Gary Dover is one half of the screenwriting team The Dovers and the author of the screenplay Combato: The Bill Underwood Story, which is currently under option with producer Andrew (Woody) Stewart; here is a link to his Linkedin page:
Q: What made you interested in screenwriting?
A: For the past 21 years I have been writing screenplays. It has been a journey similar to the one mentioned by Christopher Vogler in a “Writer’s Journey.”
I never intended to write movies, it was by sheer accident.
Years ago, I noticed an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that Red West had opened an actor’s studio in Bartlett. I was an environmental sales representative at that time, traveling the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico selling fume hoods to laboratories. I asked my boss if they would pay for the actor’s workshop. I felt it would give me more polish as a professional salesperson, since selling is acting, to a degree. They gave me the green light.
After meeting with Red he felt I should be in the advanced class for actors. Why? I do not know. Maybe it was due to my positive attitude or my background in selling. I will never know. I was a terrible actor! I had no range except one…I could play a “red neck” sheriff with great skill. I couldn’t remember my lines. As an actor, I shamed the profession.
During this time, I noticed that I liked reading scripts. I started tinkering around with them at home. In fact, I wrote some short scenes and presented them to Red. He liked them and told me I should pursue screenwriting. He didn’t have to say I was a horrible actor, I could see it in his eyes. To testify to that fact, Red made videos of our acting. I still have a copy of that VHS tape. Every now and then I will show it to relatives and friends as a gag. Without a doubt, everyone agrees that my acting skills were beyond horrible.
So, I delved into the world of screenwriting. I had no idea what I was doing. I joined a local writers group. I listened and learned. I camped out at Barnes and Noble to read all the books I could on screenwriting. For hours and hours I would sit and read hoping to make some sense of it all.
Finally, I took the plunge and started my first draft of a screenplay I called “CABINCONTROL” – an action story about drug dealers using souped up Mustangs to deliver marijuana across the state of Tennessee. Sort of a “Thunder Road” meets “BLOW.” I worked for hundreds of hours on that script. Like a fool, I sent it to producers and agents. It garnered over fifty reads, and fifty rejection letters. I simply wasn’t ready. My writing was not up to par. Since I was a professional salesperson, I could handle rejection. I kept on and on for years learning the craft of screenwriting. I’ve now completed ten screenplays and one sitcom.
Q: What is your process for collaborating on a screenplay?
A: Usually I come up with an idea and my wife and I kick it around. Carolyn is very good at looking at an idea and letting me know if it sounds like a worthwhile project, and whether I should spend the months required researching and developing. I do the draft and create the skeleton for the story. Carolyn mainly edits and improves the dialogue. You could say I’m the creative partner and my wife is the realist and brings the story back into focus. Sometimes I go off on a tangent, and Carolyn brings me back on topic.
Q: Do you ever fight about it?
A: We basically work independent of the other. I write. She reviews and edits. If we run into a scene that is not working we take a break and come back maybe a few days later. We look at the issue, and if it still persists, we delete the scene. If it’s not working for her, it probably will not work for the reader/audience.
Q: What sort of day jobs to each of you have and how does it influence your writing?
A: I am a retired school teacher and my wife is disabled due to a life-long battle with Crohn’s Disease. I still teach a couple of days a week to help disadvantaged kids receive their high school diploma. I teach in the inner city of Memphis where life’s a daily struggle for its inhabitants. You would be surprised how many students are homeless or live in extreme family environments that are not conducive to learning. There are many single family parents who work two or three jobs a day to pay the bills. It’s a tough job, but also very rewarding.
Q: Who is Bill Underwood?
A: He’s my wife’s grandfather. I received the rights from the Underwood family to write a biography of this forgotten and exceptional Canadian hero.
It’s a true story about a young boy who grew up rubbing shoulders with Houdini, learned the secrets of the East from the greatest Jujitsu martial artists that the West had ever seen. Bill Underwood later beat the Germans in unarmed combat – and then combined all of this to create the most ruthless method of hand to hand combat ever. His method was so effective that the government used it to train their top secret agents – but denied it even existed.
What many people don’t know is that while growing up in England at the turn of the century, Bill Underwood worked as a call boy, ushering Vaudeville stars like Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, and the great Buffalo Bill Cody onto stage. At the age of ten, Vaudeville became the turning point for a small boy who lived in the grimy slums of Liverpool and worked at grinding lenses in a smoke-filled factory during the day. It was at the Pavilion theatre where he first met jujitsu experts Yukio Tani and Tara Maki who trained this pint-sized boy into a master of martial arts.
“Combato: The Bill Underwood Story” will take you on a journey through history as a tiny boy who developed a deadly martial arts system that protected thousands of soldiers during WWII. Along the way, Bill endured many personal hardships and survived numerous encounters with death during both World Wars. At the age of seventeen, he was one of the first soldiers in WWI to experience the mustard gas attacks by the Germans. He was captured by the Germans on more than one occasion, and would use his own self-developed, deadly form of Combato to escape his captors.
In 1981 Insight Productions from Toronto produced a documentary about Bill’s life called “Don’t Mess With Bill.” This film was nominated for an Academy Award. Bill went on to appear on Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Real People – all the big television shows of the day. He appeared numerous times on these shows and hundreds of people came to learn Defendo, in Toronto – his self-protection system he later developed for the general public. Bill lived to the age of ninety and unfortunately died a pauper because too many people took advantage of his trusting heart. The screenplay is the feature film about his earlier life and his developing of Combato, the deadly martial arts for the military.
Q: What inspired you to write his story?
A: I was looking for my next project. I asked my new Canadian wife, Carolyn, what did she thought I should write about and she said, “Why don’t you write about my grandfather, Bill Underwood?” As I looked into the history of this amazing English/Canadian hero, I was knocked out of my socks. What an incredible life! In fact Combato: The Bill Underwood Story is only about the first half of his life. The other half is just as amazing. There is so much history that I could not fit the story into a 120 page screenplay. I had to constantly edit because his life was so full of incredible life-changing events.
Q: Do you practice Combato?
A: No, but Carolyn was a former instructor along with her sister Janet. They both taught “Defendo” – Bill Underwood’s version of Combato that he reworked after WWII to be used by everyday citizens for self-protection. It really is an incredible system, and he was a true pioneer in this field. Defendo is still being taught today.
Q: Who are some of your writing influences?
A: One of my first screenwriters that I became familiar with was Bill Martell. He writes action screenplays. I loved reading Jules Verne when I was a boy, and later Michael Crichton as an adult.
Q: What do you like about the film industry?
A: It’s amazing a movie is ever made! The politics and business sense needed to get a script made into a film is mind boggling. I’m currently involved in two projects: “Quarantine Island,” and “Combato: The Bill Underwood Story.”
Q: What about it would you change?
A: The current system has been in place for quite a while. What’s the expression? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It all boils down to a good story. If you got a good story, and you’re VERY persistent, you can have a shot at the big time.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)