John McCoy not only took 2nd place in our Fall Contest, he was also our Horror Award winner with his script THE DEVIL’S TIDE! We’ve already introduced him and his script here, but we wanted a closer look at what inspired him, his writing process, and his advice for writers.
And don’t forget to enter our Winter 2021 Screenwriting Contest if you want a chance to win big yourself. Our Horror Award is now closed, but our next genre prize is already open: the Romance and Comedy Award! Standard deadline is this Sunday, December 20th, so enter now!
What was your inspiration for writing THE DEVIL’S TIDE?
A few years ago, I was on vacation in France, and visited Mont Saint-Michel. The gothic-style monastery, vast beach landscape, and island medieval fortress seemed like the perfect backdrop for a classic supernatural horror movie. Having lived in Washington, DC, I’ve watched curious tourists admire the Georgetown steps where FATHER KARRAS ended his life in THE EXORCIST. Even approaching 50 years since it was made, horror fans still visit the stairs as if that final sacrificial scene actually occurred there. In THE DEVIL’S TIDE, I incorporated a spiritual place with genuine historical events to capture that same sense of ancient evil resurrecting in current times.
Why did you choose to write a horror movie?
As mentioned above, when I first saw Mont Saint-Michel, I immediately thought, “what a great place for a horror movie.” I love horror, because it elicits powerful emotions of anticipation and fear. Great supernatural horror not only challenges our beliefs in the natural world, but it moves us towards intense feelings that come from the core of our human instincts. Unlike any other genre, horror allows you to feel shivers up your spine, hair standing up on the back of your neck, or a “jump out of your seat” scare.
What was the writing process, and how long did it take?
I started writing it in 2018 as a student at UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting. By the end of the semester, I had a first draft. I owe a great deal to my instructor and fellow students for providing valuable feedback throughout. Once a solid first draft is complete, the real work of rewriting with additional trusted feedback continues. I never feel like it is perfect. For me, there are always small tweaks and fresh ideas that make it better over time.
How have your own experiences informed your writing?
I’ve had an amazing career as a psychologist at the CIA, and had the opportunity to travel to more than 45 countries. Learning from people, history, and cultures around the world has given me a unique perspective of the human condition, one that I can explore when developing stories, characters, and place.
If I only had the time, I feel like I have a lifetime of story ideas waiting to be written.
What would be your advice to other screenwriters?
I’ve received some wonderful mentorship from other filmmakers and screenwriters. There is so much to learn, and of course, rejection is part of the game. If I had to pick two themes, I would first advise writers to write because you enjoy storytelling. The writing itself is difficult, but if you have a passion for telling stories, it will motivate you through the process. Second, never stop honing your craft. Whether through a workshop, class, book, or mentor, I am always looking for opportunities to learn more about screenwriting and filmmaking.