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Writer Journeys

Rock Shaink grew up writing scripts for his G.I. Joes, and is now putting his vivid imagination to work on several big-screen projects. By David Wigg

“I remember writing scripts for my GI Joe guys when my brothers and I would play as kids,” recalls Shaink. “A few years ago I even found a little journal I kept when I was six or seven, and I not only had elaborate stories, but also I wrote about those things that really excited me those days. You know, things like trips to the local department store, or when my uncle would let me watch horror movies when I was 7-8. I also grew up in the middle of nowhere, at the end of a long dirt road, where we didn’t have TV until I was twelve. So, needless to say my imagination had lots of time to run wild.” It is perhaps those horror movies viewed as a child that have given Shaink his creative focus. “I think I really excel when I’m working in the thriller genre,” he says, “I LOVE the suspense aspect of it, and I’m a huge fan of trying to weave puzzles for the audience to figure out.” If that is the direction his career is taking with his new projects Alter Ego and The Seed, it is interesting to note that his big break came in the genre of romantic comedy. Talking about his breakthrough script, The Story of Beth, Shaink says, “the script managed to win, or place in the top 5 of the first seven contests I entered. It was through the contest results that I started finding a tiny piece of recognition in this business.”

This track record allowed him to be taken more seriously as a promising writer with his follow up supernatural thriller script Dreamer. Indeed, The Story of Beth, about the romantic entanglements of a New York writer and his circle of friends, is soon to be awarded the double-edged accolade of being included in new book The Greatest Screenplays Hollywood Never Made. Writing about what he knew, Shaink explains that for this script he “took 4-5 years of events that had taken place in my life, and mashed them into one season long, holiday filled, romantic comedy.” The main character Evan writes while seated at a Central Park bench, like Shaink did, and New York City is very much a feature of the script. Though now a Los Angeles resident, Shaink says that “Manhattan is the only city that has the ability to amaze me every single day. I lived there for a few years, and just fell in love with every aspect of it. I love the feel, the vibe, the architecture and the people.” Aside from his personal attachment, Shaink believes “it also offers a beautiful cinematic quality few other cities have. Ironically, after setting my script Winter’s Edge in Chicago, I again tried to set my follow up script outside of NYC. But, one of my first notes from the execs, was to suggest we move it to Manhattan.” It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Shaink’s Fernando Beltran produced psychological thriller Alter Ego, featuring a “group of mental patients must band together to solve a murder before the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve, killing them all,” is also set in the city.

Shaink’s background in marketing, a career he pursued when writing was still a hobby, has clearly helped him make his way in this business. He appears to be the master of the pitch, telling the story of how he was chosen to write action/sci-fi thriller The Seed with as much enthusiasm as one imagines he pitched his ideas to the execs at Pariah. “My co-writer on Dreamer (Mark Jonathan Stanley) and I were invited in to meet with the VP over at Pariah. We had a great meeting, and in the end they pitched us a one-liner. My co-writer and I then went home and drummed up an entire pitch for the project. Then, I decided to put that marketing degree to work. I hired a couple of artists to create some ‘conceptual art’ for this alien we wanted in the script. I then scoured the town in search for these things called ‘water wigglers.’ Finally, the day before the pitch we make it to the Discovery Store, where we buy the last four they have in stock. Of course here we come in, two men in our 20’s/30’s towering over all of these 3-4 year olds, looking for a toy made for toddlers. But, we went in to the pitch, pitched our hearts out, showed the artwork, and used the water wigglers to keep the mood fun, while providing a ‘feel’ to our alien. The pitch went great, everyone in the room was having fun, and they offered us the job right there in the room.”

Shaink is clearly passionate about his work, and has learnt from his own experience that hard graft pays dividends. “This business really requires a 24-7 commitment of you,” he stresses, “and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t realize coming in. I’ve met so many people who view screenwriting as a get rich quick scheme and that’s just NEVER going to be the case.” Deeply involved in his work, it comes as no surprise to learn that Shaink is looking to direct in the future. He says that “in each and every script I’ve written there isn’t a word on the page that I don’t see exactly how I would direct it. Of course, you’re told by everyone in this industry to NOT direct on the page, so I have to make an extra effort to leave it open to the director’s choice.” Romark Films, founded with his sometime co-writer Mark Jonathan Stanley, was set up with an eye towards producing future genre films with possibility of fulfilling Shaink’s directing aspirations.

Patience, passion and determination are the qualities Shaink thinks are essential for someone starting out in the business, but he says, “it’s funny, because screenwriting is one of those careers that no one ever really explains to you. There are no guidelines. No one ever sits you down and explains that if you do A, B and C, then D will happen.” For now, Shaink seems to have the right ideas and is enjoying the busiest period of his writing life. In just the past year, he’s been working on The Seed, Alter Ego, a new TV series called Dreamer, and has just struck a deal to get his Winter’s Edge project produced.

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