Exclusive Interview with Evan J. Pearson – Filmmaker/Screenwriter
Evan J. Pearson is a Canadian-born Screenwriter and Filmmaker. His career began when he wrote two short films that he used as submission pieces to get into the Toronto Film School in the Writing for Film and Television Program. He has since refined and expanded his industry knowledge and has received industry standard training in several areas of writing and film production.
NY Glam: Tell us a little about yourself, growing up and your passions.
I was born and raised just outside of Toronto. Growing up I always had a deep passion for films and learning about the filmmaking process. I got a subscription to Creative Screenwriting Magazine when I was 8 years old and that was what gave birth to my interest in becoming a screenwriter. Cut to 14 years later, I had just finished writing my second feature and decided I wanted to get a formal education in film so I used samples from the two screenplays I had written as submission pieces to get into the Toronto Film School.
NY Glam: Did you have any specific influences growing up that lead you towards the film industry?
Growing up I didn’t know anyone who was a filmmaker or writer, so it always felt like a pipe dream and something that wasn’t attainable for someone in my shoes, being from a more rural part of Canada and not having any connections in the business. I spend a ton of time watching films and reading scripts to this day. Perhaps my biggest influences have been Aaron Sorkin, having been a huge fan of his work and taking his Masterclass, Taylor Sheridan whose films have really resonated with me as a viewer and Edward Burns who I’ve followed with a ton of interest since seeing The Brothers McMullen and reading his autobiography Independent Ed.
NY Glam: What are you currently working on?
At the moment, I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a couple of pilot scripts for a One-Hour Drama series and a Half-Hour Sitcom, both of which I’m incredibly excited about. I’m also working on a feature script called Kingdom of David which has been a passion project of mine that I’ve been developing for about a year now.
NY Glam: What were your main responsibilities on this film?
My most recent work was a script called Smokestack Lightning which placed in the semi-finals of the International Screenwriting Competition and is currently making it’s rounds in various screenwriting competitions and festivals. I wrote the film during the first wave of the COVID lockdown and finished it in just three months after completing the fifth and final draft. It’s a film I wrote with the intention of producing and directing myself, having written it with a shoestring budget in mind.
NY Glam: Can you tell us about your experience in working with your team in this film?
I’ve been lucky enough to have built great connections with other writers who have given me invaluable feedback on my work and that was one of the things that really helped me make this script the best it can be. It also helped having the people close to me in my personal life who don’t have a background in filmmaking read my work to help me understand what worked and what didn’t work in the script from an audience perspective and that really helped with the pacing and was perhaps the most helpful part of the writing process on this script.
NY Glam: What was the most important thing for this movie to achieve from a narrative and character standpoint?
It was really important for me to shine the spotlight on the Nashville music community and really make that aspect of the film the centerpiece. Location really did play a big part in this story and it wouldn’t have been the same if it took place anywhere else. With the script being more character driven than plot driven, I wanted to make my protagonist Rusty Rhodes a bit of an enigma so that the unfolding of the story and Rusty’s character development sort of become interchangeable.
NY Glam: What makes a film interesting for you? What are three qualities that you look for in a movie?
I really gravitate towards films that are more character driven than plot driven. Like many others, I find a lot of stories that follow traditional three-act structure to be predictable and I find that the films I enjoy the most either follow a five-act structure or are completely character driven.
NY Glam: What project helped you launch your career?
While I would say that this project, Smokestack Lightning, has really been my most defining work so far, I wouldn’t be where I am as a writer without the first two scripts I wrote. If I hadn’t made the conscious decision to say, ‘I want to be a writer’ and sat down and write both of those scripts, I wouldn’t have gotten into film school and I wouldn’t have thought that making a living as a screenwriter or filmmaker would even be possible. I owe a lot to both of those scripts.
NY Glam: As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
I think making characters that people can relate to is really the starting point. They don’t need to be super likeable or good people necessarily, but they need to have something about them that we as people can relate to, enough so that we’ll want to spend the length of the film following them on their journey.
NY Glam: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To keep telling stories that will hopefully strike a chord in people. That’s what made me want to become a writer in the first place and seeing films that I connect with and inspire me is what keeps me going and keeps the dream that my 8-year-old self reading Creative Screenwriting Magazine had still alive to this day.
NY Glam: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the film industry, especially as a film director?
Taking feedback is a huge part of it, but more importantly you should hear everyone and ultimately listen to yourself. Whatever you decide to do with the feedback you’re given is up to you but you need to be thankful that someone took the time and effort to help you make your project the best it can be. Most importantly, and as cliché as it sounds, don’t ever let your dreams die. Dreams are what keeps an artist alive and truth be told, it’s what keeps people going in general.