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Spec Spotlight: Nick Yarborough on LETTERS FROM ROSEMARY KENNEDY

April 18, 2017
5 min read time

Nick Yarborough is making a splash in the Hollywood scene with his upcoming dark biopics Letters from Rosemary Kennedy and The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry. A rare native to California, he took time to speak with Final Draft about his experience.

RM: How did you end up in Hollywood?

I’m one of those weird ones that was actually born and raised here in LA. I grew up in Hermosa Beach and am now in Santa Monica. It’s just kind of lucky that Hollywood happens to be located where I also grew up – I would’ve moved to Ohio or wherever if that’s where the film capital of the world was – but luckily it’s always been right here in my backyard.

RM: The decision to become a screenwriter happened early on in your life. What inspired you to go that direction?

Movies were always my number one obsession as a kid. And while I felt like there were a lot of limitations as a teenager for trying to learn directing or acting or something, I realized that as long as I had a pen and paper I could always write. Even if your stuff is terrible, the basically free commodity of a pen and paper are always available to self-generate material, and I think this is a big part of why I gravitated toward it. Writing does not put you at the mercy of anybody but yourself – compared to say a director’s need for a script or an actor’s need to be involved with a production in order to really exercise craft – but both professional and amateur screenwriters arrive at the blank page with the same resources of their effort, discipline, and imagination.

In terms of influences that really solidified the decision for me: Quentin Tarantino’s early movies were definitely the first time I remember noticing the work of original screenwriting on display in such an unignorable way. You can’t really discuss Pulp Fiction without talking about how the screenplay choices are the most distinguishable aspect. Later on, I came across the screenplays of S. Craig Zahler and his work was an equally important influence in terms of recognizing the type of prose and tone that I found most influential on the actual page.

RM: What draws you to write darker material?

This is sort of a complicated question for me. I do really enjoy things that are on the extreme side of things – I’m a big horror buff in fiction and metalhead when it comes to music – but I am never intentionally trying to make something dark for the sake of being dark. To me, if I’m trying to put the audience through an extreme situation – like a lobotomy in Rosemary’s case or the much more intense climactic scene of my upcoming script – I want the experience to be as intense as possible if that is what the situation calls for and art is not the place to hold back. Still, I am probably drawn to “darker” material because of this. I like art that pushes and challenges the audience’s boundaries.

RM: What was the process of getting literary representation like for you?

After finishing Rosemary around March of 2015, I submitted it to a couple of contests (Nicholl, Page, etc.) It did well and I got some bites off those, but nothing really ended up materializing that felt right. I then submitted it to the Black List website where it received some really positive reviews and was selected as a “Feature Script” in November of 2015.

I had a couple of people reach out to me in the aftermath of that and went with the fantastic guys who ended up being my managers: Allard Cantor and Jarrod Murray at Epicenter – I signed with them on my birthday in January of ’16. They sent it out to a few production companies – including a producer named Greg Lessans at Weed Road. He is a saint of a man who is really supportive of me. He then sent it to WME, and I signed with my awesome agents at WME in I believe March of ’16, after which the script’s attachments came a few weeks later. In other words, a lot of waiting and patience for a few months (not to mention the years of writing and stack of scripts before that) followed by a real whirlwind of a situation.

RM: I’m sure it felt like it happened overnight.

Definitely. The dominoes all kind of fell into place in a very surreal way, though again, this was after the script had actually been written a few months ago and I had spent years without much luck. But yes, those weeks when everything came together were very, very exciting and made everything worth it.

RM: How has your involvement been since the script has continued to move toward production?

Sam Gold is now attached to direct: he won the Tony last year for the musical Fun Home. I went back and forth with him on notes and a re-write, which has been ongoing.

RM: You mentioned you worked as an assistant?

Yup, my first job out of college was as an assistant to a producer. I kind of consider this my grad school – I got to really learn about development, production, and turn out a lot of scripts in my free time. After I had made a little bit of money from this, I decided to quit and write everyday until the money ran out (much to the thrill of my parents). I wrote Rosemary and a couple of other scripts during this time. The money then ran out, and I had to get another job as an assistant until Rosemary was discovered.

RM: How did your time working as an assistant to a literary manager impact your writing?

The single good thing about working as an assistant was that it was literally my job to read a wide variety of scripts and then give my thoughts through coverage (this is when you write a summary and your thoughts about the script). I was constantly exposed to different styles of screenwriting and realized early on which were the types that I responded to and found most effective. This was extremely important in terms of identifying and articulating in a very analytical why a script worked or didn’t – How did the script manage to evoke these emotions? What techniques did the writer use? How did this writer’s style impact the storytelling? – all these kind of questions. And with these answers in mind, I could then apply them to my own stuff. Writing criticism is one of the best exercises for learning craft – I still do so after a book or movie makes a big impact on me to try and understand how it managed to evoke such a reaction.

RM: Another project of yours, The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry, is also in the works.

Yes, very excited about that. I think it is another opportunity to create a unique biopic with an unusual character at the forefront and a story that is very relevant, though it is also very different than my previous stuff and playing to different emotions than anything I have done previously…which is also why I’m excited about it.

RM: You seem to have a heavy hand in biopics, are there other genres you would like to branch out?

Absolutely. There are so, so many other genres I hope to tackle.  The irony is that I was actually writing a lot of tough guy stuff before Rosemary – mostly in crime, war, and horror. But after coming across her story and being so haunted by it, thought this might be an opportunity to hijack the biopic umbrella to try and tell her story through other subgenres – as a coming-of age-story, a dread-filled horror movie, and a family melodrama –which were all subgenres that I loved and wanted to try.

I’m trying to apply this same overall approach and have a lot of ambitions with trying to find new angles to the genre in my upcoming biopics, but yes, very much hoping to branch out into other genres that I’ve always wanted to pursue after that very soon.

Nick is currently represented by WME and Epicenter.

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