TAEM interview with screenwriter Ken Ramoz

kenTAEM- There is a lot that goes into making a film not the least important is writing the screenplay for it. It is because of this that The Arts and Entertainment Magazine has sought out Ken Ramoz.

Ken, in writing a screenplay for the movie Burden of Freedom you had experience as an actor in a number of famous films. Please tell our readers about this aspect of your life and the films that you had roles in.

KR- In 1992, I had the honor of participating in TNT’s historic production of the Civil War film “Gettysburg”. It was an incredible opportunity and a once in a lifetime chance to film on the actual Gettysburg, Pennsylvania battlefield, including the filming of Pickett’s Charge on the actual field where that historic charge actually happened! I was a soldier in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. In 1994, I had another incredible opportunity to participate in another TNT production called “Andersonville”, a made for TV series about the infamous prison, also during the American Civil War. In this production I was both a Yankee prisoner, and a member of Captain Wirtz’s Confederate Guard. It was during this three-month filming production where I met my dear friend and Film Partner, the incredibly gifted and talented Actor Kyle Hester. Legendary Director John Frankenheimer was very intrigued and impressed with Kyle’s uncanny ability to nail every speaking line and character portrayals of the roles he was given by the historic Director. I personally witnessed that high esteem and confidence in Kyle by him. Frankenheimer continued to use Kyle’s solid talents and gifts to show other less seasoned actors, including the seasoned ones, how it was done. Watching the dynamics between the two of them had an enormous impression and influence on me and I gravitated to Kyle, whom I met and connected with immediately during one of our night scenes early in the shooting. Kyle was very friendly and extremely courteous to everyone on the set, and wasn’t arrogant or aloof with anyone at all. Then upon my return from filming Andersonville, I played a suited detective carrying a gun, in the movie “Getting Even With Dad” in San Francisco, CA. In 1997 I was part of a documentary film entitled “Antietam”, about the Civil War battle of the same name, filming on the Antietam National Battlefield park, in Maryland. In 2001 I participated in a Greystone Communications production for The History Channel called Civil War Combat. I was a Confederate soldier as well as a Federal soldier and also credited as Re-enactor Coordinator. In this production I assembled the core group of re-enactors at the Director’s request, and conducted site location, eventually securing a friends’ ranch property for filming in Livermore, CA. That was a lot of fun. All of those opportunities were a lot of fun.

Gettysburg posterTAEM- Tell us about some of the great actors that you played alongside in these and the impact that they had on your career.

KR- In Gettysburg, I was heavily impacted by fantastic Actors such as Tom Berenger, Stephen Lang, Martin Sheen, Jeff Daniels, Sam Elliot, Brian Mallon, and Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) who I stood next to during one of the Pickett’s Charge scenes. Sam Elliott had the biggest impact on me with his enormous presence and abilities. Sam Elliot and Stephen Lang were both very personable and friendly and helpful, and I never forgot that. With Andersonville, I was obviously hugely impacted by the wonderful gifts and talents of Actors like Kyle Hester, Peter Murnik, Jayce Bartok, Scott Brantley, Tom Wilson, Jarrod Emick, Frederic Forrest, Cliff De Young, William Macy, Jan Triska, Bruce Evers, and Carmen Argenziano who were wonderful actors whom I saw first hand, many of them daily during filming and who delivered some incredibly powerful work on set! In Getting Even with Dad, Ted Danson, Sam McMurray and Macaulay Culkin were all simply amazing! All the movie magic that goes on behind the scenes and in between shooting is where you see some incredible preparations, things you’ll never see in a film, and those special backstage or ‘sideline preparations’ are invaluable to me – like watching Kyle Hester, Peter Murnik, Jayce Bartok, Tom Wilson, Cliff De Young, William Macy and Carmen Argenziano, like prize fighters waiting and preparing for the bell! Yes, all of these experiences had a huge impact on me, and were priceless life long lessons learned!

TAEM- Of all the actors that you have known who was your greatest inspiration?

