Thursday, September 20, 2018

Interview with screenwriter LEE KOLINSKY by Dave Wolff

Interview with screenwriter LEE KOLINSKY

You are an award-winning screenwriter and active journalist. How long have you had a career in these fields and what interested you in getting involved in them?
I would say I made a career out of being a writer in several fields. I started as a journalist for about four years and changed careers to marketing and technical copy writer. Journalism gave me a base of how to structure a story quickly and making sure the point gets across to the reader within a paragraph of two. I have been writing screenplays for almost twenty years. Having them produced is another story. My goal was to have a career in writing and be creative. Movie writing is the ultimate place I want to be, but I believe in understanding the craft of writing as a whole. Writing is a skill that you can take anywhere.

Are you educated or self-educated when it comes to journalism and script writing? If it’s the former, where did you take classes to hone your abilities?
I went to New York Institute of Technology for journalism and screenwriting. I went there originally for filmmaking and screenwriting, but eventually decided I should be well rounded with all types of writing genres and thought journalism was a good start.

Were there any professors at NY Tech whose instruction was beneficial to you?
The professors were great at teaching the craft of writing. I wouldn’t say there was one that stood out to me. But my journalism professor really taught me how to get right to the point of my story and how you really need to catch the reader quickly.

Name some of the publications you wrote for in your four years as a journalist? How much did the experience help you?
I wrote for the local weekly newspapers called the Merrick Life and the Nassau Herald. I also worked for a publication that reported on advertising campaigns. Being a reporter gave me real-world experience. It revealed to me how people interact with each other within their roles as an educator, politician, or a local resident. It also taught me how hard it was to uncover information from people, depending on the situation. Feature stories, everyone wants to speak, but when it came to harder news stories, you had to gain a certain trust and hoped the info you needed came out.

Were your feature stories as informative as you wanted them to be? What were some of those stories written about?
They were mostly local stories based on the community. One was about school kids creating a quilt to be sent to a village in Africa. Another was about a guy who turned his basement into a living tribute to his family through photos. The community-based features were great to be a part of

How often did you accomplish acquiring the information you needed when writing more difficult news stories?
Research and relying on solid sources. Typically, harder news stories generate sources that are harder to find, but there is always someone who wants to tell their side of the story. They may be harder to find on some subjects, but with the proper research, you can find someone. 

What items were you most interested in covering as a journalist?
Feature stories are my favorite. You can be the most creative in that space. Not to say you can’t be creative with hard news, it can become depressing. The funniest feature I wrote was about Groundhog Day. It was a challenge to make a story that is reported on interesting. I think I did that.

Where did your inspiration to be a script writer come from two decades ago? Did specific movies help influence you back then?
My family owned a video store in the 80’s and that was huge influence. I also liked playing with G.I. Joe figures. I created stories with the Joes after I saw movies from the video store. I always played out a film called Ice Pirates. About a bunch of thieves in space. A great, strange movie. I guess I was always a writer of stories, but never put pen to paper until late in high school.
The movies that influenced me still influence me today. It was a mix of films including Superman, Flash Gordon, The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, The Dirty Dozen, Return of the Dragon, The Chinese Connection. These are just a few of my favorite films that I wanted to emulate.

Tell the readers about the video store owned by your family in the 1980s. How much business did it do while it was open? Regarding this question, do any mom and pop video stores exist today that you know of?
The video store in its height, did really well. We had over 4000 titles and were known for having cult/rare films. We even had a subscription program. A customer could pay a yearly fee and rent as much as they wanted. Kind of like the Netflix model today. Our major issues were the price of the VHS tapes and competition. The bigger chains were able have more stock of the same title while the smaller guys could only stock one or two of the same film. There was also a race against cable. You had to make your money back on a tape before cable started showing the films on a regular rotation. I only know of one mom and pop store in Brooklyn, but not sure if it’s still there. I think mom and pops are pretty much a thing of the past.

