chris sparling

Who are you and what do you write?

My name is Chris Sparling. I write screenplays and, on occasion, wills for old people I plan on squandering money from after they die. My first paid writing gig was for a website I had never even heard of, and the article was on veterinary pet insurance – a topic I had no knowledge of whatsoever. I was paid $20. Boo-yah.

I won Best Original Screenplay in 2010 from the National Board of Review for writing Buried, and also won a Goya Award in the same category.

These days I’m prepping two projects, Mercy and Incident on 459, which are being produced by Peter Safran and Mike DeLuca, respectively. I primarily write feature-length thrillers, including the upcoming film ATM, which will be released by IFC Films in early 2012, and Reincarnate for producer M. Night Shyamalan, the second of three films in The Night Chronicles series.

I will be making my feature directing debut this spring with the supernatural drama/thriller Falling Slowly.

I recently joined Twitter. Find me @ChrisSparling.

Where and when do you write?

workspaceMost times, I write in this little-known coffee shop not far from my house. I’m not sure what it’s called. Stardust? Starburst? Hold on, let me ask the girl behind the counter…

She said it’s called Starbucks. What a stupid name.

Anyway, here I am, and here I usually am, stealing their electricity and working for at least a four-hour clip. I have a small office in my house, but because my wife works from home (and we have an achingly cute little daughter toddling around), it’s nearly impossible to not forego work for the day to instead hang out with them. So, Starburst it is.

I sometimes like to change things up and visit my satellite office, a.k.a. Panera Bread. I’ve been lobbying for them to change their name to Pantera Bread, thinking it will cool up the joint a bit, but they don’t seem all that receptive to the idea. I steal their electricity, too.

Typically, I split my day around my trip to the gym. My daytime writing happens outside the house, but I also try to put in about three or four hours of work at home each evening. As pretentious as it probably sounds, I also do a good deal of “writing” in my head while driving. Thankfully this hasn’t resulted in a car accident yet.

If I have any “process” (dangerously toeing the pretension line again here), it’s plugging in my headphones and listening to some movie scores that match the tone of what I’m currently writing.

Also, I have a fantastic manager, and he’s great with feedback — such as, “Dude, this fucking sucks.” Well, maybe not that exactly, but he’s not one to pull punches, and that’s incredibly valuable. When I’m done with a draft, or a treatment, or even just a sentence describing a new idea I had, I’ll run it by him. It might not be the most scientific approach, but it seems to work pretty well.

What hardware do you use?

I use an HP laptop. It’s about two years old by this point. I’m not really a tech guy, so it suits me just fine. The only problem is battery life (hence why I’m always stealing electricity). I frequently travel back and forth between the east and west coast, and my battery barely lasts half the flight. The other weird thing about it is that these obscure websites — showing attractive women in various states of undress — always seem to randomly pop up on my screen. Go figure.

My wife’s a Mac user, and she pulled the trigger on buying an iPad. I love that freakin’ thing. I don’t really know how to use it, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it. Primarily, I read scripts on it and/or source material (books, producers notes, character bibles, etc.) either for an assignment I’m going after or as a general point of reference. It’s also great for watching movies during cross-country flights after my laptop battery dies.

Lastly, I sometimes still rock the pad and pen. I have a bunch of old notebooks filled with ideas, sketches, and nearly-incoherent scrawling that I refer to from time to time. I had my fair share of crappy jobs in my pre-screenwriting days, and I used to always jot stuff down that I could plug into a script I was working on when I got home that night. Or morning, depending on the hours said crappy job ran.

What software do you use?

I’ve always used Final Draft, but it was only about a month ago that I finally upgraded to Version 8. Before that I had been using Version 5 for over a decade. Again, I’m not really a tech guy, so upgrading didn’t seem all that necessary. Both versions format screenplays; I didn’t need all the bells and whistles later versions offered. That is, except for the ability to convert to .PDF, which Version 5 did not do.

Prior to the upgrade, I used a separate .PDF-conversion program; however, the text would, on rare occasion, show up all funky on certain computers. So, I said enough is enough and upgraded to Version 8.

How’s that for a boring fucking story? Wow.

What would you change about how you write?

For starters, I would stop wasting so much time online. Twitter has been fun so far, but it is a pretty big time suck. Same for Facebook, and I don’t even have an account. I would also like to be better at prioritizing projects I’m working on simultaneously, rather than bouncing back and forth so much. The work suffers, I feel.

But all in all, I don’t think I’d change too much about how I write. I mean, it’s writing; you think up some stuff, you write it down, and you hope people like it. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. And, sometimes they actually pay you for it, even if it’s only twenty bucks.