Friday, May 14, 2010

Interview with Ronson Page, writer of stuff

Today's interview is with my friend Ronson Page. In 2003 Ronson was a Nicholl finalist and he's since optioned a few scripts around town. He did this by breaking the one rule I always tell everybody - do not send out your first script. So Ronson here is proof that I know nothing about anything.

Here's what he has to say:

Ronson: I tend to ramble, so I hope y'all brought a snack...

Me:Obviously the first thing everybody wants to know is all about what it was like to be a Nicholl finalist. What was the script that got you there?

The script that landed me in the 2003 Nicholl Finals was THE BONE ORCHARD, a racially-charged mystery-drama. Prolly gonna run the risk of inviting your readers to throw sharp objects at me, but THE BONE ORCHARD was my first feature-length script.

(Okay, I will 'fess up to being a life-long writer... while it really was my first feature screenplay, it wasn't a forehead-of-Zeus kinda thing.)

Was it as dreamy as we all think it is?

Walking into the Academy boardroom was surreal. Not because it looks that much different from any other boardroom -- long table, lots of chairs -- but because the first thing I saw were these small groups of people, the other Finalists and Fellows, plus Greg and a couple of his henchmen, these few folks all talking animatedly, all smiling, and the vibe was just so dang warm and happy. The surreal part was knowing that I was part of that group of people.

Plus, they pay for everything... hotel, airfare, meals. The per diem was insane. I totally did not need that much money each day to eat, though I cheerfully pocketed the extra scratch.

Which came in handy, when I parked in the wrong place, got a ticket AND got my rental towed.

(That part of the trip, not so dreamy, though I did get a wolf whistle from a tranny hooker, whilst I walked the three miles to the dadburn tow place, so there's that.)

What did being a finalist lead to?

Almost three years of not writing a new word. Okay, actually, it was becoming a stay-at-home father to our first child that did that. Still, that's what happened next, and here's why, in part:

I had no other scripts to show.

As I mentioned above, TBO was my first screenplay. And yeah, I should've been working on the next one, right after that May 1 deadline, but the fire that was under my narrow behind after being laid off my straight gig of 8+ years lasted just long enough for me to pound out that screenplay and get it in the mail. I was pondering my job options, when I get a letter in the mail that says I'm a Quarterfinalist.

And the rest of the summer became me doing my best Charlie Brown, waiting under the mailbox to see what (if anything) would happen next.

I have a whole list of Stuff Not To Do, at this point, much of it accumulated right up front. #1... Don't Go In With One Script To Your Name. #2... Don't Hold It Back From Folks Who Want To Read It. #3... Don't Park Where You're Not Supposed To.

Okay, so... about the time I start to feel like I can splinter off a part of my noggin from being a stay-at-home dad back over to being a writer, I get a note from a producer I know who asks me when I'm gonna let him read THE BONE ORCHARD. Well, heck, it's now 2005 or 2006 and I honestly forgot that I'd neglected to send it to him.

(Point of fact, I didn't send it out to ANY of the producers who requested it -- see Stuff Not To Do, #2, above. I had this nutty notion that I'd only send it to the reps who wanted to read it, keep the material fresh, as it were, instead of saturating the town with it. The problem with that strategy, in retrospect, was that I was approaching reps with just the one script, instead of two or three or more -- see Stuff Not To Do, #3. So these potential reps had no idea if I was a fluke or what.)

Anyways, long story short, the producer loved it, optioned it for 12 months, then extended the option for another 18 months, then optioned it for a second time for another 18 months... and I think that option is gonna run out this summer, but he'll likely extend it, once again... they really love the script, but it's a hard one to make (but for all the right reasons, the producer would add.)

How many scripts have you optioned now?

One option, one sale/assignment, and one soon-to-be other option on another script. Which ain't bad... I've only written four scripts, and three will be spoken for.

Any movement on any of them?

Well, THE BONE ORCHARD is still treading water, so that's good. The sale/assignment is for all purposes dead, I think, only because it was a thriller with roots in the Iraq War and I turned it in the same year about 5 or 10 other Iraq War movies came out... and every single one of them tanked at the box office.

