“Movies In Chapters” Marc Maurino Talks “#FreeRayShawn” on Quibi
Quibi is the brand new platform on the streaming block. Defined by showing films in five to ten minute sequential daily “quick bites” on mobile devices, it has generated immense interest. It can either be viewed as a gamechanger for storytelling, a gimmick, or another avenue for content creators to show their wares. One of their films, #FreeRayShawn, is streaming on the platform. It tells the riveting story of a young, black Iraq War veteran (Stefan James) who finds himself in a showdown with a New Orleans SWAT team and tries to talk his way out of the situation with the help of a sympathetic officer Steven Poincy (Laurence Fishburne) he went to school with.
The screenwriter of #FreeRayShawn, Marc Maurino, believes good stories will always thrive regardless of platform.
Maurino mulled the idea behind #FreeRayShawn for many years before it found a home on Quibi.”This wasn’t based on a true story or an IP. It was based on an anecdotal story about police responding to a barricade situation where the suspect looked out the window and recognized one of the cops as someone he went to high school with. He insisted that this was the only person he would negotiate with.”
#FreeRayShawn explores the juxtaposition of a short physical distance with a vast emotional one and making that connection. As a screenwriter, Maurino examined what story possibilities he could explore to strengthen this story and enhance the challenges that Rayshawn faced.
Writing From Personal Experience
Many screenwriters are instructed to “write what they know.” Most screenwriters haven’t experienced Rayshawn’s predicament. They haven’t been caught in a bad drug deal nor have they barricaded themselves in their apartment and insist on choosing their negotiators. Maurino is no different.
Maurino stated that this anecdotal story did not direct intersect with any of his life experiences. Yet the story still stuck with him after many years. He examined what #Freerayshawn meant to him.
“It was a matter of exploring things that were relevant to me emotionally, culturally, narratively.” The crime genre relies heavily on non-stop action to propel its narrative. For Marc Maurino, it was more about developing the character. “How can these characters’ meaningful, honest, and authentic actions and feelings drive the narrative.” This separates the good action films from the great.
The highly-charged, shifting emotional states of Rayshawn and Poincy deeply resonated with Maurino which inspired him to write #FreeRayShawn in the first place. “I’ve been humbled. I’ve lost things. I’ve made drastic mistakes. I’ve hurt people. I’ve had to reckon with all these things. I’ve learned from them.” The experience of being a man who has been through this allowed Maurino to vicariously write a character like Steven Poincy who’s struggled and failed. This is in essence, a personal story told through a different narrative.
“Look under the hood of your own life and your own experience and inform your characters’ deeply humanistic elements and learnings. You can fashion your narrative around that. We can be writers that mine the depths of our own experience in vulnerable and meaningful ways and bring them alive in our characters.”
What Is Quibi?
#FreeRayShawn was originally written as a feature screenplay. There was never a consideration for #FreeRayshawn to be anything other than a feature. That’s not how the original screenplay was designed. That is, until Quibi extended a welcoming invitation to producer Antoine Fuqua. Together with Marc Maurino, they figured out how to reshape the story into “chapters. ”
It was a quick decision and six months later #FreeRayShawn was in production in New Orleans. “As a writer, it was a ‘yes’ to the unknown.”
The Quibi new format was new and exciting and quickly attracted Maurino to accept the challenge. “As writers, we need to be trailblazers,” he said. Digital streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video were once “new and exciting” and are now are a common feature of our viewing lives.
This storytelling parameter forced Maurino to crack open his hundred and twenty-page screenplay and figure out where the natural breaks occurred in the storytelling at around the ten-minute mark that would create a cliffhanger and story and character arcs.
“I broke down the screenplay into blocks of six to ten pages and figured out where that most exciting moment was going to be,” said the screenwriter. This process forced Marc to re-examine his script as a, “Holistic whole through new eyes to look for that gut punch that would push the audience to the edge. Quibi forced me to get more surgical and incisive with my screenwriting.”
The novel approach to screenwriting encourages screenwriters to write with a great deal of specificity and economy while carefully curating each scene on the page.
Despite adding some new storytelling techniques to his wheelhouse, Marc Maurino defines himself as “format agnostic.” Although he is quick to dive into new platforms, he won’t see them as a gimmick. “I want to tell stories about human beings that are struggling, that are striving. I want to hold the mirror up to nature.”
Writing The Crime Genre
Marc Maurino has focused his work on the crime genre throughout most of his career. We asked him what attracts him to the genre.
“Crime is a hothouse of the human experience. We all make decisions that affect our lives in big ways. It is oftentimes subtle.”
“People live. People die. Millions are made. Millions are lost. Morals are compromised. Morals are upheld. People escape. People are hurt.”
According to the screenwriter, crime stories have four major players that drive the narrative:
- the bad guy/ girl
- the victim
- the witness
- the cop/ law enforcement
These elements create an environment that is well-suited to cinema, “Filled with action and propulsive narrative.” Crime stories depict a heightened reality. The stakes are high, often a simple dichotomy of life and death.
The beauty of crime films is that they bend the constraints of morality. Few situations neatly lie at the extremities of right or wrong. Maurino loves exploring the vast gray area in between.
Crime also explores the question of shifting loyalties. Who’s on which side of the coin at any given point in time?
Marc Maurino accepts that a scrreenwriting career can be difficult to build and sustain. “Writers can control quality on the page. Most of everything else is luck.”
He advises screenwriters to be relentless, rigorous, and in constant pursuit of learning, life experience and exercising the mechanics of writing. Writers should workshop their scripts, accept criticism and keep doing the work. Eventually, your screenplay will find its time and someone will notice.
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