Tom Zupicich is a senior studying Communications Media with an emphasis in Screenwriting.
Nick Jones: What drew you towards going into Screenwriting as an emphasis?
Tom Zupicich: While there is an aspect of producing I like, screenwriting is the much more creative aspect that drew me to it, and I guess I’m much more creatively oriented than business oriented. I think thats the best way to say it.
NJ: As far as scripts that you enjoy to write, do you like to pursue more television style or more feature-length script?
TZ: I think its interesting, ’cause, it depends on what the story needs to be. I basically write down any idea I have- anywhere, I just write it down. Even if its a bit of an idea, or its a log line, or a dream I had. But, when it comes to me deciding what I want to do, a story idea I really want to make, there are certain stories I feel like deserve to be a television show or a miniseries cause there’s too much to contain in one feature and there’s stories where its just a contained feature. That’s basic logic, but whenever I write something new, that’s how I view it- which medium [the story] is best fit for.
NJ: Were there any films or tv shows specifically that inspired you to pursue a career in this industry?
TZ: I guess, something that inspired me the most, is Its a Wonderful Life, old Jimmy Stewart movie, Frank Capra film from the 40’s. I’d say that is the key movie that made me want to go into film. I think it’s fascinating cause it’s a movie thats been around for almost a century and it’s a movie that still impacts people around the world, all the time. Every holiday season, everyone watches it, everyone’s impacted by it, and inspired by it. So has my family been, so have I been.
What’s interesting is most of the people who made that movie are dead. And most people don’t even know who Jimmy Stewart, or the director is. Most people don’t know who the editor or the sound person or the screenwriter is for that movie. But, that’s what’s nice about art. You can make something and, even though people won’t remember you specifically, you’re art will live on after you, and keep affecting others, hopefully in a positive way.
NJ: Definitely. Is there anything in the story that inspired you creatively as well?
TZ: I guess I relate to it.
NJ: Yeah. There is that reliability in it. Like you said, it’s still popular even though its be like seventy or eighty years. That’s a long time for it to still hold true to this day. So, as a screenwriter, how do you work through your creative process?
TZ: I’m currently working on seven different projects. I’m writing three features on my own. One’s a miniseries I’m adapting from a Superman comic, thats just for the heck of it, a hobby I guess. I’m adapting a feature, and a television show with a friend. And, I’m writing a play with another friend. What’s been interesting is that, I feel like all of those, each of those seven projects, I’ve been tackling differently. So, I guess to give an example, co-writing is very different than writing on your own, obviously, because then you have someone to work against.
Currently, recently actually, I’ve been trying to get in the habit of writing features that have very small casts and in a very contained location. So, a couple months ago, I thought “I’m going to write a script about two people talking in a Denny’s”. And I wrote 66 pages in 7 days. A lot of it is just autobiographical, and based on my experience of talking to people late at night, at restaurants and stuff. But again, that was kind of like, I set myself on it and just went for it. But then on the other hand, I’m adapting the Superman script that I mentioned, and so far, that process is very different than writing on a whim. I’m starting off by writing down all the dialogue that’s already in the book and then kind of going through the descriptions and kind of figuring out how do I write the dialogue to fit script format better. And then also, I’m writing a feature for Advanced Writing Seminar One. I did beat sheet, I did hero questions, and stuff like that.
I guess what I’m trying to summarize is: it differs with every script and with every person you might write with. Whenever I start writing something, I have an idea, or a log line that I want, usually a solid beginning and a solid ending, depending on how I feel that day, I might write the scenes in my head and develop it along the way. For me, the most important thing is to do some kind of writing, and not just get lost in development. I’m trying to force myself now to just get it on the page.
NJ: That’s a lot of writing projects you have. What motivates you to keep writing?
TZ: Within the last year or two, I’ve been forcing myself to get into the habit of watching, reading, or writing something every day. I want to be make myself either learn things creatively or actually be creative.
Ya know, when you watch things all the time, and I’m constantly in the state of watching new things, soon enough you watch new things and it helps to inspire you on what you want to write next. The other reason I’m trying to write so much is cause, sometimes you’re working on one story, but you might not be necessarily in the mood to write that story. Because I have six other different things I’m working on, this way, its depending on how im feeling, I can go to one of those other projects and take a mental break from the main one I’m working on. I can go back and forth between projects and slowly push them all in a forward direction.
NJ: I think one of the hardest things about being in writing, is just writing itself. So it’s one of those creative struggles.
TZ: That’s kind of the nice thing about having writing partners. If you have someone else to work against, it allows you to focus better. Sometimes you’ll be more productive in two hours with another person than you are in a week by yourself, working on a feature.
As Professor Riley says, when you finish writing a feature, you’ve done something that most people in the world haven’t done. And thats what I think makes me a bit proud that I’m working on so many projects. I don’t think about it too much. I’m not overwhelmed until people ask me about it and I say “I’m working on seven projects”. It’s exciting. It’s exciting and scary. But I did an internship in L.A. The little I learned from the internship there about Hollywood- Hollywood is all about being excited and scared at the same time.
