The Writers Store sits down with Tyler Marceca, recent winner of The Writers Store Industry Insider Contest, to discuss his journey as a screenwriter, what he learned during the contest’s mentoring process, and the excitement of selling his contest-winning script to Universal with Mark Wahlberg attached.
The Writers Store: Let’s start with the first basic question: When did you begin writing screenplays?
Tyler: Probably close to five years ago at this point. I believe the impetus to write came from an article I saw in “SlashFilm.” It was about “The Black List,” and I remember thinking at the time that screenwriting was a more or less an impenetrable career; but seeing the names on “The Black List, ” that at least fifty people were doing it, it certainly demystified it a bit for me.
TWS: And you said why not?
Tyler: Yes. When I saw that I thought maybe I could give it a try. When I was younger, I always loved writing, and I’ve always loved movies. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I realized that I should try combining the two.
TWS: There are a lot of contests out there, what attracted you to The Writers Store Industry Insider Contest?
Tyler: Well, I received an e-mail about the contest. I know that there are a lot of reputable contests out there but I also know that there’s a fair amount of contests that are primarily money grabs. What attracted me to this contest was that I had done a little research at that point about a screenwriter’s career, and a lot of it isn’t just necessarily cooking up your own ideas and developing them as specs. When you’re a paid screenwriter, a working screenwriter, a lot of it is rewrite work and assignment work. I figured it would be an interesting exercise to see if I could take an idea that wasn’t essentially mine, run with it, and see if I could develop it into a feature script.
TWS: At the very least it was going to be a great exercise.
Tyler: Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to make it sound like I did it on a lark, but I did it more as a writing exercise. I really didn’t expect things to play out the way they did.
TWS: When Mario and I talked while we were mentoring, I would say that there’s often always a stronger candidate and someone who is a little bit further back; but I always told Mario that these people, whether they win this contest or not, I feel like they’ve already won. I almost wish that this contest existed when I started screenwriting because it would be great! As much as you’re getting a logline that’s been handed to you, you’re having someone who’s done it a few times basically say, “This is where you’re making your mistakes and here’s what tweaks you can make.” I always felt that the contest was won the minute you were one of the ten finalists.
Tyler: Oh, absolutely! A guy who was a finalist in the previous round of the contest said something like, “I wish I could be a perpetual finalist”, because it really is a rewarding experience. It gives you something that you don’t really get too much of when you’re toiling away on your scripts in solitude. Being a finalist in the contest gives you that immediate gratification and response to your work. It’s not just someone reading your first draft, it’s someone reading every ten pages and working with you along the way. I didn’t have peers and I didn’t have a writing community, so it was a great experience for me to have someone that I could trust and whose notes and feedback I valued .
TWS: On that note, let’s get a little more specific. What was it like getting feedback from Mario Moreno in particular?
Tyler: He was really great. He had this way about giving you feedback that was incredibly detailed but it was never done in a forceful way. I don’t want to say he was delicate, but he just knew how to ask the right questions. He wouldn’t necessarily tell me what I should be doing, but he would ask me questions like: “Are we spending too much time away from the protagonist?” or, “Is this scene going on a little too long?” He would never give me the easy answers. He would just ask those types of questions. Figuring out the answers benefited the script.
TWS: And what would you say you learned most about the craft during your mentor sessions with Mario that you hadn’t encountered or thought about before you came to the contest?
Tyler: The importance of pacing. The way it worked for me, and I know the other finalists had different approaches to the contest, but my approach was that I didn’t discuss any story with Mario. I didn’t outline the narrative for him in any way. I simply gave him ten pages every week not only to get his feedback on the content itself, but to gauge his response as a first time read. Basically, every week I had to give him ten pages and in those ten pages I never wanted there to be a moment where it was filler or that second act stuff that you had to kind of slog through. I always wanted there to be some kind of conflict or drama within each of those ten pages. I wanted there to be something in there that would make the pages read quick and create a fluid reading experience. Moving forward, I will always think in that ten-page mindset because of the contest.
TWS: How did you connect to a logline that didn’t originate from you?
Tyler: Well I thought the logline was really good because it was very fertile but not limiting. There were obviously a lot of different directions you could go with it but you could already kind of see the movie taking shape just from the log line.
TWS: Right. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what story you’re given, what logline you’re given, or what assignments you’re given, you try to find a thematic value that you can attach to that logline. Did you do anything like that?
Tyler: As soon as I heard the logline, I didn’t know what the particulars of the story were going to be or what specific direction the narrative would take but I knew I wanted to do something that would center on a conspiracy. I knew there was a great mystery in there: a man’s wife dies in the backyard almost right under his nose and he decides to investigate it. I just thought it was very fertile for a conspiracy type thriller.
TWS: As the winner of this contest, one of the rewards was meeting A-list screenwriter, Robert Mark Kamen. Tell me what it was like meeting him and if you have kept in touch.
