James Fox is living proof that an independent filmmaker and screenwriter can become successful in the industry. He has put in the time and effort. He knows that being gifted and talented at this craft isn’t enough. You have to work for it, even after you break out and make a name for yourself. You have to keep pushing forward. That’s what James does, and he has my respect. Every day he works the daily grind to make sure his vision comes to fruition in one shape or form. That is why I am honored to introduce you to this extraordinarily talented writer/director.
This is James Fox...
Whenever I’m asked what I do for work, I say, “I’m a professional liar.” Oddly enough, people stick around to learn more! That’s always fascinated me. I grew up in central California and spent my childhood wanting to be a scientist. While struggling with being trapped in labs all hours of the night and day, I took a friend to an audition and accidentally landed an acting gig for a feature film. I didn’t like the acting so much, but I absolutely fell in love with the role of the Director. The way he worked with the actors and crew to weave a wonderful story out of thin air – that was what I wanted to do! Much to my parent’s dismay, I left my science pursuits (and scholarships) in the dust and enrolled in a film school in San Francisco.
Eighteen years later I’m a multi-award-winning Director, Producer, and Writer. I am the CEO of a fabulous boutique production studio in California, Dawnrunner Inc, and have a wonderful wife and two brilliant daughters.
I’ve directed a few feature films and am slated to direct a couple more this upcoming year. I’ve also produced or directed several shorts and am now actively writing/developing on 13 different properties.
While life is insanely busy, I also find time to do some fun stuff too. I love sports – having been an athlete in my youth, and love sharing that experience with my daughters. Cooking and brewing are my stress relief hobbies, you can always recognize my stress levels by how complex my meals are. I love diving, role-playing/video games, and consuming as many books as I can.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I’d say it was less of a stumble and more of a lurching gallop. I took a few screenwriting classes, as they were required for my Directing degree, but the instructors I had were amazing. They were very encouraging and supportive of my writing, and it frankly got me a bit addicted to storytelling. In short, I blame them.
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
If I had to pin this down to the root of my inspiration, I’d have to say it was Dungeons & Dragons. My friends and I got super into role-playing games when we were kids, and the Dungeon Master that was “the best” in the area was too elite for us. We saved up some cash and bought our own books/modules and I was railroaded into being the storyteller (DM) for our group. Having players dive deep into worlds you create is a wonderful thing. This eventually translated fully into my film career.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
There have been so many people I could list here, each one incredibly important and crucial to my journey. My Dad (Edward Fox) was a big storyteller growing up, and is quite the amazing author himself – my Mom (Kathy McIntyre) is an artist and encouraged me to be creative and pursue a career I found enjoyment and fulfillment in. Several high school teachers were pivotal in my development as a writer, and my unique journey. Ultimately though, I’d have to give credit to my wife Loria Fox. If she had not been there to encourage and support me when things were challenging, I doubt I’d be where I am today. She’s always given the most amazing constructive criticism, asked the right questions and been incredibly insightful – the perfect refiner to my creative side.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
Having already been in the industry as a Director and Producer for many years, I finally realized something profound: I had more stories to tell than I had years to produce them. I did the math, and I started trying to prioritize my stories based on what I could accomplish in my lifetime. It was said, “Well, if I live to 75, and it takes 3 years to develop/produce/finalize a production…” I did not like that very much. So, I started laying out my stories in script format – started creating my stories for someone else to produce. I’m still Directing, two features this year in fact, but this is something I can do on my own that allows me to get those stories out.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
A: A feeling of accomplishment. When I can stand back from something I’ve worked on – be it a film I directed, produced, a commercial, or a finished script – and say, “This is the best I can do.” That’s where I get my feeling of success. That moment when there is something tangible that another person can experience and sparks conversation. Nothing is more wonderful than someone reading a script, or watching a film, and turning to you to ask questions or make comments on it.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? – Early bird for sure! I live on a horse ranch near Yosemite National Park, so I’m up with the sun every day. Plus, my kids are early birds and they jump on me about 5AM every day.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? With so many animals to feed, there is definitely a routine. It starts with coffee though, although I like my milk with a splash of coffee flavor – and I get teased for it ruthlessly. So, coffee, feeding the chickens and horses, checking the gardens, then getting kids ready for school.
What do you do during the day? I divide my day into blocks, being a CEO of a Production company, A director of 2 feature films in pre-production, a writer (scripts and novels), and a Dad – makes for a full day! Let’s not forget the ranch work, have I mentioned I love my John Deere tractor? I bounce around between those roles as quickly and effectively as I can. I end each day, very late, and fall like a brick into my bed utterly exhausted.
What do you do at night? It’s dinner and family time, hearing about everyone’s day, followed by some cartoons or kids books that we read together snuggled up on the couch.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual? Oh yes! I crank the stereo up and the whole family sings songs and dances around like maniacs in our pajamas. Burn that last bit of energy or stress off from the day before bed.
How do you define a successful day? One where I got to connect with people, checked stuff off my to-do list, and spend quality time with my family.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
The most important to me, would be my ability to take harsh criticism and turn it into a valuable resource. It happens a lot where someone just does not get your story and/or disagrees with intentional creative choices you make. While this has never truly bothered me, I found it hard to apply these criticisms in any meaningful way. When you submit a sci-fi action film and the criticism begins with, “I hate sci-fi as a genre.” It can be tough to find value in anything they have to say. As I’ve matured as a writer, I dig into the subtext of the criticism and analyze it for anything I can apply – because if I can get someone to tell me WHY they don’t like sci-fi, perhaps I can solve those problems in my story and appeal to a wider audience.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Eliminating the infinite possibilities. Usually when starting a script, you have a kernel of an idea – or a setting – or a neat character, but it hasn’t materialized into a “plot” yet. Trying to create that first foundational arc is always the toughest for me. The point where your story could be ANY THING, but you have to commit to a SPECIFIC thing in order to get started. I struggle with this for days, but once I overcome that, it’s a boulder rolling downhill.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
I had someone come up to me after watching a film I directed screen at a film festival. This young kid told me, “I connect with the main character a lot…” and went on to tell me her story and how it coincided with the film I made. It meant a lot to her that someone was sharing a similar story. She said she struggled when trying to share it with others. Now, she could reference my film and say, “It’s kind of like this…” That meant a lot to me. It’s half the reason I became a filmmaker – to encourage empathy. You’ll have to interview me again for the other half.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I’m a person that loves playing with structure. One of the things I’m fascinated by are people who can innovate in storytelling structure. As I’ve met more and more writers, I’ve been fascinated by the trailblazing when it comes to structure and the “bones” of screenwriting. It’s the formulas we rely on, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with them while we’re at it.