Producer, director, and writer Mary Haarmeyer continues her discussion of screenwriting in this second of a two-part interview. Mary has won awards for her scripts since 2007, including first place in the screenplay category of the 2010 SouthWest Writers Annual Writing Competition. Active in the workings of ReelFlicks Productions and T-RO Films, she is currently in post-production of Hunter’s Game, a paranormal/thriller television pilot filmed in New Mexico. Find out more about the series at www.huntersgame.tv and more about Mary and the crew on the T-RO website at www.t-rofilms.com. Click here to read the first part of this interview.
How did producing and directing Hunter’s Game differ from your previous projects?
With this project I wanted to give other striving artists a chance to succeed as well. I’ve been a successful business owner for 29 years and have always been able to figure ways around obstacles. With film, you must have talent, but you also need connections and sometimes just plain dumb luck. Being a first-time director/producer on a major project, I sought out people like me, who had talent, but who had not gotten the breaks to be in leadership roles. There was a stiff learning curve, but in the end we grew from this experience, and if given the chance to continue on with this series, we will all continue to grow and excel.
You are an advocate for making films in New Mexico, using local film crews and actors when possible. What does New Mexico offer to the film industry?
I believe New Mexico has an incredible talent pool here. Not only are our colleges turning out top-notch film crews, we have acting coaches and classes building up the talent pool of actors, as well. New Mexico also has a very diverse landscape. Albuquerque alone goes from desert, to mountains, to rivers, to forest in just 30 miles in any direction, not to mention all the amazing locations all over the state. And New Mexico is one of the best states for tax incentives coming in at 25 percent for a feature film and 30 percent for a television series. We also have various studios in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
How can studying screenwriting techniques help fiction writers improve their craft?
Studying great scripts can show you the blueprint for structure and storytelling techniques. Script writing is different from novel writing in that novels allow you the luxury of space to elaborate on description, but in screenwriting you have limited space and you must cut your narrative down to the bare bones. In screenwriting, you must use the least but most powerful words to tell your story in as little as 95-110 pages.
What skills do fiction or nonfiction writers already possess that will help them in writing screenplays?
Discipline in finishing their projects and the willingness to continue to do rewrites until the project is as close to perfection as possible.
What is your ideal list of ingredients for a screenwriter?
♦ Education: Learn the rules of screenwriting. If your script does not meet current market standards, it will not be read. The rules change often, so make sure your script is market ready. There are numerous classes and workshops available online and at universities. I would also recommend books such as Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat and Save the Cat Strikes Back by Blake Snyder and The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier, but these are only a few of the great books out there.
♦ Writing Skills: Scripts with technical and grammatical errors are thrown out before they ever reach the desk of decision makers. Make sure your story is the best it can be before submitting it. You have a great story, so make sure it is presented in the right format, content, and package to insure it gets read.
♦ People Skills: With screenwriting, you not only have to be a great writer, you also need to have great people skills. These days you must market your work as well as yourself in order to sell a script.
♦ Personality/disposition: Flexibility is the number one trait I would say you need in working in film. In the film industry, you need a positive attitude along with an open mind. Film is a collaborative effort. When your story is sold, you will become part of a production team and must be willing to make changes due to budget, time constraints, location restraints, and the desires of the above-the-line production crew (and even actors). When working with a group of diversely talented individuals, it is almost always necessary for the writer to compromise on some aspect of their script.
♦ Other: Again, there are always exceptions to the rules, and if you have the ability to produce, write and direct your own production, then you will maintain control of your script and the creative outcome. But be warned, as the director and producer, you will also find that things such as budget constraints, location problems and cast and crew availability might force you to make concessions on your own story as well.
Any new or ongoing projects you can tell us about?
I’m still busy marketing Hunter’s Game, the TV series completed by our production team T-RO Films, LLC. We hope to keep the project in New Mexico with New Mexican crews and actors at the forefront. Going forward this year, I need to complete the writing of the next eleven episodes of Hunter’s Game, as well as write three comics and two novels in order to help with the trans-media marketing of the show. There are other scripts in the works, as well.
What other advice do you have for writers?
In order to see your novel on the shelf or your film on the big screen, you first must write it. Do not let that blank page or blinking screen defeat you. There are stories within your imagination that only you can tell with a voice that is distinctly yours. So write, rewrite, perfect, then get out there and make your vision a reality!