Finding the Right Script
Genie-nominated screenwriter honed his craft in George Brown courses
In the mid-1990s, David Shamoon was enjoying success at the helm of his own advertising agency. But he had always been a big film buff and had long been interested in trying to write a screenplay. It wasn't until he saw a televised interview with Paul Newman, though, that he found his inspiration.
“When they asked him why he hadn't made another film with Robert Redford, his answer was simple,” David recalls. “He said, 'We'd love to, but we haven't found the right script.' Something clicked for me. I believed I was going to write their next script.”
And he got to work right away, writing a screenplay intended for the pair who had made Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid legends of the silver screen. When it was done, David brought the script to a story editor to find out if he had any ability. Yes, the editor told him, there was “something” to the script, but he needed to learn more about screenwriting.
Taking that advice is how David originally ended up in a Continuing Education class at George Brown College. Because he was still running his advertising firm by day, being able to take Screenwriting I – Write Your Own Screenplay in the evening was a perfect match with his schedule. But the real match came when David met his teacher, Nika Rylski.
“She is well-known in the writing community as a fantastic teacher who is very tough and takes a no-nonsense approach – and that is definitely true,” David says. “She was the one who made me realize that screenwriting is a craft. The art of it, you have to have in you. But actually writing the screenplay is different and requires a specific framework.”
In the class, David worked on a thriller that eventually landed him his first agent. Although the script was never picked up, the course gave David the encouragement he needed to keep going.
A few years after finishing the course, David was still working in advertising when he sold his first option for a script idea he'd had. (This meant a producer had purchased the exclusive right to buy the resulting screenplay at a later date.) He soon registered for George Brown's Screenwriting II course, which had a workshop style that was perfect for helping him develop the script.
“We had to critique each other's work,” David says, “which makes you raise your game. You don't want to be embarrassed. It's great preparation because, in the real world, you will get ripped to shreds.”
Since then, David has received industry recognition for his work. In 2003, David read about the true story of Leopold Socha, a sewer worker in Nazi-occupied Poland who saved a group of Jews by hiding them in the sewer system. He was so inspired, he optioned the rights to a book about it and turned that into the screenplay for In Darkness. He received a Genie nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film, which also earned a Best Foreign Language Film nomination at the 2012 Oscars.
With the success of In Darkness, his work on the script for the upcoming comedy Taking Off and his inclusion as a guest speaker at the 2012 Toronto Screenwriting Conference, David seems set in his new career. Yet, he recognizes he is still learning and that it is learning that has made one of the biggest impacts on his new career.
“Screenwriting is one of the toughest arts to do,” he says. “You only have action and dialogue. It's very restrictive. The courses I took at George Brown gave me confidence but also tools and freedom – the tools to navigate a screenplay but the freedom to experiment. I would recommend them to anybody.”