Editor's note: This guest post is authored by Ben Trebilcook. Ben is 36 and is from London, UK. From an incredibly young age, he always wanted to be part of filmmaking, inspired first by Jim Henson and George Lucas. He wanted to pursue a career in Special Effects, with a prominent interest in monsters, however this step was short-lived when a TV commercial he was working on, resulted in a model's long, beautiful hair becoming caught in a vacuum cleaner, suspended from a ceiling. Writing was his strength and so he began penning short sketches with a school friend for which they would both act in and film. After gaining diplomas in Fine Art, Graphic Design and English and during hard-slogs working in a supermarket, Trebilcook would study all aspects of filmmaking, under the watchful eyes of the talents behind the Monty Python movies and then focus solely on Screenwriting. He has penned scripts for UK gaming companies and has worked on earlier drafts of Mission: Impossible: 3 and specs for Die Hard 4 and Under Siege 3. In London, he is the Head Judge at The Rob Knox Film Festival (Rob was an actor in Harry Potter who was tragically murdered in 2008 and the festival is held in his memory, promoting and encouraging new film talent). Trebilcook often counsels young offenders and disaffected teens in South London. He is currently producing the martial-arts movie 'Knockout' and the spy picture 'Vauxhall Crossed'.
Ben's blog entry is so informative and instructional, we have decided to list it in 3 parts. Today, part 1.
We're thrilled to have Ben as an active - very active - member of Stage 32. He's a true asset to the community.
Check out Ben's profile here.
Tom Cruise told me not to name-drop
When I was asked to write a guest blog for the guys at Stage 32, I immediately thought 'what an honor! Brilliant!' But then, in an exam-final-paper kind of way, a reality-check kicked in. What on Earth could I write that could both inform and enlighten as well as possibly educate and entertain? Especially when centered around my experiences in film. With most apparent problems in life, the solution is, more often than not, staring one simply in the face. So there, in my questioning myself, I answered me, too. I'll reel off a bite-size chunk of my experiences in film. I think it's unique. In fact, everyone's path should be. What works for one, won't necessarily work for another.
When pursuing a career in Screenwriting, I didn't know of anyone's path, to be honest. I just got hold of an imaginary machete and pretty much hacked my way through the celluloid jungle. I zig-zagged this way and that, in an extremely naïve fashion, not really having clue nor insight as to what I was getting myself into. I was by no means cocky, however I did have drive. I still do have a great deal of drive. You need it in this business and it is exactly that, a business. I believed it was for those who loved film. Of course it is! It was FOR those who love film. Those being the audience, the watchers, the viewers, the people sat in the cinemas. This business has those in the industry serving those who are out of the industry. We're delivering a product to the masses, just like every other kind of company.
I'm in a cynical mood. Can you tell? This industry can flip your emotions six ways from Sunday. Delusional and driven, juvenile and misgiven, successful, regretful, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, upbeat, downbeat, intoxicating fumes and totally consumed. Always striving to succeed, pushing yourself harder to be better than your previous, be clever, be flattering, be smart, be devious. Is it good enough to just do your best? No, you have to exhaust yourself and more, as this business is one big test.
I've written dozens of pages for this blog, each entirely different to this one. Was I satisfied with the first 'draft blog'? Elements of it perhaps? No! All of it! It's how I feel about my scripts. Whatever the genre, the first draft is an achievement in itself. I've written something. Created characters. Created their environment, their universe. I took control of their emotions and led them on a journey. Each word describes the scene and the image of which is imprinted in my mind and under my eyelids. Feel that sense of achievement, even if you write just one page.