Name the cult films you remember was available for rental at the store? Were many of them of the horror/gore/splatter variety from the U.S. and Italy?
The popular ones were Videodrome and The Toxic Avenger, but then you had ones like Silent Night, Deadly Night and My Bloody Valentine. Those definitely had the splatter and gore in them. Ones I really liked and remember were more Kung Fu and Sci-fi like Repo Man, Kill And Kill Again, Kill Squad, Dragon Vs Needles Of Death, Snake Fist Fighter, Space Hunter and Megaforce.

Are you a fan of the horror and splatter movies from those days? How have those genres changed since, considering such titles as torture porn?
I was not really a huge fan of the splatter films from back in the day. Mainly because they scared the crap out of me and I didn’t like that. Now, I am so desensitized to most of it, that I don’t mind watching it that much. The one genre I really don’t like to watch is serial killer films. That still gets me. Today’s horror films really don’t freak me out that much because they seem more fake to me. That may have to do with the story development. Overall, I think the major change may be story development or lack of it in most films. It also seems many characters are not as sympathetic or empathetic these days. It’s hard to care about a character who is not a great person in the first place.

Do you personally prefer the older or newer eras when it comes to sci fi, horror and superhero movies?
This is difficult for me to answer because I will always consider movies like Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Highlander, The Terminator, and Predator amazing films. And you simply have to acknowledge the fact that Lord Of The Rings and The Avengers are epic adventures. In my case, I also throw Underworld, Resident Evil, Gattaca and Moon into my mix of great current films. I think I have a special place for the older films, but really look forward to new ones.

What aspects of the movies you listed did you most want to emulate and reinterpret?
I like to emulate the bond a group of people have in the mists of a challenge. I would say most of the films I mentioned were classic underdog movies. I am also a very big crime writer. I have always been interested in what motivates a criminal.

What did the serials of the 30’s offer in terms of imagination and creativity? Have any aspects of those survive into the present?
I wasn’t much into those serials. I guess the ones that come to mind for me are the ones from the 40’s. Movies like White Heat, the Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. They offered a lot in creativity as far as I am concerned. The story and dialogue, the drama and scores. I think, depending on the filmmaker, there is still some of that influence today. The Usual Suspects reaches me as far as those types of movies.

Do you read any true crime publications for inspiration when writing your own storylines? Which do you peruse the most?
The news is pretty much where I read/hear a lot of information. Although I try not to dive into it that much because I want to keep things somewhat based in fantasy. I also don’t like capitalizing on a real story very much. My inspiration for a crime story is based on what I think I can get away with and that’s mostly rob banks and heists of some sort. Not that I could really do any of those things, but my imagination thinks it can.

Did you ever consider getting involved in filmmaking, or were your interests always in script writing?
I did get involved in filmmaking when I first started. But I always wanted to be a writer. I typically don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s equipment. I can’t begin to count how many times I tripped over a cable. I find it best to stick with typing. If I break a keyboard, it’s much cheaper to replace than a camera lens.

Do you remember the first scripts you wrote that were eventually made into movies? Name a handful of them.
When I was first writing screenplays, I would typically look for an agent and go through the proper Hollywood channels to see if it would be picked up. I applied to the top of screenplay contents and placed in the finals or semi-finals. I eventually had an agent, then didn’t have an agent. It’s very difficult to get a script produced, but I kept at it. I wrote about seven scripts in the beginning. All features. They were The Bishop, Sumtimes, Devil On The Run, Retrospect, Inbound, The Longshot and Cane’s Crossing. The script The Longshot got me my first production. The script wasn’t made, but I was able to write and produce a film with Fred Carpenter, a Long Island director, called The Blue Lizard. Years later he picked up my script Canes Crossing, which I had kept rewriting for years. That eventually became Send No Flowers starring Sean Young. From then on, most of my produced scripts have been shorts.

