Interview with screenwriter Jolyon White

  • What is the first story you ever wrote?

My first story was more of a sketch. It was about a stay at home husband whose wife has a career as a prostitute. I love the idea of them both talking about her day in a really normal way. For example; the husband asking “did you have any big meetings today?” and the wife replying “yeah I had a really long strenuous meeting with this tough client.” Then the husband casually replies “Oh, you work too hard, darling.” I never really finished it but I found it really interesting and amusing picturing this couple’s
relationship dynamic. I definitely like my stories to have a dark edge or twist to them.

  • Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?

I’m a big fan of the Black Mirror series. I love how each episode is grounded in enough truth and reality that it lures you into a false sense of security and it makes you really question things. Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are a masterclass in dialogue. I am also obsessed with Spike Jonze; everything from his vast collection of music videos to his near-perfect films. I’ve recently started reading a bunch of first draft film scripts for some of my favourite films – ‘Being John Malkovich’ blew my mind how different it
was on paper to screen. Oh yeah, ‘Harold and Maude’ was a big one for me. I loved how dark everything was with his fake suicides and general plot of falling in love with an old lady. But what really made it was
that the entire film was undermined by the warm vocal score from Cat Stevens. He did the entire soundtrack. It was pure genius – completely wrong but that’s what made it so very right. I cried with laughter for most of that film.

  • For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?

Competitions seem like a great place to start. I have entered a few with this script and done well which has definitely given me some good exposure and the confidence to try to get it out there more. Share it with as many people as possible – you never know what doors might open.

  • What experiences from your life influence your characters?

All my stories tend to originate from some nugget of truth in my life. My mind often exaggerates scenarios and I start to question things. ‘What if we do the opposite or what would happen if this was the case?’ Once I do this the characters sort of write themselves. Recently my wife and I tried for a baby and we were luckily successful quite quickly but in the process I started to read up a lot about the extent that people go to to try for a baby. Eventually I had the bones of a script which I am still working on. I
think it is a lot easier writing characters that you have some relationship with as you will get to something more honest and interesting.

  • Can you explain your character development process?

I develop my characters as I go. I start quite one dimensional and build them up on the page. As the story progresses I change and tweak my characters. Sometimes I completely reinvent them depending on the twist and turns in the story.

  • Do you write bios before you start writing?

If I’m totally honest I don’t always know what or who my characters exactly are before I start writing. I have a vague idea but I think by the time I’ve figured out – I could have written part of the script. I know it works for some people but I would rather let the script shape them than let them shape the script. Once I’ve got to grips with who my characters are I think of who will actually play them which usually ends up bringing new layers.

  • How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?

I think whenever you create anything you are somewhat emotionally involved. But I think if you are writing something based on your life then you need to be to really get to the truth of your character.

  • What are your thoughts on structure?

I did a stand up comedy course about 5/6 years ago and it was the first time I really tried to write. It massively helped me understand structure and stripping things down. I now read out loud my scripts over and over again. Each time I edit the words down. It helps me filter out all the contrived/ cringe dialogue and helps me reshuffle structure if necessary.

  • Do you outline before you start writing?

I always focus on the idea for the story. If you can’t sum up your story in a sentence (or two) then it’s too complicated. One of my favorite films is The Big Lebowski. Not only does it have the best dream sequences ever; it also has the most simple story. ‘ Man’s rug is stolen so man tries to get rug back.’ That is it. So when I write I try to distill my story into the most simple form possible and then write around it. But at all times making sure that I don’t stray too far from the core idea. So with this script – my ‘Big
Lebowski Simple Sentence’ was ‘Man tries to cancel broadband but is blackmailed to stay with current provider.’ Once I got this in place – I just wrote out the entire story in one go. It was overwritten. The characters needed work. The dialogue wasn’t great. But I just kept editing, constantly trimming all the fat. Eventually I felt like it worked and I wasn’t embarrassed to share it. I sent it to a few close friends who gave me some small notes and a big thumbs up.

  • What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

Exaggerating the familiar so they have enough of a caricature that they are exciting/ interesting but they aren’t a cliche. Then pull the rug and give them a completely unique twist that you wouldn’t see coming.