Monday, May 25, 2009

Interview with Betsy Morris, Screenwriter, Ten Inch Hero

Betsy, thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview for Supernatural Sisters! As you know, your movie, Ten Inch Hero, came to our attention because one of its stars is Jensen Ackles. But during the long filmmaking process, and as you all worked to get distribution, we came to love the movie for itself--even before we saw it!

Well, thank you very much. Truly, the friends we’ve made during this process have been amazing. We’re so grateful for all their support!

But I want to back up and start at the beginning. How did you become a screenwriter? Do you do any other kind of writing?

I’m a technical writer by trade. Many of us consider creative writing, of course, but I never really explored that. Then, I read a copy of the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, and the light bulb went on. I love film, and it had never really dawned on me that someone actually writes films. I know, I’m a slow learner, huh?

The internet was so helpful as well. I was living in Maryland when I first started writing screenplays, and I think I would have been very isolated without writers’ sites and groups. Plus, as a working mom, I do lots of my writing at night or really early in the morning. If I had to relying on a group that physically met every Thursday at 7, I couldn’t do it.

How much involvement the original writer has in the production of a movie varies quite a bit. You seem to have been heavily involved all the way through Ten Inch Hero. How did this come about? How much time did you get to spend on set and in the editing booth, etc?

The decision about involving the writer generally comes from the director and, to a lesser extent, the producers. The stories of writers being blocked from the set are legendary.

In my case, well, David and Mark have ruined me for all other production teams! They were so open and approachable, and they included me in anything. Any limitations were imposed by me, just because life interferes sometimes, and I haven’t figure out how to be three places at once yet!

What was it like, seeing your vision come to fruition during the different stages? Once a written work is turned over for production by many hands and minds, the vision is no longer just the original writer’s. So how close was the final product to what you pictured?

Very close, actually. I can’t believe how tightly they stayed to the script. A few scenes were cut, just in the interest of keeping the film moving. But really, it’s so close.

I’m pretty solid on the notion that a script is just a blue print, that everyone involved in a film contributes to the final product. I love the collaborative process—I think actors, the director, even the makeup people (or especially the makeup people in our case), can only add to the quality of the product.

Now I’m sure there will be times I’ll have to eat those words, but for Ten Inch Hero, that was certainly my experience.

The TIH family seems to be a close one. Was the set and post-production as intimate as other interviews/blogging/the film itself made it seem?

Yep, it was a close set. I think indie films just lend themselves to that.

Okay, Ive worked up to this, but Ill get strung up if I avoid it any longer. :)

The Jensen Questions.

How was he cast (audition, invitation, etc.)?

Honestly, I wasn’t involved in the initial contact, so I don’t know. I think David has addressed that question, but I don’t have personal knowledge. Sorry! :-)

When you first found out hed be playing Priestly, what were your thoughts? (That works/no way/meh/we'll see/ohyesperfect/none of the above)

Well, I knew he wanted it, but he was very much against part. Priestly was supposed to be sort of a Seth Green type.

Mark, David, and I talked about it, and they were quite sold on him. I did some web surfing, and saw the fan support for Jensen. Then I watched Supernatural, and I knew he’d be just fine. (My husband and older daughter had been watching the show, but I hadn’t—probably because I was upstairs writing!)

Did he embody the character you wrote, or did Priestly morph once Jensen interpreted him?

Yes and yes. I wrote words on a page…it’s up to the actor to make him a living, breathing character. Jensen did a terrific job. I’d love to see him do more comedy.

Okay, back to you.


Oh, no, very far from it! :) In addition to Ten Inch Hero, you have a co-writing credit and co-producing credit on Last Call at Murrays, which sounds almost as good as Ten Inch Hero. What can you tell us about this film?

Er…it’s dead. Or maybe just in a really deep sleep. We’ll see.

This is just the world of independent film. I have two other indie projects in the same situation. Maybe we’ll get them made, maybe not. There’s nothing you can do, but write the next one!

Heres where I get bold. :)

Bring it, woman! You don’t scare me! :-)

See why I love this woman? LOL

As novelists, we here at Supernatural Sisters know how hard it is to break into any level of professional writing. Most of the authors I know have day jobs, or waited a really long time before writing became their day job. So Im always you have a day job, and if so, how well does it mesh with being a screenwriter? Is it something youre also passionate about, or just a way to get by until the screenwriting suffices on its own?

Ha! Yeah, I guess most of us walk that wire, huh?

No, I’m very conservative that way. As long as I have bills to pay, I’m going to keep working the day job. I enjoy Tech Writing, and I work with great people (most of my department drove up and saw TIH at the Newport Beach film fest!). So, since “independently wealthy” is apparently off the table, this is a fine alternative.

