Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Author Interview: Sabrina Zackery

Sabrina Zackery is the recipient of numerous awards and honorable mentions for her screenplays and recently placed second in the 2011 Kids First Film Festival for her feature script The Horse of His Dreams. I interviewed Sabrina about her writing process, The Horse of His Dreams, and her short script based on the same story, titled Are We There Yet?

Continue reading below the interview for an excerpt from The Horse of His Dreams!

 Interview with Sabrina Zackery
Q: Your feature is also written as a short script -- which did you write first?

SZ: I wrote the feature length script first.   The Horse of His Dreams was the first screenplay I ever wrote .  Many rewrites and ten years later, I got it right. Talk about a learning curve.  I wrote the short script last year to challenge myself  and to produce and direct a short.  When the short script, Are We There Yet?, won an award at the International Family Film Festival, I knew I was on the right track.  When the feature script won this year at the Kids First! Film Festival, it validated what I wanted to achieve. Audiences want good solid family stories, with strong values. 

Q: How did you come up with the storyline?

SZ: I was lucky to have met horse trainer,Joseph Donohue through a mutual friend. When he told me had horses, I made the trip from Los Angeles to visit him in Reno, Nevada.  I found his story about his mustang stallion ,Myriah fascinating.    The idea of capturing a wild mustang was so romantic to me.   It’s reminiscent to the old school American Dream; a house, kids, a secure job.  During these very troubled times, I want to cultivate dreams in children.  I want kids to put down the cells, the iPads, the games and utilize that big three pound muscle between their ears.  I want kids to know that you can dream and it will come true.  Most people are arm-chair dreamers. It’s easy to sit back and talk it. It’s not so easy to make a dream a reality.

Q: What was your writing process? Did you create an outline first?

SZ: Aspiring writers, do not try this at home.

I set a theme. I’ll consider events around me or something that I’ve experienced to serve as the vehicle for that theme. I create the characters, their flaws, their quirks, their objectives.  Then I go back and write the treatment. I have a beginning, middle and the end of the story.   Good, bad or indifferent, I just put the words on the paper.  If it doesn’t flow in the treatment, then I know it’s not going to flow in the script. Then, I edit.  My style is completely backwards.  The down side is that this can be VERY time consuming.  In my script, Act of Forgiveness, I labored for over one year to get the third character in the ménage de trois correct. When I was on set of the movie, Black Water Valley Exorcism, the lead actor impressed me so much, that I wrote that character just for him.  Not the most efficient way to write, but the most fun because I’ve met some cool people over the years that have been the inspiration for my characters. It pays to be my friend because you will probably end up in my script.

Q: Some of the other writing on your resume is horse-related; is this an interest, hobby, passion?

SZ: When I was a little girl growing up in Los Angeles, I wanted a horse.  I would beg my mother to take me to the pony rides at Griffith Park and often lost the battle.   I vowed I would get a horse when I got older. Now I have four.  I train, show and I was a carriage driving judge for some time. I produced and directed an award winning instructional DVD, The 15 Minute Horse Lesson and wrote a book about training.   So horses are in my blood. They give me an incredible  amount of joy and keep me grounded. 

Q: You were a contributing writer on a nonfiction book with an afterlife theme. Do you often feature supernatural themes in your writing?

SZ: My spiritually guides me. I was raised Catholic, but I’ve been a student of Kabbalah for many years.  Stepping away from Catholicism allowed me to embrace the world, to accept people and events in the world without judgment. I do believe that there is more than just what we see and experience in this reality.  I have a strong connection to the afterlife.  My father, uncle, grandmother, and friends have passed over. They all guide me when I need it. I believe they are my angels.  I write about it because I want readers and viewers to consider that maybe there is something else out there.  Expand your capacity to experience.  It’s that simple.

Q: How long have you been writing? Are you a full-time writer?

 SZ: I’ve been screen writing about ten years. I wrote poetry for years before that and fell into magazine writing by accident.  It’s not full time because I haven’t figure out how to go through life without eating.  Writing gives me a sense of satisfaction that I never got when I worked in the corporate world. It feeds me in other ways.

Q: Jim's dialect is very specific -- how do you make the dialogue sound realistic?

SZ: I’m painfully observant.  That comes from my childhood.  I grew up in a household that dictated children should be seen and not heard.  It’s in my personality. I just sit back, watch and listen to everything and everyone around me. Then I literally crawl into the character and carry on a conversation – with or without someone in the room. It comes across as schizophrenic, but it works for me. Also having many actors as friends helps.
Q: Any current projects you want to mention?

