Interview - Screenwriter Ron Peer

Ron Peer's thriller script, WHEN FLESH BURNS, took the winning spot on the Breaking Walls Thriller Screenplay competition. It's a mystery thriller about a killer who ties men up in compromising positions and burns them alive. The male lead, Flynn Peterson (a firefighter who was a burn victim himself) delves into the crime as evidence initially points to his friend and partner. Eventually, mounting evidence begins to implicate his partner's wife instead, with whom Flynn is having an affair and with whom he's desperately in love.

WHEN FLESH BURNS is a well-crafted thriller that manages to keep its wounded protagonist sympathetic despite the questionable choice of continuing an affair with his best friend's wife. Ron describes his spec as BASIC INSTINCT meets BACKDRAFT.

After the contest win, we spoke to Ron about the story and his background as a screenwriter.

1) Your script demonstrates a strong grasp of screenwriting that strikes a wide range of human emotion. When and why did you initially decide to pursue a career in screenwriting?
I really got my start as a playwright. I worked with a couple of theater companies in Phoenix and had many plays produced. It was a blast. Later I was approached by some college buddies to help start a screenwriting group. We wrote some screenplays and tried to market them - with no success. No one wanted to read our work. I had just finished a new script when I read online about screenplay contests and how placing well in them got them some reads from agents and managers. So I entered the Nicholl Fellowship and Austin Film Festival contests.

That script got interest from judges from both contests and was produced soon afterwards. I was amazed! That started my career in screenwriting. Now maintaining a career, that's an entirely different story. When I figure it out, I will let you know. :)

2) You've made comparisons to BASIC INSTINCT and BACKDRAFT. Aside from these two classic thrillers, who or what would you consider your greatest inspiration to tell this story?
I was looking for a story arena that I hadn't seen too many times - and I like to tell crime stories - so when I saw a newspaper story about fire investigators I thought that would make an interesting world in which to set a screenplay. BASIC INSTINCT is a favorite of mine because of the way it plays with the audience's mind. She did it, she didn't do it, she did it, she didn't do it. Ezterhaus used a lot of misdirection techniques to keep the viewer engaged. It's now classic thriller structure and tons of fun when you see a movie that uses these techniques well. I used a lot of misdirection and surprise in WHEN FLESH BURNS and I hope that no one can see the ending coming. I also strived to keep the narrative going until the very last page. I love giving stories last-gasp twists, then cutting to black. I want the viewer (or reader) to go, "Whoa! There is a film from the '70s that was also an influence on WHEN FLESH BURNS. But if I tell you the title it will ruin your enjoyment of my script because just the title alone is a plot giveaway. Hence, it does not get mentioned in the logline or synopsis!

3) WHEN FLESH BURNS is intricately plotted with layers of details in the story. How much research went into the process of writing this screenplay?
Actually quite a bit. I read several books about fire investigation and met, through a friend, a former fire investigator from Tampa. I bought him a couple of lunches and he recounted many interesting stories and personal experiences that really got my creative juices flowing.

4) Do you write using any particular routine or process?
Usually, I start by compiling "notes." Character thoughts, plot ideas, scenes I'd like to see, etc. This process can take several weeks but eventually a story will start to form. I will gently massage it into a workable structure. If I feel I know enough about the story, I may start to write scenes or actually begin the script. Thrillers are particularly difficult because they are so plot-based. But I find that if I know EVERY beat of the story ahead of time, I lose much of the discovery of the writing process and I get bored. So it's often a delicate balance of knowing what I want to happen and how the scene actually unfolds on the page. I need that freedom to keep the work fresh and propel myself forward.

5) This script is a wonderful accomplishment. What advice would you give to aspiring screenwriters who are working their first script?
Well, if you're working on a thriller, just remember - they're hard! If you feel frustrated and stuck, that's normal. Don't berate yourself too much. Just stick to it, and eventually you will get a draft. Then give it readers you trust and see if they understand all of your story beats. Ask them what they were surprised by, what they were bored by. Address those points as best as you can. When you've clarified story points, then it's time to make cuts. Go back through your script and try to cut 5-10% of its length. Remove redudancies. Trim scenes by starting later, getting out earlier. Try to make it flow so that it's an easy read. Remove camera directions. Don't give the reader a reason to check Facebook instead of finishing your script.

A big thanks to Ron for his time and congratulations again on the win!

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