This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 080: Writer Director Antonia Bogdanovich Talks About Her New Film Phantom Halo.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode 80 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Antonia Bogdanovich. She’s the daughter of film maker Peter Bogdanovich, and has slowly worked her way up the ranks to writing and directing her first feature film: a crime drama called Phantom Halo. We’ll get into some really good detail about how she got this script produced. So stay tuned for that.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me review in iTunes, or leaving a comment on Youtube, or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter, or liking us on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes, any websites or links I will mention 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 podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts and then just look for episode number 80. If you want my free guide ‘How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks’, you can pick that up by going to www.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 of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. How to write a professional log line and query letter, how to find agents, and managers, and producers who are looking for material. Really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
Just want to mention two things that I’m doing at selling your screenplay to help screenwriters get their scripts into the hands of producers and agents, and sell their screenplays. First, we’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log line per newsletter. I went and emailed my large database of producers and asked them if they would like to receive this monthly newsletter of pitches. So far we have about 120 producers who have signed up to receive it. These producers are hungry for material and happy to read scripts from new writers. So if you want to participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers, sign up at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
And secondly, we’re now fielding leads from producers for screenwriters. We’re doing a lot of outreach to try and bring in requests from producers for screenwriters. Last week we had more than 8 paid screenwriting leads. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material, or looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you sign up with SYS Select, you get these emailed directly to you several times per week.
Here are couple of real examples from last week’s leads. We had a company looking for documentary script ideas. It was a paid project and they were looking for screenwriters who had ideas that could be turned into documentary films. We had a producer looking for a low-budget, high-concept, Black comedy in the vein of [3:08], guards, and seven psychopaths. We had a production company seeking a female screenwriter to work directly with the director on an existing project that they were already developing. And we had a company seeking a micro-budget action thriller screenplay. They want a deep, deep complex characters, specifically they were looking for a revenge thriller that will be ideal for what their needs are. They want something like Blue Ruin and Dead Man’s Shoes in terms of the scope and size of the film.
Anyway these are just a small smattering of the leads that we published last week. A lot of these leads are still very much active. So if you join SYS Select now you can still submit to them. And of course we’ll be bringing more leads in the coming week as well. So to sign up and get these sorts of leads emailed to you directly, just sign up at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
A quick few words about what I’m working on. As I mentioned last week, I went to Delaware. As I mentioned last week in the podcast, this past weekend I went to Delaware to spend some time with the producer I was.. I flew there with my writing partner, Nathan Ives. We went to see a minor-league baseball game and we’re going to need to incorporate this specific team into our script. We’re going to do some other rewrites, we sat down with the producer. We try and make the script a lot more family friendly. There was some sort of crass humor that Nathan and I put into the script originally. And I think this producer is very wise to have us basically just pull that back and make it very, very family friendly. This minor-league baseball team is really all about family entertainment so they’re definitely not going to want to do anything that isn’t really, really strictly family entertainment.
It was good to meet the producer and the team he’s putting together. He’s kind of a sales guy. He’s a real character, super outgoing, very talkative, he’s got a good friend of his with a lot of practical production experience. He’s a part of the team. And then he’s got a lawyer who is the third producer, and he’s doing all the legal stuff. So this is a great kind of a team that this guy’s put together. It has all sort of the pieces that you need. Sales guy on the front end, the practical production experience, and then obviously the legal end with the lawyer. So it’s a nice team. We met these guys, we sat down for dinner, we went to the baseball game with them. It was good just to kind of talk to them and get to know them better. He’s also, the producer’s also getting a letter of intent from the lead actor who’s a friend of his. This actor is a series regular on a long-running television series. So he brings at least a little bit of recognition to the project as well. So it’s a really solid team that he has put together. It’s great. As I said, great meeting them. It’s still a long way from getting produced but he’s definitely doing all the right things and he’s putting all the right pieces together. It’s a lot of work and it’s a very slow process. I mean, the lawyer is putting together some investment, legal document for the investment partners. And that’s a lengthy project. I think he said he’d gotten it down to thirty pages or something. So it’s a pretty hefty legal document. There’s definitely some ins and outs to investing in this. They’re creating a, you know, [6:21], the LLC, and they create different share of stock. Class A, class B, class C. and then how these investors are investing in this whatstock[?6:30] they get and new non-voting shares and all this kind of stuff. So it’s definitely a complex process, definitely takes some time but that’s really what independent film is about. And as I said, I was very encouraged meeting this guy and his team and just seeing what he’s doing because it’s slow. And you know, everybody just wants to get going and get this movie produced. But this is what it takes and so I just got a real sense that he’s doing the right things and putting the right pieces together. As I said, we’re still a long way from getting it produced, but it does feel like it’s moving forward. So that was encouraging.
The other thing I’m working on, I mentioned this a couple of times in the podcast, I’m retooling my sci-fi, horror, thriller screenplay that I wrote last summer. Just trying to turn it into something that could be shot on a micro-budget. I might potentially shoot it on a micro-budget myself. I have a friend who took a pass at the script. He’s also a director so I might work with him. He might direct it. So, in the meantime though, this director-friend-writer, he’s a writer too. Writer-director-friend, he put it up on InkTip, the version he rewrote, and he’s actually having got some interest from it. So, we had a meeting last week with a director who liked it. Got some of his ideas about the direction of the script. We actually have another meeting this week. It might not be until next week, but within the next week or two another producer who read it a few months ago, he’s been out of town, he’s back in town. So we’re going to try and catch up with him in the next couple of weeks.
So it’s interesting just, if you have the right project, it seems like you can find some interest on InkTip. I’ve never actually sold or auctioned anything through InkTip but I have had somebody sort up meetings like what I just described. So I definitely think InkTip is another great way to market your material if you’ve got something. As I said, this is kind of a low-budget, sci-fi, horror, thriller script. I don’t get the sense that InkTip has a ton of studio level producers looking for 100 million dollar movies. But I think there’s a lot of producers looking for this sort of independent, less-than-a-million-dollars, production budget-type stuff. So that’s exactly what this is. And looks like at the very least, we’ve got a couple of meetings out of it.
Anyway, so that’s what I’m working on. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing Antonia Bogdanovich. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Antonia, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Antonia: Oh, you’re welcome! My pleasure.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can just tell us a little bit about your background in the entertainment industry and kind of how you got to the point where you’re writing and directing a feature film.
Antonia: Huh, well I actually grew up, I was born into the business. I [9:14] a shot of my mother pregnant with me, walking through a [9:17] in my father’s filming targets. My father was a film director and a writer. A writer as well. And also an actor. And my mother was a production designer and a [9:34] she became a producer. So from the time I was pretty young, I had been exposed to film and the history of cinema quite a bit. My father’s a bit of a film, he’s a cinephile as they call him. So I was surrounded and at 18 I decided that I wanted to work in the business. So I tried [9:56]. I did a bunch of jobs, odd jobs as you call them, in the film business. And then I decided I wanted to break a leg and my parents, it was a wanting to have a [10:17] to your father and [10:19] mother. So I decided I wanted to have my own identity, so I was a journalist for quite a while. But yeah, the industry’s beckoning me back and I think by that time I was mature enough to know what my strength s and weaknesses were in terms of film. And I wasn’t intimidated by the fact that my father is a director.
So, I got back into it through directing theater and just writing, writing a screenplay. So that’s kind of how I came about it. Being able to come back into it on my own terms with confidence.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m curious..
Antonia: Separate myself from his legacy, you know? Because he directed lots of picture shows, so that’s quite a film to compare yourself, any filmmaker, much less a daughter of some huge film maker.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, I know for sure.
Now, you did a lot of work as an actress, and I’m always curious to hear how people who go from acting to directing and writing. How much of that informs your writing? Having a background as an actress. Maybe you can speak to that a little bit.
Antonia: That’s an interesting question. I get on set as a director, but as a writer.. Uhm. I’m not sure as far as acting except that, I think making sure that dialogs or [11:45-11:47]. So that these are people that are really talking.
Antonia: And I think, for me, exercises that we did in acting class, we took quite a few different classes, sometimes it would last like workshops. [12:03] that would last up to a year. We did a lot of exercises where we’re just acting and re-acting, and listening. And if you’re really listening and you’re reacting to somebody who’s coming at you, it’s an authentic.. The words that come out of your mouth are authentic.
For me, that’s what I really learned as an actress. She makes sure that the dialogs [12:26] these are real people talking.
Ashley: Mmhm. Yeah, yeah. You also, you just mentioned you had worked for quite a while as a journalism. I’d be curious to hear how you feel like that informed your writing. I mean journalism, typically, it’s like you’re just pounding out a lot of words, a lot of articles. And that can be great training for a screenwriter. And there’s quite a history of journalists becoming screenwriters. There’s numerous instances of this. So I wonder if you can speak about that a little bit. How working as a journalist for all those years maybe helped you as a screenwriter.
Antonia: Yeah. I mean, I was a part-time journalist. I did not, I mean, get out a lot of experience with it. But I wouldn’t say that I, you know, I made a career out of it. But I certainly learned a hell of a lot. Deadlines! Like, the hardest thing about being a screenwriter is actually finishing a screenplay and then doing drafts. Re-writing and re-writing. Writing is all re-writing. The process of getting to a finished product is to re-write. And a lot of people don’t have the discipline. Well I had to finish the article that you sent on time. You know, there’s a deadline. Sometimes I’d have three days to write it. Also grammar, punctuations, expressing myself, being able to put what’s in my head into words. I learned so much from being a journalist.
Antonia: By having to do that, I was forced to do that, and my writing improved tremendously.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So let’s begin..
Antonia: so I guess I learned a lot from that.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So let’s dig in to your latest film, Phantom Halo, maybe you can start up by just giving us a pitch or a log line for the film. I always linked to the trailer and the show notes and that kind of thing. But maybe just a quick pitch of the film for people that maybe haven’t seen the film or haven’t seen the trailer.
Antonia: So, it’s a thriller. It’s a modern LA noir film about two brothers. One’s a Shakespearean street performer and he performs [all the tricks to a common eye which is very curiously] area in Los Angeles, in Santa Monica. And his brother pick-pockets the crowd. So they’ve got a con going on. And they come from a very intellectual background. Their father is an intellect and values Shakespeare very highly. And he taught his younger son how to perform. But he’s a gambler and a drunk. So he’s got massive [14:55]. He’s gotten in pretty deep with a loan shark. And the loan shark goes to the older brother who kind of a streetwise pick-pocket and says he has two weeks to pay him back. “So pay your father’s debt back, or I’m going to kill your little brother.” So, the story of what his brother does, kind of secretly, he doesn’t really tell his little brother because he’ll tell the father what’s going on, even though the father knows what’s going on. And how he attempts to get his money back. He does that by counterfeiting.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Maybe you can tell us where this story came from? Where did the idea originally kind of come from? I mean was there a life experiences you were looking at? What brought this story to your attention?
Antonia: Uhm, I would say, I got it from a life experience. When I was a teenager, I think I discovered that my mother was a rebel too when she was a young girl. And so, it just kind of buried in me a little bell, my background, and you know my parents were well-off. They were doing very well. And I didn’t like the idea of having money and being privileged. I wanted to be like a street kid and I was super rebellious. I was kind of anti-society, anti-establishment. And so I ran with a bunch of kids that were, they didn’t have a lot of money. And they stole for the thrill of it, and also because they didn’t have a lot of money. And back then I thought it was cool, I didn’t think of it really as a crime even though they were crimes. I never participated in the crimes myself but I’m certainly in the car sometimes when a crime’s being placed. So, that’s kind of what my inspiration was. And my friends were also musicians. So they were like musicians and artists but they stole for money and you know, for them a little bit. But they get away with it. I incurred a little bit of that in the older brother. And [17:05] so they can get away with this. So I needed the kind of skill of pickpocketing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Take us to the process, I always like to ask writers when they come on the show about what came first, character or story? And something like this, I think, is a real good, it’s a real good question because this is a very much a character piece. I mean obviously there’s a solid story, but it’s very much about these characters. And so what kind of came first when you were coming up with this idea? Did you come up with this, the father and the son relationship, and then build up a story from there? Or did you have this sort of story of a father who owes money and the son doing the counterfeiting? Maybe you could take us through that process and how you kind of built those layers.
Antonia: Absolutely. I definitely go to some character. I said I want to write a story about two brothers because me and my.. I had a sister growing up, and I was always fascinated by the relationship of brothers and how it differs from the relationship between sisters.
And, there was definitely, I mean I didn’t grow up in a highly functional family so I [18:14] my own parents. And the challenges of growing up as a child of Hollywod. Because outside Hollywood, everybody thinks you have this charmed life. But it’s not like that for every single family in Hollywood. There’s ups and downs. So it’s all based on character. My friend, my sister, we are a mixture of both our parents. Some of the people that I knew that I wasn’t very acquainted right now. It would extend the plot definitely evolve from there. I remember my father teaching me something when I was pretty young. I think it’s the first time I heard him say that [18:55]. Character is [18:57].
Antonia: So, that was something that I always had. I had [19:03] for a while, I had that. And then sometimes your character does certain things and you don’t even know it’s going to happen. So you’re writing and sometimes the character starts writing itself. It’s kind of like its coming from you, cause you know you come to know the character so well, they kind of like write their own story a little bit. And then of course, the film was spotted because it’s a thriller. It’s spotted. But definitely, it’s the start or the beginning of the story started with character.
Ashley: Yeah yeah. Now maybe you can take us back and just go back to sort of the real origins of this. Correct me if I’m wrong, I read on IMDb that My Left Hand Man, that was a short version of this film. Is that correct?
Antonia: Yeah, mmhm.
Ashley: Okay, so maybe you can take us through that ‘cause I get a lot of writers coming to me, they want to do shorts, and maybe you can kind of take us to that sort of logistical process of writing the short, getting the short out there, and then how did that ultimately become a feature film? Getting the funding? Take us through sort of the whole process, and really take us all the way back to the short.
Antonia: Sure, This year I had directed theater. I wanted to see if I liked directing film. Or that was something that I was interested in doing. So I wrote a short, because I knew I couldn’t get a feature being an unknown. And I’m really sure it was costly because I’ve never written short before. I’ve only written screenplays. So, it’s challenging. It was 25 pages and it was kind of like long for a short. And I actually financed myself. I had been saving so it didn’t cost me very much money. I think I spent $25,000 on a short? I had saved enough money for quite a while and when I shot the short, I went to the agents, make offers, you know, shot [21:17] budget in Los Angeles. But you know, a lot of things. So I called in a lot of favors, shot that, and started submitting it to some festivals. And I got comments pretty [21:30] to come and view the short. And [21:33] tickets come out to Los Angeles ‘cause she was in London. And at that time I thought, “You know, I’d really like to turn this into a feature.” And I asked him if he would be interested when we’re shooting. And he was like, “Sure.” So, and then I went [21:48], and then I decided to turn it into a feature. And I used the feature script and the short to raise money. And I got little pieces from various investors, mostly in Bay area because that’s where I lived. But the short helped tremendously [22:10]. My father helped, obviously. He was on as an executive producer. I think just the confidence that he would be there in case I needed help made the investors feel more secure. But really they invested in me and the short. Because, they usually go, an executive producer in Peter. I mean, “I have confidence in my daughter. She knows what she’s doing.” I mean, it’s not like he was helping my hand in any way. You know, just like I’ve been writing [22:45] or you know, Sophia [22:49]. We all have to start somewhere. But it’s still hard to raise money.
Ashley: Yeah. We’ll get back to that in a second, and maybe we can come go take us back to the festivals. Again, I always like to get just a sort of a sense of the scope. I think a lot of writers that have never sold anything or auctioned something, they go “Man, if I could just get that one script produced, it’s all smooth sailing.” But you get that movie, you produce even a short, it’s still quite a bit of work to just get into festivals. So maybe you can talk a little bit about that. How many festivals did you enter? How many did you get turned down? Did you win some awards? Sort of just what that looks like, ‘cause I’ve been on independent film circa where you submit to ten festivals and you’re lucky you get into one. So it can be kind of a grueling, brutal wake-up call if you’re not prepared for it.
Antonia: It was definitely a brutal wake-up call. Personally, I submitted to way more than ten festivals. I probably submitted to over 50 and I got into maybe three or four. And they weren’t big festivals. Unfortunately, it helps if you know people, if you know programmers, if you know directors. Film festivals got help [24:07], which I didn’t, I actually didn’t know anybody. So one of the things I learned is that my short needed to be shorter. It was 17 minutes so I should’ve made it 12. Because what they like to do is they like to program shorts as half of a feature. So if your short is a 25-minute short or 18 minutes like mine was they can’t do that. So 10 to 12 minutes is the longest a short should be. Expect to submit to way more festivals. And I did get an award at New Jersey Film Festival. New Jersey… yeah it was New Jersey Film Festival for that short. So yeah, I was [24:52]. [24:55] my credit card bill submitting to festivals. Because it cost money every time you submit, right? And that process is even, I don’t know if it’s tougher with a feature but it was tough too. I knew more people of my kind, I knew more festival people. They got a completely different world than how I grew up. I mean, I worked at Sony, I worked at Warner Brothers. I didn’t work in independent film until I came back into the business. I mean I got my first job on a studio lot. It’s a different world and it is very important to go out there and meet as many people as you can at festivals. It’s all about who you know. And it really is,unfortunately.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Well thank you for sharing that. Because I think that’s really important for people to realize as they’re submitting their own films. There’s going to be a lot of rejection and there’s no shame in that. That’s a part of the process.
Antonia: Absolutely! I say it’s hard. I almost gotten really good at being rejected. I was not rejected when I was younger. When I was young it was one of the reasons why I quit the daycare. [26:09], but it was the rejection from acting, I was criticizing my own writing. I had written a script when I was pretty young, but it was not bad. I mean, for a first screenplay, I could’ve made it a lot better. But I just gave up because I was judging my own work. We should try really hard not to judge our own work. We just have to try really hard to write and re-write and write and re-write. And if we’re not happy with our script, get notes. And then you go back and re-write. That’s some very, I know I sound like a broken record but I can’t tell you how important that is. And I went through that with this film. So yes, rejection’s a part of it. And if you can’t take it, you can’t take the rejection, then you can’t be in this business. I mean I get rejected all the time.
Ashley: Yeah yeah, for sure. So now..
Antonia: Every process there’s rejection. And then there’s one yes. There’s always one yes, you know?
Ashley: Mmhm. So let’s move ahead now to, so you’ve done the short, you’ve written the script, and now you’re getting out to get funding. Maybe you can just kind of tell us a little bit about that process. Like you know, getting those meetings with investors. How do you actually get those meetings? How do you meet people that potentially could give you money?
Antonia: Uh, let me see. How did that work? I knew a few people because I hear from my dad. So I hope to get funding to start shooting that way. And that’s why I have a co-executive producer to credit on this film. So I knew a couple of investors. And then you just meet other investors by meeting that investor. And it’s just really meeting as many people and asking “Hey can I pitch with you. I’m having a business planned and having an investment planned or a business plan, it’s called.” So, it’s just thru people that I would meet. It’s kind of unclear how I met the first guy, but I need him. I was introduced to him by an agent in a voice-over center. And then he knew a guy. But the investors I got for my film, they had nothing to do with it. They worked out in Hollywood. So meeting people up here in Silicon Valley.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And maybe just give us a tip or two. I mean, I have friends who do this and I’ve done it myself, and a lot of it is just as simple as everybody you meet, you have to be kind of willing to put yourself out there and say “Hey, do you know anybody?” And if you meet someone, and they say “No, I’m not going to invest”, you have to follow-up with “Well, do you know anybody else?” Just to kind of keep that line going. Maybe you can just give us some tips for meeting those people and getting into those rooms with those people.
Antonia: Well you have to have actors attached. You can’t raise money without actors attached. So the first thing that you can do is get a casting director to help you. If the script is good and have some kind of.. It differs with each project, but I have no idea how you can raise money without actors attached. And you can’t really ask the investors that turn you down if they know any investors. You can’t, that’s not professional. Yeah. I just, it’s extremely, it’s just [29:43] going into the business.
Ashley: Mmhm, mmhm. Well let’s go ahead and..
Antonia: I don’t think writers are really responsible for raising money. That’s something that producers do. And I’m not really a producer on my film, so that’s more of a producer question than a writer question.
Ashley: Sure, sure. Well maybe you can tell us how can people see Phantom Halo? Just tell us maybe about the release schedules. Is it going to be released on video demands soon?
Antonia: Yeah. It comes out on June 19th, which is next Friday. It’s a limited theatrical, so it’ll be in ten cities in ten theatres. So L.A. and New York, Chicago, San Jose because I live in San Jose, so I was able to get a theatre here. Florida, and it’ll come out on [30:37] the same day. It’ll be on iTunes and demand, probably Direct Tv and Comtasks on demand, I think.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And I always like to end the interview by asking how people can follow you or keep up with what you’re doing. If you have a Twitter handle or Facebook page or a blog or anything you feel comfortable sharing, I can put those in the show notes.
Antonia: Oh yeah, sure. I have two Twitter accounts. One is my own personal which I haven’t been really using that much because I would be doing a lot of tweeting on my, so its @tonia2000, would be the Twitter. And then for Phantom Halo, where you can find clips of the film is @PhantomHalo2014.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. So, well Antonia you’ve been very generous with your time. I really appreciate this. I really enjoyed your movie so I really wish you luck with it.
Antonia: Oh! I’m so glad you saw it. Okay. Great! I hope I said that right, @PhantomHalo2014 and the other one is @tonia2000. And then there’s [32:06] but I would say Twitter is better. I am also on Facebook. It’s kind of become, Phantom Halo has a Facebook page. And also I have a Facebook page that I mostly use for professional. I don’t really post a lot of personal stuff on there. People can get in touch and see what’s going on through that as well.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect, perfect. Yeah. I can track all that down and I’ll double check and as I said, I’ll link it to the show notes so people don’t have to scribble it down or anything. They can just find the show notes and click straight over. Again, you’ve been very generous with your time. I really appreciate this. This has been a great interview. Thank you.
Antonia: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. Have a great afternoon.
Ashley: You too. Good luck with the film.
Antonia: Thank you so much.
Ashley: Thank you. Bye bye.
[End of Interview]
Ashley: A quick plug for the SYS screenwriting analysis service. It’s a really economical way to get high quality professional evaluation for your screenplay. When you buy our 3-pack, you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films. Or just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests, and agencies. You can read a short bio of each reader on our website. And you can pick a reader who you think is the best for your script. Turn-around time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors: concept, character, structure, marketability, tone, and overall craft which includes formatting, spelling, and grammar. Every script will get a grade of pass, consider, or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We provide analysis on features and television scripts. And you can also do proof-reading. So if you want to do an analysis but would like someone to proof-read your script, we offer that as well. As a bonus, if your script gets a recommend from a reader, you get a free email and fax blast to my list of industry contacts. This is the exact same blast service I use myself to promote my own script. And it’s the same service I sell on my website. It’s a great way to get your script into the hands of lots of producers who are looking for materials. So, if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check it out, www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Alan Trezza, he recently wrote a film called Burying the Ex, which was recently produced and directed by Joe Dante. We get into some real detail about how he got his career started and how he got this film produced. This is a great example of a writer just really putting on the producer hat and just taking this project and pushing it, taking it, and carrying it over the finish line. Again, he goes into some real, real detail about how he did this and how he kind of put this project together. He has some interest on the script, but just nothing quite caught. And it just, it never would’ve gotten produced if this writer hadn’t kind of put it on his shoulders and carried it across the finish line. So this is a great interview for a lot of writers that are having some trouble getting some traction. Because you know, ultimately writers can take their project and kind of take it where they want. It’s their project. And if they have enough persistence, they can go and get it produced. So keep an eye out for this episode next week.
So to wrap things up, I just want to touch on something from today’s interview with Antonia. One of the things she suggested was to hire a casting director. I’ve had some other directors mention this as well on the podcast. Other director-writers have mentioned hiring casting directors. And I’ve gotten a lot of questions over the years from screenwriters asking me how I can get talent attached to my project. How can I get an actor attached my project? So, hiring a casting director is the best way to get talent attached to your screenplay. I mean, it’s kind of just the tried and true, it’s like the right way to do it. The simple, that’s kind of how the industry works. And it’s actually a very straightforward process which I’m going to explain here.
What you’re going to want to do is go to IMDb pro and look up some films that are similar to your script in terms of budget and in terms of what actors you might like to see in yours, your finished film. Then, what you’re going to want to do is just simply click down and find the casting directors that cast these films. On IMDb pro, they will often have the contact information. So you find a film, you find a bunch of films, or maybe even just find an actor and click thru that actor’s credits. See if that actor has done some lower-budget independent films or just done some films that are similar to your film in terms of scope. Find those films and then dig down on those films, and find the casting directors. As I said, IMDb pro often have contact information, so then ou have either a phone number, email address, and you can go ahead and contact that casting director. It’s really that simple. And what you’re going to want to do is just call them. Probably calling is better than emailing. But email might work. But you probably want to pick up the phone and just call them and explain what you want to do. And basically just ask them how much they would charge to come on to your project and potentially help you cast these lead roles.
In the early stages of this, when you get into the production, you have your budget and you’re getting ready to produce. There might be dozens of roles that the casting director needs to cast. And those are not names, they’re not people that have some sort of cache value. It’s just, you know, you want to cast the best actors you can. And that’s kind of a different thing. That’s not really what you’re doing at this point. At this point, you’re taking the two, maybe three or four lead roles, and you’re trying to find some actors that have some name recognition. And you’re trying to get those actors attached on to those lead roles. The idea is that those will help you raise money.
So, let’s talk briefly about what exactly this casting director relationship is going to look like. Again, you’re going to want to call them. You’re going to want to be as professional as possible. You don’t want to sound like a novice even though you might be a novice. You want to just, be professional, smart, articulate, and explain what you want to do. You want to cast these few roles in your script. How much would they charge? I’ve heard of writer-producers finding decent casting directors who will do this initial casting for around $2000. I’ve never heard of anything cheaper than that. It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t potentially find it. But I would say that’s sort of the low end is $2000. I’ve also definitely heard of writer-producers hiring casting directors and paying more. Like $10,000. So I would say, that’s kind of the range. $2000 on the low end. And you should be able to find someone decent if you’re willing to spend up to $10,000.
Now keep in mind, we’re not talking about the casting director from Avatar. I don’t know what they charge but it’s not going to be $10,000. It’s going to be a lot more. And they’re, frankly, not even going to have, want to have anything to do with you. So you’re going to want to find smaller films. And those are the casting directors that, you know, they’re just like anybody else. They are looking for work, they need to pay their bills, and so if you present yourself in a professional manner, it’s quite likely that at the very least they will talk to you and if you’re willing to pay them something, they will be willing to work for you.
So that’s kind of how that relationship is going to work. Now, that’s sort of the range of the prices, that’s sort of how the relationship is going to work. What’s going to happen is you’re going to come, what’s going to happen is that the casting director is going to read your script. And you’re going to say, “Okay, these are the main roles. These are the best, the meatiest roles that we think we can get some talent.” It might in some cases, not even be the lead role, like if you are going for a lower budget film, there might be like a… you know. A… you know, a mini role, a well-developed character, a mini role but someone that you don’t necessary need every day of your shoot. And you might be going to trying and cast that because there might be someone that’s, you know, a mentor to the protagonist. You know, somebody who is seen throughout the script, but you could probably shoot them out in like two days. You might want to cast those roles because you’re not going to have to pay someone a lot of money to just get them to come and shoot your film for two days. So again, this is going to be discussions you’re going to have with your casting director. You know, what roles are we going out for and try and get somebody. I mean, if you’re going to go for your protagonist. You know, your female lead, your antagonist. You know, those are typically roles that you’re going to need for the entire shoot, and that’s going to be potentially expensive. So, you’ve got to think about sort of what your budget is going to be and how you’re going to go about, raising the money for this and I’m going to talk about that in a little bit more detail. But the bottomline is this, the casting director is going to read your script. You guys are going to figure out what roles you want to cast and then, she’s going to just basically produce a list of actors and this casting director, or one of the things you’re paying her for is she should have a rough idea on what an actor would charge as a daily rate or weekly rate within some sort of a range. And she should also have some sort of an idea of if this actor would even consider starring in a film like this. Again, these sort of experience is one of the reason you’re paying the casts and director. So, she’s going to come up, the casting director’s going to come up a list of, you know, four, five, maybe eight names of who she thinks might be good for these roles. You can, you’re working with the casting director, you can obviously suggest people as well. She may say, “Woah, we’re never going to get those people on this sort of a budget or on this sort of a project, so forget it. Or they may say, “Great, we can put them on the list. So you’re working with your casting director. You going to come up with a list, as I said, if you’re casting two or three roles, you’re going to come up with five or six actors per role. So that might be 15 actors that you’re going to submit your material to. There might be a certain hierarchy, like you want this actor more than this actor. Then the casting director is going to start submitting the screenplay to the actor’s agents. Again, it sort of depends on the casting director. But most likely they’re going to submit one at a time and give them a few days to get back to them. And so that’s how it’s going to start to go. Start working through this list of five actors per role, there’s a list, and submitting it to the actor’s agents.
Now, it’s very rare that an actor will sign a letter of intent. You always hear this, you always hear this in Hollywood. “Oh, the actor really loves the material.” Then they will just sign on and they won’t require what’s called a pay-or-play deal. I’ll talk about that more in a minute. But they’ll basically sign a letter of intent. And you need that letter of intent to go to other producers, to go to distributors, to go to people who will potentially finance this movie. It’s a legal document basically saying that actor Joe Blow has agreed to start in your film. And usually their rights will be there as well. Offer X number of dollars, and he’ll be available on these days. It will be kind of a preliminary contract in this Letter of Intent. And as I said, you always hear this in Hollywood, if the actor really loves the material, they’ll sign the Letter of Intent for free. But I’ve honestly, I’ve never heard of that happening. I’m not saying it hasn’t ever happened. I’m quite sure that it has. And I want to be clear, I’ve never heard of an actor signing a Letter of Intent for free essentially. A free Letter of Intent when they did not already have a pre-existing relationship with the writer, director, or the producer. I’ve just, I’ve never heard of it. I’m not saying it’s never happened. You do hear sort of through the grapevine that this happened. But I’ve never actually known someone that this has happened to. So, you need to brace yourself for that.
I just mentioned my baseball comedy. The producer is trying to get a Letter of Intent, and to best of my knowledge, he’s not going to pay the actor anything for this Letter of Intent. He’s trying to get a Letter of Intent for this baseball comedy. Again though, the producer has an established relationship, he’s worked with this actor numerous times on numerous other projects. I mean, he has his cell number. He can like text him, and email him, and literally just call him. So it’s not the quality of the script that’s getting this actor attached. It’s the quality of that relationship. So as someone who doesn’t have relationships with actors, what is going to happen most likely if you’re lucky, the agency is going to submit to the actor’s agent, they are going to read it, and a lot of them is going to pass, “No, we’re not interested”. If you’re lucky, some of them will come back and say “Yeah we’ll do it for this much money. And we want you to sign a pay-or-play offer.” And what that basically means is that they’re not going to sign the Letter of Intent unless you agree to pay them, whether you produce the movie or not. Even that is not that easy to always get. A lot of these actors have many, many offers on the table. So they’re going to choose the projects that they like the best. They’re going to look at this project as a whole. Does this project have a director who won Sundance? Does this project have a director who has gotten actors Academy Award nominations? So they’re going to look at the entirety of the project, not just the quality of the script. I suppose it’s possible that they might read the script and be so blown away that they’ll say “Yes, I believe in this and I’ll sign this Letter of Intent”. But it’s unlikely. Most likely, what’s going to happen is they’re coming back and say “Yeah I’ll do this movie for $100,000. But you’re going to have to offer me a pay-or-play offer.” Which means, if you don’t make the money in the movie, you still owe them $100,000. So they’re not going to sign that letter of intent.
So, with all that said, that’s basically the process and then you as the producer are going to have to decide whether you want to sign the pay-or-play offer or not.
Now with all that said, this is kind of the thing. I would warn you, getting actors attached especially with pay-or-play offers, may or may not impress potential investors, or distributors, or other producers. So you really want to think this through. Unless you can get a bonafide movie star attached to your script, distributors aren’t going to be that impressed. I’ve had a lot of conversations with distributors recently. When I do my email blast, I know a lot of distributors, and I’m emailing them, and pitching them my work. What I’m basically hearing on the street is like these sort of low-budget movies have guys that you recognize but are not bonafide movie stars. They don’t have a lot of sales value. So to a distributor, getting those actors attached is not all that impressive. And it’s not going to make the distributor say “Yeah, we’ll give you an advance on this and help fund your movie.” Or a producer is not going to just be super impressed with some of these actors that are famous actors. Actors you’ve heard of. But they’re not like bonafide movie stars who can actually sell the movie. Who have enough of a following, enough cloud, to sell the movie. I mean, there’s only a handful of these bonafide movie stars out there. You know, Bruce Willis. I mean, these kinds of names, you know, there’s guys who probably, maybe even someone like Hugh Grant who is kind of off. His career has definitely dimmed in the last ten years, but he still has sort of some movie star cloud. There might be geyser in that. And that probably, you know, the kind of guys you would really need to impress distributors.
Now, the point in kind of what I’m saying is that you want to think through this. You don’t just want to go hire a cast, directors spends $10,000, get a bunch of actors attached with pay-or-play offers, because that’s not going to do anything with you. Unless you really have some idea about how you’re going to get this movie funded. I don’t know that there’s much point in getting this cast because as I said, it’s just going to be a bunch of money that you’re promising to people. So you really want to think that through.
Now one thing I have definitely seen over the years, as I said, distributors are not going to be impressed with necessarily an actor who is a series, let’s just say there is an actor who is series regular on a tv show in the 90s or in the 2000s. you know, someone who has a name that people know. He’s famous. He doesn’t necessarily have a lot of sales value to distributors. But if you plan on getting this movie financed is to go to your local community of rich lawyers, doctors, and dentists who want to invest in films. Those types of names, people that are famous, they do add some cache to your project and it makes it feel more real. So that might have some value to you, having those actors attached. And those are precisely the kinds of people you can get in this sort of low-budget independent films where you have no credits as a producer or a writer. You just hire a casting director. It’s those guys that maybe they were kind of on the fringe of being a movie star in the 90s. Or maybe they were the lead in a tv show that ran for two or three years in the 90s or the 2000s. And now their career has slowed down. Those are the kinds of guys you can get into these movies. Again, those kinds of guys don’t necessarily have a lot of value to distributors in terms of selling the film. but they can still have value. They can have value in getting into film festivals. They can have value in potentially getting investors who may not be that sophisticated, may not understand that these actors, although famous, have no real sales value.
So I just want to really emphasize this process of getting actors attached. It’s not complex. I would say it’s actually probably one of the more straightforward parts of the production process. I mean, there’s going to be a lot of rejection as there always is. A lot of actors are just going to dismiss you. You know, if you don’t have any credits to your name then a lot of the agents are not necessarily going to take your project seriously. But if you have a good casting director who has relationships with these agents, you will be taken seriously. And if you have a list of, you know as I said, five to eight people on this, five to eight actors who would do a good job at this particular role, your casting director that you hired, they should have some idea. They should not just have, if they’re any good, they’re not going to put eight people on that list who you cannot get. They’re going to put some of those, there are going to be a few people that there are kind of stretches. I don’t think this person will do this movie but maybe. And so they’ll put him at the top of the list. But then as you get down to number four or five or six on the list, that casting director should have the experience to understand that yes, this actor will potentially, might star in a movie like what you have.
So, as I said, really think this through. It’s pretty straightforward. It can definitely be done. You can get actors attached. But unless you have a bigger plan, just getting actors attached to your movie is not going to help you. Unless you have a bigger plan to get this thing funded, I would say, hold off on this and think this through. You are really becoming a producer. If all you want to do is write, you don’t want to be a producer. This is definitely not the road you’d necessarily want to go down because you’re becoming a producer and ultimately, if you start signing pay-or-play deals, you better have a very, very solid way of getting this movie funded. Even if that means funding yourself, funding it through family and friends. Whatever that is, you better make sure that you have a chance of getting these, these actors have real agents, and real lawyers, and if you sign a pay-or-play offer, you will be on the hook for that money. And if you don’t, I mean you can form an LLC, the LLC goes out of business, your name will be mud. And it’s a small, small community in Hollywood. So you don’t want to start signing pay-or-play offers and then renaging on the, your reputation will be ruined. And that will really hurt you down the road.
So, as I said, it’s not that hard getting actors attached. But really think it through. Think through the whole process and make sure you really understand and have thought through how this thing, this movie is going to get to production.
Anyway, that’s the show. Hope you found it useful. Thank you for listening.