Clint Bentley & Greg Kwedar
screenwriters to watch
Clint Bentley was raised on a cattle ranch in Florida, where two of his great-grandfathers were shot to death and a third was killed by lighting. He’s still trying to figure out what all that means. After college he worked a series of odd jobs (waiter, day-laborer on a sod farm, journalist) before beginning to work in film. He co-wrote and produced Transpecos, which won the Audience Award at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival and was released by Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Greg’s debut as a feature director and co-writer was with Transpecos, a thriller set within the United States Border Patrol. It premiered in competition at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival where it won the Audience Award. Transpecos was acquired by Samuel Goldwyn Films for theatrical release in the US. He is also known for producing Rising from Ashes, a documentary about the first Rwandan National Cycling Team and their 6-year journey to the Olympic Games in London. Executive Produced and Narrated by Forest Whitaker, Rising from Ashes had its World Premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival and went on to 16 additional festival wins. Rising from Ashes was released theatrically by First Run Features and Wild Bunch. Greg has spoken to thousands of students across the country and sat on panels about his work at esteemed venues such as SXSW, UNESCO, and the United Nations.
Clint: Co-Writer/Producer – TRANSPECOS
Greg: Co-Writer/Director – TRANSPECOS, Producer – Rising from Ashes
How did you break in?
Clint: I came to screenwriting from fiction. I was writing short stories when I met Greg. I shared some work with him and he invited me to join him on the journey of telling a story in the world of border patrol. Writing and re-writing draft after draft of Transpecos was screenwriting school for me. That’s how we learned how to take a first draft that didn’t work and slowly chisel it into something better.
Greg: I really got my start with a short film competition in 2009 called the Doorpost Film Project, where you were charged to submit a narrative short film 7 minutes or less into an online competition. I was in Guatemala directing a short documentary and our crew had an afternoon off. We were aware of the Doorpost contest and we thought hey, we have two kids who don’t speak English, a fascinating neighborhood in the heart of Guatemala City amidst a famed garbage dump, and four hours. What the hell, let’s make a film. The short made it to the finals of the competition and we were given $30,000 to make another short film. Those experiences were really my film school.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Clint: To let the story guide you, not to force the story into a conclusion you want it to have. If you do your job right, the characters will start acting of their own volition and you can follow them where they want to go.
And to finish the damn draft. Every screenplay seems impossible to finish at some point and the easiest thing to do is abandon it.
Also, a mentor of ours, Larry Andries, once told us: use dialogue only as a last resort. I don’t always do a good job implementing this, but it’s incredible advice.
Identify a purpose behind your work. I’m still guided in everything I do by a mission statement I wrote in 2008. Films take 5 years on average to get made. It better be about something that matters to you. Worth obsessing over. Worth sacrificing over. The mission statement I wrote down was the following: To tell stories that are a journey in the making, ultimately revealing conversations essential to the human experience. While the human experience is vastly diverse, it is connected.
To put it simply, I want to make films about human connection in impossible places.
On the practical side, here’s some advice. No one will work as hard as you for your movie. Every level we climb to in this industry we hope a magic wand will appear to make this shit easier. It doesn’t get easier. But that’s the beauty of what we do. Everything is possible that you can dream. Just as everything is equally impossible.
Stop “getting lunch” to “pick people’s brains” and set a start date to make your movie. Some real, tangible date in the future where you fully intend to finally make your movie starts a whole series of events in motion that creates an authentic sense of urgency around your project. It’s “we’re shooting the first week of June” not “we’re hoping to shoot sometime in the summer.” People want to be part of a train that’s leaving the station. We always said we’d let an outside circumstance shift our schedule but never an internal one. I was guilty for years of the lie that if I can just meet the right people I can make my film a reality. Do yourself a favor and google Ava Duvernay’s 2013 keynote address from the Film Independent Forum. It’s an important and motivating kick in the ass!
What has been your hardest scene to write?
Clint: Honestly, every script seems more difficult to get right than the last one, for whatever reason. I feel like I’m re-learning the process with every script, as if each one has its own rules and you only figure them out through trial and error.
TRANSPECOS. The research and writing alone took four years. It took so long, primarily because Border Patrol is a very closed off agency, and to access the human stories behind the uniforms we had to venture out into the desert ourselves. Clint and I would drive out in the middle of nowhere until we found an agent bored on the job, leaning on their truck nursing a gallon jug of water. We’d pretend we were lost Canadian tourists holding an upside down map. Then the stories would just start to flow, agents were desperate to be recognized as more than a government symbol. The relationships grew into having beers with agents in one stoplight towns to sitting around dinner tables with their families. And from there, our script really began to take shape, we found the nuance and depth.
What was a major turning point in your career?
Clint: There have been so many. The first short film. The first finished draft of a feature script. The first time someone flew me somewhere for a project. I always feel like I’m getting away with something.
Being on the set of Transpecos was a huge moment. Every day felt like a blessing. To see this project that started as just words on a page being brought into existence by 30-some-odd different people — it was an amazing feeling.
Greg: Aside from dropping out of Accounting in the middle of an exam to pursue filmmaking… I’d say winning the audience award at SXSW. But, honestly, each phase of my career feels enormous. Like, how did we get here! The euphoria you feel with each benchmark is in step with your own growth. It felt just as significant winning the award at SXSW as it did when we said “That’s a wrap” on our first short film. So each hurdle you cross is like the whole universe opening up to you.
What are you working on right now?
Clint: Some screenplays with Greg. Some fiction. I’m superstitious about talking about projects while they’re still cooking. I feel like if I talk about it too early I might betray it and I’ll lose the magic.
Greg: The two TV things that we can’t discuss publicly and the two movie things we can’t announce yet. That’s the business, folks. Mainly, we’re trying really hard to follow the sage advice of the Duplass Brothers, “Make Movies, Not Meetings.”
What are your favorite movies?
Clint: In no particular order: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Children of Men, Casablanca, Breathless (1960)
Greg: Y Tu Mamá También, French Connection, Badlands, No Country for Old Men
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
Clint: Billy Wilder, Coen Brothers, John Huston, Pedro Almodovar
Greg: Dan Gilroy, Tony Gilroy, Coen Brothers, Aaron Sorkin
What is your most memorable AFF moment?
Clint: Being able to watch our short film, Dakota, with all of our cast and crew was very memorable. We all started out working together in Austin, so it was a special moment.
The Writer’s Conference at the festival has always been a huge inspiration for me. So, to get to join a panel during the 2012 festival and pay it forward was a distinct memory and honor. I don’t remember what I actually said or what happened during the panel. I hope it was useful!