THE RUT By Kevin Caruso (2008 CineStory Fellow)
In order to win her father’s approval, a young girl surrounds herself with danger and adventure as she journeys into the wilderness to hunt the greatest of deer.

THE THIRD REALM By Nino Del Pesco (2008 CineStory Fellow)
When a series of brutal murders threatens the career of a Berlin police inspector, he is forced to enlist the help of a skillful Jewish detective currently incarcerated in Auschwitz. When the detective’s unflinching determination to solve the case overtakes his instinct for survival, the inspector begins to question his own beliefs, and those of the Nazi Party.


Kevin Caruso: I’m Kevin Caruso, I’m last year’s CineStory winner, of 2007, and I’m here with Nino Del Pesco.

Nino Del Pesco: I’m Nino Del Pesco I’m this year’s 2008 CineStory winner. I’m grateful to be in the presence of such a mighty talent as Kevin Caruso.

KC: The feeling is mutual! I really enjoyed your script.

NDP: Thank you. Well, you know what… there were a couple of things with yours that when I got your script, you know, I saw the title THE RUT and I remember thinking that could go a few different places. And then when you start digging into it… I thought it’s a powerful story of this just ‘shutdown’ guy, who’s like a rock… I could just see it you know. We kind of talked about who you thought you wanted to play the lead and I just kept seeing Tom Berringer… cause you know how he’ll do that PLATOON look, I just keep seeing that. Not necessarily him, but that type… Just hard, just hard as bark but inside there’s this soft core. But you’re never going to get it out of him, just glimpses of it. And you know the relationship to the daughter, she really wanted his approval. He’s just…

KC: He’s closed off.

NDP: He’s closed off – just like that. And the pain, the whole house is filled with this pain. It encompasses the whole world. So this guy who’s shutdown for good, whatever his reasons are, has now created a whole world and everybody’s affected. But the wife’s still there so there’s got to be something that’s keeping them together.

KC:…the marriage that’s just, the love’s lost and the marriage is just going through the motions. But in your script… it just shows the different genres that CineStory embraces… it’s a crime story set during WWII with the most unlikely of pairings, which is a Gestapo police officer…

NDP: …criminal detective.

KC: …which again I was entering a world I never knew about. I mean how many WWII movies have you seen and WWII stories have you read and this is just a fresh take on it… because the second part of the investigation is being headed by a Jewish [cop]… I guess he was a top of Munich’s…

NDP: Yeah… [Weiss is] the same type of detective as Heidemann, the other co-character, he’s kind of a co-protagonist… so they actually have the same job but Weiss was in Munich and he’s a Jew, so they yanked him out of there…

KC: And what made you want to tell that story?

NDP: It’s actually kind of funny, the idea of having a thriller set in Nazi Germany… It was just something I’d never seen. It was a movie I wanted to see. With all the regalia around what Berlin must have looked like at that time… The original setting was based in 1939 that was kind of the era I was thinking of. You know, they [the Nazis] are at the top, they’re at the peak. They’re on top of the world at this point, everything’s going for them, society’s flourishing. Everyday society, it’s this place where the state wants to be. And just how everything looked: the uniforms, the colors, the splendor… I thought having that as a backdrop for a thriller, that would be really interesting, and I was telling my brother about it and he just pulled out: ‘What if they had to bring a Jew out of a concentration camp to solve the crime?’ And it was that moment of silence where… I just went ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ We tossed the idea back and forth, and that’s pretty much all the input he had. It took the story just someplace else and made it a lot more original.

KC: Who do you see as the main character?

NDP: Weiss is definitely the main character. But Heidemann’s close, so there’s not much separation between the two… this is a story about Weiss in the big picture, but it’s really the story of these two men who are complete polar opposites, with completely different ideologies, even religions for that matter, and how they come to see each other as human beings rather than as a Jew and a Nazi. And the journey that they take and what they encounter because of the stakes each of them has invested in this situation.

