Ashley: Welcome to episode #147 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing, David Paterson, he’s a writer and producer. Many of his films have been adaptations of novels. Or in the case of his very first feature film. It was an adaptation of one his plays. So, we talk about the process of adaption of the interview of many other things. So, stay tuned for that.
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So, a quick few words about what I am working on this week. So, once again, the main thing, I’m trying to push through is post production on my crime action, thriller film, “The Pinch.” I have an appointment with my editor, this Friday. And he says he’s going to have a complete rough cut, so I’m excited to see that. Once that’s done, there’s going to be quite a bit of work on my end. Watching the film and giving it the editor notes. Just tweaking and reiterating on that. So, I probably got a few weeks-worth of work once we get the rough cut up, just getting the thing polished up and then locking picture.
On the writing front, I’m still working away on my limited location romantic comedy. There’s not really, any date or headline on that. So, I think I’ve kinda been procrastinating and lagging on a little bit. I really, need to dig into that this week. And try and get some of that polished up. As once the rough cut for the pinch is done, we’ll be tied to that for, as I said, quite a while. So, I want to really, work hard before leaving on Friday. On this romantic comedy work, hard on that till Friday, and I’ll be off on, “The Pinch.” All the way as I said, the next few weeks. Anyway, that’s what I am currently working on.
So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing, screenwriter and producer, David Paterson, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome David to the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
David: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
Ashley: to start out, maybe you can give us just a little background about yourself. And kind of how you got into the entertainment industry.
David: Okay. I’m going to have to take you back a couple of years.
Ashley: That’s fine.
David: I started out acting in my early teens. Doing theatre, community theatre, with colleges but, playing the younger role. And I actually didn’t do high school theatre because I did a lot of sports. But, a you know, just as the young kid starting out doing theatre with grown-ups, you actually start to realize early on you sort of have to be grown-up yourself. Especially when you’re handling your own career. When I decided to choose a college to go to? I chose a college that was in a major city, where I could pursue acting, even on the side. Because I was already starting to act professionally, at a younger age. So, I went to DC. and I was able to get 2 of my 3 union cards for SAG and AFTRA of course back then SAG and AFTRA were separated, now they are one group – SAG-AFTRA. And, writing wasn’t an issue, hopefully on my radar. I wanted to become a stuntman. So, I went to London to study to become a stuntman. Because there really wasn’t a stunt program in the United States. And while I was in London, I actually took a playwriting course while I was there, then I started writing. My mother, and will probably tell you, much later, was a writer, is still a writer. But, the writing thing? I hadn’t thought about doing yet? And then when I came back to the states. I went back to acting, and stunt work. And did a little writing on the side. But, when my wife and I decided to have kids. I said, I’ll stop the acting and stunt work I had a small role on “One Life to Live.” And I said, “I’ll raise the kids.” That’s when I started concentrating on my writing. When I wasn’t tearing my hair out, or napping with the kids, they were a lot of work.
Ashley: I have two young kids myself, so right there with ya.
David: Yeah, there ya go, don’t think, if you’re about to have a child to tell your husband/wife or partner, “I’ll stay home, because it’s a breeze.” Because it certainly is not! I’m sitting down, but I tell people I used to be 6’10 and I’m currently 5’9 it’s because I stay home with two boys, for now 20 years. But that’s when I really, started to concentrate on my writing. I was, a I became a playwright. I had a show on Broadway, a couple off Broadway. Hadn’t really, thought about the film business over all. Although, I had optioned a book many, many years ago. Which we will cover as well.
Ashley: That novel you had written? You wrote a novel and you.
David: No, no, no. The book I had optioned.
Ashley: I see.
David: I was terrified of novels, that’s a lot of words.
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding. (Chuckling)
David: Paper screenwriting is kind of cheater version of writing. Because you know, because it’s 100-110 pages, you write a novel, that’s like, I don’t know? 200 pages of single space. And it’s a nightmare. So I didn’t do that. But, then so. I had written a couple of screenplays but nothing really happened, then 9/11 happened, I’m in New York City, I was a rescue worker. The first couple of days after the attacks. And obviously, it had affected a lot of people. I would like to say, there is a positive that comes out of a negative. And one thing that came to me was, here I was waiting for somebody to discover me as a writer. And because I thought I was brilliant, of course all writers do think they are brilliant. But then I realized, you could be here one minute, one day, and then gone the next. And so, I told my wife we were going to put up a little money together. And I was going to take one of my plays, and shoot it as this little Indie film. And I had heard of this film fest. called, “Sundance.” I wasn’t really, familiar with it? Because I wasn’t in the film business. But, I said, “Yeah, we’ll submit it. It’s a pretty good film, it’ll get in.” And that’s exactly what happened. I only found out later. In fact, that’s not how it happens. But, that was ’05, 2005, “Five” was my first film. And I really, haven’t gone back to plays, and I really haven’t gone back to anything else. I’m releasing my third feature in October. But, I’ve also produced documentaries, and I’ve also produced half a dozen other shorts. And a, I’m in the movie business, like it or not.
Ashley: So, one question I just, one question I just done. And we’ll definitely talk a little bit. Since the current, “The Great Gilly Hopkins” is based on a book written by your mother. We’ll dig a little more into that. One of the things that I found difficult, in pursuing writing. I grew-up in Annapolis Maryland. I literally didn’t know anyone, didn’t know any writers, certainly didn’t know any film makers. And I always felt like that was a big thing to overcome. Just because you don’t have any role models. It does even seem to feel like a reality. And I’m curious how your mom has written dozens of books. She must have been in her room, just writing almost everyday. And so, that just must have been an influence, where you at least felt it was possible. Then you tell me, you started out as acting and stuff. Did it feel like you didn’t want to compete with your mom? Was there something keeping you away from writing? Because she had been so successful at it? What was that dynamic like?