NJ: Since you mentioned the internship, want to talk about how that started?
TZ: I took a quarter off in the Fall, Fall 2017, and I moved up to L.A. with my sister for three months, and I did an internship at a place called Smart Entertainment. I worked from October to March, 2018. It was a great experience. They’re a video production company that helped with Seth McFarlane projects, such as the Ted movies, Family Guy, American Dad, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, they’ve helped to make low budget thrillers, such as The Boy Next Door with Jennifer Lopez. That internship was a great experience.
NJ: What was the one thing that really stuck out to you, that you learned from that experience, especially in screenwriting or just in your career as a filmmaker?
TZ: The one thing that stuck out to me the most was the importance of collaboration. The way I learned this was, Travis, who’s the assistant there, had to step out for a bit, and I had to take over phone calls. And Zach, who’s the Head of Smart Entertainment in LA, was taking a phone call and I had to listen in to take notes on their phone call meeting. At some point Zach asked this producer over the phone, “Hey did you meet that commercial director we were talking about,” and the guy says, “Yeah, never gonna work with him.” And Zach said “Oh really was he that much of a d***?” and he said, “Nah nah, he’s a great guy. Not a collaborator.”
He worked in commercials for 10 to 12 years, and you wonder why he hasn’t done a feature yet? Not a collaborator. That was kind of interesting to hear. That’s something important to learn, especially at [JPCatholic]. I think kids really get a great sense of collaboration when Senior Projects come around. When I first came I felt like I had to do everything, so it was kind of interesting to hear how important collaboration is, how important teamwork is within Hollywood. There were other phone calls where they fired writers because the writers didn’t want to write with them, or writers had a specific vision but didn’t want to take their notes. Even being a writer, ya know, you have to learn how to collaborate with the directors and the producers. Something I’m trying to learn as a screenwriter is when someone gives me critiques or advice, I try to take it the best way I can. And try to apply it as best to my scripts as possible.
NJ: And with Senior Projects, how have you been involving yourself for this year?
TZ: I was an associate producer for both Playing Ourselves and Franklin Street. Most often I’m kind of helping with finances and fundraising, along the way.
NJ: How’s that process been so far?
TZ: Its been good, Playing Ourselves is already funded, and already shot, so its in post-[production]. Franklin Street is still funding, but it looks like we’re gonna make enough for the short to be what we want it to be.
NJ: Are there any aspirations that you want to achieve in screenwriting? What do you kind of feel like your mission statement is? What do you want to express in the art that you create?
TZ: I think its an interesting question, and that question is really hard for me to answer, because like, I’m young. I’m twenty one, and I’m still trying to figure out what I’m good at writing. Not to bash other students, or bash other friends, who say they are good at writing or like to write this. But I think its unfair for me to say what things I want to write, I know exactly who I am. I mean I’m always learning and changing, and I’m sure whatever I’m gonna write now is gonna change with whatever I write in ten years. I mean, at this point in my life, I’ve tried to write stories that revolve around masculinity and trying to tear down the facade of toxic masculinity. That’s something I’m very passionate about. I’m very much a feminist.
NJ: How would you define a feminist?
TZ: Exactly how its defined in the definition. Social and economic equality for men and women. There’s an issue of “macho” masculinity. That’s what I call toxic masculinity. I think its interesting cause the times where I’m writing a script, and I’ll purposefully switch the gender, cause I think it’ll make a more interesting story. If you think of a terrified mother taking care of a toddler, I’ll think, its more interesting if its a father, cause usually to see a father scared with their child almost seems like emasculating things, but seeing a father scared and terrified with their child is human, and its real.
I want to join what Hollywood is currently pushing towards. I feel like there are shows out there that have really good masculine characters. I also like films that are analogies for the harm of toxic masculinity. I love Shape of Water. That was one of my favorite films last year. Michael Shannon’s character is basically the harm toxic masculinity puts on society, and what it puts out the real world, on his business, on his family. There are films that have more positive roles too [for masculinity]. I would say Black Panther is a good example.
NJ: What kind of shows do you watch?
TZ: I like a little bit of everything. Music in TV shows will help motivate me to write better. If I’m trying to get in a certain mindspace, then I might listen to the soundtrack of the Hobbit or the Jungle Book. When it comes to writing a script with heavy dialogue, then I might watch a tv show that has very heavy dialogue, like Gilmore Girls.
If you’re a film person, you should make an effort to watch and read a little bit everyday, because the more you do that, the more you learn. And me just trying to watch an episode of something everyday, each new thing is a new story, and a new way to tell the story. I think I’ll say this, the more I’ve watched and the more I’ve read, I can more analyze and articulate what I didn’t like more in depth.