Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Joseph Meadows
Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
What’s your name? Where were you born? Where do you live? And what’s your hobby?
I’m Joseph Stephen Meadows. (Steve). I was born in Atlanta and grew up in the South until heading out on my own at 18. As a hobby and P/T business, I design, patent, build and fly human-powered dirigible aircraft. (Parabounce.com) I now live in Venice beach, Ca.
Where did you come up with the concept that just placed as Finalist in the screenplay contest?
How long did it take you to develop it into the screenplay it is now? In the 80’s and 90’s I was an actor and managed to accumulate over 200 TV shows and feature films. I began writing screenplays in the early 90’s as I became frustrated with some of the projects I worked on. In 1998, my aging father became ill and I returned to Atlanta to take care of him. When I witnessed the lack of care and inadequacies of the medical treatment he received, it drove me to write about the experience. I wrote the first draft of “It’s Only Life” in 1999, but as with all of my screenplays, I put them aside to raise and provide for my three amazing children. From time to time, I would try to focus on writing, but necessities of a growing family took priority. When the Covid pandemic started and many of us retreated to safer quarters, I dusted them off and began rewriting them. Prior to this point, I had never entered a screenwriting competition and was pleasantly surprised how easy it is with the advent of the Internet; no more standing over the printer for hours and bending little brass brads. This particular screenplay is the most important and significant work I have completed. It is also very close to me as all of the specifics in the story related to my father’s illness and treatment are true. I wanted to bring awareness to what happens to the elderly when they are set aside by the ‘system’.
From concept to finished draft, can you take us through your screenwriting process?
The concept was developed from the facts of my father’s illness and the poor care he received. Weaving this into a screenplay required development of both internal and external conflict and flushing out the protagonist’s growth from the experience. At this point, I now have 51 drafts resulting from scores of coverage and competition notes.
When did you realize that you wanted to become a screenwriter?
My first TV show was in 1984. I was cast in “Santa Barbara” as “Peter Flint”. Robin Wright’s character, (“Kelly”) and “Peter” were engaged when the series began. I found the dialogue absurd but gradually discovered that if I rewrote my dialogue and obtained approval from producers before 7am, I was good to go. From then on, I rewrote almost every word of my dialogue. I continued this practice until I retired as an actor in 2000. It got me into some big trouble on many projects later and I would never recommend this practice to any actor until your name is above the title. The many hundreds of poorly written screenplays I read as an actor became the birth of my desire to write my own projects.
Who are your biggest filmmaking/screenwriting influences? What about their style do you like or borrow?
Stanley Kubrick, Oliver Stone, Ted Tally. What I appreciate about these greats is their courage to go against the artificial norms and rules typically taught to novice screenwriters in many weekend ‘story seminars’ drifting around Hollywood. These talents don’t hesitate to provide a full description of a character or call out a shot they feel is important. So many of the notes I receive from young ‘readers’ tell me to leave everything up to the director, actor, wardrobe, etc. With all due respect to them, the story and characters are from my brain.
Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one? Why?
“Born of the Fourth of July” is perhaps my favorite, as I know Ron Kovic, read his book (and screenplay) before the film, and we are both US Marines that served at the same time. I happened to have lunch with him just before Tom Cruise was cast and recall Ron having some doubts about Tom as the lead. I told him that with Tom in the lead and Oliver Stone directing, he had a guaranteed winner. Ron made a significant impression on me with his disdain for the medical treatment he and many other veterans receive and I witnessed it first-hand with my father.
What’s your favorite moment in cinema history? Why?
I think of myself as a visual writer, so when I see a scene or shot that really captures me, it sticks with me for years. One of the best moments is in the film “A Clockwork Orange” when the scoundrels are driving the racecar, (Ferrari?) at an insane speed; true craziness and captured brilliantly by Kubrick.
Who’s your favorite character in cinema history? Why?
The “Little Tramp” of Charlie Chaplin. Charlie developed it all and was possibly the most creative and talented force ever to produce, write, direct and star in films; a true pioneer in every regard.
If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Charlie Chaplin. I would ask him how he finally managed to arrive at the solution for his character in “City Lights” after nearly a year of stopping production until he figured it out. (The “Flower Girl” scene)