Q&A: "Bandit" Screenwriter Kraig Wenman

Kraig Wenman
Kraig Wenman

Kraig Wenman is an InkTip member with over a decade of industry experience and dozens of writing credits to his name. His newest film Bandit is a crime thriller starring Mel Gibson, Josh Duhamel, and Elisha Cuthbert. We spoke with Kraig about his writing career, experiences, and advice he has for writers trying to break in. 

Can you provide a brief bio about your writing background and when you decided to pursue a career in the film industry?

In the 6th grade, I had a teacher named Mr. Aramini who said if I stopped being the class clown, he’d give me five minutes at the end of the class to get up and entertain everyone. So instead of just getting up and improving, I began writing short stories with different classmates as the characters. The laughs provided instant gratification, and I fell in love with storytelling right then and there. Then in 9th grade, Mrs. Wallace taught me how to do those “brain blurbs” for outlining, which I still use today. It wasn’t until I took a grammar course in university that someone next to me said they were going to film school, and I was like, “They teach you that sh*t?” So, I left university immediately and enrolled in Vancouver Film School.

How did you find out about InkTip?

I remember researching every service for anything screenwriting related, and after I found that most contests didn’t really do anything to advance me, I started on InkTip. It was the first thing that worked. It was great as an outsider in Vancouver, Canada having companies in Hollywood downloading my work, optioning it, then making my twisted little tales into movies that put swimming pools in their backyards.

You have used InkTip’s service since our doors opened over 20 years ago. What about the service keeps you coming back?

It’s a great way to meet new people. Our industry thrives on new people, companies, and voices coming into the industry. Sometimes you’ll meet people who are crossing over to different areas of film, say an agent starting a production company or a famous producer looking for a script to make their directorial debut. It’s a place to network, connect, and the best way to find out what the ever-shifting market is looking for. InkTip’s newsletter has great leads that they send out weekly of companies looking for specific scripts, genres, budgets etc.

You’ve had close to 30 produced films and TV movies from connections through InkTip. What is your favorite part of the experience of watching your script come to life?

While I’m fairly dead inside, it’s always great to be on set and hear your words spoken and seeing how the actors interpret the dialogue. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking. But even on its worst day, writing is still the best job I can think of (and really the only thing I can do).

In an interview you gave with your alma mater Vancouver Film School, you mentioned that early in your career you had two offers on a script, one had financing but wasn’t sure if they could make it within the next year and another was offering you less but could shoot it in two months. Why was the decision to go with the smaller offer the better decision for you at the time?

A produced feature credit is worth its weight in gold. Even if it’s the worst film ever (mine was), it shows companies that you can go the distance, take the punches, and get back up and deliver a knockout. Or at least a draw. While I regret the movie itself, I don’t regret the choice of getting that first one made. For it opened doors for me that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere. I meet so many writers that have scripts optioned and even ones that live off that option money (myself included the first few years), that don’t have a produced credit. And because of that, they don’t get writing assignments on other projects, which is most of the films that get made. In short, get your film shot by any means necessary as long as it’s semi-legal.

Since then, the budgets for the films you write have grown. As a writer, do you still keep production costs in mind when writing scenes? Has your approach to writing changed?

I still think in the “big idea, little movie” space. Keep the amount of locations down, the helicopter chases to a minimum, and focus on keeping your idea high-concept. Especially with that first film, think of how you can keep it to 1-3 locations, preferably all takes place in one day, with high stakes for your main character.

With dozens of films to your name, where do you find inspiration for your scripts?

Headlines and human interaction. Most writers stay in a cave, but you have to get out there to live, meet the weird people, hear their stories, make really poor life choices. Bad decisions always make better stories. You can’t write about life if you’re not out living one. But as Picasso says, “Inspiration has to find you working.” So don’t wait around for that inspiration or you’ll be waiting forever. If ideas aren’t coming to you, force them. Try different writing exercises. I always uses “What if…” and write down all the fantasies I can think of. It starts simple and as you continue to come up with more it will inevitably get deeper, more complicated, and hopefully deranged in some cool way. The only thing that separates one writer from the next is their own personal take on the world, which is from the life you’ve lived. Go be weird. Start driving somewhere without a map. Your stories will thank you for it.

