Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Questionnaire (Brad Perrott & Benjamin Sarno)
By Jen B.
WHAT’S YOUR NAME AND WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Benjamin Sarno, and I hail from the East Bay, Northern California, Oakland area.
WHAT’S THE TITLE OF YOUR SCREENPLAY?
Sa’Be (the Legend of Bigfoot)
WHAT’S THE LOGLINE AND HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT FOR YOUR SCREENPLAY?
A Native American policeman battles duplicitous governmental agencies in his quest to
safeguard the sacred remains of Sa’Be (Bigfoot) from exploitation.
I was planning a trip through Italy late one night, researching Otzi the Iceman as a site to visit (museum in Bolzano). At the same time I was pondering the adaptation of my
grandfather’s 1970’s manuscript on Sasquatch (“Red Eyed Devil”) for my next project. The combination caused a very surreal dream the next morning: I was in the middle of a freak snowstorm with a National Guardsman. He was on the verge of freezing, in the dark, snow falling heavily, sitting against a tree in a dense, isolated forest. He had located a very sacred item (evidence of Bigfoot), and I could sense the weight of the world on his shoulder. His own survival, on the verge of freezing to death,seemed less menacing than the fear he felt from approaching“agents.”I woke with area lization that this was my next script project. I wrote the first draft while jetlagged through Italy,on theEuro-Rail, etc. Myson complained aboutthe2amkeyboardingtheentiretrip.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR HISTORY AS A SCREENWRITER. WHERE DID YOUR JOURNEY BEGIN?
I wrote my dreams in story format for ten years, obsessed, while my father had launched into his retirement gig of screenplay writing. He eventually wrote several books on the craft. He hammered at me constantly to stop writing dreams, and attempt the craft he was fully invested in. After ten years of obsessive dream compiling, I quit cold turkey one day. I attempted my first script in 2002, an adaptation of a great sci-fi novel I’d read in the 1980s (“Bill, the Galactic Hero”). A year later I wrote my first original feature script. Fast forward to 2005, I was laid off during a massive downsizing, and I attended film school in San Francisco (SFSDF). During the year-long curriculum, I worked on a couple independent features, and many student films, while writing and directing my own shorts.
The demands of two kids and a mortgage forced me back into the non-art world. My brain lingered for 10 years, until my next script idea hit me (Ghost Ride the Vic; a supernatural police-thriller). I worked on that script for 3 years, and it eventually made Official Selection at the Beverly Hills Film Festival in 2020. I started this script (Sa’Be) while reworking and redrafting G.R.T.V. After two years of rewrites on Sa’Be I believed it was close enough to enter in festivals, if for no other reason than to get outside feedback.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO BE A SCREENWRITER OF FILMMAKER?
First off, I believe that all humans have an innate drive for expression. I also believe that I have no choice in the matter. I literally scrape and scratch to get at least 30 minutes of creative writing or editing in every day. While I don’t believe that a 30-minute cap on your flow is healthy, in this demanding world we must utilize what we have. I am clearly obsessed again with this genre of writing. I have around 15 scripts in my head, 5 with the first ten pages written, etc. I do like ideas to simmer a bit, for up to 6 months, while taking notes, but sometimes you have to jump in and just start typing.
WHAT IS THE BIGGET CHALLENGE YOU HAVE ENCOUNTERED AS A SCREENWRITER AND FILMMAKER?
If I had to choose one challenge from the many, one that many artists have dealt with, it would be the classic Man vs Self conflict. Writing and attempting to hone my skill in screenwriting, while maintaining my own integrity, with the ups and downs of liking or despising my projects, and being patient, has been a real challenge. Perseverance is not the challenge, because I know I will never quit. But for me, there is an internal struggle all the same.
WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU WANT AUDIENCES TO TAKE AWAY WHEN WATCHING YOUR FILMS OR READING YOUR SCREENPLAYS?
When I first jumped back into to script writing in 2016, my goal was to simply write a high- octane action flick. But with the help of mentors and great editors, I learned about arc and conflict. So, with Sa’Be and G.R.T.V., I did try to plant hidden messages into the narrative, without being preachy.
In G.R.T.V., the message was that “Disorder” should be removed from the medical term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I believe that it is not a “disorder” at all, but rather a perfectly normal reaction by the human brain. I’ve worked with Veterans and victims of violent crime for 14 years now and lived a full life myself. In all my years of human
interaction, I don’t see the benefit of adding the stigma of “disorder” to anyone plagued with
processing trauma. It surely does not help the afflicted person heal if they are so labeled.