Conclusion: nobody wants to see movies related to the Iraq War.

So I don't begrudge the producer not wanting to put the time and money into making it.

Although, there was that recent movie about the unit of bomb dudes in Iraq that got some great reviews and a few Oscar noms, so who knows...

(Crap, I just remembered my protag was also a bomb dude. Wow, that sucks for me. For a moment there, I was thinking the time might be right for my Iraq thriller, but now I'm back to thinking it's dead. Nuts.)

The script that has the action right now is THE RESURRECTIONIST... but it's still in negotiations for the option, so there's not much to say, except that the producers love it (they chased me and that script for over a year) and that they've already got a lead dude from a very popular HBO series attached and he loves the script, so that's all pretty neat.

How much a pain in the ass is all the paperwork with those things?

Lawsey. The paperwork itself isn't too much of a pain for me personally, mostly because I've got a crackerjack SuperLawyer to do most of the reading (though I read it all, some of it is gibberish to me). I just chime in with my thoughts, here and there... "Yes, I'm okay with six weeks on the rewrite... no, I'm not okay with flying coach..."

(Kidding. I'm just happy to be flown, anywhere.)

More importantly, SuperLawyer does all the negotiating and whatnot, but dang if it isn't taking forever to iron it all out. I think this is Month Four of the negotiations. It's all quite polite, in that polite Hollywood style that is usually at least one party forcing a smile when they really want to scream. For a while, I got paranoid when more than a week would pass and I didn't hear anything from anyone, but now I know that's just the way it is...

Everything moves at a snail's pace in HW. In fact, the only thing fast in Hollywood might actually be the snails.

You live in Texas. How has that affected your pursuit?

Right from the get-go, I said that I was gonna stay in Texas. This is where my family is, this is where I've always lived... it's a big part of my voice.

With email and IM and Skype, living outside LA isn't as big a deal as it used to be, but I'll tell you where it still works against me: face time. Unlike LA residents, I can't just pop in for a meeting or run into Summer Glau at Starbuck's (like my friend Bill Martell) or anything of that nature. I wish I could.

I have to rely on the strength of my writing, period. I got nuthin' else.

Well, I do have the cowboy hat. That usually goes over well.

What’s your process like?

I don't have a rigid process, really. I like notecards... got a big honkin' cork board for those. I also like jotting notes and lines of dialogue and random character bits and neat visuals and whatever else on pretty much anything that will hold still. I wish I was in the habit of ONLY using notecards or ONLY using Moleskine notebooks or ONLY using reporter's notebooks -- all of which I use, and more -- but I never seem to have what I want next to me, when I need it. I've always got *something* next to me... just not one thing in particular.

Anyways, I usually start with an idea or a number of unconnected ideas. If it's one idea, then I try to figure out what's cool about it for me, so that when I veer off-track later, I can come back to what was cool and get centered, again. If it's a number of unconnected ideas, those usually marinate in the back of my noggin for a while or I half-consciously shuffle the ideas around like puzzle pieces from different puzzles and then one day, Whoa! Those pieces shouldn't fit together, but damn if they don't.

Once I've got a better grasp on the idea, what the story is going to be about, I start chasing characters and locations. Characters are important, obviously, and those come to me pretty easy, but I've found that I really really REALLY need to have a firm grasp on the Where of my story. I need to see it physically in my head, before I can create the scenes. I don't like to try to bullshit my way through a scene in Downtown Street In Major City or Mountain Village... that just doesn't work for me. If I'm writing Austin, I need to know Austin, not Dallas. If I'm writing Iraq desert, I need that, not New Mexico desert. If I'm writing the middle of Nowhere, California (which I currently am), I need to know what that looks like.

So, for me, idea, then characters and the Where, all jotted down in various notebooks and cards and such. After that, I can start to see the story itself better and I start to build it... scenes come to me, dialogue comes to me... it's just creating and fleshing out the overall story.

At some point in there, once I've sorta reached critical mass, I'll do a fresh batch of notecards, with scenes and act breaks and that sort of thing, get a pretty solid version of the story up on the cork board. Stuff always changes, but what's up on the board at that point is pretty solid.

