Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Company Man: Featured on 60 Minutes

This Sunday's episode of the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes" used footage from my FBI film "The Company Man" in their story Collateral Damage, about Chinese-American scientists falsely accused of espionage.  The point of the story is that the Justice Department is throwing too wide a net in their attempts to combat the state sponsored theft of intellectual and scientific property.  All I can say is, based on my research, the problem is very real and very damaging to the United States.




Our film, "The Company Man," which was produced for the FBI by Rocket Media, was based very closely on an actual case.  I am very proud of it.  Here's the trailer:



Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.




Sunday, April 24, 2016

"The Coming Storm" on Fox News

Yours truly on the set of "The Coming Storm."

"The Coming Storm," a film I wrote for the Federal Bureau of Investigation was discussed on Fox News a few months ago.  I recently saw the clip and decided to post it here.  Despite Shepherd Smith's snarky comments about the musical score, it is a pretty favorable story.  Watch here if the player below doesn't work for you:  Slick FBI video trains first responders.

video


"The Coming Storm" is the fourth film I wrote for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  It was directed by Tom Feliu and produced by Ward LeHardy and Skip Coblyn at Rocket Media Group.   The film depicts an active shooter event at a college and the chaotic aftermath as law enforcement and first responders and victims try to come to grips with tragedy.  Unlike my other films, I don't think this one will be released to the general public.  Although the story is told dramatically, and I believe it carries an emotional punch, it is a little more training oriented than my previous films.

This, however, is the first of the films I appeared in.  My wife Deborah and I play worried parents.  I think I even see us blurred out in background periodically....

My wife Deborah and myself with our star Elliott Bales.
I really love working on these films for the FBI.  Great, dedicated people.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.



Saturday, April 23, 2016

Prince and the Nexus of Music and Memory.



This poster was my introduction to Prince.

I heard about it before I actually saw it. It was 1981. My girlfriend was getting a new dorm mate at college.  The new girl proceeded to hang the large poster on the wall over her bed.  My girlfriend was repulsed. She thought it was disgusting, and quickly told me as much later that day on the phone.  It would be weeks before I finally got to see the poster myself.*  It was my introduction to the late Prince Rogers Nelson.

I had never heard of him before seeing the poster, although I soon would.  I would become a fan.  Not a big one.  I bought the iconic "Purple Rain" album -- who didn't?  I later got a greatest hits package that filled in most of the remaining blanks as far as I was concerned.  Yet, despite my lack of devotion, Prince's death really hit me hard and I think I know why.

When you're young, I think you are attracted to music that speaks to your immediate emotional needs at the moment. You seek out performers whose words and music impart something into your life. It also helps you build a sense of community with others. You instinctively feel that other people who are attracted to the same music must share your background and needs. Music reinforces your feelings and helps you find your place in life.

It's different when you're older. Popular music from the previous decades speaks to you differently.  It is no longer about what the recording artist imparts to you through the words and music. It is about what you impart onto the music.

Generally speaking, I hated the music of the eighties during the actual decade itself.  I found it gimmicky and over-produced and too heavily-laden laden with synthesizers and electronic drums.  Ick.  Now I love it.  It's amazing how songs I once viewed with disdain can illicit a deep emotional response from me.  Why?  Because the songs themselves no longer matter in and of themselves.  The emotion comes from the context in which I heard them originally.

For example, when I hear Prince's "Let's Go Crazy," my mind races back to a fun company party held at the home of two of the executives.  When I hear "Raspberry Beret," my mind goes back to a sunny, carefree Saturday morning when I first saw the video.  It put me in a chipper mood for the rest of the day.  Prince's original intentions with the music are irrelevant to me.  Now the songs serve as little audio time machines -- transporting me back to bygone days.

When I wrote my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," I found pop music to be one of my most effective tools.  I created massive playlists of songs from each of the years depicted in my book.  And, for example, when I wrote a chapter about 1980, I only played randomly-shuffled songs from that year.  I was shocked how much emotion and memory those often lame AM-oriented Top 40 songs packed.   They recaptured a time frozen in the past.

And that is why I mourn Prince.   There was a time when he was positively ubiquitous.  His voice rang out from every television and radio and turntable and boom box.  Even if I didn't deliberately seek out his music, Prince was always there providing the soundtrack to a sad, crazy, exciting time in my life.  His sudden death serves as an unwelcome reminder that the past that he provided a steady beat for is also gone forever.