CineStory: I think it’s interesting that both of you have written very different films but at the heart of both of them is a core relationship between two characters. You know I think a lot of times when you’re a writer you’re trying to build a whole world and you might put… too much stuff in it. It’s those core relationships that create the emotional connection for the audience or reader.

NDP: Yeah, that’s how I relate… You know if I wanna go see a movie with a lot of explosions and chase scenes, I’m going there because I don’t have to think about it. I can be excited, but I’m not necessarily going to walk out of that theater with my heart ripped open and have the experience that I love having when I see a movie.

CineStory: The other thing I think that’s interesting about that is that, as you were saying Kevin, CineStory is about craft… It’s not necessarily about whether you’ve written a small Indie film or a big budget Hollywood film but it’s about craft and creating emotionally engaging stories… You’ve both created these really strong core components and then gone to win the contest. So I was wondering for both of you, what you had written before… and whether you felt ‘this script is different to things I wrote before’?

KC: Well, yeah, it’s totally different. THE RUT came about from a dare from my wife… I wrote this really complex thriller and she just looked at me with this glazed over look and said, ‘Can’t you just write anything easy? Anything simple?’ I was like, ‘What do you know?’ and I [went] and lock[ed] myself in my office… I had just seen THE WHALE RIDER on a cruise and I loved it… I saw it like a few times because there’s only five movies playing on the cruise. And it’s just a great little movie. So much was said just in the relationship between the girl and her grandfather and I was so taken by that. I grew up in rural New Jersey, which is the part of New Jersey that nobody sees. It’s very wooded like out here and it’s a huge hunting community. I grew up around hunters and the main character, the father guy in THE RUT, is a composite of two men I knew. You know, just totally devoid of any outward emotions. They were the same guy if you saw ‘em in the funeral home or if you saw ‘em in the county store… And prior to that I’d written a stoner comedy, a Vietnam war drama that actually got me my first invitation to CineStory, thrillers you know, whether it be big explosion thrillers or straight political thrillers, and then here’s this little drama that I just wanted to write because my wife dared me.

CineStory: Nino I know you’ve been a musician and you’ve come at writing from a different perspective… Was THE THIRD REALM your first script?

NDP: I was gonna say, I’d like to pontificate on how this script’s different to anything I’ve ever written before – and I guess it is –

KC: Well every writer wants to know that your first script got you here, rather than the twelfth one.

NDP: Yeah. Well it’s actually not the first script because the original script of this… I mean this script has taken so many changes I can almost think that the first draft of it, or how I started the script, is completely different to what I ended up with. So it wasn’t that I just banged this thing out or did a rewrite or polished it a little bit and then it’s this great script… I put a lot of work into trying to get it right.

KC: It is a great script, man. And I have to say very tightly written, which is not one of the signs of a first time writer. It’s very tight, and that always helps with the storytelling angle. Plus great characters too.

NDP: Well I had good teachers in this writing group. You know they really just had a good idea of what you need to tell a story. And I believe in structure and I believe in formatting. So I went to great lengths to make sure that I formatted it correctly and… I tried to understand three-act structure. I mean I had a logical understanding of it, but I didn’t have that visceral, emotional understanding.

KC: Yeah, you can buy [a screenwriting] book and it looks great on the page but then when someone says where’s the end of your first act you’re like ‘Uh… it’s there, it’s right there. It’s on page twenty somewhere.’

NDP: {Laughs} Yeah, and I actually had to go back… I didn’t do an outline which was a huge mistake. I kind of thought about it and then started writing stream of consciousness because I had a basic idea in my head, even with plot twists. And that was a huge mistake, because I wasted a lot of time just going back and trying to fix things to make it work, which created other problems. So you know I learned my lesson from that which is make a strong outline.

KC: I think most screenwriters start out never writing an outline, because I’m the same way. Outlines help though… Outlines, treatments, it helps you in the end when you’re trying to write that story because if you have people you trust, you can give them your treatment and you can get their feedback on it before it’s a whole 110 page script… They can say, ‘Where’s the motivation for your character? He seems more passive.’ And you get all that, you know, from ten pages, as opposed to 100.

