Jai Brandon is an accomplished screenwriter, actor and filmmaker living in New York City.
Jai recently won Season 4 of the Filmmatic Horror Screenplay Awards with his gritty thriller “Whispers from the Watchtower”. We sent Jai a few questions after his win, and he was nice enough to respond:
1) How long have you been writing?
I first typed “FADE IN” for a short script back in 2009. I started writing because I grew frustrated by the lack of opportunities to audition (I’m an actor as well). I’ve always considered myself a creative, but up until that short script, I’d never had an interest in writing.
The things we do out of frustration!
Screenwriting opened a new gateway for creativity and I shifted my focus from acting, to creating stories I believed an audience would be willing to pay to see. I still consider myself an actor first and foremost, but I thought writing a kick-ass script would be a faster way to break into the industry, so most of my time and energy has been spent behind the keyboard. In fact, the picture I’ve included here is a headshot from 2010. Don’t judge me, bro!
2) What screenwriting training have you received?
I was trained to write in the back alley of a place called “The Shuck & Jive.” My master’s name was Splinter and I owe him my life for whipping my wordsmith skills into shape… Doesn’t that sound infinitely more interesting than “I’m a self-taught screenwriter”? Well, I am and I’ve never taken a screenwriting class. The first book I came across, Save The Cat, was read years after I had already begun my journey. I owe many thanks to screenwriting peers who weren’t afraid to tell me my early attempts *ahem* weren’t there yet.
3) What writing habits work for you? Do you write in short or long shifts, binge writing or scheduled sessions?
I don’t subscribe to any writing habits. I’ve spent anywhere from a few minutes to ten hours in one sitting. If my creative juices are flowing, then I’ll peck away at the keyboard until they run their course.
4) What genres do you lean towards? Are all of your works thrillers?
I’ve written at least one thriller, horror, comedy, action, and drama. I’m a fan of a well-told story, regardless of genre, so I never wanted to limit myself to writing one particular script. The idea, or premise, will always weigh most heavily for me. I will say that comedy probably comes easiest. Those who’ve read Whispers probably noticed it had its fair share of levity. It’s my belief that comedy makes a story more enjoyable, but I can’t say that I consciously make an effort to include it. It just sort of happens.
As far as the other genres, the horror was probably the most difficult to write. I don’t know how the great Stephen King does it, because I’m definitely not in a hurry to create another one!
5) Our judges loved “Whispers from the Watchtower“, how would you describe the script to producers?
First, I’d like to thank the judges for loving the story! I think it works well because it carries a great deal of dramatic irony. I’d describe the script to producers no differently than the logline: you have a well-known skeptic whose daughter goes missing and the impoverished urbanite who comes along to help find her claims to be psychic. It’s a classic whodunit with a supernatural twist.
6) “Whispers from the Watchtower” seems like a very viable project. Any 3rd party interest thus far? Where/how are you shopping it?
A not so funny story: the script landed me a manager at 3 Arts and had interest on one of its first stops, but inexplicably that manager disappeared, completely, for reasons still unbeknownst to me. As a now unrepresented writer, it’s difficult to get material in front of eyes that matter, so that’s where I am with Whispers. Still waiting for it to find a home.
7) What are you working on now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
Another not so funny story: a producer read my horror and reached out to me about rewriting his Marvin Gaye biopic. The WGA rewrite fee is a $23,000 minimum, but I’m not in the union, so I couldn’t realistically expect even half that amount. I told him I felt his script required a page one rewrite and that wasn’t something I’d feel comfortable doing for free. He said, “sounds good, let’s talk on the phone.” We spoke at length discussing the biopic and at the end of the call he told me, “in terms of economics, I can’t pay you anything” and just like that all the air went out of the balloon. I politely declined his offer. However, since I had begun researching all things Marvin and had ideas swimming in my head, I decided to pen Marvin’s story on my own accord, so that’s what I’m working on now. Dr. Dre has the music rights to the film and is interested in producing the biopic, so if anyone knows him or his people, ask them to reach out to me!
In the future I plan on writing a comedy about Dominoes. Not the pizza joint, the game. I’m an avid player of the “fives up” style and in my opinion the only thing Poker has over it is notoriety and the fact that more than four can play at once. Through an entertaining movie, I’d like to expand the game beyond its primary areas of California and the South.
8) Any advice for those about to write their first feature or pilot?
Just jump in and get to writing! My growth came from reading professional screenplays, writing scripts, sending those scripts out for feedback, and giving feedback to others on their work. If you do those four things and you do them often, you will grow as a writer, no question. I also think it’s important to name the script that took the shackles off my dialogue – Diablo Cody’s “Juno.” I felt the characters’ voices were so unhinged and free, they could say whatever they wanted at any given moment. Didn’t feel like a writer was guiding them, so to read something like that helped immensely. The last thing I’ll say to those about to write their first feature or pilot… Good luck! It’s a jungle out there, so bring a machete.
Congratulations once again to Jai Brandon, the Season 4 Filmmatic Horror Screenplay Awards Winner. All contact requests for Mr. Brandon will be forwarded to his attention.