Your new book Turn & Burn - in a few words, what is it
Itís a distillation of everything Iíve learned over the past ten
years from conceptualising stories, to the script writing process, to
artistry, to career building, to maintaining a healthy mindset.
What can you tell us about your own journey as a
screenwriter, and in what way did it inspire you to write Turn &
I turned to writing in 2012 when I faced a life crisis and suffered a
complete mental breakdown. I became completely obsessed with the craft
and gradually ascended from some unknown guy in rural England to a
working writer-producer who makes feature films shot around Los Angeles.
While doing so, I also built up my free script platform Script
Revolution through which I witnessed many writers seeing their own
successes. I think artists always want to share their experiences and
whatís worked for them as we know only too well how hard it can be to
find some sort of direction within all the madness. The discussions on
forums typically only scratch the surface of what matters and tend to
focus on superficial areas. Turn & Burn was my opportunity to get
all the advice I want to give down in writing and share it with the
Now how does compiling a non-fiction book
actually compare to writing a screenplay, and what can you tell us about
the writing process for Turn & Burn as such?
Theyíre completely different beasts. As anyone who reads the book will
see, I have my scriptwriting process nailed down so itís efficient,
effective, and enjoyable. Iíve written scripts intensively over just
three days that have attached Academy Award nominated actors.
Approaching a non-fiction book with no prior experience was daunting but
I was highly motivated. When I started putting it together, my producing
partner and I were finishing up post in one movie and going into
pre-production on the next. That, along with my daily tasks running
Script Revolution also filling up my to-do list, meant I had to write
the book around everything else which actually worked quite well as the
reflective nature of it helped me unwind, relax, and process a lot of
what I was actually experiencing at the time.
While I do find the process of typing hard due to my dyslexia, I love
sharing the knowledge and experiences Iíve gained. Having an editor
there to proofread my prose took a huge amount of pressure off me
allowing me to just pour my thoughts out onto the page, which I did by
first making a lot of bullet pointed notes to get my key points down
before going into order and detail.
what, in your opinion, makes the basis for a good script?
Passion, truth, and sheer entertainment. A highly capable writer can
take anything and turn it into a compelling story that resonates with
the audience and feels like nobody else could write it in the same way.
That ability stems from confidence, authenticity, and a strong artistic
voice built on craft skills that bring out the best in the writer in
terms of creativity and motivation. You know how a personís eyes light
up when they get to talk about something they truly care about? Thatís
how a script should feel to the reader. Like it comes from the heart.
Sure, there are objective factors involved that writers must work on
honing but even the most technically perfect screenplay is going to be a
dull read if it lacks spirit and soul.
"formula" I've stumbled upon in your chapter on story structure
is called Yearn-Turn-Burn-Learn-Earn - could you elaborate on that
Itís an easy way to conceptualise and remember the basic narrative
structure of The Heroís Journey (aka the monomyth), the way we have
come to most commonly structure the stories we tell; a protagonist
YEARNS for something more until their life takes a TURN which causes
them to BURN their bridges and have to LEARN a harsh lesson about life
before EARNING their ending.
Story structure was my core weaknesses when I first started writing. I
couldnít get my head around it and felt bombarded by options that I
had to carefully choose from because people would say three-acts are
better than five-acts or that Save The Cat is completely garbage.
Realising that everyone was actually talking about the same basic
principle and cutting it up in different ways was incredibly powerful.
That helped me see the core elements and present them in a way thatís
inherently easy to comprehend.
What I find refreshing is that Turn & Burn,
besides all the chapters on scripting itself, also has a chapter on
career-building - so could you give us a quick rundown on that aspect of
being a screenwriter?
Weíre currently in this difficult time where amateur screenwriters are
having career advice pushed on them by people who arenít working as
writers or broke in during a time when things were radically different.
The rhetoric Iím seeing within various groups is quite frankly bizarre
and often feels like the complete opposite of what Iím witnessing
within the industry. We seem to have completely forgotten (or want to
forget) that this is ultimately an art-form and thus comes with all
the subjective complications usually associated with that compounded
with the fickle nature of pop-culture and the brutal demands of
capitalism. If you arenít writing passionate material, if you donít
appreciate the audience, if you fail to understand how films are made,
youíre potentially dead in the water and, even if youíre doing
everything right, youíll likely have to keep at it for a sustained
period of many years before you align on the same wavelength with
someone who can make things happen for you. This idea that you suck and
you just need to work hard enough to produce a ďgreat scriptĒ that
will call in the cavalry and unlock the doors of Hollywood has to be put
to bed as itís sending people in exhausting circles, or even backward,
until they eventually give up.
