Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Questionnaire (Angel Connell & Mitchell Martin)

What’s your name?

My name is Angel Connell.

Where were you born?

I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts (USA).

Where do you live?

I currently reside in Providence, Rhode Island (USA).

What’s your hobby?

I would consider reading as a hobby.

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed you as a finalist in the screenplay contest?

The concept was inspired by real events in American politics.

How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

It took me three to five months to develop & fine-tune the screenplay format as submitted.

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?

Corruption is a common problem in politics. As politics becomes all-consuming, it trends towards totalitarianism. Power also attracts sociopaths & psychopaths. Since the American government once recruited Nazis to develop its space program & worked with the mafia to protect American ports during WWII, I wondered if it would go so far as to recruit certain types of serial killers to work as government contract killers.

What would happen if the needs of either or both parties were in conflict? How would such conflicts be resolved? FATAL AMBITION examines these and other background scenarios. On the other hand, script outline focuses on the conflicting desires of the individuals who are either a part of the system or hope to be members of it.

Once this screenplay structure was outlined, I used the love triangle as a way to illuminate the larger picture of totalitarian corruption hidden behind the patina of normality. I focused on the character development of the three characters to the point of their convergence. I played around with different ways the events would unfold – from stage play conventions to cinematic ones – until I settled on the version now available to the public.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

I always wanted to be a filmmaker. My story & visual skills evolved when I drew comic strips & comic books as a kid. As I ventured into indie filmmaking, those skills came in handy as I shot my first short films such as SHE’S SO COLD (1995) & STOCKING STUFFERS (2001). The 9/11 attacks, getting married in 2002, and being a stay-at-home dad put my filmmaking plans on hold.

I used background acting as a way to slowly get back into screenwriting and started to develop screenplay ideas. The only positive thing that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 was the time it gave me to hone my screenwriting skills.

My short script FATAL AMBITION sprang from this period of time. It has done well in the festival circuit so far, becoming an “Official Selection” at over 40 film festivals & screenplay contests while securing almost 20 “Best Script” awards at this point in time.

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences?

My biggest influencers tend to be the “auteur” filmmakers who have a personal style. They elevate their view of the world & sets them apart from other filmmakers.

Alfred Hitchcock would probably be at the top of the list followed by (in alphabetical order) Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau, The Coen Brothers, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino, Orson Welles, & Billy Wilder.

What about their style do you like or want to borrow?

From a writer’s point of view, I like how most of them say a lot with few words. They use words in a way that sets a unique environmental tone when spoken by its indelible characters, and how the sound of words can be as evocative as a musical instrument.

From a filmmaker’s point of view, I most enjoy the ones who create a dreamscape through their script format in which they seduce the audience to enter it & find it more convivial than real life itself. Strong use of visual language in their screenplay structure is also very attractive. It helps to reinforce aspects of the story through iconic images into one’s subconsciousness.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?

CITIZEN KANE (1941) is probably the most compelling film I’ve seen multiple times. I like the fact that the story is “open” as opposed to “closed” so that it can be interpreted in multiple ways. Its narrative & subtext are told in a creatively visual manner that’s intoxicating to behold. It sticks with you long after you’ve viewed it.

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?

The “Shower Scene” in PSYCHO (1960) remains my favorite scene due, in part, to how skillfully Hitchcock assembles it. Its subtext is also “meta” before “meta” was a “thing” such as when Marion Crane’s lifeless eyes stare back at us – the voyeuristic audience. It’s a brilliant merger of pop art dynamics with the sensibility of “high” film art.

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?

George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) is my favorite character. I bond over his thwarted ambitions because it has happened to me & most people I know. It’s not hard to cry along with him in prayer if you’ve been in those situations yourself.

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

I would have loved to have a long conversation with Hitchcock to pick his brains. Questioning him on why he chooses the stories to turns into movies, his thought process when going over a script, and discussing his tactics. It’s amazing how he finds the right way to visually tell a story. Hitchcock was a major player in developing the language of cinema. I could learn a lot from a master filmmaker who helped to create the art form we enjoy today.

Mitchell Martin

What’s your name? Where were you born?

My named is Mitchell Martin, I was born in Mishawaka, IN.

Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?

Currently living in Mishawaka, IN. My hobbies include reading and playing golf.

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest?

I came up with the concept for Roulette almost ten years ago. Actually, it was when I had the idea for my twist on the Russian roulette game that is at the core of the story. Initially, I wanted the story to be a feature-length project and I used a male protagonist.

