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Interview With the Fabulous John Crye

I first met John Crye through a media company in Los Angeles. He has deep roots in theater and film, which covers experience as a writer, producer, actor, and director. For more than a decade, John was Creative Director of Newmarket Films, working in the development, acquisition, production, and distribution of such independent classics as Whale Rider, Memento, Donnie Darko, Monster, and The Prestige. 

A founding member of the filmmaker’s collective, Fewdio, John produced The Nightmare House web series, and also wrote and directed several episodes. He helped launch Wrekin Hill Entertainment, with whom he acquired and released such films as Peter Weir’s The Way Back and Hesher, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Since 2011, John has been producing and directing under his own banner, SharpCrye. Chance, the latest project, is a Family Drama based on a true story, starring Matthew Modine. They are in post-production now and planning a film festival run. He is also publishing an online serialized Fantasy Adventure novel entitled, The Elect Stories. His new company, True Development, offers coaching and editing services to screenwriters.

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John Crye (left) directing cinematographer, Corey Weintraub. (photo: Nolan Rudi)

Having worked with John on two projects, I know firsthand that he is multi-talented, possesses several lifetimes worth of knowledge and experience, and is a highly skilled mentor. I am thrilled that he agreed to do the following interview:

ROBIN: Would I be correct in saying that visionary films are taking center stage? I’m thinking of The Shape of Water, Black Panther, and Dunkirk specifically. In the broadest terms, they seem to share roots in mythology, and they explore social or personal evolution (devolution). Is there something more that you, as a filmmaker would say about this?

JOHN: I think that cinema progresses through cycles like everything else. I agree that we are seeing a spate of films right now that share a sensibility, a reaction to the “make or break” times we are living in. Many of us are feeling like we are living through times that will either be the end of society, perhaps of humanity, or a bold new beginning. Artists are feeling those same things and expressing them. I’m happy to see that so many of these reactions are hopeful.theelectstories2ROBIN: What does it mean to “develop” a film project? Film studios used to do this, right?

JOHN: Development is just the Hollywood term for the process that all writers engage in: nurturing a story idea, exploring its potentials, and then crafting the language that expresses the story best for the given format. The important difference is that development is always done with at least one source of feedback, whether an editor, producer or executive. As with most film industry conventions, development started in the studios, back in the days when an entire staff of screenwriters were kept under contract to meet the high production demand. By the heady days of the mid-1990’s, development had become a boondoggle, a vaguely defined line item where outrageous wastes of money could be hidden or excused away. Development’s value as a refining tool for the writer, and as protection for the producer, was diminished to the point that it has become little more than a trite curse: “development hell.”

ROBIN: You were with Newmarket Films when they acquired rights to Whale Rider (2003). For those who haven’t seen it, I wholeheartedly recommend it! It’s the story of a young girl whose destiny as a leader clashes with a Maori chief who holds that males only can ascend to chiefdom. What intrigued you about the story?

JOHN: I think almost everyone has experienced the pain of rejection or of being an outsider at some point in their lives. I have. If you haven’t felt it, perhaps you’ve feared it. The girl in the story, Pai, wants nothing more than the love of her grandfather, and the yearning that Keisha Castle-Hughes expresses in her performance is so palpable that I ached watching it. I do every time.whalerider

ROBIN: Apart from writing novels that distinguish themselves, how can authors best develop stories that adapt to film?

JOHN: Well, those may be two different animals entirely. Writing a distinguished novel is the finest goal a novelist can set for herself. Developing stories that adapt to film, on the other hand, requires stepping away from some of the elements and techniques that might otherwise make for a distinguishing novel. The stories that work best for developing into screenplays tend to follow those same rules that Aristotle set out in his Poetics, namely the unities of action, place and time. Intrinsic dramatic values like tension and suspension of disbelief are more effective in these confines. Cinematic stories tend to be plot-driven, as well, since the audience witnesses the characters actions without being privy to inner monologue. In other words, stories where one or a few characters take clear actions that affect a dramatic change within a limited time frame.

ROBIN: In your recent newsletter, you referred to yourself as a “personal trainer for writers.” Would you like to say more about that?

JOHN: Procrastination, negative self-talk, undisciplined work habits… these things destroy a writer’s productivity and, ultimately, their creativity. More than simply being an editor or story analyst, I act as a coach, helping the writer develop better habits and improve their skills.

ROBIN: Do you work with unpublished writers?

