Recent Blogs

Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist (Sander Gusinow)

What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby? 

Sander Gusinow, (Goose-in-now) born in Eugene, Oregon. After living in New York, my wife and I decided Portland was the best place to raise our Chihuahua. My hobby is Dungeons and Dragons which is a game for adults and I will die on this hill. 

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now? 

During 2016 and 2020 arguing with people online ruined a few of my friendships. One person decided he knew “everything there was to know about me” since I included my pronouns in my Twitter bio. Another person said I was “everything wrong with the world” because I argued public-option healthcare was a better fit for the U.S. than single payer. 

Social media has certainly played a part in creating our hyper-judgmental society. But it’s not like we didn’t drink the Kool-Aid willingly. It’s much easier on the brain to make snap judgments and categorize people quickly. 

I thought “what would happen if an internet warrior got real weapons?” Who would they target? Not people who deserved it, certainly, but people they decided were ‘part of the problem’ and who would be easy to get to and torment. 

Charles Dickens says at the beginning of “A Christmas Carol” he is using the loving, reflective lense of Christmas to introduce people to an idea. I felt like Christmas was the perfect time to examine this issue since it’s the only holiday I can think of where people’s morality (‘Naughty’ and ‘Nice’) is brought into focus. The fact is, everyone sucks sometimes and everyone has good in them as well. 

Took me about a year from concept to completed draft.  

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process? 

One of the silver linings of COVID-19 has been getting back in touch with my film and theater friends across the country, and having actors willing to hop on Zoom and do a reading has been invaluable. I had forgotten how important actors are to my process. 

In the beginning, my process feels a bit like sculpting. (or what I imagine sculpting is like. I’ve never tried) Once I have my idea, I start imagining characters and the scenes where those characters show who they are. Then I feel like I’ve discovered the shape of the sculpture’s hand or shoulders in the marble. Sometimes just a pinky. As those characters connect and interact, it’s like joining the limbs to the torso. Then the ‘big scense’ hit me, the climax, finale, etc, and that’s like seeing the head or the whole body.

Eventually I start to see the whole sculpture, or story, inside the marble. That’s when everything gets clear and I start deciding the story beats. I take long walks to puzzle out what is really going on with this new thing I’ve created. What are the underlying currents driving the characters, for good or bad. Then it goes from being a ton of little sculptures into one huge piece that I can (try to) condense to a logline.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter? 

I had just auditioned for acting school in New York and bombed spectacularly. It was a humiliating experience and my mom, (who came along to visit New York City) bought me a copy of the “Inglourious Basterds” screenplay from a street vendor as a way of telling me not to lose heart. 

I had only done stage acting and playwriting and never actually read a screenplay. It opened up a whole new world for what was possible creatively. I must have read the script eight times that night taking notes, jotting down new ideas, and happy crying because reading it felt like being set free. 

I’ve been writing scene headings ever since. 

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow? 

Number one is Mel Brooks. He uses laughter to make huge, pointed attacks on the worst parts of humanity. He doesn’t make nazism scary in The Producers, he exposes it as ridiculous, which is more damaging. 

Darren Lynn Bousman is my horror guru. He has such an immense creativity and instinct for theme and mood. Every second of his work, from films to musicals to immersive theater productions, contains the entire meaning of his story. A true master craftsman. He also directed Saw II, which was an immense influence on Naughty and my favorite horror movie of all time. I learn something whenever I watch his stuff. 

Last but not least is Rachel Bloom. She uses comedy to approach characters who are deeply damaged and make horrendous choices, but so loveable you want to jump into the TV and hug them. She shows us their scars in ways that are funny and tragic at the same time.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why? 

I have seen every episode of Frasier at least five times. The show’s writing was superb. It had wit, bravery, and an amazingly talented cast.

It was a show about highly intellectual people, but the writers always brought the stories back to family bonds and the elusiveness of true love. Even when I was young and the jokes went over my head I couldn’t look away because I knew it was smarter than me, and I loved that. Now that I’m older and can appreciate the craft, I realize it’s even smarter than it looked. 

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why? 

The climax of Schindler’s List, when Oskar Schindler is about to get in his car to flee the advancing American Army. The jews he rescued come to see him off and wish him well. He sees the people he saved, then looks at his car, his clothes, his watch and realizes exactly how many more people he could have saved by selling them. 

He breaks down in tears, feeling the loss of every single life he missed. How much more he could have done. We know he will go down in history as one of the most heroic humanitarians of all time, but he has no idea. Oskar has so thoroughly completed his character arc, and realized that to save a life is to save the whole world, he understands the magnitude of what he did and didn’t do. 

It’s my favorite scene of all time because it shows the primordial desire of the human soul to do good, and the burden and guilt that comes along with trying to be a good person. It was momentous, moving, but deeply relatable. Who among us hasn’t realized too late how much more we could have done?

It’s the last scene of the movie and before we go back into the world, Spielberg makes us ask ourselves “How am I making the world a better place?” “Am I doing enough for those less fortunate?”  Everyone who sees that film comes out of it wanting to be a better person, which is the ultimate goal of art. 

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why? 

On a very different note, Han Solo. Usually you have to make the choice of having a character be cool, capable and charming or giving them a lot of problems and a long, rewarding character arc. Han Solo does both. He’s cool, but only because he gained skills through experience that made him jaded. He has to learn from the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed idealists he makes fun of (not to mention fall in love with one of them) to find his inner purpose and live a life where his talents don’t go to waste.

In a world of lightsabers and force lighting, his arc is the most rewarding part of the trilogy. 

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

It’s a little on the nose, but Shakespere. I would ask him about his process, what he thought about the roles people play in society, and how his wife and daughters found their way into his work. And of course I would get all the dirt on Christopher Marlowe.