This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 061: Writer / Director Stephen Mitchell Talks About Making A Micro Budget Film.
Ashley Scott Myers: Welcome to episode 61 of the Selling your screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode main segment I’m interviewing writer director and actor Stephen Mitchell. He’s produced several low budget films and we talked through some of the key steps to making a micro budget film. So stay tuned for that. If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or living a comment on YouTube or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast so their very much appreciated.
Over on YouTube I want to thank Nao Pao, Ginger Shine and Stanford Crane for leaving me a nice comment on episode 59. As always thank you guys for those comments, I always look at these comments so if you have a question, or comment about anything in the episode please don’t hesitate to leave a comment over on YouTube. YouTube has a really nice commenting system. So it’s easy for me to respond to all the questions and comments. Thank you everyone who subscribed to YouTube channel this past week. The SYS channel just pushed over 600 person mark so if you use YouTube a lot please do consider subscribing to our channel.
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Couple of quick notes any websites or links that I mentioned in 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 can find all the podcasts show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/poscast and then just look for episode 61. Also if you want my free guide how to sell a screenplay in five weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons.
I teach the whole process on how to sell your screenplay in that guide. How to write a professional logon inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material, it really is everything you know to know to sell your screenplay so just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide if you’d like to check that out.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with actor, director, and screenwriter Stephen Mitchell. Here is the interview.
Ashley Scott Myers: Welcome Stephen to the selling your screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Stephen Mitchell: Thank you Ashley it’s a pleasure to connect with you. I was so very happy to get your hello thru stage 32.
Ashley Scott Myers: Yeah, yeah. So to start out I wonder if you could give us a quick overview of your career kind of how you got started in the entertainment industry.
Stephen Mitchell: Well I got started I suppose you could say I lived on the set of Mission Impossible and a lot of other episodic TV shows back in the 60’s. Medical Standard, The Virginia, The Road West, Laredo. Because a friend of the family became a mentor of mine and he directed a lot of these episodes. But he did a substantial number of Mission Impossible so I’d sit on the set be talking to Michelle Hugo who is the director photography and all of the actors and I’d go into the edit room and see how the dailies we’re but dailies look like before they cut into form, I’d see what the first answer print look like before anything else happen. And I got a sense of the technology of making film or television first and I studied with Elliot Bliss and Peter Givens who are the heads of the camera and sound department at CBS cinemas center back in the day and they gave us access to the sound stage and a lot of the equipment that belong to CBS.
Then about 15 years went by because I knew how to make films but no one told how to get to make films, and I lived my life like I was in a movie instead of actually making movies so I’d go to Italy and buy old Ferrari’s and Macerate’s and go to England and buy Bentley’s and bring them back and sell them in Los Angeles and had a stellar time. I mean it was party time all the time and driving these cars around it’s a lot of fun. But it finally occurred to me that I was being passed by and I really needed to make a move. I saw the French film A Man and a Woman by Claude Lelouch back and I think it was 1965 or 1966, and then in 1975 I saw And Now my Love the French title is Toute une vie and I realized this too much time is going by and there’s a film about making movies and I’m not making movies. So I determined that I needed to go to France to start my career and stuck where I was where you know everybody in the world is coming to Hollywood and I’m in Hollywood, with a mentor on Hollywood, and connections in Hollywood and I pick up and go to France. And so I end up in France and I make my first film called Montmartre and I shot it not only in France but we shot it in French. I’d learned French very quickly and I did this movie called Montmartre which was like a Woody Allen take the money and run sort of old documentary about this artist who painted on the square of Montmartre and it was very amusing in a Woody Allen kind of humor and that kicked-off my career.
Ashley Scott Myers: Huh, and talk about that just a little bit though what made you make that decision like why did you go to France? Why did you think that would be a better start for your career?
Stephen Mitchell: Well it goes back to a man and woman, here’s a film about a man who’s a race car driver and we see him racing at the Monte Carlo Rally. Racing cars are a passion of mine. One time I own the Ferrari GTO that’s worth $52 million dollars today Ralph Lauren owns that car today and I’d race it all over Southern California and road in on race tracks like Willow Springs raceway and drive with my friends on the track. The other part of the movie was about a woman who was a script supervisor on films and there we saw footage of her making films. So the film making, the auto racing, the ambience, the aesthetics, the locations of France just struck a chord with me that I found it irresistible and finally and I decided that I wanted to make the step. I felt that was I wanted to do. There’s a lot of reasons and no one reason but I have to satisfy that. So when I went to France it was only Rick and I there and spend two weeks to see what the situation was. I didn’t know it the time I left that I end up living there for two years and make Montmartre then later other French chefs which was a TV pilot I did with an actor named 0:07:16.5 who has won their Cěsar which is their Academy Award for best actor by the talented film.
So it opened the door for me and when I came back, when I was there had the cache of being a Hollywood filmmaker even though I hadn’t made films yet in Hollywood. When I came back I had the cache of being this ex-patriot who’d made films in France there was sort of a cache to that. So both directions had worked for me.
Ashley Scott Myers: Did you have any contact I mean get a ton of emails from people that they’re you know, outside of Hollywood and their wondering if they should move to Hollywood. They don’t know anybody in Hollywood. Did you know anybody in France when you went over there?
Stephen Mitchell: I had one phone number and it was the sister of a friend of mine. She was not in a film business. And I barely spoke French. I’d had maybe a semester of high school French. So when I got there I didn’t even dare talk but by the end of two months I was fully conversant and having business meetings with no translator. I’d just picked it up very quickly.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay and let’s dig into this a little bit so you show up I assume in Paris you don’t know anything but this one friend of a friend type of a situation. What did you actually do I mean, how did you even meet filmmakers, how did you get the money to produce this first movie?
Stephen Mitchell: Well it was very interesting you know, give me one person and you’ll end up knowing the town if you know how to play your cards right and here’s what I did. First of all I had my girlfriend over there call up one of the biggest movie stars in Paris. He’s name is Lino Ventura at the time, he’s passed since then. But he was a star in several Claude Lelouch films. He was in La bonne annee or the Happy New Year. He was in Money, money, money which was called L’aventure c’est l’aventure in French. He’s in a lot of films of Lelouch films but he’s also a star of many films made by the filmmakers. It was in that time and place it was like calling Steve McQueen. So I had my girlfriend who spoke French she was French Canadian call him and in French of course say that Mister Ventura there is a filmmaker from Hollywood who would like to meet you, would you be open to that? And he said absolutely and he gave us his address which turnabout, turned out to be his home.
So it would be like somebody from France coming over here and calling today I guess it would be Brad Pitt and saying you know, there’s this filmmaker from France who’d like to meet you and they said come to the house. That’s what happened and in turn ended up meeting every film actor that who’d work with Lelouch in the films and movies that I had spent hours looking at studying and wanting to make films like those. So Andre Dussollier, and Francoise Fabian who is in the La bonne annẻe. All these actors opened their doors to me. I just said I’m Stephen Mitchell I’m from Hollywood would you like to meet? Now that was on the A-list side, as my circle of friends started expanding I happened to land in a very good position where one of my friends was an actor who knew a lot of other actors. And so when the time came for me to make Montmartre I just wrote parts for them because they had distinct personalities and I wrote the part to fit their brand, their personality. Branding is very important to me as it was to the old Hollywood studio. All the actors were branded. So I would write a 0:11:03.0 I’d write a particular role for and for, I’d write another role. There was one guy who wasn’t even an actor but he had a great personality so I had him come out and he played the head of the anarchist party who wanted to abolish just about everything in government. So he played a role and it was very wonderful. You can’t tell by watching the film which are the actors and which aren’t, and somebody might say well that’s because they’re all in uniformly bad. But in fact they’re all uniformly good and it is a great pleasure to work with them.
But what happened is in this group of friends and it is a little different in Paris than it is in the States, in Paris friends tend to have you over for dinner all the time. So I had an apartment so one night of the week they’d come to my place. The next night we’d be Jean Jacques’, and the next night we’d be at Ellen’s, the next night we’ be somewhere else and we’d sit dinner starts at 8 o’clock and for France it kind of was news to me. So when I was first invited over someone’s house at 8 o’clock I went and had dinner and I showed up at 8 o’clock and they’re ready to have dinner and I just finished eating in a restaurant. So I had to fake it and have dinner with them otherwise it would have been rude. I’ve learned very quickly that 8 o’clock was dinner.
