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November 13th, 2008
Central Texas screenwriter places in top 10 percent at Austin Film Festival

Canyon Lake resident R.D. Wright is among the new crop of Texas screenwriters reaching for their artistic dreams in a state some say is less than accommodating to the film industry. Though he faces the drawback of not living near the heart of the U.S. film industry, Wright may have an advantage not evident at first glance: a screenwriter whose work was among the 400 out of 4,000 scripts that entered the second round in last month’s Austin Film Festival, Wright is over fifty years old.”There are a lot students that enter the competition…but increasingly there’s people that are finding their way to it as a creative outlet later in their lives,” said Austin Film Festival Screenplay/Teleplay Competition Director Alex McPhail. “It’s certainly not too late in the game at all as far as making a career of it — if anything, it’s a benefit to have a little more life experience.”

McPhail said producers looking to make the best investment are “a lot less likely to trust a 25-year-old writer to do (the) re-writes” necessary during the filmmaking process “than they are to trust a 45-year-old writer.”

Wright said being born in New York City to a film editor and an actress seemed to make him destined for work in movies — and indeed, he was a child actor and later worked as a movie extra — but Wright the young man never ended up embarking on a career in Hollywood, instead pursuing a vocation in visual art. A painter with a background in graphic design, Wright now runs an online jewelry business with his wife. He said his interest in the film industry was rekindled four years ago when he found screenwriting competitions advertised online. Since then Wright has written five screenplays, four of which have either placed high in competitions or have won awards.

Wright’s Zom, a horror screenplay, won the Gold Remi Award at this year’s WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. His screenplay Glass and Silver, a science fiction feature, placed in the top 20 percent at the 2007 Screenwriting Expo and was a two-time quarter finalist entry in the AAA Screenwriting Contest. Wright’s Intrusion, a thriller screenplay, placed in the top 10 percent at the 2005 Austin Film Festival. His latest work is a horror/western screenplay entitled Lucifer’s Bounty.

“(Lucifer’s Bounty) did make it into the top ten percent of the competition, which is a huge deal,” said McPhail. “It (was among) about 400 out the 4,000 that got to the second round.”

McPhail said in the last three or four years contestants have submitted an average of 4,000 scripts in each competition. About this year’s entries, he said, “the scripts were some of the best I’ve ever read.”

Lucifer’s Bounty, which is set in 1884, tells the story of a Texas Ranger and six bounty hunters pursuing a mysterious mass-murderer across South Texas. Wright said he based the killer on the historical Victorio, an Apache war chief who rode with Geronimo, raiding into northern Mexico. Wright’s Victorio, who enjoys feasting on blood and human flesh, uses ancient herbal lore to beguile his enemies.

“What I did with the (Victorio) character is kind of like what Bram Stoker did with Dracula,” said Wright. “I turned him into this ancient being who has been here through the Spanish settlement, through the war with Mexico.”

Wright said Lucifer’s Bounty, which he is confident will be filmed, should appeal to both the supernatural and the naturalistic-minded moviegoer.

“You could look at it either way; you could enjoy it as a supernatural thing if you wanted to, but you could also apply a more logical explanation to it,” said Wright. He said he also used the historical Judge Roy Bean in the story.

Wright said Zom, the story of a researcher perfecting mind-control techniques on unwitting student test subjects, takes place on the University of Texas at Austin campus, and the setting of Intrusion is based on the Canyon Lake area.

McPhail said Hollywood to some extent encourages writers to set films where they are from so they can take advantage of their particular perspective which gives them a “unique voice within that setting,” and “shows up in your writing and improves your writing.”

“(Central Texas) is a particularly unique landscape that a lot of people don’t experience, and don’t really have anything to compare it to,” said McPhail. “I think in some parts of Texas — central Texas certainly — it has a very unique culture. That’s why King of the Hill is such a popular sensation of a show.”

McPhail said the struggle to get films made that are set in the landscape and culture of Texas is not easy considering the comparatively low tax incentives offered by the state to filmmakers.

“The legislative session of 2009 is going to be a big one, hopefully,” said McPhail. “The (Texas Motion Picture Alliance) is working on passing some new tax exemptions so they can get more film work here…If Texas can offer some bigger tax breaks, then we’ll get a lot more people wanting to film here, which will in turn hopefully lead to more films about Texas.”

Wright said pursuing his dream of seeing his scripts made into feature films may require relocating to Los Angeles, though he said it would be hasty to move to such a “hard city” without adequate resources.

“There’s a prevailing idea that you have to live in Los Angeles to succeed as a screenwriter or as anything in the movie industry,” said Wright. “They’re probably right, but I keep hoping that Texas will eventually start making its own movies. We’ve got Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater and a few others who are really having a tough time because they have to synchronize everything with Hollywood.”

by Sean Batura

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