Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Questionnaire (Jon Shaivitz)

What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?

Jon Shaivitz. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland / Los Angeles. Hobbies include CA / Video games.

Where did you come up with the concept that just won the screenplay contest?

When I learned that dogs get stolen and sold for their meat on the black market in Vietnam, I immediately had an idea for a movie script outline.

How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

About 5 months from research to final draft.

From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?

Once I came up with the concept, I spent about six weeks just doing research to familiarize myself with Vietnam and its culture. I’ve never been to Vietnam so I wanted to make sure the story would ring true and be as authentic as possible. After that, it took about four weeks to write the first draft. Then after receiving some feedback from a few close friends, I spent a month refining some key details to help shape the narrative. Thanks to their suggestions, I had the right revelations and was able to transform the screenplay structure into its final form.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?

800 years ago when I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college.

Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?

Stanley Kubrick has always been my North Star. He once said, “A film is – or should be – more like music than like fiction”. I took that to heart early on in my journey to become a storyteller and it continues to influence my creative decision-making to this day.

Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?

Absolutely. I’ve been obsessed with more than a few movies if I’m being honest. But to pick one, it would have to be Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting” (based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, which is pretty great, too). Since I first saw it in high school, I connected with it on a level I had never connected with any movie before. The themes it speaks to about life and the choices we make around whether to participate in it, or not, always hit me in a deep, personal way. If a film could be an anthem, “Trainspotting” would be mine.   

What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?

Wow, this is a really tough question. There are just so many to choose from. After some thought, I think I figured it out. My favorite moment in cinema history is from Wachowski’s Sci-fi masterpiece “The Matrix”. There’s a powerful moment at the end of the movie (spoiler alert). It’s where Keanu Reeves’ character Neo starts to see the underlying code for the first time. This gives him the ability to be one step ahead of The Agents and destroy them from the inside out. It’s one of the most exciting turning points in any movie I’ve ever seen. When you’re watching it, you’re thinking “This is it, this is the big moment that Thomas Anderson meets his destiny and truly becomes Neo.” I’ll always be in awe of that character-defining moment. It’s perfection. The character development is top-notch.

Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?

This is another really hard question for me to answer because I have many favorites. But I’ll give it a shot. If I really had to narrow it down to one, I would say my favorite character is Peter Pan. I hope this doesn’t seem like a cop-out. Even though Peter Pan is a classic literary character, but I couldn’t resist picking him. Peter Pan is a boy who never grew up. In some way, I like to think I’ve never grown up either. I’ve always wanted to remain a child at heart no matter how old I get.

Children have a wide-eyed, playful, imaginative view of the world. It often feels bigger to them than it does once we grow up. After growing up we see things from a different – and taller – perspective. Peter Pan’s spirited way of living is something we shouldn’t have to shed away as we grow into adults. If there’s one thing in life I hope I never lose, it’s the childlike spirit. I know is still somewhere inside of me, always looking for an opportunity to show itself. Peter Pan represents that feeling for me. So that’s why he’s my favorite character not only in cinema history but maybe in all of the storytelling.

If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?  

I would ask Bob Marley what his prescription is for healing the conflicted world we live in. Can we achieve peace holistically, physically, spiritually, and individually? If so, how?