Imagine this: you’re an aspiring screenwriter with no connections to the industry, living far from the bright lights of Hollywood, and the first screenplay you write not only secures you representation but becomes a movie, released in theaters nationwide, starring an Oscar-nominated actress.
Sounds like every screenwriter’s fantasy, right? For Jonathan Perera, it’s a true story.
Host Jeff Goldsmith of The Q&A Podcast recently spoke with Jonathan, whose first script and first produced movie is the 2016 political thriller Miss Sloane, directed by John Madden and starring Jessica Chastain.
Jeff always delivers fascinating, in-depth interviews with filmmakers working in the entertainment industry today, and ScreenCraft is a proud sponsor of The Q&A Podcast during this Awards season.
In the interview, Jonathan talks about how he abandoned his law career for his screenwriting dream:
“I just kind of left with this idea that I wanted to pursue screenwriting. In order to just keep a roof over my head while I taught myself the absolute basics, I thought, ‘Alright, I’m going to go teach English at a university in China.’ I was earning about 300 bucks a month, but it was worth it for the experience and the sheer amount of free time I had.”
He goes on to describe some of the smart strategies he used to teach himself screenwriting:
“Which allowed me to get as many scripts as I could, break them down, analyze them. I read ‘Story’ by Robert McKee and went through that with my highlighter. My education mainly consisted of reading other people’s work, trying to understand why they were working or why they weren’t working, and then just getting a sense of the kind of material that I would like to write myself. That’s how it all started.”
“One of the things that I used to do is, I would take a script – that’s usually about 120 pages – I would read the first 60 pages in the morning, then I would go and teach my day at university, and over the course of the day I would think, ‘Alright, I’ve got 60 pages, I know who the characters are, I know what’s going on, how would I end the movie? How would I write the latter 60 pages?’
Then within scenes, as well. If I’m reading scripts and I laugh out loud… I remember reading ‘Crazy Stupid Love’ by Dan Fogelman, a brilliant script and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I found myself laughing out loud and then I’d stop and say, ‘Hold on. This guy, with nothing but words on a page, made me laugh out loud.’ I’d go back to that scene and try and analyze and understand why I’d reacted that way to it because it was so good and I just wanted to get to the root of why.”
Jonathan also speaks extensively about his process for developing, outlining, and writing his scripts, as well as how and why he signed with his manager, Scott Carr — who joins them on stage to talk about the query letter that won him over.
The episode is absolutely packed with useful and inspiring information. And considering Jonathan is the only client Scott’s ever signed off of a query letter, aspiring screenwriters will surely want to listen to find out what that query letter contained.