Shawn Boxe of Color Creative.Tv
November 12, 2014 at 5:58 am
With an impressive pilot presentation in Bleach, Shawn Boxe proves himself to be a writer to keep our eye on. Boxe, a techie and screenwriter, shares insight of how having a foot in each industry helps his creative process. His debut on Color Creative marks the beginning of an anticipated career, and we had to find out more about what to expect in the near future!
On IMDB, Bleach is your first credit. Did you just pop into the film world or have you been working behind the scenes? What's your filmmaking trajectory been so far?
It started with flip-books. At 5, I drew pictures in the top corner of book pages and when flipped, it would turn into a movie. Technically, I made motion pictures before I could read or write. I was fascinated with cartoons and wanted to be a Disney animator. I still can draw Mickey Mouse and Fred Flintstones with my eyes closed.
Entering my teens, I had a list of things that I wanted to be - animator, NFL running back, a comedian and a video game designer.
During University, I worked as an usher in a theater and fell in love with movies. I never thought of it as a possible career, just a cool passion. My dream jobs were ending fast. My ankles were too weak for football, I couldn’t get my portfolio ready for animation school, I was too intimidated to try stand-up and weak grades in linear algebra killed video game design. A traditional career as a tech-guy was a nice plan B.
After years of work in technology, I was looking for a creative outlet. Figured either movie making or DJ. I was too cheap to buy the turn-tables and cameras and found a low-budget alternative – screenwriting. After reading my first script I knew I wanted to become a story teller. I took classes and have been writing for 10 years. So far, I have written 5 movies and 2 pilots. Some were written with writing partners and my most recent scripts have been written solo.
What's your writing process like?
I come up with a hook for a movie or TV show and pitch it to all my friends. Based on some feedback I’ll either shelf it or start creating a mental outline.
Movies are complex creatures, so I outline story events that are common in the screenwriting world. For reasons I can’t explain, I think about the events of a story out of order. First is the inciting incident, which sets the story off in Act One. Usually I create a few key characters who can drive this. Next, I think about how Act Two should end, which is where the hero is at the lowest point.
From there, I think about how to setup the first 10 pages and how to introduce the characters. Then, I think about Act Three and how to end the story. Next, I figure out how to end Act One and break into Act Two. Finally I think about a twist that happens in the middle of the story. Like I said, I do this out of order, but it works well for me. I follow the same procedure for pilots, but I focus more on the characters and leave the ending open for another episode.
When it comes to actually writing, I keep my laptop close to me at all times. I don’t need a lot of stimulation or inspiration, just an outlet that’s nearby. Hot showers and long walks tend to give me a jolt of creativity, so I do both often.
Who are some writers that you admire and keep you on your toes, contemporary or throwback?
For throwback influences, I draw from comedians. I thought I was going to be a stand-up comedian growing up. Eddie Murphy, Jonathan Winters, Robin Williams, Martin Lawrence, Rosanne Bar, Rodney Dangerfield, Russell Peters, Chris Rock, Keenan and the Wayans, John Ritter and the original funny man in my house, my brother Ian, all had huge influences on my sense of humor.
Contemporary writers that I admire and influence my screenwriting style are Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, Kevin Hart, Ron White, Lisa Lampanelli, Jeff Ross, Louise CK and Key and Peele.
You're also a techie! How do you leverage your creativity in technology and writing?
IT requires troubleshooting and creative problem solving in regards to understanding how programs and services relate and depend on each other.
Most technology white boards are filled with boxes and arrows since we have to think in the abstract to understand a complex system. I took this skill into the writing world to help me abstractly look at characters and plot. My learning curve for re-writing and tracking how small changes can affect the story was much smaller because I had this experience.
How did the idea for Bleach come about?
I was writing mostly comedy and romantic-comedy features and thought that it would be fun to have a gun in the next thing that I wrote. I came up with a story about an average guy who gets involved in a criminal, hitman world. I wrote it as an action-thriller movie, but I gave up midway through because it was terrible.
