He is the screenwriter of Tod Gorman’s The Jaunt Dollar Baby film.
SKSM: Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Nick Smith: My name is Nick Smith. I’m 42 years old and live in Wilmington, NC. I’m a writer, director, sometimes actor, and my current and most important role, father to an adorable 3-year-old.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a screenwriter?
Nick Smith: I’ve always loved telling stories. From my earliest years, I’d conjure these epic, sweeping tales with my Transformers, Legos, and G.I. Joe toys. As I got older I realized that it was just something I was good at, and that people enjoyed. It’s not so much that I am a screenwriter, though I’ve certainly written a few of those. I just consider myself a storyteller, whatever the medium might be.
SKSM: How do you communicate with a director to design a screenwriter strategy for a film?
Nick Smith: The funny thing is we didn’t really have that on this film. The film was made for a 16mm filmmaking class at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. 16 students are in the class – you have to apply to get in – and they spend the entire semester making a movie. So in the first couple of class sessions, students who had scripts ready pitched them to the class, and the class voted on which one to do.
Well, I didn’t have a script. I’d only learned about the Dollar Baby program about a month before, and I had done my research to find if The Jaunt was available. I pitched it solely on the basis of how cool it would be to do a legit Stephen King film. I wrote a treatment, and used that for the pitch, and thankfully the students voted for it on the merits of the concept.
So then I had to hurriedly bust out the script, all the while in class people were making presentations for what roles they wanted to take on. So I literally finished the screenplay before we even knew who the director would be. Tod and I both went for director; Tod won out. Which, in retrospect, is probably for the best. I know this is going to sound hilarious, but I’m not that big a horror fan! So Tod was able to connect to that aspect of the story in his directing.
SKSM: You worked in a Dollar Baby based on a Stephen King short story. It was your most challenging film?
Nick Smith: It definitely had its unique challenges. The biggest thing for us was our resources. With it being a student production, we obviously had access to the school’s equipment, cameras, and a certain amount of film; but beyond that, we only were able to pool together about $1700 for the production. So we had to get really creative with production design and costuming.
We lucked out with the production design. The school had just opened two new buildings… a computer sciences building and an education building… that worked great as locations. We also had a friend that had a shed in their backyard that we used as Carune’s lab; our production designer scrounged down every piece of old tech he could find to decorate it.
For costumes, we decided that one way we could convey this was in the future was to show the continued progression of moving beyond the “binary” when it comes to gender and dress. So you see men wearing skirts, using makeup, women dressing very utilitarian, a good mix of thing; but that mix was mostly retro clothing, so it was kind of a “back to the future” concept.
As for the visual effects – luckily there are some very talented students at UNCW.
SKSM: What do you think it is about the story that attracts people so much?
Nick Smith: The entire hook of the story is that curiosity is an inherent, vital human trait… but it’s also a dangerous trait. I think we’ve all been there. We’ve all gotten into trouble, whether mild or major, because we let our curiosity get the better of us. Like the Stranger says, “we have to know more.” So we, as a species, will always take that chance. And here’s the thing – yes, the kid’s curiosity ruins (and possibly ends) his life, but it’s Carune’s curiosity that leads to this world-saving technology in the first place. So I think the story shows the dangers of curiosity, but also its importance to our advancement as a species, and I think that’s very relatable.
I mean, even reading the short story the first time, I found myself wondering… “what IS it like in there?”
SKSM: Can you tell us about the filming steps? Funny things that happened so far (Bloopers, etc).
Nick Smith: We initially shot over about three weeks in November 2007. However, we had some serious issues with the ending; our production design didn’t convey things well, it didn’t have the look we needed, and the location just didn’t line up with the other things we established. So we went back and did reshoots the following May, this time using a local nightclub whose décor was very sci-fi. We had to make some adjustments considering the time that had passed – for instance, we didn’t have access to the original costumes anymore, which is why people are fitted into “clean robes” for their jaunt.
It’s not a blooper, per se, but I remember the first time we scouted the shed that we were going to use for Carune’s lab. Tod and I said at the exact same time “does the fan work?” We knew shooting a light through that would look great. It didn’t, but we put a crewmember on the floor with a c-stand arm attached to the fan so he could turn it manually and get us the same effect.
We were filming in an abandoned bank building for the line of people walking into the jaunt chamber, through the big safe door. It was an escalator, not stairs, that they come walking down. You know how escalators have those smooth central areas between the up and the down track? Cast and crew members quickly decided to turn that into a slide for fun between takes and setups.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Nick Smith: Aside from the aforementioned three-year-old, I’m working on my first novel. It’s an expansion of a short story I wrote a long time ago, and I finally figured out how to make it work as a full-length tale. I’m normally doing something with the stage; unfortunately, with the pandemic going on the normally bustling theater community here in town has been understandably silenced. With hope and luck we’ll all be back on the boards before long.
SKSM: Are you a fan of Stephen King’s work?
Nick Smith: I’m really not that big of a horror fan. Never have been. It’s funny I always wind up getting involved in horror projects (my first stage play was an adaptation of Night of the Living Dead). But I love his non-horror stuff. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Stand, The Body… those are the thing I relate to more. He’s one of the best storytellers ever, and it doesn’t matter what kind of story it is.
SKSM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Nick Smith: I am a gigantic roller coaster geek! I’ve travelled all around the country to different amusement parks, and all told, I’ve ridden 226 individual coasters in my time. There’s nothing I love more than riding the rails.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Something you’d like to tell our readers?
Nick Smith: I’m a bit of a feedback nut, so if it works out that you’re ever able to see The Jaunt (and even as long as it’s been, I’d like to get it out there more), then please let me know what you think! It was a real labor of love and knowing that people connect to it and enjoy it makes that labor worth it.