This is a transcript of SYS 441 – From Back To The Future To About Time With Greg Bjorkman.
Welcome to Episode 441 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing writer-director Greg Bjorkman. He just wrote and directed a cool time travel romance called Press Play starring Lewis Pullman from the new Top Gun film and veteran actor Danny Glover. We dig deep into Press Play and how he was able to get a produce. It’s a time travel movie. So, we talked briefly about that too. As time travel always wrecks havoc with writers, so stay tuned for that interview.
SYS’s a six-figure screenplay contest is open for submissions just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. Our final deadline is approaching, it is July 31st. We’re looking for low budget shorts and features. I’m defining low budget as less than six figures. In other words, less than 1 million US dollars. Got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds, we’re given away 1000s in cash and prizes. If you want to submit to the contest, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leave me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast. So, they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links and mentioned the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You’ll find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast. And then just look for episode number 441.
So just a couple of quick words about what I’m working on, I’m still plugging away on this NFT project for the Rideshare Killer. It’s basically just doing its thing now, I’ve created a program to just mint these NFT’s automatically. So, it’s just running and minting some NFT’s. So, while it’s going to take a while longer, probably another month or two. It’s not really something I’m spending a ton of time with I’ve sort of got it up and running. So that’s all good. Because now I’m starting to spend a lot of time on the festival and the screenplay contest. As I mentioned, our final deadline for both the festival and the contest is July 31st. So that’s approaching. I hope folks who listen to this podcast can come out to the film festival, I’m going to try and do at least one table read. Obviously, it depends on the writer and where they live. And if they’re comfortable doing a table read. But if the writer is okay with it, I’ll probably choose the winning script or maybe the runner up script, it’ll sort of depend on some of the logistics with the winning screenplay. But I’m going to choose one of them one feature script and probably one short script and do like a table read, I’ll get a bunch of actors on stage and we’ll go through it. And if I can figure it out, I’ve never done a live stream. But if I can figure out how to do some live streaming, I’ll definitely try and do live stream it as well. But if you’re in Los Angeles area, October 7th to October 9th, definitely think about coming out for some of the shows, obviously I’ll be there. But it should be a good time. And as I said, we’re going to have some interesting films and some industry judges, for the screenings, I’ll get some of the more details. As I said, once July 31st hits, then I’ll start to really make the schedule and figure out what films are screening when. But when I’m thinking for this table read, probably it’ll be like an afternoon, I’ve got the theatre, as I said for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, it’ll probably be either Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you know, around two-ish or something. But again, I just got to get the actual submissions all in and kind of see where I can I can fit this in the program. But that’s kind of what I’m thinking now. So again, I think this would be an interesting thing for writers to see, I’m going to run it basically like I used to run the writers group when I was doing that. And it’s just basically, we’ll do a table read, I’ll get a bunch of actors to read the different roles, there’ll be an audience listening. And again, I’ll get some of the industry judges and some of my writer friends to come out. And then once the reading is done, then we’ll give notes. And we’ll kind of critique the script. And everybody will have, you know, everyone gets two or three minutes, and they can kind of give their notes. And I encourage anybody, if you’re in the Los Angeles area, come out, listen to the script and give your notes. That’s one of the things I find really powerful about a writer’s group. And again, if I can livestream this, I can kind of show people how you can run it because it’s really not that hard to run. And it’s really a very valuable, at least I always found it was really a very valuable tool, certainly the Rideshare Killer. I did several table readings on that, again, where you get actors, and they read it. And then you get writers in the audience who listen to it, and then they give you notes. So, it’s just