– Nir Paniry, runner-up in the 2015 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition with The Coyote.
What pushed you more into writing than any other field within the film industry?
Besides the love of writing itself, I think it’s the autonomy of it all. Every other job in the film business relies on moving parts. If you’re a director you need a script. If you’re an editor you need a film, etc, etc. ... You’re reliant on others in order to start creating. When you’re a writer (unless you’re on assignment) you are completely dependent on your own mind and gumption to put pen to paper. It’s insular, like painting a picture. I can think of a story tonight and start writing it tonight. There are not many jobs in this business that function that way.
And yes, ultimately if it moves up the pipeline, your story will change and morph and become a much more team-oriented endeavor, but there’s something so interesting about it all starting with you and a computer, and that’s it.
Part of the reason The Coyote fared well in the Script Pipeline competition is because it took a fairly basic action premise and a put a unique, character-centric label on the story as a whole. What was the basis for the plot? What made you feel this would be a good setup for a script in the genre?
Being a foreigner myself, I’ve always had a fascination with coyotes and how assisting people across the border was a job in and of itself. I hadn’t seen too many movies where they were front and center and thought exploring the mentality of someone who does this for a living would be fun new territory. It wasn’t until I read a story about Rene ‘Boxer’ Enriquez (a high-level and extremely dangerous member of the Mexican mafia) that the inspiration started to take shape and a two-hander started to form. What if you had to escort a guy like that over the border?
I’ve always been a fan of films that explore unconventional jobs. And bonus points if that job is dangerous! I feel those type of films have the drama and conflict baked in so your concept does your work for you. Look at films like The Transporter, The Hurt Locker, every Hitman film, Nightcrawler ... All different types of films centered around dangerous, unconventional jobs. I felt like an action movie centered around a coyote that has to perform his toughest assignment would live comfortably in that genre as well. Then once the characters started coming to life, the story begins to write itself, and you know you have something.
Reading produced screenplays, as well as “hot” unproduced scripts, is huge for any writer at any level. What types of scripts appeal to you the most, from a writing standpoint? How much does reading other scripts influence your own writing, if at all?
I try to read anything and everything that’s out there. Watching lots of movies is great, but reading screenplays gets you familiarized with the inner workings of it all. If you’re a writer, you should be reading or writing. Always.
In terms of what type of scripts I love, I’m all over the place, but high-concept genre always gets me excited. Sci-fi, hard action, fantasy, twist on an old tale or IP, good horror (GOOD horror). Something that makes me go, “Shit! Why didn’t I think of that?!” I love when a script makes you feel like the writer loved their material and characters. In terms of influence, good scripts (like good movies) always influence writers. Art propels art. Not in a ‘I gotta steal that idea’ kinda way, but more in a ‘they raised the bar so now I want to raise it’ kinda way. Reading a great script is inspiring, but what I think separates the writers from the WRITERS is that desire to say, “That film was great and all, but now I gotta throw MY hat into the ring.”
You’ve been writing for some time now, working in development, in production ... What are some of the takeaways you’ve gained? The “insider” advice you can pass along to those who haven’t been on the ground floor of the industry?
Concept, concept, concept. I used to believe that if I wrote a script, the industry owed me a read. Not so much. Unless your last name is Nolan, getting busy people to read is difficult. Getting them to plunk down money, even harder. So how do you get yourself on top of the pile? A great concept. A great hook. In fact, I’d wager to say that a so-so written script with a great concept will get WAY more attention than a so-so concept that is written immaculately. When you become a seasoned writer, you can afford to go conventional and write yet another ‘hitman with a heart of gold’ story, but if you’re the new guy, you better come up with something new.
The other thing I’d say is to make yourself aware of what’s selling out there. Think like a producer. The market is tough and spec sales are hard, but there’s room for it if you have the right idea. Think of ideas that FEEL like movies. Originality is great, but it needs to be coupled with familiarity, or people won’t get the kind of story you’re telling. It’s a fine line, and if you can show people that you can walk it and entertain them while doing it, you’ll become a force to be reckoned with. You’ll get reads. Always keep in mind that as a writer, the industry ultimately needs you.
Every writer has similar long-term aspirations, but what are your short-term goals? What’s the most logical next step for your writing career?
Right now, I’m working on two super secret, I’d-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you projects that I can’t wait to put out there. They’ll most likely be ready at year’s end. One is a big-budget tentpole and the other is a horror indie, so it’s been fun to handle both sides of the spectrum.
I always try to give myself a script benchmark. The last few years it’s been to write at least two to three scripts a year. I think that’s important. In terms of next steps, I’m just going to keep writing. If you love it, you’ll just do it. In fact, sometimes I feel like l have more stories to tell than time to tell them! Other than that, I’ve met a lot of great people this year as a result of Script Pipeline and The Coyote and hope to work with them all in the coming years.