And we’d talk about movies and things and one of the guys who was at these dinners was the ex-boyfriend Francoise Cigogne a biggest novelist of the era. He was her boyfriend and he was also director photography on film. So it was kind of an interesting crowd and through this I meet other people and one guy said I’ll fund a movie if you want to make it. And I said I’m not really interested and we talk, we got our terms and conditions and he was going to make a movie and I’m letting it know I’m making a movie and they said great, I’m writing parts for everybody and then about five days before I’m about to start the movie I get a call from him saying you know, I spent the money. I said did you what? You spent the money what does that mean? Does that mean and he said yeah, it means you know, I can’t make the movie with you and I’m like that’s good news and like now what. So I get that call at about I don’t know three in the afternoon. I go back to my apartment in 0:13:29.9 and the phone’s ringing and I’m really not in the mood to be talking to anybody this point I’m kind of like, now what? I pick up the phone and this guy I only know through friends of friends he says I hear that could you be making a movie and I said yeah, he said do you still need money for that? Well I’m like what? I said as a matter of fact I do. Well I’d like to fund it and I said I’d like you to do that very much. So the next day I go to his office and he reads the write-up that I did and this is in French of course and he’s reading it in French and when it’s over he finishes it and he says c’est terrible and shakes my hand and leaves the office and his assistant sitting there c’est terrible means it’s terrible and then he shakes my hand and I’m like, oh man. Bad news upon bad, so I’m thinking well that cooks that goose and sort of looking a little bit like, yah well what can I do and his assistant says what’s the matter? Well he just said it’s terrible. Oh no in French when you say it’s terrible that means it’s great. If you say it’s not terrible that means it is terrible. So if the French say pas terrible that means it’s not good if they say c’est terrible that means this is kick ass.
So I was happy to hear that and he put up the money and made the film and as a perk he happen to be a cigar smoker at that time so was I. And he used to have a humidor on his desk and he said as many as want whenever you want. Now these were Romeo and Juliet at Churchill’s which cost about I don’t know $30 a cigar. He smoke 10 of them a day and most I could do is one. How he manage 10 a day I’ll never know. But you know I‘d take a few you know, three days would go by and they’re gone come back and take another one. That was part of the pay-off in addition to making the movie. So we made the movie and had a lot of fun. That sort of established my credentials as a filmmaker.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay. Let me dig in to two things that you did for the film and I just be curious to hear thoughts when you had your girlfriend call this famous French actor, did you have some sort of design on what you were trying to do, or you just thinking you know what If I could meet this guy maybe that will open the doors. I mean did you think it through or did it just work better than you thought. What were sort of your plan once you met him?
Stephen Mitchell: Well I hardly ever think anything through. I know that aggravates a lot of people. In a way I mean my over writing agendas I wanted to make connections, make films. And he was probably most powerful connection you could have in France at the time. Beyond having him as a contact I didn’t really have an agenda for him. We got there, we talked I forget how long maybe an hour or so,it was quite interesting. When you look at Lino on screen you see kind of a gruff mans man no nonsense. He’s kind of like that in life why he took that much time with me I don’t really know we just liked each other. And I’d come in a taxi he drove me home which was very magnanimous of him to do and just as a little side story somehow the name Steve McQueen came up; I don’t mean 12 years of Slave I mean The Great Escape and that’s Steve McQueen. And he said a funny thing in French he says (French term) I fear for him. Now this was before he passed away that always occur to me in a wonder of Lino and Steve might have been friends and he knew that he was sick I don’t know. That only occurred to me later.
Ashley Scott Myers: So then the next thing and I always try and get when people sort of talk about you know a success or something that works out. I always try and get sort of a sense of the scope. Did you make up a list of like 12 powerful actors in France or powerful film people and have your girlfriend call all 12 and this one actually hit, or did she make one phone call and hit you were off to the races?
Stephen Mitchell: Very good question, she was I had them all in my head because I’d been admiring their work on the screen. In Los Angeles you know there’s this Laemmle chain of theatres that play art house type films with a predominantly French line back in the day. So I know who these guys were adamantly and I wanted to meet the La louche players the guys that habitually who are working in Claude La louche films for whatever reasons at the time that’s what I wanted. So Lino was the very first one we called and he said fine and the next one was Andre Dussollier who was the co-star of Toute une vie he’s been in a lot of films since then. He said fine and then in fact I went to his apartment one day and then later when my agent came to town from Hollywood we all went to dinner together. So it’s a little more social or at least I treated it on a social level and this is sort of a tip I would give to people but maybe I won’t bring that up just yet, we can come back to that. Next was Francois Fabian, so one by one I was meeting them and making apparently a good impression because we stayed in touch.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay, okay so let’s go ahead and will dig in to your book How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 days and survived to see profits, and we’ll talk a bit about the film Dead Write that you kind of chronicle in that book. To me the pivotal moment, I mean the pivotal moment like, everyone always talks about you know how hard film making is. It’s like 99.99% of the hardness of filmmaking is getting money. Like everything else is pretty you know, it’s all downhill once you get the money. So to me the pivotal moment and you go over pretty quickly in the book. But to me the pivotal moment is when you’re in Las Vegas and you meet this distributor or producer and agrees to finance this film. So let’s talk about that a little bit. Number one I’d just be curious to hear sort of your approach to going to film festivals and film markets. Do you go to a lot of them? Do you try and network and just basically repeat what you did in this particular case over and over again?
