Pen Densham

How did you become a writer?

Despite my apparent success as a writing filmmaker, the early part of my career involved making many Oscar nominated and award-winning documentaries that required no dramatic script at all. I was not even certain I had any skills as a writer until I discovered the CFC were willing to fund young filmmakers with passion projects. I decided to try my hand at creating a drama. I didn't know how to lay out a script, never worked with an actor, but I wrote a half-hour drama called IF WISHES WERE HORSES, about a down-and-out horse owner whose mare was breach birthing - which meant that he was involved in a life and death crisis, having to choose between the mare and the foal. That movie brought me to the attention of Norman Jewison who mentored me into Hollywood and convinced me that I should continue my dramatic career as a writing filmmaker. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

As a child, I always read two or three grades above my age group and loved science fiction, particularly Robert Heinlein. I also came to an immense respect for Robert Bolt and the work he did with David Lean. But probably my most impactful experience was meeting Billy Wilder when he came to view Sunset Boulevard for the last time.  I'd been invited to be there. Billy Wilder's career blows me away. Not only did he write in a second language, but he wrote dramas and comedies that are as powerful today as they were in his time. When you pick up a book of movie quotes more lines are quoted from his scripts than most other screenwriters put together. It's humbling to see what he achieved. 

When and where do you write?

Whilst I have a home office, I've yet to be able to train my brain to give me ideas at the exact moment when I want them. I live my life with sticky notes everywhere, frequently jumping out of the shower to jot down a damp but important thought -- or waking up at 3a.m. to capture a line of dialogue that the Gods have given me in my sleep. I don't find that I write coherently, but more like I harvest it when my subconscious delivers its next creative energy. I've learned to take down what it gives me, when it gives it to me - or regret the loss of my leisure. 

What are you working on now?

I'm in the process of completing post-production on my friend and ally Todd Robinson's script that he wrote/directed called PHANTOM - a submarine thriller starring Ed Harris and David Duchovny. Todd writes from the heart and it's a great pleasure for my producing partner John Watson and I to champion his creative work. 

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

The question could probably be re-phrased 'Have you ever NOT suffered from Writer's Block?' -- and that happened once, when I wrote a script called MOLL FLANDERS that poured out of my soul in a gusher of words, emotions and scenes.  It was a riveting and joyous experience that I yearn to find again. Most of the time my writing process is a mixture of wonder and frustration. I was once advised that the best way to overcome writer's block is to lower your expectations by playfully saying to yourself that you are writing "a piece of crap". It takes the tension out of the process and helps to free up the idea flow, which inevitably will be edited into something refined and quite wonderful, in time.     

What’s your advice to new writers?

It would sound very inauthentic to say that I would like them to read my book because it sounds like I'm trying to gain something from them financially. But I truly have tried to distill a lifetime's worth of positive - and negative - experiences into a survivor's guide for a certain kind of emotional writer, who years to develop their voice and survive in a complex and not always sympathetic business. Rather than buy my book, I would like people to download a free chapter that attempts to help fire up one's creativity, and also to see the inspirational videos and other essays that are on my website, If they touch you, then probably my book would be the right choice to help and advise.

Pen Densham, co-founder of Trilogy Entertainment Group, considers himself a triple-hyphenate: a writer – producer – & director. He and his partner John Watson have been Oscar Nominated twice, have produced 15 features and over 300 hours of television. He writes for both TV and feature films and is personally responsible for reviving 'The Outer Limits' and 'The Twilight Zone' series to television, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, etc. This year he is one of the Producers on Phantom – written and directed by Todd Robinson, starring David Duchovny and Ed Harris. His personal favorite is Moll Flanders, which he wrote and directed, starring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman. Pen also teaches as an adjunct professor at USC Film School. His book on screenplay writing for publisher Michael Wiese is - "Riding the Alligator: Strategies for a Career in Screenplay Writing ...And not getting eaten.”