Ashley: Welcome to episode #155 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing screenwriter and director, John Fallon. He just did a film called, “The Shelter” with Michael Pae. He lives up in Canada, and has maintained a solid career. He has more than half a dozen feature film credits. We talk through how he got started and how he’s been able to maintain a career for the last decade all from Canada. So, stay tuned for that.
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So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing Writer/Director John Fallon, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome John to the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
John: Oh, thanks a lot for having me, I appreciate it.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you could just tell us a little bit about your writing background, kinda how you got started? And maybe bring us back, you know, to childhood, and up to some of your first early successes in the business.
John: I basically went to some school first. Then I went to for two years. And then I went to acting school for three years. And when I came out, I started doing the acting rounds. But also on the side I would work as a script director, for local production companies. So, that eventually started writing my own stuff, like scripts. My first script was written on a typewriter.
And also, I kinda miss that typewriter, on now that I think about it? But, you know, that started out with spec. scripts, and which eventually graduated to me being hired to write screenplays.
Ashley: So, how did you get those early, you said you got hired to just come on as a script director for local productions. How did you get those jobs? Those seems like, just those first steps would be something to accomplish.
John: A that was just by accident really? I mean, I was at an industry little shindig and this one company was looking into somebody. And this one person that was, that we knew in common. You know, he thought I was a very good writer. So, he proposed we work together and it worked out. And then from that job, my name started going around. And it was a small market, I am in Montreal Canada. So, finance started going around from here to there. And I started just scripting and training, you know.
Ashley: Yeah. And how many spec. scripts had you written, like this guy who introduces you to the other guy? He knew you were a good writer. What had you written that he had seen?
John: A four spec. scripts that I had written. So, he knew I was shopping around, trying to get off the ground. And this gentleman, when he read one of them. Which I cleaned enough was called, “Nothing on Mickey’s Door” It’s about two guys who were in New York to find
Mickey O’Rourke, that was just a weird script. So, yeah, that’s what resulted into that, ya, know.
Ashley: So, take us through some of those first. Now you’re starting to write spec. scripts. What did you do to actually facilitate selling those spec. scripts?
John: I didn’t go the usual route, I mean, I never had a manager, although, I’m looking into it now. I never had an agent, it was always through contacts, just through contacts. I was very much aware that the more people you know, the easier it is for you to eventually you know, move up within the ranks of the business. And so, it has been souly through contacts. And I was lucky enough that I founded “Arrow in the Head” Which is the horror movie section of www.jojoba.com. So, I founded that and operated that for a very long time. And that gave me a lot of access to producers, distributors, actors and whatnot? So, I made a lot of contacts that way as well.
Ashley: Okay. And tell me more about that site? I will link to it in the show notes. What is the actual URL again?
John: it’s – www.arrowinthehead.com, all one word, dot com.
Ashley: Arrow in the head, dot com. And what kind of a site is it? Do you review horror movies? How did that help you network with these producers?
John: Well, yeah, that started back in the year 2000. So, that’s before the internet was what it is today at the moment. So, we were one of the first big boys to come out. And at the time it was, the studios really didn’t know how to deal with us? So, they kinda treated us like rock stars, at first anyway, not anymore.
So, yeah, no, so you know, people didn’t know what to make of us? Ya know? So, you had an easier access. And I did you know, I’m still behind the site, but you know, more behind the curtains, as I have somebody running it for me. But, a, we’ve been around 15 years. So, 15 years you get to know a lot of people.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure. Okay so, let’s talk about your latest film, “The Shelter.” Maybe just to start out you can give us a quick pitch or log-line for that film.
John: Sure. “The Shelter” is about a homeless man called, Thomas Jenkins” played by
Michael Pae. And he comes back to his hometown, after 5 years of absence. He’s carrying a lot of guilt, a lot of self-loathing on his shoulders. And one night he falls upon looking for a place to sleep. He falls upon a house with the door opened, light shining out. Figures that he’s caught a lucky break. So, he goes inside and tries to come home. And eventually finds out the house won’t let him leave. And that’s pretty much the basic premise. But it isn’t going in the way that, it’s not a 1, 2, 3, mainstream horror movie. It’s more, it goes in many different places than you would think.
Ashley: Okay, where did this idea come from?