a great development tool. And as I said, I’ve done this before, so it shouldn’t be hard for me to kind of set it up and then hopefully show other people but you could do this anywhere in the world. Like you could get a bunch of actors, you know, almost anywhere in the world. There’s going to be some community of actors and writers and stuff and you can set up a writers group on your own and as I said, for me, it was just it was a really great development tool for my projects. Anyways, thinking October 8th through October 9th in the afternoon, as I said, I’ll be setting that up, but I’ll have more details once the contest closes for submissions here sometime in August. I’ll have more details on that. Anyway, that’s what I’ve been working on over the last week or two well, not a lot of screenwriting or filmmaking on my part. But such as life, you know, I’ve got these other things going, I’m going to dive into another project once the festival is completed, I’ve got a couple of things I’m going to really pursue and try and get something going. I’m just really more on the writing and film front. But I got a few more months, as I said, I’ve got to get these other projects. I got to get them basically up and running and get them all organized. Anyways, those are some of the things I’ve been working on. Now. Let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing writer director, Greg Bjorkman, here’s the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Greg to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Greg: Of course, happy to be here.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background, where you grow up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Greg: So, I grew up in Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. And growing up, my mom would always rent a little video camera from the library that she at the school that she worked at, and she’d bring it home and it sat there every weekend. And I thought to myself, alright, well, maybe, maybe I can start using that. And so, I asked her and so I started making these little short films, with my best friend and my brother. And we would do stupid shit. Like it would be experimental. It would be you know, we did like a heist movie we did like, and these are all like really short, like, maybe two minutes, three minutes. You know, I think I saw, I Dream of Jeannie at one point, I was like; Alright, how do they do that effect where she disappears. And so, I started trying to incorporate, you know, visual effects and special effects into different stuff that we were creating. But the idea of filmmaking didn’t occur to me until I was two years deep into going to school for physical therapy. And I just couldn’t stand the idea of doing the same thing over and over again. I mean, it is corrective, and it’s helping people. But I guess I was just a little bit too bored by that type of work. And so, while I was at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, for PT, one summer, I took a job at the local NPR affiliate. And this was during the 2008 presidential election, I ended up taking the job there. And I discovered how far-reaching media can be and stories can be. And so, I decided, you know, maybe film is the way. So, I left that school, went to UW Milwaukee, Peck School, the arts for film, and I went there for two years, went up for Portfolio Review twice, was declined twice. Had a professor there who really encouraged me to keep going. And so, I decided that I would try to move to LA. And so, I moved to LA. And one of the requirements that my dad had for me was, you know, you got to continue doing school. Because my parents background is completely different. My dad is a microbiologist, and my mom is a teacher.
Ashley: I’m curious about just as you’re going through that, you mentioned this portfolio review, and you didn’t pass it twice. How did that affect you? Like, what would have happened if you had passed that you would have been admitted to like the film master’s program or something? What we’re sort of the ramifications of that?
Greg: Well, it was kind of a, I think that was the spark to fire under my ass like to be like; Alright, these people don’t want me, but I know that I like this stuff. I have to prove them wrong. So, I left. If I had, you know, gotten through, I’m not sure if my filmmaking would be. You know what it is now. Like, I don’t think I would have had the same career path. I may still be in Wisconsin at this point, if I had stayed there. But yeah, I left. And I guess the rest is history. Because now I’m making movies.
Ashley: Yeah. So, talk about that. I know, there’s a lot of screenwriters out here listening to this. Number one, I’m curious, what was your main direction at this point? Did you want to write? Did you want to direct right and direct produce? What was sort of your main focus when you left Wisconsin?
Greg: Well, so when I left, I think what I had in mind was directing. Because I have always been the kid growing up that would organize things. And I know that that sounds like a producer. So maybe that’s in my future too. But I definitely, you know, saw writing as a hurdle. You know, it was the thing that I needed to do in order to get to the directing, at least, you know, from my perspective, when I was going through, and trying to break into the industry. And, you know, that advice was given to me by Josh Boone, who said, you know, if you write something, you’ll be more familiar with the content and more able to sell it to someone. And so that’s why writing came into the picture. Now, I come from editorial, because I’ve worked on a bunch of Josh’s films. So, I know how a film was put together. And I know how emotions work. But I still think that, you know, writing is always going to be a challenge for me, like, I have an editorial mindset. James, for instance, my co-writer on this, he’s a fantastic first writer. And I think that that dynamic works, like having a writing partner is always beneficial to the process, whether it’s an official writing partner, or someone to bounce ideas off of, you kind of slowly learn, you know, you have this grounding, just imagine like two balloons attached to the same string. And then there’s a pulley that the string is wrapped around, you’ve got one person that’s grounded, really close to the ground, while the other person is able to float and explore different things. And then you take turns, you go back and forth, and it’s kind of a safe, creative environment. And that’s what it felt like when I was working with James.
Ashley: Hmm, yeah, that’s a great metaphor. I’m curious, as you move to LA, again, I know we have a lot of people listening to this that are thinking about that potentially moving to LA, maybe you can just give some of your tips for what you did to do. And I’m talking about just practical stuff like where in LA do you recommend people go? They don’t have a lot of money they need someplace that they want to live? Where do you recommend that they positioned themselves when they first get here? And what sort of resources are out there for people just find a job, even if it’s just a survival job, what do you recommend there? Should they get that PA job in the entertainment industry? Should they become a waiter? Should they get that office job that’s not related in terms, maybe give us a little tips on that sort of stuff.
Greg: I think that experience and insight is key to learning about anything. So, if it is a PA job, and you’re observing, you know, how things go, like, that’s going to, you know, give good insight into the industry. And then you get another job pass that, and then another job pass that you slowly each job kind of gives you more and more insight into how to do something. And like I mentioned, when I was in advertorial you know, that’s one aspect of the industry that is very insightful into the filmmaking process. Because, you know, if you’re on set, there’s 1000 things happening every second, and your job responsibilities might not take you over to other aspects of filmmaking. But in editorial for me, I was able to observe, you know, a production design, acting, you know, cinematography, all these choices, you know, that were being made on set, and how they were being made in editorial, knowing what you need in order to create the final product. And that was super, super helpful. So, I think that when, if you are thinking about moving to LA, you know, I started out as a production PA, but then I found my way into editorial. If you start as a PA, you know, that’s always step one, that’s always going to be step one. And, you know, I honestly don’t know how you develop your writing skills. Like that’s hard for me, as well. I think being able to find people that you align with, you know, that’s something that everybody struggles with as an adult, like we all have our friend groups grow smaller and smaller as we age.
Ashley: Isn’t that ironic?
Greg: Yeah. So, I think that if you are able to find those people that help you develop your skill sets, and people that you want to spend time with, outside of, you know, just the industry. I think that’s where your skill sets start to develop a little bit more.
Ashley: Yeah, gotcha. So, let’s dig into Press Play. Maybe to start out you can just give us a pitch or logline. There’s a new feature film that you wrote and directed. Again, maybe you can just give us a pitch or a logline, what’s this film all about?
Greg: So, it’s about a young woman who has a chance to save the love of her life when she finds the mixtape that she made with him. And it can transport her back in time. So very simple concept, but it’s got a lot of complicated elements to it because it’s time travel.
Ashley: So, where did this idea come from? And I’m curious, so what was sort of the genesis of this story?
Greg: So, it came from a conversation that I had with Josh, Josh Boone. We were talking about music. And we were having wine at a restaurant. And he basically tells me about this idea that he had, for, you know, time travel, music, romance. And he tells me that he’s never been able to really figure it out. And I think to myself, you know what, this would be awesome if I could do this. And then I asked him, and he said, if you can fix it, you can go make it. And that was in, I want to say 2012. So, it’s been a bit. It’s been 10 years since then. That’s crazy. And so, I didn’t have the emotional firepower back when he gave it to me, like, I remember having note cards and like, trying to figure this thing out myself. But really, I think, you know, I think writing can be found in life experience, because I had to go through a difficult relationship. Before I was able to know what the story was supposed to be. And when I worked on The Fault in Our Stars, I met someone in post, who I became friends with. And then, few years later, in 2016, when I just had gone through that relationship, I reached out to her and I said; Hey, do you know anybody who likes time travel movies, because I want to start writing this thing, finally. And she said, James, and so I was like, alright, let’s grab dinner. And then we grabbed dinner. We talked about it a little bit, and then started writing it the next weekend. And, you know, it was a fun process.
