By Sean Tuohy
Shane Weisfeld is the screenwriter responsible for trapping Dylan McDermott in a freezer and sending Russian mobsters in to torture him.
I sat down with Weisfeld to talk about how he got into screenwriting, how he came up with the concept for “Freezer,” and what screenwriters need to do to be successful in Hollywood.
Sean Tuohy: How did you get into screenwriting?
Shane Weisfeld: I come from a planet called hip-hop, and from an early age I was exposed to that raw, visceral, pure art form of storytelling and poetry in motion. So much of hip-hop is about proving yourself, having your own voice, and making something out of nothing, and it’s all about lyrically paying your dues—with receipts. Coupled with my love of film, and that medium’s power of storytelling, it was just a natural progression to get into screenwriting. Once I went to film school as a screenwriting major, it solidified my intentions.
ST: Was there a special movie that caused you to get into film?
SW: “The Exorcist” was the first movie that had a lasting impression on me, where I was thinking about it for days afterwards. I’ve probably seen it 50 times since! While I was in film school, I was exposed to so many of the classics—both Hollywood and foreign—and many of those had a huge influence on me. However, in my last year of high school, I did a report on “The Karate Kid,” written by the great Robert Mark Kamen. I had first seen it when it came out in 1984, but when I did this school report on it, I learned for the first time the script-to-screen process and what’s involved in getting a movie made. That’s when I realized that I wanted to go to film school and get serious about pursuing this in a creative capacity.
ST: How did you come up with the concept for “Freezer?”
SW: I definitely wanted to write, for the first time, a one-location crime-thriller. That’s a sub-genre I’ve always enjoyed, and certainly it’s less risky for financiers to take on something like that as opposed to a big budget script. Not that I was only thinking about budget—my main concern was coming up with a compelling story with mounting conflict inside one location—but I was definitely thinking about all the elements that could be attracted to something like this and what could not only finally land me representation, but get produced as well.
ST: How long did you take to write “Freezer?”
SW: The first draft was pumped out in only three weeks. No outline, but a general idea of what was going to happen. It was a slim, bare-bones draft, not much to it. However, the rewrite and polish process was a good two and half years after that, as more story and character was injected into it. Rewrites were done with development notes from my manager in Los Angeles at the time, and also from the producers during pre-production and up to the point it started shooting.
ST: How did you break into the industry?
SW: Years of writing, re-writing, mistakes, rejection, struggle, hard work, sacrifice, patience, tenacity, insomnia, determination, persistence, perseverance and timing. No luck. That doesn’t exist. All these things still play a factor though, and always will. The basic timeline goes like this: I didn’t find representation until the 12-year mark, and I didn’t become a produced screenwriter until the 15-year mark. I’m 41 years old and it has currently been more than a 17-and-a-half-year journey in terms of actively pursuing this crazy industry, and I’ve still got a long way to go; but any success so far is that much more worthwhile knowing what went into getting this far, and those things are opening more and bigger doors.
ST: What is your writing process? Do you outline?
SW: I try and outline as much as I can, whether it’s a formal outline or just basic point form scene and character ideas. Outlining is really having a blueprint for your script, and you can’t go into it blind—you need to have some kind of structure for knowing what your beginning, middle and end will be. Once I have an outline, I prefer to write my script every day, even just for a little bit. Staying consistent is key. Sometimes I’ll be writing a new script and at the same time rewriting or polishing an older one, but I do prefer to concentrate on one script at a time.
ST: What is next for Shane Weisfeld?
SW: Continuing with the WHGTA [writing, hustling, grinding, and taking action]. I’m writing both original features and television, but I’m also going back and rewriting previous scripts, because things can always improve, and constructive criticism and feedback just makes me want to get better. Also, continuing to make connections and building relationships the blue-collar way.
ST: What advice do you give to fellow screenwriters?
SW: Once you’ve been at this for a while and the rejection starts mounting, you need to ask yourself if this is what you truly want, need and can’t live without. The reason is, it could take years and years of no progression and a ton of rejection, so you absolutely have to be in it for the long haul, ready to develop a backbone and very thick skin. Also, don’t try and guess what the marketplace wants. You should really write what’s in your heart, what you know, and the type of film (or television show) you would want to see. Watch as many films (both commercial and independent) as you can, but also read just as many scripts. Lastly, follow the business. This is so important. Read the trades, learn who the players behind the scenes are, get to know what’s in development and why. The craft will always be the most important thing, but this is a business; you need to stay on top of it because it changes constantly and can eat you up and spit you out if you don’t know it.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
SW: I know the capital city of every single country in the world, and every U.S. state as well.
To learn more about Shane Weisfeld, follow him on Twitter @ShaneWeisfeld.