Jul 16, 2020
Frank Sabatella is a writer, director, and photographer who’s made such films as Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet, and most recently, 2019’s The Shed. One of the things I really appreciated about The Shed was how it explored pretty serious subject matter; themes of bullying, school shootings, and child abuse were all confronted in this movie without it being heavy handed. Horror as a genre has always been pivotal in confronting difficult subject matter head on, and in addition to delivering a fresh take on vampires, The Shed dives into some pretty serious material all while still having a very fun vibe to it which is a very difficult balance to pull off. Frank and I talked about this along with his writing processes, tips for keeping morale high on difficult sets, as well as the benefits of shooting your movie in Upstate New York, all of this and so much more on today’s episode of The Nick Taylor Horror Show.
Here are some key lessons learned from this conversation with writer/director Frank Sabatella.
Approach your writing in phases. It’s overwhelming for most writers to sit down and look at that blank page while that deadly cocktail of perfectionism, analysis paralysis and overall resistance sabotages your efforts. It’s important to remember what Hemingway said which is "the first draft of anything is shit.” With this in mind, it’s important to understand and embrace the different phases that your screenplay will inevitably have to go through to get finished.
Frank calls the first draft of a screenplay The Wild West phase, because anything goes and he lets ideas fly freely. There’s something very liberating about this approach, you shouldn’t be overly-critical about your first draft because it’s exploratory. So approach your first draft with This Wild West mentality; even if 75% of it sucks, that 25% could be all you need to lay the foundation of a great second draft. Frank went on to say that as you write through these drafts, the deeper themes of the movie naturally reveal themselves to you. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t have it all figured out when you sit down to write because it’s largely a process of discovery. Which brings me to my next point.
Write regardless of output. Frank writes for about two hours a day, but he notes that he may not necessarily put down words during this time. Instead, the sheer act of sitting down to think through his story, plot, and script details are enough for him to consider it a productive day. The words aren’t always going to come, but what’s important is that you show up and put the work in and make yourself available to The Muse. Even if you don’t nail your word count, you still can take your screenplay further by spending focused time thinking about it because this is what helps the ideas gel.
Take breaks. As important as it is to have a consistent and disciplined writing practice, sometimes your mind needs a break. It’s very easy to get swept up in hustle culture and constantly force yourself to put out pages but this can sometimes exhaust your creative resources. If you’re feeling burnt out, replenish yourself by watching movies, reading books etc. You may need a dose of inspiration or you may simply need a rest. Do this and pay attention to how refreshed you feel the next time you sit down to write.
Visualize your progress. Frank has a bulletin board where he collects ideas in broad strokes that he narrows down into beats and scenes. Having a tangible representation of the project helps him keep track of it and encourages him to push further because he can visualize his progress. As the saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ In this tech-driven era, it’s so easy for things to disappear in the digital void but sometimes tangibility and visibility are important for creators, if only for emotional reasons. It may seem like a little thing, but anything in your environment that encourages you to finish your project is very important, having a way to see tangible progress outside of a computer is something worth trying.
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