh. Once the script is bought and a comic actor is attached, then the script undergoes development that exploits the star's physical and/or verbal abilities.
You write with a partner. Can you describe some of the advantages and disadvantages of having a partner in terms of the writing process and
the business aspects?
Sekowski: The most obvious disadvantage is you get less money. But then again, you do less work. And you do it faster since you have to do only half the writing. And you get instant feedback on what works and what doesn't. And of course, you hear brilliant ideas that you never thought of.
As an artist, you must find criticism is both difficult to take and also very necessary to your development and refinement. Do you have any advice to other writers for taking constructive criticism well?
Sekowski: Everyone is a critic...especially those who never wrote a movie and just watch them and think they can do better but never apply themselves to do so. In a critique, the only thing that matters are the the comments that keep repeating. These are the comments you should pay close attention to.
On the flip side, if you give the script to 10 people and one or two have off the wall comments, ignore them if they don't make sense to you. Everyone has a notion of the best way your story should be told. Also remember, it's like movies. There are movies you have watched and hated. But the people who made them were absolutely passionate about them. Many times it's simply a matter of taste.
When you begin a new script, are there rituals you perform to get started?
Sekowski: No rituals. Just a lot of note taking and thinking about the story before writing a word.
With the constant musical chairs of film executives in Hollywood, how do you keep track of who is doing what and who has "Yes" power?
Sekowski: My agent. The trades. Entertainment Weekly. Premiere. Fade In. The Internet. Colleagues.
Any specific advice for screenwriters trying to get their start in
Sekowski: Don't jump into the business until you're ready. Meaning, master your craft by writing AT LEAST a couple screenplays. Then get positive feedback from experienced people. Or enter a few contests and become at least a quarter finalist. Read as many books and articles about the business and how it works. I'm tempted to say write about what you know and write with passion. But those are obvious cliches.
Try to find a balance. Write about a theme or subject you're passionate and knowledgeable about, but pick one that would have broader appeal than you, your immediate friends, and extended family. Remember that people will be spending millions to bring your story to the big screen. They would like a return on their investment. Make sure your story can be easily told to the head of production. Make sure it can be easily cast and the roles are interesting enough to attract star talent. Don't be arrogant towards Hollywood.
Of course, you can also take the independent route to tell your vision. But remember that only a small fraction of films playing at Sundance...after beating out hundreds of films to get in...even get distribution. And if no one sees your film...it can be disappointing. Ultimately, it's that conflict between art and commerce. Once again, try to find a balance.
Do you keep a file of future script ideas? If so, do you jot the ideas down in a notebook, write a full treatment of the idea, or somewhere in between?
Sekowski: Mostly jot down ideas. When it's time to start a new script, I flesh them out into a treatment.
Do you use the traditional Act I, II, and III structure as a screenplay foundation or do you use another method?
Sekowski: I use the traditional three act structure. I sometimes think that it's really a four act structure since the midpoint can often be considered a significant turning point.
What do you like most and like least about writing screenplays versus other types of writing (such as articles, novels, etc.)?
Sekowski: As much as I try to keep things simple, my screenplays tend to become complex. It's frustrating since I go to the movies and see that most of the stories told are fairly simple. So why am I driven to make things more complex...thereby giving myself more work? I don't know the answer to that.
But to truly answer your question...what I like most is the hope that it will become a movie that is seen by millions of people and perhaps have some small positive impact on their lives beyond pure entertainment value.
What I like least is that it takes months to complete. My fantasy is to get an idea, sit down, and write it into a feature within a couple weeks. I have to admit that it does get easier the more you do...but not as easy I hope. Each script has its own problems that you have to try to solve the best way you can.
How do you schedule your writing time? Do you have certain hours every day you spend writing, a number of pages you want to achieve, or
another target system?
Sekowski: It's a set hours during the day with a hope of a certain number of pages. I have found that I'm most creative between the hours of 4 and 8 pm. I can certainly write in the morning, but I'm more effective later in the day.
Who are your favorite/most inspiring screenwriters?
Sekowski: Frank Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption" is a truly awesome script), Ted Tally ("Silence of the Lamb" is one of the best scripts I have ever read), Stuart Beattie ("Collateral" was a wonderful blend of action, characters, and significant issues).
Do you use a scriptwriting program? If so, which?
Sekowski: Final Draft. A client wanted me to use it, so they paid for it. I like it a lot.
Do you have any tips or techniques that you've discovered that you would like to share with other writers?
Sekowski: Nothing really that hasn't been said before. Get a compelling idea that you think people would be willing to pay $10 to see. Try to spend as much time with the characters as you can before starting the script. Screenwriting books/seminars are good for your first or second script.
After that, try to reach deep inside yourself and create an original voice that is not controlled by structural paradigms. Focus on the creation of strong emotions that will invoke emotions in your audience. Tears, laughter, fear...as long as it's impactful. I'm not really answering the question, am I? Just pontificating ideals. Okay, when you're trying to think of ideas, relax and enter a drowsy/meditative Alpha state. I found creative ideas to be more forthcoming.
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your ideas!
Mr. Sekowski has generously provided a downloadable copy of the original screenplay of the movie. He thought it would be very educational for screenwriters to see an original screenplay that was purchased and made into a movie.
You'll be amazed at the changes on the journey from script to screen.
Who's Your Daddy?
by Maria Veltre and Jack Sekowski
Zipped Final Draft 5 script (72K)
Adobe Acrobat PDF script (225K)
Formatted text file (229K)