Bob Saenz is an actor and writer, best known for Extracurricular Activities (2018), The Right Girl (2015) and Help for the Holidays (2012). I know Bob through a Facebook writing group – and in a community where there are many differing opinions, he acts as a voice of wisdom and is widely respected amongst the community (sorry to make you blush Bob – but it’s true!).
He often speaks up against ‘too many rules in writing’ and his witty one-liners always make me giggle. I was delighted he agreed to an interview so I could learn more about his experience and what he has coming up!
What came first, the acting or the writing?
Acting, actually. I started acting in Junior High School and was making money at in on stage at 17 doing professional stage shows. I met my wife at 22 when I was in the middle of a run in San Francisco in a show called The Fantasticks. I gave it up to be with her and at 40 decided to try again (with her blessing, I might add) and was successful. I got my SAG card pretty quickly and ended up, by pure luck, on a TV show called Nash Bridges for 6 seasons in a VERY small recurring role as a police sergeant. I started writing while working on that show, writing an episode of that show that even though they didn’t buy it, told me I had some skill. So, I wrote my first film script. And optioned it to a studio right away…. It never got made and was a HUGE lesson in Hollywood for me. But that’s another story.
Do you think being an actor gives you an edge over other screenwriters?
Yes. It gives me a feel for dialogue that I think people who haven’t acted wouldn’t have. I think all screenwriters should take an acting class or two. It helps.
I’ve seen you post against too many rules in writing – do you think this stifles creativity?
I think format is the one rule that can’t be broken. I know all the others really don’t exist working in the business as I have. Producers, managers…. They don’t care. They want great stories well told and don’t care how you get there. The “rules” spelt out in screenwriting books by gurus who had no luck selling their own stuff are roadblocks to creativity as far as I’m concerned. How can you be true to your story if you have to shoehorn certain things into certain places? You can’t.
What genre do you like to write for – and why?
My own spec scripts tend to be dark, whether it’s comedy or thrillers or now, horror, I’ve optioned or sold in almost every category. I’m all over the map. I also have written 10 produced Hallmark films. So, that tells you I don’t really stick to any genre. Whatever interests me and where I can come up with a great premise, I’ll write it. I like to write whatever I can sell. It sounds mercenary, but…. I really enjoy the process so much, it doesn’t matter. As long as it’s different and new and I can bring my own voice to it, I’ll try it.
Do you work alone, or with a writing partner? What are the benefits of both?
I’ve written with 3 different people on completed scripts. One writer on 4 scripts, one of which we sold and got made (The Right Girl). Every single one of those experiences was positive and I’d write with any of them again. But…. I knew all the writers before we ever talked about collaborating and they were real friends. We went into the experience knowing each other and with an understanding on how we’d approach the story and the actual writing. The bulk of my original scripts I’ve written alone and the rest of over a dozen sold scripts were solo writing. I like both. I’m writing a new one with one of those partners now and I know it will be a great experience.
What do you recommend to new writers as a good basis to learn the craft?
Read scripts. Read scripts of films you like. See what they did right that you liked. Read scripts of films that you hated. Find out what they did you didn’t like. Read scripts of films you haven’t seen. What do you like? What bothers you? Learn from it. Buy the Screenwriter’s Bible so you have a good format reference book, format is important! Then… experiment. Outline and write a script. Don’t outline and write a script. Try all kinds of things. Use that time to find your unique writing voice. That’s what producers are looking for. A great story told in a voice that doesn’t sound like a cookie-cutter script. Do your research on your topics. Don’t write about stuff until you know what you’re talking about. The list is as long as your arm. But this is a good start.
“Read scripts. Read scripts of films you like. See what they did right that you liked. Read scripts of films that you hated. Find out what they did you didn’t like. Read scripts of films you haven’t seen. What do you like? What bothers you? Learn from it.”
Who are your favourite writers?
You don’t know most of them. They’re writers who are on the cusp of recognition who are my friends and truly outstanding. T.A. Snyder. Amber Alexander. Rantz Hoseley. Amanda Samaroo. Noah Harald. Adam Skelter. Alex Carl. Jeff Willis. Ryan Covington. Jim Kalergis. Mike Sweeney. Then…. Taylor Sheridan. Tony Gilroy… the list is long.
What are your favourite films?
LA Confidential. Strictly Ballroom. Local Hero. Usual Suspects. Any Marx Brothers film.
Would you be tempted to write for theatre?
Absolutely. I’ve been thinking about it.
What’s your next writing project?
I just finished my first horror script and now I’m writing a Christmas movie. (There’s a range for you) and I’m starting another very dark horror film with a writing partner. Plus I have a whiteboard filled with story ideas sitting on the wall of my office I need to get to.
Bob, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions I really appreciate it.
donation made to Cancer Research UK for this interview by way of thanks.