Ashley: I’m curious, there’s so many and you’re getting sort of, you’re alluding to a lot of the logic problems with time travel movies. How do you avoid, you know, there’s so many time travel movies, some good, some bad. How do you avoid some of the cliches? How do you lean into some of the sort of the expectations of the audience, but ultimately, you know, Blake Snyder has the same give them the same but different, how do you give people that experience with a time travel movie? How did you get in there and try and come up with something original, even though as I said, this is very tried and true in terms of the sort of the genre and the setup?
Greg: Well, we were working, as most filmmakers are with this audience that has seen, you know, you have to you have to go with the idea that an audience has seen every single film out there. So, you’re basing your logic around other time travel movies. And so, the couple of the films that were very inspirational for our logic, were Back to the Future, and About Time, and the two of those films are very interesting, because they’re very different. Because when you when, when I think of about time, I actually think of the time travel is secondary, because the emotions of that story are about, you know, love and the loss of his father. And, you know, it’s just, it’s, it’s very, it’s, it’s heartwarming, and then with, Back to the Future, it’s fun and light. And the logic is fun, and they’re both fulfilling in in their own unique ways. And the you know, what we’ve learned from both of that was in both of those movies was you can have a really good time travel logic. And then there can be holes and people will try to find them, poke them, but if you give them the emotions, they don’t do that quite as much. If you give them an emotional story that works, you know, then you will find yourself in a good place. So, it was it was it was good to find those two movies and you know, it is always going to be a challenge and trying to not recreate something that already exists, but to give it like something new. And I think that you know, going through life and watching a bunch of different movies will give you your own unique perspective. And but you will also try to lean towards the movies that are in existence. So that’s why it’s nice having a writing partner, because then they can be like; Hey, you’re getting too close to this. Or maybe we should do something like they did in this movie.
Ashley: So, let’s just talk about your writing process a little bit. Just take us through sort of your typical day, do you write in the morning? Do you write at night? Are you someone that does extensive outlining? Do you jump into Final Draft, just kind of walk through your writing process a little bit, and we can be specific on this, it sounds like there’s some unique challenges where you sort of started with a first draft, but maybe just walk us through sort of the process of this, what did it look like actually writing this?
Greg: So, James and I, when we sat down to write, we had note cards, like I mentioned, and, you know, a script that was in a place that needed improvement. And when we were writing at the time that James was working a desk job, and so we had to write in the evening. And that wasn’t something that I enjoyed doing, because I feel like I’m most sharp in the morning. But, you know, you have to work with what you got. And so, we wrote, maybe two or three times a week in the evenings. And we would sit down, and I think maybe about a quarter of the way through, I kind of realized that we were putting a lot of pressure on ourselves to fix and create. And it was at that point that, you know, we start playing video games, and started watching movies and doing all that stuff and became friends, like, instead of just like writing partners, and that was a good it was, it was a fun experience. Because there are a couple instances where like, we would be playing, like Call of Duty or something, and then like, he would kill me, but then I would have like, an epiphany, and then it wouldn’t matter that he killed me, because then we would, you know, it would be this fluid, sort of like we’re playing video games and or watching a movie, and then all of a sudden, an idea would come to us. And it’s like that relaxed, creative space that you need to be in in order to come up with the good ideas. Because the pressure that you put on yourself to come up with ideas, that’s going to be detrimental to those ideas at the end of the day, because you want them to come naturally. And that’s hard to do. Especially when you’re on a time crunch.
