Jack Matosian Talks “Ice Saki”
Jack Matosian is one of ISA’s Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2020. He is an award-winning screenwriter, with writing credits for the Disney Channel, who is motivated by his desires to make people think and to make people laugh. With his screenplays, Jack explores questions that he (and likely many others) have pondered over the years: “What if I woke up tomorrow with a great singing voice?” “What if people lived forever, without having to worry about aging, getting sick or falling off a cliff?” “What if a hockey team really did bring in a sumo wrestler to play goalie?”
What was the script that won you a spot on the ISA Top 25 Writers To Watch and what is it about?
My script Ice Saki, the Grand Prize Winner of the 2019 Creative Screenwriting Screenplay Contest is about an equipment manager who inherits a struggling minor league hockey team and seeks to turn around its fortunes – and his own – by bringing in a massive 450-pound Japanese sumo wrestler to play goalie.
What inspired your story and why do you think it resonated with the judges?
A few years ago, I went to a Chicago Blackhawks hockey game with some friends and as I’m watching the action down on the ice, I said, “Why doesn’t a team put a sumo wrestler in goal? He’d probably take up every inch of space and they’re good athletes. Nobody could get a puck past him.” Everybody just laughed, but that thought served as the inspiration for the screenplay.
I think it resonated with the judges because the screenplay takes an entertaining, yet thoughtful, look at what would happen if a hockey team actually did bring in a sumo wrestler as goalie.
What are you exploring thematically in your screenplay?
The main message of Ice Saki is that to be successful in life, sometimes you need to step outside of your comfort zone and take risks. No one else may believe in you, and you may subject yourself to ridicule, but you need to believe in yourself and pursue the course of action that you deem appropriate. It may or may not work out, but you can at least take comfort in the fact that you did what you thought was right.
What aspects of your life experience found their way into the story?
I wrote Ice Saki to prompt viewers to consider whether or not they would act similarly to my protagonist, the sumo wrestler and other characters who are confronted throughout the story with opportunities to take risks. Likewise, I relied on my experiences in taking chances in my own life, including the risks associated with trying to get established as a screenwriter.
How did you approach the writing process?
Starting with the concept of “sumo wrestler as hockey goalie,” my next step was to figure out whose story I was telling and what his or her story was going to be. I decided early on that the sumo wrestler, while he was a key character, was not my protagonist. I wanted someone to whom more people could easily relate. So, I ended up selecting the longtime equipment manager, who unexpectedly inherits the team when the owner dies during another losing season.
But what was the story I wanted to tell? After a great deal of thought, I decided to write about what happens to an ordinary person who is suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation. How does a blue-collar, single dad of a teenaged son respond when he unexpectedly becomes the owner of a minor league hockey team? A team that no one — media, players, coaches, fans, his family or he, himself — thinks that he is qualified to run?
Once I knew who my protagonist was and the story that I wanted to tell, the next step was to outline my screenplay, figuring out where I wanted the story to start, where I wanted it to end, and what the key plot points were going to be along the way. Who were the other key characters, what were the relationships and how did this move the story from beginning to end? From that point on, it was simply a lot of writing, along with coverage from people who could provide me with brutally honest, knowledgeable and actionable feedback.
What feedback did you get during development and how did it contour subsequent iterations of your story?
I wrote four major drafts, with several revisions along the way. After each major draft, I sent the screenplay out for coverage to an industry professional whom I had gotten to know and respect. Of course, I was glad to hear when something was working well, but even more important was the feedback I received on things that weren’t working. If I agreed with a particular assessment, I would contemplate the best way to make the change, without compromising the screenplay’s overall theme. Each draft improved by tightening scenes, ensuring that the action and dialog were best serving the story I was ultimately trying to tell.
What personal qualities do successful screenwriters need to make it?
Successful screenwriters, of course, need to possess the ability to tell stories in a manner that can, at a minimum, entertain, and, ideally, inspire an audience. But persistence is probably even more important than talent when it comes to making it as a screenwriter.
What misconceptions have you discovered about establishing a screenwriting career?
That writing good screenplays is good enough. As Dorothy Parker said, “Hollywood is the only place on earth where you can die from encouragement.” Somebody has to love what you’ve written and believe that it can result in a profitable movie. And that somebody needs to be able to get your screenplay produced or get it into the hands of someone who can.
Other than writing, how do you train and improve your writing craft?
Reading. Ironically, I read almost exclusively non-fiction, particularly books about history and psychology. Reading about events that have shaped our world and how people acted or reacted throughout history gets my creative juices flowing. Likewise, understanding how people think and what makes them act the way they do serves as inspiration for how my characters act in my screenplays.
Do you have any mentors, heroes or heroines?
A writer, consultant and former studio executive, who I met early on in my screenwriting career, is one of the few people whose knowledgeable opinions and genuine honesty I have come to rely upon. It’s reassuring to have that kind of resource available during the ongoing writing process.
What inspires your screenwriting?
I am motivated by the desire to make people think and to make people laugh through the stories that I tell. I only write screenplays that mean something to me. I need to have a personal interest in what I’m writing about. So, that if a script never gets produced, at least I hopefully enjoyed the process of writing it. At the same time, I am specifically writing screenplays to see them made into movies that audiences want to see. Along the way, affirmation from people in the industry keeps me motivated.
What is the current status of your project?
Discussions are ongoing, but, as of right now, I am still seeking to finalize a deal with the right partner to bring Ice Saki to the screen.
What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s ISA Top 25 list?
Make sure that your screenplay is the best that it can possibly be. Again, I think that it helps to have the perspective that writing something good is not necessarily good enough.
What is something that few people know about you?
When I was a teenager, I worked as a backstage security guard at Milwaukee’s Summerfest music festival. During that unforgettable week, I handed Chuck Berry his guitar, talked with the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson about (the lack of) surfing on Lake Michigan, held a blanket over Joan Baez during a rain shower and reassured James Taylor that it was okay he had forgotten to dedicate a song as I had requested.
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