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 1
TRACKING-BOARD (TB): Dan Shea tell us who you are or we stop this interview before it begins. You have 15 seconds to comply, go!
Dan: (Laughs) So–
TB: This isn’t a game!
Dan: Well, I’m a ‘writer of a certain age’ who, for now, lives far, far away from Hollywood. I was an actor in Chicago doing theater and comedy, then I got married and had a kid. So I went back to grad school, got a couple of degrees including an MFA in playwriting. After that I was a professor for a while. Then I went to work in the private sector, though I still teach every semester. How’s that?
TB: Answer accepted. We shall proceed. Also, wow, there aren’t many writers who can casually boast they have several degrees. What other degrees do you have beyond the MFA?
Dan: I also have an MA in Theatre, in addition to the MFA in playwriting. My undergraduate degree is in (takes a deep breath) “Interdisciplinary Social Sciences,” which translates loosely into “I Changed Majors 7 Times.” I’m technically a few credits away from two other undergrad degrees as well.
TB: Do you use your degrees or are they just plaques on the wall to remind yourself that you spent a lot of money on school?
Dan: (Laughs) I use both post-grad degrees every day, in the sense that I write every day, and every time I sit down to write, I draw, consciously or unconsciously, on everything I’ve learned about storytelling.
TB: So, you channel all your knowledge before writing. Are you a writer or a warrior monk?
Dan: (Laughs) A monk never tells. Wait…
TB: (Laughs) Tell us, since earning a spot in finals for this contest, what has that done for you?
Dan: Launchpad was a great experience. Great exposure. I feel like the TB/Launchpad folks are sincerely interested not in collecting some cash but actually promoting writers to the management/agency/studio community. I thought there was a lot of great communication during the competition, and the placing got me a ton of requests for my script, which ultimately led to it selling.
TB: What made you choose this specific contest?
Dan: TB has a reputation of being a place where writers can get ‘exposure’. And after its first year, it’s quickly become one of the ones that people in the industry actually pay attention to. And it had genre categories, which, with Butcher Holler, was vital.
TB: Have you entered other contests before?
Dan: As I said, I’m a family man, so I can’t just go bananas and enter every contest under the sun. Also, as a remote writer, I don’t really have a community other than a couple of online forums and a few writers I’ve met over the past few years of writing. TB has an amazing reputation on the forums. I think the Launch Pad Competition lived up to and exceeded the hype surrounding TB. It’s really on the back-end where LP really hits it out of the park–the willingness on your part to promote the writers is really pretty unique. To put it simply–I’ve received more heat from this competition (which I didn’t win by the way) than I have from any others I’ve won.
TB: That’s a pull quote if I ever heard one! Has writing always been your dream?
Dan: Writing was, literally, the first thing I ever wanted to do.
TB: Really? Had you never seen anything with a cop, firefighter, astronaut or ninja before?
Dan: (Laughs) I guess not! I just distinctly remember reading those great Bill Peet pictures books as a kid and thinking that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up. I started dabbling around with writing while I was doing the acting and comedy group thing in Chicago, and then got into playwriting when I went to grad school.
TB: How long have you been doing serious writing?
Dan: I’ve been writing, mostly plays, for the past fifteen years or so. The last 6 years or so of that I’ve concentrated on screenplays. My first ‘real’ screenplay was in 2007 or so. “Butcher Holler” is my fourth script.
TB: What made you switch from playwright to screenwriter?
Dan: I found the structures I used for writing plays work well for screenplays. Also, character development and dialogue are breezes for me. I usually try to write really unique, but also believable human dialogue. I made the actual decision to write screenplays when I was a professor. I really wanted to write both plays and screenplays, but with the schedule and teaching, I sort of made a list, you know, ‘plays or screenplays?’, and I came to the conclusion that, as ridiculous as it sounds, I had a better chance of getting a movie made than getting a play produced. And it looks like my hunch was right.
TB: Have you completely given up on writing plays? Or just pushed it aside for the time being?
Dan: I haven’t given up on plays. I have a new one I just wrote (Meat) and right now I’m looking for a home for it. Won’t someone give my play a home? But I really do think I’ve got a better shot at getting my screenplays read than my plays. My screenplays are gaining far more traction and frankly, they’re just a lot more fun to write. I feel like when I write stage plays, things like metaphor and image structures burden me. Or just f*cking stress me out. When I write screenplays, however, those are articulated more subtly, used more surgically, perhaps. Or maybe it’s just a fact that movies are a lot more fun than theater.
TB: What has your experience with Hollywood been prior to this contest? Tell us a bit more about your path to this point.
Dan: This IS my path. You’re on my path, dude. I really approached this, the idea of breaking in, fully aware of who I was and my place in the industry. And by that I mean – I’m an outsider, like, a huge f*cking outsider, I live in this white trashy little town in West Virginia, in a cave tucked between two cemeteries.
TB: Wow, so your options are basically go insane or dig into your writing. Being (literally) surrounded by death must be a pretty good motivator; probably doesn’t hurt writing a horror script either.
Dan: You have no idea. It’s crazy here. I hear 21 gun salutes every week. Seriously.
TB: West Virginia is the new Wild West I guess.
Dan: Yeah, but the way I figure it is, I’ll just keep writing. I hate my job, so I write damn near every day, figuring I’ll write my way to out of the situation, if that makes sense. Like, I had no contacts, or relatively few, but I knew I could really write, and I hoped great writing floats to the top and then, you know, also floats to the coast, so I’ve just been, even now, focused on creating product, because I believe I’m going to get picked up soon enough, I really do, and I just want to be ready to explode when that happens.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF OUR DAN SHEA INTERVIEW WHERE WE WILL DISCUSS: