Meet Screenwriter Sam Borowski

- by BlogMistress

SamBANNERAWARDtightSam Borowski is an internationally published, award-winning writer, director and producer. After selling his first option in 1999 and attending the Cannes Film Festival, Borowski has gone on to produce five films – including two shorts – with a sixth on the way; Murder-A-Go-Go, which he co-wrote  with Daniel Roebuck and Duane Whitaker. Sam also has a big-budget franchise feature in development, Nigel Read. Most recently, he wrote, directed and produced The Mandala Maker, a short for Academy-Award consideration in 2010 that is already getting  Oscar buzz.

Screenwriting by Sam Borowski

In some ways, a screenwriter’s approach is very similar to writing novels. Now, keeping in mind that I am also a working director/producer, just in terms of screenwriting, it is similar in most ways, except the parameters are a little different. You don’t have as much space to play around with – for neophyte screenwriters the max page count is 120 ! But, people in the industry usually like anywhere (depending on the genre of the script) from 95-110 – and the old adage always applies: ‘when it doubt, take it out!’ Also, unlike novels, everything you write has a cost to it. How can this be filmed, and for how much? Will it make the script harder to sell. Who could play a role like this?

Still I prefer to think of the similarities such as character development and story development, and of course, it all starts with an original story. Are your characters interesting? Are they different? I see films all the time where the characters are no more interesting than the people you spend time with – that isn’t good from an audience perspective. What would make industry people want to read about it (in the script), and an audience want to view these characters, or this story? Is it about some guy who is obsessed with Marilyn Monroe that he cross-dresses and acts like her at night, all while acting as sort of a strange superhero? Or is it a story about some accountant that is so true-to-life, it makes all non-accountants squirm in their seats and head for the exits (nothing against accountants ).

Which brings me to my next point: what kind of scripts are they looking for? The answer is simple; original stories. Look at movies like CLERKS and PULP FICTION, MEMENTO (which strangely enough works the same backwards or forwards? See the movie and you will know what I am talking about) or even the documentary, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS (in which several of the writers and narrators helped tell the story as much as the filmmakers who froze their butts off in those well-below freezing climates.) All those films couldn’t be more different from each other, but they were all different in general – and each one achieved a measure of success. The industry is always looking for new, inventive and different ideas, and it all starts with the script.

You may have heard that phrase, “you can make a terrible movie from a great script, but you can’t make a great movie from a terrible script.” Well, guess what? It still holds true to this day. It all starts with the script. Yes, a director, producer and some poor acting can change that script – often not for the better. But, if you start with a terrible script, there isn’t much you can do. And I would wager to guess, a lot of the great screenwriters, whether it be two-time Academy-Award-Winning scribe William Goldman (who writes novels as well), who might just be the best of all-time, or one of my friends who passed away recently Arthur Ross (a great writer in his time, may he rest in peace), or any of the great working writers today (whether it be Cameron Crowe, Goldman, Quentin Tarantino or Diablo Cody) would likely agree with that.

mandalafinalposterjpegI was recently asked by another web-site why it is I do what I do and the answer was quite simple to me: It is the chance to do two things: entertain people, but also bring some positivity into this world. Ultimately, I write – and make films – because, it’s the chance to touch people in some way. With my short, THE MANDALA MAKER, which I made for Academy-Award consideration, I’ve had more people – women especially – come up to me, and tell me it has moved them or spoke to them in some way. And that, to me, is as valuable as any award I can win.

Here’s another thing I would like to touch on: I once read an un-attributed quote that said a person who doesn’t risk, doesn’t truly live. So by those standards, the only failure is not trying. And I know Four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Terry Bradshaw once said that, “every successful individual, at one time or another, would have to have failed. But remember, failure is a great thing; it humbles us, keeps us on our toes, keeps us hungry, and always keeps us coming back for more.” That quote would apply to anything really, and writing is no exception.

However, I am a firm believer to be a writer of any kind, be it novels, short-stories, poetry or screenplays, it has to be in your soul. This profession is not for everyone. It can be a great life, but it is also at times, not an easy life. As it is for actors, it can be a life of rejection and struggling, which ultimately strengthens you as a person, and grounds you – even prepares you for success. It can be very humbling. Do it because it’s in your soul. Because when you wake up in the morning – other than the person you love – the first thing you think about is a new script idea. Because you wake up in the middle of the night and scrawl some ridiculous dream you’ve just had down on a napkin or whatever is sitting right next to the bed. Do it, because, as someone very special in my heart once put it, “you didn’t choose it, but rather it chose you.”