Tyler: Well, it was a very trippy experience meeting him because we met at The Ivy which was a place I was aware of even prior to the contest, and it was a very sceney type of spot. Sitting down with an A-list screenwriter at that kind of place was obviously very surreal. Robert was really funny and this might sound like a contradiction in terms, but he was a fresh breath of New York air. He was quick not to bullshit me and wanted to set me straight about how difficult this career can be. He made a point of even saying, “You’re not a blip on the radar you’re a burp” and, “you’re not a flavor of the month, you’re a flavor of the day.” He ended up calling some executive he was on a first name basis with and when he got on the phone he said something along the lines of, “I’m sitting with this kid and he wrote this great script. Too many big words, but a great script!” He’s a nice guy and he was going on and on and then he mentioned my name and whoever he was speaking to on the phone, they actually had already heard of me. They had already read the script and that was kind of surreal. We actually kept in contact throughout the whole process and still speak to this day. I’m glad he always took my calls during that time and hopefully he’ll continue to take my calls because I know I’ll always take his.
TWS: That’s great! So, if you had a real pressing question or you didn’t know what to do in regards to a business transaction that was about to take place, you could pick up the phone and call him and ask if he’s ever been in this situation before, or what’s his advice?
Tyler: Yes, that’s what I did a lot. There were a couple of writers that I ended up connecting with through random circumstances that I was able to call as well and say, basically, “I don’t know what I’m doing , what should I do? “
TWS: (Laughs) That’s wonderful! Your winning script has since gone on to a bidding war in Hollywood and eventually sold to Universal with Mark Wahlberg attached to star in it. If you can, tell us what that experience felt like.
Tyler: It was vomit inducing! It ended up really working out but it was my first time going through that process. I guess I’ve been just incredibly wary about the whole process since everything first started for me. I’ve always been waiting for the other shoe to drop so when they told me that it sold and who was attached I still didn’t really process it. I was still waiting for someone to tell me that this wasn’t going to work out.
TWS: Of course, because you are always expecting something to go wrong. But just for the sake of the people out there who are reading the magazine, and who want to understand what that experience was like, paint a picture for us of what you were doing when that phone call came in.
Tyler: I was trying to work on my new script, but all I’m doing really is refreshing my e-mail ad nauseam and checking my phone constantly. I’m just waiting for the call or waiting for the e-mail so that I can finally take a breath. My reps were great about keeping me apprised throughout and I was just incredibly relieved once the deal went through.
TWS: Did you celebrate?
Tyler: I went out for a drink afterwards. My friends were in Atlantic City and because the deal didn’t go through until Friday, I didn’t really have time to go down with them. I still had some people around here though, so I went to a bar and drank an expensive Scotch; well, more expensive than I usually order. I plan on celebrating in proper fashion next weekend. I have a bachelor party coming up. Yeah, my nerves were frayed by the end but I was very happy with where it went and who it went with.
TWS: What did your parents think?
Tyler: Oh, they weren’t conscious by the end of it either. There really wasn’t any rational person in the whole scenario. Everyone was just kind of nervous and hoping for the best and possibly planning for the worst. My parents were obviously thrilled. I don’t think it’s fully sunk in yet but we’re all starting to process it.
TWS: One final question: what lies on the horizon now for Tyler Marceca?
Tyler: (chuckles) You know, that’s something I’m curious to know as well. I’m writing a new spec that I told my managers and my agents about. I told them that I had this idea, and they encouraged me to pursue it so I’m working on that. I’m also looking at assignments and seeing what kind of new opportunities will possibly come along my way. I’m seeing if there’s anything that I’m interested in and looking at what I think I’ll be a good fit for, but still always plugging away on a new spec, so we’ll see how it goes.
TWS: Are you moving to Hollywood any time soon?
Tyler: Yes. I have to get everything in order. I haven’t even looked at apartments and I don’t even have a car. That’s all stuff I need to take care of first but yeah, that’s something I plan on doing soon. I think I might have to fly out before the move to take some more meetings but hopefully before the summer lets out I’ll be a resident.
TWS: Well Tyler, congratulations! It’s really such a wonderful story and everyone at The Writer’s Store is thrilled for you as I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who are happy for you. We are so happy that this contest could facilitate a story like this and hopefully it will do the same for someone else in the future. You being the first to walk away from this and make a big studio sale is just a wonderful story and we’re glad we got a chance to talk you and for you to share it with us. Thank you so much.
Tyler: I’m glad I could be part of that story and I have a feeling that there will be other similar stories as well through this contest. It’s a really good contest that’s about putting in the work and developing a script that can be successful in the marketplace. It’s much more hands-on than many other contests out there and hopefully a lot more people will look into it and participate.
Don’t miss the latest Industry Insider Contest with Susannah Grant, writer of ‘Erin Brocovich’! You could be the next big winner to get their Hollywood break!