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7 Questions With ScreenCraft Fellowship Recipient Mark J. Stasenko Jr.

by Cameron Cubbison on February 10, 2015

1) What is your writing process and how long have you been writing?

I started young, writing plays in elementary school and a novel in 7th grade. Like most things we do in grade school, they were brilliant. I started writing features in 10th grade, mostly trying out characters, playing with tone, messing with structure… that kind of stuff. I really started writing constantly about 2.5 years ago. Since then I’ve completed 9 features.

I studied mechanical engineering in college, so my education predestines me to prefer a sturdy foundation before I begin writing. As a result, I spend a lot of time preplanning: outlining, doing character biographies, and tormenting myself over a concept. But once that’s done, I like to write fast. From FADE IN to FADE OUT it takes me about 3 weeks for a first draft. The longer I’ve been doing this, the more time I spend working the characters and the less I spend working the plot. With LOSING TOUCH I wrote 10,000 word biographies on both of the leads, gave them a goal, and then let them determine the plot as I wrote.

2) What was the genesis of LOSING TOUCH? How many drafts have you done and how much has the story evolved? Have you entered it into other competitions?

Honestly, LOSING TOUCH came from a place of self-doubt. Every writer feels it… in fact, every human feels it (or so I tell myself). And as a result, LOSING TOUCH is a story about believing in yourself. I’m not a quotey guy, but I read an insanely perceptive quote from Mitch Hedberg who said, “I know people who believe in ghosts, but don’t believe in themselves.” I thought it was genius and that quote is what LOSING TOUCH is to me.

I’m in about 5 drafts deep… I usually don’t count, just make adjustments as the story demands. In this case, it’s mostly been driven by making the leads as balanced as possible. I’ve entered the script into some festivals and am very fortunate to have been chosen as an Official Selection for the Richmond Film Festival and an Official Finalist for the Sun Valley Film Festival (winner pending on both). As a writer, I’ve had the honor of being a Nicholl Quarter-Finalist and Scriptapalooza Finalist.

3) What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? Favorite genre? What other projects do you have besides LOSING TOUCH?

I write high-octane, character driven stories that take place in realities a little different from our own. I enjoy all genres, but love the spectacle of the movies and their ability to transport us visually and emotionally to places we’ve never consciously been. I want to see something I’ve never seen before every time I sit in front of my metaphorical typewriter. I have 8 other features and no matter what the genre, they are all derived from a place of character/self exploration, and they ultimately navigate their worlds with frantic, often non-stop action.

 4) What's the best operating principle or piece of advice on screenwriting you've ever gotten?

I feel that the only part of screenwriting allowed to be a cliché is the advice: Never Stop Writing!

 5) Who are your writing influences?

Writers who say something in a way that’s never been said before influence me. Great established screenwriters like Shane Black, Andrew Stanton, and Charlie Kaufman. Great novelists and poets like Joseph Conrad, Shel Silverstein, and Brett Easton Ellis. And great new voices in screenwriting like Brian Duffield and Damien Chazelle.

6) How have you honed your craft since you began and what resource or activity has been the most helpful in that regard?

I’m always trying to hone my craft, to get better, to expand my creativity. I read screenplays… a lot of screenplays… as many as I can. Every time I read a screenplay I learn something new. I try to understand what made me feel and what didn’t and ultimately why. Then I try to mash everything I learn together and spit it out in my own voice. Hopefully, I make people feel more with my next story than I did with my last.

7) Having received the ScreenCraft Fellowship, what are your immediate goals as a writer?

This town is about two things: stories and relationships. That’s what I love about LA – well that, and Saturday beach volleyball in February. My immediate goal from receiving the ScreenCraft Fellowship is to expand my relationships and find representation who are excited to use my voice and their tastes to spread stories to as many people as possible.

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