How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

Finding the right element

I found myself struggling and fighting with the idea. Nothing was working out for me to put on paper. Finally, a little over a year ago, I had the realization of why the story was not coming together– I needed a female protagonist. As soon as I realized this, the story just came to me and told itself. I had the screenplay outline finished the same night I had the realization, and a finished first draft by the end of the week. I revisited the screenplay structure several times and revised and critiqued it myself over the past year to get it where it is now.

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?

As I stated earlier, I had the basic concept for the screenplay a fair amount of time ago. I always knew I wanted to use non-linear storytelling for this script, opening with the end and showing the audience that ‘it’s already too late’ before giving them the deep dive into why our character is even here. I wrote each flashback scene completely, first, and then, after each scene was written and completed in its own right, I put them in their places throughout the script outline. Finally, I rewrote the scenes so that they lined up and flowed properly with the rest of the script.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

I have always loved film and television as an entertainment platform, and I have always loved writing and storytelling. For a long time I have been writing and telling stories and using my imagination as a main source of entertainment and pleasure. I have always wanted to be a writer and have asked myself on and off on how to write the best screenplay. Then I realized I had to be a screenwriter and put my ideas into a film when I first saw the Django Unchained.

My uncle and I had planned on going golfing that day, and our game had gotten rained out. He suggested we go see that movie, and that was the first time I really saw and understood how to write movies. I knew that, as a writer, I could have my works and thoughts taken so many different ways, but as a film, it could be more than that, and I could show people exactly what I meant and wanted them to take away.

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?

Quentin Tarantino is one of my biggest screenwriting and filmmaking influences mainly because it was one of his films that really made me realize what I wanted to do with my life. I appreciate his ability to blend genres and use comedy in such a unique and different way in his screenplay structure. I definitely use genre blending in my works and very rarely classify them as solely a single genre. This keeps the story and ideas fresh, and much more exciting to watch. Christopher Nolan is another huge influence on my work and filmmaking. The Dark Knight really introduced me to a new, dark, and intense world that can be created with filmmaking.

Other Nolan films such as The Prestige and Memento also showed me the advantages of using non-linear storytelling, which I borrow and use constantly in my own scripts, especially in Roulette. The ability to have an audience read a script or watch a film, and then reveal something, in the end, can effectively make the next viewing feel like a completely new and different experience all over again. This is an impressive feat to pull off, and one I really think stands out and hope to accomplish someday.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?

I have been obsessed with several movies and TV shows in my life. Django Unchained is definitely one of these movies that I will always contend as one of my favorites, mainly because of its position in my mind as the film that made me want to be a screenwriter.

I also am a huge fan of comedy, however, and another film that stands out to me as a favorite is Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. I had no idea what I was getting into with this film prior to viewing it, and I was not disappointed with the ridiculous comedy that ensued.

As far as TV goes, however, I am also completely infatuated with Ozark on Netflix. The dark tones and deep psychological aspect are just so interesting to me and so much fun to navigate. I adore the crime genre, and really love to see a deep and psychological edge to it on the screen.

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?

I like to think I have a pretty wide variety in favorite films and genres, so picking a single moment in cinema history as a favorite is definitely not easy. One of my absolute favorites, though, is definitely the uncertain ending of Inception.

The film shows us our main protagonist returning home to be with his children once and for all, spinning his totem to check to see if he was dreaming. But once he sees his children turn and run to him, he leaves it to be with them. Nolan then focuses us on the totem, spinning on the table, waiting for it to fall, only to have the screen go black and end before any definite answer is revealed on if the scene was real or a dream.

I absolutely love this ending for the film.

Everything the character has been through and we have seen him overcome, the point is not whether he was awake or asleep, rather that he was finally happy and able to “live” his life in peace. Such a layered and deeply psychological ending to perfectly close such a layered and deeply psychological film as a whole.

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?

Joker- from The Dark Knight

The Joker has gone through many different incarnations throughout cinema history, but my favorite is by far the portrayal by Heath Ledger in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. The mystery of who he is and where he came from and exactly what his goals are is just so different and intriguing.

He literally came out of nowhere, no one knows who he is, the audience never finds out, and he is just a force of evil and anarchy that, in all honesty, makes his case. I am a big believer in the fact that a script outline and protagonist are only as strong and compelling as its antagonist.

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

This is another difficult question for me, as there are so many people I would like to meet and speak with about their works and lives. If I had to choose just one, though, I think I would go with Neil Patrick Harris. I absolutely love How I Met Your Mother and his character development in the show. He is just so funny and so talented and seems like such a genuine person.

He is one of those people I would love to just spend a day with and hang out. I would love to ask him about his time in Hollywood and work in television and film. Also how he balances his family life with his husband and children so well with all the work he does. I would love nothing more than to make it as a screenwriter and director in film, but I would also want to have a family with my own children and be able to be a good father to them as they grow up.