Courtney Suttle Q & A
Courtney Suttle, an award-winning screenwriter, novelist and producer whose works have won him numerous awards in festivals and competitions worldwide. As for his writing, from his own pen – “…when I write about the darkside it’s because I moved in and setup shop, and when I write about the triumph of the human spirit, it’s because I experienced my own personal resurrection from the land of lost souls…” ￼
Filmmatic is pleased to announce Courtney as the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition Overall Winner. His screenplay, A Jungle Dark, was a hit with our judges. We sent Courtney a Q & A to see exactly what makes him tick, and he was kind enough to reply…
1) How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first short story in third grade. It was a “found” diary of a shipwreck survivor trapped on a raft in the middle of the ocean, who later died of thirst. Cheery, right? I received an A+ and a note to see the principal who seemed very concerned about such dark subject matter coming from an eight year old kid. I told the principal I liked thinking about different characters and putting them into “what if” situations. I liked that my writing fucked him up, made him think, made him question. I felt a sense of creative power even at that young age. I liked the juice. I’ve been writing ever since. Unfortunately, my academic career died a slow and painful death just like my protagonist in the story.
2) What screenwriting training have you received, are you self-taught?
I am self-taught. I toyed with earning a journalism degree from Texas A&M but after 12 years at one of the top private schools in the country I was burned out on academics. So, I left university (flunked out) and got in the bar business. I’d found my other calling. I loved slinging whiskey. I met a lot of sketchy characters, true denizens of the dark side. The booze biz served to inspire my “what if” scenarios until I crossed the line and became a character in one of my own stories. That deep dive into “research” landed me homeless on the streets of Dallas, TX and eventually in jail, facing a ten year stretch. Four years later, life experience in hand, I began work on my first novel. In 2000 I moved to LA, purchased three screenplays (Traffic, On the Waterfront, The Godfather) and used those to teach me the craft. After many years of trial and error here I am.
3) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, in the morning, late at night?
I write when inspired. I finished my latest novel, I, Vampire, in just over five weeks. The first draft came in at 411 pages and is one of the best things I’ve ever written. I wrote every day for six hours. You do the math. When I was done I slept for a week. I write when I have a deadline. I seem to perform very well under pressure. I received interest from a production company for a project I pitched at the Hollywood Pitch Festival last August. They requested the pilot on Monday. Unfortunately, I hadn’t written the damn thing yet. All I had was a short film version that had very little to do with what I’d pitched. Gulp! So I borrowed what little I could from the short film and hammered out a 56 page draft in two and half days. I have yet to hear back from that production company, but I can tell you that the pilot, A Jungle Dark, just won the Filmmatic Pitch Now Screenplay Competition along with the Paris LiftOff Film Festival and the International Independent Film Festival.
Finally, I DO NOT WRITE EVERY DAY! I don’t have a set routine. I encourage every writer out there to find what works for them and screw what everyone else says.
4) What genres do you lean towards? Is the majority of your work dramatic?
I’m all over the place. I wrote an award winning historical biopic, Fire on Ice, about the first Jewish athlete to win gold in the Winter Olympics of 1928 and 1932. I wrote two award winning horror shorts, Bad Karma and I Love You More. I’ve written a couple of award winning pilots, Lottery (dramatic thriller) and A Jungle Dark (suspense, psychological horror). My subject matter does tend to dwell in the dark side, and I love to write about crime.
5) Our judges loved your TV-Drama “A Jungle Dark”, how would you describe it to our readers?
Should I do the cheesy Hollywood comparison? “Thor” meets “The Big Lebowski” on the catwalk of “Project Runway”? No, fuck that. I can tell you that if you are a fan of the first season of True Detective, Sharp Objects, the Danish series, Forbrydelsen (The Killing), or the Scandinavian series, Broen (The Bridge), you’ll love A Jungle Dark.
6) Where did you get the idea for the unique plot/main character in “A Jungle Dark”?
Two incidents helped inspire the main character and story. In 2010 one of my favorite writers, Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, died. His estate hired other writers to keep his characters alive. They might have kept Spenser and Stone alive in subsequent books but they couldn’t keep Parker’s voice alive. That specific combination of witty, concise dialogue and economic style died with him. Then, in 2015 I got a job ghostwriting an inspirational/self-help book for an entrepreneur in Austin. I discovered how difficult it was to write in another person’s voice. I still break out in a cold sweat whenever I think about trying to complete that project. The grief of losing Parker coupled with the sheer terror/difficulty ghostwriting that fucking book birthed the character of Sarah Blue and her unique, dark gift to be able to write in any voice in any language on the planet. Then I went full on “what if” and tapped into the dark side, my adoption, and my own outlaw past, and came up with the plot for my novel, Mimic. What if Sarah and her amoral agent, John Jenks, preyed on writers who’d lost the ability to write due to addiction, death of a loved one, etc., and offered to anonymously write their next novel…for a price? The Faustian bargain worked for years until one day it turned on them and they became the prey. I submitted a few chapters of Mimic to the 2017 LaunchPad/Inkshares Manuscript Competition, which was established to find the next great book to turn into a movie. Mimic won the Mentorship Award. From the book I took a chapter and turned it into a short film and the short film birthed the TV pilot.
7) What are you working on now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
Currently, I am working on Lottery, a limited TV series set in Skid Row, drawn from my experience living under the bridges in Dallas. We’re shooting a POC trailer this spring. I have several scripts/novels I’m working on; Baghdad Blues (based on the true story of the biggest robbery in history), Taffy’s Song (set during the Welsh miner strikes of the 1920s-30s), Gabriel (Horror) and Franny’s Last Ride (Biopic of a deceased comedian). I’m also working on several novels/TV series; The Darklings (Crime Thriller), The Orphan Squad (Crime Thriller) and The King of Hong Kong (Crime Drama). I’m also working on the next two books in the I, Vampire trilogy, Darkness followed by Dominion.
8) Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay or pilot?
1. Research! Know your characters and settings before sitting down to write. And know the basic structure of how a screenplay/pilot works.
2. Write your last scene first! A story is a journey. If you don’t know where you’re going then how the fuck are you going to get there?
3. Get on with it. Don’t get bogged down.
4. Less is more! Economy of words will serve you.
5. No chase scenes. They’re boring AF. Instead concentrate on the emotional beats of your script.
6. No cliches. Limit your scene descriptions. Limit your character direction and shot selection, that’s what the director is for.
7. If you don’t agree with any of this, cool! Write YOU. Write YOUR story.
Congratulations once again to Courtney Suttle, the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition Overall Winner.
Filmmatic will forward all contact requests for Mr. Suttle to his attention. You can also find out more about Courtney and his work at Whiskeyslinger.com.