Times are tough for independent screenwriters. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, movie studios purchased nearly 200 scripts each year from independent screenwriters. More recently, that number has fallen to somewhere between 50 and 70 scripts each year.
This past spring, one of those scripts belonged to Bangor native Patrick Pittis, whose screenplay “Rubble” was purchased by Universal Studios. For Pittis, selling a script to a major studio so early in his career is a boost that’s allowed him to focus on screenwriting full time earlier than he expected to be able to.
Pittis describes “Rubble” as “a contained thriller with a sci-fi twist ending,” meaning that the film mostly takes place in one location — in this case, the rubble of a crumbled staircase, where a woman wakes up with “no idea who she is or how she got there.”
Pittis is currently working on a rewrite for the studio, so some plot details could change.
Pittis cultivated his love of writing as a teenager. He took the few film classes that were offered at Bangor High School, where he wrote and produced short films with his friends, and he spent his summers at the Penobscot Theatre Company’s Shakespeare camp. With Stephen King as a local influence, Pittis developed an interest in horror, thrillers and science fiction.
His affinity for writing and performance led him to major in theater and secondary education when he started at the University of Maine. By the time he graduated in 2013, he had changed majors to communication.
Growing up in Maine, dominated by small towns, influences the way Pittis writes, he said.
“I really like to look at identity and the way people build identity. What does that look like in a small town?” Pittis said. “You generally know a lot of the people in the town, or at least are familiar with the families. You have a superficial knowledge of people, but what’s underneath?”
After graduation, Pittis moved to California with his wife, Meghan Ballard, also a UMaine graduate, to start applying to graduate schools. He considered programs in law and communications before settling on Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he earned his master’s degree in writing and producing for TV.
While his schoolwork focused on television, Pittis wrote screenplays, including “Rubble,” during his summer breaks. Writing is his focus now, but he intends to branch out into the world of production later, he said.
He graduated in 2018, and sold the “Rubble” script to Universal Studios a year later.
Pittis has spent the last year driving four hours each day to and from his day job as an accounting clerk at the Intellectual Property Corporation in Van Nuys, California. But the sale of “Rubble” confirmed that screenwriting could be a viable career for Pittis, prompting him to leave his job last month to focus exclusively on screenwriting.
Even though he was writing as much as he could, Pittis said he didn’t expect any of his scripts to be picked up by a major studio so soon.
“Rubble” is Pittis’ second script that has a shot at becoming a film.
Last year, one of Pittis’ screenplays, a horror thriller called “Foxhole” set in World War II France, was optioned by an independent producer, meaning the producer has the exclusive option to purchase the script at a later point, usually within a year or two, and Pittis agrees not to sell the script to another producer or studio during that time.
“Foxhole” is still under option, but an option doesn’t guarantee that the producer will ultimately purchase the script and make it into a film. That’s why Pittis’ progress with “Rubble” is so significant. Although there’s still no guarantee that “Rubble” will make it to the silver screen, a sale pays better than an option and gives Pittis more credibility as a screenwriter going forward.
“I was not expecting success this early in my career. I just finished my master’s degree, and I was anticipating working as an assistant for a few years before getting the opportunity to strike out on my own as a writer,” Pittis said. “For me, it’s a pretty big deal.”