William D. Prystauk is a screenwriter, novelist, poet and reviewer.
By G.L. Giles
William D. Prystauk’s horror-infused screenplay “Ravencraft” won third place in the AWS Screenplay Contest (2011), and his horror script Red Agenda won First Place at the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival (2008) and was a Top-Five Finalist at Screamfest! He has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and currently teaches English.
What attracted you to the horror genre to begin with? What keeps you in it now?
Fear. At first, horror movies scared the hell out of me in my youth. When I saw THE LEGEND OF BOGEY CREEK (1972) at seven-years-old at a drive-in, I couldn’t sleep for three nights. Thereafter, I became enthralled with horror to get over it – sort of like someone with a fear of heights looking over a cliff. Yet, I was also attracted to the creepy-crawly stuff and enjoyed the jolts horror movies gave me. I soon fell in love with vampires and couldn’t get enough of anything scary and spooky. Just to put the movie to rest forever, I recently watched BOGEY CREEK again – and laughed like mad.
Many writers have gone the route of first writing a novel and then adapting it for the big screen or stage, yet you did the opposite. How did that come about? Would you recommend this less-traditional route?
It’s far more difficult to sell a screenplay than a manuscript for a novel. Granted, one can make a movie from their own script, but that takes time, money, talent, and becomes a collaborative venture that could take many months. With costs in mind, publishing a book is far less expensive and it’s much easier to publish and promote one’s own novel if a press doesn’t pick up the work.
I converted my crime thriller BLOODLETTING to a novel for two reasons: to meet a requirement in my Creative Writing program at Wilkes University, and because I wanted another venue for the story in case the script never sold. (Now, a pair of filmmakers from New York and North Carolina are interested in shooting the original script.)
When converting the screenplay to the novel, I realized the script served as a glorified outline. While writing the book, it seemed as if I was coloring in the numbers, so to speak. Since all the major legwork had already been accomplished, the novel served as a fun revision where I could delve deeper into character and story. I highly recommend this route to any screenwriter that wants to get there work “out there.” Recently, I did the same to a short script, and the new short story was picked up by “Fantastic Horror” for their “Blood” issue in late fall. With all the special effects involved, I could never have shot the short script on my own, let alone sell it to a production company – the short story form turned out to be the best possible vehicle.
You and I share a love of Medusa from Greek mythology. Have you studied much Greek mythology? If so, then does its influence show up in your writing (either directly or indirectly)?
Ah, Medusa. Always loved her, and hated how Perseus had to get two gods to help him kill her. And in her sleep! What a coward. I have always enjoyed Greek mythology, and it influences my writing as well as every other storyteller. Besides tragedy and comedy, the Greek three act structure of storytelling has permeated almost every book, play and movie for the last 2,500 years. Making things consistently worse for the hero on his/her journey is paramount, and it all began with the Greeks.
We also share a love of things darkly delightful. Do you feel that much of mainstream society still misinterprets dark culture as evil?
Of course. I know many people and students of the Christian faith who were denied access to any dark tale or music because “dark” meant “devil”. In general, however, I feel that many of the secular set believe lovers of the darkside are a little off. Yes, I love vampires, zombies and demonic forces in music, literature and film, but I don’t have a shrine to them at home – and Satan is just a mythical creature to serve as a scapegoat for disgraceful human action. What most fail to grasp is that a horror tale, like any other good story in any other genre, can teach us something new about ourselves, and help shine a light on many social issues.
For instance, 1963’s THE HAUNTING explores the sanctity of the home, as well as guilt and the corruption of the mind. Revenge and the manipulation of power in THE CHANGELING (1980) reeks of a karmic journey. Lucky McKee’s MAY (2002) engages the pain of being ostracized while trying to find that special someone. The list goes on. After watching over 1,300 horror movies, the ones I love the most feature the faults of the human condition, or how our humanity and inner spirit can save the day. Then again, nothing freaks me out more than watching a movie where all seems hopeless – and those movies, such as THE THING (1982) and THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHER films, make me feel very much alive and appreciative.
Additionally, many may simply avoid horror because they’re afraid to see all of our vulnerabilities played out on screen – to face the fact that there may be no such place as a safe haven for our bodies, minds and spirits. Life isn’t all gumdrops and rainbows, and to avoid anything dark is akin to living a lie.
Besides being a screenwriter and novelist, you’re also a poet. Did you start off writing poems first and did that then somehow naturally segue into writing scripts? How are they similar?
I first wrote poetry as a teenager to get out all that puberty-based sexual angst. Most were poorly written and have never seen the light of day. Poetry, however, taught me how to be succinct and incorporate an economy of words, which is perfect for screenwriting since the format can be limiting. Like a poem, every word in a screenplay must count. This is crucial because of page restrictions and a very non-forgiving structure. In a screenplay, each page equals roughly one minute of film, so there is no room for useless words. I guess screenwriting serves as the new poetry for me since I haven’t written a poem in many years.
You’re a teacher, and you regularly write reviews. How does this improve your own writing?
Teaching keeps me sharp and up to date. If I’m not aware of current pop culture, then I’ll become irrelevant and distance myself from students. In the classroom, we need a common frame of reference in order to understand each other. With the bulk of my classes, we collectively find a foundation in movies (horror or otherwise), and this keeps us connected. Using movie examples in my teaching helps deliver many abstract ideas and concepts. Keeping up with all that’s pertinent to this generation, and what I learn from students in general, helps keep my writing fresh and purposeful.
Writing horror reviews allows me to write every day. After all, if a writer doesn’t practice, there will be no way for that writer to improve. Most of us recently watched 10,000 of the world’s greatest athletes perform at the Olympics in London – and if they hadn’t practiced every day, they never would have appeared on that coveted stage. Writers must write to stay in shape. Besides writing reviews, I also read fiction and non-fiction to indulge in other writer’s styles and approaches to story.
What do you have in the works for the rest of 2012? Beyond that?
I just finished a horror/fantasy novel adapted from another one of my screenplays, and hope to indulge in the revision this October. That same month, I will present my paper “Disturbing Cinema: Why We Watch” at the EAPSU Conference at East Stroudsburg University. If I can raise the money, I plan to shoot my first short horror movie as well.
Besides the story in “Fantastic Horror”, my critical paper, “Home is Where the Horror Is” will appear in the academic journal “Studies in Gothic Fiction”.
Beyond 2012? Revising a feature thriller script, adapting RED AGENDA into a novel, and continuing to submit, submit and submit. Career-wise, I hope to find a tenure track teaching position in higher education, or earn my PhD in film or media studies. We’ll have to see what happens.
Where can Target Audience Magazine readers go to read more about you and your wonderful work (websites and social networking sites)?
I have a fun, celebrity horror birthday page on Facebook that also asks visitors what they think about certain elements in the horror genre.
My review blog is available at crashpalaceproductions.com. Besides reviews, there are links to short films, screenwriting contests and trailers. Now, I have a review to write.