Then I write.

What’s next for you?

Ha. Well, actually, I'd about decided to stop writing screenplays, simply because the slooooooooooow process of Hollywood was so dang frustrating... I'd taken an idea I'd had for a script and realized it might make for a good novel, so I started studying the narrative form of writing. I'm a voracious reader, but now I was consuming novels and paying particular attention to structure, style, etc.

And just about when I was ready to really lay this idea out on the table... I get a solid option offer on THE RESURRECTIONIST from those producers. File that under "just when I thought I was out..."

Though as it turns out, what with all the time being spent between lawyers and stuff on the option negotiation, I've still got plenty of time to play with the novel.

So, I figure I'll either be writing the novel this summer or rewriting THE R for those producers. Or both.

Long-winded, ain't I? If anyone has a question and isn't afraid of the long-ass answer they might receive, I'd be happy to pony up whatever I have to offer.

Also: buy Harry's CHILD OF FIRE. It really is a great read. :)


  1. Thanks for the interview Ronson and Emily, excellent stuff.

    Quick question. The Bone Orchard (not to be mistaken with a chinese vampire western script i got when i googled the name), were you writing it over 8 years, or was that just the laid off time? How many rewrites did it see? And how long was it on the notecards/board until you started writing?

  2. Anonymous4:06 PM

    Peter, I had three things really working for me, when I wrote THE BONE ORCHARD:

    1. I had been thinking about pieces of what would become the story for a while.

    2. I had just been laid off, so I had that serious fire under my tail.

    3. I had no kids to take care of (yet).

    Which all goes to me hoping you won't reach for more sharp objects when I tell you that I wrote my Nicholl Finalist screenplay, my first screenplay, in...


    ...eight weeks.

    Here's what happened: I was laid off in January of 2003. I had a severance package and an understanding wife who told me to take a few weeks to relax and not think about much of anything, so that's what I did... I relaxed and did not think about much of anything, but for the myriad ways I could make my ex-boss' body disappear.

    Come the end of February, I decided to write a feature-length screenplay. I'd written short film scripts before (seemed like a less-painful way to learn) and I was ready to jump on a feature.

    Also, some quick research showed a pretty good contest called the Nicholl Fellowship had an entry deadline that was two months away.

    So I spent one month figuring out the story, the characters and putting it down on notecards, and one month actually writing the screenplay itself.

    I finished with two days before the Nicholl deadline, so I sent that first draft of TBO over to a couple of talented writer buddies who I trusted to give me fast, honest feedback, mostly of the quick polish variety, since I had time for nothing else... talked with both on the phone the next day, did my quickie polish on the first draft, and fired it off to the Nicholl with a whole day to spare.

    So: one month of story outlining and notecards and one month of actual script writing on what became a one-polish, first draft contest entry.

    And it hasn't been that easy, since.

  3. Hey, Ronson!

    Here's a question for you: how do you manage to be a stay-at-home-dad and still find time for writing? Is there a daycare involved, does he play while you work, or do you just write during down-time? (We kind of suck at the whole juggling family/work thing, so we want to know your secrets!!) : )

  4. Anonymous2:47 PM

    Carole, I wish I had a set schedule, but if I'm writing on spec, I really don't.

    I *try* to write in the mornings, while the kids are in K and day school... the rest of the day, I do research and noodle ideas and such, jot down bits and pieces, but I usually don't get a nice 2 - 3 hour uninterrupted chunk to work with, like I can get in the mornings.

    Now, if I'm writing on assignment or someone is waiting on a draft from me and I'm under contract -- any situation where the deadline is coming from somewheres other than me -- then I'm on it, every single day.

    And I don't miss those deadlines. Ever. :)


  5. Thanks Ronson. Always interested on the scheduling and time some writers put in. Personally, I am never satisfied so I end up doing 5+ rewrites. But some writers like Sheldon Turner are crankin' out several scripts a year. 1 month of outline and 1 month of writing... I hope to settle around that type of schedule one of these days. Thanks again.


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