The following is from an interview with our very talented screenwriting finalist Robert Tate.
What's your background? I am a former Air Force AWACS pilot and currently a captain at a major airline.
How long have you been writing? I have been writing for a long time. I really got my start in the Air Force writing squadron safety training briefings, flight training briefings and training courses. I sort of had a knack for it and the more I wrote, the more my commanders wanted me to do in the squadron.
And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting? I love movies. I Always have. Actually, my earliest childhood memory was my father taking me to see what is still my favorite movie and the best WWI aviation movie ever made, The Blue Max. This starred George Peppard, Ursula Andres, James Mason and Jeremy Kemp. This started my love of movies, airplanes and the desire to fly. One year for Christmas, my wife bought me the book 12 O’clock High which is my second favorite movie. After reading the book, I watched the movie again and immediately thought, “Why did they make the movie like this?” So, I thought I could do it better. I read the original screenplay and it started from there.
What screenwriting training have you received? Actually, almost none. I took a two-hour introductory course at a community college once. When I say two-hour course, I don’t mean two credit hours but it was two hours one Friday night. But that being said, I read a lot of books, many screenplays from successful movies, entered many competitions and paid for the feedback. Although painful to read at times, I learned a lot from what other people saw in my writing. Luckily for me, I had done a lot of writing before venturing into screenwriting.
And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs? Clearly the biggest thus far has been this Faith in Film screenwriting competition.
What else have you written? I have written dozens of Air Force training programs but outside of work, I have two published books, have had several articles published in magazines, over 150 newspaper columns, more than three dozen book reviews for professional journals and a smattering of other things.
What writing habits work for you? Personally, I like to write in the morning. On the perfect day I will try to write for three to four hours and that is usually it for the day. If I can get two in, I’ll take that. Flying plays a part in what I can put on paper as well. Also, I love rewriting. Love it. Rewriting never gets old. To me there is nothing better than taking a chapter and watching it get smaller and smaller, tighter and tighter, as I trim away and “kill all my darlings.”
Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking? I like to write in my home office. I like to write and “get it out of the way” for the day. When I get up from my desk, I usually have no desire to go back and sit down again unless it is another project I am working on. If I am simply wordsmithing, I will sometimes sit in the living room with my dogs on my lap and the wife watching the tube. I can do this anytime during the day. But the serious writing and deep rewriting has to be alone in my office, nice and quiet.
What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about? When Crosses Clashed. It is based on the true story of a Lutheran Reverend Henry Gerecke who was sent to Nuremberg to minister to the first group of Nazis standing trial for war crimes. To avoid being an in-your-face documentary, Gerecke’s story is told through the eyes of a fifth-year film student, Taylor Galland, whose movie project centers on Gerecke and his ministry. In effect, the movie you see is what Taylor is producing. My screenplay also focuses on the opposition both Gerecke faced in his decision to go to Nuremberg as well as Taylor’s problems she encounters on campus for making a movie “about Nazis,” which of course is not the case.
Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script? I love World War II and I find the inspiration for almost everything I write from my study of this time in history. And if it does not involve WWII, you had best believe there is an airplane in there somewhere. As for When Crosses Clashed, I was sitting in my den one morning watching television when out of nowhere, I felt as if I were told, “Write a screenplay about Henry Gerecke.” I had read about him probably 10 years before but had not really thought that much about him until that morning. I mentioned that to my wife and she told me I had better “get writing.”
Describe your process? The first step in my process for a major project is the wife and I head out to Kohls. There I find a shirt. I have no idea what I am looking for but when I find it, I know it, and I buy it. Whenever I am working on that project, I wear that shirt. Stupid? Maybe but we both kind of get a kick out of it.
Do you outline your story first? Since most of my writing deals with WWII, there is always a lot of research involved before anything is written. But yes, I do a lot of outlining. It works for me.
Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? I am old school. Notecards for me. If you ask me what a beat sheet is, I will tell you I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
Or do you simply sit down and let it flow? When I start to write, I write. I do not wordsmith in the middle. That messes up the flow for me. There is always time to rewrite. Too often I found that if I tried to wordsmith in the middle of writing, many ideas vanish never to be seen again.
What was your experience with our festival? You guys have been great. I have placed in other competitions before, but you guys are the first to actually follow through on your promise to get my screenplay read by an industry professional. The first. I already had a one hour sit with one man who gave me the most amazing feedback. I am in the process of updating this screenplay to include his recommendations. I also got an email just this morning that my screenplay was sent to a production company for consideration. Like I said, you guys are the real deal and keep the promises stated on your website. Even if my screenplay is never sold, you have more than kept up your end of the bargain. Excellent in every way.
Are you happy with your involvement? I am very happy with my involvement. I saw an email about two weeks before the competition closed out so I decided at the last minute to enter my screenplay. I did a little work on it, sent it in and you had better believe I am glad I did.
What did you like most about your experience? Your honesty and integrity. You cannot buy that with a silver dollar. You have come through in every way you said you would. I entered one competition where I was a finalist, I never heard anything after that but when a similar movie was released several years later, there were at least three elements from my screenplay that made it to the big screen. So much so that several friends and colleagues called and asked if that movie was my screenplay. You cannot make this stuff up. But the Faith in Film group has been excellent in every way and I cannot say thanks enough.
What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future? I am currently working on another edition for my second published book but most of my time is taken up on a major book project dealing with the Combined Bomber Offensive in WWII. I also have five WWII screenplays that hopefully after my involvement with this film festival, I may be needing to edit.
Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay? If you can, take a real class. In the long run, I think it slowed me down a bit figuring everything out on my own. But definitely read screenplays, read some books and whenever you can, get feedback from writers better than you. Most people need to get their work critiqued every now and then.
Last, but not least, what have been your biggest victories since entering our festival? Well, that is still to be determined. At least my work has been seen by others and there is a hope that it will continue to garner support.