I guess the poet John Donne summed it up best when he said: "Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."

I do mourn Prince as a person.  My prayers go to his family and loved ones.  But I also realize he takes a little of me with him.  And I know I will soon follow.

Until then, Let's Go Crazy:



*Funny, I never noticed the cross in the poster until I looked at it again after Prince's death.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Girl at the End of the Road: Book Review


I don't read many novels.  Not anymore.

Since I became a working screenwriter, I take less pleasure in novels.  I have a hard time enjoying them at face value.  I always find myself stepping out of the action as I consider whether the book would make a good movie.  Fortunately, I didn't have that problem with "The girl at the end of the road" by Kathryn Hitchins.  I found the book riveting from the start, and it kept me hooked despite the fact that I thought it would make a great movie.

I actually read the book prior to its publication.  I found it on the now defunct website Authonomy.  Authonomy was a writer community set up by the publisher Harper Collins.  Writers were invited to post their manuscripts to be read and critiqued by fellow writers.  The most highly-rated manuscripts would then be considered by the editors at Harper Collins.  I joined Authonomy because I was hoping to have a very early draft of my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" considered by the publisher.  Therefore, I had to get some ratings.  The best way to get them was to read and critique books by other writers.

I thought it would be a tedious process.  Both fortunately and unfortunately, most of the books I read were very good.  I say fortunately because it made it easier to read them.  I say unfortunately because it showed the extremely high level of competition in the book world.   "The girl at the end of the road" was easily the best novel I read on the website.

The book tells the story of a high-flying, young financier named Vincent who seems to have it all:  money, a great apartment in the city, and a high-class girlfriend.  Unfortunately, Vincent loses his job in the economic collapse and, much to his humiliation, he must return to his parents' small town home to regroup.  While using the internet at the library, he becomes reacquainted with Sarah, the eccentric assistant librarian.  She was his first crush in school, and, although she remembers him, she treats him with utter indifference.  This is a blow to Vincent's ego, since he views himself as more successful (at least temporarily) than any of the people who stayed in town.  And because, once upon a time, he felt there was a real bond between them.

Vincent works hard to impress her, but his efforts always back fire.  Her constant rejection of him makes her all the more desirable.  Eventually, he finds a hook into her life.  She needs to learn how to drive and he offers to teach her.  They slowly begin to bond against again as Vincent tries to unravel the mystery of Sarah Penny.  So does the reader.

(Spoilers.  You've been warned.)

Sarah Penny is a wonderful creation.  Fresh.  Unique.  Intriguing.  A truly vivid character that, like Vincent, I found myself quickly falling in love with.  I found her so fascinating that I questioned why the author didn't tell the story from her point of view, but I believe she made the right choice by letting the reader uncover her secrets along with Vincent.  What is her secret?  Autism.

Fascinating.  The problem with romances is that there are so few obstacles between people in our carefree world today.  This was a great one.  Once Vincent begins to understand Sarah's autism, he realizes she will never fit into the life he envisioned for himself.  His shallow, materialistic friends in the city would never accept her, nor would she accept them.  Vincent would have to leave his world and enter hers if he decided to love her.  It is a decision that will change his world.

It is a great story, but, more importantly, it is also an illuminating depiction of autism.  Kathryn gives us a compassionate but honest portrait of an autistic person.  I later learned after talking with the author that she has an autistic daughter.  I was not surprised.  Such a detailed portrait needed a real subject.

I loved the book.  And, since I am a screenwriter and a producer, I wanted to make a movie.  I contacted Kathryn and asked her if she was interested.  She was.  I wrote up a treatment in conjunction with her.  I changed the location from England to America and simplified the plot a bit.  My first thought was the UPtv network.  I had previously done the feature-length series pilot "Brother White" with them and I thought this story suited them very well.  Since PureFlix had ongoing relationship with the network, I called  David A.R. White, and, despite my exceedingly strained relationship with the company, asked if he was interested in pitching the story.  He was.  Off it went.to the network.  A few weeks later, in what would prove to be my last phone call with David, I asked what the network thought of the treatment.  David said he hadn't heard back from them yet.  He added that since PureFlix was concentrating on theatrical features now, they weren't interested in making any more films with UPtv anyway -- although they subsequently made Gabe Sabloff's "Dancer and The Dame" with the network.

