Jack Matosian Winner Of The 2019 Creative Screenwriting Screenplay Contest On “Ice Saki”
After an extended hiatus, and extensive requests from screenwriters like you, Creative Screenwriting Magazine relaunched its dormant screenwriting contest in 2018. As expected, we faced the daunting task of reading, and rereading, the finalists’ screenplays until we had to vote on a winner. That winner was Jack Matosian with his comedy script Ice Saki. In case you were wondering, our like (or dislike) of saki bore zero influence in our voting process. Chicago-domiciled Jack spoke with us to discuss his path to screenwriting victory.
What inspired the idea for Ice Saki?
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.
What if a hockey team actually did bring a sumo wrestler in to play goalie?
Ice Saki showcases what happens to a close-knit sports team when an outsider – in this case from a different country, a different sport, and a different culture — is suddenly thrust into their midst. Therefore, classic sports-themed comedies like Major League and Slapshot certainly were influences, as were iconic fish-out-of-water films like Beverly Hills Cop and Crocodile Dundee.
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. Eventually, this process resulted in Ice Saki being named the Grand Prize Winner in the 2018 Creative Screenwriting Screenplay Contest.
Describe the style of comedy of Ice Saki
In all of my screenplays, I attempt to create situations that are not only funny, but that also enhance the story or provide insight into my characters. As one example, there is a scene in Ice Saki where the grizzled, veteran goalie is relaxing in the whirlpool, eyes closed, enjoying an invigorating massage. That is, until it sinks in that a massage isn’t customary in the team whirlpool. He opens his eyes and he is horrified to see that the massage is being administered by the sumo wrestler. The veteran is angry at the violation of his personal space. The sumo wrestler is embarrassed that his show of respect to the senior player has backfired. It’s a humorous scene that also serves to demonstrate the marked difference between the culture of hockey and the culture of sumo, a major theme in the screenplay.
What research did you do for the screenplay?
Most of my research centered on the sport of Japanese sumo wrestling, which I knew very little about prior to writing this screenplay. But the more I found out, the better it was for my story. The hierarchical culture of sumo, where younger wrestlers don’t question the judgment of their stable masters and are humbly subservient to the higher-ranked wrestlers, served as a nice contrast to the perceived “me-first” attitude of many professional athletes here in the U.S. and Canada.
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. Many people might assume that they possess the courage and fortitude to react accordingly when required. 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 with such choices throughout the story.
What were the most difficult aspects of writing this screenplay?
The hardest thing for me was to write a sports comedy that wasn’t formulaic. The story of a team that “needs to win the big game” is bordering on cliché, so I was constantly aware that writing Ice Saki required a fresh take on a familiar tale. The other big issue I faced was writing a story that was as realistic as possible. Bringing in a sumo wrestler as a hockey goalie could have played out as a farce, which was not my intent. I wanted viewers to believe that this story actually could happen in the way that I told it.
How many drafts did you write and how did each draft become better?
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 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.
Were there any scenes you removed and why?
In my initial draft I had a scene toward the end of the screenplay where the sumo wrestler demonstrates his new-found independence by announcing that he was leaving the team and returning to Japan. I decided to remove this scene as it was a dagger in the heart of the team chemistry that had taken so long to build, and which had culminated in their successful comeback. I found another way to reveal that the sumo wrestler had learned how to make his own choices, without necessitating his departure.
Outside of writing, what inspires your creativity?
Reading, exercising and listening to music.
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.
As for exercise, I find bike rides to be a great way to relax and clear my head. There are a host of well-maintained bike paths close to where I live that provide a nice escape. But because I live in the Chicago area, biking is limited to about half the year, so I also own a rowing machine. Not quite the same scenery, but still a nice way to blow off some steam. And I enjoy listening to music while I write. Hearing familiar songs that I love relaxes me, which boosts my creativity.
How do you stay inspired in this industry?
I think it helps to have the perspective that writing something good may not necessarily be good enough. 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.
Therefore, 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, including the Creative Screenwriting Screenplay Contest, keeps me motivated.
What is happening with Ice Saki now?
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.
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