Screenwriter Spotlight: Finalist Lee Bailes
Chicago Screenplay Awards Questionnaire
By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.
Who are you and where are you from?
My name is Lee Bailes, and I’m a UK expat living in Sweden.
Where and when did you come up with the idea for your screenplay?
Originally a friend came to me with the idea to help him write a screenplay for an animation, over 12 years ago. He was very dyslexic, and wanted me to help him adapt a poem to create a stop motion animation as part of an anti-war anthology series. Although he loved the script, he gave up trying to want to finance / make the film(s). He then gave me his blessing, to let me take the idea and do my own interpretation of it. It sat in a drawer / folder for over ten years, and then when I saw THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD and thought of paying tribute to my Father (who took the veterans to the battlefields each year while he was alive, to help them honour the fallen), I was inspired to dust it off and rework it again even further.
Can you take us through your screenwriting process?
I’ve always been a pantser, but I’m learning to plot. The process for this script followed an analysis of the poem by Wilfred Owen, and the paintings of John Sargeant, and then a deep dive of research, to brush up on the specific terminology, architecture and language / vernacular of that specific combat, before finding the characters.
Essentially, I needed to find the story, and try different techniques to find the shape that seemed to fit. This meant finding a story beyond the poem, but also trying something unusual, which is to make the war itself the main character of the piece and not the human story; something that doesn’t always come across and I guess might be frowned upon – but to me the piece was always about the poetry, the harsh and uncompromising beauty and horror of war. And to highlight that even from my own past, some of the worst times that you could have to go through often even have surprising moments of beauty and a clarity of perception that goes beyond what we normally expect.
What made you want to become a screenwriter?
I worked as an intern for a film producer, when I decided I wanted to try and get involved in filmmaking. He told me that if I wanted to direct, I needed to learn to write – because no one would give me a script to direct, without a track record. And I found I enjoyed writing far more.
Who are your biggest filmmaking influences?
I’m a horror b-movie guy at heart and grew up on Dario Argento, John Carpenter and Luci Fulci films. But also love the work of Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch and Craig Zahler.
Have you ever been obsessed with a movie or TV show? If so, which one?
THE BEYOND by Lucio Fulci (despite its obvious flaws), and SUSPIRIA by Dario Argento was a huge influence. But for TV, TRUE DETECTIVE and the X-FILES were notable obsessions.
What’s your favorite moment in cinema history?
The Dead Baby Boy cocktail moment in MAN BITES DOG – it was such a groundbreaking film.
Who’s your favorite character in cinema history?
Severen (played by Bill Paxton) in NEAR DARK
If you could talk to anyone from any era, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d love to converse with someone from 1100 Norway / Sweden, to converse with the Vikings at the time when they transitioned from pagan to Christian beliefs. I’ve just always been drawn to that side of history.