We recently had a chance to chat with Chris Pinkalla and Drake Shannon, the screenwriters of Land of Leopold, a new independent feature film from Buffalo 8 Productions directed by Akis Konstantakopoulos.
Leopold Rawlins is a troubled drifter suffering from a bad past and worse present. Living in and out of prison and out on the streets, Leopold winds up being deemed insane by the state and sent to the Milton Way House. Searching for redemption, Leopold uncovers new unlikely friends and an adventure that tests his limits.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO SCREENWRITING?
Drake - I suppose initially I wound up in screenwriting from acting in theatre and falling into the craft as a means to develop content that spoke to me and resonated with material that I wanted to see up on the screen. I've always been fascinated by the cinema and that first step into writing for film was a rather natural transition for me, from writing for state drama competitions and plays that I had penned while in high school.
Chris - I was solely an actor for about 8 years, before I decided to write a feature- length screenplay… So I was very familiar with the formulas of screenplays, and knew the structure of Final Draft before I ever used it. When work as an actor was somewhat slow I began thinking of other means to tell stories, and I was actually hired onto my first feature film called AMONG RAVENS, where the writer also acted and I thought that was a great idea — so to me there wasn't much of a separation in the storytelling elements between acting and writing, just another way for me to tell stories.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS STORY MATERIAL FOR A SCREENPLAY?
Chris - There was something familiar, close to home, in the beginning of writing Land of Leopold, then as the story started to develop, I believe Drake and I'd both agree that it really distanced itself from any of my or our real experiences and past circumstances into a fiction of its own.
Chris and Drake - To that, there was a certain sense of adventure in the writing where we didn't know what was next and that kept the feeling fresh and honest, not stale and decided. We argued constructively over minor points, very detail mattered. We are intrigued by films that focus on people who are misunderstood, pariahs, and loners who are in need of an outlet, to share their voices but don't know how, and what they need to do in order to breach community and, really, find who they are in within this great puzzle of life.
DID YOU WRITE THE FILM WITH BUDGETARY CONSIDERATIONS IN MIND?
Chris - Absolutely, but to and end in that I didn't want it to consume our creativity. Being my first producing experience I wanted to make it feasible. Under a million is what I thought, however, I learned that so many things come in to play such as consolidation of characters and extras, and locations are very important. I'll put it this way, the more people got involved and the closer we got to actually shooting — we did a lot of rewriting.
HOW WERE YOU INVOLVED IN THE FILM'S PRODUCTION?
Chris - In almost every way with a lot of help and support — To say we hit the ground running is an understatement, I believe we wrote the screenplay and finished principal photography within a year. From development to pre-production tasks like financing, scouting and casting I was very hands on, then during filming I was able to take a bit of a step back and just concentrate on acting — it's really been the best school or education I've ever been a part of … Though, it really started as me carrying the flag so to speak. I had started writing the screenplay when work as an actor was a little slow, after about 30 pages in — I had convinced my good friend and fellow actor, Drake, to come on as a co-writer. After we finished the screenplay, I began looking for producers to take it to. So I put my own money into budgets, schedules and business plans — pretty much going broke in the process. I realized that I had to be pretty bold and take a leap of faith with this thing, because nobody else was going to do it for me. I was always a bit naive, which I think helped me… I was so determined that we were going to make this film even during writing process, otherwise I think I would have stopped and focused my time on something else. Since I had never produced a film before, it was almost like 'what you don't know can't hurt you'. There were a lot of false starts, but a big game changer was when I met Matthew Helderman and Luke Taylor at Buffalo 8 — they really reinforced my child-like enthusiasm, making me certain that this film was worth making and absolutely feasible.
IN YOUR OPINIONS, WHAT WERE THE THINGS THAT TRANSLATED FROM YOUR MIND TO THE PAGE TO THE SCREEN THE BEST (AND THE WORST)?
Chris and Drake - Off the bat, there was a good deal of humor carved throughout the first draft. During the rewriting, shooting, and editing, the film took on a more serious tone heightening the drama of the story.
Chris - I had sort of decided the setting before Drake came on. So I thought of where I grew up, which was Houston, just two hours south of Austin. Having gone to college in Austin — I spent a good deal of time exploring the Texas hill country, so that was the setting I had in mind. I had scouted other states initially, but ended up coming back to Austin. So everything in the film depicting the landscapes and the greater Austin area with deserted farm roads, beautiful lakes and springs, etc… translated and came across very well onscreen.
ANY ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME SCREENWRITERS?
Chris and Drake - Have a purpose with passion and if you can't find a purpose, make one up. Be creative and have fun, be flexible but believe in your words, and always be ready to rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite… and maybe, if that doesn't work, throw it away and become an astronaut, just kidding. Also, try not to subscribe to any set rules — create as much freedom for yourself as possible.