Q & A with Award Winning Screenwriter Thomas Pound!

On set of series MOTIVE with Actor Dylan Walsh and Executive Producer Erin Haskett
Actor Dylan Walsh (left), writer Thomas Pound (center) & executive producer Erin Haskett (right) on set of the multi-award winning series “Motive”

 

Since breaking onto the scene in 2008 with a win as Best Writer at the Vancouver 48 Hour Film Festival, Thomas Pound has written, created, and produced some of the most groundbreaking TV series and films to date.

Tenacity and persistence are vital to make it as a working writer and/or producer in the entertainment industry, and Pound has certainly exhibited both qualities in droves with the projects he’s brought to the screen. In the early stages of his career, immersing himself in the writing process and building experience were his primary goals, something he achieved in 2008 with Universal’s third installment of the cult classic Slap Shot, Slap Shot 3: The Junior League.

In 2010, Pound went on to write, direct, and produce the film The Wilderness Within, which earned him a Silver Ace Award the following year at the Las Vegas Film Festival.

On a hot streak, there was no stopping Pound as he continued to write feature films including Anomalies, The Cold, and Nextworld until he landed his first television series Motive. Working with an established writer and executive producer like Dennis Heaton (Fido, Call Me Fitz) helped give Pound the confidence to evolve his craft and provided audience members with a deeper look into the show’s main characters, and by dong so Pound, and the Motive team, received a Canadian Screen Award’s nomination for Best Dramatic Series in 2014.

Following ABC’s Motive, Pound took on the hefty task of re-writing and executive producing the horror film Torment, with only six weeks before shooting. He ended up doing major rewrites on the script and eventually came up with a new story and screenplay in just three days, which is a major feat, and one that Pound claims he will never attempt again but definitely well worth it since the film premiered at Los Angeles Screamfest.

The next couple of years proved to be very busy yet successful ones for the Calgary, Alberta native as Pound went on to write, create, and produce his most challenging TV series to date, Rookie Blue. On Rookie Blue, Pound acted as executive story editor in addition to his usual duties as a writer.

He is currently in the process of developing two new one hour drama series for Canadian TV: The Brick and The Faculty. Both shows are currently in production and are slated for a 2016 release date.

To find out more about the multitalented screenwriter and producer, check out the interview below and visit his IMDB page at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3281909/

 

Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?

TP: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was like growing up in a giant small town. The people there are salt of the earth and humble. The town is victim to subzero winters and urban sprawl, which has resulted in the people bonding much tighter and becoming much warmer than many other cities I’ve spent time in. At the time, I likely would have said the town was too quiet and too wholesome. Only since leaving have I realized the rest of the world could use a little more wholesome.

How have your early experiences influenced some of the work you create today?

TP: Everything I create today goes back to my roots. Growing up in the prairies instilled a strong sense of community, family, and wholesome living. The Brick started as a love letter to the prairies. Witnessing a small town I would spend summers in, Brooks Alberta, become hit with big box-stores and chain corporations changed the simple small town memories I had from childhood. This town was no longer what I remembered. Knowing the people from that small town and their polarizing opinions on what this means for their way of life, it was an easy creative leap to build a fictional world using this prairie touchstone. Peppering in the organized crime elements was creative freedom and no reflection of Brooks Alberta to my knowledge. The Brick became my attempt to reclaim the small Alberta town I remember fondly spending summers at the lake in.

When and how did you get into the industry as a screenwriter?

TP: I moved to Vancouver, BC immediately after high school to attend Vancouver Film School and study Film Production. I started writing feature screenplays on my own time, trying to better understand story and how to manipulate it. It was the series Lost which sparked my interest in television. I also worked in the industry as an assistant in every capacity for four years following film school.