In my business, you will find that everyone wants to be the writer. I don’t think I ever heard it put any better than when Scott Frank adapted Elmore Leonard’s wonderful Hollywood satire, GET SHORTY, for the big screen. The shylock, Chili Palmer, played wonderfully by John Travolta, is talking to a coke dealer, played incredibly by Delroy Lindo, about how easy it is to write a script. Now, this is almost word-for-word, but I may be paraphrasing just a bit: “You can write one of these?” Travolta asks. “Oh, man, there’s nothin’ to it!” shoots back Lindo. “You get an idea – you put it down on paper; then you hire somebody else to put in all the commas and sh*t. And to fix the mis-spelled words. But, I’ve seen scripts I know there were words spelled wrong, hardly had any commas at all, so I don’t think that’s all that important. You get to the end … you write in FADE OUT.” And unfortunately, that hysterical scene is an opinion I’ve found most people share in – whether it is true or not. Remember, perception is often greater than reality.

RexPosterFinalFinally, I would like to share one other thing with all writers out there: believe in something BIGGER than yourself. In other words, trust that there is a power or a force that made everything we see that is good,( I call that power God) to protect you. Talk to it. It will help keep you grounded. My relationship with God has gotten me through some of the most trying times in my life and my career. I am not here to preach to you – but rather to tell you believe in something greater than yourself … reach out to that force (again I call that force God). Have some quiet place where you can meditate and pray, be it a church or a park, where you can go the times you need to ground yourself, and to spiritually re-charge. God is everywhere – you just have to seek Him. No matter what you believe, believe in something greater than yourself, and you will always find a way through it. And, as a writer, everyday I thank God for having food on the table. And if at all possible – try and do one positive thing for the world each day. Be it talking to a lonely person, or giving a dollar to someone on a street corner. Do a favor for an elderly person. Be there for a special friend – or the person you love – when they need you the most. Doesn’t have to be monumental in your eyes, but in someone else’s eyes, it will be. Those are my thoughts, for better or worse. Now, in the words of an aforementioned aspiring writer, “You get to the end … you write in FADE OUT.”

More about Sam’s work:  The Staten Island Advance touted, “The Mandala Maker is expected to be a major contender in the live-action short category for the 2010 Academy Awards,” while www.yadacity.com wrote, “THE MANDALA MAKER is on the fast track to get a nod in the live-action short category, for the 2010 Academy-Award.” The New York Daily News said of the signature moment in the film, “It’s a real scene stealer.” He previously wrote and produced the feature-length documentary, Creature Feature: 50 Years of the Gill-Man, which features Academy-Award Winner Benicio Del Toro and is narrated by A-lister Keith David. He also produced, wrote and directed the feature film, Karloff and Me, currently in post-production, about a modern-day thespian, attempting to make it later in life like his idol, Boris Karloff. It features the talents of Ron, MacCloskey, Academy-Award Nominees Peter Bogdanovich and Gloria Stuart, among others. In 2007 he produced and was the second-unit director on the feature film. REX, which has gone on to achieve quite a bit of success on the festival circuit. Sam has done rewrite work for both studio and independent projects, and is available for rewrite work and script consultation. He can be reached at cinematicheroes@aol.com .

Thanks to Angelique Armae for inviting Sam to blog with us.

18 comments

  1. Good blog! Thanks for visiting.

    It is the common experience of novelists, too, that we meet people all the time who think that writing well has almost no relation to writing fiction professionally. Once you have a great idea, you’re practically done! Surely someone ELSE will worry about your punctuation, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, ability to write a coherent sentence, ability to structure a plot, and other such pesky, minor, negligible stuff.

    LauraR

  2. Fabulous, inspiring post! I remember that GET SHORTY exchange, and it’s so true. Ditto what Laura said. For every person who has told me they could write a book “if only” they had the time/someone to edit/etc.

  3. Endorse every word. Am a writer myself but live in Israel and find it very difficult to locate the right people to shoot my short scripts.
    Actually 15 of my short scripts were shot in USA, UK, Israel, Australia, Wales, Italy, Greece. Several of my short scripts are also suitable for the stage and two of them were adapted to Hebrew and were recently on stage.

  4. Great post, Sam. It’s true that writing, in any field, is a tough job and we need to remember to keep going even when the rejections come in. If you don’t keep trying, you’ll never achieve success.