JOHN: I do! While many of my clients are professional screenwriters who need a coach to keep them hustling and on their game, I also work with new writers. My True Development service can function as a one-on-one screenwriting course. I walk the client through the process from concept to finished first draft using the same methods that I have honed over the past 23 years in independent film.theprestigeROBIN: Can you name a few deal breakers? Qualities in a story that will guarantee a quick “pass” on a producer’s part?

JOHN: That somewhat depends on the company or producer. For instance, most of the films that I acquired, developed or produced for Newmarket were passed on by other companies at some point. I was trying to think of a story element that would be a no-go across the board and I honestly can’t think of one. Successful films have been produced from the least likely stories. All I can say is take the time to research who you are submitting your work to and ensure that your material is a good fit for what they do. (And be honest with yourself about that.)

The collaborative nature of film is the double-edged sword that invigorates some and infuriates others. It is important to remember that the screenplay is not a finished work, it is a blueprint for a work to be created by a team of other artists. This is not to diminish the screenwriter’s value. No good thing can be constructed from a faulty plan and, indeed, the structural elegance and the power of the dialogue is often what we respond to as audience and those things are the purview of the screenwriter.

ROBIN: Say a producer, director, or studio shows interest in your adaptation. What happens next?

JOHN: Let the negotiations begin! Hopefully, they are coming to you or your reps with an offer.

ROBIN: What do screenwriters generally get paid?

JOHN: The WGA minimum for an original screenplay is (at the time of this interview) $71,236, or roughly 1.4% of the budget on a film of around $5M. Non-WGA writers get significantly less, and “star” writers negotiate for more.

ROBIN: Must writers have an agent or talent manager in order to sell a screenplay?

JOHN: No, though the writer will want someone skilled to handle negotiations on their behalf.

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Matthew Modine and John Crye on the set of Chance. (photo: Nolan Rudi)

ROBIN: What do authors do if they want someone else to adapt their novel?

JOHN: The first step is to think very closely about what kind of movie you’d want your adapted novel to be, or at least to identify those kinds of movies you don’t want it to be. The second step is to discuss the story with a few screenwriters until you find one whose vision of the adaptation matches your own (which is why you need to do some envisioning of your own first.) Work closely with the screenwriter on a scene-by-scene treatment, so you can assure that you are on the same page before they go to draft. If you don’t know any screenwriters personally, try contacting the local film commission of your nearest large city. They should be able to provide some guidance, if not an actual list of writers in the area. You can also try the writing or film departments of a local college or university. Failing that, head to a Starbucks and look for someone working on a laptop with a Star Wars decal on it. (Kidding.) (Also, not really kidding.)

ROBIN: Can you recommend an app for screenwriting?

JOHN: I’m a big fan of Final Draft, which is industry standard. Movie Magic Screenwriter is also used a lot because it interfaces easily with budgeting software. You’ll want to work in a commonly used program so you can collaborate. Film, after all, is a collaborative artform.*

Contact John Crye:

Website: http://www.truedev.sharpcrye.com/

Twitter: @JohnCrye

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/john.crye1?ref=br_rs

 

Healing: A Half-Step into Self-Forgetting

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Sometimes healing is like baseball.

The other day, I started feeling symptoms of a cold.

I prayed to the angels to heal me.
I prayed to Jesus to help me.
I prayed for the Great Spirit to protect me.

The symptoms got worse.
I thought my prayers weren’t being answered.

Put down your aloneness and ease into the conversation, says poet David Whyte.

I persisted in praying for help.

Soon, an idea came to me: Baseball.

When you step up to bat, your mind is fully focused on putting the ball where you want it. Now, focus your consciousness on what you want! Realize peace and health are already yours. The Spirit in the midst of you is infinite. What does that mean? There is nothing else. So-called physical symptoms don’t mean a thing unless you give them meaning. Spirit is infinite, and It is Love, therefore there are no good/evil germs, there is only the embodiment of Spirit. Sickness is a belief/effect of other powers, causes, conditions. Focus your vision! Heaven on Earth is right here, right now, dear heart. Let it flood the sphere of your experience.

I gave thanks and the symptoms soon abated.

This is how prayers are often answered. The angels, Jesus, and Spirit did not heal my body. They guided me to step up to the plate, to forget about my human self, and all that I’d been told about the body, germs, physical laws. To be fully focused on Spirit. That was the healing.

Magical Realism That Drowns Us, con’t

…Magical realism has finally found a toehold in mainstream America. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a finger on the national pulse, it seems America is ready for stories that treat supernatural and mythic themes as a natural part of life.