I approached another producer, Pamela J. Bertsch, with even better connections with UPtv.  She sent in the treatment and we got a response in about two days.  They declined because they had just done a movie with some superficial plot similarities which didn't touch on the autism angle.  Now it was time to go elsewhere.  I thought it would be great for Hallmark, but I couldn't approach them with just an unpublished book unless I had a completed screenplay.  Sadly, I was too weighed under by assignment work to write the script, and Kathryn was too busy trying to get it published.  Fortunately, she succeeded and I couldn't be happier for her.

Now it might be time to reconsider writing the script....

And maybe it shouldn't be a cable movie after all.  Top flight actresses will definitely want to play Sarah....

PS.  I am not reviewing the book because of this little blurb on the back cover.  (But it doesn't hurt.)



After reading "The girl at the end of the road," be sure to check out my book ,"The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," available on Kindle and in paperback from TouchPoint Press.  (I recommend the paperback.)





Thursday, April 14, 2016

My Ancestors: Kristina Bednar Kostohryz

Kristina Kostohryz, seated

(Since immigration seems to be all the rage in the news today, I have decided to honor a few of my immigrant ancestors.  First in a series.)

Kristina Bednar Kostohryz was my 2nd great-grandmother. She was born on February 25, 1865 in Klouzovice, Bohemia. The midwife was Anna Stork from Chejnow, certified. She was baptized by Fr. Soukkup, chaplain. The godparents were Vaclav Holesovsky, a merchant, and his sister, Josefa Holessowka.

Her father, Jacob Bednar, was a tailor. He was born on July 07, 1802 in Klouzovice, Tabor, Bohemia, and died on September 07, 1870 in Chejnow, Bohemia when Kristina was only five-years-old. Her mother was Jacob's second wife, Terezie Kratoska, the daughter of a farmer.  She was born in February 01, 1830 in Kozmice, Tabor, Bohemia, and died on June 03, 1897 in Chynow, Bohemia of old age. Kristina was their only child together. In a sense, Kristina was a bit of an anomaly. Terezie gave birth to her at the age of thirty-five. It was very rare for a woman at that time to give birth to a first child at that age.

I have often wondered why my ancestors left their homes and traveled to America. I think the answer is relatively clear in Kristina's case. The year 1891 seemed to be a pivotal one in her life. On June 30, 1891 she married Jan Nepom Kostohryz in Chynow, Bohemia. On August 19. 1891 she and her husband arrived in Baltimore, Maryland aboard the SS Stuttgart which sailed out of Bremen, Germany. Then, on October 18, 1891, she gave birth to her first child, Maria Theresa Kostohryz, who later died of cholera on July 24, 1892. Was her emigration to America designed to disguise the fact that she was obviously pregnant before she was married? That certainly seems plausible.

The Kostohryz home in Bernartice.  Seems nice.
In Bohemia, Kristina worked for a German countess who gave her fine letter of recommendation that she brought with her. In America, she worked a series of menial jobs, i.e., maid, washerwoman, while raising her family. Sometimes, during harvests, she and her entire family who travel out to then rural Westminster, Maryland, to pick crops. She had eight children. One boy. Seven girls. Only three of the children lived to adulthood. The others were killed by diseases which, due to the wonders of modern medicine, no longer prey on American children. One can only imagine the emotions she felt as she buried five children.  Every time I hear some one going out about the evils of vaccinations, I picture Kristina and Jan standing over the graves of five of their children.

One of Kristina's Bohemian documents.
By all reports, Kristina was tiny woman. No taller than five foot. She and her family lived in a small row house at 905 Duncan Alley. When they originally bought the house, it had neither electricity or indoor plumbing. That entire block of homes has recently been demolished by the city to control urban blight.  I wish I had taken a picture of the building before they tore it down.  Sadly, however, Duncan Alley is very narrow and seemed to be overpopulated with drug dealers.  I never got the feeling they would appreciate me parking out front and taking pictures.

 Kristina would often get lost while walking around Baltimore. Whenever she did, she would try to find Johns Hopkins Hospital because she knew how to get home from there. She never learned to speak English. She retained a European-style manner of dress throughout her life. She wore long skirts and blouses with the sleeves rolled up. She kept her hair in a bun and usually had it covered in a babushka.  Her grandchildren remembered her being very kind.

Later in life, she kept the house of a politician and furniture store owner named Klecka who lived on the 800 block of Covington. Aside from her housekeeping duties, during Prohibition she also provided her home brew to the family. After the death of her husband, she took boarders into her home Duncan Alley.

Kristina, right, with my great-grandmother
Kostohryz Rosenberger.
Kristina died of pneumonia on January 02, 1933 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was laid out in the home of her daughter, and my great-grandmother, Mary Anna Kostorhryz Rosenberger at 2207 E. Biddle Street. She was buried alongside her husband Jan at Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery.

My 95-year-old grandmother Rita is probably the last person alive who actually remembers Kristina.  When my grandmother finally goes to her reward, which hopefully won't be for another five-or-ten-years, Kristina will pass forever from living memory.  Her presence in this world will be reduced to a few fading photos, some lines scribbled on various church and governmental documents and some bones in a box under a fine but rarely visited tombstone.  And, of course, her DNA.  Her blood lingers still in my veins.  She undoubtedly had a genetic influence on me, but that is invisible to the naked eye -- mixed up in jumble of genes from all of those who came before me back to the dawn of time.

That said, I have still learned from my 2nd-great-grandmother Kristina.  When I think of her, I see a woman who experienced all of the joys and passions as well as fears and sorrows that I have.  And they probably seemed as fresh and unique to her as they do to me. All things seem new with each suceeding generation, but the human experience remains stubbornly the same regardless of our technology.   I also admire her bravery:  Her willingness to leave Bohemia for a strange land where they spoke a strange language she never learned.  I doubt I could have done that.  I've never lived more than a few blocks away where I was raised.   However, the biggest lesson Kristina taught me concerns sorrow.

Every morning before I go to work, I have the opportunity to play with my little granddaughter Mara.  She is such a delight.  I couldn't imagine losing Mara, yet Kristina lost five of her little children around Mara's age.  It must have been unbearable for her.

People wisely say that life's pleasures are fleeting.  What is said less frequently is that life's sorrows are fleeting, too.  Somehow, Kristina moved beyond her sorrow with a kindness that still brings a smile to the lips of her 95-year-old granddaughter Rita whenever she talks about her Baba.

I'm glad I took the time to learn about my great-great-grandmother Kristina.

You are not forgotten.


Grave of Jan & Kristina Kostohryz

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

ParaTruth Radio Interview with Yours Truly

Wanna see a long, Skye interview with me about writing, Christian films, my book and tons of other stuff?  Justin Cancilliere of ParaTruth Radio just made it happen.   Here it is:



Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.



Saturday, March 12, 2016

Writing Tip #14: No Means No!

No means no isn't just for dating anymore.  It's for screenwriters, too.

Screenwriters without agents are totally dependent upon the good graces of producers, directors and development people in order to ply our craft.  (Truth be told, so are screenwriters with agents.)  It is essential to remain in their good graces.  The best way to do that is to understand that no means no.

When someone at a production company requests to read your script after receiving your query, they are paying you a great compliment.  They delete hundreds of queries for every one to which they reply.  When they request your script, they are treating you like a professional screenwriter.  Don't prove them wrong.  Avoid the temptation to make obvious mistakes that hurt all your fellow writers chancing of being read.

1).  Do not send the script itself with the query.  Bad idea on a number of levels.  It is considered rude.  It is a slap in the face of companies that might have read your script if you signed their legal release first.  It's also likely to have your email diverted directly to the spam folder because of internet security concerns.  It also throws off your metrics.  Say you send out a blind query to 100 companies with the script attached.  You have no idea who is actually reading it.  One of them?  Twenty?  All one hundred?  You have no way of knowing,  That's why I want them to request the script.  I want to know which emails are active, and who is actually reading.

Once I send it, I....

2).  Do not check on the status of the script.  I don't care if it's been one day, one week, one month or one year.  Never ever.  Here's the bottom line, if they don't like the script, you will never hear from them.  Silence means they didn't like it.  Period.  Some people can't accept that.  They think it is rude.  Oh well, that's life.  Learn to deal with it.  Pestering them will only get your future queries sent to the spam folder.  The last thing any thinking writer wants to do is alienate a production company person willing to consider unsolicited queries by bugging them.  That's just crazy.