Ashley: Yeah, I’m curious. And this is sort of just an oddball question. You had Lewis Pullman is one of the leads in your movie. And I’m just curious, when you were casting him, did you know he was already in Top Gun with Tom Cruise? Did that factor into your casting? You always, especially on the indie level you know, I know, as a producer, myself, you’re always trying to get that guy who’s on the come, who’s on the rise because that can really bring your movie along with it. Was there any thought process with that? And now we’re hearing about, you know, how Top Gun was done in 2019. So clearly, he was already cast, but when did you guys cast him? And did that sort of factor into it?
Greg: Yeah, well. You know, I don’t think thinking back to like, the casting or the age of the film. We definitely. I I’m sure that I was aware of it, but it didn’t like register as something that was, like, important to me. Properly for producers, it can bring value to the film. But you know, I was really looking for the correct person for the role. And, you know, he just had it, like we met over coffee. And it was like one of the longest general meetings that I had on in casting. And we just talked about, you know, where each of us was coming from, you know, who this character was, in our previous relationships, and, you know, just really, I saw him as someone who’s just genuine, you know, like, and he knew who the character was supposed to be. And from there, it became a lot easier to just be able to create with him. You know, I use this metaphor, you know, I’ve liked metaphors, I use this metaphor a lot when it comes to filmmaking. Filmmaking is basically a boat, where it’s your leaving port, and you have a destination in mind and the scripts you’ve been given, and the cast and the crew are all handpicked. And if you pick the right people, and you pick the right script, you know exactly where you’re going to end up. And, you know, over the course of the trip, you’re going go have to, you know, of course, correct a little bit. But if you have the wrong cast, or you have the wrong crew, or you have the wrong script, it’s going to be harder to make those big changes halfway through. You know, and I definitely in the back of my mind when James and I were writing, we knew that there were issues with Back to the Futures recasting. And, you know, I knew that just having that on my mind, like I felt like I was bound to do my due diligence and casting because I knew that there were opportunities that could arise that are unexpected. And, you know, you could have to make some big change, but we didn’t have to, because the people that we cast and crew, they were all fantastic.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So just quickly to wrap up, your publicist is telling me we got to go. So, I apologize for cutting you off. But how can people see Press Play? Do you know what the release schedule is going to be like?
Greg: So, it’ll be in theatres, select theatres and on demand, June 24th. And I’m looking forward to people finally being able to see it.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. And how can people keep up with what you’re doing and follow your career, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, any service like that, that you use all round up for the show notes.
Greg: People can find me on Instagram at sh35mm. I’m also on Twitter but less active. Greg Bjorkman.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Well, Greg, congratulations getting this film done. I look forward to following along and good luck with all your future projects as well.
Greg: Thank you so much. It was great meeting you.
Ashley: Thank you, we’ll talk to you later.
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As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly best of newsletter. Each month, we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material. So again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So, if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants. Again, that’s sellingyour screenplay.com/consultants. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing producer David Zuckerman. He is a producer. So, we talk about his career as a producer, kind of how he got into the business and how he found screenplays to produce them. You know, he’s produced a good number of features and shorts and all sorts of stuff. And so, we talked about that that in his career as a producer, but he’s also the founder and owner of virtual pitch fest VPF. I’m sure many people listening this podcast have heard of that. And he’s graciously agreed to give away some free pitches to the winners of the SYS six figure screenplay contest. So. you can check that out sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest I think we’re giving 5 free pitches to the or maybe it’s 10 free pitches to the winners of both the shorts category and the features category. And I think it’s five free pitches to the runner up category. So definitely check that out. But this is some very tangible items for screenwriters to really help them market their material. So, I’m excited to have just virtual pitch fest on board as a sponsor. But also, this is a great interview next week. I’m bringing David on he really explains virtual pitch fest, how to use it, what it’s good for some good tips and tricks on kind of how to get the most out of it. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.