INTERVIEW WITH Brandon Stark - Screenwriter

Brandon Stark’s passion for screenwriting started at an early age. Like most young filmmakers, Brandon explored by watching all kinds of films and making home movies with friends and family. Brandon attended Illinois State University to receive a Bachelor of Arts in English Studies, minoring in Creative Writing. Brandon was one of a handful of students selected by Dr. Hilary Justice to be part of special course where the class studied early drafts and original works by writer Ernest Hemingway. The class pushed Brandon’s drive with the goal of becoming a writer himself. Along with a Screenwriting course taught by Dr. John McHale, it was here where his strength for story telling in screenwriting began to form. After a few years of working full time, Brandon applied and was accepted to Boston University’s MFA Screenwriting Program, one of the most prestigious Screenwriting programs in the United States. Brandon was one of eleven accepted into the program. After earning his MFA in Screenwriting, he moved back to Chicago and began submitting his work to film festivals and screenwriting competitions while continuously working on new original screenplays. Brandon’s latest short script, The Lost Track was selected as an Honorable Mention: Short Script for the August 2019 Florence Film Awards. The Lost Track has been gaining acclaim and nominations from Film Festivals and Screenwriting Competitions around the world. Brandon continues working on other writing projects and is excited for new opportunities.

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Tell us about your background and when did you decide to become a screenwriter?


My parents were the ones who opened the doors to Filmmaking for me at an early age. They showed me all kinds of movies from Disney’s Pinocchio to Predator. My mom would show me the classics while my dad focused on sci-fi, horror and action films. 

I remember watching Terminator 2: Judgment Day with my dad and brother and crying when Arnold’s character (The T-800) sacrificed himself at the end of the film. Afterwards, I remember my dad telling me someone wrote that movie because it was their job. That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter. When I found out people could this for a living I knew there was no turning back.


Films that inspired you to become a screenwriter?


The first films that made the initial impact were the original Alien (I first saw the original Alien when I was four years old) and Star Wars. Those films showed me there was no limit to what kind of stories someone could tell. You could write anything about anything.

Films like The Dark Crystal and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm allowed me to see the emotional depths stories could take but still be so beautiful and inspiring at the same time. 

As I got older, films like Casablanca, Midnight in Paris, The Shawshank Redemption, The King’s Speech and Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot confirmed my inspiration and drove me to actually begin writing full length feature screenplays and short stories.


Who is your biggest influence?


I have a long list and it varies with whatever project I’m working on or moment in my life. 

That being said, Stanley Kubrick will always be up there for me. Kubrick changed the definition of Film. He opened doors we never knew existed. He’s one of those rare filmmakers when you sit down and watch one of his movies you’re actually transported into another world. Very few have that ability when it comes to storytelling. Everything he made is genuinely perfect.

I keep the lessons he taught us regarding storytelling with every project I work on. He knew what film really was and we need to be grateful for that.


What are some of the challenges you face in writing your own scripts?


Constantly questioning or critiquing myself. Always asking if this story is worth telling or why am I interested in making this into a script. It’s beneficial when I’m going through a rewrite but it’s more harmful if I have that mindset before I even begin writing.


Do you have a favorite genre to work in? Why is it your favorite?


Drama. There’s something about taking real life experiences and creating characters to react to those situations. It’s always a learning experience because each character is going to do something even I can’t expect. I do enjoy dabbling with science fiction or fantasy but there’s something about drama right now that I can jump into and do something different with. 


What’s your all-time favorite movie and why?


I have a top ten list that changes a lot but Alien will always remain on that list. It’s a film I revisit every year and still find something new to be fascinated with. I think it’s the world and sense of isolation along with the cast and crew who brought Dan O'Bannon’s original vision to life. 

I’ll never stop arguing how Alien has some of the best acting of all time. The chemistry between the performers is so natural. 

The film has some of the most incredible practical effects ever produced that sadly aren’t used in a lot of media in this day and age.


If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?


I have that dream list of Directors, Producers and Actors and Actresses every filmmaker has the goal to work with at some point in their career. I would say at this point it would be incredible to work with Eva Green. 

She’s been in some incredible films and television shows and each piece she’s in is so different from the last. I’m excited to see her new film, Proxima

I think she could bring some amazing ideas to the table that would only strengthen a script’s goals with story and character.


Tell us something most people don't know about you.


I try to practice American Sign Language daily.


The one person who has truly believed in you throughout your career. 


There’s two people actually, my mom and dad. There were points where I wanted to give up and stop and they were the only ones who believed in me when I couldn’t even believe in myself. They pushed me forward during some tough spots. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for them. 


What was the most important lesson you had to learn as screenwriter?


The most important lesson I just recently learned was to believe in myself as a writer in order to tell a great story. I use to be very hard on myself which reflected on the quality of my work. It was a constant struggle of always underestimating my abilities and what I could do. 

Once I overcame that barrier, my writing drastically improved and what I wanted to say came out the right way on the page. Now I write pieces I’m proud of and can see that they resonate and connect with an audience from the recognition I’ve been receiving. 


Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?


I would say keep going. When you go down certain roads in life, obstacles get in the way or you make excuses to stop what you’re doing because it isn’t “logical”. I think those moments are great for reflection. 


What keeps you motivated?


I’m always reading books, writing scripts or stories, watching films and spending time with friends and family. I think everyone needs a healthy balance of input and output. One can’t dominate over the other.


How has your style evolved?


Early on I was too focused on world building as well as hitting story beats at the right moments. Now, I focus on the characters and their journeys as well as their emotional struggles. 

A writer needs to create characters readers can relate to and connect with naturally. If you don’t have that or you try forcing themes, ideas or agendas on to the reader or viewer, no one will care about your story.


The project(s) you’re most proud of:


I’m currently excited with the recognition and nominations The Lost Track is currently getting. It’s a good small step forward in my career.

This was a tough project to land but thanks to classes and my professors from Boston University, specifically Professor Marc Weinberg, I was able to tell the story right.


The most challenging project you worked on. And why?


There’s a recent feature script I just finished that was one of the most painful scripts to write. Strangely enough, it was one of the fastest scripts I’ve written as well. I can’t talk about the plot but it sadly reflects what a growing number of people in society are facing each year. 

What’s keeping me going with the story is the overall message. Yes, these characters are put through Hell and back but in the end the overall journey makes them stronger as well as helping others in similar situations.


What are your short term and long term career goals?


Short term, I would like to have my short script, The Lost Track, produced into a short film. It would be a nice step forward if I can find the right Director and production team to bring the story to life.

There are certain features I’ve written that I would love to be picked up and produced. If I can have one of my scripts made into a feature film I would truly be grateful. 

I also wish to publish a book of short stories in the future. It’s been a little project I’ve worked on over the years and hopefully one day something can come out of it.


Your next projects? 


There’s a script I’m working on with my co-writer from Boston University, Bayleigh Von Schneider. She’s out in LA while I’m in Chicago. It started out as an idea she had that grew into a full outline after a three hour meeting of us talking and laying out the story. I’m excited to see where it goes. 

I have a TV Pilot Script I’ve been getting assistance with from attorneys to make sure it’s accurate as well as compelling for readers and viewers. 

Lastly, I just finished feature script but as any writer knows, there’s always rewrites. The writing never stops.


Find Brandon on social media to keep track of his career:


https://www.linkedin.com/in/brandon-stark-37691664/

https://www.instagram.com/bstark92/