Screenwriter Daniel Turkewitz was a top 10 finalist in the Tracking Board’s first annual Launch Pad Competition. He not only sold his sci-fi spec “Tranquililty Base” to Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox but he also signed with Brooklyn Weaver at Energy Entertainment and is being repped by APA. We caught up with him and had a quick chat about sci-fi, writing, and life in the business.
An Interview With Daniel Turkewitz Part 1
TB: How would you describe yourself in an elevator pitch?
Dan: I’m just going to assume it’s a long elevator ride. Or perhaps that it got stuck. I guess I’ve always been the creative type. I grew up on Long Island and went to Illinois Institute of Technology where I got a degree in architecture. After working here in NYC for a decade as an architect and never rising above the level of office drone, I decided it was time to find another creative outlet. So I started taking screenwriting courses at NYU. IIT had no liberal arts program and I had never taken a writing course in my life, so I was really starting from scratch. I finished my first screenplay, sent out a wave of pitch letters and got it optioned in 2001, and thought, well that was easy. Yeah, right. 12 years, five scripts, and more competitions than I care to remember later, I finally had my first sale.
TB: So you enter our contest and then suddenly– BOOM it’s sold. What was going through your mind when that happened?
Dan: RELIEF! Wave after wave of relief. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Since I started writing I always felt like I have what it takes, but of course a lot of people feel that way. So after 12 years, it’s a big relief to finally have some industry folks agree.
TB: Now you have more than just folks agreeing, you have people kicking down doors for you. Repped and ready.
Dan: Yeah, and it’s been wonderful. It truly makes all the difference. It’s as if I’ve been waiting outside this cool club, and never got close to getting past the velvet ropes. After 12 years I finally got my name on the list and got inside. Of course getting inside doesn’t guarantee success. But all the people you need to know, all the people who you want to read your work, are in that club. So if you’re inside, you have a fighting chance. Having Brooklyn Weaver and now David Saunders at APA repping me, and Tranquility Base going to Ridley Scott and Fox, has made a HUGE difference.
TB: How are the meetings going?
Dan: I’ve had a few meetings, a few more scheduled, but the best takeaway is people are starting to read my scripts. Strangers are requesting to read my stuff, it’s very gratifying. I’ve been writing for years, but finally I feel like I’m a working writer.
TB: What was your experience with the people at The Tracking Board running the contest?
Dan: My experience with the Tracking Board folks has been great.
TB: Why did you choose this particular contest?
Dan: The big deal about The Tracking Board contest is the judges. That’s what caught my eye when I first read about it on Scriptshadow. When I saw the list of judges if you make the Finals, I knew it was worth entering.
TB: Have you entered other contests before? If so, how did this experience compare?
Dan: I’ve entered a bunch of contests over the years, had plenty of semi-finals and quarter-finals, and a couple of wins, but many of them weren’t in LA, and as a result the people involved weren’t able to help move my career forward. It’s all about who’s going to read your script and what can they do for you.
TB: Before taking your first screenwriting class, were there any other early experiences with film?
Dan: My first filmmaking experience was the same as many people: home movies. Every year I go away with my family on a weeklong vacation. I come home with three or four hours of footage, and edit it down to an hour movie. Montages, musical sections, the works. I suppose that played a role in getting me to start taking the writing courses at NYU. You can only go so far with family members for actors.
TB: In your chain of completed scripts, where does Tranquility Base fall?
Dan: Tranquility Base is the fourth of my five completed scripts.
TB: What was your very first script about? Can you tolerate looking at it?
Dan: It was called “Blueprint” and it was a bank caper about an architect who’s designing an office tower here in NYC to be the HQ for a bank and gets blackmailed into helping rob the bank. It was a bit rough around the edges, no question, which is why the folks who optioned it hired another writer to do a rewrite.
TB: Any chance we’ll see it get made?
Dan: Perhaps! After the options expired I redid it myself, and APA has started to send it out. So, I guess we’ll wait and see.
TB: What were some of your earlier attempts to break into the business?
Dan: I finished my first script in 2001. Since I had no contacts and I wasn’t smart enough to be born with an uncle/brother/neighbor in the business, I had two options: unsolicited pitch letters and writing competitions. The pitch letter route truly sucks: I knew the vast majority of people didn’t want to get them, and I hated doing it. But: you gotta do what you gotta do. For every 100 I sent out, 95 would go unanswered. Four would generate an “I’m sorry we don’t accept unsolicited scripts” form rejection letter. And maybe, MAYBE, if I got lucky, one would pique someone’s interest and they would ask for the script.
TB: What were some of the ways you tried to get your inquiries noticed?
Dan: I jumped through all sorts of hoops to make my pitches stand out. One of my screenwriting teachers at NYU asked me to speak at his marketing seminar a few times as a result of all the stuff I did. For “Blueprint” I embedded the pitch in floor plans for a bank and sent that out. For several scripts I made DVD boxes to make it look like it’s been made, complete with the names of whoever I was sending it to in the credits, and the pitch on the back of the box. Websites, postcards, tee shirts, I tried them all.
TB: That’s dedication! How long were you willing to go with some of these “ploys” in order to get noticed?
Dan: It all depended on the ploy. How much did it cost, how much work was involved, and most importantly, did it get any results.
TB: Were any of them fruitful?
Dan: One night I was watching Letterman, and Helen Hunt was on, talking about the Broadway show she was going to be in. And the little light bulb went off over my head: I know where Helen Hunt is going to be every day! So I bought a dozen roses, stuck my pitch letter in them, and sent it to her at the theater. And it worked: a month later I got a call from someone at her production company asking for the script. Unfortunately, that person then left Hunt’s company, and my script got lost in the shuffle. I never did resort to outright stalking. That’s where I drew the line.
TB: How intense was your monthly flower bill?
Dan: That was the only time the pitch in the flowers routine worked. I only did it six or seven times, and only once went with roses. It’s an expensive way to get noticed. And of course it stretched out over a year or so. I had to wait for name actresses to show up on Broadway to give it a try.
TB: At the very least if Hunt or one of those actresses star in a movie you write in the future, you’ll have an interesting story to tell.
TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR MORE WITH DANIEL AS WE DISCUSS:
EPIPHANIES DURING “THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW”