1. What inspired you to write Sunrise in Heaven?
I was hired to write the script by Voyage Media, which was working with the author of the novel the script is based upon.
2. How long did it take you to write the first draft of Sunrise in Heaven?
The actual writing process itself never takes me that long, because I do extensive planning work beforehand. By the time I get to writing, I can usually knock out a script in a few weeks.
3. What research did you do when writing Sunrise in Heaven?
I did a ton of research, especially because this is based on a true story, and I had access to the real person, Jan Hurst. We spoke extensively, I read her novel, she shared personal stories with me, photos, and so on. I had a ton of access to great research material, and a lot of real-life material made its way into the script as a result of the heavy research.
4. What challenges did you face while writing Sunrise in Heaven?
Faith-based films are tricky because conflict is the friend of drama, but faith-based films have content restrictions because the audience appreciates their family-friendly nature (no swearing, violence, sexuality, etc.) The regular tools you can easily go to for dramatic conflict aren't as readily available, so you have to find creative solutions to invest the story with true conflict (the audience can sniff out false or weak conflict).
5. Did you consult with the author Mrs. Jan Hurst while writing Sunrise in Heaven?
I did, and that's how I solved my conflict problem. Jan confided in me that when she met her husband, as they initially started dating she lied to her father, who disapproved of her dating anyone in the military, and claimed her eventual husband was just a friend and not in the military. They snuck around and eventually Jan's father (who was a military man) found out. That nugget of conflict is something we built out for the film.
6. What is your favorite line from Sunrise in Heaven?
Often, when you write the script, your favorite line isn't the big dramatic line, but a smaller throwaway line that makes you as the writer laugh. There's this tiny moment in the film where the younger version of Steve compliments his prospective father-in-law, Jim, on a good shot as they fire a rifle on a little range. Jim, without missing a beat (well-played by Corbin Bernsen) says, "No one likes a suck-up, Steve." It makes me laugh every time.
7. What is your writing habit in general? Do you write in the daytime or night?
I have a young daughter, so I write any time I possibly can. I'll write at 5am when I first wake up. Often, that's the ideal time, because my daughter will sleep in until 7 or so, and my wife is still asleep, so I can get a head start on the day.
8. In one word how would you sum up Sunrise in Heaven?
Love. This is a positive, upbeat movie about love not just between the romantic leads, but all the characters, and that love wins out for everyone.
9. What piece of advice do you have for screenwriters starting out?
Stop talking and start working. Screenwriting is insanely difficult, and anything short of total commitment and crazy work ethic is unlikely to lead to success in this field. You can never have enough material, and you can never shop it aggressively enough.
10. What was your very first short film? What were the challenges you face and how did you overcome them?
My first short was in film school. It had a delicate tone, balancing comedy and drama. It was about a stand-up comedian playing a funeral. To be honest, I'm not sure I totally overcame it! But I still love that short.
11. What did you do to promote your first short film when it reached various festivals?
I was never a big shorts person. I made my first feature film two months out of film school.
12. If a self-published author is seeking a screenwriter, how would one get you or any expert to read his or her story to see if it would make a compelling movie?
There are many ways to go about that. The company that co-produced this film, Voyage Media, actually specializes in exactly that.
13. Which filmmakers/screenwriters do you admire growing up?
I have an old soul, so I was already obsessed with people like Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese when I was like 15.
14. Were you ever on set for the making of Sunrise in Heaven? If so, could you tell me what scene you were present at?
I was! I came for the scene where young Steve tells Jim what the military means to him. It was unbelievably hot out, and the poor actors had to be in full uniform. I was really impressed with their dedication. Jan was there with me and it was surreal for us all to see Corbin and Travis play her dad and husband, respectively.
15. What was the last great film you saw? What was the last great book you read?
Last great film was A STAR IS BORN. I have nothing original to add to that film's massive success. I actually loved TRIPLE FRONTIER too. That's a great movie in my book. Last great book has some relation, surprisingly, to SUNRISE IN HEAVEN. It was called A SERIAL KILLER'S DAUGHTER, written by the daughter of the BTK killer. She used her religious faith to process her dad's crimes and achieve a type of forgiveness for him.
16. Last question, one surprising (non-writing related) fact about you?
I have this weird condition where there's a slight indent in my chest. I can balance a soda can on my chest if I lean back.
I just want to express my gratitude to Mr. Don Benamor for doing this interview. This film will definitely make your Mother's Day--or any day for that matter--a special one. You will definitely be inspired by the movie as well. Sunrise in Heaven is currently on VOD platforms so you can watch it by clicking on spectrumondemand, amazon.com, or moviefone. Thank you very much for your time and coming to my blog. Have a wonderful Mother's Day and take care.