NDP: Exactly. I’m actually playing with that because I went back and I bio’d my characters… I thought I should have bio’d them beforehand and then I thought maybe I don’t need to do that. Maybe I need to get that first draft out, and then once I get to know them, in a way, from that first draft, then maybe the smart thing to do is go back and create the bio? Because I’m going to be ripping that first draft up anyway. So why not create the bio after I’ve kind of gotten to know them from writing that first draft?… So that’s kind of a concept I’m toying with… it came out from this experience of having to go back and create new motivations and finding, okay, this isn’t working, so I’m going to go back and start a bio…

CineStory: Sometimes it takes a while for you to find your characters… or to strip away yourself and find them. And also to find your story. You think you know what your story is and then you write a draft and you’re like ‘Huh? What?’

KC: There’s a great exercise here that Meg [LeFauve] does at CineStory that boils down your theme. I had a one-on-one [with a writer] that was scheduled at the same time and I told him, ‘You know what? We’re gonna reschedule because you have to see this.’ Most writers, especially new writers don’t understand how visceral the theme is and how attached the writer is to the theme in other projects… It’s great. Once you understand the theme and where your story’s going, the story’s going to tell itself. Everyone pretends they know what the theme [of their script] is… but unless they’re really focused on [it], they don’t know. I think it’s the scariest question you can ask a writer: What’s the theme of your story? Because they always start off with ‘I think’ - but it can’t be ‘I think’. What is it?

NDP: And one of the greatest things I’ve learned about up here at the retreat is that it’s okay to not know. Because that’s what you’re here for… Because you think you’re the only one who doesn’t know. Out of everybody up here, everybody’s gotta know what their theme is. Everybody’s gotta know where the end of their first act is and the midpoint and the low point… All the stuff you think you’re not really sure of in some way but everybody else has to know it. I come up here and I find out nobody knows it and everybody wants to know it and [the mentors are] telling you how to know it. The other great thing I got is that just because they’re telling you [about] structure, high concept, theme, characters, you can incorporate all that into the art film you wanna write and still elevate it… You can take that story that you think is the art concept and… make it a bigger movie and there’s nothing wrong with doing that. It’s not selling out… The movies that get made are movies that everybody’s passionate about.

KC: Again, it’s the interesting thing about being up here… you realize how much of a business it is. You don’t want to sell out, no writer wants to sell out, but the fact is that at the end of the day your movie has to make money and a lot of people are going to put money into this movie. [So] where’s the return?… Pam [Pierce] pairs you up with a writer and a producer [so] you can get the craft end of it but you still get the business end of it… The writer [can’t] know that unless they start meeting and interacting with the professionals from their industry…

CineStory: You can’t work in a vacuum when you’re a screenwriter… you have to be connected to that larger industry otherwise your screenplay will never be made.

NDP: Yeah, and at the end of the day it’s ‘What do I want as a screenwriter?’ Do I want to sit in the audience and see my name in the credits? Or do I want to have that 22-year-old in my writing group laugh at that joke in a script that’s never going to get sold and never going to get made?… You can write a great movie that’s commercially viable. And that I think is a challenge for us. I look at that as a challenge. It’s not: ‘How can I mold my script to sell out?’ It’s: ‘How can I write what I want to write and fit it into that world?’

CineStory: And that’s one of the things the mentors push up here, because they wouldn’t want you to just write what you think is commercial – that’s actually probably never going to interest anyone… If there’s no emotional heart in it… it’s not going to connect…

KC: My next question to you is what got you into screenwriting?

NDP: Well I kind of dabbled in it for a long time and I’ve always had ideas and I’ve always thought ‘It’d be fun to do that’. Never really took it seriously as a career because I was focused on music… [But] once I got into [screenwriting] I realized I absolutely love it… I just love the process because when I’m at the keyboard and I’m just flailing away at the keys – I’m watching the movie. I’m having the experience of seeing the film I want to write… I’m in another zone. I’m in another place. I’m not of planet Earth at that point. I’m in screenwriting-ville. And that feeling is what makes me want to do it.