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WeScreenplay Grand Prize Winners on the Importance of Structure and Deadlines

By April 14, 2017No Comments

Update 7/16/2017: Kenlon Clark has been signed by Believeland Management.

Kenlon Clark and Will Rubio wrote the Grand Prize winning script FORGED which boasts of an amazing concept with deep characters: Nathan and Rebecca Jacobs are two of the brightest minds in the history of human civilization, but when their son goes missing Rebecca will introduce a scientific breakthrough that will shock the world, and have the human race questioning their morality, mortality, and the potential limits that should be put on science. We had a great chat with the writers about how they approaching screenwriting.

Why did you write your winning script? What inspired the concept?

Will: This was the first script we wrote together so we were trying to blend both of our writing sensibilities. I have a strong acting, comedy and improv background. Ken has a lot of experience as a director and editor. This definitely gave us a well rounded approach to storytelling that helped make Forged what it is. The concept came about as we attempted to reverse engineer a script (and eventual film) that would be accepted into Sundance. The script evolved from there and eventually landed on a draft that was more authentic to us and what we love about movies.  While there have been many changes, the core story we created was incredibly compelling and it remains at the heart of the final version of the script.

Ken: Yes, the concept has definitely grown beyond what it started out as but that in itself has been a fun discovery. It started as a basic family drama with a few sci-fi elements but now leans more towards a sci-fi thriller. We had been looking for something we could write together, and even make if possible and after discussing multiple concepts we landed on what became Forged.  We wanted to write something that was as thought provoking as it was entertaining. At times it can feel as if things have to be either highly “artistic” or highly “commercial” but we didn't approach Forged as though those have to be mutually exclusive concepts. Forged explores themes of life, death, loss, sacrifice and technology. We peer into the role genetic research will play into our lives in a realistic way, but we also have fun stuff like chase scenes and some action. We’d love to be involved with films that are both entertaining to a mass audience but also make you think and ask big questions without realizing it. What’s funny is that Will and I are both relaxed and sociable guys but we really gravitate to the thriller genre.

Your final round judge described FORGED as "a heart-pounding sci-fi thriller featuring a tight story, commercial premise, and, of course, unexpected plot twists." How do you create surprising yet inevitable plot twists effectively?

Will: I think it all starts with a rock solid structure. That serves two purposes. First, it allows the audience to think they know what to expect. It also makes them feel secure. You have to let people think they’ve figured it out, and then smack them in the face. That doesn’t work without a solid foundation

Ken: The other thing that writing Forged opened our minds to was employing structure beats as definitive moments to twist and raise the stakes and keep the reader on their toes more than just moving the plot forward. We wanted to unravel the story piece by piece. We also did everything in our power to constantly put our characters through the ringer every few pages and then raise the characters to the challenge. I think regularly looking for opportunities to push the plot against the character and vice versa ratchets up tension naturally.

Who was the first person you told when you found out you won?

Ken: I told my wife Symantha right after we got the email from Mark. She’s so supportive and I always make sure tell her any news like this first. I then told my family.

Will: I have a big family which includes nine sisters. So I excitedly typed out a text message into our family group chat telling everyone the news. I then proceeded to get a dozen phone calls all at once.

What types of stories do you like to read or watch? What type of stories do you like to write?

Ken: If it’s a good story I’ll watch it regardless of the genre but preference wise probably sci-fi, thriller, action and fantasy would be my favorites. I love the classics, indies and tentpole films. My wife and I are usually at the movies every other week if not every week. Movies are my preferred form of entertainment but I’m also a huge comic geek and collect multiple titles.

Will: I love a good story. While I appreciate and connect with the action and fantastical world that Ken loves, my preferences are slightly more grounded. I love real world stories that are relatable to the human condition whether they’re portrayed as drama or comedy. Interestingly, I feel like we achieved the best of both world’s with Forged.

If you had one piece of advice to give other writers, what would it be?

Will: Get an amazing, talented, passionate, human IMDB of a writing partner.  In addition to that, it’s important to write every day. If you log one page a day for a year, you’ll have 3 features at the end of that year. It doesn’t matter how good they are, you’ve created something. Now you can refine it. The time is going to pass anyway. Be consistent.

