October 25, 2021 – Throughout the month of October, we’ve interviewed previous winners of our Short Screenplay Competition to discuss screenwriting, the film industry and more! This week, we’re talking with Todd Bird – winner of the 2020 competition. In case you missed them – check out our interviews with Caitlin Stow and Jeffrey Field.
“By day, I work as a Director of Operations at a pharmaceutical distribution company. I began writing screen plays about 8 years ago with no formal training. I had a story and thought it would be a great movie, so I went online, printed off 3 screenplays and studied them (the first one was The Kids are Alright by Lisa Cholodenko). I used them as a guide and just started writing and used contests as my way of figuring out what i was doing right and wrong and haven’t stopped yet. In my spare time, if I am not writing, I’m probably playing tennis or travelling with my husband Casey. My favorite place in the whole world is Grand Canaria in the Canary Islands.”
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: You won DCFF’s screenplay competition in 2021 with Gus. What inspired that story? How did you approach writing it?
A: Gus was inspired by an elderly neighbor who lost his partner several years ago. As a gay man, he has no children so his partner and his cat were essentially his life. And given his age, even his social support is limited as so many gay men of his generation were taken by the AIDS epidemic. I found almost no examples of elderly LGBT people who experience extreme loneliness in writing or film and wanted to represent this forgotten demographic. Given the subject matter, it was important for me to write the story in such a way that sound (or the lack thereof) played a huge role in expressing just how lonely a person could get. But I also wanted to add a bit of joy and levity through the dog’s life.
Q: What do you feel is the most challenging part about getting a screenplay where you want it to be?
A: Opinions. I don’t have a network of writers or even artists around me to I rely heavily on connections made over the internet and via writing contests. But just like any creative venture, everyone’s opinion is different, so it’s hard to gauge when you’ve got it just right.
Q: Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?
A: Outside of contests, yes. Especially living in the Midwest, it’s quite a challenge and takes lots of emails and follow ups. Persistence is a truly a virtue.
Q: Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?
A: If the idea is good, then yes. Strong writing often speaks for itself. Getting into the right hands is the harder part, but once you do, people generally embrace great ideas.
Q: What’s one value or philosophy related to screenwriting that you hold dear?
A: Knowing who your characters are and staying true to them. Too many times I’ve had people tell me that a character was unlikeable or didn’t make sense, but I know my characters better than anyone. If they aren’t “getting” my character, it’s my job to write them better so they do. I’m not going to fundamentally change who the person is.
Q: In one sentence, what’s one tip you would give to any screenwriter?
A: Every idea can be a good idea if you give it time and air.
Q: What are some recent pieces of creative work that have inspired you?
A: I was very inspired by the film Supernova. It’s one of those films that tackles loss in the LGBT community that isn’t AIDS related or some tragic murder. I’ve been addicted to the music from Dear Evan Hansen for some time now. It’s very dark subject material along with soaring music are a great juxtaposition.
Q: What future goals have you set for yourself related to writing or filmmaking?
A: I currently have two full length screenplays in the works that need some tweaking and I would like to have them in good shape by the end of this year. Most importantly, I’m working to get Gus actually filmed sometime in 2022.
Q: What new creative projects of yours can we look forward to?
A: The thing I am most excited about is a stage play I’ve started working on called “Dan in the Basement.” The idea for it arose from an unusual source – a client meeting at my “day job” when one of the participants said they were going to ask their IT guy to work on something for them. They couldn’t remember his name and said they just call him “Dan in the Basement”. I jotted it down and immediately started writing that night.
Favorite Movie(s):Pan’s Labyrinth, Brokeback Mountain
Favorite Screenplay(s): Secrets and Lies
Favorite Book(s): My First Five Husbands by Rue McClanahan
Favorite Music to Write to: Anything by Tori Amos or Chris Isaak