Big Break Finalist Robert Garrett, writer of Thriller/Horror “Babygirl”

Dec 23, 2015 | Big Break

What drew you to screenwriting in a town outside Los Angeles?
Growing up I was always a giant fan of visionary directors like Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg.  It goes without saying that they have unique styles, but when I saw the films of Darren Aronofsky and Paul Thomas Anderson, at about 20 years old, I realized how far the limits of film as a medium could be pushed.  “Requiem for a Dream,” in particular, really emotionally affected me in how raw and dark it was, and that’s when I started to like film so much that I wanted to get into it myself.

How did you develop your craft as a writer in your situation? 
I started out as a musician in the town I grew up in and live in currently, which is Greenville, Ohio.  The population’s only about 15,000 people, but I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with other local musicians and artists my whole life.  I decided at a certain point to take the next step and move to New York City, but when I went to visit, it wasn’t for me.  For a while after that, I lived in Chicago, and back then it wasn’t a given that people had laptops, so I’d frequent the library to check out screenwriting books and scripts.  Then I’d write my ideas on a combination of an old version of Microsoft Word on their computers and my notepad.  That’s how much I love film.

Knowing that this is a thriller, what elements of your own personality did you bring to the story?
The thriller aspect happened to be something I just gravitate toward naturally.  All of my ideas tend to be dark, which is funny because my friends joke that they would never picture me in a million years coming up with something like this.  I’ve been told that you should “pick a genre” before you start writing to make it easier to sell once you finish it, but this script evolved out of a specific feeling I wanted to convey, and it just happened to be unsettling in the way thrillers generally are.

What was that feeling you wanted to convey?
I’m an avid people-watcher, which is something I think a majority of writers are.  There’s a huge county fair in my town, and every year thousands of people go to it.  One time there I had walked past some teenage girls who were talking to some carnies running the carnival rides.  The situation itself was harmless, but I couldn’t get over how unsettling that image could be if put in the right context.  I originally wanted the script to be set entirely in a carnival, but about 30 pages into writing that version, I decided the setting needed to be something bigger to convey that feeling I was looking for.

In a perfect world, what kind of film would you want this to eventually become? 
I’ve been told it feels like Winters Bone meets Taken, which is a little crazy, but I think it could be handled well if done in the vein of an indie thriller like the ones David Gordon Green or Jeff Nichols does, such as “Shotgun Stories” or “Mud.”

Can you talk about the interesting use of a small town setting in the script?
Greenville is well known for generally being a more progressive town, but it’s also a fact that it has a small population in a rural area.  With that comes a strong sense of family, but the unfortunate downside to a lot of small towns in America can be a sense of feeling trapped.  My wife and I run a coffee shop in our town and we’re fortunate to see many different viewpoints and meet new people, and I think Kacey, the main character in the film, tries to do that as well.

There’s an underlying evocation of female empowerment in the script, can you talk about what you wanted to convey in that regard?
Originally, the script was about a man, but, as I was writing it, I kept having this overwhelming concern for the location of the mother, and eventually it became clear to me that it needed to be about her.  Going back to that feeling of being trapped, I think women in a lot of ways can feel like they live in a man’s world, and I really wanted to show a situation where it was the opposite.  In many of the scenes in the film, she takes the initiative and doesn’t ask for help when she could  just  break down and give up, and a lot of the men in the film actually do break down and give up themselves.

Can you talk about the descriptive prose on the page? 
There’s this idea that scripts have to be mechanical because they ultimately serve as a blueprint for a film, but I think the more descriptive a scene is, the easier it is for the reader to visualize what I picture in my own head.  A lot of older scripts had a very specific way of doing things, whereas, in modern ones, you see a lot of branching out into different styles and techniques.

What’s your next step in the industry? 
I would like to direct some short films in the future.  As for writing, I’d love to be able to maintain relationships in Los Angeles, but be based out of Greenville, and just travel when necessary.  That’s the beauty of writing: you can do it anywhere.

Did you write the script in Final Draft
Yes, but I started writing the story in a regular old word processor first.

For more information on The Big Break Screenwriting Competition, click here!


Anthony Gagnon

Screenwriter / Director

Anthony Gagnon is a writer/director, originally from Milwaukee, WI.  He grew up in a family of magicians and traveled the country as a juggler until deciding to attend film school. Since graduating from the American Film Institute in 2012, he has been heavily involved in the Los Angeles indie film scene, writing and directing shorts, music videos, features, and pilots. In addition, he’s a guitarist and songwriter in the metal band, Of the Earth.