I’ve been drawn to mysticism and spirituality most of my adult life. During this time, I’ve witnessed a number of healings (my own and others’)—from the common cold to terminal cancer—without the aid of medical science. So-called miracles have become a natural part of my life. As a writer, I am excited to build stories on this premise. With a little help from Charles Dickens, I follow a tradition of subverting expectations and use irony to call into question social and religious traditions. For example, in The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, I address Pappy’s bigotry in a historic (and personal) context while showing him also as protective of bi-racial, disabled, troublesome Moojie. On the other hand, Moojie, who is developmentally  challenged, is often wiser than Pappy and the adults around him. Another example can be found in The Whale Rider. Paikea, the protagonist, is excluded from her grandfather’s search for the next tribal chief because she is a girl, but she is more capable than any of his male choices.

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My greatest wish as a writer is to publish stories that show characters subverting human expectations by awakening to their divine nature. As some of you know, for the past year I’ve been working on the film adaptation of Moojie Littleman, Book 1. Adaptation and screenwriting are completely different from novel writing so there are a number of changes to the story, but the basic themes and premise remain true to the book. My mentor, John Crye—writer, actor, producer, editor, and former Creative Director of Newmarket Films (produced Whale Rider)—is as excited about magical realism as I am. While my screenplay is still in development, I credit John’s magnificent oversight for this pre-production review:

“The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” is an emotionally powerful and viscerally stunning fantasy with a fascinating and hard-hitting family drama not overshadowed by all the spectacle. We are, with Moojie, entering a strange new world here where the incredible seems possible. At the heart of the story is always his quest for belonging, a universal human drive that resonates even in such extraordinary circumstances. The Light-Eaters are intriguing and capable of holding our interest with both their capabilities and thematic nature. Nahzi is a particularly breathtaking and memorable element. They are inspirational as well, and we can see that it is Moojie’s time with them that helps him mature in the way that he does, whether it is taking responsibility for starting the trouble, or telling Babylonia he loves her with the stirring speech, “The day I met you, it was like I fell asleep and woke up in a better world.”—THE BLACK LIST, Hollywood (Aug/2018)

Europe, Australia, and South America have long-embraced magical realism in art, literature, and film. It is thrilling to see it finally recognized in America. Thanks to David Lynch’s legacy, and other commercially successful films, like Being John Malkovich, Donnie Darko, and Edward Scissorhands, the road has been paved for stories that normalize mythical, spiritual, and mystical experiences. If you are drawn to films like this, you’re going to love the Moojie film! Also, here are some magical realist films worth seeing: The Whale Rider, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amélie, Micmacs, The Delicatessen, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

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So it’s onward and upward! Time to get back to work. I love hearing from you. Whether you are parenting or writing or being the CEO of a national corporation, I want to hear how you are following your dreams!

 

Adaptation in development …

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Script Review from Los Angeles –

“The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” is an emotionally powerful and viscerally stunning fantasy with a fascinating and hard-hitting family drama not overshadowed by all the spectacle. We are, with Moojie, entering a strange new world here where the incredible seems possible. At the heart of the story is always his quest for belonging, a universal human drive that resonates even in such extraordinary circumstances. The Light-Eaters are intriguing and capable of holding our interest with both their capabilities and thematic nature. Nahzi is a particularly breathtaking and memorable element. They are inspirational as well, and we can see that it is Moojie’s time with them that helps him mature in the way that he does, whether it is taking responsibility for starting the trouble, or telling Babylonia he loves her with the stirring speech, “The day I met you, it was like I fell asleep and woke up in a better world”.—THE BLACK LIST (August 2018)

What Writers Can Do To Help End Terrorism, Oppression, and Racism

In light of the recent terrorist attacks, and the surge in Neo-Nazism and white supremacy, I keep asking myself, how can I, a writer, lend a hand to my grieving, fearful, angry brothers and sisters?

In January I visited the amazing Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, Spain, not too far from the Las Ramblas terrorist attack. The primary architect, Antoni Gaudí, worked on the cathedral for 43 years, before passing on. Still under construction today, it represents a century-long collaboration which is scheduled for completion in 2020.

What inspires me about Sagrada, beyond its awe-striking beauty and crafting, is that literally hundreds and hundreds of architects, artisans, masons, builders, and artists have formed links to its creation. “The creation continues incessantly through the media of man,” said Gaudí. In this sense, Sagrada Familia represents how inspired visions are erected first in our minds, and how we are all part of a magnificent collaboration that began before time. Our individual dreams for a better world are links in the chain of eternity, live manifestations streaming through the appearance of time, accompanied by masters and prophets and saints and angels.

