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Interview with screenwriter Dwain Worrell

by John - updated on August 19, 2015

In its first spec deal, Amazon Studios has acquired The Wall, a script by Dwain Worrell about a deadly cat-and-mouse contest waged by an American sharpshooter and the Iraqi sniper who has him pinned behind a small chunk of concrete. Much like the character in his script, Dwain Worrell found himself between a rock and a hard place. He was unable to find work in America and moved to China where he worked as a translator for six years! Since China blocks sites like Google, he relied on a friend to help him post his script on Amazon. Amazon loved it and introduced Dwain to his manager and agents. They eventually purchased the script with a plan to produce it later in the year. Additionally, Dwain just sold a feature pitch with franchise potential based on Dante's Inferno to Warner Bros.

Dwain generously took the time to chat with us and answer our below questions.

How long have you been back in the USA?

I’ve been back for two weeks now. Just getting my bank account and phone number, and all the normal things that normal people have, getting connected. So yeah, it’s cool.

So you’re living in Los Angeles?

Yes. I’m living in Eagle Rock right now with a friend of mine who I met in China.

How many scripts have you written before this one that you optioned to Amazon Studios?

I’ve probably written over ten scripts easily. Most of them are in the trash or lost in some computer file. So I’ve written a lot before I had this success. Although two of the scripts that I had written before this have been produced, which is kind of cool, but nothing on this scale.

Wow, congratulations! What are the other projects that you’ve done?

One of the other projects I did was a co-production between China and Canada. That was more of a hired script, it wasn’t a spec. I did sell a spec this year. This is part of the reason that I came back, because I had two specs kind of at the same time. The pay for that spec was a little bit lower, but it’s being distributed by Lionsgate. Probably a straight-to-DVD type thing. It’s called “Operator” starring Mischa Barton, Ving Rhames, and Luke Goss.

 Congratulations, awesome!

Thank you. Thank you.

So you’ve had some experience with writing and negotiating options and sales. Did you do all that since you’ve been living in China, or did you do it before moving to China?

Well, I majored in theater, playwriting here in the States. So I come from a theater background. It’s extremely difficult to find a job in theater, so I’ve been writing before I went to China. China was more so to get a job teaching English, doing jobs here and there, freelance, doing translating as my language skills improved and whatnot.

What was the writing process like for THE WALL?  Did you develop the project with notes from friends?

It was a very interesting process because I wrote it kind of in a box by myself. Expected not much of it. I just kind of put it together, wrote it very quickly. I wrote it in 3 weeks. I sent it to Amazon because I didn’t have any feedback from anyone. Amazon offers kind of a community feedback feature, so I said I need a little bit of feedback, let me send it in to Amazon. And Amazon optioned it, which is, again, very surprising.

What kind of challenges did you face in China as an aspiring screenwriter?

Well most of the work that I did in China writing-wise was translation work. And I worked freelance for CCTV and Wanda here and there. A lot of the translation work I had to kind of give the western side ideas on what they could not do. Telling them, “You can’t say this,” “You can’t say that.” You know, in China you shouldn’t bring up this topic or this issue. That was a challenge because as a writer you want to be free with what you write, but a lot of times you are constrained to what you can do.

You mean constrained by the Chinese government?

Right. Yeah. By the way, nothing against the Chinese government. China’s cool, but there are certain restrictions on what you can say and do. You kind of after being there--I was there for nine years--you kind of become an expert on what you can and cannot say, what you can and cannot do. So the entire time that I’m writing, not writing Chinese scripts, but translating and rewriting, I’m writing my own stuff because it’s so freeing just to write for the United States. Not write for the United States, but write for western audiences because there’s no limit. I can touch on anything.

What kind of resources have you used to develop your craft as a writer? It sounds like you’ve been writing for a while now. What has helped you along the way?

Podcasts. I think podcasts really started pushing me into the writing field. I’ve listened to the John August podcast, Script Notes. On The Page. There was another podcast that isn’t on anymore that I used to listen to. Anyway, these podcasts were very helpful in kind of telling me what the industry is looking for, what people want, what is not getting sold. So it’s kind of a master class sometimes when you haven’t taken as many screenwriting courses compared to playwriting courses.

What’s it been like to have a manager and agent? How has that changed your career?

One big thing is taking meetings. I’ve been taking so many meetings. I didn’t know this was part of the job. Going to Fox. Going to Sony. Getting on their lot and meeting people. But also, one of the good things is there are a lot of very cool projects that I can’t say that I’m getting, but are, I’m being kind of offered with other writers. Some of them are very very interesting. I can’t really talk about them, but I’ve gotten some very interesting offers. Some from some very established companies, and there’s no way I could have gotten that access without an agent and manager.

Are you getting paid work to work on projects?

Not yet. I’ve only been back two weeks, so nothing is really… But it’s the next step. They tell me Hollywood kind of shuts down after Thanksgiving, so I don’t know how that’s going to affect things, but I’m getting close to getting some jobs, so within the next few weeks or maybe the beginning of next year I might be starting to get paid for taking jobs.

What advice for aspiring screenwriters?

I think I’m still an aspiring screenwriter. I think you have to write. I learned so much more from writing than I ever did from a book or a teacher. When I first started playwriting, screenwriting, there was a book. We read the book and I didn’t understand anything in the book until I had written about three or four screenplays and then everything started clicking. I started understanding what they were talking about. So you have to write to be a writer, and keep writing. Make writing your job. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you’re a writer, because for a very long time I would never say it. I was kind of embarrassed because the next question would be, “What have you written?” And I hadn’t really written anything, I didn’t have anything on my resume. Don’t be shy about telling people you’re a writer, and keep writing.

You can hear more from Dwain on his Twitter page @dwainaworrell now that it's not censored!

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