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A Sort of Madness: An Interview with David Matthew Barnes

Please tell us about yourself. How did you start your career, and how did you get into the world of cinema, especially writing scripts?

My name is David-Matthew Barnes. I am an author, playwright, poet, and screenwriter. I live in Sacramento, California. I write in four different genres, primarily horror, romance, thriller, and young adult. Years ago, one of my stage plays, Frozen Stars, was adapted into a feature film. I was fortunate enough to write the screenplay and direct the movie, which launched my career as a professional screenwriter. I published my first short story when I was 15 and have been writing ever since. Today, I am the author of fifteen novels, six produced screenplays, three collections of poetry, seven short stories, and more than seventy stage plays.

As a writer, a novelist and a poet, who or what are your influences?

The writers that inspire my writing the most include Judy Blume, Jane Austen, Tennessee Williams, Lois Duncan, Sandra Cisneros, Langston Hughes, Dorothy Parker, and Danielle Steel. I am also very influenced by music and art. I love vintage gothic romance novels, especially those written in the 50’s and 60’s because of the awesome cover art during that era.

What is your vision as an artist? What types of stories you endeavor to tell through your scripts/novels?

My constant objective as a screenwriter is to tell the best story I can, specifically a story that can only be told on the screen. With every script I write, my goal is to create as much tension and authentic emotion on the page as possible to provide every audience member with a transformative experience.

Most of my work is female-centric and youth-themed. Writing for and about women is something I’m very committed to. I really enjoy telling stories about ordinary people experiencing extraordinary circumstances and how the experience changes them and their life.

Do the stories in your scripts/novels come from your own experiences or observations? For example, what made you want to tell the story of Sharon Parker in A Sort of Madness?

I consider myself a professional eavesdropper. I get many ideas from conversations that I overhear. I’m really lucky because story ideas seem to find me. I do incorporate some personal experiences into my writing, but the majority of what I create is from a place of imagination. When creating the character of Sharon Parker and putting her story onto the page, I felt Sharon served as an indirect commentary on celebrity obsession and how it’s been a part of American culture for many years. In Sharon’s case, she’s obsessed with Ava Gardner and the idea of her. What really appealed to me about Sharon was how lonely she was and how she was unable to speak about that loneliness until the final moment of the script. Sharon broke my heart a few times while I was writing A Sort of Madness.

What is your creative process? How do you decide on the plot, the characters and their traits? What advice would you give to those who want to build a career as a screenwriter/novelist?

I write every day, including weekends. I usually write very early in the morning. I write five hundred words a day. They’re not always great words, but I get them down on paper and then go back and edit them later.

I must have a title before starting a big project; I always create an unofficial soundtrack for my novels and scripts that I listen to constantly while creating; I don’t read other books or scripts while working on a project.

Also, when I’m writing a novel or a screenplay, I keep a composition book solely for that story. During the creative process, I always have it within reach to jot down notes, ideas, questions about plot or characters, or even reminders of story elements I need to revisit later.

As for advice, the teacher in me says to study your craft. Write every day. Set a word count goal for yourself and work towards that. The words you write don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be written. You are the only one who can tell your story. It belongs to you and only you, so own it. Believe in your ability to tell a great story. Don’t let anyone deter you from writing.

How do you think building a career as a screenwriter is different today? Has it become easier or more difficult to have one’s scripts made into films? What are some of the major challenges within the industry?

I’ve been working in the industry for almost three decades. I’ve seen considerable changes since I first started. The way content is distributed now has forced writers to shift the way stories are told, meaning there are so many forms and outlets for visual storytelling. I think there are more opportunities now for new screenwriters because there’s such a demand for content. Being a screenwriter today is more complex for many reasons. For example, screenwriters can launch a career and garner interest in their work through social media. This wasn’t even an option ten years ago. It’s a very exciting time to be a screenwriter. Bold, fantastic stories are being told and new voices are being heard. Challenges do exist. It’s very difficult to get your work to the gatekeepers who can get a project made. For this reason, so many creative people are opting to self-produce.

I understand that several of your scripts were made into films. Could you tell us about those experiences, and the films themselves?

As a screenwriter, I have been very fortunate to have six of my screenplays produced, including the coming-of-age indie film Frozen Stars and the award-winning Dutch film Wagon. A couple of my stage plays have also been adapted into films. Each of these experiences have been rewarding on many levels. They’ve made me really appreciate the collaborative process of filmmaking. It’s such a unique and fascinating industry to work in.

How were your scripts received at film festivals/competitions around the world? Please tell us about your festival run.

Film festivals have been wonderful to me and my scripts. My screenplays have received a lot of interest because of them. I am very grateful for the incredible support so many festivals have shown me by acknowledging my work. To date, my scripts have been official selections at more than fifty film festivals around the world. Having my work showcased at them has changed the trajectory of my screenwriting career. I’ve also met some very talented filmmakers because of them.

What project(s) are you working on?

I just finished a short film script called Make It ‘til Dawn. It’s a paranormal ghost thriller about two young gay men who are dared to survive a night inside a house that’s very haunted. It was a lot of fun to write because it’s a mashup of genres, including comedy, romance, and horror.

I’m also working on a stage play titled The Burlesque Club. The main character in it identifies as non-binary. Telling their story felt really important to me as a playwright.

I’m working on the last few chapters of a horror novel titled Dummy. It’s about a 70-year-old female serial killer whose constant companion is an evil male mannequin.

I’m also developing a television series adaptation of my stage play Sky Lines. It explores the beautiful friendship between three women over the course of three decades. There’s a lot of heart and soul in that particular script.


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