Stephen Mitchell: The only festival that I go to repeatedly or most often let say is Canne because I feel like France is my home away from home, or my second home. I enjoy the atmosphere. I enjoy the atmosphere of France but I also love the atmosphere of the Canne film festival there’s something special about it. So I do go there and more often than not I go to as you say meet a network and I’ll go and just collect business cards. I won’t even try to do anything at the festival because I know these guys are there to sell product. They don’t want to talk to somebody who’s trying to sell product to them. So I’ll go in I’ll say you know who is your director of acquisitions do you have a card, yes thank you. Off I go. I don’t waste their time.
A little bit of sample of that is I was a co-producer on a film called, a documentary actually called Addiction Incorporated that was directed by Charlie Evans Jr. He also produced the Aviator with Leo Dicaprio. And I wanted to get some money for the film and I knew if I’m going through the pallet and going to each booths and I need money for they’d give me the bonus rush immediately. So what I did as I’d say who is your director of acquisitions and collected cards all day long. That night I went back to my hotel and I sent emails to each one saying here’s our documentary. At that time we had Brett Morgen who directed The kid stays in the Picture that documentary as the director ultimately Charlie directed it. And I said here’s what we’ve got and we’re looking for a co-production films. That same day before the day was over StudioCanal calls my cell phone and says can you meet us tomorrow? Yah actually I can, so I met them in Paris, their studio and locations.
Now at this moment in time StudioCanal just announced they were doing no more co-productions. This is why you don’t listen to what’s circulating in the cosmos. I had a product they wanted now here’s how badly they wanted it. The price for this documentary the budget at that time was $2.3million dollars and if anybody has any experience with documentaries most documentaries for that amount you could make 10 documentaries. We had a superstar in the documentary world Brett Morgen, a very good subject and they based on one film caught on the description and a brief meeting they’re willing to put up $1.7milion dollars. A documentary, after they’d announce they weren’t doing co-productions anymore.
So the point of that is never pay attention to the worlds, never follow lists of procedures given to you by people in the industry because that generally takes out into the parking lot and puts you in a parking lot where you’re not going to bother anybody when you want to be in the stadium on the 50 yard line. That’s where you want to be. You want to be taken a snap and you don’t get up to the stadium of the 50 yard line and taking the snap, by taking all these pre-formulated rules on how to do it because that’s design to get you out of their hair because they’re too damn many people wanting to be actors, wanting to be producers, wanting to be writers so they come-up of all these really good stuff to get you out of their hair. They’re statistics aren’t your statistics. Your statistic is to get in the game. Not to follow their rules.
Ashley Scott Myers: So just to clarify did this meeting with StudioCanal did that come as a direct result of one of these emails you’ve sent, you’ve got the business card, sent the emails this came directly from that?
Stephen Mitchell: Absolutely. The protocol was I got the business card from a booth StudioCanal’s booth at the festival, sent them an email that afternoon, got their return call that afternoon in their office the next day. The next day after that they gave me the figure of 1.7.
Ashley Scott Myers: So let me just run thru this process so that people can potentially try these themselves. So you go to the film market, StudioCanal has a booth they’re trying to basically sell their product to you know the foreign people that buy the product. So you walk in the first person you see you say, do you have a director of acquisitions? What do you actually ask for when you first walk in?
Stephen Mitchell: I said bonjour. Helps that you spoke French but you didn’t have too because they speak English and I said hello do you have a, who’s your director of acquisitions and they’d say so and so, do you have this card or phone number. Yes they have the card thank you very much.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay so, you wouldn’t even meet the director of acquisitions you would just get their business cards from some other person working in the booth and then you’re basically good to go. Now I’m curious why couldn’t you maybe try and get that from Imdb pro or something like that?
Stephen Mitchell: Well I guess you could but I like being hands-on, I like being at the festival, I like having his business card, his personal email and knowing this is the guy. Because Imdb pro I don’t know how often they update it, it could be out of data. I’m not saying don’t use it I’m just saying what I’ve done. And I don’t know necessarily that what I did was the best way but at least it worked for me.
Ashley Scott Myers: Yeah, yeah. So I’m curious too. I talked to another guy who did similar to afm in another episode and one of the things he did was he asked if they did co-productions and it doesn’t sound like you took that step you just got the director of acquisitions. Because it seems like there are going to be some distributors that have really have no interest in ever doing any kind of funding.
Stephen Mitchell: Well bear in mind that StudioCanal had just announced publicly that they weren’t doing anymore co-productions. Had I listened to that headline and the trades I wouldn’t have even gone to their booth.
Ashley Scott Myers: Yeah, yeah okay. That’s good to know.
Stephen Mitchell: A lot of time that kind of news that kind of information is used if you ever played football you know what a straight arm is? When you pushed the guy who’s trying to tackle your way? That’s a straight arm. If they want something they get involved don’t listen to anything. Because you may be the only guy that they do a co-productions with that year, make them actually say no to you.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay. Now I again just to one bit clarification like when you said director of acquisition I’m thinking that that’s generally the person who is you know reviewing DVDs of completed movies and deciding if they want to distribute them. You’re saying that the director of acquisition actually will be the one who brings on raw screenplays.
Stephen Mitchell: Well that’s what I asked for I’m not pretending to know the exact hierarchy or what the job assigned that’s are but I made the call. So here’s what happened. I asked for the acquisitions, I sent the email to him now when I walked into that meeting there were two people in that meeting. Maybe the director of acquisitions and maybe someone else was in-charge of co-productions. But if they’re interested in something they’ll get the right guy in front of you. You don’t need to know who they all are, they know who they are.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay. Now let’s talk about this email for a minute. Maybe you could just quickly kind of review what exactly you wrote in this email that you sent of that night. You know it sounds like you had some decent credentials involved with this documentary so maybe mention those. But just tell us sort of the specifics of that email, because I think that will be helpful for the people that are going to send this types of emails out.
Stephen Mitchell: Yeah I had created a basically a one page that talked about Addiction Incorporated and Charlie Evans looked it over and approved it and we went through it. And I attached that to the email and basically I said I’m at Canne, I have this project Addiction Incorporated the write-ups attached and I’m looking for co-production, interest in co-production to get this film made. It was just a one page but the idea was a good hook. It was about a guy who worked for Phillip Morris and created a safe cigarette now it didn’t save you from cancer, everything gives you cancer. You stand too close to a microphone for 5 years you get cancer but as far as cardio, heart conditions, and emphysema and things like that it solved that problem which was a big deal for the cigarette companies. Then the minute Phillip Morris realized that they had created a safe cigarette they fired him because the last thing they want to do is act to safe cigarette because they’ve been saying their cigarettes have been safe all along. So they had to stay on that message. Make it a very interesting hook, a very interesting documentary. So having a good subject matter helped a lot. Having Charlie Evans Jr. at that time he was the producer to having Brett Morgen who is a superstar in the documentary world was also helpful. But then if we get to Las Vegas I had I had none of those things going for me in terms of getting that right made.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay yeah. So let’s go ahead and dig in to the book. One of the things and maybe you can just kind of speak in sort of even just general terms sort of about making a movie so let’s just say you’ve got you know, we have a screenwriter he writes a script, he goes out maybe he just raises the money himself and then the next step is to go out and actually produce the movie. One of the things that was really interesting about your book was just how to get a lot of production value into your movie without having to spend a lot of money. So maybe you can kind of walk us thru that process a little bit. You know how can people shoot in great locations without spending a lot of money.
Stephen Mitchell: Alright well as you know from reading the book I loved to shoot in the dessert because it’s a wonderful landscape it suggests a lot of things psychologically to people, the barring ways to the heat and the going all the way back to lawns of Arabia. The dessert just speaks to me visually. But when I’d go, I’d shoot in the dessert because we don’t have to worry about innocent by standers, you can do car chases, you can do all kinds of stuff in the dessert. But you can’t stay in the dessert. So I always try to make sure that I got to Las Vegas at some point in the film because I like to have Las Vegas on the poster because I found from talking to buyers at the various festivals when they could see a Las Vegas scene on the posted they kind of like that, or description they like Vegas because Las Vegas is a destination resort around the world. It has its own magic. So let’s Las Vegas helps sell the film. So we go to Vegas and for example one day I wanted to shoot in Mint Casino now I always heard you can’t shoot in the casino’s it’s for both don’t even ask. So following my rules you don’t ask. So what I did is we had our trucks around the corner I walk in with my assistant asked to see the manager and next thing you know some New York hood with a broken nose comes out he’s the manager and for the night anyway. And he says yah what can I do for you? And I said well what I’d like to do is shoot some scenes for my movie and your casino here. And he says when? Right now, he says get the sign. Well what he meant was make sure you get a shot of the sign and put it in the movie. So it’s advertising form. I said no problem and he was just these guys okay to some pit bosses I don’t know who and that was that. So I go into the parking lot bring all my guys in and next thing you know I’m walking thru with airoflex on my shoulder shooting my actors walking thru the casino and doing all sorts of stuff. Coming in and out of the doors, stuff you’re not supposed to be able to do.
Ashley Scott Myers: And when again, I’d just like to get the scope of these things and you must have some failures where you walk into a place and say he can we shoot here and they say get the hell out of here, and I just, I’d like to just give get some scope because rejection is definitely part of entertainment industry and so walking into places and getting rejected. I don’t want people to feel like if they go to a casino and they get kicked out that that means that failed, it means just you know pick up and maybe try another one. But maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the times things didn’t work out just so people understand you know those times do happen.
Stephen Mitchell: Okay as improbable as this sounds, the only failures I had was when I asked in advance and then when I came back they changed their minds. Now think about that. Why they said yes when I was there or if I went to Caesar’s palace today and walked in the answer may be different because times have changed perhaps but they might not be different. I don’t know but at least at that time I never got a no when I asked and was ready to film on the spot. I never heard a no. I wanted to film in a liquor store one day and they say yah, I came back the next night oh no we can’t do it. Now I’m in Ensenada Mexico and one of the big cruise ships is parked in the harbor, docked you know there are people around enjoying the time, I got the game playing and I asked if I could bring my crew on shoot scenes from my movie on board the ocean liner and then they said come right aboard. Try getting permission to do that, you couldn’t but I did and I found that very often if you go to a restaurant and you say we’re shooting a movie, you like to shoot a scene at the table over here and I’m going to buy everybody lunch while we’re at it. I never had any restaurant turned me down. And in fact there’s a nice restaurant you may now it downtown Los Angeles called The Pacific Dining Car restaurant it’s a great place to go get steaks, and drinks, and scotch, and hang out with all of the attorneys and politicians, it’s that kind of place. I walked in with my camera two actors ordered lunch and I sat on one end of the booth and did a two shot going past the face of one actor and being focused on the second actor then I got out and turned around and we did the scene again, shooting the other way got a couple of scenes had a great lunch and left.
Ashley Scott Myers: And never even mentioned to anybody that worked there that you’re shooting a movie.
Stephen Mitchell: Nobody cared. But I was prepared to use available light, and the lighting was good and you know, I had everything to set for the type of shooting conditions I’d be in. On another time there’s another great old restaurant called Philippe’s downtown French tips sandwiches I think maybe the oldest restaurant now in L.A. Walked in there, there I wanted to use more of the restaurant than just one table. So I asked the owner happened to be in the restaurant and he says yah go ahead.
Ashley Scott Myers: Okay.
Stephen Mitchell: So now I’m getting all these wonderful locations for no fees. They’re just freebies. And then another thing to I knew about product placement. When I shot the French chef in Paris I wanted a Renault automobile for Philip to drive around in. Renault gave it to us. I wanted him to be wearing a gold Rolex so I talked to Rolex in the avenue of Grande armee they said no problem. What size is his wrist so they could take the length out so it would fit correctly they did. So in French Chef there’s Philip riding I think was a Renault 18 and he’s wearing this beautiful gold Rolex. The guy from Rolex came in to the post production house and sees Philip with a Rolex and then he sees the girl playing with Philip you should have asked one for her.
Ashley Scott Myers: So one of the things that occurs to me and it occurred to me now I would say even more it seems more apparent talking to but when I was reading your book is you know you have a real gift of chatting people up and talking with people. And I think that you might take that for granted and I wonder if you can give us some tips. Because everyone doesn’t have this sort of they just don’t have the gift of gab they can’t just chat people up that they don’t know and I wonder if you have some tips whether it’s maybe it’s conscious actually really cultivated in your personality. Maybe there are some tips for how to go about you know, talking somebody’s actors into being in your movies with no budget, talking to some of these people, because it seems like that’s kind of a lot of the secret of the success that you’ve had.