How did you first meet Fred Carpenter? Was he easy to work with when it came to adapting your scripts? How well did you and he work at producing together?
I first met Fred through my father and a photographer that they had in common named Abe Slomowitz. They gave me Fred’s number and I gave him a call and he said I should send him a script. He was very easy to work with. It was my first film and he took the lead on how to produce the film. I learned a lot of things especially on how to make sure everyone was fed. Food leads to happy cast and crew, he always said. And it’s a basic truth in indie filmmaking. 

What was the storyline of The Blue Lizard, and who appeared in the film? Was it shown locally or on a wider scale?
The film is about Nick, a mafia guy who is sent to investigate the theft of five million dollars taken from the Blue Lizard. He has to confront his old girlfriend during the investigation and tries to win her back. The film was shown locally at the time, then shelved due to music rights challenges.

What sort of music rights challenges are you referring to, or is this something you wouldn’t be disposed to discuss in this interview?
It’s fine. We were able to license the music for The Blue Lizard for a festival run, but not for widespread distribution. We thought we would be able to be picked up by a production house and they would pay the rights for us, but that didn’t happen, so we shelved the film after the festivals.

How faithful was Send No Flowers to the original script you wrote as Canes Crossing? What was the script and the film version about?
The fundamental story was kept intact. It’s about a mafia princess who tries to take over her father’s crew after he’s murdered. This design was both in the script and film. The script did have a bunch of changes, but that’s what happens when there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. It’s difficult to keep script control when you’re not involved with it financially. As a screenwriter, you have to expect changes in your script whether it’s on an indie level or even Hollywood. I looked at that film as a platform which eventually introduced me to other local filmmakers including Steve Sage and Sean King. And that ultimately lead me to my production company Seven13 Films with Joseph Halsey. Seven13 Films is where I focus most of my time now.

What noteworthy movies has Steve Sage and Sean King worked on, that you think the readers would be interested in?
I met both of these guys on Send No Flowers. With Sean, we worked on two feature scripts and a short script. We created a teaser for our feature script Hunter’s Moon. It’s a werewolf film and takes place in the woods. It’s currently being shopped around. I hope it takes off because it’s a fun one. With Steve, he and I worked on several shorts. Bullified and Junkie Heaven are our most noteworthy. Junkie Heaven won a bunch of awards including best screenplay for me and best actor for Joseph Halsey. The film received a bunch of accolades. They can be seen on Amazon these days along with a few other films I worked on.

Describe your experience making Hunter’s Moon. Is anyone interested in picking it up yet?
The experience was fun. Sean King had a great idea about a bunch of guys heading to the woods on a trip who are met by werewolves. I believe it was a three day shoot in some cabin area on Long Island. To me, some of the best parts were watching how they made the wolf and a baby wolf. It was done the old fashioned way. They made the effects, no computer graphics. I was blown away by it. The set was very professional. Sean is pitching the script, we hope it catches with someone. I believe we did have some interest at a point.

Were there any aspects of werewolf legend written into the script for Hunter’s Moon? If so, where did you research it?
The full moon scenario was the biggest part of the legendary story we used. The rest, we kind of went slightly different. It’s basically a bonding film that goes horribly wrong.

Was Hunter’s Moon the first supernatural themed film you worked on, or were there others?
Junkie Heaven has some supernatural elements to it. I would say that and Hunter’s Moon were my first produced super natural films. I wrote a bunch of other scripts that had the element in it, but they were high budget feature scripts that are difficult to make.

How did your meeting with Steve Sage and Sean King lead to the formation of Seven13 Films? What genre movies does this production company release and distribute?
I would say it’s building blocks. Filmmaking is about meeting people. Networking is a key phrase people use in every industry, but in filmmaking, you look to build relationships that can lead to something you never knew could be possible. It’s highly creative and you have to be open to new opportunities.
When Steve and I developed Junkie Heaven, I met Joseph Halsey. At the time he liked the script and I thought he would be great for the role. But our relationship as filmmakers grew after the production. I had brought him in a mafia short called Stand Up Guy. At some point, we just realized we had the same ideas about quality and integrity in our work and decided to create seven13 films. We currently developed a script called Black Like Me, about an autistic boy who is shot by the police. We are currently pitching that around. But our pride and joy so far is our docuseries Generation Change. We filmed our first segment called “If I Were Mayor” which asks at-risk youths about what they would do if they were mayor of the city of Trenton. It is moderated by Good Morning America’s Adrienne Bankert. Joe, who grew up in the area, has really been able to get city leaders educators and law enforcement officials behind us. We are currently pitching this around as well as raising money for the next segment. The company has been around for over a year and we have been building a brand as well as developing content. Not easy things to do. It takes a long time to develop, but we have really leapt in progress.

