Spec Spotlight: Pete Barry discusses MARIAN
From playwrighting to the big screen, Pete Barry has been involved in creating stories and telling them in various mediums for a long time. With his recent script, he takes a twist on the character Marian from the original Robin Hood. The project has Margot Robbie attached to play Marian and is quickly moving along in the process. Pete shares his experience as well as how he came to being the hot up-and-coming screenwriter.
Q: How did you become part of the film industry as a screenwriter?
Pete: The first project I worked on was a short film that was a modernized version of Edgar Allen Poe stories. Strangely both projects started in the same place. It was a community online called MoviePoet – which is now sadly defunct – but I got hooked on it. It was a place where people used to come and write a lot of short scripts. There was a contest every month and I got hooked up with a filmmaker there. Marian also sort of came out of that community where there was a feature contest at one point. I started working on it back then.
Q: What got you started as a writer?
Pete: I think when I was about five years old and wrote my first comic strip – I wish I still had that, but I think it’s been lost to the ravages of time – it was always something that I was doing. When I was about eight, the local paper published one of little short stories and I think it was about a little boy who hits a baseball into a neighboring house. So, I was always writing. I was always doing a myriad of things like as a kid, my brothers and I would make little movies and whatnot. I got into theater. Did I ever sit down and say, “Hey, I wanna be a writer when I grow up?” I don’t think that ever occurred to me until…maybe two weeks ago – no. (LAUGHS). I’m not sure there was a point where I said, “Yes, I think I’m gonna be a writer. I think it was something I was doing along with other creative things like acting and playing music and songwriting.
Q: Well, writing is leading the way for you creatively. Is it something that you hope to continue pursuing or do you anticipate leaning into your other creative outlets as well?
Pete: My general philosophy is see where life takes me; although, right now, life is sort of pulling me in a very strong direction. I think if I can make a career out of this – which hopefully this is the first step towards – that would be great. I don’t see myself abandoning smaller projects. I’m also a published playwright; I’m not gonna stop writing plays. I’ll probably still write songs or whatever. I’ll probably keep writing various things. A lot of playwrights do end up in television or film because they…money among other things. But no, I mean – a lot of artists like to play with different mediums so if you have those things, it’s hard to give one up. That being said, you know, when something hits like this, then you want to pursue that avenue and that’s where career comes in and the other things start taking a backseat maybe for a little while.
Q: How have the other creative outlets impacted or influenced your writing?
Pete: I went to school for theater and at the time the school I was doing it was not – that was the only track you could do. You could do the tech track. Basically, if you were a theater major, you were and an actor. I wrote short stories and wrote fiction and I said, “I’ll take a hand in a play because then I can act in the thing that I wrote.” Essentially, I write with a partner sometimes. We had a couple plays that went up in New York in the National Fringe Festival and got a little bit of a buzz. I think he and I had the opposite of things: I was always writing and thought I can always be the person on the stage, that way my writing will be done right; he was an actor who eventually said, “I need a part for myself, so I’ll just write it and then I’ll do it.” I think these different paths lead you to writing in different ways. In my case, I think the writing was always there.
Q: What’s some highlights from your career so far?
Pete: Like I said, I’m a trained actor. The last most exciting thing that happened to me was I got one of my short plays accepted into the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Short Festival a couple years back and I got to act in my own play. And the best thing was although it was an Off-Off Broadway festival, but the house they had with Playwrights Horizons, the play extended its run. So, they bumped us up to an Off-Broadway theater. So technically, I played an Off-Broadway house in my own one-man play. And it was the most amazing thing until Margot Robbie walked into my life.
Q: What makes a success in your opinion?
Pete: I do feel extremely lucky. There’s all kinds of things that go into your success I think. And you cannot discount the luck part of it. But you also can’t discount the work part of it. I’ve been writing basically for my whole life. I don’t have quite the output as some writers, but I do write quite a bit and I’ve worked at it. I have quite a volume. I think every writer works differently and at their own pace and at their own learning speed. But it really helps to generate mounds and mounds of garbage to get to the gems that you’ll eventually create once you take an honest look at yourself and evaluate it. And then you need the luck that somebody wants to do that thing that you’re doing. With Marian, I got very fortunate that many people were looking for something like that at that time. I’m super happy that this was a script that got accepted. It’s one of the multitudes of things that I’ve written in my life. I’m very proud of the script.
