Jose Prendes claimed the top prize of the 2017 ScreenCraft Horror Screenplay Contest for his clever horror-sci-fi hybrid script Killing Time. A lover of the genre and a longtime writer, Jose took the time to answer our questions and talk about his approach to the craft.
1) What is your writing process and how long have you been writing?
Well, I guess technically I’ve been writing since I was in fifth grade, when I wrote a story in class that made the class crack up and the teacher told me I should be a writer. It wasn’t until later that I found out my father was a writer, as well. He passed away when I was five, so I had to learn that secondhand.
My process is very simple, I guess. I get hit with an idea and it either goes one of two ways: it’s dropped into my brainpan fully formed and I can turn it out gleefully in a week, or I have to sit with it and let it form itself in my subconscious, and then outline each scene, to sketch it out fully, so I can tear hell through it. I tend to work fast when I write, life’s too short to wait around.
2) How have you honed your craft since you began and what resource or activity has been the most helpful in that regard?
I remember writing scripts in high school, teaching myself by reading every book on screenwriting I could find. I’ve got tons and tons of scripts from back then no one will ever see, but they were a way of cutting my teeth. I also watched a ton of movies, which I was doing anyway, but i made sure to pay attention to dialog and structure and now, like most writers, I can’t watch a movie the same way anymore, unless it hits me emotionally.
The most helpful way to hone your screenwriting is to write. Write for yourself, not for the market or a trend. Write what you love and do it just for the act of writing, or indulging in wordplay. When the work is no longer work, then you can play. It’s called a screen-play, so have fun with it, don’t agonize over every detail or budget or who will read it, just open your mind and pound the keyboard.
3) What was the genesis of KILLING TIME?
I’m a big fan of slasher films, and the last great slasher film was SCREAM (although I really loved SCREAM 4, however it is the same franchise so I’m not sure if it counts), so I wanted to write a tight, fast and funny slasher, but didn’t want to do it the old-fashioned way, because it’s been done and done great before. Another one of my favorites is BACK TO THE FUTURE, for obvious reasons, and I wondered what a mash-up of time travel and slasher would look like and there you go; that’s where KILLING TIME came from.
It was a fairly quick piecing-together to get the first draft down. It does get complicated in the end, so I had to make sure that I outlined and diagramed all the moving parts very carefully, and it all clicked into place, which is the fun part of writing.
4) Having won, any advice you would offer screenwriters about potentially entering screenplay competitions?
Honestly, I’ve entered dozens and dozens and never had any luck. This is my first win, much less my first Grand Prize win, so I’m over the fucking moon here. I’d say it really depends on the material and the judges; there is no real advice when it comes to submitting, just write something you love so you’ve won for yourself no matter what.
5) What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? Favorite genre?
I love make-believe. I’m not a fan of the real world, so I love imaginative stories and out-of-the-box stories. My favorite genres are horror, sci-fi, action, and comedy, no surprise there.
6) What’s the best operating principle or piece of advice on screenwriting you’ve ever gotten? Who are your writing influences?
I wrote a book on screenwriting called THE HIGH-CONCEPT MASSACRE where I interviewed 13 screenwriters and chronicled their careers and their advice. Most of them said the same thing: this is a tough business, it can be merciless and brutal, so you have to love it to be able to deal with it. Some even went so far as saying that they recommend people don’t do it at all.
For me, the number one operating principle, if you want to call it that is simple: I can’t think of anything else I could dedicate myself to, or that would make me as happy as writing, so why would I turn my back on it? Yes, it’s hard, it’s tedious, and disappointing, but when it’s not, like now with this win, I’ll be damned if it isn’t the sweetest thing on Earth.
I’d have to say Ray Bradbury is my biggest influence and my favorite author, because his works are dripping in that other-worldliness I aspire to.
7) What are your short-term and long-term goals in the industry? What have you been able to do in your career so far and what would you like to do next?
My goals now are the same as they’ve always been, man. Writing and hustling and hustling and writing. I want to make some movies and I want to make people happy doing it. Beyond movies, I’m about to take on a pretty crazy challenge. In April I will start writing a book called FROM WHITE BELT TO BLACK BELT IN A YEAR, which will detail my training in Tae Kwon Do, as I try to achieve the impossible by getting a black belt in one year, which I’ve been told is almost impossible. But I love that shit, I love an impossible challenge, like working in Hollywood. It keeps you alive, man.