screenwriter to watch
Josh Barkey grew up paddling a dugout canoe around the Amazon Basin, fishing for piranhas. Then he moved to Canada and bought himself an English degree by hand-planting hundreds of thousands of baby trees in the wilds of British Columbia. Now he spends his days rearranging words in a snug, ivy-wrapped home in North Carolina, where he lives with his wife and nine-year-old son.
How did you break in?
I wrote my first short for director Austin Herring, who produced it at the end of 2010. I thought, “Wow, this is easy: I bang out a script and then a movie gets made.” I started writing features and quickly learned how naïve that was. I kept at it, though, and with each new script the feedback got better. So I guess my story’s the same as anyone’s: hard work over time, and then a lot of luck.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Two of my hardest-won lessons are to love the process and to make my own weather. Even if I’m not the smartest, hippest, or most-connected writer, if I work hard enough with like-minded creatives, the excruciating joy of the process can be its own reward (he repeated to himself, again and again).
What has been your hardest scene to write?
The hardest project is always the one I’m writing next. The first was terrifying because it was the first. The second, because it was the second. Et cetera. If I’m doing it right, each new screenplay is completely uncharted territory… and that’s terrifying.
I get through it by putting my butt in my chair and smashing my forehead against the keyboard until a screenplay comes out. Rewriting is also super hard, because it demands such painful self-honesty. But the terror is gone at that point and what’s left is just regular old torture. As the Dread Pirate Roberts so famously said, “I can cope with torture.”
I’m guessing the most dramatic turning point will prove to have been the election of a dangerous, petulant man-baby to our country’s highest office. It’s certainly shifted my perspective and my writing. And once he-who-shall-not-be-named starts his official purge, well… it’s been nice knowin’ ya.
For now, though, I’d say my script MARLENE THE DIVINE has opened a lot of doors. In 2016 it did well in the AFF contest, where it was noticed by the inestimable John Zaozirny, who is now my manager. The script was also a Nicholl finalist, won the Page contest for comedy, and got me selected for a Sundance Screenwriters Intensive. All of which has led to some great new connections.
What are you working on right now?
As a producer I’m pestering director Austin Herring about finishing our first feature, and helping to put together a proof-of-concept short I wrote for director Ben Joyner. Writing-wise, I’m talking to producers about my next project, while banging my forehead against the keyboard for commercial director Don Broida’s first narrative feature.
What are your favorite movies?
The first movies I deeply loved were THE BLACK STALLION and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Most recently, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA and Mark Duplass’s BLUE JAY.
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
Anyone whose script makes me laugh, cry, and/or wish I’d written it.
What is your most memorable AFF moment?
In 2016, my script MARLENE THE DIVINE was selected for a live read at the festival.
I love working with actors, so casting them and rehearsing together was fantastic. But the highlight was the read itself. The cast absolutely killed it. They weren’t just reading, they were performing the story—living it. And the audience responded. They laughed all the way through… until the script got serious. Then everybody grew quiet. There was a palpable heaviness in the room, and some of the audience members had tears running down their faces.
Like all writers, I deal with a lot of rejection, so that live read was a welcome confirmation that something I’d written really did work as intended. It’s given me confidence that if the script finds a good home, MARLENE THE DIVINE can be a film with real impact.