Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Questionnaire ( Nathan Cabaniss)

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

My name is Nathan Cabaniss, and I was born in Tallahassee, FL. I currently live in Lawrenceville, GA, in the greater Metro-Atlanta Area. I hate to say that my hobbies revolve almost completely around reading, screenplay formatting, and writing. Sometimes I play golf. I could probably use more hobbies.

Where did you come up with the concept that just placed you as a Finalist in the screenplay contest? How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now?

I was trying to come up with ideas for short genre films that I could do on a budget. The concept of “retiree James Bond” seemed like it lent itself to that rather naturally. From there I developed it into the story of an elderly superspy dealing with visions from his past. These visions would be more than they appear. There was a lot of cramming as well. Namely, the pop culture of the ’60s and the nature of memory/reality. It took me about two days to write the screenplay outline. The script hasn’t changed too much since that first draft. Mainly trimming scenes down, taking out unnecessary dialogue, things like that.

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

Generally, once I get an idea, I jump right into it and start with Page 1, Scene 1. As I go, I’ll also jot down ideas for scenes/character development/dialogue in various notebooks. Then I get on with researching things that need to be researched. Come up with something that vaguely resembles a very loose script outline. But I think the most important thing is to just start putting words down on the page. I like to start with the actual writing, because–for me–I don’t know the story until I know the characters, and I don’t know the characters until I start writing them in scenes.

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

Well, the first real job I wanted as a kid was to be an animator for Walt Disney. Due to too many drawings, I decided to be a comic book artist instead. Even that was too much drawing so I thought, “Aha! I’ll be the writer!” And when I was in high school I got deep into the film, so screenwriting was a pretty natural outgrowth from there.

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

Quentin Tarantino was a big one early on. There was a change of perception after watching Reservoir Dogs at 16. The idea that you could have an entire movie be a couple of guys shouting at each other in a warehouse somewhere and it would be just as tense and exciting as movies with five times the budget. It was the first script witnessed by me. from there the teaching began. I can remember reading one of the action lines depicting a tense moment, and all Tarantino writes is: “Freddy shits a brick.” That was when it all kind of “clicked” for me–those four words tell you everything you need to know without going into extraneous detail or belaboring the point… getting as much impact out of as few words as possible.

Other than that, there are dozens upon dozens more: John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Rian Johnson, Jean-Pierre Melville, Brian Helgeland, the Wachowskis, Shane Black, Aaron Sorkin, Leigh Brackett, Akira Kurosawa, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Richard Linklater… far too many to mention.

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

So many! One cannot write a script until there isn’t an obsession with some movie or TV shows in the first place. I think that’s one of the reasons Guillermo Del Toro’s work resonates so much with me because every frame is obsessively packed with information and meaning. Even his most commercial films you could watch on a loop, and find new things each time.

There are dozens more that I’ve pored over throughout the years, trying to crack the code of how they were made and why they work as well as they do. The Matrix, The Fountain, Oldboy, Magnolia… again, far too many to name.

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

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid contains what is, for my money, the finest scene ever contained in a motion picture: the death of Slim Pickens’ character. The scene begins much as you would expect of a western, no less a Peckinpah one, as everyone involved pulls their guns and gets to shooting, the spectacular violence and trademark Peckinpah slow-motion in full effect. But then, much like the rest of the movie, the gunshots peter out, and the film takes a soulful turn–switching from violence to elegance before you even notice the change.

Having been shot twice and near death, Slim Pickens gets up and walks over to this small trickle of a river. His wife, played by Katy Jurado, drops her gun and runs over as the life leaks out of him, slow and deliberate. No words pass between them–the only audio on the soundtrack fading away for one of Bob Dylan’s best songs–and it’s all there on Jurado’s and Pickens’ faces, in performances so nakedly honest it’s hard to see how they could even be construed as “acting.”

It’s a scene that is at once completely separate from the film it’s surrounded by, yet still intrinsically tied to. A perfect piece of the thematic whole that makes up Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’s treatise on life and death and growing old in a world that no longer has any need for you. Moreover, it’s a scene that conveys its meaning entirely through the images, the direction and the acting, and the framing of the shots. It is visual storytelling at its finest.

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

The Frankenstein Monster, as played by Boris Karloff. There’s just something universal about that character, and that performance, in particular. Whatever your background, however you identify, I think everyone feels that awkwardness at some point, that feeling that you don’t belong anywhere. And he’s not really a “monster,” per se… He always tries his best, but ultimately can’t help but make a mess of everything. I think everyone can relate to that.

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

I feel like I should name some important historical figure, but I honestly would have loved to talk to anyone who saw A Trip to the Moon in the early 1900s, just to see how the audience reacted.