In the Spotlight: AJ Thibault
Screenwriting is a path not a destination. The path is that of a student/learner. Those who dedicate themselves to it never truly feel they can master the craft. They consider themselves a disciple of story even when others elevate their status. That is who AJ is. A screenwriter who has earned the accolades and achievements he's gathered over the years from countless hours of dedication to our art. This is why I am honored to introduce you to him.
This is AJ Thibault...
I wrote about two dozen festival award-placing screenplays, several spec TV pilots, three novels, a poetry book, and made a few short student films. I recently published a thriller novel, “Deadly Serious” by Encircle Publications. In addition, I released several non-fiction award-winning books, including the #1 international bestseller “How to Change a Law,” a 2017 Reader’s Favorite Gold Medal Winner.
I felt it was important to give back and donate to causes focused on children’s health, education, and financial literacy through a family foundation. I had an eclectic career that included production, reader, marketing, and government affairs at entertainment, software, and Internet companies, including United Artists, MCA/Universal, eBay, Financial Engines, and iLobby. I got my Bachelors in media at Ryerson University and received my MFA from UCLA’s film school.
I also have personally studied with John Truby, Writer’s Boot Camp, the NBC Comedy Writers Workshop, Danny Simon, and others.
I currently live with my wife and three children in Northern California.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
As a kid, I was inspired by the absolute magic of cinema, the emotions, the music, and the idea of reaching a large global audience. I remember seeing Hitchcock’s The Birds, and as a little kid being really scared by it.
After undergrad, I worked in production, watched many foreign films, and got the bug.
The idea of working with a team and watching foreign films was great. Truffaut, Fellini, Herzog, Kurosawa, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges.
I would explore Larry Edmunds’s bookshop in Hollywood and bounce from Aristotle to McKee and landed on the Palmer Plan handbook, a classic, with gave me insight into plotting and neo-structuralists.
But at film school, the day I completed every script on an IBM Selectric, I would ride my 10-speed bike from Westwood along Sunset to the WGA to register it. It was exciting.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Certainly, Spielberg, Lucas, & Professors Bill Froug and Richard Walter at UCLA were great examples of successful mentors.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
There was one visiting professor at UCLA whose course I took, and the assignment was to turn in a 40-page script. I turned into 120, and before the quarter was over, she said, “I can’t teach you anything.” Finally, however, professor Bill Froug and chairman Richard Walter made it clear I still had a long way to go.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
At UCLA, doing graduate work in the late 70s, I started in production in the TFT theater film TV track at Melnitz Hall and petitioned to get into writing. You had to write one spec per quarter and the pace was aggressive, but it was something I knew I could do.
The idea of sitting down, thinking out your story quickly was great. I read every book on screenwriting I could get my hands on. So delivering one script per quarter every ten weeks was a great discipline. I was also intrigued because I had roommates and classmates who became professional television writers and famous film directors very quickly.
William Goldman, a novelist/screenwriter, also inspired me. In addition, Robert Towne, who wrote Chinatown, and Robert Ludlum of the Bourne Identity series were positive influences.
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Q: How do you define success for yourself?
The idea of doing excellent work and getting a positive or at least the right reaction from a reader is probably a good measure of hitting your mark.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Q: Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
In the morning, if I end up with 5 to 10 screenplay pages or 2000 words of a novel, I will put this into Scrivener or Final Draft and then deal with editing later — sorting, placing, and solving the pieces of the puzzle. But I have used Plottr in conjunction with Save the Cat or the Heroes Journey, so I have a pretty good idea of where all the major beats go.
Q: What do you do during the day?
In the afternoon, I will run errands, handle family matters, exercise, play with our sheepdog, help the teens who are going off to college and attend some Zoom seminars in different writing or filmmaking groups. Maybe exercise or swim during the summer and ski a little bit during the winter if we’re not traveling.
Q: What do you do at night?
We typically have a family dinner, and I may reflect or binge-watch Blacklist, TV Syfy thrillers, check InkTip, and the festivals on Coverfly or Film Freeway, and maybe look at any interviews or blogs I can do.
Q: Do you have a pre-bed ritual?
Not really. I wind down, think about scenes or ideas, am grateful, and usually drift off to sleep.
Q: How do you define a successful day?
When you make some progress, help others, and feel like you are on the right path, that’s ideal. I consider it a successful day where I moved ahead on several fronts, health, fitness, family, relationship, word count, and scenes.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you’ve developed on your path to screenwriting?
Because we have these mobile software tools like Plottr, Final Draft, Scrivener, and rev.com, I am streamlining my work and moving much faster on multiple projects simultaneously, and developing and writing anywhere, even standing in line at the market.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
It is hard to switch hats from being an introverted, intuitive writer and being an extroverted salesperson pitching ideas and reaching out to producers and agents. Pitching has been a challenge, and having the confidence to put your ideas out there and accept criticism. It can be challenging.