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 2008 FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards - Interview - Mark Beech and Linda Gray

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Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Mark Beech Mark Beech
of Battle Creek, NE

Screenplay
MOTHER LODE
Comedy

LINDA GRAY
of
Battle Creek, NE

Linda Gray

CATEGORY 3

Runners Up

Biography:

Mark Beech - was born and grew up in the charming Elkhorn River Valley of northeast Nebraska. His parents’ farm was only a half mile from the river itself, which made for many pleasant summer afternoons. He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in speech and drama. Did a bit of photography, stage directing, and set construction around Lincoln while working as mechanical designer and second in command for the Bedient Pipe Organ Company. Married Elvena Suhr. Have two talented kids, Brent (professional musician) and Monica (insurance exec).

After a divorce he returned to northeast Nebraska to pursue his writing career. Wrote a popular local weekly column for three years. “View from a Country Lane” covered topics from the whimsical (why my cat should go into the diplomatic corps) to the dead serious (how H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” was a drop in the bucket compared to his home grown World War II). When he met and fell for his life partner Linda Gray, they both decided they should go for the gold: screenwriting! “Mother Lode” is their sixth feature, but it’s special to them because each thought of the idea independently before they met, after reading historical accounts of the era.


Linda Gray -  Although she was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, she spent her early years in northern Minnesota, in mining country. She remembered big steam locomotives pulling long trains past their little town. When she was in grade school her family moved to northeast Nebraska to try to make a better living. She was a very shy little kid. But once she wrote a rambling story that didn’t really have an end. Her nosey baby brother showed it to everyone, and they all wanted to know what happened. She realized she could entertain through writing. Later she wrote several articles for national horse magazines. The Grays have owned a horse or two for as long as she can remember.

Then came some tough times and the reality of making a living. Years slipped by and she found herself the manager of a drycleaning plant. (It and a few other personal details show up in her script “Lark at Break of Day Arising.”) When she met Mark Beech she finally had someone who believed in her and shared her writing interests. On a date to see a singer/songwriter friend of theirs perform (Jim Casey), somehow the subject of movies came up after the show and Mark told Jim they’d write a singing cowboy script for him. On the drive home Mark mentioned that he’d always loved the big salebarn at Ericson, Nebraska. They ought to set the story there. Mark assured her there’d be plenty of horses. That sounded good to her, and so they wrote their first feature “4x4.”

Interview

I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter........

Mark Beech: This didn’t happen all at once. In college and shortly thereafter I wrote a couple silly little stage comedies for “mellerdrammer” theaters popular at the time. Then I took a shot at a PBS “solicitation” and wrote a one hour family drama (which they didn’t buy). I liked the broad canvas and control of screenplays. Started thinking up stories. When I met Linda she gave me the courage to pursue screenwriting as a career.

Linda Gray: I wrote some magazine articles as a teenager, and always wanted to write books, especially juvenile fiction. But life intervened. When Mark wanted to do our first script I decided to try it. Now we are deep into the screenwriting culture, reading books, submitting to contests, looking for stories. We even have a “consultant.”

 

We know we've succeeded........ 

when we’re sitting in the theater watching our own movie and the rest of the audience loves it.

 

My inspiration to write MOTHER LODE.......

Mark Beech: I love American history. We had not yet written a comedy, and we certainly needed some lightheartedness in our own lives. We also love the Black Hills. I read the historical account of importing cats to the mining camps. That was intriguing in itself. But then I read the story about the turkey drive. A guy and a kid drove a flock of turkeys to Denver (I think). What if the cats and turkeys happened to meet out in the middle of nowhere? I could see that big ol’ turkey silhouetted against a romantic sunset while the characters talked about life. It was too good to pass up.

Linda Gray: Before I met Mark I’d read about cats on the frontier in brothels and mining camps. I thought the cats would make a good story. When we found out we were both going after similar stories we had to write this script.

 

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FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Mark Beech and
Linda Gray: It’s born in a person. We both have been making up stories since grade school. (Mark had a puppet theater in the 4th grade.) We are only now seriously trying to put our stories into a format that will be accessible to a large audience.

FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to prepare yourself to write your first script?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray: We talked the owners of the Ericson salebarn into letting us hang around, interview the cowboys, and take pictures. We also interviewed other people in the area and made sure that all the locations we wanted really existed. The kind folks of Ericson probably thought we were loco, but they are far too polite to say so.