David: Actually, you kind of hit it on the head. My mother is a fairly-successful novelist. My first major successful film, of course all my films are successful. Once you actually make a film and you see it, it’s a success, regardless of finding finances and stuff. But, going back, I optioned a book, many, many, many years ago, earlier. And it was called, “Bridge to Terabithia.” And my mother wrote that book. I actually, the book is based on me. And I’m not going to ruin the book, but, the book became very successful. And we went from actually being poor white trash, to fairly decent middle class. From the success of that book. But the book was based on me, and I was ashamed of it. I was ashamed of it because, of how our wealth changed because of this tragedy that happened within the book. And so, I steered clear of that book. And I think in a way, steered clear of writing as well. Because I didn’t want to be compared to my mom, you know. And certainly not trying to write a novel.
- As we said, it’s a lot of thing. I always felt like people would say, “Well, who the hell does he think he is? He’s certainly not his mom.” Of which I’m not. Actually, so still, I have fantasies of writing a novel someday. For now, I like writing scripts. And as you discussed it I’m sure, everyone discusses it, not writing one script, or two scripts, or four scripts, or six scripts. You write, you really got to keep writing. It is an exercise, it only gets better the more you do it. And you shouldn’t be sitting on one project. Just know that’s the way to go about it. So, yeah, I guess I shied away from writing because I didn’t want comparisons. And then, I was able to, years later turn, “The Bridge to Terabithia” into a very successful Disney film. And I realized, A. There’s nothing really to be ashamed about that. But, B. If you actually do a good job, it’s something to be very, very proud of. And that’s a tough thing to adapt a short story of a book, or even a new, news account to film.
Ashley: Sure, sure. So, let’s talk about your first film that went to Sundance. This play that you adapted. How many plays had you written up to that point? And of all these plays you had written. Why did you decide on that one to be filmed, verses any of your other plays?
David: That’s a great question. Well, at that point, I think I had written close to 15-16 plays. Actually closer to, 20. And by 2000, I had 15 of those had been published by Samuel French, which was a play publishing company. So, I had a large selection to choose from. But I also am a cheap son of bitch. And I know that anytime, .z costs money. So, I went back and looked at the plays that I had. And I said, “What can I make for not a lot of money? And this play that I chose, the title called, “Finger Painting in a Murphy Bed.” We had to change the title because, a lot of people today don’t know what a Murphy Bed is? So, it’s a wall bed, that you put away and pull down.
Ashley: I don’t know what that is?
David: Well, there ya go. So, we knew the title after all would have to change. Because nobody would know what a Murphy Bed is? But the reason I chose that is, it’s a three person play. And I said, “Okay.” All I need is 3 actors. But of course, no you don’t because it’s like,
“My Dinner With Andre.” So, what I did from there, I was able to-build the screenplay out from taking. It all took place in 24 hours in an apartment. And I said, I wanted to expand upon that. Because I think the audience would get very claustrophobic, if it’s just that scene. Now, of course, all the demand is one room scenes. You know, a lot of people saying, oh we want a movie we can shoot all in one location and that’s it. But when I was doing it, I felt I needed to expand upon it so. Two of the characters worked at an office. And in the play, you don’t see the office. So, I was, able to, incorporate an office. And then, some of their dialog took place in the apartment. I was, able to put on a date. For their date they had just talked about a date, but you never saw the date. And so, I expanded from that. But also, keeping in mind finances. And you’ve talked about this on your Podcast. I decided where I could write the scenes where I could get the locations for free. And that’s really, important when you’re on location on low-budget. Write with the idea that you are the poorest person on the planet. And so, if you are doing this? You need to know. You can secure locations, and actors and props and everything for little to no money. And the great thing about “Love Ludlow”, which was the final title. Is, we, the movie costs $75,000.00. And this is back in ’05. Where we’re still using film. We were still shooting on a film. So, that’s actually pretty expensive.
But, we looked at our budget, and our books at the end. And we got close to $200. – $250,000.00 of free thanks from people. If you actually put a dollar amount to it. And that’s a very important thing. And also, making a film, is art by collaboration. So, you should be working with your collaborators. Your actors should know locations, you know, your technical crew should know friends that might know a restaurant that can get you free pizza. It’s friends like that, really got to keep your eyes wide open to how to bring things in. In order to get your film done.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So now, you made a joke that you didn’t know that much about Sundance? But, you were in the play writing world. You must have known that, that was the top tier of the festivals for Indies, and that it was fairly competitive?
David: I knew that it was competitive, I did not know how competitive? When my film was submitted. They looked over 3200 films, which is pretty hard to believe? Last year I think it was around 14,000 films?
Ashley: Oh, my god!
David: So, you know, it’s definitely the, I had no idea how many people submitted? Because I figured I was making my first movie, god, a lot of people they can’t do this on the Indie scale. It’s like impossible. And again, I go back to this, although this, is ten years ago? Digital was in it’s infancy. And most film festivals including, Sundance, would not accept a digital submission. And now, almost every film festival, I think every film festival does accept digital. So, which makes it great, for folks who are making it, their first film. You know, you want to beat the art tour, and you want to shoot it on film. Okay, but you got to know all of the complications that come with it in boast. And you know, and also I think you shouldn’t demand on film unless you have like a lot of money backing with it, not a studio. But, you know, a lot of money, someone to back you on that.
Ashley: Sure, sure. So, your submission was just a cold submission, none of your eye. Okay, had your play had some success? Like, was that sort of a credential that you were able to submit with your film. That this play had, had some success, on Broadway, and or off-Broadway?
