A Q&A with Matt Spicer & David Smith on their 2017 Sundance Film Festival-Winner

After our screening of Ingrid Goes West, Jeff Goldsmith, the producer of The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith, Matt Spicer and David Branson Smith, discussed the process of making the Sundance-winning film.

Did you go to film school?
Matt Spicer – Yes, I went to USC film school, and graduated in 2006. It was good, and fun. I was in the production track, and I’m grateful to have made so many friends throughout. David studied history at Penn.
David Branson Smith – I studied history in college at Penn State. After graduation, I was close to the action in the mail room at Endeavor, read scripts, and books about screenwriting, especially Save the Cat.

David, what would you say was something you saw as a common mistake that first-time writers would make?
David Branson Smith – Still trying to figure out those rookie mistakes. One thing is trusting your agent. Another note, don’t try to get notes from every step of the draft. A lot of times you expect the agent to work with you, but a lot of it depends on you, and bringing it to them at the right time.
Matt Spicer – I would say, make sure that it is something that you really love the material.

What was so unatainable about your black list script?
It is about a guy who works at a bookstore and discovers that there is a museum about him. He falls in love with an ornithologist dream girl. it was inspired by Michel Gondry, and was earnest and sweet. It ended up being a very good writing sample.

You and Max were also working with Jonah Hill…
Correct, Jonah and Max have been friends for a long time. They went to high school together. When they were working on SuperBad, Jonah expressed an interest in working on a future film.

How did Ingrid Goes West come along?
Dave and I love social media, and use Instagram all the time to send memes to eachother.

How did you start it?
We created a Google Doc back in 2015, and started fleshing out the story from there. Once we started outlining, we started meeting every day in Culver City. Eventually, we shifted over to Final Draft, and would send revisions over via DropBox. We had a pretty regimented schedule, and at the time, this was the only thing I was doing. This was a total hail mary. We would meet for upwards of five hours. We had set goals to make this, and held ourselves accountable during the writing process. We also wrote according to what we could produce. A lot of scenes were written to be shot at friend’s places, Joshua Tree, etc.

Would you work on the same scene at the same time?
Yes, we would work side by side and write the same scene simultaneously.

It sounds like your schedule was about 5 hours a day.
Yeah. We were both also working on other things, but this was our passion project.

Was it hard to jump from one project to the other?
I found it to be refreshing. I usually work a 3-4 hour day, and to change location and work with someone else, it helped me get a second wind.

You two wrote fantastic female roles in Ingrid Goes West. Were there ever moments when you wanted to vet the draft to women in your lives?
Well, we are lucky to have such smart, talented women in our lives. While we were writing the script, they were our barometer for creating believable female characters. We knew if we didn’t get that part right, people would pull out their knives. As we went through, we tried consciously to ask, “is this something a girl would say?”

Ingrid Goes West

Ingrid Goes West – Star Thrower Entertainment

How long was your outlining period?
It was about a month long.

What was some literature that helped along the writing process?
Save the Cat has always seemed somewhat commercial driven. I went to a seminar at Sundance labs that is all about the question, “What does the character want?”

When you sit down to write, do you give yourself a page count?
David – Never
Matt – I try to write 3 pages a day, but if I feel like writing more, I do. It is nice to have some kind of goal. Some days are great, and others you might struggle to get one page.

Do you listen to music while writing?
I’ll create a playlist to get me in the mood to write. It will help mentally stimulate me while I’m not writing. I’ll keep a notes document of ideas for a scene, or an image. There are certain scenes where I thought, “Oh, this would be a great song to motivate this scene.”

What do you do when you get writer’s block?
David Branson Smith – I listen to podcasts, including this one, and the BAFTA writers podcast.
Matt Spicer – I usually find if I’m stuck, it is because I’m not ingesting enough. I’m not reading enough, I’m not writing enough. You need to consume to be able to gather fuel for writing.

What did you learn about ensemble writing through this process?
Matt Spicer – For me, it was really the actors. We nailed it down as much as we could, but we were re-writing through production. Every time we would cast someone new, we would rewrite according to their strengths.
David Branson Smith – Aubrey is literally in every scene, and every frame. We were writing in the vein of Nightrawler. I think by really pushing Ingrid’s character, it allowed us to introduce new characters more fluidly.

Listen to the full podcast here.

Check out the trailer for Ingrid Goes West below

the shape of water
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