An aspiring screenwriter faces long odds of having his work on the big screen, but Ellisburg resident Bryan W. Stumpf is determined to beat those odds. Advice from a Golden Globe-winning actor is helping to propel his dream.
Mr. Stumpf began writing screenplays in 2005 after dabbling in short stories. Hes attracted the attention of a couple of producers, and two of his screenplays have done well in competitions.
What Ive learned is that you can win a contest, but getting a producer to option it is a different challenge, Mr. Stumpf said.
Mr. Stumpf turned to screenwriting after he moved back to the north country from Seattle to be closer to family. He is the son of Willard and Karen Stumpf of Cape Vincent. Mr. Stumpf lived in Seattle from 2000 to 2005, teaching writing, film and literature at Highline Community College, Des Moines, Wash.
He talked about the challenges and rewards of trying to get noticed as a screenwiter.
Ive always loved movies, and I was in a writers group in Seattle, he said. When I came back here, I found myself with some downtime.
He even got Bryan Cranston, who won a Golden Globe this year for best performance by an actor for his Breaking Bad role as Walter White, to read one of his scripts.
Mr. Stumpf has learned that his craft involves the compression of words and situations. If a few years of his life were to be compressed into a screenplay, it would include honey extraction, furniture making, teaching at colleges, developing renewable energy projects and a marriage that inspired a zombie comedy/drama.
He wrote two screenplays simultaneously: the action/thriller Wreckage (College friends visiting their hometown beach become prey to a robotic monstrosity controlled by wealthy clients looking for a thrill) and the horror story The Making of Merciless, about a film crew that unintentionally awakens a demon while filming a horror film in the deep woods.
Wreckage was a second-round quarter-finalist in the 2012 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and the 2012 Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition. That was enough to further inspire Mr. Stumpf.
He sent The Making of Merciless to screenplaycoverage.com, a paid service. Its website says its Hollywood readers give coverage reports to their supervisors on screenplays coming across their desk, grading them on multiple categories, with analysis.
Mr. Stumpf said The Making of Merciless was one of the top three highest-scored screenplays in November 2012.
Based on those experiences, I thought I should really pursue this, Mr. Stumpf said.
He said The Making of Merciless and another screenplay he wrote, Commute, have piqued the interest of producers.
Commute is about a mobile podcaster who discovers that a mysterious van hes following is a crucial component of an alien invasion.
Mr. Stumpf said producers are reading the screenplays, but hes a realist.
Reading is the operative word here, Mr. Stumpf said. Each producer was interested enough in my logline and pitch to request a copy of the script, but its still in the early stages and I havent heard back from them yet.
The cranston connection
A writer/reviewer at screen playcoverage.com told Mr. Stumpf that he should get some experience on an actual film set to get a feel for the dialogue. Thats where Bryan Cranston enters the scene.
Mr. Stumpf went to the website of the Hudson Valley Film Commission, which lists opportunities for people who want to get involved in the film industry there. Mr. Stumpf got a position as an assistant on the film Cold Comes the Night, shot in the fall of 2012 in Windham, Green County. In the credits, hes listed as a set intern.
Cold Comes the Night stars Mr. Cranston as a career criminal. It was his first role since the end of AMCs Breaking Bad. The movie will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 4.
During filming, Mr. Stumpf was asked to stand in for Mr. Cranston in certain scenes so the lights and other technical elements could be adjusted prior to filming.
Theyre not going to have the actor stand there for half an hour to get that right, Mr. Stumpf said. They grab someone else. Its a good place to be as a writer because you are hearing the director and the cinematographer.
During one late-night/early morning shoot, Mr. Stumpf became Mr. Cranstons double.
Around 3 in the morning, they decided that the rest of the shots were not going to be showing Brian Cranstons face at all, just the back of his head, Mr. Stumpf said. They said, Bryan Stumpf can you stand next to Bryan Cranston?
It was determined the back of their heads looked similar.
They asked me if I would mind shaving my head a little, Mr. Stumpf said. I said, Sure, whatever. From then on I became kind of a body double. Im in the movie, but you dont see my face.
Instead it could be his leg, hand or the back of his head as he doubles those body parts for Mr. Cranston.
But Mr. Stumpf did have some valuable face time with Mr. Cranston. The actor read one of Mr. Stumpfs scripts a short during shooting of Cold Comes the Night.
He told me I was being a little bit too creative in my writing, Mr. Stumpf said. He said I needed to be a little bit more direct.
Mr. Stumpf doesnt have any more plans to work in films or to act.
I think if there were a role where someone has to look like they were thinking about something important, I could probably do that, he said, laughing.
If this screenwriting thing doesnt work out, Mr. Stumpf, a 1993 graduate of Thousand Islands Central School, has a few things to fall back on. In January, he received a masters degree in business administration from Syracuse University. This is on top of a masters degree in critical studies in English education that he received in 2000 from Michigan State University. In 1997, he earned a bachelors degree in English literature from SUNY Plattsburgh.
He has been an adjunct English instructor at SUNY Oswego, Utica College and Highline College and he taught in China for a semester in 2004.
His has been a project development manager for the renewable energy company Acciona Energy, developer of the St. Lawrence Wind Farm, and is a licensed real estate agent. He also makes furniture and raises honeybees on his parents farm in Cape Vincent.
He is considering a move back West to be closer to the film industry, but he often goes to New York City to pitch his work there.
Im still looking for something where I can combine all my teaching, business experience and writing, he said.
Some of that writing is based on his life. He was married for seven years to Adams native Laura A. Halfery, now an adjunct instructor at SUNY Oswego.
We were married for a while and then we decided wed be better off as friends, Mr. Stumpf said. Were still good friends. But were friends who had a temporary marriage.
The relationship includes a humorous rapport. Those talks led to the comedy screenplay Annulment, about a recently divorced couple who must get along in order to survive a pandemic. He said the story could be seen as a metaphor for marriage.
Mr. Stumpf said he has met people who are in marriages which they entered blindly and dont seem happy. Those same people, he said, often encourage others to be married.
And yet, people I have talked to say maybe marriage hasnt been the best thing for their relationship, Mr. Stumpf said. Im just kind of playing with that idea. Its a pandemic where everybody is acting mindlessly and they want to spread this infection.
One couple finds refuge in a cottage.
They have to make nice and deal with the situation, Mr. Stumpf said.
The fictional couple uses mettle and moxie to succeed the same traits Mr. Stump is using in his dogged pursuit of screenwriting success.
You just have to make sure everything connects, he said of writing screenplays. I like the challenge of building and connecting everything until it has a satisfying resolution.