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Tips for Serious Screenwriters – Interview with Carlos de los Rios, Screenwriter of DIABLO

Carlos de los Rios with Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood on the set of Carlos’ recently acclaimed film, The Forger

Interview with screenwriter and producer, Carlos de los Rios

1) What are your thoughts on working with Hollywood but not living in LA?

I went to USC film school and lived in LA for nearly 14 years so I do have lots of deep connections to the city. If you are very serious about making Hollywood movies and having a full-time career in cinema I do highly recommend people put in at least a few years in the City of Angels. Just like learning a new language, there is nothing as powerful as immersion in a place that regards that language as its native tongue.
All that said, the world of cinema has changed radically since I first entered the business in 1990.

Three technologies became widely accessible by the mid-to-late 90’s: the internet, cell phones and digital image and sound capture (aka DV cameras/editing and HD sound recording/editing). Now, dedicated moviemakers can create features for almost nothing. Money is barely a barrier anymore. Only lack of talent and/or lack of dedication hold people back. It is possible to make movies in any city in the world. The writer can live in one city, the movie can be shot in another city and the editor can edit in realtime from another city with the director “virtually” in the editing room. Then the files can be sent to a distributor who can either email the movie to theaters for digital projection or they can be streamed/purchased on the web.

Also, if one wants to be a mainstream movie maker (aka, making multi-million dollar features with famous movie stars) there may be time still required in Los Angeles but less than ever. Using the internet and cell phones it is very possible to live anywhere and only go to LA when needed – for a meeting, a shoot etc.
So, places like San Diego, so close to LA, are ideal for “having it all”: live in a beautiful city but just hit LA when needed. In some ways there are advantages to living outside of LA too – all the moviemakers living in LA starts to create an inbred sense of storytelling as all these artists are living the same lifestyle.

2) What is the most common mistake you see new and/or up and coming screenwriters making?

They start to write the screenplay too early. Basically, they haven’t taken the time to develop a strong core concept that will be original, structured strongly and give the writer the ability to know what the purpose of each scene is. It’s like someone going on a vacation but not knowing where they are going. They will have packed wrong, get lost along the way and ultimately may or may not end up in a place that satisfies their needs. I don’t think all writers should copy Syd Field’s structure or Truby’s or McKee’s per se, I just mean, some things need to be organized: solid conflict, a ticking clock, a character with an inner and an outer need, a strong antagonist, a special setting etc. There are lots of ways to organize these elements but it is a mistake, in my opinion, to not have all these, and a few other, elements thought out in advance.

Carlos on his recent movie set, The Forger, talking with his stars Josh Hutcherson (lead from The Hunger Games and Bridge to Terabithia) and Hayden Panettiere (of  ABC TV’s Heroes and the new hit Nashville).

3) Tell us about The Forger.

The Forger, is a drama out on DVD now everywhere. It is about a 15-year-old art prodigy sucked into the mysterious world of international art forgery – making fake Picassos and Monets etc. It stars Josh Hutcherson (the lead from The Hunger Games), Hayden Panettiere (from ABC TV’s Heroes and the new show Nashville), Academy Award-winner Lauren Bacall, Alfred Molina (Spiderman II, Chocolat), Billy Boyd (The Lord of the Rings) and Clint Eastwood’s wife Dina (Mrs. Eastwood and Co.) and son, Scott (Gran Torino, Flags of our Fathers).

It was shot in my hometown of Carmel, California and I was very lucky because Mr. Clint Eastwood read the screenplay and thought it was good. He let us tell a few top investors he thought it was good. So, even though he was not a producer on the movie, he did come to set twice to watch his wife act. That was a real thrill for me and the crew. Seeing Clint Eastwood watching the camera feed at “video village” was a morale booster for everyone involved. Plus he gave me a few pointers about how he runs his sets so I learned a lot from him in just a couple short conversations.

4) What are you working on Now?

We just finished editing my new feature Diablo, a dark psychological picture starring Scott Eastwood (son of Hollywood icon Clint) in his first ever 1800s-set Western. Scott does an amazing job in this movie of bringing a very complex character to life. I wrote and produced the actioner which also stars Walton Goggins (Django Unchained, tv’s JustifiedThe Hateful 8) and Danny Glover. The movie, directed by Lawrence Roeck, was shot by Academy Award-nominated DP Dean Cundey (Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, The Thing, Halloween). Dean also shot Roger Rabbit and all of the Back to the Future movies. Watching him work was amazing. His knowledge of cinematography and his love of movies is simply unparalleled. The supporting cast is an all-star list of character actors and we even shot in many of the same locations used in Scott’s father’s Academy Award-winner Unforgiven. The movie is a genuine thrill ride but it goes places, in terms of story, that Westerns have not ventured yet, so it is fair to say that the hard-R picture will entertain but it will also shock. My team just couldn’t be happier with how the movie turned out and especially with the performance of rising star and friend, Scott Eastwood. Diablo hits theaters this Fall.

Carlos with Scott Eastwood, star of Diablo

4) What advice would you give to serious screenwriters who want to take their career to the next level?

a) Get into a writing group led by a reputable teacher.
b) Get a writing coach to give you one-on-one feedback and guidance. Even though it is a real expense, nothing will move you faster than paying the hourly fee and seeing a coach once a week or every other week. (Tiger Woods still has a golf coach!)
c) Write every day. Even if it’s not a screenplay. You have to keep your writing muscle in shape.
d) Watch at least one new feature film a day.
e) Read the trades (Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere etc).
f) Read books – lots of books – you have to be literate and literary-minded.

5) Can you tell us a little about your script doctoring / writing coach services?

I love working with serious writers that want to create sellable/make-able movie scripts. This is an incredibly hard thing to do but there is a process that can be learned. Film school costs $25,000 a year or more. I did four years at USC. So, I think committing to working regularly with a coach that has 20 years of industry experience is actually a cost-effective way to move forward in what can seem to be a confusing business. I do ghostwriting and can be hired to write movies for people but what I enjoy most is helping a talented, committed writer get their story out in a way that makes a difference in their movie career.

I don’t want to create robots that write what I like to write. I want to get more unique voices to a professional level so they can actually work in this amazing, wonderful field that I am still as passionate about today as the first day I stepped onto this road. I love movies. Love them. I love to watch them. I love to work on them. And…I firmly believe there are not enough good movies made to satisfy the movie-going public’s appetite. There is plenty of room for more screenwriters. But only ones that really want to make high-quality fare (regardless of genre!). So, the first step is to show me what you have so far. Let me analyze it and then we begin a conversation about what your goals are. Then we make a plan and work hard to make sure you accomplish those goals. I tailor the program to each client. No two writers are alike. And thank God for that! That’s what is so much fun about my job: watching an emerging voice gain confidence and recognition for working hard to get a great story out.

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