Arts & Entertainment

Big Night at the Little Roxie

Screenwriter and Academy alumnus Spenser Querry talks about his involvement in the indie film “Cold Pressed” 

By Erasmo Guerra

The night “Cold Pressed,” an indie film about the adulterated virgin olive oil trade—think more “Reservoir Dogs” than, say, “Julie & Julia”—had its San Francisco premiere at the landmark Roxie Theater’s 49-seat Little Roxie auditorium, every ticket had been sold. In fact, the film’s director S. Viknesh, gave up his own seat and watched from the projection booth. At least that was the story heard by the film screenwriter and Academy of Art University alumnus Spenser Querry, who was also not in the audience for the big night.

Querry, speaking by phone from Muncie, Indiana, said that despite not being at the July 23 premiere, he was thrilled about the screening at the Little Roxie. “I’d gone to see plenty of films there while I was in school in San Francisco,” Querry said. The 30-year-old recalled seeing smaller indie films such as “I’m Still Here” with Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck and “Get Low” with Bill Murray and Robert Duvall. “So being played in the same place as those films, to me, was exciting.”

A native of Indiana, Querry had started his undergraduate studies in telecommunications at nearby Ball State University. But wanting a program where he could focus exclusively on film, he transferred to the Academy.

In one of his first semesters at the Academy’s School of Motion Pictures & Television (MPT), Querry said, he was given a camera and black-and-white 8mm film. “Right off the bat, they put equipment in your hands,” he recalled. A single cartridge of film produced about 30 seconds of footage. Querry used three cartridges to make a short film that he summarized as “a romantic encounter on the street,” though mostly, he admitted, he was just practicing cinematic continuity and how characters enter a frame.

His undergraduate program included storytelling and writing classes that led him to screenwriting. And when he graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in 2015, he looked for a graduate program in writing. At the time, the Academy’s School of Writing for Film, Television, and Digital Media (WRI) was just being established and he was convinced by past teachers to be a part of the inaugural program. “And I’m so glad that I did,” he said.

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Academy alumnus Spenser Querry took home back-to-back NXT UP Fest awards for Best Screenplay in 2017 and 2018. Photo by Bob Toy.

Jana Sue Memel, executive director of both the MPT and WRI programs, said Academy students are taught to work as writing professionals. “Which means educating them not only in the skills and techniques of writing, but in the skills and techniques that will get their writing produced.” The three-time Oscar winner said the program is focusing more aggressively on helping student writers get their material produced.

Querry first started working on “Cold Pressed,” in 2012 as an undergrad, when he met Viknesh, a fellow MPT student taking the director’s track. Originally called “Fever,” Viknesh had started the outline, which Querry helped him with and ended up writing the first draft for a feature writing class. Another writer was brought in to do a subsequent draft, but the project landed back on Querry’s desk for a final rewrite and polish.

He’s grown used to working this way. “So many people have a say on every project that you write,” Querry said. “You have to remember that this is a collaborative effort and that scripts change nonstop. It’s just one of those things.”

And while he said most folks might prefer working on the draft of an outline, shaping that first grain of an idea into a story, Querry insisted that what he loved most was taking an outline and writing a full script, fleshing out characters and putting them into scenes, watching them come to life and, sometimes, take on a life of their own. “As corny as that may sound,” he said, “It’s a thing that happens—it’s magical.”

Currently, writing out of a home office that he shares with his wife, who works as a copywriter, Querry is reworking a few of the feature films that he wrote while in grad school. (He earned his M.F.A. from WRI this past spring.) As he’d tell students currently in the writing program, he advised, “Make sure you leave with a body of work that is a reflection of you. You’re buying time and guidance to create work that represents you and what you can do.”

 

Featured photo by Bob Toy.

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