2006 screenplay finalist and 2008 semifinalist
What is your name, company name, and URL?
Jim Barker - no url!
What is your specialty: filmmaking or screenwriting? If filmmaking, which aspects?
What are you currently working on?
I just finished going through a number of scripts, polishing them and getting ready to query - one of which was a finalist here a few years ago that eventually won 1st place in another competition. Writing (and re-writing) itself will only get one so far and I've had to devote a lot of time on the marketing side which, in turn, lead me to studying a lot of neuroscience and the science of storytelling in general as opposed to just the art and "how to" of it.
Who do you consider your mentor and why?
Gosh, there are so many story gurus out there that I've read and learned from over the years, it would be too hard to single any one of them out - so I'll go with a revered filmmaker instead: Akira Kurosawa. Although his films aren't horror/thrillers, they're very humanistic and touch upon universal themes that lend themselves to horrors we can all relate to, whether it's the horrors of war in "Ran" or the quiet, existential suffering a man is subjected to once he learns he has stomach cancer and has only a year to live in "Ikiru". Those humanistic elements, when applied to horror or thrillers, elevate the material to an entirely different level.
Why do you think the horror/sci-fi genres have such a large following?
I think I touched in some of that above, but with sci-fi - especially good sci-fi, we're able to see and experience the human condition in ways and contexts that we may not have thought about previously. "Her" is a blend of genre-types, sci-fi being one of them, but it unfolds in such a way - taking a potentially alienating idea and allowing us to experience the humanistic side of it. Good horror can work in much the same way, often as a mirror held up to society with a message contained within (a movie like "The Exorcist", for example, is really about a priest having lost faith and forced to find it again in order to save a little girl).
What do you love most about this business?
The art and creativity - having something to say, finding a somewhat unique and compelling way to say it and having other people praise your work and want to push it up the ladder is gratifying.
What do you dislike most about this business?
That ultimately it is a business and that you have to understand the wants and needs of others. There's also a lot of hypocrisy in that readers will often lament on something you've written as perhaps not being original, yet you go to the local cineplex and there's nothing but sequels, remakes and reboots galore.
What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
At this point, as noted above, having others love your work enough to pass it along - whether it's to someone at WME or to a manager, it's a telling sign I'm on the right track. Although I've won several contests and been a finalist in numerous others - as well as having strong considers on my first five scripts that were passed along to others, including one that was a very first draft, I have not personally made the effort to get my work out there because I have my own standards... but it's flattering to have others believe my stories are ready!
Any advice you'd like to give to newbies?
If this is something you REALLY want to do, know that it's a marathon and not a sprint. Pace yourself. Learn as much as you can, but also outside of screenwriting itself: pick up books on psychology; learn how people behave and why they do the things they do. And most importantly, have something to say (writing with a theme in mind) - because that's going to be part of "your voice" and help separate yourself from others, ESPECIALLY if you're writing from something that's personal and comes within.
Anything else you'd like to say?
You only get one shot to make a first impression and luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so make sure you're well prepared when a door does open! Many writers have concepts that draw interest and open doors, but if you haven't mastered storytelling - and there's a LOT to master - you may end up finding the experience of success short-lived.