All posts by Ethan Webber

What does it take to be a professional writer – an interview with screenwriter Jeff Howard

Whether it’s a family movie night, or watching a comedy show with your friends, visual entertainment has always been something that brings people together. It can be an influence on who you are and who you grow up to be. But who is behind those movies? Who is the creator of those TV shows that we all love? Screenwriters provide the fundamental pieces that tell the story for a film or television series. 

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Jeff Howard, screenwriter and producer. (Photo from IMDb)

As part of my interview project, I was able to talk to Jeff Howard, a screenwriter and producer that has worked on many horror themed films and tv shows. His work includes Ouija: Origin of Evil, Oculus, Gerald’s Game, and The Haunting of Hill House, a Netflix Original Series. Howard decided to pursue screenwriting because of a “lifelong love of movies and television.” Howard began his career as a pastry chef, but he “wasn’t passionate about it,” and decided to pursue his true passion of screenwriting. Howard started out writing comedies until he met Mike Flanagan, a screenwriter and director, and together they proceeded to work on horror projects.

His most recent work, The Haunting of Hill House is a Netflix series about a family that suffered from a paranormal experience as children. Now that they are adults, the paranormal events and spirits begin to reappear, making them relive what happened to them at Hill House.

Jeff Howard was one of seven writers for the ten episodes in the Netflix series. We talked about the process of writing the show and how it all started. He stated that, “We (the writers) all sat in a room together for a couple months and just broke out everything…you know, like we broke out every episode and everything that would happen in every episode.”

For the first season, it took around twelve weeks planning the episodes, then four days to write the actual episodes. Once the script was completed, the next step was filming. When asked if the script ever changed while filming, Howard stated, “Everything changes a lot of times, usually it’s for money.” For example, Howard said that they created four sections explaining the backgrounds of the different ghosts in the show, but because of financial reasons, it was cut from the final product. Even though some parts of the script were cut, Howard was able to include real moments from his childhood, in the show.

He shared with me that in the second episode, there was a scene where the children are taking care of a litter of kittens, and then one day they realized the kittens had died. Howard said that it really happened to him and his sister as kids. He realized later that he never told his sister about the inclusion of the event in the show, until she called him one day surprised that the worst moment of her childhood, was on screen.

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Howard gave some insights about screenwriting and how to create certain aspects of a project. For example, his method of creating a show, and the steps he takes to get to the script. He starts with a three-page outline, then a 10 to 12-page outline, and then before the script he writes “something that’s about 20-25 pages long.” Also he discussed creating a good character, and how “you should stick to you and what you know.” Howard recited an old playwright adage, saying, “If you want the audience to cry, first you have to cry yourself,” and that you have to get emotionally involved with what you are creating.

You can’t say you want to be a writer, you have to be a writer.

Mr. Dan Peightel

He explained how you have to get used to the idea that all people won’t like your work, and that “most of your life you spend rewriting things.” To get another view about what it’s like and what it takes to be a successful writer, I sat down with Mr. Dan Peightel, who is a published author. We talked about his experience as a writer and if he had any trade secrets to developing a successful story. “I don’t think any form of writing is easy…Thomas Mann said, ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’” Mr. Peightel added. 

Howard has been working on a action-comedy project in the past year. Also he just finished a “writers room” for another Netflix series called Midnight Mass, with Mike Flanagan who is directing the episodes in March. He added that this series is based off a small town in Maryland – Tangier Island. Meanwhile The Haunting of Hill House, season two, is in production, with a new title, The Haunting of Bly Manor.

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Season Two cover art.

Whether you are an author, a poet, or a screenwriter, there will be struggle. Even Mr. Peightel believes it’s not easy to be a writer. “You can’t say you want to be a writer, you have to be a writer. And that means you have to write and have to sit by yourself and write.” So when you are watching your favorite movie or television show, or you are in binging on a new show over the weekend, keep in mind those responsible for things that will stick with us forever. Remember those who write time and time again to create a new world for us to enjoy through watching.

Ethan Webber is a sophomore member of the Multimedia Journalism class, and a member of The Quill.

What’s St. Joe’s best rivalry? It depends on whom you ask

Mount St. Joseph plays another close one against rival Calvert Hall.

Here at St. Joe, rivalries are things that get fans and students excited for sporting events. With Homecoming this weekend, we are preparing for some very competitive games. In soccer, St. Joe goes against Chesapeake High and football plays McDonogh. Last year, the Gaels played against Calvert Hall in football, and after spirited battle, MSJ won 21-7. Last year soccer didn’t play Calvert Hall, they instead played Archbishop Spalding, with St. Joe winning 2-0. With St. Joe playing so many different teams for Homecoming, it got students and staff wondering, who is St. Joe’s rival?

