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In the Spotlight: Donald Upton

Updated: Oct 8, 2018

Donald Upton is someone to look out for. See, Donald is the type of writer that doesn't let adversity slow him down. He's a doer. A go getter. He's created the Arts and Entertainment council of Arkansas specifically to bring what we do as screenwriters into the mainstream there. Here's the thing, he's succeeding. They have some major names speaking at their events. I'm impressed at what he & Paul Newton have been able to accomplish. Learn a bit more about Donald and see why he truly is an example of what you can do to set yourself up for success.

Mini-Bio I grew up in different towns in Arkansas and California which helped me see the world from a pretty unique lens. When I hit college I graduated with two degrees: one in Anthropology and one in English. Eventually I was lucky enough to make it to England and research Roman Archaeology. Oh yeah, I was also in the Marines. I’ve always done some form of writing, ever since I was a little kid. I have two published books: a children’s book and a book of poetry.

Once upon a time I had a really cool job marketing merchandise for Game of Thrones. Met some interesting people doing that. It’s the reason Seth Green and his wife Clare have some of my drawings at their house.

I began and co-chair a non-profit to help people get into filmmaking: Arts and Entertainment Council. We teach classes in filmmaking, acting, and screenwriting. Recently, we started MeetUps in Fayetteville with local screenwriters and bringing in industry insiders to talk about what all is involved in getting into the industry and about the experience they had writing for entertainment. It’s pretty amazing to watch something you started grow and help people.

Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting? Like a lot of writers, I wanted to turn one of my stories into a movie. So, I taught myself how to write a screenplay. I was told however that you should never send out your first script. So, I hid it away and turned it into a novel instead. People really ended up liking that novel so I think I’ll be revisiting that script.

Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path? I kind of just fell into it. One of the people I went to high school with was making short films, and he wanted some help writing scripts. He had so many ideas and the director’s eye for scenes. I had the technical knowledge and ended up having the knack for dialogue. It was a perfect match and we worked really well off each other.

Q: Who was the first person who believed in you? Candice Sisemore. She was my first fan. She loved my poetry back in high school and had me sign the literary magazine when it had my stuff in it. I think that feeling of bringing someone joy with my work is what really gave me the bug to keep writing.

Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter? I realized that the way I saw my stories was by setting up everything and everyone like a big stage in my head and watching them act it out. Yeah, I can write prose this way, but the screenplay seems to lend itself to it.

Q: How do you define success for yourself? I see success as getting paid to do what I enjoy, screenwriting. Screenwriting is what I love. I might get frustrated with it. Heck sometimes I even try to just walk away. But, I can’t seem to. It keeps pulling me back in. I think there’s a “Godfather” quote somewhere in there.

Q: Give us a typical day in your life:

Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? A night owl that must get up early for a day-job? Those exist, right? Because that’s what I have to do to make my writing happen. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Browse the news on my phone till I’m awake enough to claw my way out of bed. Literally, climb out of bed. It’s a memory foam that conforms to my body while I sleep. I think it’s sentient and is just really hugging me. What do you do at night? This is when I write, or on the weekends when I can hang out with my writing partner (after our ritual of Sam’s Club food samples and Nathan’s hot dogs. If you don’t have Sam’s Club, think COSTCO). Do you have a pre-bed ritual? The myVegas game app (No. Really. It’s fun. Try it.)

How do you define a successful day? A successful day to me is when I get a good chunk of writing done. Then I feel like every setback in the day was worth it.

Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting? Foundations. I know some people say to move away from Save The Cat, but it is a good tool to use to learn how to build the foundations of screenwriting. Don’t always stick to it hardcore but use it until you feel comfortable breaking the rules in a knowledgeable and artistic manner.

Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far? Dyslexia. I write and re-read everything a few times to make sure I didn’t make a butcher’s floor of the English language. But this proves that you are your only limitation to writing.

Q: What’s been your greatest reward in the choices you've made? Hearing people’s responses to what I’ve written (well, the good responses)

Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers? Personally, I’m looking for a community of my peers that are like minded. People to learn from and even help if they need it. I also want become more involved and more immersed into writing and shift it into a career. I’d like to receive constructive criticism so I can grow as a writer. I’m also open to any tips on how to break-in to the entertainment industry crowd, but not too much a part of it that I lose my sense of individuality.

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