KR- There are of course, all of the enormously huge and successful Actors with all of their fame and success that inspire on film set with their performances on the movies that I stated. And as I stated previously, their impressions and impact on me are unforgettable. However, my greatest inspirations are the people closest to me. They are my family members. My aunt Rosanna DeSoto, who portrayed Ritchie Valen’s mother in “LaBamba”, had a huge and lifelong impression on me with her Acting career and pursuits and accomplishments. Also screenwriter ‘uncle’ David S. Ward has had more of an impression and inspiration on me than he’ll ever know. As a young boy, I was constantly writing stories, and from time to time would run those by him, asking him for his feedback, seeking his approval. He was always extremely positive, encouraging, friendly, and always such a great human being with me. Those things are incredibly important and impressionable on a young boy in formulating his skills and trying to acquire confidence. Once, while visiting them in their home in LA, he even let me hold his Academy Award for “The Sting”! When he was filming “Cannery Row”, he took me and my cousin to the historic MGM film studios where he was building the movie set – we had a personal tout – just the three of us! Now THAT was something special, one that I will never, ever forget! Those are things that I cannot thank him enough for! It was just me, my cousin, and David S. Ward, wandering around that huge Hollywood movie set! If I wasn’t bitten by the bug before then, then I was absolutely bitten by it that day! Thank you Auntie Rosanna, and ‘uncle’ Dave, for inspiring and motivating me, and creating the magic in my heart, more than any single person on this planet. I always wanted to be a Writer just like ‘uncle’ David S. Ward! He’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Andersonville posterTAEM- We also learned that you have a number of family members that are involved with the silver screen. Please tell us about them, and the films that they were involved with.

KR- Absolutely. This is something that I am very proud of. As stated, my aunt Rosanna DeSoto, who is my Mom’s sister, has appeared in La Bamba with Esai Morales and Lou Diamond Phillips; Family Business with Dustin Hoffman, Sean Connery and Mathew Broderick; Star Trek VI with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy; Cannery Row; Stand and Deliver and a whole host of other film and TV work. She’s worked with numerous Actors like Edward James Olmos, etc. Auntie Rosanna will also be appearing in Burden of Freedom! Then of course there is ‘uncle’ David S. Ward who won the Academy Award for writing The Sting in 1973, and also was nominated for writing Sleepless in Seattle with Nora Ephron. My aunt Rosanna’s daughter (my cousin), Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Produced The Kids Are Alright, which was nominated for 4 Academy Awards. My Mom had another sister, Grace Soto, who sold a script called “Ships” to the legendary Anthony Quinn! Unfortunately Auntie Grace passed away in 1998.

TAEM- What influence did they have on your career?

KR- My aunt Rosanna and uncle David have had an enormously powerful influence on me, and my artistic abilities. All my life, growing up, it was always so magical and exciting whenever I got word that we were going to LA to visit them for family or holiday gatherings. As a young man I was always so excited for those opportunities. From time to time our large family would get together with them in LA, too many awesome stories to share in this interview, but visiting auntie Rosanna was always an adventure, seeing celebrities at her home, it was just surreal for me. But the important thing was, that I always had a burning desire to bring out what I had inside of me, artistically with writing and film making, and I was always seeking out their guidance and their input and I was always full of questions. They were living the life. They were my heroes, and I had a white hot burning desire to create art, to create films just like them! Even as a small boy I always loved writing and reading. I idolized them and their film lives, it was a different world, a world of art. They probably don’t realize it, but they did a lot for me in terms of influencing my artistic capabilities. I will love them forever, both of them for their willingness to give me that influence and encourage me that way. They’re very dear to me. ‘Uncle’ David was by far the most instrumental and hugely impactful influence on me because he’s a legendary Hollywood screenwriter. I always looked up to him and idolized him as well, and I wanted to be successful like he was. He was an enormous part of helping me tie up and finish a very special story that I wrote, a script I wrote years ago that’s very near and dear to my heart titled “Route 66”. He spent a lot of time with me and helped me with his guidance and input in making sure everything was tight. I will never forget that. He loved that story and the told me that he was very impressed with my development of it and the characters and the way they interacted with each other, the sense of close-knit family that they had with each other. He also loved the music. Our film team will be filming this someday soon, and I’m extremely excited about that! I think this film will strike a chord with everyone.

TAEM- Please tell us about the current film, Burden of Freedom, that you are working with and the storyline behind it.

KR- Burdenof Freedom is the story of a soldier who comes home from war, and suffers a debilitating disorder, and struggles to regain his life back.Brian Daniel is a young married man, and is a veteran of the war in Iraq as a Captain of the 101st Airborne Division. After being wounded severely in battle, he returns home, only to combat PTSD, and the horrific wartime memories that haunt him. Brian has dreams of moving to LA and making a fresh start, but he just manages to eek out a living. He    is an honest, loving, and hardworking family man, who desperately wants a stable life, and wants to forget his wartime horrors and conquer his PTSD. He is very close with his Dad, who is a veteran of Vietnam as a member of the Special Operations Forces – The Green Berets. Brian uses a family contact through his father– an uncle in LA, to arrange for a job working for him in the Film industry. Now, Brian is on a fast track to get there and make that dream happen. But he’s got some challenges coming that may get in his way.