As a school, we have teachers and staff that have graduated from the Mount, ranging from the 1970s to 2014. Many of them stated that when they attended, our rival was either Calvert Hall, or Cardinal Gibbons, which is now closed. The Quill completed a survey, completed by over 20 faculty and staff, and that survey ended with predictable results. The majority of the staff surveyed said Calvert Hall is the main rival, with Archbishop Spalding as the runner-up. One notable dissent was from Mr. Tony Brockmeyer who went so far to say that since the closing of Cardinal Gibbons, “we do not have a current rival.”

Is the Calvert Hall rivalry the best at St. Joe? According to faculty & staff respondents, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. Meanwhile, for the students, the responses weren’t as unanimous.

Mr. Phil Kraska is the Head Varsity Baseball coach here at MSJ. He says Calvert Hall was, and is, the baseball team’s rival. They are the “most heated games, most energy at games, our guys always step up to play at a higher level.” For example the rivalry is so tense, that our school’s players are not allowed to wear anything red at practice, since Calvert Hall’s primary color is red. Mr. Kraska said that it was the rule back when he played, and it still is now. “I haven’t worn red in 19 years”, Mr. Kraska stated, explaining that the rule was so strong, that it stuck with him for life.

For some teachers, and many of the students, Spalding has overtaken Calvert Hall as St. Joe’s primary rival.

Meanwhile, a number of teachers & staff, including Mr. Clint Felts, Head Football Coach Mr. Rich Holzer, Athletic Director Mr. Kraig Loovis, and Librarian Mrs. Paula Wichmann, along with others, all said that Spalding is The Mount’s primary rival. Many of them cited the competitiveness in sports, and the fact that we seem to draw from the same student population in Anne Arundel County. Still others, such as President Mr. George Andrews, cited St. Mary’s Ryken, thanks to the Xaverian connection we share with the school.

According to Mr. Kraska, and the majority of the faculty respondents, Calvert Hall continues to be our primary rival. But according to the students polled, that’s not the case for all of the sports. In a student survey, 76% out of 162 students who responded, said that the rivalry depends on the sport being played. We saw responses that covered all of the major sports, and academic activities, that Mount Saint Joe competes in against other area schools.

76% of student respondents indicated that our rivalries change based on the sport being played.

What we noticed in the results were that depending upon the sport being played, the students all claimed a different main rival. For hockey players, Spalding stood out as the primary rival. For baseball players, Calvert Hall continued to be the primary rival. For football players, McDonogh, Gilman, and Spalding all got votes. Water polo members consistently mentioned Gilman as the primary rival. And for basketball players, every single respondent said that St. Frances was hands-down the primary rival of Mount Saint Joe.

“Year after year one night always stands out as a major sports night at Saint Joe and that is the St. Frances basketball game. Homecoming is important sure but who we play changes year from year. No other opposing school consistently has a game every year that always is considered a major night no matter what.”

Basketball player survey respondent

As you can see in the chart, the students are much more fragmented than the teachers when it comes to identifying the primary rival against the Gaels. Nearly 6 out of 10 students mention Calvert Hall, but Spalding, McDonogh, and St. Frances all received a number of votes. Even Mount de Sales got a mention from a single student who took the survey, although it is hard to understand the intent of adding that to an anonymous survey.

For basketball players responding to the survey, St. Frances is the undisputed rival of Mount St. Joseph.

So while St. Joe soccer will be playing Chesapeake High School, and the football team will be playing McDonogh for Homecoming on Saturday, it is obvious that for the students, St. Joe has a “revolving door” of rivals, depending on the sport, and the competition level between the schools. While some sports are locked in on a particular team, like baseball with Calvert Hall, others rotate through teams during different seasons. As shown in the faculty/staff survey, considering how St. Joe’s rivalry has transitioned from Cardinal Gibbons to Calvert Hall over the past 20 years, it will be interesting to see where’s St. Joe’s rivalry stands another 20 years from now.

Ethan Webber is a sophomore member of The Quill, and a member of the Multimedia Journalism class.

A Review: Hogwarts on Broadway

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child​ came to Broadway on April 22, 2018. It takes place 19 years after the events of ​Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. All of the original characters are now parents, and they have to deal with new responsibilities. Hermione is the Minister of Magic, Harry is the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and Ron runs a silly joke shop. In an odd way, each of those professions end up tying into the dark story. 