Relocating to Toronto, Ontario was the first step towards making a concentrated focus to write full time. The few working writers I did know lived there and the executives who could hire me had offices there, so I had to move. There’s something to be said about persistence, because that’s all I shelled out for two years. Writing spec script after spec script, I knocked on doors of producers, agents, broadcasters, to learn who was being read and what projects were coming up. Eventually, pilots I wrote found homes: Anomalies was first sold to Gearshift films, and a short while later The Faculty found its home at The Nightingale Company. The relationship with Gearshift Films presented an opportunity to co-writer and executive produce a horror film they had in the works, which turned out to be Torment. Through the effort of simply trying to meet people, I suddenly had a produced feature under my belt. That same year, I was hired on as a writer for the CTV series Motive, and where I was able to co-write my first produced hour of television with Dennis Heaton. After that year with Torment and Motive, I felt comfortable introducing myself to strangers as a writer.

What kind of audience do you generally write for, and why are you passionate about writing stories for this audience?

TP: I try to write stories anyone can enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed commercial feature films and television, and enjoy delivering material which can reach the widest audience possible. That being said, every story I write has to have a human heart, an emotional anchor anyone can relate with or connect to. Whether it’s a sweeping science fiction epic or an ensemble character drama, I strive to find the heart at the core of every story, giving the audience something tangible to latch onto and pull them into the piece. I approach every story I write with the same simple question: “What would I want to feel?” The answer can be excitement, of heartbreak, or inspiration, but it always comes from a place within of what I want to feel. If I can tap into that emotion, I hope it is translated on the page and the audience feels that same sensation. That’s the beauty of television and film, the journey and triggering of emotions to audiences all over the world.

Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects you’ve written for film and television?

TP: I was fortunate to be brought onto the horror film Torment when it was very close to start filming. There was a script, which was to be shot in six weeks, and it needed a lot of work done on the project. I was inspired by what the filmmaker, Jordan Barker, wanted to do with the film, but the existing script didn’t provide. We met in his office on a Wednesday and spent two days locked away reworking the entire story from page one. Once we had a new story and shape for the film we wanted to make, I went away and wrote the first draft of the screenplay in three days. The quick turnaround is not common, nor would I attempt or offer it again. However, with the deadline of filming starting within weeks, we needed a script to work off of. We were rewriting large chunks of the story as the weeks wore down to the start of principal photography, often turning around entire new drafts of the script within a day or two. It was an intense process, which left me feeling like my head was spinning. When filming finally began, I recall standing on set in awe. This was my first ever produced script, and dozens of people were committing incredible effort and time to make it real. I imagined a car blowing up and typed it on my computer in my tiny apartment, and now I was on location watching the flames grow and feeling the wave of heat from the vehicle engulfed in flames. Those lost weekends and evenings were worth it. Torment was my first produced film, which I also executive produced. It confirmed what I already knew: I’m in this for life.

Motive was the first series I ever wrote for. When I moved away from Vancouver to Toronto in pursuit of a writing career, I told friends I’d return one day with a show. The joke amongst us is that I had to move to Toronto to get a job in Vancouver. Low and behold, some years later, it finally happened. Working under Dennis Heaton on Motive was invaluable. He let me hit the ground running, co-writing my first episode of broadcast television with him: “Kiss of Death”. This was another case of being under the pressure of schedule. We spent weekends locked away together working out the beats of our story, a similar experience to Torment. We wanted to do something different with the show and take a deeper look into our killer’s point of view, experiencing his own hallucinations when we learn he’s been poisoned. This seems like an easy task, however, the show had never done something like this and with Dennis’ leadership, we were able to craft a story, which sold the emotion of the moment, bringing it to screen.

On my second year, I was able to write an episode I’m deeply proud of – “The Glass House”. The idea of this episode had been brewing since my first year on Motive. It started with a very simple emotional anchor “A Father trying to get his daughter back”. I didn’t know the story, I didn’t know the character, all I knew was the core emotional drive, and it was what I constantly went back to in crafting the story. I was given tremendous freedom on Motive to tell the story I wanted. I believe this came from always servicing the emotion of the story first.

You’ve also produced some of these projects, is that correct? Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you’ve both written and produced and how tackling both jobs draws upon your different skill sets?

