Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Kurt Choate
Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Kurt Choate. I was born and raised in a small town outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the United States. I am a licensed Psychologist and Professor at a small, teaching university about 25 miles from where I grew up. I received my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Education in 1991. I taught 7th and 8th grade mathematics while I took graduate school classes at night. I received my master’s degree in School Counseling in 1994 and my PhD in School Psychology in 2003. I have lived in Dallas, San Antonio, and Philadelphia during my career, but I moved back to Oklahoma to be closer to my older parents. I have always written stories, but never pursued publication or any type of public recognition until now.
Where and when did you come up with the idea for your screenplay?
I actually found the very first document that I saved and dated for this project: July 14, 2019. It was just a germ of an idea then.
In April of 2019, my father passed away from a slowly deteriorating disease process that had lasted for over ten years. His deterioration was one of the reasons I moved back to Oklahoma. Processing his passing, I realized that I had not completed many of the bucket list items I had made for my life when I was younger. One of those bucket list items was to write a movie and see it come to life.
“Inheritance” is my first feature screenplay. The genre is hard to pin down, I have several short and feature length screenplays that I have completed or are close to completing since finishing “Inheritance”. The story of “Inheritance” captures many elements and themes that are subtlety woven into the fabric of the story. Themes such as the stages of forgiveness are played out in the character arcs (or at least, I try to have them play out). Bigger themes throughout play a personal role for me.
For example, the theme of prejudice and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ population continues to this day. Another theme I wanted represented is the idea that God, or some Higher Power, is actually on the side of the gay couple. As I was creating this story, I wanted God to be portrayed with a subtle twist: God works in the background in mysterious ways and God is on the side of the protagonists.
There was no germ or spark of an idea. I just knew it had to be a film noir black and white thriller with significant call backs to Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and Rod Serling. I did a lot of study concerning double irony in literature. The characters and story had been marinating for quite some time in the back of my mind. I think it was the jolt of my father dying that got me to brush the rust of my screenwriting skills, sit down, and write.
Can you take us through your screenwriting process?
This is a hard question. As I stated earlier, this is my first screenplay, so I was focused both on story and on craft as this screenplay evolved. However, I did do character studies and backgrounds before putting them in these crazy situations or try to determine the relationships between each of them. I had the general story turns plotted out in a very Syd Field manner. If I had to nail it down to one word, it would have to be “consistency”. My screenwriting process is “consistency”; that is, just sitting down at about the same time each day and pounding something out. Even if it is total garbage. I typically know the ending first, then backtrack and try to find places to plant certain foreshadowing points to ensure the reveal at the end is realistic. I also try to plan my scenes around the various plot turns throughout the story, but if I go a bit off the rails from my outline, I let it continue to flow out.
The library scene in the screenplay is an example of it NOT being at all what I had planned to do in the beginning. However, the physical and emotional stakes are raised immensely for the changes that I did allow myself to make in the moment of writing. But writing is rewriting. I made my final tweaks and locked this screenplay down on November 24, 2020. So, it has taken me from July 14, 2019 until November 24, 2020 to complete my first feature length screenplay. The learning process was intense, but I have found that many of the skills I learned on this screenplay have transferred to the new screenplays I’m working on.
What made you want to become a screenwriter?
I was eight years old and many friends of mine had went to the movies to see a scary movie called, “Halloween”. Of course, my very conservative family would never let their child see such a movie. Therefore, I was sneaky and told them I was going to see “The Wiz”, which was starting the same day. I do hope there is a statute of limitations from the theater police for someone under the age of 17 sneaking into an “R”-rated movie!
I remember sitting in the darkened theater and listening to the pimply teenagers with their bellbottom-wearing girlfriends yell at Jamie Lee Curtis on the screen. I knew this was a movie, but these people were so emotionally invested in her character. With the slow approach of Michael Myers toward a struggling Jamie Lee, and as the audience began to scream at her louder, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to tell stories that emotionally invests people in the outcome of the characters and could possibly make them afraid of the dark.
Who are your biggest filmmaking influences?
Alfred Hitchcock, Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King
Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one?
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
What’s your favorite moment in cinema history?
The battle of Gandalf and the Balrog of Morgoth on the Bridge of Khazad-dum.
Who’s your favorite character in cinema history?
Ellen Ripley from “Alien”. She is such a badass AND she saves the cat!
If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?
A relative of mine, 200 years from now. I would ask, “Did my life make an enduring difference to our family and to the world?”