This week, we are excited to spotlight our first male talent to watch. From our interactions on social media and during our interview, we have come to know Guy Crawford as an extremely wise and friendly person. His eagerness to help other screenwriters and filmmakers succeed is apparent in all of his Twitter post. I'd even be willing to bet, if you needed something, Guy would be the first person to give you the shirt off of his back.
For these reasons, I'm excited to share some of his own story as a screenwriter. We discuss his hometown of New Orleans and why it's a great setting for horror. He sent us photos he took of historical places around New Orleans while doing more research for his stories.
He shares the advice he has received from Hollywood professionals and goes in-depth on the history of his very own projects.
What was your first introduction to horror?
When you grow up in South Louisiana it's really part of your life from an early age. New Orleans is filled with historical haunted places and supernatural tales. From the Bayou Bogeyman aka the Rougarou, to the Honey Island Swamp Monster and ghosts of every kind, it's almost natural to be a horror fan. My parents came from a different age and introduced me to the old black and white films like Count Dracula with Bela Lugosi and The Black Cat that starred both Bela and Boris Karloff together for the first time. It was also written by Edgar Allen Poe. They had to weave a compelling story that attacked the senses without CGI and other special effects. The skinning scene alone in The Black Cat is an epic moment in Hollywood Horror history. But what really did it for me was the original Phantasm from 1979. To this day it still gives me the shivers and when the Tall Man's head turns in the old photo of him driving a horse drawn hearse I still go ooh. It stuck with me so much that I used an old photo of my voodoo queen turning her head in The Fifelot.
Those are some great introductions to horror. It sounds like you had some great source material for getting started. How did you get started in the industry?
I started telling stories and writing as a child. So much so that everyone in my family expected me to become an actor. Life takes strange turns and I went down another fork in the road. I became a corporate cube farmer, but I never stopped writing.
A few years ago, I woke up in a hospital and realized tomorrow's not guaranteed. I made a commitment to get my work out in the world. New Orleans has quite a few productions and I started haunting sets to introduce myself. I was able to have an amazing conversation with Taylor Hackford about the long, lonely road of a screenwriter. I doubt he even remembers my name, but it was a watershed moment for me.
All of that led me to The WRAC Group. It single-handedly changed the trajectory of my writing career. Suddenly I was surrounded by like minded people with the same drive and ambition to create. It was like finding an oasis in a desert. Through these amazing folks I got my work out in the world and it's landed on desks at networks and studios that a few years ago I would've never thought possible.
Life does indeed take strange turns. That sounds like an amazing moment with Taylor Hackford. What kind of advice did he give you that may benefit screenwriters and filmmakers?
It wasn't really a Q&A, but more like a small group over drinks. A couple of things that he said that stuck with me are:
There are a lot of people in Hollywood chasing that brass ring. Only a small portion of them are willing to do the work.
If you don't believe in yourself why should anyone else?
On screenwriting specifically:
Everyone has an opinion, but don't let anything or anyone mess with your original voice.
For our screenwriter friends who may not know what the WRAC Group is, can you explain more about them? Which of your projects were they able to send around for you?
The WRAC Group is an online Twitter group with a simple premise. Writer Accountability. You submit projects a couple of times a year with self imposed deadlines. You get reminders via Twitter periodically. Everyone knows the cliché that you can't fix what's not on the page. These deadlines and the constant support from other writers which gets you from Fade In to Fade Out. All amateurs struggle to get reads. In WRAC you don't have that problem. Today I sent out a read request for a new project and within minutes was hit with an avalanche of people willing to critique my work and offer constructive feedback. Even a pro writer reached out. So now the gremlins of self doubt set in and the anxiety builds as I wait to see what other talented writers think about my new script.
WRAC doesn't send out your work. They do promote it via The WRAC List that comes out at the end of the year. If you have an industry ready script that you submitted during the year it goes on the list. Here's the kicker. You never know who reads that list. A three letter network read the logline for my golden boy serial killer script Gable and asked for it. A similar thing occurred with The Fifelot when a Hollywood studio whose gates are the stuff of dreams reached out after reading about it on the WRAC List. I've had production companies, pro writers, managers and producers read my work and each one of them became aware of me and my projects because of my participation in The WRAC Group. The Bitch List placement, like I've said before, got my scripts in places I've never dreamed possible. Sooner or later one of these contacts will pay dividends. Until then, I'm always writing the next one.
One last plug for all the talented souls in WRAC. We promote each other. I've seen it work. Writers get their work in front of industry eyes because another member gave them a recommendation or saw an opportunity and let another writer know about it. It brings joy to your soul. The Fifelot and my 1/2 hour dramedy Southern Fried are on a production company's desk right now as a direct result of another writer's generosity
That is amazing and one of the great things about the screenwriting community as a whole. What keeps you interested in the genre?