Q: What was the inspiration for Marian?
Pete: Growing up, I loved Disney’s animated Robin Hood with the foxes. My daughter was about four years old, and I was like, “Oh, you gotta watch this thing.” And she saw it, she loved it. And I was like, “Wonderful. I’ve passed it on to my daughter.” And she says, “Daddy, can we go outside and play Robin Hood?” “Absolutely.” We went out to play Robin Hood. She’s like, “You’ll be Robin Hood. And I’ll be Maid Marian.” And I said, “Wonderful. What are we doing?” She says, “You – here’s a stick, you fight the bad guys.” I said, “Great. And what will you do?” She says, “I’ll watch. I’ll watch you fight the bad guys.” And I asked her don’t you want to fight the bad guys too? She said, “In the movie, Maid Marian just watches.” I thought maybe we should do something about that. So, I credit it to my daughter. When I started Marian, I did some actual research and in the original ballad of Robin Hood, there are many of them and it’s a lot of oral history so they all contradict each other. There are various forms of it. But here’s the funny thing: in one of the earliest ballads is Marian shows up as a messenger from Queen Elenore dressed as a page boy and whoops Robin’s ass. She wasn’t just a demure fox. She was actually the only person who could beat Robin Hood. So, I thought clearly that’s the Marian I want to write about.
Q: What is it about writing new twists on old stories that interests you?
Pete: I do like twists on already established stuff. That is something that I’ve always found interesting. I think I have a Sherlock Holmes somewhere. I’m probably not alone, but when you’re steeped in pop culture and you’re steeped in literature, there’s something about you want to make up your own stories with these characters. And so, saying, taking a twist on something that exists does call for me. The last play we put up in the New York Fringe Festival was exactly that. We did a twist on Antony and Cleopatra which, at the time we wrote it, it was 2011 in the middle of the Egyptian revolution, so we combined Cleopatra with the Arab Spring. Like I said, it is something that calls to me; however, having said that, I do also enjoy making things up off the cloth. When you do these pieces which are twists or interpretations or an already existing story, one of the things you get is a lot of procrastination. You could go research forever and just say, “Okay, I don’t need to write. I’m reading twelve books on my nightstand. I gotta get through these books before I put anything on paper.” Are you going and doing solid research or are you surfing and Googling like what kind of bow and arrow do they use in the twelfth century? So, that can be a thing to watch out for. Make sure you’re not drowning in research.
Q: Speaking of which, how much did you research for Marian?
Pete: I did do a lot of research for writing Marian. Marian was a very quick write. Once I had the knowledge in my head, it was like, boom. It’ just came out. In a sense, research can help you but you gotta watch out that you’re not just reading and ignoring writing.
Q: What was the process to getting representation?
Pete: So, once again, I chop this up to luck. It was a solid decision that led to a cascade of events. Essentially, I put the script into a few contests. I only submitted it to the Nicholl’s Fellowship and they didn’t want it. Then, I submitted it to the Tracking Board Launchpad. If my story is any indication of what they can do, I would recommend it to every person. It was a great experience. Marian made the first-round cut. Almost immediately, Chris Contreras (who runs the contest) got in touch with me. Once you make that cut, then you are part of their family and they’re gonna try to get your stuff out to the people who need to see it. He put me in touch with the producer Ron who knew David Boxerbaum at Paradigm. It was basically once I made that cut, it went from Chris to Ron to David to Margot – it was an amazingly fast chain reaction. Once it got noticed by the right people, that’s basically what happened.
Q: That’s extraordinary!
Pete: Yeah. And I think if a writer were wondering how does that happen, again, this just happened to me. I’m not an industry insider by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it genuinely is a combination of I worked really hard on the script and it really sings. So, it was the culmination of all the years of work and attention to the script to make it as iconic. And it was the fortune of the right person saw it and loved it, and gave it to the hands of the right people for it. And I will say that Marian, it is right for this time. Right now, with Wonder Woman coming out in the summer and we got Rey [from Star Wars] up on the screen. Women are rising in the cinema as well they should. And a funny thing, I went on IMDB the day the news broke, and I already got haters. People are like, “Hollywood putting out more of this trash.” And again, it’s funny because I can understand their point-of-view. I am very proud, and I think it’s going to be an amazing movie. But I can see the point-of-view of like, “Well, this is Hollywood just cashing in.” I wrote this five-six years ago when there was no trend. I don’t deny that I hit a nerve on the zeitgeist right now. And that is a happy accident. I would suggest honing your craft is the utmost important and write stories that mean to you. I will go against some people who advise me to say you have to look at the market. Yes, you can look at the market. I’m not saying don’t look at the market. But I don’t think I could’ve thought this one through. I got lucky in that sense. Now, the next piece I will take the market into consideration. I’ll say, “Alright, now that I’m in a place where this is my job that I can do, then yes. Absolutely. I’ll take it into consideration.” That’s part of your job now.