Yes, I do wish there were more hours to write, but I also know that my daily experiences make me a better writer. For example, a script of mine called e-LOVE just won the Austin Film Festival…and it’s set in an office, with engineers as the main characters. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t know that life first hand.

Congratulations on the win!

I loved Ten Inch Hero. I loved the personalities, and how each distinct story thread came back to the sandwich shop, where they had the kind of friendships and support system I think most of us long to have (or are grateful to have, if were lucky). Priestly and Jen, specifically, broke my heart several times.

But I have to say, many of us were disappointed that to get his hearts desire, Priestly had to change. I can see that maybe his appearance and attitude were a form of hiding, and he had to have the courage to come out from behind themthis fit the theme of the movie as a whole. But if hed been female, and had changed to catch the guy she wanted...well, the response probably would not be pretty. :)

So we were wondering (honest, theres a question at the end of this!) this how you originally wrote the screenplay? If not, how did it come to change? And if so, can you give us some insight into your thoughts on the sequence?

Yes, this question has come up. Honestly it took me by surprise. It wasn’t something I expected to have upset people. Somehow, I think it’s more intense because Jensen cleans up so nicely…if it had been cast with an actor more close to the way the character is described in the script, it may not have been an issue.

My take is this: it’s a film. Everyone is welcome to interpret it the way they want. I kinda hate it when writers say “But, you missed the point, this is what you SHOULD have felt.” It doesn’t work that way! We all take our own interpretation away from any movie or book.

That said, here’s the way I see it, and again, your mileage may vary:

Boaz, well he is one strange guy. He realizes early on that people are going to judge him for his looks. He goes into a club, and girls are all over him, but the moment he starts talking about his conspiracies and God knows what else, the girls are making excuses and running for the door.

So he learns that women think he’s strange. And his response to this is “Screw you, I’ll show you strange.” And that’s when Priestly was born. In some ways, the ’hawk and the shirts and everything else are his armor. The girls in clubs leave him alone now, and he’s fine in his isolated world.

At no point does Tish say “Hey, I’d jump your bones if it wasn’t for all the piercings.” We see his affection for her, long before she does. He’s hiding it well. She only just realizes that maybe he’s interested when he stomps out of the shop after Jen stands up Fuzzy. And again, when he tackles Tad. That’s why, when they’re at Trucker’s, she looks right at him and says “Nice guys don’t ask me out.”

So, she’s sending the signals, but he’s not asking. Why? Because Priestly feels he has to stand before her (as Zo says in the last scene), naked and needy. Priestly doesn’t have to change for Tish; Priestly chose to expose what he considers his weakness to her (which also explains his outrage over Jen’s treatment of Fuzzy).

In other words, he knows that Tish likes Priestly, but he has to know that she can love Boaz before he can risk it.

Why is he still Banana Republic in the last scene? Well, it’s a wedding. Everyone is dressed up, except Zo and Trucker, God love ’em! And that’s significant…now he can choose how he wants to look. He’s not hiding behind anything. He still has his shirts and kilt.

Whew! Probably more than you wanted, but there it is. But really, I’m fine with people not buying that…as I said, everyone sees a movie differently.

Thanks for the insight, Betsy, and though I can’t speak for anyone else, I totally see it and love him even more for it.

Would you like to tell us what you’re working on now, and what’s upcoming? We are and will continue to be fans, calling as much attention as we can to your work!

Well, thank you for that!! Right now, I’m trying to find a home for e-LOVE, and I’m working on a new comedy called Junk Bonds (cowritten with Brian Beatty, who also co-wrote Last Call at Murray’s with me). I’ll be sure to let you know if anything develops. Wait, did I say IF? I mean WHEN! :-)

Thanks for the questions!

Thank YOU, Betsy, for taking the time to answer them, even the bold ones. :)

Ten Inch Hero is available on DVD and can be rented at your local Blockbuster or via the Blockbuster Online service, and can be purchased at Amazon or directly here, where they also offer the TIH crew T-shirt!

Other links:
TIH Blogger blog

TIH MySpace

TIH official website

Betsy Morris MySpace


MJFredrick said...

Betsy, thanks so much for being here! I LOVED Ten Inch Hero. It's one of my favorite movies that I've seen this year (and I see a lot of movies.) I love your explanation of Priestly's transformation, too. I look forward to your next movie.

AuthorM said...

I loved this movie. I bought it. I have the t-shirt. I will watch it again and again, because it's just that good.


Trish Milburn said...

This was such an interesting interview. Betsy, thanks so much for being our guest.

I'm going to have to buy this movie because it's not available on Netflix. But it sounds fantastic. Quirky characters, great story, Jensen -- what's not to love? :)

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview! I'm so happy to have you here, Betsy. I loved the movie--own it!--and look forward to your next project.

Victoria said...

Great interview!
I also love this movie and for more than just Jensen.
:) V.