    Thanks for visiting with us, Sam. I’m rooting for an Oscar nod :-)

  5. Laura – Thank you for your enthusiasm – yes, often people feel they can do our jobs, just by reading a ‘How To’ book!!

    Allison – I LOVE that exchange, one of my favorite scenes in all of film, for obvious comical reasons. Incidentally GET SHORTY is my second favorite film of all-time behind IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE -OK underneath my hard New York exterior I am soft at heart : ) Also, you have no idea how many people tell me their life is a screenplay. Well, if that were true, there would be no stories to discriminate against – just goes to show you how being so close to something can take away your perspective !!

  6. Yair,

    I am truly glad that as a screenwriter/filmmaker, you got something out of it! Yes, it’s so true, as I said, you can’t make a great movie out of a bad script, but UNFORTUNATELY< you can make a bad movie from a great script. Finding a filmmaker that shares your vision and understands your script and concept is key!! WOW 15 of your short scripts were not only filmed but over seven countries? That is quite an amazing achievement in itself and something to definitely be proud of!! Not to mention also being adapted for the stage, as well. I will be looking out for your work in the future!!

    And …. KEEP WRITING!!

  7. Angelique,

    And let me say there is only ONE Angelique Armae, thanks so much for your kind words!! And you are right – writing, much like acting can often be filled with rejection. But, that is what makes those high points so sweet! The tough balance is not getting too low on the lows and staying grounded so as to NOT get too high on the highs. But, again, listening to Bradshaw who quarterbacked his team to four Super Bowl victories, failure is a good thing, because it prepares us better for success, and THAT is how I choose to look at it! And, you are right, “If you don’t keep trying, you’ll never achieve success.” That is one of the keys of success, right there – pick yourself up and start all over again. And by the way, I totally enjoyed the visit – and thank you for prayers – I will take all of them, especially where the 2010 Oscars are concerned !!

  8. Nice words Sam. Movies and books should first entertain
    people. But additionally if you can also touch them by teaching them something about life or geting them to do something positive in their life because of your movie
    or book you’ve created something very powerful.

  9. I was the Spiritual Advisor for The Mandala Maker and believe that the most important element in a film is the message. The Mandala Maker is an important film not only for its entertainment value, but for the important lesson that when underlying traumas and emotions are
    healed then intimate relationships can be healed and communication can be re-established at a higher level.

    Congratulations to Sam Borowski for an excellent movie and wonderfully written screenplay.

  10. Sam – I was going to write some silly things here (and I will always torture you cuz you’re too sweet and easy to tease), but I have to say that some of your more serious, poignant and really huge perspectives on writing, working, living, hoping & believing left me with a tear in my big green eye.

    Yes, we need to learn to self-edit and I want you to teach my students why it is so important that “if in doubt, leave it out.” We have been discussing that a lot – particularly when I request a 4 page paper and get 14 pages. (yes, I’ll take you to dinner!)

    And you’re belief in yourself and in God is truly inspiring. I’m working on my novel and after reading your blog, I’m promising to write every day……thanks.

    So, in my my future best-selling book, do you want to be “Sammy B. Dog” or “Sam B Licious?”

    LOL

    Sara

  11. Sara,

    Definitely NOT Sammy B. Dog (although a friend at Universal wants me to voice a Staten Island Bulldog in a film called DOX E. DOG, of which I may co-write with him) – LOL. Sam B Licious – well there’s nothing wrong with speaking truth : ) – though I think I would much prefer Sam B, much cooler and befitting a producer of my status. (Did I mention I am a writer-director also? : ) )

    Seriously, though the fact that my words touched and inspired you is the VERY REASON I write. You just made my night, as have all of these wonderful comments. And, yes, of course I will speak to your students – though one disturbing development is that Boulder Creek is no longer there, though ironically the restaurant/nightclub that took it over – Z-ONE – serves as a MAJOR location in THE MANDALA MAKER. We actually shot a key scene in there with Daniel Roebuck!! Interesting is it not?

    Finally my belief in myself is a key to a lot, but just as key – if not more – IS my belief in God. It has carried me through some of the terrible times – the really, really hard times. Both in this industry, and in life. That’s part of the whole theme behind The Mandala Maker that anyone can dare to dream of a better life and be spiritually and emotionally happy. And, that WE as people have to make the decision to keep moving forward through the most tragic of times – THAT the most powerful healing comes from within. And, that last line – the actual tag-line on the poster – I CANNOT take credit for; my associate producer Robin Anne Phipps, who also sings all of the music in the film came up with it. Never hurts to have a wonderful team of people around you!!

