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Interview with Terry Borst

Interview with Terry Borst

By: Christopher Wehner

Terry is best known as an instructor for the prestigious UCLA Extension Writers' Program, and the leading authority on interactive screenwriting.

SU: How did you get into interactive screenwriting? Was it a progression from writing spec screenplays or feature film writing?

Terry: The move into interactive screenwriting was purely accidental, as so many career moves are. My writing partner Frank De Palma and I knew a story editor who was consulting for Electronic Arts. Electronic Arts and Origin were looking for professional screenwriters who could write the screenplay for WING COMMANDER III, which was going to shoot several hours of live-action dramatic scenes. They liked our work; we were hired. Fortunately, we seemed to "understand" (or quickly learned) what interactivity might add to a narrative, leading to our winning several awards for the work in WING COMMANDER III and to our participation in and development (with others) of WING COMMANDER IV.

I'm not sure if one would define this as a "progression": it was an interesting set of projects for a professional screenwriter to work on, but certainly didn't mean an abandonment of more traditional narrative forms (TV and film).

You are considered to be a leader in this "new field" of script writing, where do you see this new writing field going?

At the time we first got involved with the WING COMMANDER franchise (1994), there was a great deal of excitement about the "convergence" of Hollywood and Silicon Valley (sometimes known as "Siliwood"). The convergence, in its initial configuration, was short-lived: neither culture understood the other very well, and the move into combining Full Motion Video with interactivity can now be seen, in retrospect, to have been only a bridge from computer gaming's 2-dimensional pictorial beginnings to the current on-the-fly 3D rendering that creates a much

higher degree of interactive immersion in the experience. Unfortunately, "Siliwood" soured much of the Interactive Entertainment industry's interest in working with Hollywood professionals. Consequently, screenwriters pursuing work in New Media venues like adventure games and Websites have found that the barriers to their participation are higher than they should be, since ultimately, Entertainment writing is Entertainment writing, regardless of the medium.

Should there (or is there?) a writer's guild recognition now for interactive writers?

Interactive (or New Media) writers are eligible for admission to the WGA, and several have been admitted purely on the basis of non-traditional credits. There is no WGA award for this kind of writing, partially because it's a moving target and spans different genres and distribution media (CD-ROMs, online, etc.).

Have you done any feature film writing of late?

After working for two years on the WING COMMANDER projects, I have moved back into television writing, and for the last 3 years have been co-writing episodes for a BBC action-adventure show called BUGS, which is something of a cross between Mission Impossible and The Avengers. The show is syndicated in over 30 countries, but is not currently shown in the US, though the Encore Cable Network holds domestic rights to the series. The series is currently on hiatus, awaiting word on whether it will be renewed for another year.

With the success of action adventure films and the progression of technology, do you see the nature of screenwriting changing where multimedia experience is required?

I think in the action-adventure realm in particular, a knowledge of the different ways to spin out a property is good - in other words, an awareness of what a PlayStation game is and how it works can be helpful. There is no such thing as wasted knowledge for a screenwriter, so an understanding of New Media is a plus. However, the basics of good screenwriting will continue to remain the same: story and characterization. While it's true that many Hollywood action blockbusters have resembled thrill-rides more than movies lately, I suspect the pendulum may swing back to a greater emphasis on character and good drama. The massive success of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is one such example, and next year we will see a new STAR WARS movie, which I believe will emphasize traditional story-telling elements as much as gee-whiz technical wizardry. Movies are a pretty mature medium, and screenplays are not likely to change much. However, with computer games (Playstation, Nintendo 64 and PC) becoming more movie-like, a writer may have more directions to move in the future - and if the world of computer games is more compelling to a writer than film, that direction is one a writer can move into (where he will indeed need the additional skills of understanding interactive storytelling).

How did you get into writing?

I was editor of my high school paper and always felt my career would involve writing. My undergraduate degree was in English, and I began publishing short fiction and poetry during that time. Those formats rarely pay the bills, however, and I decided that screenwriting might offer a greater chance to combine my passions with a way to make a living. However, I had no idea how difficult it would be! I took a Master of Fine Arts from UCLA's Film School, and have been plying the professional screenwriting waters since (with some good years and some bad years).

Have computers always been apart of your life?

I'm old enough that when I was an undergraduate, the only people using computers were Math and Engineering majors - nobody imagined we would all have computers on our desktops someday (with the exception of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs). But my first computer was an Osborne I - the world's first "portable" computer. I haven't looked back

Where do you see screenwriting heading?

There are some new avenues for screenwriters to move into now: the Web, CD-ROM games and narratives, etc. We don't know yet whether entirely new forms of entertainment will emerge in the 21st century, as the Web and broadcast TV eventually "converge". It's going to be exciting to see

How about the Internet and screenwriters, there is a lot of resources out there, what's your take on it?

It's terrific and exciting, a great resource for intellectual discussion and for research. However, there is no substitute for actually writing - and one danger of the easy, instant access to the Internet is that one can mistake research and discussion activities for productivity.

What advice would you give wanna-be screenwriters?

Write. Re-write. Re-write again. Study movies and study screenplays. Read a lot. And ask yourself if you are in love with the process of writing, or with the idea of being a writer. If it's the latter, stop wasting your time.

Any closing thoughts?

Readers are welcome to take a look at: My Web Site Screenwriters are the worst possible people you can go to for help in your own screenplay submissions. Contact producers, studio execs, and literary agents. They can help get your screenplay read and your movie made. Screenwriters have no power whatsoever to make either happen (unless they are producers).

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