Author's Spotlight: A Q&A with award-winning screenwriter, Tony Ferrendelli
Q: How and when did you become interested in screenwriting?
A: First, thank you for the invitation to interview. I’m glad nepotism is alive and well (Ha, ha, but this is not nepotism! I am featuring my brother in the Author’s Spotlight because he has done some incredible work.) Now to answer your question, it was an interesting process. I took a narrative screenwriting class because I had an idea for a script and, honestly, because I was looking for something to do in semi-retirement. I had never written a screenplay (or anything for that matter) and figured I needed to learn the basics. The class was incredibly beneficial for establishing a foundation for writing a screenplay. The instructor, Drew McCullough, liked the idea and I asked him if he’d like to co-write it with me. He did, and we wrote MUCK. The most intriguing aspect was to have created something that had not existed before. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.
Q: Your first screenplay—MUCK—was based, in part, on Marc, your best friend in high school, who died several years ago at 49 of a brain tumor. Tell us about that script and why it was a tribute to Marc.
A: It was. Marc and I loved to play poker. (For those of you like me who didn't know what muck means, it is a term in poker which most often refers to the discard pile where players may throw their folded hands, and the dealer places burned cards. It also refers to when a player is folding his hand (face down) without saying anything.) After Marc was diagnosed, we had thrown around the idea of writing a movie about two friends who end up winning the World Series of Poker…basically the Rocky of poker. Unfortunately, he passed away before we could write it so I decided to write it in his memory. My only goal was to write a movie that would honor him. I believe it did. Even though Marc was the initial inspiration for the screenplay, it was amazing how other experiences and people in my life were integrated in the script. Much like when I read your books, I see glimpses of our childhood or people we know in your stories. Writing the script certainly was a cathartic process and helped with the grief. I also came away with the realization that I enjoyed the creative process. And that’s why I wrote the next script, and then others. Interestingly enough, I just revised MUCK. I wanted to update it with all I had learned since I first wrote it. The execution of the script changed but it was good to see that the core of the story was still solid.
Q: Two of your short screenplays—The LIGHT and The BRITTLE TROMBONE—have won awards. Congratulations! Tell us about the scripts and the awards they won.
A: Thank you. Two very different scripts. THE LIGHT, which just won the Southern California Screenplay Competition, was a tribute to our sister, Shari, who passed too soon. She truly was a shining light and I wanted to honor her. It’s a story about love that manifests itself as an ethereal light that helps a Japanese couple survive and reunite during World War II. The script has done well. Every time it places or wins, it reminds me of how much of a role Shari played in my life.
On a much lighter note, BRITTLE TROMBONE just won the LiveRead/LA isolation screenplay contest. It’s about a middling actor who forces his family to commit to his method acting style after being cast in a community theater production. I came up with the idea while I was cycling and an Amazon delivery truck was blocking the bike lane. The driver was carrying an odd-sized package and I thought, Amazon delivers anything. Well, to be honest, my first thought was get the F*** out of the bike lane. But that didn’t translate well to the page.
Q: The Brittle Trombone was part of LiveRead/LA. Tell us what that was like to hear your script being read by professional actors.
A: It was a great idea the team at LiveRead/LA came up with to help screenwriters remain productive during these interesting times. Normally they do a live read in their studio. But for this contest they all did a virtual read from their homes. I was honored they selected my screenplay. It was great to see the script come to life with a read from a talented group of actors.
Q: It’s always difficult to get the word out about your work. Tell us how your background in marketing helps you to connect with others.
A: My philosophy in marketing was always trying to get the right message to the right customer through the right channel. In adapting that to connecting with others in the industry, it is realizing that there are many channels to connect and promote yourself. Social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.) has huge screenwriting communities with a good make up of industry professionals. Doing well in screenwriting contests offer avenues to gain exposure to your work. Screenwriting groups and organizations offer a combination of instruction and networking that help writers meet and interact with other writers. I was lucky enough to get accepted into Max Adams’ 5150, an invitation only international online screenwriting workshop. This gave me the confidence in sharing my work with other writers and industry professionals.
And, the key is sharing your work. No one is going to know about you or discover your work if it just sits on your computer. So pick multiple avenues. You don’t have to do them all but you can’t rely on just one AND stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. You are the best one to talk about your work.
Q: What are you working on currently?
A: In addition to writing a TV pilot, 2ND RATE FAIRY by myself, I have teamed up with two fantastic writers Tonia Kempler and Al Finocchio through Bellem Entertainment. We are currently developing several TV and web series projects. MUSIC STREET is a music-related TV series. And another series that will launch soon, Gully and Finch. It’s about two millennials stuck in failure-to-launch mode who pass themselves off as private detectives. It is exciting to co-write again after several years of writing on my own.
Q: Besides writing, cycling and physical fitness, what else should we know about you?
A: Honestly, much to the dismay of my mom and third grade teacher, I can’t conjugate a sentence to save my life. Luckily for me, screenwriting offers a little leeway in that area.
Q: Where can our readers discover more of your work and interact with you?
A: They can visit my profile on CoverFly or ISA to read more about me and my screenplays. I am also active on Twitter. They can certainly email me at email@example.com, but be aware, I’ve already invested my max in the Nigerian lottery so I just ignore those emails. Lastly, I very much appreciate the interview and I loved your newest book in the Samantha Church mystery series, On The Border…and that’s not nepotism talking. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it.