Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Friday, March 4, 2016

Do Not Cut Yourself Slack: Interview with Jeffrey Stackhouse, Screenwriter of "I am the Doorway"

Welcome back, boils and ghouls!  Manuscripts Burn is turning out to be quite the hotspot for folks in the horror field.  I was very excited a few weeks back when Jeffrey Stackhouse, a ginuwine Cali-for-ni-ay screenwriter reached out to me for an interview on the blog.  Both Jeffrey and his collaborator, director Simon Pearce, will be featured on the blog this month to get a little attention for their Indiegogo for "I am the Doorway."  Their film is based on a story by an obscure 20th century horror author named (I think I'm spelling this right) Stephen King.  But enough of my jiggery-pokery.  Let's jump right in and meet the guest.

About Jeffrey Stackhouse:

Jeffrey Stackhouse has won multiple awards for horror screenplays with his partners Richard A. Becker and Wendy Lashbrook, including The Page International Screenwriting Awards, Shriekfest Horror Festival’s Best Short Screenplay (from an Anthology Horror Feature), and The Las Vegas Screenplay Contest.  Three of his seven scripts produced in the last three years are optioned by Allied Artists Film Group, one of those fully funded.

His most recent project is the fully-authorized adaptation of Stephen King’s "I am the Doorway," and his very first foray was on a short script whose finished film won 27 major awards.


SK:  Welcome! Now, Jeffrey, you're the first professional screenwriter we've had on Manuscripts Burn, so I'm going to focus a few questions on that. First, how did you break into the field?

JS:  “Break in” is a euphemism, right?  “Kinda on the outside looking in” is perhaps the less-kind version.

Contests did a bit for me, in that it gave me a legitimacy of sorts, but similar to a University degree, those really don’t matter as far as forward motion.  They’ll get an occasional e-mail perhaps opened due to subject-line (“multi-award-winning horror screen writer’s new horror script”), but you still have to have a very engaging cover letter hit exactly the right moment and the right venue (“What’s this?  Why, we were discussing adding a contained-military-horror script to the roster just the other day … oh, dammit, it has SPFX, none of those; next!”).

Crap shoot does not nearly cover it.

Sadly, it really can be who you know.  My three optioned scripts (of our seven) at Allied Artists came because I got someone in a class to read a script, which he loved as far as writing style and energy.  But it was a Western (Spaghetti, but hey), and no place to position that, how dumb do ya gotta be in today’s market muttermutter …

Two years later and that acquaintance is the President of Allied Artists and it’s “Well maybe a Western, but alzo what else ya gots?”  <

But who you know.

NYC wasn’t like this.  In NYC, if someone saw something and loved it, they told all their friends; hell, they brought people to you.

I’ve had two high-B actors that I approached call me and spend, truth, over an hour telling me how wonderful the character/story/writing was and “Yes, I have people to get this to and will …”

Not A Thing.

Heh.  I had a big director request a specific script, receive a once-a-month e-mail from me going “I’m fully aware not every script is for everybody, no harm no foul, but look here’s an interesting article on that aspect of the genre, here’s another contest placement, my best to you and yours …”

-- Seven months later I get a reply saying “Did you ever send me that script?  Send it to me and I’ll look it over this week.”

… hadn’t read my requested script, hadn’t read my clever e-mails for 6 months, didn’t read the script this time.

So, you keep plugging.  Mining.  Finding.

In NY, I had finally reached the point where I could get other people opera/musical/stage-acting work, because people hired me for what I could do as a performer and would open their other castings to me.  I got to surround myself with skilled and kind people on a project.  Lucky boy.
I’ve applied that out here.

I mod a safe closed space where other writers, directors, nascent producers support one-another.  I see things I like, I put folk together.

Got my producer, director, location, co-writers on the Stephen King adaptation in that way.

-- It is who you know in LA, but you create those connections.  Ya canna just put out good product:  that’s shouting into a well.  You have to be your own manager; be kind to your future self with the hustle you bring today.

Ask me something simple.

SK:  How does writing a script differ from writing prose? And, on a technical note, what kind of software do you use? I prefer Celtx but I know people swear by Final Draft and others just prefer to use Word and do the formatting their damn selves.

JS:  - Easy first: Final Draft.  I like the interface, like that it will remind you if you stray.  Good solid program.  It might-maybe-could allow you to tweak it more, but then I’m eccentric.  

An aside on Format:  Screw those people who say formatting isn’t important.  Do you really want to miss an opportunity because one reader somewhere was convinced you didn’t know your stuff based on formatting?  You know their job's are on the line when they pass something “upstairs” right?

Yes, “write a story they can’t put down!”  But really, get your bad self together; it’s easy, learn the language professionals use.

- Differs:  I’m working on a novel right now, so I have actual thoughts on this; ya’ll judge if they’re cogent or not.

I started as a screenwriter and soon learned that my job was to get my thoughts into the reader’s head.  Economy, action, forward motion in a compelling story, satisfying finish.

Do The Job.

I write in a very literary style, and contest-wins aside, I need to put that style in service to the work.  It ain’t my job, it does not serve my co-writers or myself, for me to paint the very prettiest of pictures.

(I do, but I’m subversive about it)

I’ve said it elsewhere, but the only definition of poetry I know is “when you remove every word you can, what is left is poetry.”  

I try to write poetry, but my screenwriting achieves (when it does, hey) that with a scalpel, with a brutal eye.  Sacrifice the pretty turn of phrase, let fall the axe.

My co-writers love keeping me in line, lol.

