Sunday, January 21, 2007

Part 2 of my Q&A with Adam McDaniel, author of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY.

Here’s the second part of my Q & A with Adam McDaniel, whose script IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THADDEUS THACKERAY was my choice for the best of 2006. (You can read the first part of the Q&A here.)

TUC: Let’s talk a little about your writing background.

McDaniel: I don’t know if I really have one—I never considered myself a professional writer. It has nothing to do with selling or making a living, but a discipline I honestly haven’t developed yet. I write only when the inspiration hits me—I’m lucky if that happens once a year—and I think a real writer’s someone who can sit down and pound on a keyboard for x-hours a day, everyday, regardless of how tired or exhausted they are. My friend at Vassar, Jeff Davis, was always like this; he started out as an I.T. guy at Fox, working all day then coming home to write for four or five hours each night, even if he felt like shit. Jeff’s quite well known now, having gone on to create the tv series Criminal Minds. I’m not in the least bit surprised by his success. My only gripe against him is that he’s barely in his thirties and looks ten years younger, the fucker. (laughs)

TUC: You mentioned Vassar College. What was your experience there like?

McDaniel: Great, great teachers--Thaddeus Gesek, who I mentioned before, and especially Ken Robinson, who taught film production.
I studied film and drama, and at that time my focus was much more on directing, production design, and cinematography than writing. I did write and direct a play my senior year—an intense, dramatic, three-hour vanity opus that had the misfortune of opening the same night as an on campus Billy Joel concert—but again, my interest was much more geared towards making short films. One that I did went on to win a few awards, and I was very proud of that. I didn’t develop much interest in writing until much later.

TUC: Well, let’s hear about it.

McDaniel: I started out by writing short film screenplays. Actually, if you want to get used to writing scripts, my best advice is to start out small—and shorts are literally the best way to do it. They serve you best as an educational experience, a way to develop your writing skills.

My first full-length feature script was HEAVEN SPENT, a dark comedy/fantasy that was like a sadistic version of It’s a Wonderful Life meets City of Angels meets The Devil’s Advocate. I wrote it in 1999, and in 2000 it was actually featured in a nice writeup on Harry Knowles’ entertainment website Ain’t It Cool News, as one of the best “undiscovered” scripts of the year.

TUC: That’s a nice bookend to my writeup on Thaddeus Thackeray!

McDaniel: Yeah! They don’t do amateur script reviews on that site anymore, so I’m glad we have you to fall back on. (laughs) That review on Aint It Cool got me a lot of calls from agents and production companies, and while everyone liked the script and my writing style, they said that the genre I was working in was too risky, citing films like Bedazzled, Down to Earth, and Little Nicky, which had all come out around this time and flopped.

TUC: Have you tried entering screenwriting contests?

McDaniel: I did on Heaven Spent, but not with Thaddeus yet. Unless it’s something major like the Nichol Competition, I think scriptwriting contests aren’t really useful, and usually they require a hefty fee that defeats the purpose of submitting in the first place. There aren’t many free contests out there. I did find one, “Words From Here,” that I submitted Heaven Spent to, and it was awarded second place. But again, I don’t like contests that charge people an arm and a leg—like what, forty, fifty bucks?—to fund “their” prizes.

TUC: Amen.

McDaniel: Yeah, so be warned: if you ever start charging people fees for reading their stuff, I’ll have a major bone to pick with you. (laughs)

TUC: Don’t worry. (laughs)

McDaniel: Well, you can charge a little. Five bucks maybe.

TUC: Not my style, man.

McDaniel: Awesome.

TUC: Looking at your website I see that you’re not only a published author, but a stunningly talented artist! Of the two, which do you enjoy more—art or writing?

McDaniel: It depends, though I’ve always been a very visual person, and would have to consider illustration to be of greater personal interest and satisfaction.

TUC: Reading the Thaddeus Thackeray script, I noticed it’s very visually written. Has your art and film experience played a part in your writing?

McDaniel: Oh, absolutely. I’ve also worked as a cinematographer and set designer, and those have helped me, too. What I like about screenplays is that you can write visually without getting too bogged down in prose. I think I’m good when it comes to visual descriptions and dialogue, but coming up with the initial concept, the basic story, has always been the tough part.

TUC: You’ve also written two books.

McDaniel: One I’m still working on, the other came out in 2002—a “novelization” of Heaven Spent, retitled HOW TO SUCCEED IN HEAVEN WITHOUT REALLY DYING. (laughs) It’s available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and a bookstore near you. Hint, hint.

TUC: On your website you posted some big news…

McDaniel: Yeah, the book was recently optioned and is being developed as none other than a stage musical… (laughs) …the last thing on earth I ever expected! I think the workshops will begin in late 2007 or early 2008, but it depends on the composer’s schedule. He’s right in the middle of another project, so it'll be several months at least.

TUC: Will you be involved with the musical’s creation at all?

McDaniel: I’ll help only if asked. I pretty much handed over total creative control, which is fine by me as long as I get my percentage. I’m divorced enough from the material now that I think it’d be better for someone else to come in and give it a fresh makeover. I just want it to be fun more than anything else. I trust the guy in charge completely.

TUC: Tell us about the book you’re currently working on.

McDaniel: God, that’s a tough one—I need to shift gears. (sighs) It’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever had as a writer, and one of the biggest personal challenges I’ve ever come across. It’s called CHASING ECHOES THROUGH THE DARK, and I’ve been working on it with a kid named Danny Wessler for over three years.

TUC: What’s it about?

McDaniel: It’s based on Danny’s experiences back when he was 16. He’s been blind since birth, and for years he suffered from sexual abuse. It’s hard to write because not only is the subject matter very severe, but since I’m writing it from Danny’s point of view—the view of a blind man—I’ve had to abandon all the writing conventions I’m used to.

TUC: The visual descriptions?

McDaniel: Exactly. But Danny’s also a sculptor—he’s had stuff in exhibits all over the place, even in Japan—so he really has an extreme tactile sense that in many ways compensates for his blindness. But try to put yourself in his shoes. Do blind people have visual imagery in their dreams? How do they fantasize when they can’t picture someone? These are questions we explore in great depth in the book. It’s so much harder than I ever thought it’d be, and Danny and I’ve faced a number of setbacks over the last three years that seriously delayed the project. Personal things—not with each other, we get along great, but emotional things that happened in each of our lives which forced us to take a break every so often, for the sake of the book as well as our sanity. But the book is coming along, and we’re going to finish it this year. (laughs) But I said that last year, too!

TUC: We have to talk about these (Thaddeus Thackeray) concept designs you sent me! They’re fantastic. Did you do them?

McDaniel: I wish! (laughs) They’re actually the work of Jeff West, a visual effects and storyboard artist. Now I like to think of myself as a pretty decent artist, but Jeff has a drawing style that really captures what I envisioned Thaddeus to be, and I can’t draw the way he can. It’s funny…I initially came across Jeff’s work on several Indiana Jones related websites, and, never having met him at that time, thought about asking him to work on Thaddeus. But I was too shy, and didn’t...until, lo and behold, a year later I start a new job, and, on my second day, I pass the workroom of a young guy with a gigantic Indiana Jones poster plastered to his wall. We introduce ourselves…and it’s Jeff! The guy whose work I’d loved all along! We’ve become good pals now, and are now collaborating on turning Thaddeus into either an illustrated book or an all-out graphic novel.

TUC: That’s great! It would totally work as a comic book, too…though personally, I’d prefer the big screen treatment.

McDaniel: Ditto, my friend. Ditto.


You can see more of Adam’s artwork at To learn more about Chasing Echoes Through the Dark, go to

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