TP: With Torment, I was also the executive producer on the film. In writing, you rely on the ether of imagination, allowing the story and characters take you wherever they need to go. As we were counting down to the start of shooting on Torment, my role as producer on the project involved constant collaboration with the production. If we lost a location, I would have to find a creative solution in the screenplay to make the new one work. I would work closely with every department to develop the ideas of how a particular action sequence would play out, knowing they wouldn’t get the new script for several days, but they still needed to move forward in prep. It was a constant juggling of guiding production concerns as the script changed and vice versa. You have to be malleable and see how things can shift if circumstances change on a film. Things will seldom go how you planned on a film, writing and producing to those changes is an essential skill set.

Do you prefer to produce the projects you write?

TP: When given the opportunity, I prefer to produce the projects I write. I love the entire process of putting a television or feature project together. I have tremendous admiration of every department that it takes to pull off such an incredible feat. By producing the project I write, it gives me a chance to work as closely as possible with every department and collaborate our ideas. Producing something you write gives you, and the entire team, the opportunity to have constant transparency as to why a particular action or moment plays out a specific way. While production issues will arise, as the writer and producer, I can offer creative solutions, which maintain the sanctity of the story, yet allow us to film what needs to be filmed.

You’ve also been called in as a story editor on projects like the TV series Rookie Blue, and Motive—can you tell us about how your role as the story editor on these projects differ from others where you have been the main writer? How much influence do you have over the story in these cases?

TP: The difference between being the main writer and a story editor is that as a story editor, it is your job to fulfill the show runner’s vision of the show. On Motive, I would have countless meetings with Dennis Heaton to fully understand the big picture story he wanted to tell in the series. Once I understood his intentions, I would be able to craft my writing and my episodes to facilitate that particular vision. The same can be said for Rookie Blue, where I can bring my ideas to the table, but they ultimately must facilitate what the show runner wants to do with the characters. It’s a vital role in aiding to bring the voice of the series to the surface as easily as possible. I have a great deal of influence on the stories in these cases; however it’s an incredibly collaborative process. I may bring my seed of an idea to the show runner, and it may inspire him to take the story in a new direction. Together, we will arrive at an entirely new story. It’s still my job to write it, and it was birthed through collaboration, however as long as it serves the show, it is fulfilling its purpose.

From your perspective as screenwriter, what are some of the differences between writing for television and writing a screenplay for a film?

TP: One of the greatest differences between writing for television and writing for film is the pace. Television is a marathon. As soon as the gun fires and you’re off to the races, you’re cranking out story after story with the writing team and shooting a new episode every eight business days. It’s easy to drop the ball, but it’s an incredibly rewarding journey, which can create incredible partnerships with your colleagues. Feature films are much slower to produce and thus the writing can take quite a while as well. In features, you’re ideally writing about the characters most interesting day in his entire life. In television, every day has to be the characters most interesting day. You can concentrate a core theme or message much more succinctly in film; however you can build much broader and complex worlds in television.

Do you have a preference for one or other?

TP: I prefer the collaboration of television, writing with a team and building an entire world on a television landscape. However, I do love the intimacy of writing a personal screenplay and shepherding it through production on your own. I prefer whichever story idea more personally resonates with my soul.

What made you choose to participate in the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?

TP: In many ways, the project chose me. I have had the luxury of knowing talented individuals in film and television, and as soon as the windows opened to work together on their projects I leaped at the opportunity. For Motive, it was an incredible chance to work with Dennis Heaton, and join a show that expertly delves into the psychology of what drives an average person to become a murderer. I love studying psychology and this was a chance to look at the human condition on a deeper level. With Rookie Blue, the opportunity came to join the team of an already established series which I was a fan of. I believe writing should always be a fun experience, even when you’re writing about dark stories. Rookie Blue was an opportunity to play with wonderful relationship dynamics and romances on screen which I hadn’t done before. It became a wonderful experience which sought me out.

What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?

