Interview with Bear Clifton, Winner of the Write of Passage Screenwriting Competition 2016. (Click here for 168 Film website)
Interview by John David Ware, founder and director of the 168 Film Project.
JDW: Bear Clifton – (Azuza, CA) is our Write of Passage Winning Writer for 2016 for his short screenplay Turbo Jam Boosters. That means he wrote the best 12-page screenplay in one week (168 hours) with an advisor called a Development Executive (DE). Katarzyna Kochany (somewhere in Canada) is the winning DE. Prizes include $1,000 cash ($750 to the writer, $250 to the DE), introductions to Hollywood Pros, including Brian Bird (“Not Easily Broken” and “When Calls The Heart”). So tell us about yourself. What do you do for work?
BC: I’ve been a pastor the last 25 years, up until this summer when I decided to do something wild and crazy. This past July, my wife and I sold our house, I stepped down from the church in Connecticut which I have led for the last 20 years and we moved to LA, without jobs, and without a forwarding address so that we could be near our daughter and only child Hannah. And so that I could take most of the next year to write full time. I’ve preached walking by faith my whole life. God finally decided to call me out on it.
JDW: That is crazy. How’s it going so far?
BC: We’re three months into our little adventure. I’m about to finish up a book I’ve been working on like forever, and working on a screenplay.
JDW: How did you learn about WP & 168?
BC: Through a Bible study of Christian artists called Tinseltown that meets at both Fox and CBS studios.
JDW: Yes, we like Tinseltown. The founder/leader, Gary Swanson is on our board. That study started in my apartment with Gary, Franklin B. Dog (my dearly deceased pitt bull and me!) What was your inspiration for this year’s best screenplay, “Turbo Jam Boosters?”
BC: I grew up in a pretty big family. I was the oldest of 4 kids, and we were always messing around with each other. Scientific experimentation, psychological warfare, you know all the normal stuff.
JDW: How did this year’s theme hit you?
BC: I loved it. You’re tapping into one of the deepest parts of our humanity. God has put inside each of us a yearning to know the love and acceptance of our dads, which ultimately is meant to draw us to himself. The entire show “Lost” was built around father-wounds. And movies like “Field of Dreams” – I’ve seen that like a thousand times by now, and still to this day when Kevin Costner calls out to his father at the end, “Dad, wanna have a catch?” I become a blubbering mess.
JDW: Hope you don’t mind, I’m taking this off my bucket list “Watch Field of Dreams with Bear.” This story is a lot of fun. Where did it come from?
BC: My original story was actually going to be a serious drama about Josh’s father who messes up with money and gets into a real crisis. The interaction with his son Josh was going to be a flash-forward at the end of the story. But while I was out on a run, I had this scene come into mind of Josh playing “Star Trek” in a tree house with his buds. And the next thing you know, the whole thing just sort of played out in my brain. I got back from the run and wrote it out in a few hours. Just like that, the project went from serious drama to “The Wonder Years.” I’m glad though, because I’ve been working on some projects with some pretty serious subject matters, and so doing this ended up being very cathartic.
JDW: Tell us about your family and where you live. How has your environment and family shaped your writing?
BC: I grew up in the Midwest. My grandmother was a poet, and my mom loved to write, so I guess it makes sense that I started making up stories very early on. In fifth grade, a mouse got caught in our dryer – I wrote a 20 page story about it. In the seventh grade, we got buried in a 21” Chicago snowstorm. I wrote a 150 page screenplay about a 40-foot snowstorm that buries a small town and the madness which follows. In the seventh grade. We’re talking serious brain damage here. Incidentally, I revisited that same story last year and wrote a new screenplay which was a top-ten semi-finalist in a national screenwriting contest. I think it’s got legs. Much later, three months into my first pastorate, an arsonist paid a visit to our little country church in rural Minnesota, and he came within a whisker of burning it down. God used that terrible event to bring a dying church back to life, but even more miraculously, to save a young woman who had been on the fire department who had been sexually abused as a child. I wrote out a 300 page novel telling that story which I’m developing.
JDW: Tell us about your pursuit of the arts?
BC: My motto, displayed across the banner of my website is Faith without art is dead. Art is one of the most powerful bridges I know to link faith in Jesus to culture. I experienced this first-hand in college. After a few years of backsliding in high school, I was watching the original 1959 “Ben-Hur” one day in the student lounge. Simply watching that movie so stirred my heart, that I gave my life back to Jesus that very night and never looked back. What’s interesting about that version of “Ben-Hur” is that its spiritual power lies in its subtlety. When Jesus told a parable, he just allowed his words, his art, to hang in the air. He didn’t rush to explain his meaning. He just said, “He who has ears, let him ear.” There’s something powerful in that which more Christian artists need to learn.
JDW: Tell us about your writing process.
BC: Running, racquetball and long walks are when I work on story outlines or stretches of dialogue. I’ve got Scrivener and Final Draft on my computer, but honestly, I seldom use the organizing tools they provide. Loose sheets of paper jammed in a file folder become my whiteboard. Ultimately, I write best by writing. You don’t wait for the juices to flow. You make them flow. I’ve got to sit down in that chair, fasten the seat belt and stay there, usually in two to three hour blocks at a time. I’m not like Grisham who wrote his first novels stitching together 30-minute writing blocks while commuting on the train. My first 30 minutes I’m usually picking out navel lint. But as long as I sit there, and stare at that screen, hands at the ready, the magic starts to happen.