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 3
TB: Describe the perfect day for you to write. What’s the setting, the feeling, the atmosphere of a good day? Has that changed over the years?
Dan: No other responsibilities. Cold and rainy or snowy winter days are best. My room looks out on to my neighbor’s across the street–idyllic perfect family. Their old dog lazily chasing chickens in the yard. Behind them is a cemetery where black birds fill these stark, bone-white trees. I watch kids walk home from school and these birds just go berserk on them, squawking, flying around. Very Stephen King. Even when we move, I’ll try to keep this house for writing.
TB: Besides plays, would you ever consider writing something other than films?
Dan: I’d LOVE to work on a graphic novel. In fact, for a while there, I was considering making Butcher Holler into one.
TB: What about taking a stab at the next great American novel?
Dan: I’ve written about 100 pages of a young adult drama/horror/tragic love story novel already, but that’s probably going to end up being a screenplay. I also have a play, “Meat,” which I’d love to take a stab at the novel version if it doesn’t find a home.
TB: What comics are you reading these days?
Dan: When I was younger I was all about “Spiderman” and Marvel universe stuff. I had hundreds. Put ‘em all on eBay one month to pay rent. Ah, family life. Right now I’m sort of catching up with everyone else and reading the Neil Gaiman “Sandman” series. Alan Moore’s stuff. I also love “The Walking Dead.” I’m the guy standing in the graphic novel section of B&N destroying a shelf copy with no intention whatsoever of buying it.
TB: Coming out of the contest, you sold “Butcher Holler” to Under The Stairs Entertainment. How did that feel?
Dan: SUPER. When they contacted me I had no idea what to think, but here’s the thing with “Butcher Holler”–it’s a litmus test. If you love it, you’re announcing that you like a certain kind of movie, if not, it’s not for you. The producers, Miranda Sajdak and Sandra Leviton emailed me and we set up a Skype call and they just nailed it.
TB: How so?
Dan: It went beyond just saying the right things — they just went f*cking nuts over the script. They loved it as much as I did. Seriously. Like, we’re talking about the screenplay like we just saw the movie. That sealed the deal. The coolest thing is they’re both just extraordinary script development folks, too, so our process has been painless.
TB: Besides taking over the world, what are you planning to do next?
Dan: Right now I’m trying to figure out the next move. My wife and I had been talking about moving to Austin, but I know that I probably have to move to LA. At the very least I need to get out there. Somehow. But for me, with a kid in college and with her rent, her dog, my wife, a mortgage, two dogs, three cats and two cars to feed, it’s not quite as easy as it might be for some other writers.
TB: Well, for what it’s worth it looks like things are looking up for you.
Dan: I think so too. So, until I figure out where I’m going, I’m gonna see how these scripts move through the production funnel. I’m just going to keep writing. I mean, that’s the escape for me. I turn off and write. And I really love my next script, so that makes it easier.
TB: You are currently unrepresented. But you’ve also now sold – a rarity inside the Hollywood system. How did you sell the script without representation?
Dan: I wrote a script that just unabashedly goes down the rabbit hole. I wrote something I wanted to see, without ANY consideration of quadrants or budget or trends or anything else, and hoped someone else wanted to see it too. I want to see this. My daughter would sell plasma to get a ticket to this movie, and to me, she is the quintessential horror fan, so I knew I had a great story, so if executed well, I had faith that others would want to see it as well.
TB: Long term, what kind of things do you hope to be writing in your career? Genre of choice? Career track of choice?
Dan: Probably horror/thriller, but I also tend to write really quirky stuff, too, kind of Charlie Kaufman-esque, character-driven quirky fun stuff. I hope I can generate a career that allows me to write in other genres and arenas. I do love character-driven stories, and feel there’s a real place for them. I read a lot of fiction and would love to adapt a few things. Hell, I love romantic-comedies. I’ve written a fun, quirky one and I really mourn what’s happened to them the last decade or so. They’ve just become so f*cking insipid.
TB: You’re not the first to lament about the state of romantic comedies. Do you think the problem is systemic or only surface deep?
Dan: I think the problem is that the rom-coms they choose to shoot are just too homogenized (or, more likely, become homogenized during ‘development’). I always hear this rap about producers, that they want ‘the same thing only different.’ That clearly doesn’t apply to rom-com producers, because we keep getting the ‘the same thing only EXACTLY THE SAME THING.’
TB: You can’t just follow a formula and expect something unique to happen.
Dan: Exactly. Romantic comedies are too formulaic and too insipid. They’re just written as if for an audience with an IQ of 87. I get that we’ll always be following a “A meets B, A loses B, A wins B” overall structure and we NEED that. Susan Langer has a seminal essay on the power of comedies and why we love them; she suggests that comedies embody a ‘pattern of felt life,’ and we, as beings who know our days are numbered, love cramming as much life into a small time window as possible.
TB: That definitely applies to all storytelling.
Dan: Yes but especially so in romantic comedies because we love watching people get together because that tells that inner, primal worry-wart inside us that, “Hey, chill. They’re gonna have some kids and the human race is gonna keep on keepin’ on.”
TB: What would you do to help fix the modern Romantic Comedy?
Dan: I don’t know about fixing, but all I can say is do what I always try to do. Keep that overlying, 30,000 foot view of that basic structure, but as I write, try and use my fifth idea in each and every beat. Not the first four ideas.
TB: That’s a pretty interesting approach. Since you’re dishing out wisdom and perspective, what’s the meaning of life and why is the sky blue?
Dan: The sky is blue because it matches my wife’s eyes. The meaning of life is an audience laughing. Especially at something I wrote.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 3 OF OUR DAN SHEA INTERVIEW WHERE WE WILL DISCUSS: