Interview - Screenwriter Roni Brown

Roni Brown's contained thriller spec, VAULT, brought her a win in the Breaking Walls Thriller screenplay contest. The script depicts a scientist trapped in a bank vault containing safe deposit boxes with a man who appears to be an armed criminal demanding the contents of the scientist's box. With almost all of the action taking place within the confines of the bank, Roni has delivered a strong screenplay that makes use of natural dialogue, well-timed comic relief, and moments of heightened tension-and-release that signify the thriller genre.

After the contest win, we spoke briefly with Roni about the story and her background as a screenwriter.

1) When and why did you originally decide to pursue a career in screenwriting?
When I was about 16 years old I sat down and wrote my first script on my mothers typewriter. It's a thriller titled "My Brother's Keeper". At the time I was really into the show New York Undercover and loved cop dramas. I had no idea what I was doing and went for it. Years later in my sophomore year of college while studying animation, found the script in a random box. I had forgotten I even wrote it. I remember thinking "This is gooooood", and I decided to take some screenwriting courses to hone this craft. I've been writing non stop ever since.

2) Your winning screenplay shows a strong grasp of structure. How much planning and outlining went into your writing of this script?
Believe it or not, not much outlining ever happens for me if I'm writing on spec. If it's a paid job of course I'll map out everything for the other party; but if it's a personal script the mapping is all in my head. I can visualize each scene very vividly. Every line and action. If the movie is able to "play" in my head from beginning to the end I just go for it. Sometimes it unfolds as I write and I end up surprising myself with twist and turns. It's a fun process. During this particular time of writing I was into giving myself challenges. I challenged myself to break my record of writing a feature in 1 week. The first draft of this script only took me 3 days!

3) VAULT reads as a strong ticking-clock thriller with some well-timed comic relief. Who or what would you consider your greatest inspiration to tell this story?
My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer about 5 years ago. She went through two rounds of chemo, had a port in her chest, the whole 9 yards. She's in remission and doing well now, but she has her ups and downs. You have to laugh during the tough times and I make her laugh a lot. She loves my sense of humor, and you know they say laughter is the best medicine. No matter how serious my script is, there's usually some great comic relief.

But all jokes aside, I remember thinking at the time of her diagnoses "This is not good, we don't have enough money." Thinking about money during a loved ones time of need sucks; but it is a major concern for thousands dealing with life threatening diseases. People are going broke to save loved ones lives. I started thinking about medical care, and medical cures; and wondered, 'what would I do if I knew where the cure for cancer was?'

4) Your script includes a lot of specifics involving a bank vault and elements of medical research. How much, if any, came from your own personal experience or was it mostly driven by research?
I did a lot of research on cancer at the time of my mother's diagnoses because I wanted to know what to expect with the medical process. I wanted to know what our options were, and where we could go to make sure she would receive the best care. I witnessed my mother go through an entire range of emotions during this cancer process; from determination to depression. I put a lot of how I felt, my families reactions, and her emotions into these characters.

This script was written about 2 years after her diagnoses so I already had a good amount of cancer research under my belt. When I first sat down to write I knew I wanted the script to be contained, and easy to shoot. I write most of my scripts with budget in mind because I am also an indie producer. I came across a story of a small toddler who got trapped in a bank vault for hours in Georgia. I didn't think that still happened! So I did research on that and found out it's not uncommon for people to get trapped in vaults, and it happens pretty easily believe it or not. And that's how I got my container. A bank, a vault, and a life saving medicine is a great formula to start with.

5) This script is a wonderful accomplishment. What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters who are working their first script?
Just do it! And then do it again, and again, and again. I just recently started calling myself a writer, even with finished scripts and a staff writing position under my belt. But the emphasis here is on scripts (plural). If you get lucky enough to get in front of producers or companies they always ask "what else you got?" I've met people who have one script and are ready to conquer Hollywood. You have to write as much as possible if you're serious. And you have to write under deadline. That's why I challenge myself, so I don't have to wait on a magical artistic muse. I can just take an idea and go! The first draft is always the hardest. Push that sucker out and re-write!

A big thanks to Roni for her time and congratulations on winning with a great contained thriller spec!

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