Movies. Theatre. Madonna.
Ever since he was a kid, those are the three passions that have kept this year’s Writing for Film & Television valedictorian, Rodney Roy, inspired in his journey from child actor, to playwright, to LGBTQ+ screenwriter.
“I started acting when I was four and pursued a career as an actor for many years,” said the self-described avid collector of DVDs and Blu-rays, who’s been collecting international gay movies and old Hollywood films since he was a teenager.
“I worked mostly in the theatre, but I dabbled in film and television – including two seasons as a regular guest on a live national talk show, but ultimately my career never got off the ground and I was paying the bills by working retail and doing odd jobs.”
After a “freak accident” injured his arm, Roy – the Playwright in Residence at Sudbury-based, interactive murder mystery dinner theatre, Murder by Appointment – decided to enrol in Toronto Film School’s screenwriting program in order to keep himself productive during his recovery.
And he succeeded in doing just that – maintaining President’s and Honours list status throughout all six terms of his studies, and co-writing Come As You Are, a TFS student film, with actor/writer Sani Jalalzadeh.
But he didn’t stop there. Roy, 41, also also co-wrote The Golden Globs: A Red-Carpet Mystery with Amber J. Hicks, his fourth murder mystery for Murder by Appointment, and donned the Santa suit once again in 2019 in a sold-out run of theatre’s Christmas show Grinched: A YuleDie Mystery.
Roy recently sat down to reflect on his time at Toronto Film School, his passion for screenwriting, and his plans for the future. Here’s what he had to say:
What brought you to Toronto Film School? Where were you in life when you decided to continue your studies with us?
I was in a pretty bad place professionally, personally, and financially and I was recovering from a freak accident. I decided to go back to school because I wanted to do something productive during my recovery.
After doing a lot of research online, I decided to apply to Toronto Film School in the screenwriting program for two reasons: Firstly, I was impressed by the program and the fact that, upon completing it, I would have the necessary skills and competitive portfolio to start my new career as a screenwriter.
Secondly, I was impressed by the faculty, which is comprised of experienced industry professionals who are currently working in their fields, some of them award winners such as Andrew Barnsley, the Emmy Award-winning Executive Producer of Schitt’s Creek, who’s also the Executive Producer in Residence at TFS.
What made you decide to pursue your passion for Writing for Film & Television?
My dominant arm was badly injured in a freak accident and I needed to have two surgeries, one to fix my arm and one to save the use of my hand. After all that, I had to learn how to hold a pen and how to write again. It wasn’t until I couldn’t write anymore that I realized I was a writer. I was a kid when started writing poetry, short stories and plays and I never stopped, but I never thought of myself as a writer. It was a major ‘Aha!’ moment that changed my life.
What is the most important thing you’re taking away from your studies at TFS?
The most important thing I’m walking away with is my portfolio. In the span of eighteen months, I learned the ins-and-outs of screenwriting, while developing a competitive portfolio that truly captures what I’m about as a writer. That’s how good the program and the instructors are.
I took the horrific murders of Toronto’s serial killer of gay men and turned it into a documentary series called EI8HT: THE BRUCE MCARTHUR VICTIMS that profiles the men who lost their lives at the hands of this sadistic part-time mall Santa Claus.
My experience as an actor is the basis for my one-hour drama, PUBLIC I, about a gay disgraced former Hollywood A-lister who’s forced to take the only job he can find, as an acting instructor at a struggling acting school.
I turned my love of Christmas into a dark pseudo-incestuous romantic comedy about gay love in the politically charged 80’s called IN SIN AND ERROR PINING.
And I turned my recurring dreams about the Queen of Pop into a sitcom called MY BEST FRIEND MADONNA about a gay Catholic kid from a trailer park who becomes Madonna’s best friend after saving her life, the only trouble is people don’t believe him and some people think he’s nuts.
I wouldn’t have this portfolio if it weren’t for TFS and its dedicated faculty, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.
What are your plans after graduation both immediate and long term?
I want to establish myself as screenwriter of LGBTQ+ narratives, and I want my name to be up there with Ryan Murphy and Dustin Lance Black. In the meantime, I’m networking continuously to try to attract the attention of producers and executives so I can get my projects off the page and onto the screen.
I’m developing a post-apocalyptic medical drama called MERCY which revolves around a mutated strain of the coronavirus and a little girl who could save what’s left of humanity.
I’m working on yet another draft of my feature film, because I’ll be applying for the Telefilm Talent to Watch program in the new year.
I plan to work with more TFS students on their thesis films. I love story editing and it’s a way that I can give back to the school.
I was invited once again to teach a workshop on one-pager design to the first-year writing students, and last week I was a guest judge at the annual TFS pitch contest, which was a lot of fun. So, as you can see, I’ve been pretty busy.
If you offered one piece of advice to an incoming student, what would that be?
Always be the hardest working person in the room.