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12/13/2004 - Interview - Rick Stevenson
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Rick Stevenson is a Producer and Director based out of Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, Canada. The Producer of "Promised Land" (starring Meg Ryan and Keifer Sutherland), Director/Screenwriter of "Magic in the Water" (2000)
and Director of "Anthrax" (2001). Rick's latest project was directing an episode of the NBC Television Series, "Ed" (2003). For more information on Rick Stevenson, search his name on www.imdb.com.


What are you currently working on?

RS: I have just sold a script to Warner's Television and have been hired by them to do a rewrite. It's called OUTRAGE and it's about David McTaggart who sailed his 38ft sailboat into the French nuclear test zone in the South Pacific. His actions were responsible for stopping all future atmospheric testing. I am also scheduled to directed a comedy next summer called KIDNAPPING GRAPES.


You've worked in England, America and Canada - what would you say are the major differences?

RS: Strangely, I found virtually no differences---which certainly defies conventional wisdom. Film crews are like circus people, the are more defined by their occupation than by their nationalities. I have had wonderful 'summer camp' experiences everywhere.

Do you feel that certain countries give you better opportunities?

RS: I have been fortunate being able to work in Canada as a dual citizen. Not only are the third and fourth largest film cities in Canada but the government actively promotes film--so there are plenty of opportunities.

Out of all the films you've Produced and Directed, you've only written one: "Magic In The Water". Was this a "one shot deal" or do you plan to write again?

RS: I have ten screenplays that I have written and two TV series. I promise to "flog" them all until they either die or get done. I am writing constantly. But I am also a director for hire.

When you're producing or directing, how close do you work with the writer?

RS: In television, the writers are the producers and you get to work with them closely. In fact, on ED for NBC, I never had a script...the entire time. They were so far behind that the pages came out the night before or the day of. Obviously I was talking to the writers just to do my best to stay on top of the story. As for features, nothing is more important to me than the script. It, more than anything else, dictates how good the film will be. I love writers and talk to them as much as possible.

How do you come across new material?

RS: I get sent things through my agent, most of which I am not interested in. Still, you have to read 999 screenplays for the 1 gem.

If you see a good idea but poor execution, do you still pursue the project?

RS: Depends on what the writer wants. If I love the idea and have time to work with the writer, or the writer wants to co-write and I have time, I will pursue it. This happens more than not.

What immediately turns you off of a screenplay? Format? Story (or lack of)? Characters? Subject matter? Language? Too many pages? Annoying cover letter? Other?

RS: It is hard to quantify. I'd like to turn the question around in to a more positive direction. What turns me on in a screenplay is that special thing which resonates with me....it personal and amorphous. It almost certainly starts with a highly original main character with an arc that I care about. I recently 80% rewrote a screenplay that was not well written and had a weak, predictable story---but it had an amazing lead character. So I felt very inspired.

Do you think the system, as it currently is, is beneficial to the writer and his/her vision?

RS: In television yes. Writers are boss. In features no. The writer is still hugely under-credited and the directors over-credited. That's why I do both so in the end, justice is done :)

Where do you see avenues for opportunity for the beginning screenwriter? Internet? Independent film? Television? Other?

RS: The great thing about writers is that you can do it anywhere, anytime. It doesn't cost money, you don't need expensive tools. I like to think that the opportunities are always there for excellent work. Somehow it will get noticed. Seattle writer George Wing is a perfect example. Here's a guy who paid his dues for years, wrote a number of screenplays, each one of which better and better. Suddenly, he writes something that Hollywood wants and BAM he's a huge writer. I love that story. He deserves every bit of success he's getting.

Do you find writing for television easier than for a feature film?

RS: Television. It is a more experimental medium at the moment. Note HBO.

You produced your first film over 20 years ago, what is the biggest change you've seen in Hollywood?

RS: When I produced my first movie, it was one of about 8 independent features made that year. It got us into Sundance and we had three films at the festival. Now, the competition is huge---like 5000 films a year. The declining cost of filmmaking has led to the democratization of filmmaking. Now, almost anyone can do it. Which is good----but the pie is being cutting in many more pieces and it's harder achieve the necessary budgets to make competitive films. When we made SOME GIRLS for MGM, it was a low budget film for $3.9 million in 1989. Now, you're lucky to get that big of a budget on an independent film. Still, the fundamental task and challenge is still the same. It's storytelling...and you just have to find new creative
ways to do it.


If you knew of a writer with an extra $500 and a Spec screenplay, what would you suggest he/she do with the money? Advertise? Enter contests? Take a class? Use a reading/critiquing service? Buy a DVD player and some good DVDs? Go on vacation and forget about writing?

RS: Keep it in the bank as "screw you" money so that you can keep writing.


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