The emotional connection to the audience. You can tell a wicked story that generates a wide spectrum of responses. Who doesn't remember peeking through their fingers to see what happens next. If you look at some of the cult classics, the monster quite often on the screen represents the monster within us all. A great horror film is a great film. Think of franchises like Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street. These stories have spanned decades. Generations of fans have grown up and still flock to theaters, watch on VOD, just to re-watch them. It's also still an avenue for an unknown writer/filmmaker to break into Hollywood. The budgets and return on investment make it attractive to studios and producers. Though we are writers/creators and filmmakers you should never forget it's a business.
What is it about screenwriting that you enjoy?
For me the biggest thrill comes from creating worlds that haven't existed before and filling them with characters that the audience will love, love to hate or despise from the first moment they appear on the screen. I want a visceral reaction. I'm a storyteller and doing it in a way that compels the audience to follow along is a challenge I relish. Movies have always had the ability to entertain, move someone, inspire and being a part of that is something special. I think back at the movies that made me want to write them and I hope one day a young boy or girl sits in a dark theater watching my project and decides: This is what I want to do.
That would be an amazing feeling to inspire filmmakers of the future. Who would you say your biggest inspiration was? Speaking of inspirations, what movies & filmmakers give you the most inspiration?
Wow. I need a whole page for this one. The storytellers: Billy Wilder - Sunset Boulevard. William Goldman - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. John Carpenter - Halloween. George Romero & John Russo - Night of the Living Dead but for me it will always be Alfred Hitchcock. An innovator who could make you cringe, scream and freak out with one thought. It's the anticipation...not the bang.
You can never go wrong with Alfred. He is a master of his times and someone that we can all still learn from. What does your writing process look like?
I'm old school. It always starts with 70 index cards and a white board that leads to an outline.Once I type fade in, it's an organic process. I don't fight the structure but use it to allow my creativity to follow its own path. From there I let my imagination run wild and pay close attention to what the characters are telling me. I work very hard to hide the craft so the reader/audience is caught up in the story. The overarching thought with every project is how do I weave a tale that leaps off the page and elicits an emotional response. You can have the most structurally correct script ever in the history of the world, but if you don't give us a reason to care, buy in or follow along, it's just words on a page.
Then of course, I have my peers read and they provide the notes. Then it is time to start rewrites. Some hate it, some love it, but it's necessary. The ultimate goal is to take people on a journey and leave them smiling at the end with a stamp in their passport from a new world.
Haha. I never thought of it as getting a new stamp in a passport. That is great. You mentioned structure. What resources did you find valuable when you were first learning the structuring of screenwriting?
Scripts. Scripts Scripts. Devour them. Learn from the great ones and the ones that aren't so great. From a resource perspective, I recommend Bob Saenz's book That's Not The Way It Works, The Screenwriters Bible and The Hollywood Standard. Learning to properly format a script frees you up to be creative. I recently submitted a question during an Ava DuVernay Q&A and asked:
What got a script tossed the fastest when she reads?
A poorly formatted script.
If the writer can’t take the time to learn, why should they read it?
I agree completely. It always shows a lack of professionalism and laziness. If you don't take the time to write properly, why should they take their time to read. You also mentioned peer notes. Are these typically done through script swaps? Or how do you go about having someone read and provide notes?
You can put out a read request and the WRAC folks will bury you with responses. Script Swaps happen all the time as well. It's about building relationships even if it's online. Don't pop in someone's inbox without getting to know them first. Be genuine and care about them and their work while you create interest in your own. Once you do that you'll never have to worry about finding someone to read your script.
I couldn’t agree more. I can’t tell you how many times on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn (especially LinkedIn) where I’ll accept a request and without any introductions, I’ll get a screenplay or waiver request for the HorrOrigins Film Festival. Not going to happen. Building relationships is key to building a network of future collaborators. Do you have any advice/suggestions for up and coming or hopeful screenwriters?
Learn and respect the craft. Read scripts and see how other writers have been able to create scenes and movies that leap off the page and spur imaginations. Get involved with other writers, share your work and be grateful for their time and feedback. Understand the process of giving and receiving notes. Write the stories that keep your butt in the chair and finishing scripts. Trust me if you're not writing your idea, people like me are writing ours and hustling to get it made. Don't chase the market. I'll paraphrase Jeff Lieber. It's not your job as a writer to figure out what Hollywood wants. It's your job to tell them because they have no idea. But! Above all, write what stirs your soul. The story only you can tell, in an authentic manner. Passion for the craft, the story and the process shows on the page. Don't be afraid to stand out.
What festivals have you been a part of and can you tell me about those experiences?
To date I've not been fortunate enough to have my own work in a festival. I've attended Austin Film Festival and the NOLA Horror Film Fest. I have to get in a plug here for Nate Ruegger's Trust Me horror short film that I saw at the NOLA fest. A truly wicked story that reminds me why I love the genre and it inspired me to write harder, darker and deeper.
We have seen Trust Me, it is a great horror short. Nate is an amazingly talented filmmaker. We're hoping to see more from him. That is one thing we’ve noticed and loved about you Guy, you don’t just make everything about yourself. We notice you go out of your way to ensure you recognize and highlight other people. Why is this?