Stephen Mitchell: I cannot stress enough how important that is because with an inability to connect to people in that fashion you then have to abide by all the rules. Your screenplay has to have margins this big and it has to have a certain format and a certain number of pages, and it had to be submitted to an agent. And you have to follow all those rules that will kill any project dead. The likelihood of you going to all of thru all of those protocols and requirements dictated to you by the industry and countless workshops to get exactly the right screenplay, and then selling it are about it’s not about how to winning the lottery. Somebody’s going to win the lottery but you don’t count on it for something’s that really important. You don’t count on it to pay the rent; you don’t count on it to make the movie that’s inside you that has to come out. You have to follow those rules and get that movie made. You get movies made because the film business is like the rest of planet earth. You have to be able to connect with people and make friends and let them know that even though they haven’t seen what you can do yet. They have confidence in you because the way you presented yourself and I don’t mean putting on a suit and tie and going looking that way, I mean by knowing what they know and living up to their expectation of someone who knows what they’re doing. Someone ones gave me another mentor of mine gave an interesting definition of a wise man. He said a wise man is somebody who knows what you know, now think about that. Let’s say you’ve been distributing movies for 20 years. You know things about movies that filmmakers don’t even know. From 20 years of distributing their work. You know at a glance what’s going on and when a guy walks thru the door and says couple of things that makes him think ah this guy knows what I know I don’t have to explain all the jokes to him. I don’t have an expectation he’s going to go out do something ridiculous. You just gained cred with that guy because you’ve shown him you know what you know, or what he knows rather. That’s so important. If you don’t have the gift of gab but apparently I do I suggest you join toast masters and learn to give speeches in front of public until it’s comfortable, until it’s easy.
The other thing is in my repertoire company I had a hundred actors at any given time and sooner or later maybe this week, maybe next month. You’re going to get in front of a director who can hire you into a film. You’ve got to have things to speak to him about other than your desire to be an actor. If all you can speak about is when do I know if I got the part, you’re not going to get the part. But if you’ve seen Humphrey Bogart’s Beat the Devil and you can talk about that ensemble parody of a film noir. He knows you’ve got some history. When you walk in and I say Steve Mcqueen and you don’t know who he is except that some guy named Steve Mcqueen made 12 Years of Slave you’re not going to connect with me because you haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on in the business.
Dennis Hopper said an interesting thing once he said it’s not enough just to know what the history of your industry is you should know what great artists have done, and great artists of your time or doing because for example I saw a film last week called Mr. Turner wonderful film it’s like watching a painting for 2 hours not a dry moment in the whole piece. And to look at that film and to make that film he had to have known a lot of about part of its time and of its period and what made this interesting and not just I’m going to tell this guy’s story but he got the new nuances of the story. I mean it’s a beautiful film worth seeing but the more you know – said an interesting thing. I didn’t make my millions making movies I made my millions collecting art and what does that mean you go in you’re talking to a director and somehow you’re able to talk about painting and he goes I collect of most of the Louvre. Now you know what they know. If all you know is that my margins are this wide and I’ve got a log line, that’s good that’s important but that’s like very low on the list that you’re not connecting with them. He knows what a log line is that’s basic but if you know what the world is if you can inhabit his world a little bit.
I used to have all my actors read Vanity Fair magazine. Now why did I do that? Vanity fair at first glance sounds like a woman’s magazine you know like jewellery it ‘s not, they have articles about the top of the pyramid and all the different endeavours known to mankind whether it’s banking and finance, and movies, or fashion. And that top level of the pyramid of each of these industries circulates amongst each other. They all know each other for you to be what the French call au courant that means up to date with what’s going on in those worlds will bear fruit when you get into a conversation or he takes you to lunch. You’re a complete person now instead of somebody who’s only advertising their desperation to get into the film business. They don’t buy that. That doesn’t sell.
Ashley Scott Myers: Excellent tips. So how can people find your book again and it’s called How to Shoot a Feature Film in 15 days and to survive and see profits. Where can people find that and potentially buy if they want learn more?
Stephen Mitchell: The easiest place is Amazon.com and you can buy it in paperback if you’re like holding books and you can buy the Ebook if you are more digital in nature. It’s there.
Ashley Scott Myers: And I’d linked to that in the show notes so people can just click on it. I always like to wrap up the interviews what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing and just follow along. Do you have a Twitter handle, maybe a Facebook page, a blog anything you ever want to mention I can link to in the show notes. I found your blog this emcpb.blogspot.com shall I link to that in the show notes?