David: Well, yeah. It had been on off-off-Broadway. But, believe it or not, I don’t think we used any of that information other than the bio than. It’s a Samuel French play, it’s been done successfully in several countries, as well as New York. Interestingly enough, the play that was done in New York. I don’t know if anyone watches, “The Big Bang Theory?” But,
Kevin Susnan, who plays the owner of the comic strip, of the comic store. He was Ludlow, on the play version.
David: So, I’m happy to say, a lot of people who were in my plays were movies, are far more successful than I am. I guess I say, I give them the golden touch. But,
Ashley: So, let’s dig into your latest film, “The Great Gilly Hopkins.” Starring Kathy Bates and Glenn Close. Maybe to start out, you can kinda just give us a log-line for the film. I’ll find the trailer and I’ll link to that in the show notes. But, maybe to start out now, just give us a quick pitch what the film is about?
David: Well, we all know about little orphan Annie, who’s sugar and spice and everything nice. Well, this is little orphan Annie as the anti-Christ. It’s a foster kid, who’s been bounced around from foster home to foster home, to foster home. And she’s basically decided. That she’s going to give up on love and hope, and be the meanest thing on two feet. She actually takes great pride in crushing people fool enough to try and get close to her. And the film opens with her coming to her latest home to conquer. And the lead character, who owns the house, or the foster mother. Is played by Kathy Bates. And Kathy Bates was someone who I’d always imagined to play this role. And it took me many, many, years, in order to get to her, to read the script. And once she read it? She loved it, and she was on-board. I’d like to say, I just walked up to her and did it. But no, I had to hire her through her casting director. Who, agents listen to Casting Directors, they don’t listen to people just knocking on their door saying? Hey, this script is just perfect for you. “A-List” star.
Ashley: Let’s circle back, we’ll circle back to those kind of production details in a minute. Let’s talk about a minute on just the adaptation. And you know, I get a lot of people coming to me, they want to adapt their book. Or they have a book, and they’re wondering how to adapt it? So, maybe we can talk a little bit about that? You have this material, and maybe just walk us through that process? How do you decide what to leave in? How do you decide, what to change? What do those decisions look like?
David: Well, first-of all, if you are going to go after a property? And, that’s a whole other story, or rather, section. But we can be talking once you have the copy. Because those are the questions. There’s really, two ways of looking at somebody else’s work? You’re either going to interpret it, or adapt it. And you really, just have to decide that, even before you hit page one, there’s a huge difference. Basically, when it comes to well establish properties, 99.999% of the time, studios interpret it. Now, this is really, important to remember because every time the actor has to faithfully adapt it? The films have actually-turned a profit. Maybe not immediately, but over time they have. Because, people who read the book, and fans of it were comic book or whatever? Will continue to want to take a look at it. If they decide to interpret a property, which means, they’ll take the one character, and even though it’s set in 7th Century England. They are now going to put it on the moon. And their best friend is going to be metal tyrannosaurus rex. As opposed to a love interest. You know, it literally burst into flames. And all you have to do? Is to go on to box office mojo, or IMDb, and look-up “Adaptations” or “Book Adaptations.” And look how many succeeded, and how many failed? And the vast majority, no, pretty much all of them, have failed. Are because they thought the idea was good. But, they were going to fix it. And a lot of times when you have producers come up to you. Especially producers with money. They are going to say, “Love your screenplay adaptation, and here’s what’s wrong with it. And here’s how we’re going to fix it, so it can be really, really successful.” And of course, if they are offering you money? Now, that’s the point where you’re going to have to decide are you going to take the money, and not run. But, basically be pushed aside. And so, going back to what you want to do? It’s important to know, If you are going to adapt it, or interpret it?
Because also when you are trying to go after money. Especially if you meet someone who’d loved the book. And then you say, here’s what I’m going to do with it. And they go, “That’s not the book we, what are you talking about?” And so, you have to know, you have to know you whole schlep story, when you are going after someone’s money. Or when you are addressing it, as an artist to do it. The first thing you do? Is make sure you secured the rights. If you take someone’s book completely, and completely adapt it? And then think you are going to convince that person, to give you the money for it, I mean, to give you the rights. I’ve never ever hear of that happening. And a lot of the times what I do here is? An artist puts so much work in. And then they couldn’t reach that person. And you know, they put a good portion of their life in next to it.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
David: And what I’m saying is? If you’re going to put a big portion of your life into it? Just know that you’re going to be a part of it. And in fact some novelists, some people actually kind of take offense at you adapting their material with their permission. It’s again, it’s like you’re taking their baby, and you’re not just changing their clothes. But, you maybe removing some legs, an ear, putting in a third eye. You know. So, before you take on the world with it, an adaptation. Get the rights to it. But, that’s my feeling.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, were there some specific things in the book. That you just felt wouldn’t work in the movie? And then we can talk about those changes. Just to kind of get an idea, sort of what your thought process was for not using certain characters, or certain scenes, and you know, certain situations.
David: Well, I have adapted actually several of books. Not just my mom’s, the toughest part is. We go back to what we were talking about. How many words are in a novel and such. A lot takes place in novels, are in the character’s head. And that’s really, really, really, tough. Because no one wants to see a whole movie, where someone’s just saying, this is how I feel. Or this is what I am thinking about. It works on such a rare occasion. And usually it’s used very sparingly. Like, “Blade Runner” is a perfect example. But, then I think, there’s other ones to refer to. But, you never see a movie. Where it’s just going on in a person’s head. You have to take those thoughts, those emotions, those hopes and fears. And transfer them to scenes where they are either interacting with a person, or they are doing something that’s not telling you what they are doing? But, you can see actually the hopes, the dreams, the desires, the fusion of that character. I really think the, I’ll really go say, it’s the lazy option for a lot of writers. Say, I’m really not really sure how I can demonstrate, how these characters feeling? So, I’ll just have him think about it in their mind, and it just doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work. Let me rephrase it, it rarely works, it rarely works. I’ve adapted several children’s books, again, not just my mother’s. And again, you don’t want the character just to break that forth wall, just to tell you because you haven’t figured out another way to better demonstrate it? One, in “Gilly Hopkins” I actually invented a character, with my mom’s permission. So, Gilly could interact with that person, and tell them, tell her some of her thoughts, that actually were in the book. And she was just thinking about in her bedroom. So, I just said, “Okay, I’m going to create a character that she can bounce her ideas and thoughts from. So, we still get what was in the book, but now, for an audience to enjoy. It is interaction with the audience as well. They want to see your character do things.
And, the best way to do that, is many time, introduce a character, or a situation, or an environment that you can demonstrate. Say, and I’m just throwing this off the thing. But see, you’ve got a tough character that’s afraid of spiders, boom! Right? Right there, that scene takes less than, you know, less than 0.001 of a second for them to see the punch. But now, you see that there is a flaw in that character. And so, I think that’s a very important thing. That you don’t just carry these mental emotions and how they the characters are thinking it out? But have scenes, or moments where you show these weaknesses, or strengths in them.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s just talk just about your writing process for a little bit. I’m always just curious to kind of hear just the logistics of how writers write. What does your day look like? Just in terms of when you get writing? Do you write for a full, you know, 8 or 10 hours? Do you take a final and write for only half a day? Maybe do some production stuff, on the other half of the day? What is, your writing day, once you get into a good groove look like?
David: Well, I think earlier you said, question, don’t ask me? (Laughing) It’s tough, as I mentioned, when my kids were younger, I could really crank out a lot of writing. And then, when they were a little younger, going into school, I could do that as well. And as, I’m a business man, you know, in addition to being a writer, I’m also a producer. And so, it’s not just think about writing something new. It’s actually working on what I have going, like, “Gilly Hopkins.” We shot that two years ago. But, after that? It was still trying to get everything together. We had our distributor drop out. So, then I was dealing with a new distributor. We had another distributor drop out. So, as much as I would like to say, I’m going to set a whole new date here to write, a stuff happens. And, you have to be prepared, to not break that date. I try to write at least an hour a day. Now, that doesn’t sound like a lot. But, as a stay-at-home dad, with two boys, dog. I’m also a volunteer fireman, so my pager goes off, usually once a day. Then doing the other errands. As my wife travels a lot. So, I’m in charge of groceries and that crazy stuff. So, if I can squeeze in an hour a day, I’m happy. And that hour may not necessarily be sitting down, dialog. It really, sometimes it’s the long run. You know, if I know the beginning, the middle, and the end. We have to put some stuff in between the beginning and the middle, and then the middle and the end. So, lots of times it’s that, sometimes if I can’t come up with writing, per say, then I will do an exercise of my characters, write additional backstories for my characters. Because sometimes that helps trigger something else down the road, an additional scene. Writers block is a very dangerous thing, and you have to figure out ways to side step it. Sometimes it’ll stop you fully for a day. I hate to admit it, sometimes I will go for a week, sometimes two weeks without writing. Anyone listening, just don’t do that. But, the fact is, it can happen. And I guess the most important thing is, don’t beat yourself up over it. But, more importantly, find ways to get around it, or end that block.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk the actual practicality of doing an adaption like this. Do you start out with an outline? Do you open the book and just start writing in final draft? And how much time is spend in sort of the preparation stage?
David: Wow. I am a pen and hen peck typer so, I write everything long hand. What makes it feel good to me is, I’m not racing through my thoughts by writing long handed. It just takes a little bit longer to do it. Generally, when you are adapting a book.
I read it, maybe two, to three times before I ever start to do any again. Because, although, you won’t remember everything, on every page. You will remember the storyline. And so, each chapter I will break down to 5 to 10 moments. And then say, okay, these 5 or 10 moments. Obviously, you can’t have very long
5 or 10 moment things. Because if you go to go through all the chapters than you’re going to have a, I don’t know? 100-minute movie. So, you really, want to take those 5 or 10 moments and figure out how you can capture and relate them. Either in the scenes that are already in the book, or sort of piggy-back them up on other scenes, alright? The great thing about adapting? First of all you know, you already have a beginning, a middle and an end. But, you already have a lot of the filler as well. The toughest part about it, adapting novels, is? Is coming in with that hatchet, and cutting away things that you just don’t have time for. And so, the toughest part is? When you are being true to it, it is, if you have to lose characters, there has to be a reason for it. And if it’s just because you want to make a shorter script. That’s not always the best thing. You really have to look overall at the storyline, your protagonist, what they need to get from the beginning of it, the script to the end of the script. And if they can get there without a certain character, than that character can probably go.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, you’re working on a script, you come up with this first draft, or rough draft. I’m curious to hear a little bit of, just a little bit of your rewriting process? Do you have a few trusted people you send your script out to for notes? Get notes back, and then how do you go about doing those first rewrites on those scripts?
David: Generally, when the, it’s two different things when I was doing my mother’s work, I would let her read it. I’d let some family members read it. I’d let some of the people that either work for me, or my agent read it. Usually, but when I was approached to do it, they’re going to tell me, and I will get notes. I’ve done that, where I finish it, I give it back to different producer, they say, love.
Ashley: You’re talking about a paid writing assignment. Where they say, they bring you a book to adapt, you adapt it. It’s a much more formalized process, than writing spec. scripts.