Albus Potter deals with being the son of the great Harry Potter and being in Slytherin, unlike the rest of his family. It is in Slytherin where he meets Scorpius Malfoy, his best friend. Albus soon thinks his father is not the hero people say he is. Albus and Scorpius use time travel to save “the spare” Cedric Diggory. They end up corrupting the timeline, erasing people from existence, and creating an alternate evil reality. Not only is there the adventure of Albus and Scorpius, the story of Harry, Ron and Hermione continue on in the show. Harry begins to believe Voldemort is still out there, ready to strike again.

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The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. (Photo Credit: Playbill.com)

I was lucky enough to go and see the show in early August. The show is split into two parts, each two and a half hours long. The special effects for the show makes it appear like magic is real. The show was filled with effects that blew me away. From people appearing out of fire to evil creatures flying over the audience. The show was very well done.

The cast is complete with great actors portraying the iconic characters. James Snyder is the actor who plays Harry Potter. He was in many small films and tv series, but his biggest was She’s the Man, a teen rom-com in 2006. The young actor playing Albus Potter is Nicholas Podany. He has not starred in any movies, but he has appeared in a few episodes in the CW show, Hart of Dixie. Jenny Jules, is a English actress who plays Hermione Granger alongside Matt Mueller as Ron Weasley. Jonno Roberts plays the Slytherin nemesis Draco Malfoy. He has starred in many TV shows throughout the years. He was Declan Stanwick in the comedy show, Wrecked for nine episodes. Many of the actors have starred in crime shows like Blue Bloods and the NCIS franchise.

After the second part of the show, I was able to go behind the scenes. I got to meet the main cast members of the show, James Snyder, Nicholas Podany, and many others. Since the actors cannot reveal the “secrets” to the magic, I was unable to figure out the way the magic is really done. Each character seemed to have many costumes, some are even identical to the rest. The production crew really did a great job with the show. A family friend of mine Kimberly Dodson, played Rose Granger Weasley. She told me she is a “swing”, so she covers 12 tracks. This means she has to prepare for 12 different roles and she goes on whenever they need her.

This is a great show to see, especially if you are a Harry Potter nerd like I am. It’s funny, dark, advernterous, and has an amazing story. The play was written by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. I highly recommend seeing this show. The show has a rating of 91% by critics, and a 3.7/5 for the book. Do you think you’ll see the magic?

Ethan Webber is a sophomore member of The Quill, and is also a member of the Multimedia Journalism class.

Drama Club puts on a show with West Side Story

image1Mount Saint Joe has never failed to give us amazing plays and musicals. This spring, the drama club performed the 1957 Broadway show West Side Story. Junior Brennan Hyde played a lead role as Tony with sophomore Patrick Scott playing his best friend Riff. Riff is the leader of the gang, the Jets, and deals with the feud between the Jets and the Sharks. The Sharks are a gang full of Puerto Rican boys led by Bernardo, played by senior Ezra Melchor.

While the two gangs fight for territory, Tony meets the love of his life, Maria, who is the sister of Bernardo. Mount De Sales junior Maya Nellum played Maria, as she and Tony fall in love and can’t wait to spend their lives together. Unfortunately for Tony, Maria is already engaged to Chino. For those of you literary scholars, West Side Story is obviously a modern twist on the classic story, Romeo & JulietAs the two star-crossed lovers deal with the affair, it causes conflicts between the gangs. Maria and Tony fight for the freedom to love, while the gangs fight to end the feud once and for all.

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Cast members Brennan Hyde and Patrick Scott during rehearsals.

As the cast and the crew were preparing for their performances, I had the chance to speak to Mr. Ader, who played the lead role of Tony when he was a student at St. Joe. Mr. Jason Ader, reflecting on his past performances, playing the role occupied by Brennan Hyde, said, “There was a lot of nostalgia watching some of my students play the same part I played 15 years ago…I’m really impressed and it was better than what we did!” Mr. Adam Kauffman, who was also in the show while a student at St. Joe, played the role of Jet member, Baby John. Sophomore Zach Polignone occupied the role this year, which was once filled by Mr. Kauffman. Mr. Kauffman said in the lead-up to the show, “I had a lot of fun in 2003 doing the show, I’m excited to see it. I have many students who are in the show [acting, stage crew, and in the band].

