Q&A: Screenwriter and Director Frank Tremblay

Q&A: Screenwriter and Director Frank Tremblay

A two-time Pipeline finalist (Film Pipeline Short Film and Script Pipeline Screenwriting), Frank Tremblay is adapting his screenplay Sudden Dead into a comic series, writing for a Canadian TV series, and pushing his directing career forward.

With your horror/comedy Sudden Dead, we knew early on it was something unique as far as its visual storytelling, hence why it placed as a Script Pipeline Screenwriting finalist. But what made you decide to say, “well, screw it, I’m gonna make this one scene animated because X,” and these other twists in execution?

That sort of swing-for-the-fences approach doesn’t always work either. Why did you feel it might here?

It's exactly what I told myself: screw it. Most liberties taken with that script were the result of instinct and just doing it for fun. Zero expectations, zero effs given. The visual storytelling and cinematic nature of the writing simply came from a place of wanting to direct this, but when I was first done with it, it was a 30-page short, not a feature. When I typed "Fade Out," I felt like I had written something unproducable as far as shorts go. It had special effects, action, zombies, animation, stunts ... and it was 30 pages. I didn't particularly feel like it was a swing-for-the-fences as much as it was just hitting baseballs for fun in my backyard. I did it for me.

I shared it with a few filmmaking peers in the hopes that the fun I had while writing it would perspire through their reading of it, and that they would have fun, too. And they did. It was only a bit later that someone suggested this could have real legs for a feature.

I’ve read a lot of screenwriters over the years, but don’t see a ton coming out of Montreal, your hometown. Toronto, yes. Vancouver, yes. Strangely, randomly, Saskatchewan. But rarely Montreal. What makes your corner of Canada different from other parts of the country and their respective filmmaking and screenwriting communities? Has that media environment affected the types of stories you write?

The biggest difference between these major Canadian city centers is that Montreal is part of the only province where the official language is French. Most of the filmmaking and television that goes on in the Quebec province is French. In terms of the media environment affecting the types of stories we write, I think being French-Canadians, there's definitely an element of feeling like outsiders even if we're part of North America, and an initial language barrier. But like many Canadians, I grew up with Hollywood influences, even if they were dubbed. The means of promotion and distribution of the Hollywood machine are so strong that it was a big part of the cultural diet growing up.

We spoke about this before, and I’m always curious about how governments outside America support the arts. Are the barriers in getting a film made in Canada easier or more difficult compared to the U.S.? What are some of the differences, culturally or politically or otherwise, between us that you see?

In every film ecosystem, there are always pros and cons. Up here, we are lucky to benefit from government/public funding for the arts and to fund our films. But there are far more applicants than the number of available slots for funding. So it can take a while—years—to get something greenlit.

You also have to meet certain requirements and criteria in terms of experience if you apply for certain grants. You couldn't, for example, just apply for feature funding if you haven't done anything before. You have to fit that funding body's definition of someone deemed qualified in their eyes. In Hollywood, you could sell a spec and get it made even if you don't have any previous credited work. Additionally, there are only a handful of funding bodies, and if you get a definitive no from one of them, especially on the feature side, it becomes very unlikely you'll get your movie greenlit. Meanwhile, in Hollywood, you could get 99 no's but one yes and your project might see the light of day.

You’ve written several shorts, including Monsters, which placed in the 2022 Film Pipeline season. Your directorial debut, too, I believe. What knowledge did you gain from the shorts you wrote that influenced this one? Did you glean anything from the previous films’ directors and their methodology or their techniques?

The short format is something you can explore in many directions artistically. There's a freedom to shorts that doesn't come with the commercial expectations and the more traditional structure a feature does. This was also the first short I wrote that wasn't a "work-for-hire" for a director. Unfortunately, I was not on set on any of those previous shorts, so I didn't really gain any insight in terms of set methodology or techniques from these directors. To direct Monsters, much like screenwriting, I just had to immerse myself in a self-taught process, reading and watching videos on the craft. That, and listening to DVD commentaries.

Your approach when considering writing or directing a project: what are some of the most crucial factors for you in deciding whether or not to pursue it?

Resonating and growing obsessed with the idea (if it's mine) or having a strong emotional reaction to a story (if it's someone else's script) is paramount. After that, it's really all about practicality, trying to stay open-minded but realistic in what you can achieve or could get made and go through the door that opens.

There are a hundred ways to get a short film made. If you could speak to the newcomers who haven’t produced one yet, instead of what they need to get right (since that varies), what do you find tends to go wrong? An unclear vision? The script? The casting?

As far as script, casting, and vision goes, if you're a newcomer/first-timer, you should spend considerable focus on these things. Pre-production is when you can spend time on all these elements for little money. Things can and will go wrong for so many different reasons on a project. Some of them are uncontrollable, some of them could have been avoided or mitigated with proper planning. Poor communication is one of those that can have a snowballing effect, so you want to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Ultimately, a lot of this has to do with preparation. If you're prepared, but paradoxically keep an open mind if something goes wrong, you're halfway there. If you know something is bound to go wrong despite your best efforts, it's easier to keep a cool head and not panic. When something doesn't go according to plan, it can open a myriad of other possibilities you hadn't considered before and that's difficult to see if you have tunnel vision because of stress. Lemons into lemonade might sound cliché, but very true in this case.

Bear with me … Let’s say you can travel back in time and remake one movie, with you installed as writer/director. Go.

There are too many possible answers!

But it wouldn't be because I think I could make it better or to put my stamp on it. It would be more about going through the process of making it, living that experience. I don't think I would want to show the final cut of that movie to anyone afterwards.

Frank on X | Monsters Short

*Feature Image: Cover of Frank Tremblay's upcoming comic, Sudden Dead. Illustrated by Blanche.

Partner at Pipeline Media Group. Oversees all divisions, including Script, Book, and Film. Conceived of Pipeline Artists to gather creatives "in a single ecosytem" and bring a fresh POV on the arts.
Los Angeles / San Pedro, CA
More posts by Matthew J Misetich.
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