Interview with Industry Insider Contest Winner Patrick Rockwell

By Ryan Kelley

Patrick Rockwell is the most recent winner of The Writers Store’s Industry Insider Contest Featuring Roger Avary with his script, “The Recruitment.” Recently, Patrick came to Los Angeles to meet with Academy Award-winner, Roger Avary and development executives from Benderspink to discuss his future in the industry. While in L.A., we had the opportunity to meet up with him and discuss myriad topics from his evolution as a writer to how his varied artistic talents have shaped his approach to screenwriting.

patrick rockwellTell us a little about yourself – where did you come from?  What made you want to be a writer?  Basically, let us know the history of Patrick right up until landing in L.A.

I am originally from Charleston, WV. Without much opportunities there, I moved away as soon as I could… Chicago, North Carolina and now Atlanta. My job history is equally as varied — cook, musician, pizza delivery driver, dog walker, customer service and graphic designer.

I’ve always loved movies and seemed to have a different perspective about them in conversations with friends and family — visual details, story points, character traits, being able to quote dialogue etc. It didn’t occur to me to try writing a movie until after I was laid off from an advertising job and had some spare time on my hands. I don’t know if it was just something different to do or if it was the challenge of learning a new medium, but I really loved it and wrote constantly. That was about 3 years ago. Since then I’ve completed 7 scripts and started a dozen others, which I’ve mostly abandoned (for good reason). It wasn’t until “The Recruitment” that it felt like things were starting to click and gained more confidence in my writing ability.

Writer’s Store Story Specialist, Mario Moreno, told me you were in a band and have experience in graphic design (Patrick received 12-week coaching from Mario as part of the contest).  How have other industries and artistic pursuits shaped your screenwriting?  Do you think having a background in music and design has provided a certain edge in screenwriting?

Absolutely. I taught myself guitar when I was 15 by playing along to my favorite records. This process taught me how songs are structured and imitating the styles of other players — discovering those player’s voices. I think that has influenced how I read a script or try to learn from the one I love. Until I really understand something, I tend to imitate, then make my own.

I went to school for graphic design and have worked as a designer for almost 10 years. A lot of what I learned from that has served as short cuts for writing as well. I think there are some similarities… At my day job, I start with a blank page, try to create something unique, special, communicative… just like writing. With the craft element of design, there is a balance and a hierarchy of information. I think this can be applied to writing as well.

Since I was a little kid, I’ve always been making things and trying to improve them. I’ve always been a big fan of self-initiated projects. I think I’ve sharpened my creative skills with the sheer amount of mediums I’ve played around in. So drawing, coming up with a guitar riff, designing a logo or writing a script — I think it’s all relative.

Take us through the process of honing the craft.  When looking back on the material you first wrote, what do you notice has changed the most?  How have you grown as a writer since your first script?

When I first started, I was obsessed with non-linear storytelling and dialogue. Mostly because I had not yet learned about structure. I think like a lot of people, I was trying to imitate Tarantino, Mamet, Sorkin, etc and failing miserably.

But after you read tons of produced scripts, watch a ton of good and bad films and write hundreds of terrible pages, you start to really define what you like, what you’re good at and what you want to do. Developing your voice. Now, I feel more comfortable in figuring out characters and throwing them into high stakes situations.

What materials helped you learn screenwriting?  Classes?  Advice for those who are setting out to learn screenwriting?

I’ve read a few books — Syd Field, Save The Cat, Goldman. They’ve helped me understand structure and the importance of writing lean. But I would also say, watching thousands of good and bad movies has been just as valuable.

One thing I do is keep a sort of movie diary. I read somewhere that Kurosawa would write notes about movies — bits of dialogue, set piece details, whatever — AS he viewed them. Then, when he was writing, he would refer to his diary, referring to his initial memories of these films. I do this as well, but sometimes I will also get a completely random idea and write it down. The cool thing about it is its completely personal to you.

How did you learn about the Writers Store Industry Insider Contest?  Have you entered many other contests?

I actually learned of it while lurking on the Roger Avary site message board. The logline sounded fun. I did some research — working with story specialists, reading about “The Disciple Program” selling, the trip out to LA… I was in. Writing the first 15 pages was a really fun challenge. To me, those first 15 pages are always the most fun, the most revised, because you are trying to cram as much stuff in there as possible. And they have to wow. I had a lot of fun writing those. I basically tried to come up with the most badass pages I could. I pulled some of my favorite bits from past scripts I had abandoned and played around with them until it worked…. It felt like I was channeling the 15 year old punk rocker me. And it’s interesting that the first 15 pages of the final draft really isn’t too different from what I started with.

What did you work on with Mario? Take us through the transformation of “The Recruitment” from initial idea to full screenplay.  What were some of its initial flaws in premise or structure?  What improvements were made as you approach a final draft?

Mario was absolutely amazing to work with. He has a very calm, inspiring presence that brought the best out of me. He always asked the right questions, made suggestions that always improved the story. He really knows craft. I feel like I crammed a year worth of solo writing experience in our 3 months working together.

The first couple of sessions, I kind of plowed forward with a thin revenge story. Mario, in a very calm way, explained that we were going to need more. And I realized it… That week, I thought a lot about how I could connect the main characters together. I brainstormed ideas. I got the index cards out. I worked up an outline and sent it to Mario and I remember him saying, “I think you got something here.” He had some notes. I made some adjustments. And on we went.

Tell us about your time in Los Angeles.  Tell us about your meeting with Roger Avary and Binderspink?  What suggestions did he/they have for the script and for your career as a writer?

Meeting Roger at the Ivy was fantastic. We spent 2.5 hours talking. He went over the good and bad of the business, things to be concerned about, things to be excited about, what to plan for. He also shared some great stories with me. It really couldn’t have gone any better.

Meeting Daniel at Benderspink was great as well. He gave me a clear view of the types of stories the studios are looking for and how to brand yourself as a writer.

As you move forward in the industry, is there anything that has changed about the way you approach the business of screenwriting and Hollywood?  Have your recent meetings in LA provided a clearer perspective on the next steps to take in your career?

Definitely, I think I have a better understanding now of what the industry expects out of a writer. I know, I am a hell of a lot better writer now than I was a year ago and huge part of that is being in this contest and working with Mario. So now it’s onward…

Thank you, Patrick.

You can check out The Writers Store’s next iteration of The Industry Insider Screenwriting Contest by clicking here. Enter early to get a reduced contest fee! A full page of feedback from our industry readers is also available for all submissions for only another $20.

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Contest Testimonial:
“No other screenplay contest offers what the Industry Insider Contest does — a chance to develop your script alongside an industry professional. Some contests are about cash and prizes. The Industry Insider Contest is about advancing your career and developing material that can be successful in the marketplace. It’s about opening up doors.”

Tyler Marceca, The Disciple Program – Contest Winner (Robert Mark Kamen Round)

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