Sunday, July 13, 2014

Interview with Screenwriter/Producer Travis Milloy

I had the chance to get an interview with real, live Hollywood screenwriter Travis Milloy. He's worked all over Hollywood for years now, and I personally know him best as the man who created the concept of Pandorum, which is one of my favorite Sci-Fi/Horror movies.

Just look at this trailer.

I saw Pandorum in theaters and it completely blew me away. But enough about that. Let's get on to the interview with Travis.

The benevolent Travis Milloy, on the set of Pandorum.

What made you start writing manuscripts?

I kinda fell into it out of necessity. I wanted to make a movie and couldn't afford to buy a script so I wrote my own. I've been making movies since I was a kid and could always come up with little stories, so it was challenging to write a feature. I wrote a film and directed it back in the 90's. I got an agent after that and he said "I want to represent you as a writer." I told him I didn't really want to be a writer and hadn't really considered that as a career. I actually didn't think I was qualified, I didn't consider myself a very good writer and I had a lot to learn. He talked me into it and that's how I got started.

What was your big break?

It was a script I wrote called "The Division", a spy thriller. It was the script that a lot of people in Hollywood read and it paved my career. It really got me into the business, people hired me because they had read that script. Several studios tried to get the movie produced but it never happened, mainly because it's an unorthodox story, very different but apparently too different to make as a mainstream movie. It's a script I plan on directing, hopefully someday, probably one of my best scripts, even though it was one of the first scripts I wrote.

If this job had fallen through, what would you be doing? (or like to be doing, if you had a choice?)

Well, this job falls through every week, ha ha. Seriously, I don't know what else I would do. I'd work in the film industry in some capacity, because it's the one thing I love more then anything. When I started out, I worked in every job possible in film. I was a production assistant, a location scout, camera operator, editor, stuntman, special effects coordinator, etc. You name it, I did it. One of the only places I'm truly content is on a film set. Doesn't matter what job I have, I live for it.

What's been your favorite film the work on?

Every project is different and an adventure in different ways. Pandorum was a blast because we shot in Berlin and the sets were incredible. I'd have to say the movie I had the best experience writing is a suspense thriller called "Ice House", which I wrote last year. It was a really fun script to write because I really challenged myself, giving myself certain restraints, to see if I could tell an intriguing story with specific limitations. Two men in a fish house, one night. Could I take that type of self contained scenario and make something thrilling, funny, suspenseful and unexpected? I'd never been so pleased with the result. They just finished filming it a few weeks ago.

What's the process of writing a script like?

Each project is different. Mostly I think about some kind of interesting scenario or moment. It can be something very small and it can end up being anywhere in the story, in the start, middle or ending. I work around the small idea and then expand it into a full story. I'm a little bit different from my fellow writers in that I don't like to create too much of an outline. Normally I just like to have an idea and start writing and just see what happens with very little idea of where it's going. It's a risky way to write because it's really easy to paint yourself into a corner and not know how to finish it. But it's the technique that works for me, because it forces me to go places unexpected. If I plan out the story too much with outlines and treatments, then it just feels forced and contrived. This makes it difficult to work with studios because they want to know everything before you begin writing. Normally I write specs, my own stuff and then try to sell them. I don't like to pitch ideas and develop scripts the traditional way because it's a long and tiresome road. I'd rather just write it and hope someone likes it.

[SPOILERS FOR PANDORUM]

Pandorum was the first script I wrote where I had no idea where it was going. I just started with a guy waking up and pretended I was him, not knowing anything, not remembering anything and just watched to see what would happen. I had no idea how to end the movie and was writing the story when they look out the cockpit window in the end and didn't know what was going to happen right up to that point. I stopped, took the dog for a walk and thought of the idea for the ship being underwater. I ran home and finished. It was such a great experience, now I normally only write the same way. Of course, that's why I have so many unfinished scripts on my computer because most of the time you get stuck and don't know how to end it or halfway through you just lose interest and don't find the story that compelling. But when it does come together, it's the best feeling ever. 

[END SPOILERS]

How much control do you get over the creation of the script?

Most of time it's all on me because I write specs. Occasionally I'll get hired to write someone else's concept or adapt a novel, but mostly I just write my own ideas. And with that it's all up to me. There's positives and negatives to that. I do like to collaborate and work with other people, so writing specs can get you pretty isolated in the creative process.

Do you have any other creative endeavors besides script writing and directing?

Not really. Writing takes up so much of my time, when I'm not writing I spend time with friends and family and need to "shut off" the creative thing. I really try to limit the amount of time sitting at the computer but mostly I'll spend at least eight to ten hours a day at the keyboard.

Drawing. I do storyboard most of my own scripts. I'm not the greatest artist but a lot of the time I'll storyboard while I'm writing a script. Drawing the movie makes me think of things I wouldn't have with writing alone.

How did Somnio come about?

It started as a script idea I had years ago about death row in the future, where everything is computerized and automated, even the executions. I'd worked on it for awhile. Originally it was about a whole death row, a dozen men and women, having to live together with nothing more then a computer controlling their lives and fate. A few years later I wanted to do a very self-contained, very simple but thrilling story for a low budget. I thought about the prison script and shifted it to tell the story of only one prisoner, stuck in an automated prison, not knowing if the outside world was still there or not and needing to escape. Once I set on that idea, the script took off and I knew I wanted to make the film. Once I met Chris Kelly, the actor who will star, I was convinced I could tell such a story with only one man taking up so much screen time alone. Before I met Chris, I wasn't sure the movie would work. It's definitely a challenge to try and tell a story with mainly only one actor.

Is Somnio a one-time thing, or will you be directing more films in the future?

Well, hopefully it won't be a one-time thing but with this business, you never know if the project your working on could be your last, you never know. I have several scripts that I plan on directing and would love the opportunity to make but the film business is tricky. You can spend a lifetime trying to get one movie to the screen and never see it happen. I'm just thankful for the things I've been a part of so far and hope to continue as long as I can. Even if I never get another movie made, I'll always write. I really cherish the process, even though it can be a punishing and lonely craft.

Do you have a 'dream script'? A book or idea you'd absolutely love to help develop into a film?

I have a few. There's a few true stories I would love to develop, occasionally I come across a book I think would be a fascinating script but mostly I just stick to my own collection of ideas. I usually come up with a few story ideas every week. Most don't go anywhere, some I'll work on for awhile and they'll die a slow death somewhere in my hard drive and then there's the ones I can't stop thinking about. If I can't stop thinking about it after a few weeks, I know there's something there. Those are the ones I continue to work on, some get completed, some don't.

There is one script that stands out above the rest, I've been working on it for years. It's my dream script but it's also the biggest pain in my ass because I don't know how to tell the story in the right way. It's the thorn in my side, which I think every writer has. It's the one I struggle with the most but also the one that won't go away. I know it could be epic if only I could "crack" it. Occasionally I'll pull it out and mess with it, but whatever I do isn't good enough for it so I put it away and it seems to wait for me. It haunts me because I think it's my best idea, yet I'm not smart enough to give it the story it deserves. Someday hopefully I'll be able to finish it. That would be a dream. Ha.

SOMNIO Teaser Image

Currently, Travis is working on an independent Sci-Fi/Thriller film called SOMNIO. I'm extremely excited for the film and wish Travis the best of luck with it.

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