Ken: If you have a story that you really believe in, try to make it as unique as possible while maintaining the entertainment value. That’s the benefits of the outlining process I think, in that you are able to play around with ideas a bit without locking things in. Will and I worked hard on the structure and voices of Forged to make it feel fresh and original while still containing elements that people get out of their houses and go to the movies to see.

Also set deadlines! A good script usually takes time but getting to a first draft is one of the biggest steps and as a writer you must be disciplined about pushing yourself there. A first draft doesn’t have to take forever especially if you've properly outlined. It requires temporarily taking time away from other things in your life to do it but once you have a draft you can read, even if it’s the vomit/kitchen sink pass, you’re able to get a macro perspective on what you’re dealing with and make calculated decisions.

And if you’re in a creative partnership I think writing with someone who is cool, down to earth, smart, talented, has good sensibilities about character and story, is a constructive communicator and is someone you’d hang out with even if you weren’t writing together are all important. That’s Will!

What are the big and little successes you've had with writing?

Ken:  Well, winning WeScreenplay definitely counts on the big side!  I was also fortunate to win the Bootleg Universe contest this year with ScreenCraft and Adi Shankar for a short script I wrote so that’s been exciting. We’ve both written on various other projects that we’ve produced or directed over the years so we’ve been able to make a living employing writing in various capacities which always feels like a win.

Will: I’ve worked on a lot of commercials in my day, mostly as an actor. On most of the shoots I would inevitably improv changes to the script that the director would love and keep in the final cut. Years later I started writing commercial spots myself and I feel incredibly blessed to see my words brought to life by several large brands.

Have you ever thought about giving writing up? Why didn't you?

Will: Yes and No. I was a big fish in a small pond before coming to LA. It was a tough move. So in a psychological effort to mitigate the risk in my brain I would tell myself: “You can always go back and make a solid living on a smaller scale”. Jokes on me though, I never truly believed in going back. I’m in it to win it.

Ken: Honestly, I’ve never considered giving writing or storytelling up mainly because I don’t think I would be capable of doing anything else. Years ago I had non-industry jobs and I was always a mentally distracted employee. But storytelling really engages my focus. If you have a burning desire and some ability in an area then pursue that. But it takes time, sacrifice and work. There’s no straight path to anything it’s almost always a windy road.

What's the most important part of your writing process?

Will: Humility. You have to be open to feedback and outside opinions. It makes your work better. Kill ALL your babies if they need to be killed.

Ken: Outlining is incredibly important. Storytelling is in our cultural DNA and structure is like the Trojan Horse for your story and outlining helps build that. You can hammer through a first act without it, but beyond that it’s like walking through a maze without a map. Also Will and I look forward to feedback and view it as an essential part of the writing process. If you’ve laid out a good structure from the get go then solid feedback can only enhance the script and open your mind to new ideas.

Where will you be as a writer a decade from today?

Ken: Hopefully still writing and fingers crossed we have a few produced credits to our names. We love working together so the more of that we can do and explore the better.

Will: I’ll still be writing and producing and creating with Ken. This is merely the beginning. We hope to collaborate with some of the most creative and talented people in the industry.

You actually had 2 scripts in the finals — what was your other about?

Ken: This was another script I wrote in my spare time called Caliber. After Forged, Will and I wrote a script called Without Prejudice (which made the LaunchPad’s top 50) and we were working hard on that. In the back of my mind, I had a period-piece action/adventure story that wouldn’t stop calling me. The basic pitch for Caliber is: “The Avengers/Suicide Squad set in the Old West”. It’s 1875 and Allan Pinkerton is on the hunt for the James gang when he soon realizes the gang isn't just robbing banks but searching for coördinates hidden in one of the banks to a massive gold reserve. So Pinkerton assembles a team of outlaws and law men consisting of Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Bass Reeves, Pistol Pete, Virgil Earp and a nomadic young Wyatt Earp to bring the gang down and save the country. I tried to keep Caliber historically accurate and fun while staying emotionally true to the real people. I kind of jettisoned the contemplative traditional western (which I love) and embraced the feel of a contemporary, updated action/adventure blockbuster. I feel like there’s still plenty of steam in the Western but the primal story and the overall approach has to feel really universal. It should work even outside the genre it’s in and the execution must be what any audience anywhere would love to watch. I wrote it purely for my entertainment so to see it make the finals as well was surprisingly awesome.