(Couldn’t have better of those, by the way.  Richard A. Becker is an enormous reservoir of horror knowledge and can come up with the most thrilling story-turns and beats.  Wendy Lashbrook is patient with breaking a story and can cut to the meat of the meaning every time.  Did I say lucky man?)

Novelsnovelsnovels.  Still feeling my way.  Have a huge passion project in the works about a group of students in a rambling manor and how to call a dead god to Earth for just one annihilating wish.  

-- But when a reader comes to a novel, they still want that essential story, yet they want to be carried on a beautiful ship.  The “voice” of the author is more important.  Stephen King, Roger Zelazny (RIP), I love their “voices.”  I’m willing to see if they stick the landing, because the journey is so so fine.

Those things there^^

SK:  How did you get hooked up with your partners across the pond for "I am the Doorway?"

JS:  Wendy and I were awarded two of Mr. King’s stories, and I’ll tell you why we chose “I am the Doorway” sometime, but this question isn’t that.

We approached Richard as a valued resource and began talking the beats and approach.  My original thought was to create a film in the style of Argento and Cronenberg: a beautiful and lambent jewel that framed this absolutely brutal and terrible story.

Two years earlier I had seen Simon Pearce and Wolfram Parge’s feature horror “Judas Ghost” at Shriekfest Film Festival (my favorite Fest) and it blew me away.  The acting was well directed, the shots were intriguing and served-the-story, the forward motion was intense.  But as far as this project, even moreso, their color palate was beautiful.

After the screening, I made damn sure they knew my thoughts, and we kept in touch, I brought Simon into that supportive group, Shadowland: A Haven for Genre Professionals.

And I pitched the project to them, and they were intrigued and asked us for a short script, which we promised in a month.

And since it was an adaptation, and because Richard jumped on the first draft, and we then stayed up long nights and traded versions, we got it to them in nine days.

And they liked it (we do too).

Aaand because they’re consummate pros, they were able to attract the likes of DP Phil Meheux ("Casino Royale," "Mask Of Zorro") and Illusion Industries (SPFX for "Pirates of the Caribbean") to the film.

“How did I get hooked up …?”  

I was verah verah lucky.

SK:  What's your favorite Western and why?

JS:  “Unforgiven” is a stellar bit of the genre:  right amount of grit, multi-layered characters brought to life by tremendous actors, a compelling story racing to a merciless ending.  Good stuff.

-- Our can’t-be-named/contractually-obligated Spaghetti Western has some of that boiled down to a simpler story, driven by the lead.  He’s terse and no-nonsense, recognizes kindness but suffers no fools.  He spends the first third of the story trying to give the responsibility of righting a brutal tragedy to others, simply because he knows what will happen once he becomes involved.

“A dark haze hangs over the valley below him.  Only the shards of a town are left behind.”
We bill it as “A ferocious reimaging of the Spaghetti Western for the 21st Century.”

-- Characters, and character, are important.  You look at Jimmy Stewart in any Western he did:  warm, someone you look up to, but sometimes in his eyes you are left cut and bleeding by what you see.

Too many Westerns, to the point that Hollywood thinks the genre is the problem, are simply flawed stories with no logical progression, filled with characters of no moral center.  Hell, even a villain believes in something.  Did you see the remake of “3:10 to Yuma?”  Lawdy, the lead was an f’ing reed in the wind, changing his morals predicated on whatever seemed most likely to succeed.  Tell a damn story!  You don’t tell a story around a campfire wherein everyone is flawed.  Who cares if there’s no one to root for?

-- “The Salvation” is the most interesting thing I’ve seen lately (tho I haven’t yet watched “Bone Tomahawk,” don’t judge me).  It simply unfolds, anchored by Mads Mikkelsen’s tremendous gravity.

SK:  Well, thanks for being with us today! Is there anything I didn't ask about that you'd like to get out there to your fans before we go?

JS:  How about things I’d like to say …?

Hi Mom, hi Dad! (waving to The Universe).

-- Be kind to yourself, kinder than you need to be.  Treat yourself like you would treat someone else who was having that desperate “when will I succeed” time in their lives.  – Do not cut yourself slack (learn you job and do it), but try to lead that person to somewhere more productive.

Your future self deserves a helping hand, same as any human being.  Grant them that moment of your time.

Unless you’re a jerk to others.  Then grow up or screw you.

Thanks so much for the opportunity.  It was fun.

.. oh yeah, and this thing.  I’m pretty proud of it.  Maybe your audience could help, even if it’s only spreading it around.

About "I am the Doorway:"

After a journey to investigate desolate Pluto, astronaut Arthur returns home a shattered man.  He sees eyes forcing their way through the skin of his hands, eyes that distort his friends and the landscape itself into monstrous visions.  Believing himself the doorway to alien invasion and gruesome murder, he must take desperate action.

I am the Doorway,” a shocking science-fiction/horror short, is based on the chilling Stephen King story and fully authorized by the author.  It has been adapted by Jeffrey Stackhouse, Richard A. Becker & Wendy Lashbrook, a multi-award-winning screenwriting team based in the US, with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things horror.

From their original pitch for the adaptation:                                                                            

“... a movie in the tradition of Argento and Cronenberg, a film of beautiful colors and gorgeous wide-screen set pieces, which frame a brutal and devastating horror.”


  1. Thanks so very much for the interview. Kind and great fun.
    We've cast the amazing Simon Merrells (Spartacus, Syfy's Dominion) as the lead in our short film!
    And that "supportive Facebook site" is now up at "Shadowland: A Haven For Genre Professionals."
    Come over and play. Good folk there.
    My best!!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Bon chance with the film.


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