by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Dwain Worrell has the one in a million screenwriting success story that the rest of us dream of. He made a blind submission of his script to Amazon Studios, and now that script is a major motion picture currently showing in theaters — The Wall. It’s a contained, low-budget story, which is likely a big part of why Amazon was drawn to it. I recently sat down with Dwain to discuss how he approached this three-character story, working with Amazon, and his advice for fellow writers.
Angela Bourassa: I read that The Wall was Amazon Studios’s very first spec deal. Can you tell me how that came about and what the experience of working with Amazon has been like?
Dwain Worrell: I was living in China at the time that I wrote the screenplay, and upon finishing I had no one to send it to for feedback. I sent the screenplay through one of the only avenues that I had, which was Amazon Studios direct submission process. After a couple weeks Amazon responded and the agent calls started coming in.
Working with Amazon was great. They are very creator friendly, as seen with Jill Soloway and her projects. It’s an artist’s playground, and at no point was a second writer ever mentioned. I feel I was almost spoiled.
Angela Bourassa: What happened after you sold this script? I see you’re writing for Iron Fist now?
Dwain Worrell: Agencies came knocking, and I eventually signed with CAA. I’ve taken a few studio jobs — Mind Corp, a sci-fi thriller and Dante’s Inferno, which I’m currently working on. And yes, I also dipped my toe into television with Iron Fist.
Angela Bourassa: The Wall feels like it was written by a veteran. How did you research your script so that it rang true?
Dwain Worrell: I love it. I definitely take that as a huge compliment. I tried my best to immerse myself with friends and family in the service as well as doing the library and Wikipedia research, but a huge part of it was listening to the voices of vets in Iraq via hundreds of documentaries (literally). I even had them playing in the background as I wrote.
Angela Bourassa: This film is extremely contained — only three characters and one setting. Were you setting out to write something low budget? Did you find that Amazon was more excited about the script due to its low production costs?
Dwain Worrell: I was definitely looking to write something that could be made. Thus the budget was set out to be low. I didn’t expect Amazon to take it all the way, but they did. I feel the budget helped. A good script is an important starting point, but if it’s “makable” then you’re in a good place.
Angela Bourassa: The whole movie is essentially one scene. How did you make that work on the actual page?
Dwain Worrell: Well the script, though in one location, is split into the regular breakdown of a screenplay — inciting incident with the gunshot, first act break with the voice over the radio, and then the midpoint, all is lost, and third act (which are spoilers so I won’t say what happened therein).
Angela Bourassa: How did you approach the structure and keep the tension so high with just one character on the screen for most of the film?
Dwain Worrell: Since it’s in one location and just one character, structuring it with the parameters of a three-act script was even more necessary, I feel. If I just kept them talking — no change, no reversal, no reveal — the reader would fall asleep.
Angela Bourassa: Without giving anything away, how did you approach the ending? Did you always know what you wanted to happen, or did you write it several different ways before deciding on the ending in the film?
Dwain Worrell: The end was admittedly very hard. The initial ending I wrote didn’t make the final cut of the film — neither did the four or five endings I wrote in the rewrites. In fact the final version of the ending I wrote didn’t make it into the film. The ending was re-shot and I saw it the first time at the premiere. And like the audience, I was pleasantly surprised.
Angela Bourassa: About how many drafts would you say you completed between the rough draft and the final production script?
Dwain Worrell: I would say there were three strong drafts. There were always tweaks here and there to dialogue, even during production, but overall I’d say three.
Angela Bourassa: What’s one lesson you learned from this experience that you’d like to pass on to other writers?
Dwain Worrell: I never thought this script would get made. It was too small, too lonely, too everything. I had the idea for a year and wrote bigger, badder scripts that went nowhere. When I finally wrote this one, it caught fire immediately. So, I’m not bragging, but all that is to say, write what you want. A script can just be a sample. I got other jobs, like Iron Fist, that came out before this film. Write what you love, what you care about, and let your voice be unique.
The Wall is in theaters now.
Angela Bourassa is the founder and Editor in Chief of LA Screenwriter.