Many of the chapters of your book
also contain sub-chapters on the mistakes you yourself have made in
whatever field concerned - now how hard (and/or maybe also refreshing) was
it to put down your own missteps on paper?
This was a great suggestion by the publisher, and I leaned into it hard.
I have no shame in talking about my failings and inadequacies as it
helps counter this notion that those of us seeing success have done so
with clear direction and complete confidence. Nothing could not be
further from the truth. Iím often just as confused and scared as the
next person, and I feel itís important people know that. Putting all
that down into words brought on mixed feelings. On the one hand, these
are hurdles Iíve overcome and seeing Iíve achieved that made me feel
proud. On the other hand, revisiting what I went through reminded me of
the mental anguish I was still going through only a few years ago and
many of my peers will be going through now. It reopened old wounds that
have yet to fully heal but that in turn only highlighted why itís so
important to be vulnerable and open up about stuff like this - you might
be helping pull someone out from a very dark place.
over-generalize: In one paragraph, what would be the best advice you can
give to an aspiring screenwriter?
Study your heroes. We lionise those we admire to the point they seem
indestructible, overwhelmed with self-confidence, and unchallenged by
life. Learning more about their struggles; how they were told they
sucked, how they faced so much doubt, and how they soldiered on alone
for so long humanises them and instils us with the self-belief and
determination we need to cut a similar path.
What can you tell us
about audience and critical reception of Turn & Burn?
The book went straight to #1 in the bestselling new releases for
screenwriting on Amazon in both the UK and the US for quite some time
and I was blown away by that. Seeing pictures of your book in other
peopleís hands is amazing and the sheer reaction to you being a
published author itself is an oddly validating experience. Everything
thus far has been remarkably positive with nothing but glowing reviews
but itís early days and Iím prepared for criticism over the more
controversial things Iím saying that go against the ďflog yourself
to write an objectively great script that pleases everybodyĒ rhetoric
thatís so common right now. The good thing is parts of the book, in a
much earlier and less detailed form, have been available online for free
for years now and I know for a fact itís changed the way people
approach writing and breaking into the industry for the better.
when you were still an aspiring screenwriter yourself, which books (or
blogs or whatever really) did you read to learn more about the craft?
I read like crazy and still do. I think itís such a powerful and
efficient way to learn. Thereís a recommended reading section in
the book I think people should read in full but, if I had to pick just
three books, it would be Writing
for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, Art
& Fear by David Bayles & Ted Orland, and Tales
from the Script by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert
Herman. These three do a great job of covering craft, artistry, and how
the film industry typically works in the context of screenwriting.
Iíll also throw in a special shoutout to my producing partner Shane
Stanley and his book What
You Don't Learn In Film School, which gives a great
roundup of what it really takes to make independent films, something all
screenwriters will benefit from knowing more about.
Outside of books, thereís not a great deal I consume but I canít
recommend Ted Hopeís Hope For Film blog enough, since it comes
from a producer with an incredible track record who genuinely cares
about telling powerful stories. When it comes to documentaries, the one
to watch is Seduced
and Abandoned, which shows the industry from the
perspective of James Toback and Alec Baldwin as they try to generate
interest in a script and candidly interview other long-time
professionals while attending the Cannes Film Festival.
do you consider today's screenwriters who are really on top of their game?
Like most film enthusiasts, Iím a victim of seeing all films in
relation to the director, so the multi-hyphenates are the ones I notice
the most. I recently binge watched the TV series Patriot and
found it one of the best Iíve ever seen, so kudos to Steven Conrad for
putting that together. I loved the film Palm
Springs and feel it was well deserving of its
accolades and returns, so massive respect to Andy Siara and Max Barbakow
for the script they put together over all those years both during and
after film school. My contemporary heroes right now are Martin McDonagh
and Taylor Sheridan, and I say that despite Taylor snatching up an actor
we had cast as a lead in our last movie so they could play a role in his
new 1883 TV
book's website, social media, whatever else?
Personal website: www.cjwalley.com
Production company website: www.rebellerouser.com
Script Revolution profile:
else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Keep an eye out for two movies Iím a writer-producer on and hope to
see released within the next year or so, Double
Threat and Night
Train, both starring Danielle C. Ryan who does all her own stunt
work from weapons, to fighting, to horse riding, to driving. Sometimes
your work aligns with your dream producer and sometimes it aligns with
your dream actress too - you just gotta hang in there and keep doing
what you feel passionate about even when surrounded by nothing but
for the interview!