By G. Robert Frazier
Tennessee Screenwriting Association members are fortunate to be able to draw upon the vast knowledge and experience of Bob Giordano when it comes to learning about the ins and outs of the craft of screenwriting. An instructor at Watkins College of Art, Giordano is a past TSA president and current board member. He is fresh off his directorial debut for his thriller movie, The Odds, which capped a successful festival run over the summer as the closing film at the Raindance Film Festival in London. We recently talked with Giordano about the movie as well as the TSA.
Who is Bob Giordano and how did you get interested in screenwriting?
BOB GIORDANO: Like most filmmakers, I have always been a fan of movies. But earlier in my life, my creativity was expressed through the visual arts…drawing, painting, and the like. However, a couple of years after I moved to Nashville, I was invited by a friend to attend the TSA. I quickly felt an affinity for the screenwriting process, and I’ve been immersed in it ever since. I’ve attended seminars, conferences, and classes. I’ve read dozens of books about screenwriting and hundreds of screenplays. And I’ve analyzed a multitude of pitches, synopses, and script pages through attending the TSA.
About 10 years after I’d gotten involved in screenwriting, I’d won and placed in several prestigious competitions and had begun working with Hollywood producers and professional writers, bolstering my credibility. I have a friend who was teaching a screenwriting class at Watkins, but something came up and he had to drop out. He asked if I would be willing to take over — I said I would, the director of the program at Watkins approved it, and I’ve been teaching there ever since.
After several years of teaching about screenwriting and writing scripts, what prompted you to helm your own movie?
BOB: Most aspiring writers know that getting a script sold is a tough task, especially if you don’t live in Hollywood. I had written several micro-budget scripts over the years, but finding people with the money to buy those was as tough as selling them to Hollywood. It seemed to make sense that if I could find an interested investor, I might as well direct a project myself. Writer-director hyphenates get a decent amount of respect in the industry, so it was an enticing move. Of course, directing a film requires a lot of different skills than writing, so I engaged in a course of study about that particular job, absorbing everything I could, including directing my own short films as well as helping friends with theirs.
The Odds, has had quite a run on the film festival circuit this summer, winning a number of awards and finishing up as the closing night film of the Raindance Film Festival in London. As this is your first feature film, what has this level of accomplishment meant to you?
BOB: There is nothing that satisfies you creatively in the same way as when a group of people who don’t know you, and who don’t owe you a damn thing, watch your film and appreciate it. When you’ve created something that appeals to people in different countries and cultures, you’ve made a connection that surpasses any hopes you had when you were sitting in front of a monitor attempting to write dialog that doesn’t suck.
What are you most proud of? The script or the film?
BOB: The two are inseparable to me. That being said, the purpose of a script is to become a film, so if the film works, it is the highest presentation of the story.
What challenges did each present to you and how did you overcome those challenges?
BOB: The script challenges were mostly due to self-imposed restrictions. I wanted a single location, two main actors, and limited effects. Also, the plot was about two strangers, so how do you make that relationship have depth and meaning? I developed a plot that would basically work (usually the easiest part), but the real difficulty is in developing characters that seem realistic and about whom the audience will care. I often will look at emotional arcs and conditions that people encounter in different situations in real life and see if I can use them as a foundation for character development. Once I considered the notion of a woman’s journey through an abusive relationship, it became the invisible thread that held the emotional storyline together.
The film’s challenges were about what you’d expect: how do you make it interesting to watch a film that takes place mostly in one room with two main characters doing a lot of talking? When I began to approach the film directorially, I began to think about the story much more visually than I had as a writer. I read a lot of books that analyzed different directors’ styles, and I watched a lot of YouTube videos about directing, prompting me to create a list of techniques that I could utilize in my film.
