Rufus Chaffee has been making and writing movies since he was 8 years old. He graduated in 1999 with a Masters in Film and Video Production from Emerson College and has written 20 features and numerous short scripts. He has also made 2 feature films.
I didn't really get into screenwriting, I have always been a screenwriter. When I was in middle school I just started writing scripts and my friends and I would make them. I got more serious about it as I got older when I started reading other scripts and books on screenwriting. While I also direct and produce, I look at myself as a screenwriter first and foremost.
What is your pre-writing process? Do you plan a lot or jump right in to writing?
I am too impatient to do a lot of planning so I am more of the jump in type but there are some things I always have to do first. Once I get the idea, I'll first come up with a one sentence logline to describe it. It doesn't have to be a perfect or groundbreaking logline, just a good focused sentence. Once I have that I am confident I truly know what I'm writing about and I'll expand it to a paragraph and then a page. If I have a good one-page outline that's when I'll often start writing my script. Sometimes I'll go longer on the outline, sometimes I'll use index cards to outline it-- but for the most part I just need a good solid one pager with a beginning middle and end so I have an idea of what I'm doing. However, it all starts with that sentence and having a basic focused idea to launch from.
What part of writing a script do you find most difficult?
Oddly enough it's character names. I struggle with that because every name sounds stupid and when you're naming a character it has to feel right. If we are talking about the writing process it's usually pages 35-50 because that's when you're initial enthusiasm has died, a new idea has popped into your head that always seems far more exciting and the end seems so far away. The most important thing is to push through that because every new idea always seems better because it's new and you'll get stuck in a cycle of writing 30 pages and giving up if you do that.
"...if you're going to present something to the world it should be something you love, not something that is written to please others."
Finishing the first draft. When I know I completed the thought and it will no longer be terrorizing my brain. Yes I will do rewrites and polishes, but that is all much easier than creating a world from scratch and completing the idea.
Who are your favorite screenwriters? What are your favorite movie or TV scripts?
I find much of the great writing is on TV now. Vince Gilligan with Breaking Bad and Matthew Weiner with Mad Men do amazing work and those are shows that 20 years ago would have been feature films. Game of Thrones is always fantastic. With feature films I love Charlie Kaufman, Michael Mann and Quentin Tarrantino. Alexander Payne does great stuff and JC Chandor is quietly putting together an impressive string of films.
If you got to write the screen adaptation of any book, what would it be?
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It would blend my two greatest passions - running and film.The story of that book is incredible and I've been thinking about adapting it forever but the rights have been purchased already.
What’s next for you? What projects or screenplays are you working on right now?
I've been trying to get one of my scripts made so it's caused me to turn more towards the business and directing side of things. I'm making a short film in August and then in the fall I think I'll try to see if anything inspires me. I go through these phases where I feel dry for creative ideas and like I'll never have another good idea but something always pops in my head. It's good to let your brain recharge sometimes and not work on anything for a few days, weeks or months.
What advice or tips would you give to aspiring screenwriters?
If you are working on a screenplay, write every day. It's a discipline and you force yourself to write new pages every day whether you know what you are going to write or not. 1 page, 10 pages-- just write. Get a routine and stick to it. Once you loose the momentum it's very difficult to get it back. Beyond that, write the movie you want to see. Everybody else will tell you what it should be or what you should change but that is the movie they want to see. You are the gatekeeper and need to keep your voice so don't feel like you have to listen (unless they are actually producing the movie or investing in it). In the end, if you're going to present something to the world it should be something you love, not something that is written to please others.