Have you found any companies who would be interested in adapting Black Like Me?
At this point we haven’t pitched Black Like Me due to working on Generation Change. That took over most of our focus recently, but we have put it in some screenplay contests.

How did the idea of making Generation Change gestate and begin to grow? Has the first episode aired anywhere yet?
My partner Joe and I were discussing moving away from fiction at the time. We were trying to figure out as a company what we wanted to do. We thought providing films that meant something to people on a personal level was the way to go. We spoke about making a documentary and Joe suggested Trenton, New Jersey, where he grew up would be a good start, due to the trouble the city has. Plus, he could give back to his city through awareness and by helping others. As I researched what the city has been going through, it just isn’t right to see how a city could have so many problems and I have seen it elsewhere throughout the country. I am somewhat politically aware and it trouble me to see good people who work hard barely make a living and give in to a broken system. I feel that if you get enough people behind a cause, local government can be the catalyst for changing a city, state and make nation better for it. As for airing Generation Change, we are currently working on that. However, it has been shown to educator, city officials, and played at a couple of film festivals.

Where are you making public appearances to promote Seven13 Films? Do these include local filmmaking conventions?
We have promoted seven13 film at a couple of film festivals, radio shows. Our biggest event to date has been at Rider University in New Jersey. We were the subject of Kathy Magrino’s COM Class and they helped create an event that brought Trenton Mayoral Candidates to the University to speak with some of the youth of Trenton. We spoke about seven13, they showed Generation Change, and that was followed by what we called a Youth Symposium. It was very successful.

How well was Generation Change received at the Rider University show?
We had over two hundred attendees, four Trenton mayoral candidates and about twenty students asking questions to those candidates. The President of the University came down to the event along with the Dean and the department heads. There was a buzz about the event for days prior and afterwards.

How much media coverage did your event at Rider University get when you were there? How much about seven13 did you get to reveal to the attendees?
We made the front cover of the New Jersey Trentonian and was on among a few other publications. Seven13 films was featured a lot in the program. We had a featurette shown that interviewed myself and Joe Halsey. It discussed what we’re looking to do as a company and what we want to do for the community. We also both spoke in front of the attendees discussing the events that were about to happen in the evening. Seven13 played a big role in the event.

How often have you promoted Seven13 during radio appearances? Which of your radio interviews was most memorable?
We promote seven13 every time we get a chance. It’s the brand Joe and I are proud of and we feel it can develop into something great. The consistent message is what we are looking to create. We think we are achieving it so far. Most memorable interview is always when I get a chance to speak with Mark Torres from It Came from the Radio. I have fun with them, they like what they do and they are down to Earth. I may not know all their comic book references, but I can hold my own.

I had a chance to interview Mark Torres some time ago. How often have you gotten to speak with him, and how much does he usually have to say about his activities?
I speak with him a couple of times a year. He is always at some event. I think it’s great he is working on his show and able to be at several events that cover comics and films. I wish him and his show the best of success.

How often when you interviewed Torres did you and he touch on something particularly interesting?
I thought the topics he brought up were always interesting. I think his interviews had me discussing things about film that I normally wouldn’t. For example, how to make sure your pitch should be perfect and short when telling it to someone.

