November 24, 2009
Screenwriter Wyatt Wakeman
An interview with screenwriter Wyatt Wakeman regarding the
Big Break Writing Competition.
Q: What's the title of the script you entered in this contest,
and what's it about?
A: I entered two scripts in Final Draft's Big Break International
Screenplay Competition this year.
Q: What made you enter this particular contest? Have you
entered any other contests with this script? If so, how did you do?
The first is called MINUS MEN, a sci-fi action-adventure about
terrorists traveling back in time after Barack Obama is elected
president in order to assassinate president Abraham Lincoln — all
in an attempt to ensure slavery endures to this day.
The second is called BORDERLAND. It's about a crack FBI agent sent
to investigate a drug trafficking murder along the U.S./Mexico
border, and what happens when the town he suspects of foul play
discovers a very compromising secret about him that jeopardizes
the investigation, his career, and ultimately, his life.
I am the only writer in the contest's ten-year history to place
two scripts in the Final Top Ten.
BORDERLAND ultimately went on to win the Grand Prize.
A: I entered Final Draft's Big Break International Screenwriting
Competition because it takes rewarding and promoting the writer
very, very seriously. It is also a name that the industry respects,
so I figured there had to be a certain amount of weight behind
Q: Were you satisfied with the administration of the contest?
Did they meet their deadlines? Did you receive all the awards that
But it was not the only contest I entered this year. I entered
both of these scripts into twenty-two screenwriting contests in
A: The whole team at Final Draft, Inc. is to be commended
for putting on, in my opinion, the best screenwriting competition
in Hollywood. Having won in about four other contests with MINUS
MEN and BORDERLAND, I have a decent knowledge of what the average
competition does for its winners. Final Draft met all their deadlines,
and thus far I have been receiving my awards in a timely manner.
I received my check at the awards ceremony (a gorgeous red carpet
affair at the Paley Center For Media, in Beverly Hills), had industry
pros lining up to meet me and read my scripts, and have since signed
with a new manager.
Q: How long did it take you to write the script? Did you
write an outline beforehand? How many drafts did you write?
A: It took me about six weeks to write each script. I did
not write an outline for MINUS MEN, while for BORDERLAND I used
the sequence method -- breaking the movie down into eight, fifteen-minute
sequences -- while retaining an overall three-act structure. In
order to accomplish this, I had to outline the sequences so that
they had a clear beginning, middle, and end. It was the easiest,
and most economical, outlining I've ever done; and I highly recommend
this approach to anyone who's written scripts using the traditional
three-act structure, but want to try something different.
Q: What kind of software did you use to write the script,
if any? What other kinds of writing software do you use?
I wrote several drafts of MINUS MEN, although after the first draft,
most were tweaks and polishes on the overall theme.
On BORDERLAND, I did a first draft; then a serious, thirty-page
slash-and-cut edit; then several polishes.
A: I used Final Draft, of course! I have been using their
software for the last ten years, at least. Before that I used Scriptware.
I think I wrote my fifth script on Word for Windows, when I was
in-between screenwriting software. That is not an experience I
recommend, although it helped me to understand intimately the exact
details and measurements that go into churning out industry-standard
Q: Do you write every day? How many hours per day?
A: Alas, I do not write every day. I never have. I don't
think one has to, if — when away from the typewriter or computer — he
is still writing in his head. Which is what I tend to do. I suspect
I'm not alone in this. Some might call it obsessive; but if you
are not constantly thinking about writing the world around you,
whether while walking to the store or driving to work, then you
have a better shut-off mechanism than I do.
Q: Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal
When I do write, there is no set amount of time I allot myself.
I simply write when I need to — which is a lot — when
creating a new world. Also, time goes by very, very fast when you
are writing. So I will look up and three hours will have passed.
But I also have no problem answering the phone or taking a break,
if I need to. I find this helps me to collect myself and remain
excited to get back to the page. It's an interesting approach,
and perhaps there are better ones, but it has worked for me, and
that's really what it's all about: Finding your personal groove,
believing that it's okay& that it will get you where you want
A: I rarely have a problem coming up with new ideas. And
if you do some form of outlining before hand, you have even less
of an excuse for writer's block. It may sound clichéd, but
if you are truly enjoying the world you're creating and you understand
how integral conflict is to any storytelling, then the story unfolds
almost effortlessly. But I also try to leave a large degree of
wiggle room in my execution, because these characters& they
will speak to you and go off and do things and see things and say
things you absolutely never knew they were going to do, see, or
say. It's a little eerie. But when these moments occur, I remember
why I'm a writer.
Q: What's your background? Have you written any other screenplays
or television scripts?
You have to trust that you're in the right place, at the right
time — and then create the opposite for your characters!
A: I wrote my first short stories in the fourth grade.
Then I started acting as a freshman in high school. But I didn't
start writing seriously until about age seventeen, and then it
was still just short stories. I went to the University of Southern
California (USC) for Creative Writing — where I won the Edward
W. Moses Short Story Competition — and eventually got my
Q: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans
to move there?
A year after graduation, I was writing my first script. I've since
written thirteen of them, ranging from drama to comedy, thrillers,
actions, and sci-fi. The only thing I haven't attempted is a romantic
comedy, which is interesting, because I actually like watching
them more than I should admit.
I have never attempted a television script, although I plan to,
especially now that the feature spec market is changing. I also
like the idea of remaining involved with my stories, which television
A: I moved to Los Angeles in 1992. I've been settled in
West Hollywood since 1995.
Q: What's next? Are you working on a new script?
A: I am about to begin my next spec script, a thriller
in the vein of a hopped-up, multi-cast SEVEN. I also have a small,
independent script I'm planning to direct.