For Sa’Be, I did a lot of research on fracking, and what it has done to local communities in North Dakota. You can’t get too preachy in a fictional action thriller, but I did elect to plant a few subtle seeds regarding indigenous rights and environmentalism. For instance, I learned that Ojibwe women were historically the caretakers of water for their people before the arrival of the Europeans. An Ojibwe woman in North Dakota a few years ago filed suit against the U.S. government and Big Oil, initiating a ban on fracking near reservation lands. That learned piece of information was worthy of one sentence of dialogue from my protagonist during a moment of mentorship to another young character, in between actions scenes, in the context of the story.
My point being is you can seed an action-packed thriller with moralistic and/or ethical ideas for change, in-between car chases, explosions, or shoot-outs, if your script has such things in it. There are subtle messages in my scripts, which hopefully grow within the reader or viewer over time.
IDEALLY, WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS?
I wish I had asked myself this five years ago. I will still be employed in my current profession, which I do love. I have seven more years for a full retirement, and it does pay the bills. However, that said, I would love to have my foot in the door in the film industry. I see myself 5 years from now working on 2 or 3 scripts, each in various stages of development.
With an agent in my corner would be great. But if I’m still above ground, I will be grinding onwards, because the Struggle is real, if you accept it.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE FILM OF ALL TIME? IF YOU CAN’T SINGLE OUT A FILM, GIVE US YOUR TOP THREE.
Star Wars. Apocalypse Now. Dead Man. (unfair question)
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MOVIE?
Island at the Top of the World. Without a doubt. My grandmother took me to the theater in Hayward, and she bought me the vinyl soundtrack at the mall when we left the theater. That was around 1976. I still have the vinyl. That movie took me on a journey that only Star Wars two years later could match.
WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CINEMA HERO?
Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Billy (Predator; Sonny Landham). (Another unfair question)
WHO’S YOUR PERONAL HERO?
Selfless people. People who continue to do amazing things for others, all around the world. People who devote themselves to causes, not caring about their own safety or health. Davids world-wide who never shy from Goliaths.
What’s your name and where are you from?
I’m Brad Perrott and I am from Downingtown, PA.
What’s the title of your screenplay?
A Warm Place in the Sun.
What’s the logline and how did you come up with the concept for your screenplay?
A Florida detective hunts for a dangerous killer. The concept is an adaptation of an Amazon-published book of the same name by Jon Dobner.
Tell us about your history as a screenwriter. Where did your journey begin?
I am a professional actor, this is my 1st screenplay. It began with a ‘perfect storm’ of opportunity: around the same time my colleague Mr. Dobner published his book was the unfortunate commencement of the covid-19 lockdowns. This dark chapter in the world did present a massive schedule opening, and in my perpetual frustration in waiting for my breakout role, I decided to write it.
What motivates you to be a screenwriter or filmmaker?
Well I have believed for a very long time that I possess talent that can enrich lives, and as I conquered every dream I ever had as an actor, it only made me thirsty for so much more.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered as a screenwriter and filmmaker?
In my opinion, the most critical aspect of developing a screenplay is the interpretation of coverage. The writer pays for it, so it’s a business transaction, and therefore should not be taken personally. I initially struggled with this, big time! But when I finally realized that the constructive criticisms of coverage analysts are for the betterment of the project and not negative nitpicking, I saw coverage reports in a much different way. Sometimes positive comments aren’t really positive. It might be the analyst just trying to ‘butter you up’ so you revise the script and come back to them for repeat business. On the other hand, when an analyst destroys an aspect of your script, they’re giving it to you straight from the heart in addition to doing their job. It is very important to properly recognize what is being communicated to you, divorce yourself from any emotion, and react accordingly.
What’s the most important thing you want audiences to take away when watching your film or reading your screenplay.
Police dramas are the oldest trick in the book, and it’s because they work! I had no intention of writing the next Avatar or Titanic, I simply wanted to take a formula that has worked since the beginning of show business, saturate it with my unique dialogue like none other while cascading the viewer with a constant flow of thrilling information. I envision everyone that views this film walking out of the theater saying, “wow that was a hell of a ride.”