David McClellan (pictured left) honed his production and screenwriting chops in New York, Martyn Eaden is a British screenwriter, and the two have been writing together as a team since meeting over a decade ago. David and Martyn recently won Season 6 of Filmmatic's Horror Screenplay Awards for their edgy thriller-TV pilot "Shango". Please find some insight below into how a long-term, well-oiled screenwriting team operates!
1) How long have you both been writing?
Martyn: I’ve been writing stories since a young kid, my folks would find me writing rather than playing with toys. I started writing screenplays when I moved to the states around 12 years ago.
David: I have been writing scripts since high school/college - many that will never see the light of day.
2) What screenwriting training have you each received?
Martyn: None formerly, I was fresh off the boat from England, went to a party in LA and got chatting to an Irish guy: Mike Cooney, who was writing a movie with Keanu Reeves at the time, which blew my mind. We got talking and he asked if I’d ever thought about writing scripts, for some reason he thought I'd be good at it. So while this loud party with actors yelling at each other was going on, we sat in a corner and he broke the whole screenplay game down for me: 3 acts, mid point, inciting incident, he’s like: here’s how movies work, I was hooked, I went back to England and wrote my first script.
David: I went to film school at City College New York through the directing program and have read most of the same screenwriting books and videos everyone else has. I was also a script reader doing coverage for a while as a young intern.
3) How long have you been writing together as a team? Is this your only co-authored work?
Martyn & David: We met around 2010, I answered an ad Dave had up for a writing partner. A lot of our reference movies, like the classic 70’s horror era are the same. Our first script The Devil’s Bible was about an author who unknowingly channels the devil's will into his latest thriller best seller. We had an option straight out the gate at a pitch event, but the project didn’t get off the ground unfortunately. I’ve learned a lot from Dave over the years and we've written a ton of scripts, features, TV pilots, loads of one sheet pitches.
4) What writing habits work for each of you? Do you write in short or long shifts, binge writing or scheduled sessions, together or passing the work back-and-forth?
Martyn: Passing back and forth usually. We get on the phone and spit ball, one of us writes a synopsis and together we grind out an outline. If it’s derivative, Dave is a master of 'beat sheets’, where he will time code a break down of a movie or TV show, so we can follow how it moves.
David: We do the back-and-forth thing – but - we are about to start doing the "share the document that lives in the cloud" thing.
5) What genres do you lean towards? Are all of your works horror/thriller?
Martyn: Mainly horror/thriller, although we've just written a 30 page HBO style anarchic sitcom.
David: We also do dark edgy comedy which is what our new pilot called CRISIS is. But yes - horror/thriller/edgy dark comedy is what we like to watch so that is what we like to write.
6) We loved "Shango", how would you describe the pilot and overall series to our readers?
Martyn & David: Shango centers around a fixer from the streets of Los Angeles who makes a living finding missing people. His grandmother is a powerful African mystic. When she dies, Shango inherits her ancestral abilities and opens a door to an evil trying to take over the city, in the form of a new drug that causes junkies to become possessed.
7) How did you come up with the premise behind Shango?
Martyn & David: Shango was born out of my love for three things: 1970’s black cinema, supernatural horror and Los Angeles. I wrote two other Shango pilots before this winning script. They were more exaggerated and comic book, Shango was like a Constantine in the hood, but Dave suggested we make the world darker and go right back to the beginning to give this guy a great superhero origin story.
8) What are you working on now? What do you plan on writing in the near future?
Martyn & David: We just wrote a comedy script called Crisis about a struggling Hollywood actor who gets cast as the leading man in the biggest false flag in history. I also had the chance to write and direct a podcast recently. It’s based on the internet meme of ‘Olivia Mabel’. If you search that name you’ll see millions of people retelling a story about a woman who was found dead alone in her Texas ranch house after the tragic death of her son. That story actually started life as a short film I wrote, but it developed a life of its own. It went viral and a great number of people thought it was a real event. Last year I rewrote the original mystery as a true crime podcast. Along with my partners Ian and Joe at Elftree Media we recorded the pilot episode a couple of months ago. Luckily we managed to cast Ruby Modine (Happy Death Day) and horror icon Jaime King as Olivia Mabel. It was awesome to see a character I created become flesh and directing Jaime was an amazing experience.
9) Any advice for those about to write their first TV pilot?
Martyn: My advice is to be original and don’t follow trends. I know it seems like everything has been done, but put a spin on it, there’s only one you and your perspective is wholly unique. I also think finding a writing with a partner is good too, it cuts down the work in our busy lives, you can split the cost of entering comps and you have two people querying and pitching.
David: Make sure you have a great idea that resonates with people before you spend a lot of time and effort working on something that may be dead on arrival. And join a writing group if you can to get quality feedback that you don’t have to pay for. This is another benefit of writing with a partner. They can tell you when you have gone off the rails and bring you back on track - as well as help get you out of a character, plotting or story mess that always tends to occur. Instant feedback from a qualified, trusted partner is invaluable. Which leads to the most important thing - the first thing I was taught in film school actually - and that is - all filmmaking is collaborative - so don't get hung up on your ideas. Take the collaborative route and be open to all possibilities. Writing with a partner gets you used to that mindset - and that is good - because the entire process is other people putting their spin on your original concept.
Congratulations once again to David McClellan and Martyn Eaden, the Season 6 Filmmatic Horror/Thriller Awards Winners. All contact requests for Mr. Eaden and Mr. McClellan will be forwarded to their attention.