SZ: I’m currently working on my book, taking off my coat – release fat from you body, mind and spirit.  I have a blog, that addresses fat on all three levels and how I handle being 65 pounds lighter on a daily basis.  Also I am working on the second edition of my horse training manual, Training The Trainer.  This is the companion workbook for my awarding winning DVD, The 15 Minute Horse Lesson.  I approach the subject of horse training, not only as an issue with the horse, but as an issue with the horse owner/trainer. Often, the fears of the horse owner are transferred to the horse. Our equine companions are mirrors to aspects of our personalities that we have buried.  I can see my personality in each one of my horses.  Like it or not, when one of my horses challenges me, I have to take a look at what’s bothering me. And I’m in pre-production for my next video; a teaser for The Horse Of His Dreams.  It’s a lot but when I’m stalled on one project, I moved to another.  That way I completely bypass writers block and never get bored.

Thanks, Sabrina!

Excerpt from The Horse of His Dreams

Please note: Any formatting that looks a bit "off" (such as oddly centered dialogue) is due to limitations of the blog format, not Sabrina's original screenplay.


A Nevada Highway Patrol car turns around in front of Thomas' jeep. The Patrol car heads down the highway. The cars follow behind.


Joseph pops his head outside the jeep.

The truck carrying horses that were
on their way to Texas to be adopted,
lost control when a driver...


The stock trailer's rear door and ramp are broken off. Blood dots the gray rusted surface. Hoof prints trail off onto the hillside.

... swerved into the lane of the
oncoming livestock truck. The Highway
Patrol has been unable to locate the
driver of the vehicle. The truck
driver had no injuries.

Thomas slows down to take a look. Cars behind him HONK.


The carcass of a dead horse is visible behind the truck cab.


Joseph leans inside and turns up the volume.

The horses that escaped are running
free in the Red Rock Valley area.
If anyone sees the mustangs at large,
please call BLM. Do not try to
captures these wild animals.


Thomas speeds away.


A large office trailer sits behind several holding corrals full of captured mustangs.

SUPER: " Palomino Valley, Nevada."

A group of REPORTERS jockey for position in front of the office. BLM Agent #1 swims through the sea of bodies, dodging questions and camera lenses.


JIM TAYLOR sits at his desk. Built like a bulldog, he rolls left and right, searching for a comfortable spot for his stocky body in his too small chair. His office is decorated with photos of Jim and blue ribbon winning horses.

AGENT #1 enters the office.

You wanted to see me?



Anything wrong, sir?

Jim gets up from his seat and waddles over to the window.

He stares out.

You know this adoption program is
being watched by every humane society
animal lovin' pansy in the country.

Yes sir.

Everybody wants to make sure we do
this thing right. For the sake of
the mustangs.

Yes sir.

So, you can see that this little
cargo problem out on 395 is making
us look real bad.

Yes sir.

Jim waddles over to the BLM Agent.

We got horses running all over Red
Rock Valley that shoulda been in
Texas. We gotta get them mangy
mustangs rounded up again and outta
here by the end of the week.

Yes sir.

The sooner we rid the world of them
good for nothin' mustangs, the better.
I'm ridin' with you to hunt'em down.
Got it?

Yes sir.

BLM Agent #1 beats a hasty retreat. Jim meanders back to his desk and admires his prize-winning horses.


The living room is dark. The warm ashes from the fireplace softly glow in the room. Thomas is asleep. Joseph tosses and turns in his sleeping bag.


The wind stirs.

A shadow of a horse appears on top of the mountain overlooking the Donohue house.


Joseph stands on the front porch.


The shadow gallops down the mountainside.


The galloping gets louder. The shadow gallops through the sage, weaving around Juniper trees and jumps sagebrush.


Joseph runs into the night.


The shadow fades into a solid figure. A Black Horse appears on the horizon. He glances at Joseph and gallops away. Joseph takes off after him. His short legs make little headway through the sagebrush and sand.

He stops to catch his breath.

The wind blows a cloud of sand around Joseph. He squints as the sand etch his eyes with pain. The wind gets stronger,stirring loose sagebrush into a tornado. Joseph fights to keep his balance.

The galloping stops. The wind dies. Joseph rubs his eyes.

The Black Horse appears in front of Joseph. He rears and hovers over him. The boy hypnotized by the sight of the horse, is unable to move.

They stand. Eye to eye. The Black Horse lowers his head.

A crescent shaped moon is etched in his coat. Joseph reaches for the horse. But the horse backs away and disappears into the night.



Joseph snaps awake and gasps for air. He scans around the room. All is quiet except for the sound of his father's snoring.

Joseph searches for his notebook in his sleeping bag. He retrieves it and writes.

© Sabrina Zackery

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