What films have influenced you as a writer and how?

I love anything where you can hear the writer’s voice very clearly (as it often gets watered down through the filmmaking process). Clerks, Swingers, Tarantino, anything dialogue-heavy that almost reads like a play is what I like. I see life as a tragic comedy, so I find I’m drawn to anything that combines elements of humor and darkness. Fight Club is always my go to, along with American Psycho, Natural Born Killers, Thank You for Smoking, and anything that’s just a little bit off of the social norms and/or plays with filmic reality. And as dark as those are, I’m still going to be quoting Anchorman, Caddyshack, Cable Guy, Life of Brian, Superbad, or The Big Lebowski daily. It’s all about that balance of the light and the dark. Scare me then make me laugh uncontrollably, all the while making sure there’s a little heart in the story somewhere. I mean The Notebook is one of the greatest love stories of all time in my eyes. But so is Micky and Mallory in Natural Born Killers.

Your latest release, Bandit, was adapted from the book The Flying Bandit: Bringing Down Canada’s Most Daring Armed Robber that you optioned. What advice do you have for writers tackling the process of adapting work?

Bandit was the passion project everyone told me not to write. Even my then managers said, this won’t sell for any reason. But you have to follow your heart. So, when I learned that the urban legend I’d heard about in my youth was actually real, I had to track down the book and then the real criminal (and now friend Gilbert Galvan, Jr.) to hear the stories first hand.

Book adaptations can be tough because things that often work in the book don’t always translate to film. My technical advice would be to read the book all the way through without making any notes. Once you’re done with the book, pick out 6-7 things you remember, and without going back into the book write them down. If those are the scenes you remember best from the book, it will be what your audience remembers most about the movie.

Me personally, I always like to know how it ends before I start writing, so I’ll usually write the last scene first, so I have something to go towards. But everyone’s process is different. There’s not one way to do anything. I would also ask the book author for their outline and/or chapter summaries to keep the overview simple as thousands of pages can feel overwhelming at times.

Josh Duhamel and Elisha Cuthbert in "Bandit"

A few companies turned down Bandit before the script found the right director and production company. What helped you stay tenacious with this project?

Everyone turned down Bandit, specifically because it was set in Canada. “No one wants to see Canadian stories globally” was the common vibe I got (they were wrong, as it hit number one on streamers everywhere around the world). But your dreams aren’t going to chase you, so if you have that passion project, don’t stop. You have to believe in yourself or no one else will. You can write other projects to pay your rent along the way but keep pushing that passion project too. It’s really just persistence, not just in Bandit, but in all my career that keeps me working and my bar tab paid.

With Bandit specifically, after everyone had passed, we tried a different angle finding a director first. My agent connected me with a few, but it was Allan Ungar, a fellow Canadian, who, like me, writes and works with a global audience in mind. We both were tired of people telling us we’re less important because we’re Canadian. So, it became very much a “let’s show those assholes how wrong they are.” In short, spite was part of what drove us. We polished up the script and took it to another fellow Canadian Eric Gozlan at Goldrush Entertainment, who is always interested in a true crime story and the fact it was Canadian was a bonus. He had just done a true crime film with Josh Hartnett called Most Wanted that featured a Canadian journalist, so it was a natural fit. In short, find your gang and make sure it’s a tough one because there will always be a brawl waiting.

Please tell us about your writing process - from outlining to knowing when your script is ready to market.

My process starts with that 9th grade brainstorm-blurb, then I go to index cards. I keep the cards basic at first and build from there. If I’ve written my one sentence logline properly, my basic structure is already there. My formula is: main character + what they must accomplish + what’s at stake if they don’t accomplish it. I always go back to that basic Independence Day idea of “Will Smith must fight aliens to save the world from destruction.” It’s simple and can be used for everything from the biggest blockbuster to the smallest indie film. In the indie film the stakes are just as high, they’re usually just more personal obstacles/life changing moments rather than physical extraterrestrials. Basically, I just put my main character up in a tree and keep throwing rocks at them, each one bigger than the last, until they fall from that tree. Once they get up from the ground, we’re now in the final showdown-comeback act of our movie.

Do you get writers block? If so, how do you fight through it?