TP: Motive truly gave me my first opportunity in television. For that, I will always look back fondly on the project. I have remained near and dear to many of my colleagues on that series and became a part of a series I am incredibly proud of. Torment was a project which turned out far better than I could have imagined, through an experience that was incredibly draining and intense. I never imagined it would premiere in Los Angeles Screamfest, or be sold internationally in theaters. For this, I walked away with a tremendous amount of pride for what we accomplished together.

What has been your most challenging project and why?

TP: The most challenging project to date was Torment, primarily because of the timeline to write the entire screenplay when we were only several weeks out from filming. It was a real “sink or swim” scenario in many ways. With new information of casting issues, location changes, schedule shifts, coming in every day, the script was a constant moving target, at times to an overwhelming extent. In the end, we brought it together in a wonderful way and I have walked away with pride for what we did. It was a great lesson that the most challenging experiences can also be the most rewarding.

Can you tell us about some of the awards you’ve received over the course of your career and what you won them for?

TP: I was fortunate to win the Silver Ace Award from the Las Vegas Film Festival in 2011 for writing and directing my short film The Wilderness Within. It was a gratifying achievement for a project I solely wrote, directed, and produced on my own. I was also a part of the Motive team when we were nominated for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Dramatic Series in 2014. Seeing the season I worked on being honored with a nomination was a tremendous achievement.

Out of all of your awards so far, which one has meant the most to you personally?

TP: The Silver Ace Award means the world to me as it was the first award I received for bringing together a project that only exists because of the kind efforts of those who believed in me. I believe it’s important to remember where you started out, and this award embodies the person I was before ever getting the chance to make movies or television.

What projects do you have coming up?

TP: I have been currently developing two new series for broadcasters in Canada. The Brick is a one hour drama for TMN with Bell Media, geared to be one of their first original cable one hour dramas. It is a series about a fictional small prairie town, simple and untouched by big box stores of today, and what happens when a major city crime organization aims to turn this town into their new home base, and how the hardware store owner decided to take a stand. He’ll create his own mob to fight the big city mob. I have been developing this project with Bell Media and Pier 21 in Toronto since the summer of 2015, and aim to have an announcement early 2016 on the predicted release.

I am also continuing to develop The Faculty, a one hour drama series for Shaw Cable. The series is about life following a school shooting in a small prairie town, and how the faculty members return to work and strive to pick the pieces up and transcend tragedy through hope. We have been developing the series for a year, and aim to bring it out into American markets in early 2016.

As a screenwriter, where do you get your inspiration for the projects you create?

TP: As a screenwriter, I take as much inspiration as possible from my own life. Whether it be a particular experience or a specific relationship in my life, I always start inwards. If I can connect with a specific emotion I feel in relation to a story I would like to tell, I can build a script from there. I am always able to return to that place within me where it originated from. It’s as close to a “method’ approach to writing as one can get.

What do you hope to achieve with the projects you create?

TP: Ultimately, I simply want my audience to connect with the projects I create. If they are able to connect and feel the specific emotion I felt when writing it, that’s a pretty incredible journey. In anything I create, I hope there is always a personal honesty and deep truth which resonates to anyone, no matter what their background.

Why are you passionate about working as a screenwriter?

TP: I believe stories unite mankind. Films and television travel all around the world and leave immense cultural wakes, and soaring ripple affects through time. Stories challenge the way we think and how we communicate. Films and television have the ability to bring honesty and truth to an audience who may shy away or be unaware of it in their own lives. At the simple core of it, a story can help them escape and relive the sense of wonder we’ve all had at one point in our lives. My passion for screenwriting comes directly from the drive to share the wonder I have for the human experience. If I can find a way to share those stories in an entertaining way, then I’ve done my job.

Do you think you’ll stick to writing TV shows or is there another area of screenwriting you’d like to explore?

TP: I’ll absolutely stick to writing television, however I’d love to expand on the breadth of the TV I work with. I would love to be writing multiple television series as well as feature films at the same time. Of course I can only write so much, but the passion and ability to work with other writers, and find the stories they’re passionate about drives me. I’d love to explore an avenue of producing other material and using my experience to bring it to the screen and share their stories.

 

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