“I love Mondays!” White Rock’s Kraig Wenman said.
“If you hate Mondays you probably hate your job.”
In a world full of struggling would-be screenwriters, Wenman has established a reputation as a go-to man for movie and TV producers looking for workable screenplays, treatments and polish jobs (his IMDb entry lists his nickname as The Machine).
A veritable fountain of story ideas, the effusive Peninsula born-and-raised writer/producer – son of late Langley-area MP Bob Wenman – peppers his speech with the kind of pithy aphorisms that would enliven any dialogue.
But it’s clear he’s cracked the code of an industry hungry for marketable product – and even though he makes a few trips to L.A. each year to maintain visibility and keep on top of industry trends, he’s managed to do most of it by tapping out scripts in his seaside hometown.
It helps that he’s established a track record with B.C.-lensed movie-of-the-week teleplays – and latterly, that’s allowed him to graduate from simply writer-for-hire to producer status.
Wenman’s projects in development include a China-based super-hero trilogy he’s working on with writer/producer Tom DeSanto (of the X-Men and Transformers franchises), a China-based action-adventure for Pierce Brosnan and a pilot for a cable series with former Lionsgate executive vice-president Barbara Wall (Mad Men, Weeds, Fear Itself and Nurse Jackie).
Due to the scale of projects currently in the hopper, Wenman said it’s likely that his latest original TV-movie script, thriller Pretty Little Addict – which is filming this month in Squamish with Andrea Bowen (Desperate Housewives) in the lead – will be his last.
“It’s kind of an arm’s-length production for me,” he said, recalling he wrote the script and sold it more than a year ago, only learning recently that it had been green-lighted for production.
“All of a sudden, you hear that they’re going with it – which is a pleasant surprise for me because you get another, bonus, payment when they start shooting.”
For Wenman, who has always been an enthusiastic part-time musician, Pretty Little Addict also provided a first opportunity to compose an original score, which he pre-recorded with local guitarist Matthew Rose.
“The lead character is a piano player and I wrote a lot of music into it (he always tries to include his own interests and names of family members and favourite musicians in his scripts, he confessed) so it was great to be invited to create the score. That’s probably the most exciting part about it for me.”
Not that he’s denigrating such ‘bread-and-butter” assignments – they allowed him to cut his teeth as a producer, he acknowledged.
“If you live in Vancouver and you’re working as a screenwriter, you’ve probably done a few,” he said.
“You can write one in two weeks, shoot it in three weeks and edit it in another three weeks. You see where you have mistakes, and where you have done it properly. The budgets are only about $1 million, so you have to cut corners. Inevitably, locations fall through, actors fall through, so you have to use your creativity in producing them.”
Wenman is also excited about the trilogy he is developing with De Santis, ‘Gods’ – which he describes as “a Chinese Lord of the Rings meets X-Men” – although he noted work on the project has to be sandwiched in between De Santis’ commitments as producer of theTransformers installments.
“It’s actually based on an ancient Chinese text called ‘The Creation of the Gods’, and the research has been intense,” he said, adding that the epic project will send its leads on a quest that incorporates all of the world’s mythologies, including legends of ancient Greece and Atlantis and Norse myths of Asgard.
“It’s kind of like the Wizard of Oz with a body count,” Wenman quipped.
China – rapidly expanding as both a production and audience base – has developed into a very lucrative market for scripts, and even one-page treatments and ideas, Wenman said.
“Everything’s coming out of China right now – they’re adding something 1,300 screens a week there. It’s kind of like Hollywood was a long time ago.”
Co-productions including both Western and Eastern name actors are the flavour du jour, Wenman said, but just as in old-time Hollywood, and with network productions today, there are some taboos and preferences screenwriters must be prepared to work around.
There can’t be any ghosts, he said, and corruption can only be depicted in a dim and distant past. And while criminals can be pursued across Mainland China, none of their crimes can actually have been committed there.
But superhero adventures are always going to do well, and action subjects translate best of all, he said.
“I sold another idea to China that I’m developing for Pierce Brosnan – they like him there because he was James Bond. It’s called Freefall – think The Fast and The Furious in the sky, about skyjacking a money plane coming from the gambling establishments in Macao. It just can’t happen in China’s airspace, that’s all.”
Probably the most exciting project of all for Wenman, right now, is his pilot for the cable series, which he is calling The Darkroom.
“Out of all of the 45 projects I’ve sold, and the 18 or 19 that have been made, I think this has the greatest potential for success,” he said.
Premise of each episode is a photograph that materializes in the darkroom of a psychic photographer – each one showing somebody who is about to die and the location and circumstances of the death, Wenman explained.
“He has to follow the clues in each photograph to try to locate the people and save them before the prophesy comes true,” he said, adding that the framework allows stories to prolong suspense right down to the wire.
And true to form, Wenman’s hero lives in a mythical seaside town that just happens to be called White Rock – even though it’s technically in Washington State.
The real White Rock would be an ideal location for shooting it, he noted.
“I’m even going to try to get the names of some of favourite restaurants in there,” he said.
His advice to budding screenwriters is not to be a one-trick pony. Having a lot of scripts in various genres to market demonstrates the kind of versatility that makes a writer more hirable, he said. Writers hoping to break into the industry need to stick religiously to story beats and the pages on which they should occur, as emphasized in screenwriting manuals, he added.
“You’ve got to hit those pages – they’ve got computers analyzing scripts these days,” he warned.
Of the many how-to books on the market, he prefers David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible, although most of the books have something to contribute, he said. But check the writer’s industry profile, he advised.
“If I’m going to jump out of a plane, I want somebody packing my ‘chute who does it every week – not somebody who did it once 10 or 15 years ago.”