We sat down with Dorian Keyes, ScreenCraft’s Pilot Launch Web Series Winner, and talked about his winning script, Westinghouse, and the overall craft of screenwriting. In Westinghouse, a small, regional theater-owner on the brink of bankruptcy and eviction and her lovable, misfit employees must scramble to put up one last play and save the company. Relatable, energetic, briskly-paced and consistently entertaining, it skillfully embraces the strengths of the web series format.
What is your writing process and how long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for just about a year now, having started my first short screenplay in February of 2017.
My process definitely varies, but I find I’m most productive when I’m writing around quiet groups of people — cafes, libraries, etc. — and always with a cup of coffee!
How have you honed your craft since you began and what resource or activity has been the most helpful in that regard?
I’ve got two answers, so first let me spout the obligatory, clichéd-but-true: just do it. If you want to be a writer, write.
The more personal resource that has helped me immensely is critical feedback. I have a wonderful community of strange, brilliant friends that care about me enough to openly critique my work and help me improve.
Here’s the hard part, though. You have to listen, really listen, to that feedback. You can’t get defensive or try to explain your script to them. You asked for their feedback, so let them give it!
What was the genesis of Westinghouse? How many drafts have you done and how much has the story evolved? Having multiple contest finalist placements and wins under your belt now, any advice you would offer screenwriters about potentially entering screenplay competitions?
I was doing a lot of theater at the time, and I started writing vignettes whenever I had a free minute backstage. So when an actor friend of mine, Artoun Nazareth, told me he wanted to produce a web series together, we pretty quickly decided to place it in that context.
The script went through more drafts than I tracked, to be honest. Editing was a months-long process and involved tons of insight from talented people. While the general storyline remained the same almost since day one, the actual characters and their arcs were incredibly fluid.
As for advice, it’s hard. I feel like I’ve gotten pretty lucky with my placements. I’d recommend getting coverage on at least one of your scripts if you can afford it. I really benefited from getting the impartial feedback of a well-versed industry professional.
What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? Favorite genre? What other projects do you have besides Westinghouse?
I’m really drawn towards dark comedy, and its uniquely cathartic expression of what it means to be a crazy, loving, imperfect human. I’m the sort of person that uses humor to heal, so I like pieces that do the same.
I’m working on a few projects right now, my favorite being a single-cam political comedy about a few moderate Republican senators, and the mounting pressure they face from the ever-more-right GOP — conform or die off.
What’s the best operating principle or piece of advice on screenwriting you’ve ever gotten?
You are what you eat; you write what you watch.
Who are your writing influences?
Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Annie Baker, Kurt Vonnegut, Celeste Ng, Dan Harmon, and Charlie Kaufman are some of the artists I find really dope!
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?
Well, the short-term goal is to use this Screencraft Pilot Launch to begin a dialogue with representation and look for a good fit.
Long-term, I’m looking to staff on (and eventually create) a series like Veep or Rick and Morty!
I’ve been lucky enough to work on cool projects with smart, talented people, which is exactly what I’d like to do for my whole career! So, I guess what I’d really want next is some money to compensate the actors and crew for their time.