Throughout the past hundred years, Screenwriters have always had a raw deal. Sure, we've had the rock star scribes like Eszterhas and Shane Black, but I'm talking about general perception. The other writers who adore their craft. Those who live and breathe the word. Those who type, those who scribble on napkins in restaurants or bars whilst their significant other or pal or buddy is in the restroom or chatting up a guy or a girl, or if they're just sat there, waiting. Those writers watch. Observe. Taking in everything. Soaking up their environments, the conversations they hear, the mannerisms they see, the emotions they sense and experience, the people they witness. Those writers walk the life. Collecting all the things one views, storing them in your mind. In your virtual desk drawer or virtual filing cabinet and an eventual virtual library of life experiences. Each awaiting their time when they and you are ready to place them onto paper, forming a character, sparking dialogue, creating a scene. A Screenwriter's life is non-stop research. A forever-active mind. Alert. Aware of everything. Like a hawk. Like a wolf. Like jaguar. Not much escapes your watchful eyes and strained ears. You're a gunslinger, man. Like Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon when he says "The art of fighting without fighting", true Screenwriters have in their soul 'the art of writing without writing'.
I put out the question to people on various social networking sites, Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and of course Stage 32, asking if there was anything in particular people would like me to know, relevant to the blog I was invited to write. I had lots of messages, so with the next few paragraphs, I'll hopefully be answering some curiosities and for those who quizzed me on certain topics.
When I started out and knew that writing was the path for me, I decided I should seek out an agent and try and gain representation. It was 1993. I was 18 years old. I was starting work full-time in a supermarket in London. I had made short films on a camcorder, acting in all of them with friends and I had written two feature-length screenplays. It was pre-internet and I would telephone and write letters to agencies, big and small in London and around the UK. Most replied with the same boring statement 'we don't accept unsolicited material', but some also said 'we're currently not taking on new clients' and some actually willing to accept to read some material, with it always coming back in the post, a few weeks later, unread. Disheartened, I never gave up writing, calling or inquiring, despite being unsuccessful in the UK to this day!
It was in 1998 when I penned a particular script. I was working a late shift in the supermarket. My lunch break was at 5pm. Something inside me shoved me forth, to the red telephone box outside the store. I dialed a number I had located from a book found in the library opposite and in three seconds, the five words which followed would lead me down a different and more exciting path. "Good morning, Twentieth Century Fox."
I would ask for their acquisition department and once put through, I took my deep breath and said: "Good morning, my name is Ben Trebilcook and I'm calling from London. I have written a script which some people over here believe would make a great Die Hard movie." The person on the other end of the line replied: "That sounds cool. Get your agent to get in touch with 'x' and we can discuss sending it over."
I had no agent. I had tried so hard to acquire one here in London, but why limit myself to my own country? The internet was coming alive thick and fast and I got myself online. Barely able to send an email, I managed to send exactly a hundred of them to agents in California. The email consisted of me saying that Fox wanted to read my script, which would make a great Die Hard 4 movie. I received three replies. One was from a literary agent who also doubled as a lawyer. I thought this was a plus and so signed with them. It just so happened that my new-found lawyer-agent went to law school with Skip Brittenham, Bruce Willis' attorney and so a direct line of communication between the two parties would be copied and faxed to me. Faxed! "Bruce isn't doing Die Hard IV for a least six years." Was one statement. "Get a big gun of a producer behind you, gain attention somehow, make a sale!" Was another. I was still working at the supermarket, slaving away, emptying bins and stocking tins, mopping spillages as shoplifters pillaged. I became a wines and spirits manager and wrote script after script at any given moment I had available to me. I churned them out like a factory production line. "Ben, telephone call Line One, please, Ben." Came a tannoy announcement. It was a national newspaper. It was a movie show on a TV channel. It was a magazine. It was a website. People in the UK media had gotten wind of a British kid, working in a London supermarket, had written a script for Die Hard 4. How on Earth? From rumors of a person within Fox at the time, to the agent I had, to the Willis camp giving me an extra helping hand boost, the gossip and hype around me spread fast. It was unheard of that a writer from the UK had written a screenplay to an action movie, let alone one to a successful franchise.
I had interest from producer Andy Vajna at his Cinergi firm. Was this the big gun producing attention expected of me? My heart was pumping with excitement. Remember, I'm still young, impressionable, ill-equipped for this business and not yet knowing that it is a business.
Coming up next – Mission Impossible 3...