Justin Moran is a playwright, screenwriter, and one heck of a nice guy currently residing in Los Angeles.
Justin won the 2019 Inroads Screenwriting Fellowship competition with his gritty “Space Western” pilot aptly entitled “Rust”. We sent Justin a few questions after his win, and he was nice enough to respond:
1) How long have you been writing? Only Screenplays?
Writing has always been a passion of mine. I went to college for dramatic writing and spent over a decade in NYC writing musicals… In fact, even though I live in LA these days, a new musical I wrote is opening this Spring Off-Broadway. As far as screenplays, it has only been about 3 years so far. A lot of the knowledge is transferable, strong dialog and rich characters are important everywhere… but in my screenplays people don’t break into song.
2) What screenwriting training have you received, are you self-taught?
Self-taught. I think the best teaching instrument is reading the scripts to the movies/tv shows that you like and see how they tick.
In all fairness, I did study playwriting and those Venn-diagrams really overlap, but there are a lot of nuances that apply to screenplays that you can’t get away with on stage. But pacing, and the actual nuts-and-blots of formatting a TV pilot came from reading them.
3) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, in the mornings mainly, late at night…?
My life during the week is fairly encumbered. I have a family with two young children that require more energy than I’ve had since my twenties, so getting any writing done in our apartment is an uphill battle in the best of times. I find that what works best for me is planting myself in a coffee shop on the weekends and crushing as many pages as I can in 3 or 4 hours a day, both Saturday and Sunday. It’s probably not ideal, most of the prevailing wisdom tells you to write every day, but for me, I’d rather churn out 5-15 really solid pages in a weekend instead of 3-5 mediocre pages a day… which is what would happen if I tried writing at home. There’s a great quote, I forget who said it originally, but it’s: “Productivity isn’t about time management, it’s about focus management.” And that has become the mantra for my writing.
4) What is your pilot, “Rust”, about?
Rust is about a small crew of down-on-their-luck miners trying to scrape out a living in a world where large corporations are muscling out all the smaller operations.
In the pilot, our heroes happen upon an old shipwreck, which launches them into a world of bounty hunters, terrorists, and a mammoth mining conglomerate set on keeping old mistakes buried.
It’s set in the asteroid belt and is very much a ‘Space Western’… space ships, gunfights, etc. But in its heart, it’s about the blue-collar struggle in a declining rust-belt.
5) Where did the concept for “Rust” come from?
The seeds for the concept were planted when Elon Musk gave a speech (or maybe it was a tweet) about how the wealth of humanity is sitting out there in the asteroid belt if we can only safely get to it. Basically, why risk the Earth when there are precious metals sitting out in space waiting for us?
The other half of the concept came from my love of the reality show Deadliest Catch, if you haven’t seen it it’s about crab fisherman on the Bering Sea. It’s a high-risk, high-reward job where in the first season alone a few people died, but everyone who made it back earned a year’s worth of profits in three months.
Those two ideas seemed very related in that mining the asteroid field would be very high-risk, so it would end up (like most high-risk jobs) a blue-collar one, and high-reward so it would be ultra-competitive with the big guys always trying to muscle the little guys out of existence.
6) What genres do you lean towards? Only science fiction projects, or?
I love high-concept dramas. They don’t have to be sci-fi or fantasy necessarily, but I do gravitate towards scripts where some element is at least a little heightened beyond reality. Some unique element that can be singular to a particular show.
7) What are you writing now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
Right now I’m working on a new TV Pilot script, it’s a procedural set in a rural Alaskan village near the arctic circle. In the sparsely populated parts of Alaska, there are no local police forces, only “Volunteer Safety Officers” and if something bad happens, it can take a while before the state police can even get there.
It’s an arctic noir, night lasts for months and the nearest help is a few days away.
8) Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?
Don’t edit or revise as you write the first draft. Vomit out the first draft and THEN go back through it. If you start editing or re-reading every time you open the file up, you’ll never get through the first draft.
Congratulations once again to Justin Moran, the 2019 Inroads Screenwriting Fellow. All contact requests for Mr. Moran will be forwarded to his attention.