David: Exactly. But, I guess if you’re first starting out I think it’s always dangerous just to give to family and friends. Because, they’re going to love it. (Chuckling) They are going to be very encouraging and that’s not always the best thing, you need some criticism. And, I would say, for writers who, are just starting out. I think, and I think you’ve mentioned this? Writers groups can be very, very, very helpful. I think you can find a writing group, if not in your town? Certainly, you can find it online. What I would recommend, and those people, not just jump into a writers group. You know, you should, you know, sort of look it up, and look who’s involved, you know. And see, the other great thing is, it’s not a contract. So, you can join a writers group. But then, unjoin a writers group. But, what’s more importantly is, you don’t want to waste your time. So, I think a little research, is actually good for when you are looking for writer’s groups. And I think we all know that everyone’s opinion at it, is just that. And you’re going to get opinions from people who just think your script should go this way, they didn’t like this. You may find people who just hate the script over all. But, you have to take that, with both a grain of salt. But if you’re getting the same complaints by several people? Then you should probably take another look at the script, everybody can’t be wrong. That’s the one thing I’ve learned in this business.
A lot of people can be wrong. And I’ve met a lot of people that are wrong. But, if everyone is saying the same thing? Then there’s probably an issue with your work you need to address.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, just, talk about the process and just when you said, you got notes from your mother, who in some cases wasn’t the original author. It occurs to me that would be very sensitive situation. And even if the author is not your mother. How do you start that relationship out? If it’s an author you don’t know? Do you sit down with them at the beginning of the process and try and just listen, sort of what some of the themes and ideas that they felt were in the book. And do you go back and get those notes from that person? I can see that being a very touchy situation, getting notes back from the original author?
David: Oh, absolutely. Because you know, again, we talk about my mom. She’s a sweet heart. Generally, when I would make changes with her, I would say, “Look, I’m thinking about cutting out this character?” And these are my reasons why? But, now that I actually think about it? That’s what I do with other authors when we involve playwrights and authors. When I do first meet them, we talk, and I usually say, “Is this kind of what I envision?” Hopefully it’s what they envision. Because usually it’s what they wrote. And one of 2 questions I ask? I say, “This is going to be a movie. What do you want this movie to be about? And what do you not want this movie to be about?” And usually the author will be very direct about that. You know, especially writer’s of novels, they’ll tell you exactly what they don’t want it to be. Lots of times the answer of what they want it to be is, well, the book, to put it up there. That’s what I want. But again, in those initial conversations, you have to be honest with them. And you have to say to them, “You do realize it’s one page on, in a screenplay, one page equals about one minute. Your book is 300 pages long, there will not be a 300-minute movie ever! I’m gonna be honest with ya, it’s just not going to happen. And so, they need to understand that. And you say, “So, I believe this character is valuable. I think this character, or this storyline is. But there are some chapters that are not going to make it to the final script. And that is because it doesn’t inherently carry what I call the heart of the book and the heart and soul of the book.” And that’s what you’re trying to do. Because, in the end, film is a different medium from a book. And you have to understand that. And the crazy thing is, even with the novelists, and I teach at a lot of schools. And I lecture even at grade school level, about creativity. And I ask kids who are 10 years old. How many of you in here are movie makers? And maybe one hand will go up. And I’ll say, “Actually, every single one of you is a movie maker. Because, when you read a story, you’re not looking at words, you’re actually creating the whole story in your head. I mean, you’ve already put a hair color on the head of this person. You’ve already, when they say they’re driving a car, you’ve already envisioned the type of car. You create a movie in your head. So, in that same respect, novelists do the exact same thing.” They know their characters better than anyone else. And so, for someone to try to change it, can be very difficult for certain novelist. And usually, I know right off the bat, talking with them. If it’s going to be an ease or difficult, I read people fairly, well. And that’s why traditionally and sadly, the way Hollywood producers look at authors. They are dangerous, and they are troublemakers. Because, they won’t want any changes. And so, I try to alleviate that. But, there have been points where, and we talked about this. Where a collaboration, there’s about 20 people that are in agreement that something needs to be changed a certain way. Whether it’s just for financial reasons, or esthetics, or it just doesn’t work. And then the author is up against those 20 people going, absolutely not! It’s wrong, I’m right. You have to understand that. But, of course when you’ve reached that level, you’ve optioned the work.
And 99.999% of the time, the author does not have that control. Now, when you’re talking about “Hunger Games” you’re talking about, you know, “Twilights” series, even “Harry Potter.” Those authors did have a lot of clout. But, I just mentioned 3 novelist, over a couple of hundred thousand, over the last 100 years. Who had optioned their work, and had no control at all. So, that just sort of touches back, like I said, when you’re deciding what to do? Whether your going to interpret it or adapt it? You also have to make the decision, of whether you’re going to tell the original author exactly that. That you like their idea, but you’re really going to change it. It’s a very delicate thing. And almost always it’s never discussed until almost all the ink has dried.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. No kidding. So, let’s talk a little bit about the producing it a bit. So, you have the script written. So, maybe just talk about that part a little. The then process of taking it from script to actually getting production funds and getting this thing into production. I get a lot of people coming to me, to my sight. They are asking me, hey I’ve got this script written, produce it, how do I go about it? How do I go about raising money? How do I go about getting talent attached?
