Justin Carter is in the film business. As part of the peer-led film workshops in Devon, Justin is sharing some of his experience in An Absolute Write-off, Volume 1. He told us what to expect
Without giving too much away, what will you cover in your workshop An Absolute Write-off, Volume 1, and who should attend?
Well, I’m not there to lecture, I’m turning up purely to tell some tales about my experiences as a scriptwriter. I’ll discuss my process, and people might find some interesting hints and tips in all of that, but I don’t consider myself to be an expert in the field, even though I’ve been doing the job professionally. Even if you know what you’re doing, you never really know what you’re doing. There’s no secret formula because if there was, every film and television production would be a success. So I’m not in any position to teach, but then again, who is? I think that anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of professional filmmaking will find the workshop entertaining.
You’ve been hired to write a number of disposable, generic genre streamers over the past couple of years. What are the challenges of taking on a genre?
I’ve been primarily operating as a genre filmmaker for the past decade, usually horrors and thrillers, so it’s a zone I was already familiar with. Audiences typically gravitate to what’s familiar when choosing movies, so I have to utilise tropes of the genre and not be too innovative. I find that challenging. I want to be as creative as possible, but I’ve had notes to dumb material down in the past because it might be deemed challenging for a passive audience who want to kick back with a beer and pizza and watch something trashy. My employers aren’t looking for nuance and subtext. They’re looking for good clean narratives that they can film fast and cheap. I want to do my best work, but at the end of the day it’s my job to please the masses.
How do you knuckle down and get into the middle of a story when creativity hasn’t struck and you’ve got beats to hit and a deadline to meet?
The producers give me enough key ingredients to get the ball rolling. Usually trailer moments. Some of these things write themselves, to be honest. The producers are not after a masterpiece. They’re after a piece of writing that’ll work as a functional blueprint for the production. They want you to get the job done, so that’s what I do.
Once upon a time it would’ve been a real problem to start writing a screenplay, but I’ve learned to just get on with it. You have to. That sounds easier said than done, but I’ve settled into a pattern of vomiting absolutely everything out onto paper and editing it down into a structured feature afterward. You can do that absolutely anywhere. The last script I sold was written onto notepads in longhand whilst I sipped Black Russians by the pool. It doesn’t help to sit at a laptop and wait for the inspiration to come. I find that staring at an empty screen exacerbates writer’s block, so I avoid that all together. I wait until I have the bulk of the work on paper and then I type things up.
Voice memos are also a wonderful tool just to get everything out of your head. You create a much better flow for your ideas and pacing if you create a sense of freedom for yourself. The PC is only a tool to produce the formatted document, it doesn’t help you to be a creative writer, so I don’t sit in front of one unless I have to. There’s a clunky formality to scriptwriting straight onto a PC, don’t you think? Everybody’s process is different, obviously, but there’s a freedom about writing anywhere with a pad and paper that just makes sense to me, so that’s how I do it.
With regards to the deadline, I give myself daily targets of page numbers to write. I usually do more just to take pressure off at the end of the process. I delivered my last screenplay 3 days ahead of schedule, so it’s definitely working for me.
You mention the difference between Show Art and Show Business – what are they?
The common term isn’t Show Art, it’s Show Business. It’s called Show Business for reason. You present your show and if it’s not profitable, you don’t stay in business. There’s a great deal of snobbery around mass entertainment, especially from those that consider themselves to be serious artists. You can certainly inject your artistic vision into a commercial project, but it’s all about getting bums on seats. If nobody’s watching your film, does it even exist? Your next project certainly won’t because nobody’s going to fork out to employ you again if they can’t make a penny or two off of you. At the end of the day, I’m a business man. My business is filmmaking. I’m not an artist, I’m an entertainer. I like money, so I might as well get paid to entertain some folks.
Volume 2 of An Absolute Write-off will be scheduled to coincide with the release of this film title in Winter 2024, what else is in store for 2024?
Well, I’m a bit of an all rounder, so I’ve got a spot of everything on the go. I’m directing the pilot episode of a mockumentary show titled KillCon right now. That’s about a group of idiots attending a serial killer convention. I’m following that up with a music promo and then I’m working as the cinematographer on a film titled Lady, What’s Tomorrow?. The script for that is wonderfully lyrical and poetic, and we’re filming that one in Cornwall for director Solomon Bowden. After that I’m back in Exeter working on some large scale festival scenes for Cradlemore, which is an interactive videogame from the mind of local creative genius Ben Tallamy. That takes me up to March and I should be directing a feature film at some point after that. I’m also hoping to launch a movie-based podcast in the next year. The market is pretty flooded, but I’ve found a fresh angle and I love talking about movies, so that’ll be great fun.
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