LISP 2022 Short Screenplay Official Selection 'Pilgrim' by Chris Upson
- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I’m writing this in the weird time between Christmas and New Year so my daily life feels undefinable at the moment. I’m at my parents house, yesterday we had pizza, and today I am excited to eat cold pizza from the fridge. I would usually say I’m a VFX Data Wrangler on feature film and TV shoots, and a writer whenever I get the chance.
- When and how did you get into writing?
I hated writing in school, I thought writing was just books, and I was no good at prose or poems. I found it way too difficult and embarrassing. But I always liked making stuff, I made little comics, and I had been making stop motion animations with lego sets and play dough characters since forever. So I thought I liked art, and then I thought I liked film, and I studied film production at university.
That was where I first saw and understood the concept of a screenwriting and I realised I did actually like writing all along, I just wanted to do it under the cover of all these layers of filmmaking - behind everyone else, haha. I don't feel as directly embarrassed. Writing in that format felt sustainable and enjoyable, I felt I could hide things in there for me without being so exposed. I’ve been really fortunate since then to be able to write short screenplays for friends or myself to make on small budgets, or produce shorts and have input on their scripts.
- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?
I try to write something every day, even if that might just count as me getting down a single random idea or an unplaced line of dialogue and nothing else. I swim every morning to take care of my mental health and get my brain going, then walk home, eat a big breakfast, and there out try my best. Some days are a wash, I’m too distracted or whatever. On a run of good days when I’ve really got my teeth into something, I’ll plot out scenes or solve problems in the morning, then put real words on a page for most of the afternoon / into the evening, and do that consistently.
This routine is a total luxury, and I can’t afford to do it too long. I’ve really deliberately saved the last few years so that I can pay my rent, turn down shoot work and buy a period of writing time to build some kind of portfolio.
- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about writing a Screenplay?
Most challenging definitely is convincing yourself it’s worth doing. And then rewriting it. The best thing is being done, or once in a while magically getting a really fun idea in your head to think over and enjoy.
- How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
I’m always trying to figure out shorts that are actually makable on small - zero budgets, which means trying to use whatever locations, people, skills etc I’ve already got access to. My parents are working farmers and there’s this dilapidated greenhouse that’s been out of use for years near their chicken flock, and I thought it had to lead to a more interesting short film than a few people talking in a house if I could figure out something to do with it. Then I remember going into decathlon one day and trying on some coats and I thought it would be possible to together a sort of cool, affordable sci-fi costume (probably subconsciously ripping off Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, or the porters in Death Stranding), and we just had that really hot summer that lasted forever so climate doom was at the front of my mind even more than usual too. At the end of April I started making storyboard sketches and writing scenes with these things coming together. I got notes on a first draft from friends around the middle of July, and I had a finished draft in August that I was sending around and submitting for competitions and funding.
- What's the most challenging thing about competitions?
The money!!!! Having money available and justifying that money for competition entries is extremely difficult - even if every competition is reasonably priced, if you want to push your work it always feels like you should enter multiple and that adds up very fast. Deciding to enter my writing for contests and festivals wasn't something I had felt ready or able to do until I worked through a pandemic to afford it. You have to tell yourself over and over that anything you spend is a self investment and that it’s worth trying, which is really hard when you know that money could be used on groceries or essential costs instead. The only good part of that convincing process is that if you do manage to feel OK about putting some money away to enter a selection of competitions, you must have fostered some level of belief in what you’ve already made by then, which can be more valuable than any prize.
- How does it feel to have your work recognised by LISP?
Really good. I am so new to this world and have no real idea how to navigate it, so any connection and recognition like this feels like a vital foothold. LISP was one I really wanted to go for because it’s local to me and the jury seemed great, so being selected and being among this community of writers feels like a very tangible step forwards, a great feeling. Thanks very much to anyone who took the time to read the script and thanks to the judges for selecting it this season.