Get to know winning writer Alexander Nachaj
Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?
Alexander Nachaj: Dead North is a story about a group of survivors trying to, well, survive in a soon-to-be frigid zombie apocalypse in Northern Canada. Though I can’t help but think that the apocalyptic setting along with the monsters is largely a backdrop for where a story like this could take place, make sense and help build the tension and stakes. After all, the zombies aren’t the greatest threat in this world; it’s other people and the environment they navigate.
MT: Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?
AN: Because I think people will love it. It’s filled with the kinds of things people want to see in movies, especially those big summer blockbusters. It’s got plenty of action and exciting visuals, lots of tension and conflict, and hopefully some characters the viewer can care about and root for. Even though it’s an original story, with a few twists and spins on existing ideas and conventions, it’s not so different that people won’t know how to relate to what’s taking place on the screen. Also, I suppose who doesn’t want their screenplay to become a movie? These kinds of things are meant to be seen, not just read.
MT: How would you describe this script in two words?
AN: Bloody fun.
MT: What movie have you seen the most times in your life?
AN: There’s a handful of movies that I seem to re-watch constantly, but the winner for most viewed would have to be the original Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston. The number of times I’ve watched that movie as an adult has probably overtaken the number of times I watched Star Wars as a kid. I’m also only half-ashamed to say I’ve seen Apes’ wonderfully awful sequels (all four of them) almost as many times as the original movie.
MT: How long have you been working on this screenplay?
AN: I had the initial idea for the screenplay a few months before I sat down to write it, probably at the end of summer when that first autumn breeze rolled in through the windows. At the time it was just some ideas for scenes, visuals and possible character dynamics. When I finally sat down to write it, the whole story really just poured through like I had turned on a tap and it wouldn’t stop. I churned out the first draft during a somewhat sleep-deprived 72 hours in order to make the first deadline for this festival, actually.
MT: How many stories have you written?
AN: While I’ve written a few shorts, this was the first real feature-length screenplay I’ve completed. I’ve spent a lot of my creative time since then keeping track of ideas, scenes and characters that I’d like to incorporate in future, feature-length stories like this one. I’ve also been writing plenty of short horror stories. Since January, I’ve completed four stories and am in the process of adding two more to the list.
MT: What motivated you to write this screenplay?
AN: Definitely the thrill of putting together a complete, standalone story and potentially seeing it come to life. Though I’d be lying if I said having a festival deadline only a few days away didn’t help! Deadlines have a way of motivating me like few things do.
MT: What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?
AN: Remarkably, not that many. When you have a story in mind, have the time and the motivation, I found that it was pretty easy to get it on paper and finish it. I suppose clearing up my weekends to write and then later edit was the largest challenge. Not everyone wants to keep seeing “busy, writing” every time they text and sometimes other projects have deadlines that can’t wait either. Fortunately, everything lined up perfectly for me.
MT: Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?
AN: It might be an odd thing to hear coming from a guy who just wrote a screenplay that contains flesh-eating monsters, but I’m actually kind of passionate about my vegetarian lifestyle; that is to say, I’m thrilled that I live in a city where I can afford to be a vegetarian and know tons of other people who share my habits. It’s clearly not possible for everyone, so I definitely feel fortunate to live in a place like Montreal where it is.
MT: What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?
AN: I found out about the festival only a few days before the initial deadline (which turned out to be for the best), so I was really motivated to try and finish something and enter it in time. When I received the feedback on my first draft I was honestly blown away not only by how positive it was, but also how helpful it turned out to be with ironing out the kinks and polishing up my story. Even just the little details and observations the festival reviewers sent me made a huge difference in helping me produce the screenplay it is today.
MT: Any advice or tips you’d like to pass on to other writers?
AN: Finish what you start, no matter how unpleasant it might feel at times. Just push through that wall. Also, deadlines really help. If there’s no room for procrastinating, you tend to do it less. Lastly, submit your work to festivals and competitions and have others read it. You’ll never realize how important feedback is until you receive it.
Director/Producer: Matthew Toffolo
Casting Director: Sean Ballantyne
Editor: John Johnson