Nov. 2016: MovieBytes Interview (original content available here)
Interview with ScreenCraft Horror Contest Winner Craig Peters
By Jerry Teller, Associate Editor, MovieBytes.com
Craig Peters studied theatre at Stanford and UC Riverside, then moved to Los Angeles and slowly made the transition from acting to writing. His horror screenplay The 49th Day was selected for the prestigious "BloodList", an annual list highlighting the top 13 most well-liked, unproduced horror scripts of the year. The 49th Day was also named the 2016 winner of the ScreenCraft Horror Screenwriting Competition.
MovieBytes: Craig, what's your background? Have you studied screenwriting?
Craig Peters: I've never taken a screenwriting class - I just read a couple of books and took the plunge. As I have a strong background in performance, I tend to write like an actor, playing all the parts as I go along. I always start with the characters' motivations, asking the basic question, "What does this character want?" Then I set up conflicts and let it rip from there.
MovieBytes: Tell us about your script ... what's the logline and premise?
CP: "A young girl's imaginary friend starts killing her family off, one by one. But what can you do when you're only nine, and Death wants to play?" In The 49th Day, Diana, a clairvoyant child with a vivid imagination, makes a new friend, a specter of Death only she can see. When her loved ones start getting killed, she realizes that her new friend is responsible for their deaths. Diana tells her parents what's happening, but they're convinced she's losing her grip on reality. So Diana is forced to take Death on, face to face, in a desperate attempt to save the rest of her family. How many people spar with Death and live to tell the tale?
MovieBytes: How long did it take you to write the script?
CP: I started this script about 15 years ago when a friend of mine got run over by a bus, and it was my way of dealing with his death. It's been through myriad drafts, too many to count. My biggest challenge has been staying true to the core of the story and deflecting some of the suggestions and criticism that could have led the script astray. Though I've received invaluable guidance from many people who have read the script, I've never let anyone (no matter how well-intentioned) hijack my vision.
MovieBytes: Do you consider yourself a horror writer? If so, what draws you to the genre?
CP: That's a good one. The fact is, I didn't even know The 49th Day was a horror script when I wrote it. I had it pegged as a supernatural thriller. But then it won a couple of contests in the horror division, and I thought, really, it's horror? Obviously, I'm not a big genre guy. I simply strive to write compelling, passionate stories that illuminate the inner life of the human spirit, stories that can have a positive impact on how people lead their lives.
MovieBytes: What is the BloodList? How are the scripts selected?
CP: The BloodList is an annual list highlighting the top 13 most well-liked, unproduced, dark genre scripts of the year. It was created in 2009 by literary manager Kailey Marsh, and only executives can vote on the list. It's become a resource for producers looking for material, and lots of films written by BloodList Alumni have already been made. Writers can submit scripts for inclusion on the list. In my case, I received a call from Kailey telling me The 49th Day had been chosen. I was delighted with the news, and the script has received a burst of attention since its selection.
MovieBytes: You were also recently named the winner of the ScreenCraft Horror Competition. How was that experience?
CP: Winning the Grand Prize in the ScreenCraft Horror Competition has been a great boon for me. Cameron Cubbison and John Rhodes have both been actively seeking out opportunities on my behalf, and I've been receiving script requests daily. The contest has dramatically increased the script's visibility and created quite a buzz.
MovieBytes: Do you consider contests a worthwhile way to promote yourself and your screenplays?
CP: I've won or placed in over 40 screenwriting contests over the years, and these contests have proven to be the single greatest momentum builders of my career. Winning contests gives my scripts instant cachet, traction, and trajectory. I've come close to having The 49th Day and other scripts I've written go into production, and I'm hoping that any day now I'll get my chance.
"Winning contests gives my scripts instant cachet, traction, and trajectory."
MovieBytes: Do you have representation?
CP: I'm eagerly seeking representation. I've recently had a nibble or two, but there's nothing set in stone. Though I've had reps in the past, none of them have proven to be a good fit. What I'm searching for is a strong, hungry ally who's really fired up, someone who will work as hard to promote my scripts as I work in writing them. Going forward, besides marketing my script through the rep I hope to land, I plan to maintain an active presence on various screenwriter's websites, like MovieBytes, InkTip, and ISA - and I've just launched my own website as well: www.craigpeters.info.
MovieBytes: Final thoughts? Words of wisdom for other writers?
CP: As every writer knows, this is a tough business, and sometimes you can feel smacked down and dispirited. At times like that, I remember the words of Muhammad Ali. "Inside of a ring or out, ain't nothing wrong with going down. It's staying down that's wrong." I'd say to other writers that if they truly feel they have stories to tell, be relentless. Get back on your feet and keep slugging.
April 2016: Interview with WeScreenplay (original content available here)
Interview with WISC 3rd Place Winner Craig Peters
Craig Peters wrote The 49th Day which captivated our judges. It is about a young girl’s imaginary friend who starts killing her family off, one by one. But what can you do when you’re only nine, and Death wants to play? This dark tale of love and loss through the eyes of a child is both haunting and emotionally uplifting, a validation of life in its purest, most sacred form. Check out what Craig has to say about his writing and what inspired this story.
What inspired you to write THE 49TH DAY? What's your favorite part about the script?
A few years back, a friend of mine was riding his motorcycle home from work when a bus jumped the highway median and landed on him. Writing THE 49TH DAY was my way of grappling with his death. Death comes to us all, and I wanted to create a character who would take it on, face to face. Who better than a courageous young girl with a vibrant imagination? Her heroic struggle to save her family is what drives the story. That’s the core and my favorite part of the script.
What is your writing process like?
Once I get the basic themes and structure in my head, I always give the characters a chance to find their voices — that is, I try to let the characters speak rather than always stuffing lines into their mouths. I have a background as an actor, so I’m always playing the parts as I’m writing them, always asking when I breakdown a scene, “What does this character want?” I go into full bore Stanislavski Method mode, find the characters' motivations, and then let it rip. I let my characters speak.
What other projects are you working on? What's next?
My last couple of scripts have been highly-charged, passionate, and emotionally-draining stories to tell, so now I’d like to dive into lighter fare. I’ve got an idea for an action / adventure / comedy about a family that goes camping in the high Sierras. They’re fishing in an alpine brook when they hook a large chunk of gold — then the locals and the police try to steal it from them. The family that only wanted a peaceful vacation in the mountains suddenly become the hunted. Working on it should be a lot of fun.
What kinds of stories do you tell? What kinds of stories are your favorite?
I prefer writing thrillers and comedies, though my work often crosses genre boundaries. I’m also often drawn to stories that have a supernatural element. Adding a layer of the strange and unknown can be quite compelling.
Who most influences your writing?
Those who most influence my writing are the people in my life, my family and friends, and I use them as the basis for my characters. Once I’ve got the characters, all I’ve got to do is put them into situations where sparks will fly. In terms of my favorite writers, it would be Shakespeare, Steinbeck, John Irving, Anne Tyler, Louise Erdrich, and many others.
What's the best piece advice you've been given about writing?
To tell the stories that I want to tell, not to chase someone else’s dream of what might sell. I’ve had a rich and varied life, brimming with passion and conflict, and that’s what I bring to my writing.
Why do you write?
In the words of Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” My artistic vision is to enlighten and transform society. I write because there’s no loftier calling than to be a storyteller, a spinner of powerful tales, a weaver of the fabric of culture. THE 49TH DAY tells the story of a heroic girl who takes on the most lethal foe imaginable, Death itself, and lives to tell the tale.