I'm just a simple storyteller. I don't see it as going out of my way. To me it's a natural extension of who I am. Any success I've had in my life has always been because someone took a chance on me, offered me a hand up or shared their expertise with no thought of anything in return. I want to reflect that energy back on the people in my life. You never know. One day someone I help promote may get their break. We all know it takes more than talent. If I can be a part of helping someone else succeed while I chase my screenwriting dreams, it would be thrilling. I can cheer them on as they walk down the red carpet and think of sitting in a dark theater watching my name roll across the credits at the same time. It's not a zero sum game.
Can you tell us more about The Fifelot? How much time do you have?
To start with, it's a love letter to a city that captured my soul. At every corner history and present day collide. If you listen closely, voices from the past whisper in the breeze. I love exploring the old legends and haunting stories that have traveled through time in this part of the world. I was looking for a horror/supernatural story for my next project and read "The Legend of the Fifolet." That strange light that leads you to the lost treasure of Jean Lafitte, but if you're not worthy a murdered pirate left to guard it will drag you into the grave. I knew I had the premise, but how to make it modern? I made a conscious decision to make this story reflective of the world around me and filled with diverse characters.
Why not a woman of color lead character that exhibits traits of Indiana Jones and Jack Sparrow as she leads a supernatural treasure hunt from deep in the French Quarter to the murky bayous and swamps that hide so many spooky things? I also had an ulterior motive for one special character named Josephine. Once upon a time on a misty Mardi Gras night I sat with some friends in Jean Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (a haunted place for sure) and a stunning creole woman came through the doors. As she passed our table her hand grazed my shoulder and we heard, " We're not always on the salt." We turned and she was gone. It's a small place and we were right by the door. There's no way she walked out. I told myself one day I'm putting this in a script.
The Fifelot was the perfect story to bring her to life. Add in a voodoo queen aching to return to the land of the living and her pet Rougarou (shape shifting werewolf for non Cajuns). Things get interesting for my main character and her friends as they search for that missing gold. Ultimately though, behind all of this wild and crazy tale is a simple premise. Accept who you are and chase your dreams.
I think that the message is a great one. Most people put their dreams aside for life. As you mentioned earlier, life takes weird turns and we set our dreams aside to only eventually realize that our dreams have been somewhat forgotten. Stories like yours help people realize those forgotten dreams, not to give up and it is never too late to chase after those dreams. I think as entrepreneurs, screenwriters and filmmakers, we are well aware of our dreams. What other projects are you working on?
The COVID times have taken me to some strange places. I've written two 1/2 hour dramedy scripts recently that really helped me out of a writing funk. There's my next horror feature that once again takes place deep in the heart of mystic New Orleans. My apologies in advance to Lestat de Lioncourt (the character in Anne Rice's vampire series) as I don't wish to wake him from his slumber. It's a provocative look at one woman's slow waltz with the lure of immortality and a rather charming southern Vampire and his family. Coming soon: The Dance.
What has been your favorite project to work on and why?
The Fifelot. Making The Bitch List 2020 with this story will always cause it to have a special place in my heart. To showcase New Orleans in a way it's really never been and having characters in roles that celebrate the cultural mishmash that makes the city unique was pure joy. Getting to pay homage to the ghosts and spirits that inhabit its streets has only caused me to fall more deeply in love with the people of NOLA. I was able to attend a voodoo ceremony while doing research for the script and it's definitely a “holy cow” moment. Some claimed direct lineage to Marie Laveau and I don't doubt their word.
That is amazing! Congrats on the success with The Bitch List 2020. I think it makes it really special when you put your blood, sweat and tears into something you love and other people recognize your hard work and the amazing story you were able to put together. What is your favorite classic horror movie?
The Black Cat for the reasons mentioned above but if we're talking more recently I'm still a Phantasm junkie.
What is something in everyday life that scares you?
Snakes. I know crazy, but I hate the shoulderless ones.
Can’t say I blame you. I’m right there with you. Oh and spiders. Especially the big ones.
What is your dream project?
The easy answer is The Fifelot. I can imagine Mr. Steven Spielberg bringing the rich texture of that film to life and making it bleed off the screen. It would be cool to see his take on the horror and supernatural elements as he delivers the audience into a strange new world filled with characters that may or may not be alive and creatures that may or may not be real.
I do have a passion project. I wrote a crime thriller a few years back with Halle Berry as inspiration for the main character called Smugglers Bay. It's a modern day twist on The Godfather, unlike Michael Corleone who wanted out, my main character Cassie Claiborne has no desire to get out. It's who she was born to be. Mr. Martin Scorsese you still have time!
I’d love to see Spielberg take the reins on The Fifelot. Love your taste in films, Scorsese is great and has made some of my favorite crime films. I’d love to see what he could do with Smugglers Bay. Do you have any websites, social media pages or anything else you would like to share with our audience?
You can find me on Twitter at @BogeyGuyC, I'm setting up a web page that will have loglines and projects listed. You of course can find me on the #WRACLIST19 and #TheBitchList2020. If you're in the industry and need to contact me, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow HorrOrigins Social Media Pages