Greg Kiernan here again and I am pleased to report that this week’s post is exceptionally exciting. As the production of Blue Damen’s latest film “Recalculating” draws near it behooves one to take a look at all the multitude of steps that it took to bring this story to life (not to mention all the steps yet to take to get that story into theaters). The very first step, of course, was writing the script. Without a script actors can’t act, directors can’t direct and editors can’t edit. On that note it gives me great honor to introduce Jan Kaschner, writer of “Recalculating.” In what started out as a simple question and answer interview developed into a candid conversation. I hope you enjoy it:
Greg: Hello Jan, thank you again for doing this. I guess I’ll start out with some basics – tell me about your background. What is your back story?
Jan: I was an educator in Minnesota for many years, teaching Senior High English, Creative Writing, and Visual Arts. In 1994 I was on sabbatical in NYC, attending Parsons School of Art & Design. On weekends I hung out on film sets with friends who were NYU film students. It was then that I realized that film was my ultimate art form where I could combine my language and writing skills with my visual skills to create the total look and feel of a film as well as the dramatic story elements– The whole creative vision, hence my company name, Creative Visions.
Greg: Nice. “Recalculating” is going to be filmed in Elgin, IL. Is that where you’re from?
Jan: No, I hail from the Coen Brothers’ territory –Minnesota.
Greg: Yeah that’s where their film “Fargo” took place, which is kind weird since Fargo is actually in North Dakota. Any way, let me ask you about your experiences as a writer. What is your education and/or training?
Jan: B.S. Undergraduate degree in English and Art (Double Major) and a M.A. in Fine Art at the University of Minnesota, Mankato; post Masters work at Parson’s School for Art & Design in NYC; Playwriting and screenwriting classes at the Literary Loft in Minneapolis, Screenwriting at Story City Chicago; Playwriting and Musical Theater at Chicago Dramatists in Chicago; and Comedy Writing and Screenwriting at the famed Second City, in Chicago.
Greg: Great. Who or what is your writing muse?
Jan: My Muse, my biggest fan, is my wonderful husband, Les. He’s a successful corporate-change consultant with a theater/radio undergrad degree. He’s also an actor. He understands creatives. I’m a big fan of Tina Fey; I’ve read several of her “30 Rock” scripts and I think she really knows how to go deep and she’s amazing with dialogue. I also love classic scripts like “Casablanca” and “Chinatown” but mostly I’m inspired by people and their stories and behaviors. I like to put conflicting ideas together, really push my characters to do things out of their realms. My manager also inspires me a great deal; she keeps me going.
Greg: It’s great when family inspires you, isn’t it?
Jan: As an only child of deaf parents, I grew up in a silent world. Sign Language was my first language.
Greg: Oh my god! Really?
Jan: Yes. My father was unstoppable. He was the first deaf student to ever graduate from a trade school in Minnesota. Back in the 20s, this was huge. He didn’t have an interpreter either. In the ‘60s he and some other deaf men successfully lobbied for closed captioning on TVs and for installing TTYs in every federal, state and municipal public office.
Greg: Very impressive. How do you think that effected your childhood?
Jan: When we got a TV, my parents kept the sound muted, but I created my own dialogue. An aunt gave me a two-story doll house with all the miniature furnishings, down to the tiny dishes. I soon became bored with the same old dolls, so I started cutting out characters from the Sears, Wards and Spiegel catalogues and then eventually designed and created my own paper dolls for the characters and created wardrobes for them. Soon my locations expanded out of the doll house onto the floor for doctors’ offices, classrooms and restaurants. I was doing these elaborate little plays and sitcoms, creating the stories & scripts, designing all the details, creating the sets and designing the costumes.
Greg: It’s funny you should talk about making your own toys. I had plenty of toys to play with as a child but I wound up making my own action figures by cutting up paper cups and taping them back together. It got to a point where my parents simply stopped buying paper cups because I would use them all up for my toy set.
Jan: That’s funny.
Greg: Okay, let me take a minute to ask about your current project. How did you and Gwydhar, the director of “Recalculating”, meet?
Jan: I did the costume and set design for one of her previous projects “The Visionary.”
Greg: How did you come up with the “Recalculating” story?
Jan: I was talking with Gwydhar about doing the “Homecoming” themed short for Insomniac Chronicles; it was going to be about a man, while searching for his wife, finds acceptance for the future by recalculating the mistakes of his recent past. My husband and I were driving somewhere with a new GPS (2009 version), and it kept saying this most annoying “recalculating,” and we thought that this GPS-Genie would be the perfect guide as well as a comic foil for Tom, the main character. I developed the GPS as a character, a genie for Tom, and I had to create conflict between them.
Greg: Oh, so this was a projected conceived specifically for Blue Damen?
Jan: Yes, I was writing this specifically for Gwydhar and Blue Damen Pictures. I wasn’t promoting it elsewhere.
Greg: Cool. At one point I was hoping to write a feature for Blue Damen but I guess that wasn’t meant to be. I just want to say to you that I find this whole thing pretty impressive; I’m something of an aspiring writer myself but I have never sold anything. And that is definitely what separates the pros from the wannabes. So congratulations to you.
Jan: Thank you. This is the first script I’ve sold, but I have written a total of five feature-lengths projects. One of them, titled “Freedom Cab”, is being shopped around by my manager and read by producers in Hollywood.
Greg: Whoa, that’s even more impressive. I’ve written five scripts myself but, frankly, they’re pretty sh*tty so I have not earned representation yet. Any advice to a struggling novice like me?
Jan: Absolutely. First of all your first script (or even your first few) are going to be sh*tty. They just are. It’s a learning process so I would recommend taking as many screenwriting classes as possible, read at least five books on screenwriting and purchase Final Draft software for your writing. Also do NOT rely on parents and other loved ones to critique your work; you should join a screenwriting group that will dish out some tough love.
Greg: I have to admit I do hand my work to my family members hoping for some honest feedback, which is to say I know that they’ll be nice. Too nice, I guess.
Jan: Yeah but that doesn’t help your writing. You should search on meetup.com for advanced screenwriting groups that will give feedback that is worthwhile. Then you should attend the Sherwood Oaks events they have at the Mariott and get some practice pitching. Also keep one thing in mind – if you’re in the Midwest it’s VERY challenging to get your stuff read. That’s why I’ve been involved with indie films mainly, because I’m in the Midwest. So get out to LA as soon as you can but most importantly never give up! Let me know about your plans and maybe joining the meet-up advanced screenwriting group.
Greg: Thank you again, Jan. It was great talking to you.
Okay, well, it was kind of hard for me to hide my jealous there but it’s best to swallow your pride and ask for advice from someone who has more experience and more accomplishments than you. Filmmaking, after all, is a collaborative process; it’s important to be humble. And even the top guys in Hollywood don’t know everything; it’s important to keep learning and writing.
Until next time, see you in the movies!