Dan Shea was a semi-finalist in our first Launch Pad Feature Competition and off of that placement alone, ended up selling his script BUTCHER HOLLER to Under The Stairs Entertainment. We had a chance to get on the phone with this new name in horror and discuss how life has changed since the contest, what he’s up to now, and what it’s like writing with multiple college degrees.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAN SHEA — PART 4
TB: What were some of your favorite films and television series this year? Ever?
Dan: “Evil Dead” for me is the movie of the year. The third act soundtrack is just so amazing, that siren. Also “Silver Linings Playbook” from last year. That’s tied with “Evil Dead.” I could spend the rest of my life writing those kinds of movies. Awesome horror and small but powerful character-driven tales. Boom. Done. All time? “Unforgiven.” “Cabin in the Woods.” James Gunn’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. “American Beauty.” “Fringe.” “Little Miss Sunshine.” About 20 movies from the 70’s. Those are the kinds of movies and TV shows that make me want to write movies. Literally, I come home from movies like that, night or day, and get behind the keyboard and start banging away.
TB: If you could pick one — what movie do you wish you’d written?
Dan: “Unforgiven,” by David Peoples. It’s a perfect script. Simply perfect. The dialogue. Christ. The screenplay is a master class in screenwriting.
TB: I second that.
Dan: I like your tastes. (Laughs)
TB: What film do you wish you’d had a chance to pitch for?
Dan: I wish they had let me write the adaption of Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising.” It’s my favorite book, and one I read every few years. It should have been done in the palette–and the undercurrent of real f*cking danger–of those original Alan E. Cober drawings in the original print edition.
TB: What about projects that haven’t been done yet?
Dan: I’d love to write a “Jonny Quest” live action flick, but I think it’s already in development. If they don’t have a writer attached, CALL ME. (Laughs) But, seriously – call me.
TB: Aside from writing, what sort of things interest you both within, and outside of the film industry?
Dan: I was an actor long before I started writing, and I’d love to revisit that one day. I did stand up and group comedy in Chicago and really loved it. I’d love to get back on stage one day. I guess that’s part of the reason I keep writing plays – the desire to get on stage one more time.
TB: When you’re sitting down to tackle a new project, is there a lot of research you do before hand? Obviously this may change per project, but do you have a sort of “plan of attack” each time out? Or do you wing it?
Dan: I try to keep myself in check re: research. As an academic, I could research for months and months, and I discovered that I was using it as an avoidance tactic. I try to do some to generate images or scenes and to get some terms of art and whatnot, but pretty quickly I really get antsy and dive in. Sometimes too soon.
TB: For example?
Dan: “Killdeer” is a case in point. I wrote a great first act, but then realized as I moved into act II, that the antagonist’s motivations were sketchy. So I had to do some more research in psychological disorders. And what I found works perfectly with what I already had, so a single pass shaped up everything, tied everything together. So I think that’s my setup: Little bit of research. Little bit of character sketching. Some high level outlining. Dive in and explore.
TB: And when you sit down to actually conquer a script, what is often the easiest thing to come, and what are your struggles?
Dan: Point of attack, Crisis and Climax are usually the first things that are clear. They may change somewhat, but I usually see those three and their connection VERY early. Usually before I even know much about the protag or antag. Character and dialogue are pretty easy for me. I have to really check my dialogue, though, because of my playwriting background. I’ll write a two-page scene then edit out all but 4 lines of dialogue. My hardest part is that section from midpoint to crisis, or mid-point to the act two break, whatever, those 15-20 pages.
TB: And long term, I know we’ve chimed in on the “what’s next”, but in a perfect world, what do you want for your career next, in 5-years, 10-years, lifetime? What are your goals and aspirations?
Dan: I just want to write work I’m proud of and get paid for it. That’s it. I want to write fun movies and tell unique stories. I don’t have to be the highest paid guy in the room, as long as my stuff is getting made. I want to always be working. Dialogue punch-ups, character fleshing out, body and fender stuff, that’s cool, too, as long as I also get a chance to add a piece of me.
TB: Do you have anything else to share?
Dan: Just that I’m ready. Because of family obligations, I’ve had to take jobs I didn’t want to take and live far away from Hollywood, but I wouldn’t change it. These experiences have really deepened my voice as a writer. The fact that I am a writer of a certain age is, to me, my most powerful asset. It allows me to write heart and humanity in a way I don’t often see from other writers. I mean, even “Butcher Holler,” a horror script, is packed with heart and humanity. Someone in the theater will cry when one or two of these characters buy it.
TB: Oh, one last thing. If you could time travel and steal any movie before it’s made, which would you choose and why?
Dan: I would go twenty years into the future and stop production of the unauthorized biopic: “Old, Drunk and Happy: The Dan Shea Story.” I’d insist they replace Brad Pitt as the lead; turns out he doesn’t age so well.
TB: This is probably the most important question anyone has asked anyone else ever, but what about the manner in which you would travel through time? What are we talking? Delorean, super power, phone booth (“Bill & Ted” or “Dr. Who”), etc.?
Dan: To get there I would time travel the same way I do now — with a third glass of peach moonshine. And yes, that’s a thing.