Q: Sure. I mean, there’s no linear or scientific way to make a career happen in Hollywood.
Pete: Right. I think the agent who’s repping me now, he just has a taste and he has to know that his taste works because as soon as it’s gone, then he’s in the water. He can’t sell something. He doesn’t just have the taste to know what he likes. And I think part of that is having his finger on the pulse of the town and the industry. There’s some undefinable quality that he may be looking for and that’s very hard to second guess. You can do it, I’m sure. But it’s hard. You have to buckle down and get that sixth sense of what that market’s going to be. If you’re a writer and don’t have that, I think I would advise you to pursue your passion rather than to pursue the market. I may stand alone on that. You can agree or not agree with me but you must have heart in your writing. You never know where that market is going to go next.
Q: What is it that makes things stand out?
Pete: That brings it back to how did this happen. Eventually — and weirdly and not always – the cream rises to the top. When you make something that is professional level and then put it out in the world, people are gonna notice it and be like, “Wow. That is something that I want to see, and I want to do, and I want to be a part of it.”
Q: I saw you are part of a community called The Porch Room.
Pete: The Porch Room is theater-based with a little bit of film group. We don’t have a space; we used to call us a homeless theater company. But we seek out the spaces that we produce our stuff in and then we write, direct, act and whatever. It’s very much the model of what I grew up in. In my heart, it’s what making art is. I went to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The Porch Room is a reference to a theater house that I was in before they tore it down. A lot of those people in this theater house came out at a very specific time where they sort of had this mentality of forming communities. There’s a group of people who eventually formed the company called Broken Umbrella Theater Company. They put on theater themselves; they’re all the actors and the producers and the writers and the directors. And they found a niche making art in this community. They all became artists all on their own terms. One of our theater professors, Charles Richter, he loved the age bracket of his kids. They may not be – by the standards of are they on Broadway? Are they in Hollywood – well, now one of them is Charlie. But are they super rich recording stars? No. But they are making art in their own communities surrounded by loved ones who love to do that art and making it happen. And they make a difference. They’re an artistic fundamental part of that community now. And thinking about that makes me smile because they were able to do that. The Porch Room, now, the artists involved have, in various times, moved and scattered to the wind. We are all on the East Coast. But we mostly do our work by phone, by email, by internet. And we find a place locally and submitted to the New York International Fringe Festival.
Q: It seems like having an artistic community is very helpful.
Pete: If you’re just a writer, that can be difficult. There are writing groups everywhere. Even where I live, there’s a local writing group where I can go and write with those people. Writing can be kind of a solitary thing. I understand that can be a little difficult. But, if you are a dramatic writer, a fiction writer, then I think it behooves you to go check out your community theaters, go check out all those artists and say, “How can I find a community of likeminded people who aren’t just ‘I’m gonna write a play and ship it off to regional theaters and hope that they do it’” – which is a good idea – but “I’m gonna write a play and I’m gonna be in it down at the park.” “I’m gonna go put this up in my garage and invite the neighborhood kids over to see it.” With YouTube, you can make your own TV show right now. You can get out your camera, get all your friends, and go make content. This will also teach you something that’s hard for as a writer which is how to take criticism. It’ll teach you to be like, “What you wrote is not perfect. And maybe someone has a vision that can make it grow and not just let it hit a brick wall.” I would say yes, finding a community of likeminded people is vital to growing and you can put up your work in a certain capacity. That can certainly help you. It’s a lot of fun.
Marian is currently in development. Barry is represented by David Boxerbaum at Paradigm and Andrea Dimity of Pannon Entertainment.
Script Supervisor / Screenwriter
Originally from Aurora, CO, Roe Moore is a script supervisor, screenwriter, and emerging director based in Los Angeles, CA. She has worked on commercials, film, and television shows. Her favorite number is 2 and she loves dachshunds. More can be found on her website: www.RoeMoore.com.