Karla S. Bryant

She is the co-writer of Jeff Blankenship’s The Last Rung On The Ladder Dollar Baby film.

SKSM: Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

Karla S. Bryant: I’m a late bloomer when it comes to screenwriting. My first screenplay, at the request of “The Last Rung On the Ladder” Director Jeff Blankenship, was “Full Circle”, based on my published short story by the same title. After reading the short story, Jeff expressed interest in it as a short film and asked me to adapt it as a script. That was in 2014.

Since then, I’ve written or co-written a number of screenplays that have been produced. My short script, “Halverson and Halverson” was named as a Winner at the 2023 Phoenix Film Festival and it won as Best Super Short Script at the 2023 Summer Season Liverpool Indie Awards and at the September 2022 London Movie Awards.

I primarily write about people in midlife, exploring the richness of their layered histories and how they play a part when their lives take unexpected turns. In “The Last Rung On the Ladder”, those layers of history play significant roles in both Larry and Kitty’s lives.

SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a screenwriter?

Karla S. Bryant: As I said earlier, I came to screenwriting late, in 2014, when the Director of “The Last Rung On the Ladder”, Jeff Blankenship, asked me to adapt my published short story, “Full Circle” as a screenplay. I can’t recall a time prior to 2014 when I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter.  But since then, I’ve gained more traction in screenwriting than in other formats.

Personally, there’s nothing more amazing than when you see characters you’d created come to life on screen. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true. Characters who had never existed before are suddenly real and speaking the words you gave them. There’s nothing else that compares to that.

SKSM: You co-wrote the script for The Last Rung On The Ladder Dollar Baby Film. I recently watched the film and I loved the changes with respect to the original short story. Of all them, maybe the main is the Carnival Barker of Despair character. Did you add this character because King uses a lot of internalization in his stories?

Karla S. Bryant: The character of the Carnival Barker of Despair was 100% created by Max Blaska, who was the recipient of the Stephen King Dollar Baby Program and was not only the main writer, but the captain of the project.

Max is a Mental Illness Warrior against the stigma towards mental illness and the Carnival Barker of Despair represented what some of his interior negative voices have been like. I agree that it was a brilliant idea, not only because of Max’s reason’s for it, but as you said, it fit in with the kind of internalization that Stephen King uses.

Maximilian Blaska & Karla S. Bryant

SKSM: How do you communicate with a director to design a screenwriter strategy for a film?

Karla S. Bryant: Prior to filming, Director Jeff Blankenship would communicate issues and ideas to either Max, myself, or to both of us. Sometimes he needed clarification on how a line or scene related to a character’s story arc.

Other times, he had ideas and wanted our opinions on them. Everything in film is so collaborative. Once filming began, the three of us would discuss possible alternatives for some scenes and I would help write/rewrite scenes as required.

SKSM: When you write, do you think about the actor who is going to play it?

Karla S. Bryant: Sometimes. The script is almost always written prior to casting, but in my mind, I imagine what the character looks like, acts like, and then am always surprised – usually pleasantly so – by the actual actor who is cast.

In my mind, the Carnival Barker of Despair looked like the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang… I was picturing him looking like a Victorian carnival barker. Brian Belz’ performance was stunning. Just incredible. Not what I’d envisioned physically, but completely on target in spirit. Now when I read the script, I can only picture Brian saying the lines.

SKSM: What reaction in the audience would you like to generate with your story?

Karla S. Bryant: I think most of us have a Carnival Barker of Despair who pops up from time to time in our thinking. While Larry was unable to control his, I’d like to think the film may encourage people to push back against their personal Carnival Barkers of Despair, that he doesn’t have true power.

The other issue in the film is that of stigmas… and the unfortunate results of making decisions based on them. I always hope any form of art encourages compassion.

SKSM: You worked in a Dollar Baby based on a Stephen King short story. It was your most challenging film?

Karla S. Bryant: It was challenging in that it’s the first time I ever wrote something based on another writer’s work, and it was somewhat intimidating to work on an adaptation of a short story written by Stephen King!

While Max was at the helm, he invited me to write for the character of Kitty. He felt that he couldn’t quite express the female voice and perspective. Later he said it reminded him that he’d read Stephen King had a difficult time with his novel, “Carrie”. His wife, Tabitha, stepped in to write from Carrie’s perspective, so in that way, we echoed that dynamic a bit.

SKSM: What do you think it is about the story that attracts people so much?

Karla S. Bryant: The original story, “The Last Rung On the Ladder” is interesting in some ways in what it doesn’t say. It gives you a fairly straightforward story of remorse, but there’s a sense there are stories behind each paragraph that encourage the imagination of the reader to create on their own scenarios. I think we all have regrets in our lives, hopefully none as extreme as Larry’s, but his feelings resonate with each of us on some level… what we could have done, what we should have done.

SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?

Karla S. Bryant:  I’m currently working on revisions on two feature scripts. One, DARK EYES, is about an emotionally fragile young woman, Carrie (ironically!), who embarks on a journey to unravel her adoptive past and discovers her fascinating grandmother, Vivian Vaughan, a charismatic former jazz singer with deep ties to the mob. It’s actually based on my relationship with my late aunt.

My other feature, Full Circle, was expanded from my first short script. In it, a newly ordained priest sees a framed photograph of a girl in a coffin in the home of a deceased parishioner. Unaware of the deeper secret he is about to uncover, he is determined to discover the story behind the image.

SKSM: Are you a fan of Stephen King’s work?

Karla S. Bryant: Yes. I’m more of an old-school Stephen King reader… “Carrie”, “Salem’s Lot”, and “The Shining”. “The Mist” is probably my favorite film adaptation of his work.

SKSM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Karla S. Bryant: Being a storyteller at heart, I’m an avid genealogist. Behind every name on a family tree, there’s a rich story waiting to be told.

SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Something you’d like to tell our readers?

Karla S. Bryant: In my late teens, a trauma sidetracked my life for some time. It was only in middle-age that I really became the strong, risk-taking person I’d once been again. It’s never too late to pursue a dream and it’s never too late to try something completely new.

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