TAEM- Describe your work with this film and how important it is for it.

KR- Well, I wrote the story for Burden of Freedom. It’s an original screenplay. I’m also a Producer of this film. When Kyle Hester and I fused our film partnership a little over three years ago in November of 2010, we promised to be committed to this partnership and this artistic journey. He said, “Why don’t we make films together? You and me Ken, let’s do this!” I was ecstatic. Since that day, Kyle and I have probably spoken on the phone at least 95% of the time since then, sometimes several times a day, about this film project, our strategic direction, all the tactical pieces, the individual tasks, and all things artistic including the several other films we have lined up after Burden of Freedom. Kyle and I have been hard at work literally every day since then. I’d like to state publicly that not only does Kyle Hester have the artistic gifts as an Actor, but his tireless, dedicated and passionate involvement every day, all day for over three years with me on this huge undertaking, has been instrumental in positioning our project where it is today! Kyle has such passion and love for film and acting, and I’m very thankful for him and his knowledge of the industry and for being a key player in bringing life into this film project.

TAEM- We have interviewed a number of the film’s cast members in our past issues. Tell us about your work with them and how you adjust your script to fit in with their personalities.

KR- I literally created the main character of our film Burden of Freedom, for Kyle Hester. I know and am very familiar with his deeply passionate and incredibly gifted acting capabilities and the depths to which his gifts and abilities take him. It’s his ability to deep dive like, that kicked off my ideas for the type of film and characters that I was going to write and develop. I knew immediately that I had a “tool” that could slice through white hot steel, so I knew that I could craft my art using white hot steel, something most people won’t touch because it’s too dangerous. I knew I could dive to deeper ocean depths because I had the strength of an Actor who could handle it. I personally believe with all my heart that Kyle is just as good as any actor in Hollywood. Kyle’s antagonist, Lance Williams in the film, was molded for Actor Peter Murnik in mind. Brian and Lance are effectively, Kyle and Peter. I cannot say enough about the incredibly gifted Eileen Grubba and Alicia Lara, who play the wives of Brian and Lance. I know that their Acting gifts can handle these very tough roles. I know that they’ll nail these roles.

soldierTAEM- As a good portion of our publication’s articles deal with literary personalities, and we have many students of the Arts that follow us for experience towards their own careers, tell us the differences between scriptwriting and novels and how they connect.

KR- My personal take on this is that, although I love screenwriting with a passion, it is, I guess you could say, somewhat limiting because you’re forced to be quick, to the point, succinct, concise, and move the story quickly. There’s clearly more opportunity for painting a much more detailed picture of things in novels. Many years ago I spent literally hundreds of hours gathering information and data on a historical topic that I’d always wanted to write about. I haven’t finished that effort, but I know that there’s more room for details, for thoughts, for descriptive illustration. My gifts lie in my ability to paint the picture, the look, the feel, the smell, the taste and what it feels like to be in a place or a state of mind. I love providing the details of a picture. Because then people hear what your writing or saying and they say, “I see it! I can smell it and I can feel it!” Those are the differences between script writing and writing a novel, from my perspective. The connection is that both of these platforms have an enormous requirement for a purpose. And that purpose is the story. What’s the story about that you’re telling? With a novel you can paint the details with more liberty, but then you have to come to a point where the question becomes, where are we going with all of this, and what’s happening next? It’s time to move the story along. So, in each, the connection is that you have to tell a great story, and you have to move the story, and be careful not to put your reader to sleep with too many details and descriptions. Keep it moving, keep it compelling!

TAEM- How does one become a screenwriter and what background and educational training must you have to exceed in this field ?

