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An interview with Terry Podnar, writer of Richard Spong

The feature screenplay, Richard Spong recently won the title of Best Feature Screenplay at the Filmtage der Nationen's 3rd Season. We had a discussion with the writer about his screenplay and body of work.

Filmtage : What sparked your interest in becoming an independent screenwriter, and how has your journey been navigating the world of screenwriting outside of traditional studio systems?

Terry : I started screenwriting at an early age when I wrote scripts for films that I made. I stopped filmmaking and concentrated on screenwriting in 2021. I finished nine short and feature scripts in the last year and a half. I actually write screenplays because of the sheer joy and passion for writing them. At first, I did not worry about studio systems or ultimate goals other than to create worlds through stories in a script form. Even though I still have a great deal to learn about screenwriting, my scripts began to improve and garnered some attention. I kept writing and figured that the ultimate goal of having a film produced from my scripts would take care of itself. To me, it is imperative to constantly write, especially while I have ideas and drive. Now, I face the most difficult aspect of screenwriting: attracting the attention of decision makers. It’s difficult enough to write a good or great script, but it’s another thing to sell it. So many things must be considered, such as marketability, timing, quality, promotion, time invested, networking (very important), and most importantly, money spent on consulting, podcasts, learning tools, festivals, hardware, software… the list seems endless.

Filmtage : As an independent screenwriter, you have the freedom to explore unique and daring narratives. How do you approach the creative process to craft compelling stories that stand out in a saturated market?

Terry : I have the luxury to write spec scripts that appeal to me. Not many screenwriters can say that. I do adhere to structure, formatting, characters, etc. like everyone else, but the subject matter must interest me. Then, I try to make that interesting to someone who reads the script.

Filmtage : Independent screenwriters often face challenges in getting their scripts noticed by producers and filmmakers. How do you go about networking and connecting with potential collaborators to bring your scripts to life?

Terry : For me, it’s very difficult because I did not know anyone in the movie industry at the beginning. I simply kept writing and learned the craft (a must), went on social media (at least there are some groups or people in your same situation), submitted to festivals, talked/text to anyone who would listen. It took time but I know some people in the industry now and am in constant communication. Networking is the best way to get a decision-maker’s attention, but you must attend festivals, meetings, conferences, get involved in podcasts. It all takes money, however. I was lucky that two of my feature length screenplays scored highly and were invited to Slated, which is a promotional and marketing platform that is exclusive to the movie industry. It’s still very difficult but it forces you to get your name and script out there. I also believe pitching your scripts constantly is worthwhile. Even though you might not get an answer from 95% or so from managers, producers, or development people, it’s best to be proactive. There are also some organizations like Coverfly, ISA and others who notify you when someone is looking for a certain type of script. Unfortunately, everything costs money in this industry.

I stopped using collaborators after my first screenplay. I use reputable consulting services now. I listen, or read their notes, and if the advice is good, I use it.

Filmtage : Your submitted screenplay has been praised for its originality and depth of characters. Can you share some insights into the development process, and how you ensure your characters resonate with audiences?

Terry : I believe that you must feel very strongly about what you write. It might be more important than what you write. Characters come from life experience and from people you might know. I sometimes embellish the person’s characteristics to fit the character’s motivations. Some characters simply are created and not based on anyone I know. I try to use my imagination of what is needed and what is interesting and fresh.

Filmtage : Independent filmmaking often allows for more artistic expression, but it can also mean limited budgets. How do you strike a balance between creative vision and practicality when writing?

Terry : Invariably, I deliberately write with a budget in mind. It’s how you write the scenes and what you show and what you don’t show that determines the cost of the budget.

We at Filmtage der Nationen wish Mr. Podnar a very happy creative journey ahead.

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