Horror movies are one of the most popular genres in the history of cinema. Since the days of silent films, movies that deal with spooky subject matter and include creepy visuals—or outright jump-scares—have captivated audiences and, in several cases, embedded themselves into the fabric of pop culture. Many studios—especially studios dedicated to indie films—actively search for horror screenplays and competitions such as “ScreamCraft” are essential to helping aspiring screenwriters get their voices heard.
A film titled “Calculating Euphoria” was a finalist in the 2014 ScreamCraft screenplay competition. After winning that honor, the psycho-thriller film was greenlighted for production by Los Angeles-based Leomark Studios. According to the official press release:
Leomark Studios has announced plans to produce “Calculating Euphoria,” a ScreamCraft 2014 screenplay quarter-finalist. The psychological thriller takes place on a road trip to Hollywood, where two young filmmakers find themselves trapped in a nightmare straight out of one of their own horror scripts. Author, playwright and award-winning filmmaker Don Bapst penned the screenplay. “’Calculating Euphoria’ starts as a simple road trip, morphs into a horror story, and ends up taking you down the rabbit hole,” says producer Erik Lundmark. “It’s the kind of movie people will talk about and film students will study for years to come.” According to director Richard Marks (“Dark Mondays,” “Code Noir”), “RE won’t rely on special effects. The characters’ deepest fears create the monsters here. It’s a great actor’s piece.” Bapst’s novels include “email@example.com” and “The Hanged Man,” a mystery thriller exploring the secular origins of the tarot. Bapst’s English translation of “Le Nécrophile” was called a “masterpiece” by “The Guardian.” Born in Chicago, Bapst currently resides in Phoenix, where he teaches Screenwriting. “Calculating Euphoria” will be his first produced feature.
Although “Calculating Euphoria” is Don’s first produced feature-length screenplay, he has written several short films including a psychological thriller titled “A Haunted House.” Additionally, he has penned a number of stage plays—some of which are horror themed. For example, “The Horror” is a play which serves tribute to all the sub-genres of horror and the French theatre of terror that gave birth to the genre before cinema was born.
Recently, this Examiner had the opportunity to interview “Calculating Euphoria” screenwriter Don Bapst and director Richard Marks about their experiences working on this movie and in the film industry in general:
Meagan Meehan (M.M): What inspired you to become a screenwriter/director?
Don Bapst (D.B.): Cinema has been hugely influential in shaping how I see the world. Some of my earliest memories include watching classic films on the big screen, and deep down I have always known that I would be telling stories in that magical medium.
Richard Marks (R.M.): I have been in love with the movies since I was a little kid. My parents would take me to movies twice a week and it formed my whole outlook on life. When I was 15 years old I built a screening room in my parents’ basement and began to collect and study classic films. I found that by watching the same film over and over again, each time I saw something different. This led me to summer jobs working on industrial films in Chicago and finally making my own films.
M.M.: What are your favorite genres to work with and why?
D.B: Some stories lend themselves to specific genres, but I am most interested in those that transcend the limitations of genre to surprise audiences into thinking outside their comfort zone.
R. M: I never look at a film or a script as being part of a particular genre. If the work is good I try and see what is behind the story, what the filmmaker’s are telling me about themselves, and how they see the world.
M.M: What do you most like about “Calculating Euphoria”?
D. B: This script is like a set of Chinese boxes, with one story fitting inside another… I can’t wait for audiences to discover the keys that open the film’s many hidden compartments. To work with a team of people who not only “gets” your script but is ready to execute it without compromising the main objective and themes is a luxury few screenwriters enjoy. Indeed, I am quite fortunate to have Richard as my director, and Maria and Erik as my producers.
R.M: The first time I read “Calculating Euphoria” I was totally blown away by the originality of the story. What starts off as a road picture about two very likable film students, turns into a suspense/horror film and then goes way beyond that to become a deeply disturbing psychological thriller about codependency. Like “Shutter Island” and “The Wicker Man” Don’s screenplay leads you down a road to an ending that is both devastating and a total surprise.
M.M.: Can you tell me about some of the themes that are presented in “Calculating Euphoria”?
D.B: “Calculating Euphoria” is at once a bromance, a road trip, and a thriller. It’s also a story about the dark place that Hollywood can become when the push to “make it” goes too far. Here’s the film’s premise: Driving to L.A., two young filmmakers challenge each other to write the best horror script, but as they pitch each other their stories, they find themselves trapped in a real life nightmare. Where do their stories end and reality begin? And how far will they go to succeed?
R.M: I think “Calculating Euphoria” is, at its heart, a cautionary tale of Hollywood obsession. A modern day version of the “The Day of The Locust” It asks, then answers, the question: how far are you willing to go to live out your dream.
M.M.: If you could write in any genre, without financial constraints, what kind of film would you create and why?
D.B: I am happy to be writing exactly the kinds of films that I want to write. Most of the films I’ve admired have been possible without massive budgets, and I always try to keep the budgetary considerations of my own scripts realistic. I’m not sure that I would stop doing that if I were suddenly given a blank check. Throwing too much money at a project rarely seems to make it better.
R.M: At any budget level, with any talent in Hollywood, if I was given my choice of scripts, I would pick “Calculating Euphoria.” From the moment I first read it, I can’t think of anything else.
M.M.: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
D.B: I always have something simmering on every burner… Most recently I completed the first draft of a dark children’s novel, and I’m in the process of converting it to a screenplay. The children’s novel is about an amusement park that sucks the imagination out of all the children who’ve been invited to ride its rides during a sneak preview.
R.M: I have a project in development at Leomark Studios. “Code Noir” is a drama about a girl born into slavery in antebellum Louisiana who fakes mental illness to avoid being sold away from her family. We hope to do it after “Calculating Euphoria”
M.M.: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the film industry, especially as a director or screenwriter?
D.B: The form of the screenplay is the most challenging written form I know of. A screenwriter does not write directly for the audience. The screenplay is a blueprint for all the cast and crew and investors who will eventually turn the script into a film that the audience will see. To write something that pleases all these people yet retains its own unique voice, you have to grow a very thick skin and be ready to take a lot of criticism over a very long period of time, but you also have to have a strong enough voice that it will be heard. If you feel you have any choice in whether or not to be a screenwriter, then do something else. Only bother if you are so compelled to write that you cannot even entertain the idea of doing anything else. If, however, you MUST do it, then do everything you can to hone your craft and do it all the way.
R.M: First learn the craft of motion pictures. Watch a lot of movies, both good and bad, figure out what the good filmmaker’s are doing right. Then take any job on any set. You can learn a lot being a P.A.
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To learn more about Don Bapst visit his official website.
To learn more about Richard visit his IMBD.
Leomark Studios is a boutique film production and distribution company with a catalog of 50+ titles. Leomark is co-producer and US distributor of the upcoming sci-fi feature, “Star Leaf,” starring Russell Hodgkinson and Julian Gavilanes of SyFy’s “Z-Nation”; as well as co-founder of MovieMaze Ltd., which is the company behind the popular MovieMaze™ Interactive Movie App for mobile devices. Leomark Studios is based in Los Angeles, California. To find out more about Leomark Studios visit their official website.