David: Well, I’ve always said, You’re going to make a movie, it’s your first movie ever. You’re always a writer/producer, until you’re not. Which means someone is paying you to be either one. So, I always say, “Yeah, I’m a writer and I want to produce it.” And if they go, “Well, I don’t know about the producer, alright? Well, let’s work on the contract. Because, with my first big film, I attached myself as a writer/producer, because I knew they were going to fire me as soon as the ink dried. Because it was a big Hollywood studio. And guess what happened? As soon as the ink dried they fired me as the writer. But, I was still attached as a producer, so they couldn’t get rid of me. And the crazy thing is, as Hollywood works. They brought in two other guys, and paid them a ton of money, fired both of those guys. And brought me back on for no money, to fix the script. Because I was still attached as a, one of the three writers. So, I always say, “Try this, stay attached as a writer/producer.” Those are also two forms of income as well. So, if the movie makes no money, as a producing level. Sometimes as the writer, there’s also trickle down money when change, if you have a good lawyer. If it change, it goes from not just a theatrical production. If there’s no theatrical, if goes to just ancillary sales, library sales, as you know. Like, United Airlines, and hotels and stuff. There’s ways to add money that way. With
“Gilly Hopkins” I wanted to it to be my Directing debute. So, for several years, I was telling everyone, yes, I wrote it, I’m going to direct it. And guess what? No one would give me money. They are like, you’ve never directed a feature film. I had directed two shorts. I put this would it be a completely different thing? And this is even when we had Kathy Bates attached. They were like, no, uh-ah. I met all I know, 30-40 monetary entities, and they were all like, no! So, I had to come up, I sat down with myself, over a couple of beers and talked to myself. And said, you may A. Lose the lead actress. And just not get this done, by being bull headed and insisting that you’re going to write it and direct it. So, I stepped back, I’m still writer/ producer on it. But, we got a director, a great director. And he actually had a great track record. Boom, money started coming in. And I was like, I like that. And the cast came in. And agents also, even with Kathy Bates, was still hesitant, until this director came on-board. And they were like, yeah, we’ll show it, we’ll get it out. Yeah, we’ll show it to Glenn Close, and Glenn Close is in the movie. You know, so it’s like, there’s choices you have to make and sacrifice you have to make.
So, now I’m still searching for my first directorial position. But, the movie proceeded forward to get made. Because I started to not be pig-headed, and think that I could do everything.
Ashley: So, these meetings, with these production companies that could potentially finance this. How could you get those meetings? Was that just from doing other things, films. You had those connections? How did you actually get those meetings?
David: Actually, it went back to some of the film festivals that I had been in. I researched on, who had produced some of those? Because these guys aren’t, they are not, you know they’re not top dog producers, you know, they’re not Bruckheimer or anything like that. These are guys that produce in those kinds of films. So, I would track down, you know, if I was at the Savanah Film Festival. And this goes back to my first Indie. I would say, well, this film got a lot of great. Either I saw it, or it got a lot of great press. You can easily track down producers online. And you can usually reach out to their offices. Either they have Emails, or you can call. And if you have a film under your belt? You can say it, if you don’t? If this script has won some awards, or some nods. Or if you have a manager. On that level sometimes people, sometimes, you know, “No” is a big thing they say in Hollywood. But not in the lower-level. Especially if there is a connection. And even that connection could be as simple as, I was at this film festival, I saw your film, it’s terrific. I think my script is very similar. Or very much in the vein of type of properties you are, that you option and produce. I’d love the opportunity, to possibly meet with you. Pitch, I think, if you get my Email sending you a script is crazy?! You’ll never hear from them again. It’s a, “Please and Thank you!” Will get you very far, in the independent world. You know.
Ashley: So, let’s talk a minute about getting Kathy Bates, you mentioned earlier in the interview, that you got an Academy Casting Director on-board, and she got that. And we don’t have to talk about the specifics, exactly what that entails and we can all go on IMDb Pro, and we can track down Casting Directors. Just in general, what is a high-level Casting Director expect financially, to get them involved in a project like that? And you can just like give us a ball-park figure? I have had friends who have done sort of on a low-level you know – $2000., #3000., $4000.00, $10,000.00 usually somewhere in that ballpark. What would you, if someone came to you, and asked? How much am I going to have to spend on it? A Casting Director, who can get to these types of people? What would you kinda tell them?
David: Actually, there’s a kind of a couple of different ways to approach it. Casting Directors, they don’t do it for free, that’s their bread and butter. But Casting Directors, depending on their level of Casting Director. It can be, vary widely. Some charge $1500.00, some charge $10,000.00, you know. Usually though, it’s not up front. It’s usually just a certain amount up front. But, there’s wiggle room, also with the Casting Director. Also, would you be willing to come on as a producer? A lot of casting directors now, come on as Producers. Because that credit will help them down the road, depending on what else they are doing? And also, producers are also doing, so can participate in back end. Now, we all know, there’s no back end. There’s never a back end. However, it is a mental note, or benefit to people you are talking to. It gives them more confidence, to their importance in a project. So, a Casting Director, and not just a
Casting Director, I’m a producer. I’m going to be getting some back end here. And just mentally, just even everyone knows, there’s no back end. It shows that, the producer, has even more commitment to that Casting Director.
There is a connection, a promise to work harder together. Since is not just he or she, is not just casting you film, they are a partner, they are our producer. And, yeah, you were going to say something?
Ashley: I was going to say, you would mention that you would from the very early on. You felt like, that Kathy Bates would be a good fit for this particular-role. Did you then go on IMDb Pro, and start looking at movies Kathy Bates has been in? And then looking at Casting Directors that had worked on those movies. So, you knew, your Casting Director could get to her. Was there anything that clear? Or how did you choose her and the Casting Director?
David: Well, I brought the Casting Director on, very early on. As it happens many times in the business, an additional Casting Director was brought on, on top of that Casting Director. And that does happen sometimes. Especially when more money comes in. And more cast, goals of the Casting Director may not be reachable by that Casting Director. But, by bringing someone else in, higher-up. I’ll be honest, it was not the most comfortable situation for me. I’m very committed to anyone. And it was one of those situations where, once we were further along. Again, my cower had been in the subdued. And people with money coming in above me, and became more powerful. So, no matter what I said, it was going to go one way or the other. So, in that respect, once this other casting director came in. That person had, like, super, super clout. It was also super, super, expensive. But again, the money came in to do that. The fact is though, there is a lot of lower range Casting Directors that are not overly expensive. But, if you look at their body of work, it’s very impressive. And so, agents will take note of that. So, it maybe a casting person. That you are not 100% familiar with. But, agents are, and agents know. Casting agents are great interpreters of screenplays. Meaning, they know it’s going to go. They know it has a lot of potential. And so, Casting Directors overall work a lot harder than you think, when they are trying to get actors to look as. It’s not just, hey, look at this. They spend time to talk to the agent and say, “This is why I think your actor should do this.” This is why this actor usually commands it, a huge salary. And should do this independent film, because of, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla. So, if they’re, if you’re putting a movie together? Obviously, it’s a little more difficult if you are in the middle of America? But if you are in any major city, there are Casting Directors there. And, you go ahead, check them out, look at their work. If there are specific actors that you see are in their work? Then, you already have an in to a certain degree. They’ve worked together. It’s research, research, research, research, research, really!