KR- First and foremost, to me, I believe you must love to read and write. And you must have the basic capability to put your thought down on ‘paper’ in a fashion that is moving and compelling for the reader. So read and write as much as you can, and learn from the styles of writing, take note of the types of writing and the approaches writers take. Then write stories yourself! Always remember to write something interesting, and make sure you have a solid beginning, middle and end. You can practice telling stories to your children. Keep them short, and interesting, funny, exciting and full of adventure. I used to tell stories to my three children, when they were little. They are all now all adults, but to this day they still remember those stories, and they bring them up from time to time. I have a nine year old daughter and I try to read to her and tell her stories as well whenever I have the time. You must love the art of being a storyteller. My biggest problem is I have way too many stories and not enough time to write them all, or to tell them all. I literally have several of what I call “Idea Sheets” because I’m constantly coming up with really cool ideas, so I have to write them down on these Idea Sheets so I don’t forget them. I use Final Draft screenwriting software. You should get a screen writing software and write. Just start writing what’s in your head and let it come alive. My biggest problem is that screenplays are only 120 pages long. My very first draft of “Route 66” was 260 pages! Someone very dear to me advised me to just write down your story and don’t worry about the length. Just tell your story. Then worry about how you’re going to cut it down later. That’s the way I write, and that’s just my opinion. Read and write as much as you can, buy a screen writing software, get some books on screen writing and just do it. Don’t waste time or get hung up on the technical aspects of it because there are so many. As you develop your storytelling abilities, then become proficient with all the rules and apply them. That’s what I did. The funny thing is, when I went to apply the technical rules, I found that I was already applying them for the most part.

TAEM- In writing a script for a film what adjustments do you make along the way and how do you conspire with the director and actors to make these happen ?

KR- Well, for me, screenwriting is a solo journey. I choose to architect my story myself and develop my characters and paint the pictures, the adventures, the challenges and the resolutions, simply because that’s the way I choose to do it. To this point, I haven’t developed ideas and stories with other people. Other writers may choose to collaborate that way, and that’s fine. When a story comes to my mind, it is for all practical purposes, developed already and so I just lay it out and let it go, and I let it grow and develop and breathe the way that it wants to, right in front of me. It’s like I just let it go. I know that sounds a little spacey but it’s pretty true the way things take place and are conceived and born in my mind.

TAEM- There are many emotional aspects for Burden of Freedom. How do you write these in for the actors to follow ?

KR- As I mentioned earlier, I knew the abilities and capabilities of my two main actors, and the characters they would be portraying. Particularly with my main character, Brian Daniel, played by Kyle Hester, this was the case. Also, with the kind of emotion being evoked with Burden of Freedom, I think the situation and context is pretty black and white. It’s almost self explanatory with no instruction required, really. When I developed Brian Daniel, I knew I could write the powerfully and emotionally charged scenes and dialogue simply because I knew that my Actor could handle it. As I said earlier, I knew I could “Deep Dive” because I had the “tools” to carry it out. Now, having said that, you also have to be cognizant of the fact that your Actor may be able to venture into that territory, but he or she might not want to, or may be uncomfortable with this powerful responsibility. My actors are all top notch, and they can, and will bring this magic to the silver screen! And finally, when I wrote these scenes and dialog, I could see the scene and hear the dialog and see the actors portraying what I was creating in my head. Those thoughts and purposes will be communicated when we start shooting, however I know my Actors will breathe the kind of life into the characters by applying what they’re comfortable and capable of delivering. I’ve provided the blue print design, and they will execute the art by taking the clay and molding it in a fashion using their interpretation of the emotion and style. They’ll process my words and descriptive instruction and will use their abilities to convey the purpose of the scene, and the power and emotion of that particular situation.

TAEM- What are your hopes for this film and when will it be released ?

KR- My hopes for this film is that it will be a huge success not only in the US but internationally as well. This message addresses a global issue that’s as old as war itself. We are very hopeful for and working very hard towards acquiring a distribution deal that will take this film and communicate its message everywhere. This film certainly needs to be told everywhere. So it’s very important that people understand what we’re doing, and what we’re trying to say, and why we’re trying to say it. It’s also very important that this message is communicated not only to everyone in Hollywood, but to people all over the world as well.

TAEM- After the completion of your work with this film what other film genres would you like to work with ?

KR- After Burden of Freedom, we’ll be filming what I call a Horror/Period Piece, because we visit different time periods with our characters and to come to the resolution. This one is really very good, but very tough for me, because it really is very scary! The next film will be an absolutely beautiful and epic Period/Romance piece that’s a very heartwarming story. The rest of our film ‘portfolio’ will delve invariably into Historical Fiction, Period, Action and Drama. A few others that are in the infant stages of development are Romance Thriller, and what I call Science Fiction/Fantasy. We have, I believe a very solid ‘portfolio’ of really awesome and entertaining stories to film that are going to be a lot of fun and very exciting for our Film Team.

TAEM- Ken, your interview with us has opened many writer’s eyes towards new possibilities for their careers. We want to thank you for your time with us and wish you much luck in all that you do.

   TAEM