However, if they do bother to send you a rejection....

3).  Do not ask why they didn't like the script.  Usually, most people will only send a rejection if they feel you deserve professional courtesy.  Sometimes, if they really liked the script, they will say encouraging words about it.  Sometimes, if you really impressed them, they will ask if you have any other scripts they'd be interested in.  However, if you write back and ask them why they didn't like it, they will immediately realize you didn't deserve the professional courtesy they offered you.  Why?  Because you are not giving them proper professional courtesy.

Development people tend to be buried under a deluge of work.  They spend all day fulfilling the mercurial whims of their bosses, then they have to carry a stack of scripts home with them every night and on the weekends.  They don't have time to walk you through your second act mishap.  There are multitudes of professional script reading services available.  Asking the development people to do it for free is simply insulting.  Bam!  Guess who has been relegated to the spam folder?

The only proper response when someone read your script is:  "Thank you for your consideration."

Feel free to pitch them your next script, but, whatever you do....

4).  Don't ask them to read the rewrite of the script they already read.  You only get one chance with a producer or a production company.  That's why you have to make sure it's perfect the first time.  And, in all honesty, your rewrite probably wouldn't change the script enough to overcome their problems with it anyway.  Let's talk writer to writer.  When we make revisions on our own, we tweak a scene here, a character there, etc.  We think those changes are significant, but, a jaded producer probably wouldn't even notice them.  Plus, irrregardless of the changes you make, they will not ask to read it again.

Let me give you an example.  I wrote a comedy mystery called Judy with director Lee Bonner.  I pitched it to a producer.  He said he liked the script, but felt we had missed some great opportunities.  He left the door open for me to call him so I did.  (A very rare occurrence on my part. I am a writer.  I prefer to be judged by my words on paper rather than my sparkling repartee and Baltimore accent.)  The producer gave me his thoughts on how to improve the script.  He had some very good ideas -- but they entailed fundamentally changing the script.  I called Lee afterwards.  He liked the producer's ideas, too.  So we took a week and completely rewrote the script, top to bottom.  Afterwards, I called the producer again.  I told him we had made all of his changes.  I asked him if he was interested in reading the new script.  He said nope.

Insane, right?  Why would he spend over a half an hour on the phone telling me how to improve the script and then not read it?  Because you only get one shot.  Those are the rules.  What did I do?  Well, I certainly didn't try to guilt trip him into rereading the script.  Why?  Because now I had an open door to pitch him future scripts.  And that's worth a lot.  Over the years I have slowly accumulated a number of emails of people who actually read.  They are a very valuable resource!

As an addendum to this rule, I do want to say that I have no problem querying a person more than once about a script -- provided they hadn't actually read it.  If I come up with a better logline, or if the subject matter somehow becomes topical, I do not hesitate to re-pitch people six months to a year later.  I've gotten some good reads that way.

I know many of you will find these rules frustrating.  Personally, I don't.  I expect the "no"s and the silences.  They don't bother me.  Why?  Because a "no" can't hurt you.  Your life is not materially changed when someone says "No!"  Only a "yes" can change your life.  But don't expect it to change it too much.  Remember, you'll still be the same person after you sell your script that you were before you did!

Also, I have to admit that the "no"s can be fun.  Over the years, I have sent email queries to the producer Don Murphy.  He's a genuine Hollywood big shot who has produced a ton of blockbusters.  He also has a reputation for being difficult.  That doesn't bother me.  I say let he who is without sin throw the first stone.

You might think it would be difficult to get his email, but you'd be wrong.  It is readily available.  So a couple of years ago I sent him an unsolicited query.  He wrote back:  "This is NOT how it's done."  Okay.  I get it, Donnie.  A few years later I queried him about another script, and got a smarmy response back.  Okay.  I'm fine with that.  I recently queried him with my script Life-Like, and I was treated to the volcanic mother of all rejections.  He laid into my query letter the way the boys from Mystery Science Theater 3000 laid into Gamera movies.  He gave it a scathing line-by-line critique.  It was hilarious.  I only stopped laughing long enough to wonder why the producer of the Transformers series would take so much time responding to a nobody.

Needless to say, he didn't request the script.

Am I going to query him about my next script?

You betcha!  Wouldn't miss it for the world.

Other Tips: