The indie film scene is a small close nit community. You wouldn’t think so at first but once you hit the festival circuit it becomes apparent as you surprisingly run into the same wonderful filmmakers over and over. That’s how I first met, Jeffrey. I was blown away by him when we were both nominated at a film festival years back. Aside from his incredible facial hair, I found him to be a man of distinction, yet he was earnest in his humility. Jeff personifies the hard-working screenwriter who is constantly improving his skills at the craft to achieve his vision. Since first meeting him, we have touched base over the years at festivals and it has been amazing to witness his rise in the Indie Film Community. He is living proof that with hard work, dedication, and a humble heart you can create your own success. This is why I am honored to introduce you to him.
This is Jeffrey Howe…
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
“Stumble” is the right word. By the fall of 2014, I’d been writing prose fiction for eleven years, more seriously for about eight, without contemplating other possibilities. Three things happened in quick succession to change that:
· My son, who was in fifth grade at the time, told me that I had never written anything I would let him read. Bit of an “ouch” there.
· I spent three months coaching his Lego robotics team, during which I could write nothing. It wasn’t so much writer’s block as it was Lego bricks displacing everything else in the creative parts of my brain. When the season ended, I felt like I should be able to wring something useful, writing-wise, from the lost time.
· Chuck Wendig, whose writing blog I follow, mentioned that one to write an outline for a novel, if you hate outlines, is to write the story as a screenplay first.
You can almost hear the click of things snapping into place. Like Lego bricks.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Mostly my writers’ group here in St. Louis, Writers under the Arch (WUTA). When I started bringing in chunks of what was then to be the screenplay-outline for a middle-grade novel about a Lego robotics team, the screenwriters in the group kind of took me aside and told me I should really think about doing something with the screenplay other than just using it as an intermediate step to a novel.
Submit to the Script Summit
Since my education in screenwriting at that point consisted of a semester as an undergrad and doing readings of their work for the writers’ group, I had only their word for it—but one of them had a manager and a deal with Nickelodeon in the works, and the other had a number of produced scripts, so I figured they might be right.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
I have a few candidates to pick from here, depending on how far I want to go back—but I think the crucial moment for me as a writer overall was back in 2009, when I finished my first novel after joining the writers’ group. I sent it off to an author I knew, Kristin Landon, for her thoughts.
She wrote back soon after to say she’d printed the manuscript, sat down with her trusty red pencil (her day job was editing medical textbooks) and started in. After a few pages, she said, she put the pencil away and just read. That was really the moment when I decided I wasn’t deluding myself. Sadly, Kristin passed away a couple of years ago. Far too young.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
It wasn’t until I wrote my second screenplay. It made the finals in the script contest at the first Genre Blast Film Festival, so I dutifully made my way to Culpeper, Virginia. The script came in second, but that mattered less than the conversations I had with the filmmakers’ present, or to be precise, the tone and attitude I detected in those conversations.
These people radiated excitement about their projects, not because they had huge egos, but because they just loved what they did so much—and they wanted, even expected, to be excited about what I was doing too. Heady stuff for a keyboard pounder.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Validation isn’t a black and white thing, is it? More of an iterative cycle of recognition, raised expectation, and creation. It’s like, okay, I can do this thing this well, can I do it better? Can I do this similar thing as well?
More concretely: Last year I produced a short I wrote, Past Partum. This year I’ll be directing another short I wrote, Kickoff Meeting. So, progression.
I’d like to see a feature script of mine produced at some point. And tied in with that, it would be nice if the whole enterprise became economically sustainable.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I’m generally up until midnight, sometimes a little later.
When do you get up?
Before eight. The day job cranks up at 8:15-8:30. Thankfully, my commute is about 15 feet.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
Washing down Adderall with coffee, as a rule. Kissing my wife, who also works at home.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
Checking personal email, then day job email. I think of it as plugging in. If I time, I browse the NYT.
What’s for lunch?
Could be leftovers, could be cereal, could be a chunk of hard cheese and some nuts.
What do you do during the day?
Day job stuff, mostly. During lunch and breaks I try to get writing in, or writing-related business-y stuff.
What do you do at night?
I try to spend a few hours not working, with my family. Often that devolves to watching a little TV with my wife—I call that my homework. Sometimes my son will join us, but he’s in high school, so he has his own social life.
After that, writing stuff until I go to bed.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual?
Trying not to wake up my wife when I climb into bed? But she usually does anyway, she’s a lighter sleeper than I am.
How do you define a successful day?
Any landing you can walk away from. Seriously, though, I like it when I can either add or fix words in a script, or pin down another aspect of a project in some stage of production. Oddly, I also find it satisfying when I determine there’s an issue or question that needs attention. Gives me something to sleep on.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Collaborating with other creatives. Everyone brings something to a project and is learning to step out of the way and let them do what they do is essential. The writing bits are straightforward by comparison.
Also, mental and emotional endurance, part of which is knowing when it’s okay to take a break. Even fire hydrants can lose pressure if you attach too many hoses.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Budgeting: time, money, effort, the whole constellation of personal resources. A few times I’ve pushed one or more of the above and had to rein things in for a few months.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
The acceptance of my work and myself by other filmmakers, which can take several forms: doing well in contests, willingness to work with me on projects, having people steer opportunities my way because they think I’m a good fit for them. That’s really my sine qua non for screenwriting and film-making—it’s both practical and existential. I need to feel what I do adds some tiny iota of value to other people’s lives.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
Whatever they want to share. Seriously. Technical info, tricks of the trade, relevant experiences, names to look for, cautionary tales. I know how late I started, so I try to be as sponge-like as possible when it comes to what people have learned.