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So then, let’s talk about, once you got this film done. I’m curious, you said, at one point you lost your distributor, you had to go out and find a new distributor. One of the things, and in my own search? In talking with distributors, and producers. One of the things that always comes up is? You know, family friendly films, are something that you can still sell a lot of, DVD’s, there’s still a good play in the national market, there’s good international play. And having some stars, Kathy Bates, or Glenn Close in the film. So, to me, like on paper, at least. This looks like the perfect film. I mean, especially coming from a successful book. You got a pedigree that way. You’ve got great actors in it. And it’s family friendly. So, it’s surprising to me, that you had trouble with the distributor? Because everything that I talked to. Everyone is saying, this could be the perfect type of project. And people describe projects, this comes up like, looking at this on paper, it strikes me as an incredibly sound financial investment for people.
David: Absolutely. And
Ashley: As much as a film can be, or could be, let’s say.
David: Yeah. Well, the issue is. Both the distributors, they didn’t like, drop the project. They actually went away. They collapsed, they.
Ashley: Alright. I see, I see.
David: And, not to mention names. But, after that, I actually did a little research, and to see the ones that were attached? Are no longer attached to it. And these were big dogs. The problem with that though is,
Ashley: You’re saying they just flat went out of business!
David: Yes! Yeah, yeah. And so, the problem is? And I’m trying to find a nice way to put this?! You don’t want to get into an indistinct to your film. And what that means is, if it was made a while ago? And time keeps going by and no one’s distributing it? Other distributors will look at it and go, “Well, there must be something wrong with it?” Even if there’s nothing wrong with it at all. And actually that’s what happened with “Gilly” was? We were with one distributor for almost a year. And then we went with another distributor for almost another year. And we were like, why aren’t we releasing it? And it was because they were having internal problems. And then, boom, we were two years out. And other distributors went, well clearly there’s something wrong with it? If it hadn’t been distributed yet. And that’s the problem really. It’s convincing people who actually hadn’t even looked at the movie. It’s just a, that there’s something wrong with it? So, if you are looking for distribution? What I do say is, never give up. But, do realize, there are time limitations. And expirations time for something on certain levels. You really don’t see many movies get wide theatrical release, or even limited theatrical release. That it’s been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years. It’s just, you don’t see it happen. Now, if you
Self-distribute, yeah, it gets, and you can sit on it for 20 years if you want? But, if you’re talking about the marketability of your property? Especially, if it got great nods at film festivals. You don’t want to say, oh, well, this was great at film festival 2, 3, 4, 5 years ago? So, basically, with selling a screenplay, or selling a movie? It isn’t a deal with the devil. You have to figure out what’s the best for you? What’s the best for the script, what’s the best for the movie. And, but, there’s always an amount of unknown to it. Like I said, I’ve been doing it for 10 years. I had a movie that I released with Disney. But now, I’m releasing a film with a much, much, smaller company. It’s Lionscape Premier. It’s Lionscape, but it’s Lionscape the Premier, which is different, a print branch of Lionscape. Which means, they look at things differently, than say, Lionscape would. And so, you’re always learning new things. And learning new ways of hearing, “Yes.” And new ways of hearing, “No.” And the occasional “Maybe.”
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, just let’s have one more quick conversation, on finding new material and optioning it from an author? You mentioned earlier on, never proceed on a project if you don’t have the material. Maybe you can talk about that process a little bit? I get a lot of screenwriters coming to me, and they basically say the exact same. They say, “Listen, I read this book a couple of years ago. And I want to approach the author.”
Maybe you just have some tips? My first thing is, obviously, there is a legal-issues. Where you have to make sure that contract is buttoned up. But, maybe on the front end of that? Like, what are those conversations does it look like? Do you try and approach the agent, now? There’s so many writer are available, whether it’s: Facebook, Twitter, InstaGram, It’s usually not that hard to approach the writer directly? But, sometimes, they have an agent. Should you go through their agent? Just anything, any tips you have on that, I think would be very helpful.
David: A, I basically feel that any way that you can do it, is best? But, as you mentioned, the real problem now a days? As we know the word, IP – “Intellectual Property.” Many books that are coming out, have already been optioned, before they’ve ever even been seen by anybody. Publishers will reach out, just to studios and say, “By the way, great book, we are going to be releasing in a million copies. I know it’s going to be huge!” Boom! It’s gone even before you’ve even heard of it. It’s gone before it’s even in print, that’s it. But, as you mentioned? If it’s that book that was out a couple of years ago? Some of the easiest ways, put the times on the back of the book covers. It says, “Martha lives with her husband in Battle Creek Michigan.” You might be able to go online and try to back down that address one way or the other? You might be able to find out their personal Email? Because, they may not be as huge as you think? Publishers going to the publishers, is always good too. Especially if it’s older book. And I’m very interested in this, could you please put me in touch with the writer? Sometimes they say, “Yes.” Sometimes they say, “No.” But, always got to try as many “No’s” as possible, it’s basically the way of it. Lots of times if they publish several books? And I know somebody who did this before. Contact them about a lesser known book. And so, that might keep with the agents, publishers. And authors interest. And so, when you get to them? It’s not really a lie when you really, really enjoyed so and so. But, you know what? But, what I really think, after reviewing all of your materials? This book would be even more. I would like to do this one even more than the one I told you. Is it a trick? Yeah, I guess so?