“There was a lot of nostalgia watching some of my students play the same part I played 15 years ago…I’m really impressed and it was better than what we did!” – Mr. Jason Ader

The show was seemingly a great success, as the audiences were overwhelmingly positive in their reception of West Side Story. If you didn’t get a chance to see it, I definitely recommend checking out the link below of all of the photos taken of the show. As a cast member, it was a cool experience playing a role in the production, and something I hope to hold onto, just like Mr. Ader and Mr. Kauffman. The production was led by theater director, Mr. Mike Hartsfield, who has guided this, his 30th show in his 15th year at Mount Saint Joe! As a cast member, I hope you enjoyed the show if you attended one of the performances. If you weren’t able to attend, I hope you come in the fall to see our next production!

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To check out the full album of pictures from West Side Story, click here.

img_0071Ethan Webber is a freshman member of the Quill.

 

Solutions Showcase: Tips for Writing a Mystery

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When writing a story, especially a mystery, character development is extremely important.

Writing can be very difficult, essays, book reports, but writing everything off the top of your head is even harder. Especially if you are writing a murder mystery story. You may not know how to create the murderer, the protagonist, or the supporting characters. Characters, story plots, and ways to avoid writer’s block are all keys to writing a good story.

For any story, and especially murder mysteries, characters are very important. They can be the heroes, the secret murderer, or the best friend. For the main character or protagonist, make sure to give backstory to his personality. If they are anti-social, explain if they possibly had an embarrassing incident in their life or a rough family household. If they are popular, what makes them popular, and why is their popularity is important to the story. Also determine if the story is told in first or third person, so that you can decide if the character shows his emotions straight forward, or told by a narrator.

For the murderer, make sure you know who it is ahead of time, so that you can involve them early on in the story. Explain the motive, and reason they killed someone. Maybe they had a feud with another family. Or maybe they are physiologically disturbed and don’t have a valid reason. And possibly both of those combined. In order to have a good murder mystery, you must have a good murderer.

Try to make the reader get attached to the characters. Build up the characters future. Maybe even write a cliffhanger, making them want to keep turning pages. Writing in supporting characters and “the best friend” give you ability to play around with fates. You control the pieces on the chess board, each move is up to you. Create a love story, or maybe even a character death. If a character dies, you want the reader to care and have an emotional reaction. Give a character a personality, make them funny, dark, or give them sarcastic one-liners. If the reader loves a character, events that affect that character always makes the reader more involved.

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Eventually, all of the clues ought to connect to your larger mystery story.

Story plots can be the hardest part to write. Without a good plot, you don’t have a good story. Always keep in mind the simple beginning, middle, and end theme. The way I wrote my story was by creating an outline of each chapter and the events that occur. Sometimes, outline ideas don’t always make the final cut, but will provide a general direction. When trying to figure out the storyline, think of the start and end point. Where do you want characters to end up? Does the murderer get caught, or do they manage to escape? These questions will help you along the way. Knowing the way the story ends will help guide you where you end up. The first couple chapters can start slow, dive into the characters and give them introductions. These first chapters are good to setup foreshadowing for upcoming events. They allow space for creative ways to set the scene and give a good description to what’s happening. Also, these are times to begin side storylines, like a love story or a friendship.

The middle chapters are where clues and evidence will start to unfold. Slowly the story begins to speed up into the end. This should not be the climax, but a build up for what’s coming. Include pieces of the puzzle that start to come together. Hint possible suspects for the murderer. These chapters are also a good area to involve a character death if you choose to have one.

The last chapter or chapters are where all of the pieces conjoin and the reader finds out who is the murderer. All of the writing you’ve done has led you to this point. Make sure to write suspense leading up to the big reveal. Make the reader want, or maybe even fear to turn the page. A good ending can be the best part of a story, and even can set up exciting sequels.

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The reader should be able to make connections to previous clues spread throughout the story.

You will face many challenges along your writing journey. Many road blocks will delay you, and sometimes you will crash. When I wrote my piece, I was facing writers block for middle chapters. So I wrote the last chapter, giving me the ending I wanted to reach. If you face challenges like that, complete chapters you have ideas for, then fill in the ones that remain. If you are stuck and cannot think of something to write, sleep on it. When an idea comes to you, try to write it down immediately. If you wait and say, “I’ll write it when I get home.” you will forget it. Sometimes you can go weeks without knowing what to write. The best thing is try to write down anything. Word by word, then ideas will strike!

Writing a Mystery isn’t always easy. Some aspects are easy, some are hard, and some are just time consuming. Characters, story plots, and ways to avoid writer’s block are very important to writing a good story. Never ever give up because eventually the mystery will be solved!

Ethan Webber is a freshman at Mount Saint Joseph. He wrote this article as part of his Solutions Showcase project.