Sometimes weeks, months, years pass when our efforts to provide inspiration or comfort seem futile. Sometimes violent events kick against our visions, they howl and snarl and dig in. When this happens, it’s tempting to give into negative, condemning thoughts. Giving in can feel like the great monument of faith we have worked so long and so hard to realize has crumbled and taken heaven with it. But we gather ourselves up again, aligning with universal Grace and Love, magnifying higher aspirations as we know them, glorifying what is transcendent—what lies beyond the reach of temporal power—and by Grace the “cathedral” reappears. In fact, it never went anywhere.

Gaudí didn’t live long enough to see the finished Sagrada. But I imagine it was complete in his mind, a vision attesting to heaven on earth, a living thing. In the same way, we writers who are giving voices to the marginalized, oppressed, and forsaken populations might not see the completed version of our world vision. However, as links in the Grand Collaboration, our efforts will uphold and bear forth as universal monuments to unity. In our persistence, like the masters before us—many named and unnamed—our “cathedrals” shield us and others from the backwash of superstition and ignorance, as surely as they will provide solace and shelter and inspiration to the disenfranchised.

Magical Realism: Finding A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings

On my twentieth birthday, a friend gave me a collection of Garcia-Marquez short stories. One in particular, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” changed me in a fundamental way. It didn’t make me wiser; it didn’t make me ponder the great wonders of the universe. This story of a winged man, crab-filled skies and astral-bottomed women with green-glowing eyes, gave my soul permission to speak. Till then, I didn’t realize it had anything to say

Over time, I discovered that being a writer was a lot like raising a child with a stern grandmother standing behind you: the minute one stage ends, she points to a worse one coming up. Or so I thought until I attended a university lecture. The speaker of the night was the infamous and notorious Junot Diaz. Of the many profound insights he offered, this one made the biggest impression: writers should ignore other people’s opinions. Pondering his lecture helped me enormously when writing a first NTBP (never-to-be-published) novel because it turns out I couldn’t remember anything else he said. For a while, his advice enabled me to indulge in soliciting feedback from others and then ignoring it entirely.

After decades of writing for the pure joy of it, I can say one thing for sure. A good yarn is hard to come by. I can assure you I have many other pearls of wisdom, and am confident that because of this I need not fear that you will be influenced solely by my lack of impressive credentials, publishing credits or celebrity endorsements.

In order to share a little more about my influences, two footnotes come to mind.

First, I never planned to be a writer. In fact, I had reading challenges in my early years. It wasn’t until high school that I learned to read fluently, an achievement to which I give Franz Kafka partial credit. You see, I could not put down “The Metamorphosis.” After this, I simply could not not write. This led to a series of notebooks, teenage rants on how it feels to live in a perpetual state of underwater.

Second, after getting my first NTBP novel and screenplay out of the way, I interned and later wrote freelance for a local newspaper. Writing human-interest stories, restaurant, movie, and book reviews on deadline taught me a very important lesson: to stop niggling and get the first draft down.

Around that time, Magical Realism took me hostage, literally. To begin with, I was raising a son who did things differently. He walked, talked, and learned differently than most inhabitants of this galaxy. This experience caused me to question every reasonable belief, opinion, and judgment I had accepted about the nature of reality and God. It sent me on a wild quest for answers, a long, fruitful adventure into spiritual study and practice, a degree in literature and writing, gushing first drafts and furious ruminations, and the first fruits of which were a collection of short stories involving a leopard who dreams of being a businessman, a lovelorn medical resident who gives cadavers psychic readings, Euripides and Sophocles jotting down inspired lines while girl and boy watching at an outdoor café.

Since then, I have been snatching words and phrases out of the ethers to record them like they were potent charms. Magical Realism allows me room to explore themes of love, identity, spirituality, power, social/political concepts, and the nature of reality from a fresh point of view. It gives my imagination freedom to run. It lit the spark of a thirteen-year fire that fueled the writing of The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, my debut novel.

This post is part of the Magic Realism Blog Hop 2017. Lots of blogs are taking part this year, all posting about magic realism in some form or other. Just click the links below to “hop” around the blogs. Have fun!

The Hop runs from 28th – 30th July, although you will be able to visit after that. Posts will be added throughout the three days, so do come back and see what’s new.

LINK to Blog Hop: http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/welcome-to-magic-realism-blog-hop-2017.html