After losing her job, a kindhearted man consoles a young woman in Central Park. But upon their next visitation, his life is forever changed—from unforeseen circumstances. The Letter is an award winning short script. It is written by Brett Howard Nelson.
Brett Howard Nelson is a multi-award-winning screenwriter and photographer. He has a creative and diverse background in photography, graphic design, and creative writing. In his spare time, he’s a websleuther of true crimes and unsolved mysteries. In February 2021, Brett made his television debut as himself on the TV series "WHERE MURDER LIES," on Discovery+ and Investigation Discovery channel. He is a native of Seattle, Washington, and currently resides in the Seattle area. His scripts have won many awards from all over the world. It is our pleasure to interview him for Toronto Film Magazine.
What draws you to writing scripts?
Storytelling and creative writing have always been influential aspects in my life, especially from the love of film and television at a young age. And I was always intrigued by what made a good story great—whether it was from a film or book. They inspired my imagination to craft creative ideas and develop my own stories from thereon. But now, as an adult, what draws me even more to writing scripts is the pure excitement and risk of creating new stories to tell—their concepts, originality, and putting it all together, the plot, character development, and implementing the overall foundational structure.
How and when did you start studying screenwriting?
I'm a self-taught screenwriter and started screenwriting in the late 1990s when transitioning out of the film/TV industry as a professional actor. As a trained actor since childhood, reading and analyzing stage plays and screenplays came naturally like breathing. My first feature-length screenplay also got me representation with a manager. And my scripts had first-look reads with a producer with MGM at the time. But because the post 9/11 years were difficult for screenwriters and storytelling, I left writing and went out into the world and experienced life. I worked different jobs unrelated to the film industry. It allowed me to experience many things, which have made me a stronger writer. As of early 2021, I returned to screenwriting after 17 years. I published the short story for The Letter and wrote the screenplay. Then, I started entering it and various other scripts in contests. Before I knew it, they all became instant multi-award-winners on the Summer 2021 film festival circuit, even currently, and the scripts will continue their film fest run into 2022.
What makes screenwriting stand out to you in the language of cinema?
For me, it is about having an idea that becomes a story, and it evolves into a vision of absolute certainty, formulated into a working, tangible form of expression on the blank page. It's a breath that gives life to the script and its existence.
Do you ever plan to direct or produce one of your scripts?
Yes, I do have plans to direct my scripts. I have met with several directors for The Letter. They are all strong contenders, but several industry colleagues have recently said I should direct the short film myself. I do have the training, skills, and experience to work with actors. And being an award-winning photographer, I have a keen eye for creative vision and details. But because of my passion for The Letter and being the writer who fully understands the intricacies of the story and its sensitive subject matter, I feel I would be the best person to direct the project. I’m even open to co-directing as well. Doing so would allow me to work with a talented cinematographer and a phenomenal cinematic composer, two individuals officially attached to the project. But we need a professional, reputable producer too. Someone who is just as passionate about the story as we are. Overall, the script is currently a 15-time award-winner for Best Short Screenplay—all within six months on the film festival circuit. And two of those accolades are Cannes film festival wins. As the writer and possible director for this short script, I plan to bring together a dream team of high-caliber filmmakers and create a short film we can present and premiere at the Festival de Cannes and follow that with a run on the film festival circuit. Since the script received Cannes accolades, I know in my heart that the short film, with the right production team, can achieve the same results. The cinematographer and composer are ready. We need a producer! And myself as director!
Tell us more about The Letter and the inspiration behind the writing of your script.
The Letter was inspired by a true case that happened in Seattle, Washington in 1996 when a young woman checked into a boutique hotel and took her life. Sadly, to this day, she has never been identified. In her hotel room, she had many belongings that suggested she had been in a relationship that might have ended too soon or without her knowledge. From the clues left behind, she might have been in town to meet someone, and perhaps they never arrived. From my research, I got the impression she may have been visiting a local park a few days before her death. And another inspirational story element was the stock market crash of 2009 that affected some of my friends and co-workers, who lost their jobs. With all those elements and the fictional reversal of details, I wrote The Letter: A Dramatic Short Story a year later in 2010 and presented the logline: After losing her job, a kindhearted man consoles a young woman in Central Park. But upon their next visitation, his life is forever changed—from unforeseen circumstances. It was written and intended to feel like a stage play, symbolic of the classic Greek tragedy with three characters: Man, Woman, and the Lady in the Grey Dress. I chose not to give them names because we're seeing a small amount of time within a year. I wasn’t too sure at first if it would work, but it does for the characters of Man and Woman. Even though we don’t know much about them, they are still very much welldefined in the moment. Using the "less is more" approach proved beneficial because it has produced a thought-provoking process from readers, pondering the thought of who they could be, where they’re from, what they do for a living, etc. In a sense, a little mystery doesn’t hurt anyone, not even these characters. Several creative colleagues were very touched during their first read of the short story. Some said they were in tears by the time they finished the eight-page piece. It is a tragic tale centered around mental health awareness. Specifically, the silent killer that is depression and suicide. It's one that readers can relate from having prior experiences in their own lives at one time or another, with the issues that are the central theme of the story. While those elements play a pivotal role in the theme, ‘regretful remorse' follows suit from the many missed warnings and signals that lead to suicide. Some could argue a character's ignorance, but there is a deeper realization, a further examination due to lack of education and understanding in the awareness of the symptoms of depression and signs of suicide. From the reader feedback of the short story, I realized that I had something special. And I knew right away it would be the perfect contender as a short screenplay. After returning to screenwriting, I finally self-published the short story on Amazon in April 2021, but the screenplay wasn’t completed until the end of May.
What were some of the challenges of writing your script and the research that went into it?
All the research I did in 2009 for the short story was the same. But writing the short script in March 2021 certainly was a challenge. The overall visualization of it all in my mind was clear, but the actual writing process proved otherwise. Right away, the challenge was the adaptation of the short story itself. Halfway through the first draft, I realized the problems were evident from the beginning. The reason was that the short story is presented, perceived, and told as a tragic, memorable event one year later. The character of Man recollects the events through his narrative voice. Because of his narrative, the character of Woman never speaks. And while writing the screenplay, Man’s narrative became excessive voice-over dialogue. I feared he would become more of an actual narrator than a lead character. And it was to the point I had to remind myself of the rule: "show—don’t tell." But I knew the short story worked well without breaking that rule too. I took a break from the script for about a month to creatively focus on the needed changes. During that time, I realized I needed to lessen the voice-over of Man and utilize something that wasn’t in the short story—the dialogue of Woman. I knew if I could incorporate her with dialogue, the Man’s voice-over would become a perfect balance of "less is more." All while having the two characters exchange dialogue throughout the first act. And I knew Woman’s dialogue would be truthful and honest to the short story without altering or losing its heart and soul. So writing a second draft with the new creative choices implemented, the short script came together flawlessly. And the finished draft kept the heart of the story and even emphasized it just a little more with the added dialogue. After some feedback, the short script was an acceptable final draft that I felt good about. Three days later, I entered it before the late deadline in its first film festival. And one week later, it won Best Screenplay Short. I was thrilled—knowing all my creative choices and formulaic intricacies were effective and successful.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a writer?
My cinematic goal and achievement as a writer are the same: To produce and direct all my scripts!
What kind of impact would your work have in the world as a writer?
As a writer, I’ve noticed that I can emphasize the awareness of subjects and issues that affect many in the world. No matter how big or small they may be. And no matter what genre I write—drama or comedy, there is always a clear, defining, impactful message for everyone, everywhere.
What is your most favorite cinematic genre and which themes are important to you in your scripts?
As a writer, that’s tough to answer because I have several genres that I write in that are cinematic favorites. But at the top of my list, it’s drama. And I seem to gravitate toward the important theme of "perseverance," and witnessing the transition, transformation, and journey of the character through their arc. There’s something gratifying to me about it. And not just for drama, but comedy too. In fact, perseverance is the theme for my current feature-length comedy about my experiences in Corporate America. Other themes important to me include family drama (even in comedy), justice, coming of age, death, and humanity vs. technology.
Contact info: Email: email@example.com
FilmFreeway Page: www.filmfreeway.com/bretthowardnelson
Official Screenwriting Website: www.bretthowardnelson.com
Amazon: Read The Letter: A Dramatic Short Story on Amazon Kindle