I find writer’s block is really just a fear of failure. The “If I never finish this script, I can never fail” type mentality. I say, be bold, screw up, fail your way ALL the way to the end of the script. You don’t even have to be a good writer. You just have to be a good rewriter. But the only way to be a good rewriter is to have something to rewrite. You can’t edit blank pages, and no one needs to read your first draft but you. Like Hemingway says, the first draft of anything is sh*t. Think of the first draft as just the skeleton, where you can add muscle, heart, and tattooed skin later. I’ve never had writers block because I always just write through it. It’s that Picasso thing again about inspiration needing to find you at work.

Mel Gibson in "Bandit"

What other projects are you working on?

I’ve recently got the rights to a true crime conman story which I’m developing over at Goldrush Entertainment who did Bandit, so hope to shoot this year. I’ve also acquired the rights to America’s most successful bank robbers, that I’m working with the reporter who first broke the case. Matthew Gentile (American Murderer with Ryan Phillippe) will direct, and we’ll make it with Goldrush as well. I’ve also created three new murder-mystery franchises with our friends at Hallmark, that all shoot this year.

You are now executive producing films as well. How did you make the transition from writer to producer?

The best way to do that is what I did with Bandit by initiating the project on my own. Option IP/books for a smaller upfront fee. Then when you go to shoot the film, you pay the rest to the author. And by that point, it’s someone else footing the bill on the final purchase price for those rights. So paying a little upfront pays off big in the end.

What advice do you have for writers who are nervous to network?

Most writers I meet are introverts, which makes sense because we’re always looking inside ourselves for the answers. If your anxiety is overwhelming, get some meds or have a cocktail. When out at any party, NEVER pitch a project to ANYONE unless they ask you FIRST what you’re working on. Best way to kill yourself professionally is to buzzkill a night out by talking business if no one asked. And even when they do ask, keep it short, exciting, and don’t pass along any physical material/pitch deck, etc. You send that stuff off to their office (for when their hangover has gone away). This business is all about networking, and that’s what makes InkTip extra great as they can be the first icebreakers in people hearing about your scripts.

What’s the one thing you wish you knew earlier in your career?

Don’t think an idea is the best just because you came up with it. You need to leave the ego at the door, as any film is going to take years to make. If I have to choose between a really good writer who is a pretentious jerk or a mediocre writer who is fun to be around, I always choose the latter.

What is the best piece of writing advice that you’ve received?

No one is on the edge of their seat anxiously waiting for you to deliver your script that they haven’t even heard about yet. So, write, rewrite, and write some more. NEVER send off your first draft. Myself, I’ll usually write 4-6 drafts before anyone reads.

What advice do you have for writers regarding forming working relationships with producers?

Once you sell a script, the producer is the boss and you’re an employee. You no longer own the rights, so come down off your cross, as we need the wood. The producer is on your team, so don’t treat them as an adversary but as another storyteller. When they give you notes, your job is basically to be a professional problem solver, so rise to the occasion. In short, the producer is trying to get your story made. And while the script will change along the way, you have to roll with the punches to make it through to the final event.

What is one film you would love to make every screenwriter watch, and why?

Adaptation for the self-loathing of the writer. The Big Picture and Living in Oblivion for the reality of the filmmaking process. For perfect script structure and execution, Back to the Future is THE script above all (that almost every studio passed on). For dialogue, Aaron Sorkin or Tarantino. For heart, Cameron Crowe. For just ONE film, I’d say, go back to the very first film that made you fall in love with movies. Even if you’re older and it’s a kids’ movie, go back and find that heart and wonder of that piece that first made you say “Wow.” For me, that was The Wizard of Oz and The Goonies.

Anything you wish to add?

When you tell people you want to be a screenwriter, everyone will say, “Everyone in L.A. has a script.” And while that’s true, it doesn’t mean they have GOOD scripts. So don’t let numbers discourage you. While statistically, it’s harder to make it as a writer than a professional athlete (see Forbes’ list on that), if you have to write, then you have to write. If it’s something you have to do anyway for free, you might as well get paid for it at some point. Just keep rewriting and rewriting and go into the world with an “I’ll show you” attitude. A sort of Mickey and Mallory Knox saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet."


Check out the trailer for Bandit:


Written by: InkTip Team
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