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 4
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: Wing it. Sometimes I might do some reading or watch films for inspiration, as I did with Tranquility Base. Other times, just write.
TB: No outlining at all? Just dive in and let if flow?
Dan: I don’t usually outline but I always do a treatment first, then script.
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: The initial story idea is often the easiest part. I’ve got plenty of ideas. Right now the toughest part, since this is my first time through the process, is figuring out what I need to provide and what will come from the Director or actors. Making sure each character has a distinct voice is a challenge, and as I’ve yet to have any of my work filmed, I still need to find out how much I can rely on the actors to bring to the table, and what I have to give them. So far I’ve traded notes with the Producers, but I’ve yet to go through the collaborative process with actors and a Director. Figuring out what’s going to happen there is a challenge.
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: Keep writing, of course. Some day I’d love the opportunity to direct some of my work, but for the moment what I want for the next 5 to 10 years is to remain employed. After struggling for 12 years to get noticed, that seems like a pretty good goal.
TB: I’m sure you did quite a bit of research for your script, what would you say is the weirdest/coolest thing you found but couldn’t find a way to include?
Dan: There wasn’t anything too weird. I was lucky enough to be able to consult with two shuttle astronauts, one of who lived in the Space Station for several months and gave me all sorts of details after I had a finished draft. Nothing too crazy or outrageous, just little things to help make the script more realistic. Nothing weird was left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. At least, not yet.
TB: Hollywood is all about pigeon holing people (for good and for bad reasons), so would you be happy to be the sci-fi guy or do you plan on branching out?
Dan: Right now the script that’s being passed around the most as a writing sample is Tranquility Base, so people start off with me as a sci-fi guy. And for the moment that’s fine. I love the genre, I’ve got other sci-fi projects to pitch, so it’s a good thing. I’ve also got comedies, so eventually I’d like people to see me that way as well. But we all have to start somewhere, and if I start out as the sci-fi guy, that’s cool with me, I can handle it.
TB: Would you say you’re more of a hard sci-fi guy or a “whatever happens is just science/magic” kind-of guy. Or do you even think that sci-fi needs to be split into camps?
Dan: There are definitely different approaches to sci-fi, and I’ve gone both routes. For Tranquility Base I tried to keep it as realistic as possible. So there’s nobody getting beamed up, no warp speed, no light sabers or people getting frozen in carbonite. But I’ve got other sci-fi projects that fall into the “whatever happens is just science/magic” camp. If you have a story that takes place hundreds of years in the future or want to place people on distant planets that still haven’t been discovered, then there has to be some creative license, you have to rely on your audience to take a leap of faith with you.
TB: There’s a “Last Crusade” joke in here somewhere…
Dan: (Laughs) I loved “Jurassic Park.” They went to great lengths to present its sci-fi element as believable, giving a detailed description of how the dinosaurs were brought back to life. They want to make you believe this is something that could happen. I also loved “Back To The Future.” For that, you have to buy into the idea that a wacky inventor can turn a Delorean into a time machine in his garage. There’s a place for both sci-fi styles, and I’ve used both.
TB: While we’re on the topic of Sci-fi, would you say you have favorite science fiction author? Philip K. Dick fan?
Dan: Over the years, as I was struggling to get noticed, I was temped to take one of my scripts and put “based on a short story by Philip K. Dick” on the cover just to see what happens.
TB: Given your propensity for ballsy “foot in the door” moves I’m surprised you didn’t.
Dan: Never had the guts to do it.
TB: I feel like someone is going to pull that “based on” stunt now. Don’t do this at home, kids!
Dan: At least don’t blame me! Maybe one day I’ll have that at the beginning of one of my scripts for real, but so far I’ve yet to read any of Dick’s work. Although like everyone else I love the movies that have come from his stories.
TB: What about screenwriters?
Dan: I love Charlie Kaufman. He’s the writer that makes me think “what was he on when he wrote this” more than anyone else, and that’s a good thing. The sci-fi elements in “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” are so off the wall crazy, I wish I could pick his mind to find out how he came up with them.
TB: If you had to chose one – “Twilight Zone” or “Outer Limits” or “Hitchcock Hour”?
Dan: “Twilight Zone.” No question.
TB: I admire your choice and your brevity. Last question: Have you met Ridley Scott yet? How firm is his handshake on a scale of “clammy hands” to maybe “turning bone to powder?”
Dan: Sir Ridley is a commanding presence. His handshake lets you know he’s in charge, he’s the man, and you’re fortunate to be in his presence. He’s a natural leader you’d follow into combat if you had to, as well as a soundstage. Mosquitos refuse to bite him out of respect. Even the guy from the Dos Equis beer commercials wants to be him. OK, I’ve never met the guy. Hey, I know how to suck up to the boss!
TB: Well, when you do meet Sir Ridley, what will be the first thing you’ll ask him? Other than “please oh please stop crushing my hand!”
Dan: Do you have time to hear about my next story?