INTERVIEW: Finish Line Script Competition Winner Charlie Jones

Denny Schnulo began his writing career at age eleven with the release of his first collection of poems to the kids on the school playground. Believing that first hand reports are always best, he spent his early adult years living and working throughout the world. His writing today is informed by people he met and things they did together. Follow Denny on Twitter: @DennySchnulo

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Charlie Jones is an avid Liverpool Football Club supporter whose writing projects include screenplays, as well as short stories and poetry. He was shortlisted for the Leeds Peace Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent publication, Funky Toadstool Crusher, was the editor’s pick in the latest issue of Under the Fable. His short story, A Taste of Death, placed second in Dark Tales short story competition in 2013.

Script caught up with Charlie to discuss his first feature-length screenplay, which took first place in the new Finish Line Script Competition.

Script: Tell me about Freedom Ain’t Free – the story and the script’s conception.

Charlie Jones

Charlie Jones

Charlie Jones: The story follows Faustus, a black slave, who is offered his freedom following the brutal murder of a plantation overseer. In essence, the story is a fresh take on the Faustian legend set in the hellishness of the American South. The initial inspiration for the story came from noting the aesthetic of 12 Years a Slave, which uses the backdrop of natural beauty to underscore its depictions of the horror of human cruelty. I thought it would be interesting to alter this and observe the world through the eyes of a slave, who would surely have seen the plantation as some kind of hell, exchanging soft, drooping willows for gnarled, otherworldly oak trees, and rich, brown earth for blood red soil. From this came the idea of transposing the legend of Faust to antebellum America, and utilizing this archetypal story to explore slavery and the themes it encompasses.

Script: What were your other influences on the script?

Charlie: Poetry and music are big influences of mine. Goethe’s Faust and Dante’s Inferno inspired much of the imagery, story, and dialogue, Goethe particularly in the earlier parts of the script and Dante the final act. Slave spirituals were probably the biggest influence on the script. I’m very interested in the vernacular and oral traditions, and Faust lends itself well to this as a folktale of sorts. Spirituals weave their way into the story very regularly, and serve almost as a narrator. Hopefully, this gives some degree of agency and visibility to those slaves in the script who are left nameless. Believe it or not, structurally, the script is influenced by an episode of The Simpsons called ‘Bart Sells His Soul,’ which itself involves a Faustian bargain.

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Script:  What are the strengths of this script that you feel propelled it to the winner’s circle?

Charlie: The initial concept – Faust in antebellum America – is an imaginative take on a well-established story, which is fairly attention-grabbing, and brings with it much allegory and metaphor. It also allowed for some blending of genre. Horror creeps its way into the script, though in a classical sense, rather than what we think of as modern horror. I think what really propelled the script into the winner’s circle was the themes it addresses. I think it deals with subject matter not fully explored in other films regarding slavery, particularly resistance and African religious beliefs. It doesn’t shy away from discussing serious topics such as suicide, and it’s use as a form of resistance to enslavement through transmigration.

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Script: Is this your first contest or are you a regular entrant?

Charlie: Freedom Ain’t Free is my first screenplay, and this was the first time that I have entered it into a contest. Having had this success with Finish Line though, I’ll certainly begin entering contests more regularly.

Script: What drew you to this particular contest?

Charlie: I found that by accepting free resubmissions after having provided contestants with detailed notes on their scripts, Finish Line was designed to benefit the writer to the fullest extent. I found this structure unique to Finish Line and it allowed me to edit my script until I felt it was as strong as it could possibly be before submitting a final draft. The prizes Finish Line offered were also a big draw – monetary rewards and discounts, contact with a huge number of industry professionals, and a percentage of earnings being donated to a charity of my choice made this a very worthy contest to invest in.

Script:  What’s one thing screenwriters should know about screenwriting contests?

Charlie: They’re winnable, no matter how new to screenwriting you are!

Script: You also write poetry, short stories and novels, which format comes most naturally to you?

Charlie: I’d say poetry, but only because I read and write poetry more than I do scripts, short stories, and novels. Now that I have begun to read screenplays and literature on screenwriting, my answer might change in a year or two.

Script: What’s next for Charlie Jones?

Charlie: More writing, more contests, try to get representation, and not stop until I’ve seen one of my screenplays acted out on the big screen.

More About Charlie

Charlie was born in Wallasey, England, and studied History at the University of Leeds. He specialized in the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ and wrote his undergraduate dissertation on ‘Discourses and Histories of Queerness within Hip Hop in Academic Scholarship and the Media’. He was awarded the Beresford Prize for the best performance in the field of social history finals.

His poetry has appeared in print and online with Acumen Poetry, Under the Fable, Literature Wales, IsWrite, and Leeds University’s arts magazine, The Scribe.

Charlie holds a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and enjoys the poetry of Langston Hughes. He is currently undertaking an MA in Race and Resistance at the University of Leeds, having attained two scholarships.

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