Hello, I’m Tyler Mackie, and I work for Frank G. Caruso, or as he likes to be called, Mr. Caruso. No, not really…just Frank. When I first interviewed for the job, Frank asked me to recall my very first dream of what I wanted to become in life. The dream I had as a little girl. He then asked me, “Did you make it come true?”
He then handed me “The Red Umbrella” script and said, “Read it, you should know who you’re going to work with. Then you interview me and ask me every question you would like.”
I am so delighted to share this, my first interview, with you today.
Frank G. Caruso is the author of one of my favorite scripts, "The Red Umbrella." Taking an entirely different method that has not been explored, crafting a tightly woven fast-paced relationship made up of young girls, all of whom have suffered a brutality in their respective homes that is unthinkable. They are all protagonists, miraculous, smart, courageous and hopeful. Their antagonist is a formidable adversary, genius, brutal, sociopathic and evil. While the world sees them as hereditarily deviant children, the girls know that birth and circumstance are only temporary elusions.
The Red Umbrella, Logline:
In 1951, idealistic America was at its peak, though at the Lawrence School for Wayward Girls, a dark secret lies in the ground. Five gifted girls fight to find the truth and sanity at the hands of an insane warden. What is about to be uncovered is a truth that should never be told.
This is probably my favorite interview so far because Frank speaks from the heart, with no bars, no reservations, coupled with some terrific advice. Hope you like this.
TM: How long have you been writing, and how many scripts before “The Red Umbrella” have you written?
FGC: I told stories before I could walk, at least that is what my mother keeps telling me. Apparently on my first day of school, I came running through the kitchen door, grabbed all the chairs in the house and piled them up against the door. Then I stood with my arms spread out warning my mother not to go outside or near my school. My mother, in her calm voice, says “Frankie, what is it? Tell me your story.” So I didn’t just tell my stories; I started acting them out. I've been making up stories forever; I do it every day of my life. While I haven't been writing screenplays all that long, I've always written short stories and my versions of poems and songs. It’s really about putting words in an order that has never been done before. I'd written two complete screenplays before “The Red Umbrella.”
TM: Because the script is about teenage girls and it takes place before you were born, how do you get into the minds of those girls from another era and write with such clarity?
FGC: I think people are surprised when they discover that a man wrote “The Red Umbrella,”
not a 30-year-old woman who has lived the part. However, who better? If you’re a man and if you have been paying attention to the human experience, observing all that grows and all that withers in life, you can turn that into magic. It also helps to have two teenage daughters. The era is easy if you have read books of that era like “The Catcher In The Rye.” Everything you do in life adds to your knowledge base.
TM: What inspired you to write “The Red Umbrella”?
FGC: Inspiration...It comes to me everyday. On this particular day, “The Red Umbrella” came about, as all my stories do, by observing the world around me. I had been part of a program called “Read To Me” where I would go into a correctional institution and videotape inmates reading books to their children. The tape and book would be sent to the child in an effort to reconnect fathers with their children. In between video takes, five or so inmates were waiting in line. I asked the inmates about the door that led to the school. I had installed enough doors to know that the height from the floor to the handle is about three feet. When I went to open the door to the school it was considerably lower. I think anyone would have felt that difference, but for me it left a question that needed an answer. The inmates told me that the prison was once a school for wayward girls. That was all I needed. When I got home that night, I retrieved a new “Brain Book” and wrote the words “The Red Umbrella.”
TM: This writer’s block, have you had it? How long did it take you to write “The Red Umbrella”? Were there any difficult moments where you thought it wasn't good enough?
FGC: I have the opposite of writer’s block and I think this is why. I usually work on two scripts at once. I mentioned my Brain Book. That is where I do my outline, brainstorming, even dialogue and then research for the next script. I'll be writing one and prepping for the next. So while I’m writing and if I come to a place where, say, a character does not know what to say, I switch gears and go to my Brain Book to clear my head. The actual writing for “The Red Umbrella” took around 32 days. This I know because I wanted to enter it into a contest.
TM: You made a trailer from one line of your screenplay. Why?
FGC: Yes… I’m a screenwriter. I’m really a filmmaker who writes, directs, produces, etc. I’m very visual and wanted to see my words come alive, to see if it works on film. The response to the trailer has been more…much more!
TM: Your script has a wonderful emotional component that resonates in layers in places, yet never goes over the top. How did you approach the emotion in your screenplay, and how did you know when to stop?
FGC: Thank you. This is what I do. I remember when I was a kid and piled those chairs up against the door, I was acting out the scene. My approach is to write the scene, then act it out and ask myself, does it work? I do that over and over and over. The Red Umbrella is very much an emotional story. I was well aware of not wandering off into melodrama, knowing the emotional beats and staying true to it, saving the story from becoming overwrought with emotion. I think that when we talk about emotion in film, we’re talking about being moved in a way that takes us through a range of emotions. The very best films do that to us and we remember them forever. The very first film that did what I just described for me was “The Wizard Of Oz.” It made me laugh, it made me scared, and it made me cry. Seventy years after its release, it still works, even though most of us know what’s coming.
TM: The RULES of screenwriting. Do you follow a set structure when you write?
FGC: Rules slow creativity and the flow of your story. That being said, rules have a place in the world of screenwriting and they work. You need to know them. Of course, you can break them to fit your own writing style. Right now I have a propensity to write in three act structures. I feel it’s clean and works. I like that it came from the theater and has worked for thousands of years. Above all, do not let rules stop you from writing your story.
TM: What's your process? What comes first, character, plot, dialogue, etc?
FGC: Story…will I sit and read it without stopping? Everything else will find its place. Also, minimalism. I really like simple, well-designed scripts. I like scripts with a clear goal of the obstacles. At the end of the day, I want people to read my scripts.