screenwriter to watch
Paul Harrill is writer-director based in Knoxville, Tennessee. His latest film, LIGHT FROM LIGHT premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. His first feature, SOMETHING, ANYTHING was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. His short films include “Quick Feet, Soft Hands” (starring Greta Gerwig) and the Sundance Jury award-winner, “Gina, An Actress, Age 29.”
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
When I was in 7th grade, I wanted to make a film for a class project. My teacher shot down the idea, saying, “You have to write a screenplay before you make a film.” That was the first time I had ever heard that word, “screenplay.” I never made the film, but that got me to start reading about screenwriting And I started writing scripts shortly after that.
Writer-director, LIGHT FROM LIGHT; SOMETHING, ANYTHING.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
It’s not important to write what you know. That’s what research is for. But it’s essential to write what you know *emotionally*.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
The blank page is just hard to face, generally. It’s hard to start, and once you do it’s critical not to slow down or think too much, particularly with a first draft. One way around the problem that I’ve found is to write non-linearly. I write out scenes as they interest me, not in the order they will play out in the script. Then, as I kind of understand where they’re supposed to be, I’ll start to order those scenes into some sort of structure. Also, sometimes I’ll write something like “Important dialogue scene goes here” in a script, and just keep going.
What was a major turning point in your career?
Learning how to define success on my terms, and not anyone else’s.
What are some of your favorite movies?
Here’s one from each decade since the 1920s: The Gold Rush, Ruggles of Red Gap, The Best Years of Our Lives, All That Heaven Allows, My Night at Maud’s, All The President’s Men, Witness, The Hours and Times, Yi Yi, The Trip.
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
In no specific order: Robert Towne, Elaine May, Albert Brooks, Kogo Noda, John Cassavetes, Edward Yang. They root their stories in memorable characters, and when they play with genre it’s on their terms.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival.
I have several, but many involve sitting outside, drinking cheap beer, eating chips and salsa, and discussing movies.