In the Spotlight: Judah Ray


Photo by Beau McGavin

Judah Ray is a manifester. This is an incredibly rare skill to have. He has the ability to set his mind on something and make it happen through sheer will and focus. He will carve out a path and not stop until he achieves his vision of success. Passion is his fuel and talent is his tool. Judah has a lot to say about the industry and his path toward success. It is my pleasure to introduce you to him.

This is Judah Ray


Mini-Bio:

I started as a P.A. when I first set my sights on the film and television industry. I then worked my way into the Art Department. By 2005 I was fortunate enough to produce my first feature film, "One Among Us", starring James Russo (Django Unchained, Donnie Brasco). From there I was able to work with many other seasoned veterans in the business. "One Among Us" was distributed through Netflix, and since its release, has become a cult classic with Horror fans worldwide.


I then went on to work under Eli Samaha (Boondock Saints, Heist) at MGM Entertainment, where I developed ideas for remakes of many of the classic films in their vast library, such as Valley Girl, which is currently in development.


From there, I felt like I had finally found my true calling. This truly was my destiny to be a part of the creative process which brings art to life, on screen. It was at this point that I enrolled in the Los Angeles Film School. There, I learned the fundamentals of filmmaking and found my passion for the artistic development of film projects. I loved film school. I mean I really loved the entire process. I lived it, I breathed it and never missed a day. When I graduated I was honored to learn that I was the school’s first-ever Valedictorian.

My thesis film toured festivals and was awarded, and I am also developing my own scripts into feature films and television shows, under the banner of my production company, A-Level Pictures.

Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?

In my early twenties, I had a neighbor, who was an aspiring director. He had tried his hand at screenwriting but just couldn’t come up with a good concept. I had an idea for a script, and he loved it. We worked nonstop for eight months straight, turning that idea into a one-hundred and twenty-two-page feature, called RUFF N TUMBLE NIGHT. To this day, it is still my pet project. After that, I began working for various studios, where I came to the realization that I wasn't creating film art, I was working in the film business. At this point, I put my screenwriting on the shelf and fell back on my skills as a Producer. Thinking that I could do it all by myself, I took on the task of producing and distributing my first feature. It was an insane amount of work, but I stuck with it and made it happen. After distributing the film, I returned to my pursuit of financial gains, in another industry. Soon, however, I realized that money wasn’t the only thing that drove me. I wanted to create. I went back to school to hone my production skills and find a suit and tie job within the studio system. After one screenwriting class, and one director’s course, my artistic soul won over my business mind. I switched my focus to the creative side, and since then, I’ve been focused on the creative and trying not to produce (which is impossible as a screenwriter, these days).


Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?

I was born an insomniac. Not the type that finds it hard to fall asleep, are up into the wee hours of the morning and wake up groggy. I only slept an hour a night, from birth through my late twenties. As a child, my parents said I was the worst, because, as the rest of the kids slept, I was up all hours of the day and night. So, around five years old, my parents stuck a television and VCR in my room. Late into the early AM hours, I would watch all the great films of the 80s. Really, anything I could get my hands on. I also had cable access, so after midnight I would bug out on USA’s “Up All Night”, with Rhonda Sheers and Gilbert Godfrey, which played 80’s B-films. I did that until “Movies Til’ Dawn” came on around 4am, which I would watch until I finally passed out! That all began my deep love for the wide range of storytelling found in the medium of film.


Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?

The product of a dysfunctional home, I was a rebellious kid. As a result, I spent a semester in a school for unruly kids. It was one-on-one with a teacher once a week. The teachers assigned me to write a poem. I had written poems throughout my life, to help me process the challenges that I faced growing up, so I had plenty of practice. I completed my assignment and brought the poem to my teacher. When she read it, she requested another the following week, she asked for another. Week after week, she kept asking for more. One day, she told me that she had submitted them to a publisher, and she had an offer for me to be published! Hearing that, had a profound impact on me. This is what gave me the confidence to write my first screenplay. The desire to create something from emotion, that expressed a reality, which entertained someone so much, it was revered.

At this point, I understood the passion of storytelling, and how to evoke emotion. I have to give a nod to Oscar-winning writer, Jana Sue Memel. She was my screenwriting instructor at LAFS. When I first started taking her course, I believed in my skills as a screenwriter, so when she would critique my work, we would argue and debate over my writing. Oh, how I thought she was against me, but she never gave up on me. She’s the one who helped me turn my stories into properly formatted screenplays. She really went the extra mile for me, even taking time after I graduated to advise me on a one-on-one basis. She instructed me in the fine art of structure, acts, subtext, exposition, and more, which led to my evolution from a storyteller, to a screenwriter.


Last, but not least, huge props to my close friend, Adrian Garcia, previously of CAA and Paradigm. He opened my eyes to the newest forms of screenplay formatting and structure. He clued me into the use of sounds and actions to enhance the read, and really make a screenplay pop for the reader. He gave me access to the hottest scripts in Hollywood, which I would analyze, over and over, learning from the radical ways that current, star-screenwriters formatted their screenplays. To me, this was the final tool that I needed to write screenplays that make an impact on readers in today’s marketplace.


Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?

Honestly, I saw a lot of movies come out that were lacking in story. They just didn’t interest me, and I believed that I could help create something better. I knew I had experiences that gave me insight into a world, which many could never imagine, let alone live through. I grew up living with money and also lived broke and homeless. I’ve traveled the world, searching for culture and different perspectives, and along the way, I met many diverse and interesting people. I had written poems my entire life and loved to write. With all of the experiences that I’ve had, and my desire to tell stories, coupled with my love for movies, I figured it was time to bring my world to the film world. So, I took a stab at writing, I really loved the craft, and here we are.


Q: How do you define success for yourself?

From being homeless, living on the streets of Los Angeles, to where I am now, everything is a success. Even the simplest thing, like being able to afford a meal, or having a computer to write on, fills me with the joy of success. So, for me, success is a hard thing to define. I’ll focus my answer on my writing. Even then, it comes in so many forms, during so many stages. From having an amazing idea to completing that perfect action or dialogue. When a script feels polished enough to show another soul. The moment a reader enjoys your work. When a Producer backs your project. The moment an Actor tells you that your character is special, has a voice, and is a great vehicle. The times you’re on set, and see a vision, which you imagined in your head, manifested into reality before your eyes. This Industry is a long pitch-black hallway, full of moments, which are big bright lights or little glows. If you only wait for the huge moments (big success), you’ll be in the dark more times than not. But, if you focus on the little glows (small achievements), they light your path the entire time, and you always feel successful.


I remember a time I was stressed about successfully establishing myself as part of the Entertainment Industry. I used to worry, toss, and turn, wondering if anyone cared about my work. I would complain to a close friend, “Nobody reads me, and people that do talk interest, but no one options my work.” And the reply I received; “Shut up, Judah. You’re so ungrateful. This is the most exciting moments of your career. The mystery, the wonder, the mystique. I don’t even get excited anymore. Enjoy the moments on the climb to success. When you’re there, it’s an entirely different beast.”


How do you define success for your path you're on?

The path I am on leads to making an impact on the world and leaving a legacy. Even if it is as simple as creating a common phrase, like “May the force be with you”, or an iconic character, like Freddy Kruger. Even to take a word and change its meaning, like whoever took the world for cold, cool, and made it a description for composure. To know my films affected others, culture, history, would fill me with joy of success.

And, also, when I reach a point where I can travel the world, with a family of my own, without a worry or care about money, while returning to Los Angeles, to make a film every so often… I’ve succeeded to the end of my path. Because, if you don’t have an end goal, why are you even walking the path?


Q: Describe a typical day in your life.

No day in my life is like any other. I have no set schedule, and I do what I want when I want. That’s the benefit of working since I was twelve years old, while most people were off playing. So, I wake up every day, and unless I have meetings set, festival appearances, or movie screenings, I just put on a smile and aspire to make the most of the day.

How do you define a successful day?

Successful days are the ones I wake up, take every chance, in every moment, to fill my life with happiness and good memories, while I progress towards my goals, and live my dreams. Or, if I am traveling, and out of LA, boom, it’s a successful day!


Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?

I hate to say this, because the artist inside me screams out in anger, but an understanding of the entertainment industry, and what is required of a screenwriter, I.E. knowledge of what domestic and international markets desire, modern screenplay formatting, and the ability to network yourself, before ever even getting into describing your projects. Remember, talk first, get to know someone, wait until they ask you what you have going on. Even then, hold off the pitch if you can… make them not only ask you but get them to have a burning desire to know about what you have going on, then, when the moments right… blow their mind with a good pitch.


Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?

This questionnaire! Whew! It gets down deep! Ok. I find that just getting people to READ is such a challenge! No one wants to read anymore. I was told by an A-List celeb one time, “I’m not gonna lie to you, Jude. I haven’t read a script in six years. I know who the project is coming from and that the role is good.” That aside, these days, it’s all about packaging and PreVis. People want to watch, not read. It’s so hard to wrap your head around, as a Screenwriter. Plus, most of the time, as soon as you pitch the story, it’s “Who do you have attached?”, or “Is there a sizzle I can see?” So, packaging a project, as a screenwriter, has been an interesting challenge. I miss the days when you could pitch an idea, and they would make the movie, and buy you the bar that you pitched them at!


Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?

I’ve found entering festivals has been the greatest choice I’ve made for my career. If you get enough of those honors rolling through, people start to wonder what you’re writing, and want to read it!


Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?

I try and learn something from everyone I meet, and in every situation, I am in. My mind is expanded when I meet others with vision and original ideas. I enjoy discussions on industry practices and the current state of entertainment. I like to sit back and observe others as they network, and the perceptions people have, and how they carry themselves, around the hierarchy of people present. I look for those at the top of the circles, figure out who they are, and approach them to see if I can learn from them, or make a connection to advance a project to the next stage of its development. I love to pitch, and am pitched to, which helps me find what works for me, and what others do that doesn’t. I view other’s films and scout them for talent to use in my own.


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