Stephen Mitchell: Please do. That keeps them up to date. The novels that I’ve written are listed there and I have two aspects to my interests. One is Ferraris so if happen to like Ferraris you’re going to see the Ferrari’s I’ve owned and driven and news about the Ferrari world, if you like feature films, you’re going to see a lot especially about my history growing up in the Hollywood arena and meeting some very interesting people and having Marlon Brando calling because he liked the show of mine that was on TV. All of this is there and then of course if someone is interested in really connecting and finding out a lot more firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone can send me an email if they have a question. I’m more than happy to respond. This is a career but it’s also a passion for me it’s not just a job. One of people that I had and wish I could remember his name mention at some point he decided that he wasn’t interested in writing for hire but he wanted to write what he wanted to make and that resonated with me because when I made my interview show, that was to sell stories to A-list Hollywood and it worked beautifully. But when I make a film, when I pick up the camera I want a cast it, I want to direct, I want to write it, I want to live the experience of making it, I edited it and to do it any other way would be like contracting someone to chew my food for me. Pardon that analogy but it just makes no sense, why would you that? Anyway, that’s just me being me.
Ashley Scott Myers: Perfect, perfect. So well you’ve been very generous with your time I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Stephen Mitchell: It’s been a pleasure.
Ashley Scott Myers: So last week we launched the new SYS script consultant service. It’s a really economical way to get high quality professional script evaluations on your screenplay. All the readers have experienced reading for studios, production companies, or contests. The readers I partnered with are the gate keepers of the industry. They’re exactly the same people who you’re going to be, who are going to be reading your scripts at the companies that you submit to. The readers will evaluate your script on several key points like concepts, structure, character, dialogue, and marketability. Every script will get a grade of task, consider, or recommend. You can read a quick bio on each reader and pick the one that you’d like to read your script. We’re still going to be offering the in depth screenplay analysis by industry veterans service. Well I think this is a great service it offers tremendous value for what you’re getting. It is a bit pricey so I wanted to create the service for people who maybe didn’t want to invest quite as much money into the notes, so if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price check out our new service which can be found at www.selling yourscreenplay.com/consultants.
In the next episode of the Selling your Screenplay podcast I’m going to be interviewing screenwriter, actor, and director Adam Green. Adam is a writer, director, actor in the horror genre. He’s written and directed such films like Hatchet and Hatchet 2. He’s got a new film out called Digging up the Marrow and then we talked about how that film came to be and we really dig in too to his early career. Kind of how he got started, it’s a great interview offers a lot of really good insight into just how kind of get your career started from nothing. I mean he’s a classic example of somebody who has succeeded; he didn’t know anybody in the industry. He just got out of college and just started making films, working in productions, making films and eventually kind of got some heat on some of his projects. So keep an eye out for that episode next week.
So there were a lot of great take aways from this episode today, hopefully this sort of episode will help to inspire people to just go out and make movies. If you’re thinking about possibly shooting your own film you should definitely check it out, check out Stephen’s book. We mentioned it a little bit in the podcast but his book goes into some great detail. We really always scratch the surface of what his book covers. I will link to the book in the show notes this is Stephen’s book. Again if just you’re thinking making a feature film of your own it’s just a great sort of book to read. I mean I don’t know if there’s a lot of like super practical you know, knots and bolts tips, forms, you know legal forms, or legal advice but he goes thru his process of making his films and there’s just a lot of you know, understanding what problems he’s going to face and how he overcame those problems. And again we talked about some of this in the interview but it’s just it’ll give you kind of a good sense of what to expect when making a feature film. There’s a lot of problems and no matter how much preparation you have of when making an independent film there just problems creep up and you’re going to need to you know, get passed those problems and overcome those problems, and overcome those problems and his book will kind of give you some real insight into you know, what sort of problems to expect and potentially how to overcome those problems.
I think the biggest sort of single take away for me today was his advice to have outside interests other than just film. I think this is so important I mean the entertainment business is really is all about relationships and connecting with people on a personal level really can’t be under estimated and if everything that you talk about, everything you know is all about film and movies you know, you’re going to be a kind of a very one dimensional boring person and expanding your interest whether that be family, kids, and just things outside cars I mean, Stephen has a great love for cars. Just having these outside interest those sorts of interest and connections are what is really going to connect with other people, and those deeper relationships. In the entertainment industry It’s not about having a hundred superficial relationship it’s really about having you know maybe 3, or 4, or 5 relationships that are really deep and you know, good trusting reciprocal relationships with people. Just 3,or 4 key relationships would be much more valuable than hundred very superficial and one of the ways to get those deeper relationships is to connect with people on something more than just you know a script, or a film. Anyway that’s the show. Thank you for listening hope you got something out of it.