Ashley: Bait and switch. I think in sales that’s called, “Bate and switch.” (Laughing)
David: But, it’s not a bait and switch in the respect to, you still want their material. And you still think their material is great! And I just think it’s a, getting in that door is very, very, difficult.
Ashley: So, I had a friend.
David: One other thing I wanted to say.
David: A lot of times these authors do book signings and stuff. And, if you can track down, where they’re doing a book signing. Don’t harass them. Just say, “I’m a screenwriter, I’m very interested in your property. May I get in touch with your publisher?” And just by them saying, “Yes.” You can say, “I met, so and so, the other day.” I told him I was very interested in his property. So, they told me to contact you. And I guess I can get an Email from you with them? When you put them on that spot. Of course, their agent is not going to call you a liar. They may follow-up with the author first. But, that conversation happened.
Lots of times, well, geez, if the author said you’d be willing, that he or she would be willing to chat? Well, then we’ll put them together. The great thing now days is? There is Email, where it’s personal enough, that people can say, “Thank you” but no thank you. Giving someone a phone number is, still to this day, is very dice-y.
Ashley: So, What are those first conversations like, when you start to meet the author? And let’s assume, too that a lot of the listeners of this Podcast are probably not, you know, are produced writers, and may have a couple of produced credits. But fairly not, “A-List” screenwriters. So, what are those first conversations with the author look like? How do you convince them to, that you are the right writer, and potentially option this material to you, for not a lot of money, or maybe even no money?
David: Well, first of all, research, research, research. Don’t call them because you read their book ten years ago. You had better have read that book in the last 24 hours. Because believe it or not, authors know their work like the back of their hand. So, if you really want to talk to them? About a specific property? Don’t not know the property. And be able to be passionate about that property. And be passionate about, you want to tell their story, but just, in a movie. And, lots of times, authors will be willing to give you it, a six month free option. Now, is that a lot of time to raise a screenplay? No, but guess what, you’re getting a free option. So, you know, that gives you a reason to write, I mean, the best reason obviously for writing, is deadlines. This way, you have a deadline. Like I said, you may not have written it, the script yet? But, you should have done some research. You should have thought about how you’re going to be flushing it out. Because you’re going to be talking to the author. The most valuable thing you have is when you don’t have money, is your words. And that doesn’t just count for writing, but talking to people. I know a lot of screenwriters that hate talking to people. But, you gotta be able to talk to people, in order to convince them to take a look at your stuff. You say you can do that through Emails yes. But, there will probably be a time when you’re going to have to talk to people. And “Um’s” and “Uh’s” and “Buts” and “Well, like this” and “Like that” that’s not going to help you when you’re having conversation with people. So, you have to be able to know exactly what you want. And in respects, it was discussed thoroughly, what they want. You know what they want, they want you to do a good job. They want you to do an honest interpretation, an honest adaptation of their work. We discussed earlier, if you’re going to say, well, I actually like this part, right. I didn’t like this part, so I’m not going to put it in. You know, you’re going down a rabbit’s hole there? And you may chase that person away. So, if you do want to change it, you have to realize, it’s not a big switch.
Ashley: Yeah, it might be better to mention that? After you have the option.
David: Yes, be sure to tell them that after the option. Because in the end whether they like it or not? It is a different medium, and things will change. You’re planning on changing it more? Maybe you keep that close to your vest. But actually, if you don’t do that well? They’re going to sniff that right out, right off the bat. If you don’t know how to talk to them? Like I say, oh, I see, this person likes a little bit of my book. But, they’re just going to go and do something crazy to it. And so, I’m just going to say, “No” right here. It’s easy to say “No” right here. So, practice, practice, practice; practice your pitch. To authors just as much as you practice pitches to producers and studios, and other folks.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about how people can see, “The Great Gilly Hopkins?” Do you know the release schedule? When it’s going to be out? Where it’s going to be available?
David: Yes, it’s being released in October 7th 2016. They are doing the 15 major theatrical markets: New York, L.A., Washington DC, Boston, Dallas, Houston, you know, top markets. The other place it’s out, ONDEMAND, and it’s going to be available and close to 100 million homes. So, if I can get a million people to do it? That’d be great! (Laughing)
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding. So, perfect, perfect. And I always like to end the interviews just by asking the guest how people can follow along with you, if you’re on Twitter, Facebook, blog, website, whatever you feel comfortable sharing, you know. I’ll link it all up in the show notes.
David: Yeah, I’m on Facebook. I’m a bit of a dinosaur so, I’m not on Twitter yet. I have my own website, called, www.dpplays.com, which is David Patterson Plays dot com. And that’s pretty much how I’m up and about right now. Yeah.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. So, David I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today, excellent interview.
David: Well thank you. And I hope I’ve given some people some thoughts and hopes and stuff. And honestly, everyone has to go and see my movie. If I can leave you guys with one thing. And I’m very serious about this, this is a very tough business. People tend to be very hard on themselves. So, if you’re going to make life, make art a part of your life. Don’t make your life all about you. Art, because it, because if your life is all about your art? You can go to bed hungry and wake-up angry the rest of your life. So, just realize life, your life in not about making movies. It’s only, movies is a part of your life.
Ashley: Sound advice, I completely agree. So, excellent advice. So, thank you again, David.
David: Thank you.
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In the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Craig Van Sykle, he is a television writer, and producer. And one of his many creations, was the hit TV show
“The Pretender.” Which ran in the late ‘90’s. He’s got a ton of great stories. And a lot of great advice for people, who are looking to write for television. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.