knew we wanted to be screenwriters........
when I realized I could tell different, and in some ways more expansive, stories on film than I usually get to onstage. I’m primarily a playwright, and while I love writing for theater, I really relished the bigger canvas 25 gave me: a larger cast of characters, real-life locations, a more visual narrative style—all that.
I know I've succeeded........
when what’s on the page truly, precisely, and rivetingly tells the story I’ve set out to tell.
My inspiration to write 25.....
came from two colleagues (a director and an actor) who’d recently turned 25, and suggested I write a film for them. (P.S. They ultimately and amicably chose not to pursue the project, so the script’s a free agent.)
inspired you to write?
Chris Van Strander:
I’ve written ever since I was really young, so it’s always been an instinctive part of the way in which I order my world. When I hear other folks express sentiments like “I write to figure out what I think about things,” that rings very true for my experience.
FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to
prepare yourself to write your first script?
Chris Van Strander: For this, I read lots of screenplays, studied films structured similarly to what I thought 25 was going to be like, and consulted a few resources (see below) for screenwriting advice.
FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script
and how long did it take you to complete?
Chris Van Strander: 25’s my first full-length screenplay. Juggling it with other projects, the first draft took about 18 months—but that’s including research, outlining, etc.
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set
routine, place and time management for writing?
Chris Van Strander: I’m one of those who has to at least try to write every day. Where and for how long I get to varies greatly, depending on what else is going on that day/week.
Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are
important for aspiring screenwriters and why?
Chris Van Strander: I’ve never entered one before trying a few with 25, but I hope so. I’m seeking representation, so if this experience should put me into contact with an agent, or help 25 get produced, then yes.
Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers
International Screenwriting Awards
/ Screenplay Contest?
Chris Van Strander: Industry friends recommended it to me as one of a handful of highly-regarded, must-enter contests.
FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you
urge aspiring writers to read and why?
Chris Van Strander: Double Indemnity. An all-around Cadillac of a script—indelible characters in conflict, ratcheting tension, crackling dialogue. Linda Seger’s book Making a Good Script Great includes a helpful case study of the Witness screenplay, and how targeted rewriting can focus and elevate a script.
Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate
about and why?
Chris Van Strander: My family and friends, of course. My playwriting and acting. Traveling (every few years I hike across Spain). Plus I love a good scotch.
FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite
Screenwriter and Why?
Chris Van Strander: Many favorites (Wilder, Goldman, Chayefsky, Kaufman, James L. Brooks), for vastly different reasons. I deeply admire David Simon. It’s been said to death, but The Wire is a work of great art, and the writing on it’s a huge achievement on every level—from its broadest character and story arcs, to its line-by-line inventiveness and nuance. A level of craft I aspire to.
Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with
Chris Van Strander:
Lots, from Ang Lee to Roy Andersson. But after seeing In the Loop, it seems like creating something with Armando Iannucci would be an immensely fun challenge.
Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and
Chris Van Strander: Laura Linney. Intelligent, beautifully calibrated performances; I’ve never seen her hit a false note.
FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things
learned along the way to pass on to others?
Chris Van Strander: I really don’t feel qualified to
be giving anybody screenwriting advice; I just know what
worked for me on this. Linda Seger’s book, which I mentioned
above, and John August’s tip-packed blog were both excellent
resources while I was writing 25. Rather than listen to me
(poorly) parrot their advice, just run and read them.
I will say that once I really, truly, in-my-bones “got” that
screenplays are, like, all structure, like 1000% structure,
and embraced that, the process became a lot easier. In my
plays, I feel tons of freedom to write “off the spine,” but
whenever I wrote off it on this, I found myself in the woods
(and mixing metaphors to boot).
So, STRUCTURE—all that 101 stuff about knowing what story
you’re trying to tell, and pushing that story forward scene
after scene, hurtling your characters through the thing.
George Lucas’ (!) remark about thinking of a film as “sixty
great two-minute scenes” was an unexpectedly helpful mantra
that’s stuck with me.
And of course to just generally be ruthless with your own
work, and cut ‘til it kills you.
Magazine: What's next for you?
Chris Van Strander: I’m getting married! (And working on another screenplay, of course.)
FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five
years from now?
Chris Van Strander: Writing full-time—preferably from a room with a view of some nature. Right now all I got
is a brick wall across the street. Ah, New York City.