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray: “Mother Lode” is our sixth feature. Notes go back at least as far as early 1999. (We find it helpful to date our idea notes to keep track of the story’s evolution.) We read all or part of several books during outlining, especially “Old Deadwood Days” by Estelline Bennett and “Deadwood: The Golden Years” by the amazing Watson Parker. We made one trip to the Black Hills to research this and another script. Family friend Don Mollhoff got us on the mule tangent with his interesting stories. Mark wrote the first draft in a concentrated period at about 5 pages per day. Mark, Linda, and our consultant Craig Kellem went through two rewrites. There’s no way to know how many hours all this took, but we were mighty glad when our long-suffering heroes finally got their “big ol’ house on a hill.”

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
We go with as little structure as possible in the research and outlining phase. We collect dated idea notes in a file folder. We talk through ideas whenever we think of something. We read and consult experts as needed. We work up a scenario with at least a clear beginning and ending that has emotional impact for us. Then we scout locations and gather more ideas. Mark does a scene outline if he’s going to do the first draft. If Linda’s doing the first draft she jots down a rough outline or just scene ideas. When we start writing full script we try to do it as rapidly as possible with fewest interruptions. Avoiding distractions is vital and difficult. Each of us has an office and computer. Mark starts by 9:00 AM and goes to mid- afternoon, or later if he’s on a roll. Linda can work any time but prefers morning. Once you type that first FADE IN it does take a lot of conscious effort and discipline to get to THE END. We try to get with our consultant and do as many rewrites as he deems necessary as soon as possible. Finally we put the script away for three or four weeks before doing another edit and proofread.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
Absolutely, if the contest publishes the “winners” of several “cuts” on the way to the top and also promotes its “finalists” vigorously. This offers real feedback that people actually like a script and for the lucky top placing writers they have a chance to get through the industry wall against unknowns.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers.com / The Radmin Company Screenwriting Competition?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
A few years ago we picked out what we thought were the major contests, and you were on the list. We have entered in the past.

FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
We are not organized film students. We can’t find time to see many of the new films we’d like to. Once in a great while we watch something as research on what we’re writing. It’s mostly good luck that we’ve seen a few great films that are satisfying through and through relative to the type of material we like. Elaine May and Warren Beatty’s comedy “Heaven Can Wait” is a good example. Every beat is perfect.

FilmMakers Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
We don’t know if this is a weakness or a strength, but we like way too many things to keep track of: history, horses, wood carving, painting (Linda’s Mom is a Western painter), trains, canals, civil engineering, boats, music, pipe organs, architecture, science, esp. cosmology and genetics, building things, etc., etc. We think this ties into seeking creative satisfaction, either through making something oneself, or understanding how someone else did it.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
Asking for favorites is like asking a doting mother which of her children she loves best. There are so many great writers, directors, and actors.

Mark Beech: Mark: However, I’m going to say William Goldman, not only because he’s a great writer and a legend, but also because he’s a superstar with a high profile (for a screenwriter). When I started drifting toward screenwriting he was making the profession seem very glamorous.

Linda Gray: Undecided.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with and why?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
Harold Ramis because we think “Groundhog Day” is another comic masterpiece. It’s subtle, complex, and moving. And he made it look easy. We would trust anything of ours to Ramis.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and why?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
We’re going to be greedy and self-indulgent here. We want two actors, Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams. They would do a great job, and it would be amazing to hang out with these guys. Nicholson might have fun with our villain Black Bart in “Mother Lode.”

FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
1. Experience your locations in person as much as possible. It’s fun and gives you lots of ideas.
2. Don’t put any pressure on yourself during research and outlining. Push as hard as you can during actual writing of full text.
3. Engage Craig Kellem as creative consultant.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Mark Beech:
Script about my late father from 1927 to 1942. He was the quintessential Tom Sawyer of his time.

Linda Gray: Script about two abandoned animals trying to find a new home.

FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from now?

Mark Beech and Linda Gray:
This is more of a wish than a prediction. We’d like to put our day jobs behind us and do what we please, which is to spend about half our time turning out a couple good scripts per year and the other half traveling and following our many other interests.

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