As horror podcasting and Youtube channels have been increasing in popularity over the years, do you consider it a good thing that more fan run programs are out there where fans can air their views about horror?
I go back and forth on this a lot. I am pro fan podcasting. However, they should be organized and professional. I know it takes a lot to put these in production and get out there, but it can be a thin line to becoming a video diary and talking head type thing. But that happens on all levels. I prefer organized shows. You never know who or what will become popular. As long as you have fun I’m for it.

Are there any new projects you’re planning to promote through Seven13? What sort of movies do you want to make that you haven’t tried before?
We’re developing the next segment of Generation Change and working on our new foundation called the James R. Halsey Foundation for the Arts. The foundation is in really early development. More to come out on it later in the fall. We were thinking of trying a western that I wrote called Kelly James: A Western. It’s something I really want to take on, but we’re not there yet in raising funds for it yet. However, the script is ready; it’s a period piece which I always wanted to do. I’m working on a script called Mac 5 and Salvaged. Both deal with artificial intelligence. I hope to turn them into a series since they deal with similar issues, just different story lines.

Is there anything about the James R. Halsey Foundation for the Arts you think the readers would be interested in?
We’re still working on the foundation development, but the idea is to raise money to create projects that involve students who normally wouldn’t get the chance to do so. We’d like to help develop the skills of those interested in filmmaking and help them obtain skills so they can get future work at other companies.

What movies or TV shows, if any, have been most inspirational to the scripts of Mac 5 and Salvaged? In what ways do these scripts address artificial intelligence?
Some of the inspirations are Westworld, both the old and new versions. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, Battlestar Galactica from the 1970s, The Big Lebowski, Starman, Blade Runner. All these gave some sort of inspiration. Obviously not all them deal with artificial intelligence, but more imagination and going down roads that have fantasy elements and delusions. Westworld and Blade Runner stands with the AI to me because it became popular again, so they are probably at the forefront when I think about those scripts. Mac 5 deals with creating AI and how it relies on humans to survive and Salvaged deals with the theory on how it begins on a smaller lab type level.

In what ways do you consider the scripts of Mac 5 and Salvaged relevant enough to be received by the public?
I think both scripts are theories that can fit into the relevancy of today’s scientific environment. Technology in my scripts is more of a vehicle for the characters in the films. In Salvaged it’s more about the obsession of creating AI and Mac five goes in the direction of why it could be the wrong way to go. Mac 5 discusses the philosophy of it and I think that is a current issue.

Do you have similar ideas in mind that you would consider socially relevant? Is social relevance of any particular interest to you when making movies, or do you not think about it as much?
I like writing about fantasy with relevant issues. I think it’s a big influence on what I do. I think it hits home more with people. I believe people are more likely to watch a film with a message that entertains and doesn’t bang you over the head with social awareness. With Seven13 Films, I have moved even further into social relevant ideas. I like creating all types of genres, at this time, I think something based in current reality with a mix of fantasy and dreaming is where I want to be at the moment. I do have other ideas on what I want to discuss when it comes to social relevancy. It’s just having the means and time to do them all.

What recent news about artificial intelligence stories did you read, if any, that inspired you to pen those two fiction pieces?
I haven’t been reading much lately on AI lately, aside from the Tesla Car development. It may not be completely AI-like yet, but I feel it’s gonna’ happen at some point. These cars are so cool that they basically drive the car for you. They measure speed and are aware of other cars on the road. It’s really autopilot for driving. These stories really had no effect on my writing, but the technology is mind-blowing.

Are there other developments being covered in the news that you are inspired to write about?
Politics, Politics, Politics. So much of it is all over the place, it’s hard to ignore or write something about politics and the way citizens feel these days. I wrote a short script called Anger Issues that has some of the angst of today’s world in it. The script is a therapy session that discusses the American dream and how some people can’t live up to it. It’s a dramedy.

In what ways would you want to be remembered as a script writer, for the impact you would have had on moviegoers?
Really, I’d like to be known for being a guy who can tell a memorable story. And If it’s not too much of a stretch, I’d like the movie goers to be entertained and hopefully remember the film for a little longer than it takes them to drive home.

-Dave Wolff

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