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Interview with screenwriter Madigan Bachman

  • What is the first story you ever wrote?

The first story I ever wrote was a short story called “The Tracks” back in the first grade. It’s a story about three young girls having a terrifying
run in with a mad man in the woods while on vacation. Of course my parents were incredibly concerned that this idea came out of a 6 year old’s head, but still one of my favorites to read back every once in a while.

  • Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?

I think the first piece that ever inspired any type of writing for film was the movie The Strangers. After watching that movie, I started researching how to write for film. Once I got into college, I started expanding my love toward more particular artists like Christopher Nolan and Lars Von Trier. I
have since studied every script Nolan has written as well as found a lot of inspiration from the works of Stephen King.

  • For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?

I have had a lot of success with festivals. I of course have had my fair share of rejections but just submitting and getting feedback and trying to improve has helped me get a lot of my scripts seen.

  • What experiences from your life influence your characters?

Like many writers I have had
my fair share of trauma. Between divorce and break ups I have pulled a lot from my real life. I like to put those experiences on the page in an indirect way. I like to think of how it has evolved my personality, what have I learned from those experiences that created new themes in my life? Once I can break down what my major life moments mean to me, then I can more
accurately pour those into a script and add a lot more meaning and emotion behind my work.

  • Can you explain your character development process?

My development process does vary. I
sometimes will write out a whole treatment and outline before I start, but most of the times I just start and see where a spark will take me. I like to think of my characters as a real extension of myself and how I would act in certain situations. I think for my short films in particular I like to capture one moment in time and not worry what came before or what comes after. Who is this person in this moment? What would she feel in this moment? Is she hesitant or brave? Do her hands tremble at the door knob or is it a steady grip? Is she confused and afraid or is she curious? I ask myself those little questions throughout the writing process to be able to develop in full the person that I’m trying to portray.

  • Do you write bios before you start writing?

I usually don’t. I have in the past found myself getting very wrapped up in bios and even outlines because I prefer the freedom of change. I
like to see where the story takes me first and go from there. My ideas generally are in the moment one thing sparked a fire type idea. I will see how a light reflects off a surface then all of the sudden I have a whole script idea I need to get out of my head before I lose it.

  • How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?

I am always incredibly involved with my characters. They are a true extension of myself in a lot of ways. When I am writing, I can visualize everything very clearly from my point of view. So, in many ways I am
the character every time. Emotionally I like to pour in bits and pieces of myself to make it feel real. In my script for “Motel,” I took a long time emotionally investing in the character to be able to write feelings correctly. It has proven to be very successful in the audience’s interpretation and reaction to the story as well. If I can move my audience, then I’ve done
more than enough.

  • What are your thoughts on structure?

I think structure is very important. I pay most of my attention to the third act of every script I write because that is where so many fall apart. If
you can wrap up a script with a tight ending, then I think you’ve done a great job. In my regular life, when I am watching a movie, I sometimes will time how long each act is to get some sort of idea of what pacing works best in my head. I then am able to transfer that into a shorter form and have a much stronger structure because the pacing keeps pulling the reader

  • Do you outline before you start writing?

It depends. For my longer scripts I do tend to outline. I don’t usually like to do that on my short scripts because I feel like my short scripts
are a snippet of time that can naturally flow from my brain to the page. However, if I am writing a feature length script I have a crazy outlining process. Everything has to be very visual for me with post it notes, journals, little cards with ideas written on them, and then laying all of that out to see visually what the story looks like. I then have a much better idea
of what I want the pace to be and where I can rearrange things to make it work best.

  • What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

They need to be multi dimensional. I can feel the difference between a character I have spent time developing and a character that feels more like a filler for the story. I always suggest to study the characters
that you love the most and find out what makes you connect with them. I have taken a lot of time studying characters from “Dunkirk” in particular and how they were successful. I feel that the depth of the character is always relating to the context of the story. For example, the characters in “Dunkirk” don’t have a lot of backstory that the audience knows about due
to the story being incredibly fast paced and in the moment. In my script “Motel,” though, the main character has a very detailed back story that flows directly into the point that the story takes place at. I feel that as long as the writer knows their character well, they will be able to write for them as if they are real. Once that can be done, the audience can feel the
authenticity and find more ways to connect with a wider demographic.