Jonathan has discovered the most difficult literary art on the planet. Screenwriting. Many have approached this alluring and even Medussian craft with wide eyes only to find themselves defeated by it. Not Jonathan. Having been a writer for most of his life, he knows what lies ahead and he is ready for it. He is aware of the unique challenges ahead of him and is more than prepared to meet them. This is why I am excited to introduce you to him.
This is Jonathan Yates...
My fondest memory was when my mother told me that the “funnies” were in the paper every day and not just Sunday. Reading has always been my passion in life with writing having me at my best. It was a blast reading the funnies every day (especially on Sundays when they were in color) and it's been great writing, which occupies my being as I am always thinking about a literary project, either present or future.
Walt Whitman, the poet, once said that art is a landscape of the mind as made manifest by the body.
That is certainly the case with writing. I am always writing. There is no need for a canvas or a block of clay. Whatever takes place around me presents the potential for an article or a script. Aristotle said that humans are closest to pure contemplation, the highest form of consciousness, when playing sports (sorry Bill Murray from “Caddy Shack” but it will not be on your deathbed). For me, it is when I am writing.
It's been that way since I was a kid, and it always will!
In terms of the tangible results for my passion, thousands of articles have appeared under my byline in major publications such as Newsweek and Foreign Policy magazine. I started writing scripts for contests in December 2019 and, in my first year, more than twenty were picked as finalists with over sixty honored in major events. As for a blind squirrel finding an acorn, yes, I actually won a contest, too.
How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
Screenwriting was natural for me as I have been writing professionally since I was a teenager. I enjoy it the most as it is great to be able to tell a story visually. In addition, there is a discipline to it that appeals to me. Writing 600-word op-eds has always been a hobby of mine. Thousands of op-eds and other articles have appeared under my byline in venues such as The Washington Post. The same constraints with words apply to screenwriting. As Stravinsky said, when you limit the constraints on the artist you limit the strength of the artist. That is especially so for scriptwriting.
Who/what inspired you to take this path?
Who doesn’t want to be in the movies? I love being in front of the camera for my show, but like everyone else, I’ve got a story to tell. What better way than a script for a feature or television. I have always loved to make people laugh so the great sitcoms inspired me, too. A perfect example here is one of my scripts about friends who have a cable show focused on quoting from movies, which I certainly do with my mine!
Who was the first person who believed in you?
One teacher believed in me and that was because she got caught off-guard. Mrs. Woodberry was my “Major British Writers” teacher in high school and just a wonderful, sweet lady who deserved much better than teenage males like me in her class. When I went back after graduation to tell whomever I could find about going to Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown and came across her, she said, “That’s wonderful, Jonathan. I always knew you had it in you.” If she did, she was the only one, that is for sure, as most of my teachers in high school were not fans. Sorry, no “Dead Poets Society” or “Tuesdays with Morrie” for me to share on this one! About 99.5% of my thoughts in high school were focused on females and playing sports. The rest of my thinking was directionless!
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When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
When I realized writing a script was like writing an opinion piece for a publication. It required an economy of words, knowledge of the topic, and the ability to express it convincingly in a short space that was structured. The great thing about scripts is that I can use action to tell the story...can’t do that with an op-ed for a newspaper!
How do you define success for yourself?
Success for me, in the context of this question, is being able to write what I want about for an audience. Sorry, no personal journal or private diary. Writing for others is what it is all about for me as I love to entertain. If you can’t understand this, then it is like what Louis Armstrong said when asked about the blues: Them’s that don’t know, never will!
What is a typical day in your life?
I live ½ block from the ocean in Palm Beach County in Jupiter, Florida so it would be great to tell you that I wake up at 5 am and go for a run barefoot on the beach and come home to a medley of fresh-squeezed juices, but that would be a lie. That being stated, I get up around 7 am and go for a run on the sawgrass in the community as that is better for my joints. Depending on the day, I then head to the gym. Diet Coke from McDonald’s, the best by far, is my poison as I have never had a cup of coffee in my life. Generally, I am writing, which I do best early in the morning; and then late at night.
What’s the most important skill you have developed in your path to screenwriting?
To write short, crisp sentences and use action to move the story as much as possible. For inspiration, I watch the scene in “Band of Brothers” when the 101st is taking off to jump for D-Day as it is about ten minutes of movie action with no talking. On the other hand, I will watch “Fargo” as it is a great flick that is about 95% dialogue. You can learn a lot from both!
What has been your greatest challenge so far?
There really has not been a challenge as I have enjoyed it immensely and love what I am doing. Chris Martin from Coldplay said that the best songs write themselves. For me as a writer, I am never challenged as how can one’s passion be anything other than something that you love and embrace? The competition is tough with lots of talented people out there, so that is certainly a challenge in screenwriting. Hey, but why should that be different than anything else in life worth accomplishing? Like Johny Unitas, the legendary quarterback once said, “It's never easy and it's never because of luck.”
What have been the greatest rewards in the choices you have made?
The greatest reward in screenwriting has been meeting lots of great people. All have been very helpful. My career was spent working in finance, law, government relations, and on The Hill. Working on The Hill, I had “Top Secret” clearance twice so that was cool for someone in their 20s. I have loved all my careers, and it's been the same for scriptwriting.
What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I would like to learn how to get more involved. There are so many great festivals, blogs, and websites so there is certainly no shortage of those willing to help. I came to this late in life so I am very, very far behind so many other talented, experienced people in the entertainment industry, especially in screenwriting. That being stated, it has always been my experience in life that if you show up prepared, work hard and treat others well, things have a tendency to work out for the best. Let’s hope that Mrs. Woodberry was right and I still have it in me!