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Screenwriter Spotlight: Winner (Jeff Barton)

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

Jeff Barton

Born and raised in Denver, Colorado and although I haven’t lived there for most of my adult life, a love for the outdoors is deeply imprinted on me. I love skiing in the winter and trail-running in the summer!

Now I live in Los Angeles.

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

The idea for IMAGINE came from a pivotal experience in my life and a hope that I could share the feelings and lessons that came with it. My dad died of cancer when I was 12 and I wanted to write a story that brings the journey of grief (especially for kids) to life. Sadly, my experience is not uncommon and my hope is that this story can help kids and families understand the complexities of bereavement.

It took me 6 months from inception to “completion…”although I use that word cautiously because the work has not stopped and I still continue to refine the screenplay.

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

Step 1: Hey what’s the Big Idea…?

  • –  This was were the ideas flowed freely… I had a goal to create a world that could be the allegorical representation for this idea of loss and grief… I threw a lot of ideas at the wall. I landed on the loss of our imaginary friend.
  • –  At this point I have a very loose idea of who the story is about, and where the story is going to go.

Step 2: Questions and Answers.

I do a lot of research before I jump into writing a story. I find the realist things in life are the most fertile ground for invoking imagined stories, characters, and worlds. This story required a lot of focus on psychology (which I have no background in, but the internet is rich with information and scientifically-backed resources)

  • –  Where do Imaginary Friends go? Where does the imagination come from? What are all the ways people use their imagination?
  • –  Grief and Bereavement? Is there a right way to travel the journey of grief? What happens to a person when they lose someone they love? Are there different types of grief.

Step 3: Storyboard

I create a 3-act structure outline. High level but I identify the very specific intention of each moment. Then I storyboard. Cork-board and index cards is the undefeated method for achieving this step.

Before I ever write a word in script format I have a mostly complete scene-board for every moment in the film along with a long list of creative ideas for what the world looks like, the fun moments that can be incorporated into it, and the types of characters our protagonist will encounter along the way.

Step 4: Write it.

Write the draft. Scene by scene. Methodically I work my way through the first draft. Careful not to be too careful. By the time I reach the end there are tons of holes, it’s cheesy, not that funny, disjointed and – *placeholder for final totally epic thought (incomplete).

Step 5: The power of the editing process.

Now I go back. I feel free of the immense weight of trying to string this massive thing together and that allows me to see each moment for what it is, step back and examine the ideas that might not work, and tinker with each scene until it achieves its intended result.

Step 6: The early reader

Get someone who loves me to read it. I think this is an important step because it helps me pull myself out of the tangle of my story and get fresh (and friendly) eyes to ask questions about it. Forgiving enough to give you the benefit of the doubt, but caring enough to want you to succeed and be therefore forthcoming about their reaction.

Step 7: Edit again!
Tighter this time. Grammar this time. And make it ready for its first public experience. Step 8: Find more people to read it. And keep tinkering

This is the never ending step. Get people to read it. Ask them all the right questions. Stay true to the things that are most important to you and to your version of the story but don’t hold onto things just because they are load-bearing.

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

I always loved writing but two years ago was when I decided that it was something I needed to do.

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

Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, and Pixar at large. The way they distill huge life concepts into digestible, entertaining, and beautiful stories I believe to be very powerful. I want to do that with my own. I make no attempt to hide their impact on my style. They are a huge influence across all aspects of my story-telling.

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

I have a fear of missing the things I don’t yet know… I love shows and movies in the moment but the overpowering sensation of “what else is out there?” Keeps me from getting too lost in one show.

But… FINDING NEMO is my all-time, need a feel good moment, story about a dad doing it all for his son.

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


The concept of the scene is that in order for two humans’ paths to collide (literally in this moment) there need to be an incredible number of coincidences and series of events to occur to get both those people to the same exact place at the same exact time.

The message of that scene is outstanding, stopped me in my tracks to examine an aspect of life that I often take for granted. The way the scene was constructed is beautiful, with a tensity that builds as it leads you to the conclusion, and collision. One of my all-time favorites.

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

Hannibal Lecter. I’ve never seen evil look so unimaginably sinister and yet so real that I could believe he exists. That performance and character makes my skin crawl every time I think of it. And I love it!

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

I would love to talk to Aristotle. And although I could only pretend to keep up with much of our conversation, I would ask him if he was happy, and what made him so.

I feel that “happiness” is an under-represented goal for people and his concept of “happiness being found through achievement” might be one of the philosophies that has been twisted through the ages to mislead people in their pursuit of a “successful” life.