A year later, I looked at the incomplete, terrible script and I discovered an unintentional quirky and funny chemistry with my average guy - ALAN - and the no-nonsense hitman - HARVEY. I started over and outlined a completely new story that revolves around the two of them as a funny odd-couple. At the same time, some of my friends broke into TV and they were urged me to write a pilot. So I turned my feature outline into a pilot and wrote the first draft of BLEACH.
I’m a member of a writing group and when I presented my draft it became clear that the odd-couple worked, but there were issues with believability. I spent future drafts in character development and ALAN went from average guy, to a suicidal, OCD carpet cleaner. I did the same amount of work with HARVEY and the rest of the characters. When I felt that I could not make much more significant improvements to the script, I entered as many contests as I could afford and hosted it on the Blacklist. The script went on to place and make it in the finals in 3 competitions.
A lot of people in our Blavity community are just getting started, what advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?
Learn how to write good scenes. If you are into comedy, write a scene that would make a stranger laugh out loud. If you like horror, your scene should give the reader goose bumps. If a reader can’t get through your first pages he or she will stop reading, so master these elements first.
Your first pilots and features are not going to be great; in fact they might be awful. That’s OK. Develop some tough skin and start rewriting. Don’t spend too many drafts on your first stories because chances are your story ideas are not strong enough to compete. Learning the craft of screenwriting and learning how to find good story ideas takes time. Keep at it and it should start to get easier.
If you are not writing, you should be reading. If you are not reading, you should be watching. Learn how to deconstruct what works and why. Look at good and bad shows and movies. I like theory, so I’ve read at least 15 screenwriting books. Take classes and look for free resources online. Join a writing group as it helps to write with a deadline. It also helps to get and give notes on a regular basis.
Most importantly, accept the fact that for writers, the system (in general) works. If you write a script that is better than the ones floating around Hollywood agencies, you will get noticed. If you advance to the finals in competitions and start getting high scores with coverage services, you will get noticed. The goal is to find representation and people who love your material.
If you have been at it for years and years (it took me 10!) and no progress, you should write something that can be shot and shoot it. You will have something to show for your efforts and you never know, it might find an audience online.
How did you connect with Color Creative?
I received an email from Issa Rae and Deniese Davis after they found and read Bleach on the Blacklist, and wanted to meet. I Googled Issa and knew she must be doing something big as Google filled in her first and last name after I entered only 3 letters!
I read and watched Issa’s web series, and learned about her development deals. I was impressed by the staggering amount of videos and viewers that her channel had amassed. We met a few times to discuss turning my script into a pilot. Issa also introduced me to 3Arts, and I got repped.
It was fun to work with Color Creative since they have so much filmmaking, producing and digital distribution experience. I was an experienced writer, but a novice filmmaker. Seeing my words produced has made me a stronger writer; I better understand what a script is and what it isn’t. Actors, lighting, music, direction, production, casting, editing and more are all needed to bring it to life.
What's next for you? Are you sticking to screenwriting?
Definitely! I’m currently taking meetings set up by my managers and agents. Breaking in means getting a lot of general meetings with industry execs that are fans of your script and pilot. I’m currently looking for staffing opportunities, trying to pitch and sell something new as well as get Bleach picked up by a network.
On the writing side, I’m in the middle of an action-comedy feature and rewriting a one hour sci-fi drama that I gave up on last year because it was God-awful. Sometimes when you look back at a project, you can find that one scene that sparks a whole new story. I’m also outlining a one-hour dramedy and a half-hour sitcom and, of course… working from home as a full-time systems analyst.
Issa Rae and Deniese Davis called him, and we see why. Bleach is impressive, funny, and marks the beginning of a great filmmaker. Shawn has provided great insight and for our budding filmmakers out there, the takeaway advice… always answer your phone.