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Interview with David Schaub - co-writer and audiobook producer:
Tell us about your book! What is it about and what inspired you to write it?
SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN WILD is a paranormal adventure in the spirit of a Twilight Zone episode. It was written as a screenplay for an animated feature. From there it was adapted as an audio drama, along with an illustrated Kindle release. It was my story partner Roger Vizard who originally pitched me the idea for a buddy film with our version of Luke Skywalker and a crotchety old ghost who refused to believe he was dead. It was mostly a character premise with some great drawings and situational gags. We kicked ideas around between ourselves about where the story could go, and ultimately decided to join forces to see if we could shape it into a fully executed screenplay that would sustain itself as an animated feature. It was the characters that inspired us, and that’s what drove everything down the story path.
Tell us about your publishing process. What was it like? Did you go indie or the traditional way?
I should start by saying that there was never really an intention to publish at all. This project was written as a screenplay, destined to produce as an animated feature at some point.
When Roger moved onto another animation gig, I decided to keep chipping away at the next steps toward production. I had the crazy idea of producing it as an audiobook to make it super-easy for studio execs to absorb on their commute. No reading required -- just straight-up entertainment for the listener. Self-funding a film obviously wasn't an option, but since I was looking for something to direct, I figured I could certainly produce an audio drama! It was also a great opportunity to demonstrate my directing chops with actors, bringing the story to life in a way that the written page alone could never achieve.
Once the audio was completed, I was informed by Amazon that a print (or Kindle) version had to be released before the audio version could be approved. Unfortunately, Kindle doesn’t offer a solution to display screenplays in their native format, which is a strict standard by industry definition. But I finally arrived at a formatting solution that seems to work pretty well.
With the Kindle version out there, not only can you follow along with the audio, but you also get a first-hand account of how the audio adaptation evolved from the written screenplay. It was also a convenient way to share some of the artwork that Roger and I have collaborated on along the way.
How did you choose the title for your book? Did it come to you right away, before you started writing it, or did it come later?
There have been several working-titles for this production along the way. We settled on SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN WILD after the title itself weaved its way into the fabric of the story. But I’m open to new ideas and happy to adapt as needed – from the working title to plot-points.
Tell us about the cover design process. Did you have a basic idea of what your book cover would be like?
I always had the general concept in mind. I believe the cover is a hugely important when it comes to marketing, especially since books are judged by their covers…. like it or not! And movies are judged by their posters and one-sheets. That’s why we produced a “movie-poster” for our screenplay long before talks of a production plan of any sort. With so much content out there, you’ve really got to do everything in your power to grab the audience by the throat and shake ‘em like a rag-doll! There is so much competing media begging for everyone's attention..
Our cover spells out everything you need to know about the characters and tone of the story. I’m a huge fan of the Drew Struzan movie-poster art, and the layout is inspired by the layout/ composition of his posters. Having a poster on display (whether developing or pitching) makes the project seem “real” somehow. It gives everyone a clear picture what the final product could be in both tone and style. Conveniently, the poster is also the same aspect as the Kindle book requirements, and easily adapted to a square format (like a CD) for the audiobook.
Who is your cover designer and how did you find him/her?
It was designed between Roger and myself. I did the layout in the style of the Drew Struzen compositions, and Roger fleshed out the line drawings of the characters. Then I picked it up again to do final painting and rendering.
I can’t tell you how many versions we went through before capturing the spirit of this story in its simplest form. There are some quirky and elusive references embedded in there. No spoilers - just subtle hints that become illuminated after you hear the story. I say HEAR it – because that’s the best way to experience it.
What tips would you give to authors who are looking for a cover designer?
We never really considered looking elsewhere for a designer. We had already produced so much artwork in the form of beat-boards and story-panels – which are all published in the Kindle Edition of the screenplay. The cover design was just a logical extension of what we had already done.
Anything else you’d like to say about your project?
While this story is framed up as a “Western,” that’s really just the package for a deeper story of loyalty, redemption, and the final ascension that occurs when our destiny is done. [Sergio] Leone said the same about his films – “they are westerns only in their exterior aspects. Within them are truths that belong to all parts of the world… not just the American West.” Using the Western genre as the backdrop, we can strip away contemporary distractions and focus on the simpler story and common truths at the heart of it all. After all, Star Wars is really just a John Ford western at its core - specifically - The Searchers (1956).
We are going to keep kicking this project down the road, with the goal of eventually making this film. I have an Instagram feed for anyone interested in following the journey:
It's been fun posting the twists, turns and writing inspiration as we go. I’m sure there will be lots of discoveries, insights and takeaways on the bumpy road ahead. Please follow, and enjoy the ride!
David Schaub is a writer and Academy Award ® nominated Animation Supervisor working in the film industry for more than 25 years. He is the co-writer of SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN WILD (screenplay), and produced and directed the audio adaptation now on Audible.com. He also developed STORY COMPASS® smartphone app for screenwriters in 2016.
Schaub received Oscar nomination for animation in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Disney), along with nominations for BAFTA Award, Saturn Award and Critic’s Choice Award, and won the Golden Satellite Award for Best Visual Effects for his team’s work on the film. He was HEAD ANIMATION on Sony Picture’s SURFS UP – recognized with two Annie Awards among its ten nominations including Academy Award nomination and four Visual Effects Society (VES) award nominations.
ANIMATION DIRECTOR on AMAZING SPIDERMAN 2 (2014), CHRONICLES OF NARNIA (Disney), I AM LEGEND (Warner Bros.) and LEAD ANIMATOR on STUART LITTLE 1 & 2, EVOLUTION, CAST AWAY, GODZILLA, PATCH ADAMS and more.
ANIMATION DIRECTOR – Universal’s award-winning JURASSIC WORLD EXPEDITION (2019) VR EXPERIENCE. Exploring cinematic potential of virtual reality.
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