    OK – looks like I’ve broke my own rule about writing a lot – but that’s ok – before there’s nothing in this reply I doubt – LOL !!

    SAM B (yes DEFINITELY Sam B!!)

  12. Larry,

    Yes you are right – movies or books can DEFINITELY entertain, but as Donna pointed out, can most certainly be at a higher level by teaching a spiritual lesson, or by touching us and helping us to move forward people. Though, it’s also good to simply make people laugh and smile sometimes. Never underestimate the power of a smile, or as Jack Nicholson pointed out in BATMAN, “Have you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?” Well, since he was a mad and crazed supervillain, that is criminally insane, perhaps that is bad example – LOL.

    But, on a more serious note, I can honestly say I have read your book Larry – “DIRECTIONS TO A HAPPY LIFE: Answers to Life and Minutes of Wisdom,” and I enjoyed it very much. I am honored that you came here to comment. And from your book, I know you know of the higher value that Donna was speaking of. Thanks again for stopping by!!

  13. Donna,

    So GLAD you stopped by!! As she pointed out folks, Donna, was my Spiritual Advisor on the set of THE MANDALA MAKER and even came up with a key line that flies out of Daniel Roebuck’s mouth, as well as helping me promote it! But, more that that, she is my friend. In the words of Spock, “I have been and always shall be your friend.” ON a more serious note, you are right Donna – COMMUNICATION is KEY in any kind of a relationship, and that is part of the theme in THE MANDALA MAKER, as well.

    P.S. – Is that one of yours ? (INSIDE JOKE – sorry folks see the film ….)

  14. Great article! I get asked for advice by a lot of people who want to become screenwriters, and I can’t agree with you more about the cost aspect. I’ve had people send me drafts of screenplays that would have a higher budget than the Star Wars prequels!

    I’ve also noticed that there are also a frightening amount of ‘screenwriters’ that do not know how to write in the proper screenplay format. Learn the rules, then play the game! :)

    I think that each writer has their own gift of which genre(s) or even format to work in. There are countless works that I know that I could never have written, just as some other writers may not be able to do the work that I do.

    I agree completely with Sam on the diversity of works. Please don’t go for a specific subject matter just because it’s the ‘popular’ thing to do at the moment. As he wrote here, write what’s in your soul!

    Once again, a wonderful article and best of luck with the Mandala Maker winning one of those shiny golden statues next spring!

  15. Josh,

    I am honored that you stopped by to comment on my BLOG. For those of you unaware, Josh is a great screenwriter in his own right! And he has earned the respect of one of the people I respect most in the world …. and he has certainly earned my respect, as well.

    Thanks so much for your comments Josh, and you are right – there are an alarming amount of people who DON’T seem to know the rules. And to quote Delroy Lindo, “I seen scripts have words I know WEREN’T spelled right, and hardly have any commas in ‘em at all ….” Learn the rules, then play the game! I couldn’t have put that better myself.

    Thank you for your well wishes – again, I can use all of the well-wishes, positive energy and prayers I can get as I make a push to bring home the shiny golden statue!! And GOOD LUCK with that awesome project you are working on Josh – I already know it’s going to be successful. Hopefully, I can come on the set and watch when you guys are filming it in the near future!!

  16. Oh …. and P.S. – YOU are absolutely right – WRITE what is in your SOUL!! When I was first approached about co-writing the script, and also directing and producing THE MANDALA MAKER by Gregory Nissen, I not only liked the idea about the healing Mandalas, I had many personal reasons with which to do this project, none of which are secrets. One of them was Robin Phipps, for whom the film is dedicated to. She truly inspired me to write it, and she is a strong female who like Naomi, can and will overcome a lot in her life. And achieve a lot as well. The other was the spiritual journey I have walked the past several years of my life. Throw in the whole struggling artist thing and Greg’s original concept and there was the makings of a wonderfully interesting and inspirational story that I knew A LOT of people could relate with. And so far, THAT has been the case. I also knew that people who were interested in art, spirituality and self-help, as well as film buffs, would all be interested in a film like this. Thanks again, Josh for STOPPING BY!!

  17. Brilliant Blog, As an aspiring writer this has truly understand screenwriting in a different way.

    He does what he does to entertain and most importantly bring positive energy to its viewers which is important in times like these.

    KUDOS!!! and lets bring The Mandala maker and Sam a nice golden statue

  18. Rich,

    Thanks so much!! I am glad you got something out of it!!

    SAM B