Storyboarding was an immense help, as it forced me to really look at how each scene would appear on screen. As a result of that process, I altered some of the elements of certain scenes so that they would be more dramatic on screen. I also made a conscious effort to change the blocking of the characters in ways that would accentuate the emotional tone of each scene. One of the most common mistakes I think beginning directors make is that they have their actors go through a scene, and the director shoots it as though it were a play. I made sure that we shot every scene from all reasonable angles so that the audience would feel like they’re in a 3-dimensional space. Also, we shot a ton of coverage; I had a rule in the edit room that we would never use the exact same shot more than two times in a row, and we mostly followed that.
Filmmaking is about collaboration. Who were your collaborators that helped make The Odds possible?
BOB: Everyone was a collaborator, and all were valuable. While I was writing the script, I had friends read it and give me feedback. I presented some of it in the TSA for feedback. I knew that the actors would be instrumental in making the characters come to life, so I wanted them to have input in their actions and dialog. I listened to everyone from the wardrobe person (Dina D’Argo) to the music (Leonard Wolf) and sound (Rob Wenner) people. That being said, the three most indispensable people were my friends and producers, Tom Steinmann, Alan McKenna, and Kelly Frey. They all had suggestions, but even when I didn’t do what they wanted, they had the (somewhat insane) faith in my “vision” to sit back and let me see the thing through.
What’s going on with The Odds now?
BOB: We have a great sales agent working for us, and she’s already secured both potential and real deals for the distribution of The Odds. There are some more possible fests in the future, but I can’t talk about those yet. I also have written a higher budget sequel, as well as a lower budget one in development.
What lessons have you learned with The Odds that can help you next time out?
BOB: Address problems right away. If you wait for them to work themselves out, you’ll be waiting a long time. Also, be careful when and how you take suggestions: it can be perceived that you don’t have an actual opinion.
You’re already at work on your next film. What can you tell us about it?
BOB: It’s more of a traditional horror film than The Odds — it’s called Gates, and it’s also a single-location film. However, this time we had a bigger budget to work with and a slightly larger cast (six people!). We’ve already shot it, and I’m working with my editor from the last film (Pete Kremer) who already gets my approach to this stuff. It has spooky stuff like demon possession and the end of the world. Very uplifting!
As a screenwriting instructor with Watkins, you bring vast experience and knowledge to the TSA that you use to help others in the development of their craft. How has the TSA been helpful to you?
BOB: The TSA is a fantastic sounding board for ideas at any stage of development. The members are all people who love film and are interested in the artistic side of the process. But unlike most groups, they also stay grounded in the notion that there is a practical side to filmmaking; whether you go the independent or Hollywood route, there are considerations that creators need to be reminded of as they forge a path into the world of screenwriting.
And when it comes down to it, screenwriting is about communicating ideas in the form of a story. The best writers have a group of trusted readers that will help ensure that their ideas are being communicated in the way they intended. The TSA is great at holding up the mirror to your script and reflecting what is working and what can be improved. Their feedback is honest, polite, and objective, but is never insulting or demeaning. Each member wants each writer to succeed.
I have brought (and continue to bring) my concepts and scripts into the meetings for feedback. We had a member about a year ago who I didn’t really get along with, personally. But he gave me feedback on a project that was absolutely valid, and that helped me make changes to improve my project. Good advice can come from anyone, and I am open to it, despite the messenger.
One last thing — listening to other people’s ideas and stories and analyzing them is a great way to bolster the objectivity you need to effectively write your own script. Any time I notice a problem in someone’s story, the first question I ask myself is: “Uh-oh… did I do that in MY script?”
Why should someone interested in screenwriting come to the TSA?
BOB: The TSA uses industry standards to inform its processes of analysis, which is crucial for a filmmaker’s success. They are also a friendly bunch of folks who will absolutely be the most forgiving and indulgent room you could ever hope to pitch an idea to. If you are serious about breaking into the screenwriting business, you will need to be able to discuss writing in general and your writing in particular, and the TSA is a great, safe place to begin that journey.
Read more about The Odds in this Raindance interview with Bob Giordano.