John: Well, the seed that sparked “The Shelter” was basically, I was coming back from a hockey game. And in the winter, and winter here in Montreal is very harsh. And there was this gentleman, sitting on the ground in this snow, begging for change. And I gave him some money, and on my way back home, I felt bad for the guy, you know, poor guy, how did he get there, ya know? Who is this guy, ya know? Where’s he going? Gosh, these are good questions? So, I got home and I wrote those three questions down. And I eventually, think about a script a lot, before I start writing it. So, I eventually kind of started answering those questions for myself. And that was the seed that would sprout, “The Shelter.”
Ashley: Okay. And one of the things that struck me about “The Shelter” is? It’s incredibly contained, obviously, one main role, is also a large part in this house. When you started to write the script, how conscious were you that keeping it contained would make it easier to produce eventually to get financing. How much did that kind of play into your overall writing process, or even coming up with the idea.
John: Oh 100%. I mean, by the time I got to writing, “The Shelter” I had worked, I had written low-budget stuff. And if there is one thing I had learned. If you’re going to shoot a low-budget film, the less locations, the better, this company moves cost you time and money. And the less, the smaller the cast the better. So, with, “The Shelter” it was written with a low-budget in mind. It was too outside the box, for me to get it out, and off the ground. And it, you know, through the proper channels the usual suspects. So, it had to be a small movie. So, you know, it was purposely written with, you know, Michael Pare, as the character of Thomas. Which was in 98% of the film. And everybody else were kind of peripheral characters.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. And we can talk specifically sort of about, “The Shelter.” But, really just, these are more general kind of screenwriting questions. How much time? Did you spend a lot of time thinking about your story?
What would you actually estimate, I mean, how much? When you open up Final Draft, and write the script. How much time does that take? And how much time did it take? Did you spend prior to that, just outlining and thinking about the script.
John: Usually, it takes me 3 months to write a script, you know, solid, first draft, if not second draft. “The Shelter” was just a weird, first, and hopefully the last. Because it was a very odd process. I came up with my opening, and I had my ending. And it took me three years to find everything else. Thinking about it, thinking about it. Some weird miss-hap. I don’t know if you want to hear the story now? But, this weird miss-hap happened, is actually what a with the script. I’ll try to make a long story short. I lived in apartment building, in the city, on the fourth floor. And I had a flood, while I was reading/researching the script. And so, I went downstairs and to tell my landlord I had a flood. The pipe broke and I have water and stuff floating around. And my personal belongings are ruined. So, he says, “Okay, we’ll send a Plummer.” So, the next day, a little Asian man, a Plummer. Showed up, dressed as a Plummer, he’s here, I’m here to fix the pipes. I’m like, okay. So, he goes to the bathroom to fix the pipes and I’m at my computer. And I’m researching these websites, having to do with Christianity. These are a very strong, iconography, in terms of Christian Iconography in the film. I was wanting to go that way with it? And somehow I feel a presence behind me. And it’s this gentleman. And he’s standing there, “Are you Christian?” And I’m like, “Well, a, yeah. I was raised Catholic. But, this is research for a script that I’m trying to crack here.” So, he just takes a pen and writes, about 3 URL’s, visit these sites. And then he leaves, pipes are fixed and he just bugs out. So, I visit the sites, and we, there’s these three, kinda like underground Christian weird stuff that I really can’t compute on, percent stuff, ya know? Not a site you’d see on Google, it was just weird stuff. But, through that I did find something, and I can’t even tell you what it is today. I mean, it’s a long time ago. I did find something that was, Oh, I’m going to go that way, good. And then I finished the draft. And I started, you know, finishing the script. The weird thing about this story? Other than the fact that I just got script advice from a Plummer. Is that the next day, I woke-up with water all over the place, again. So, went down stairs to see my landlord and tell him, “Your Plummer did an awful job! There’s water everywhere again. And he told me he had never even sent him. Alright, what do you mean you never sent him? There was an Asian guy dressed like a Plummer in my house yesterday. And he looks on his paperwork, nope, never sent him. I’ll call the company. So, he called the company, and they’re like, no, he’s coming tomorrow. So, to this day I have no idea who this guy is?
Ashley: Wow! That is a creepy story!
John: Yeah, that was weird.
Ashley: And he actually did go in there and do some pluming?
John: Yeah, yeah, he did. He did, I would, I did because my kitchen was. He was here, and my bathroom was here on the side. So, he went in there. I went to my desk. And, I didn’t go in to double check if he was doing pluming or not? I just felt him seeing over my shoulder. I like felt somebody there, oh, shit, who in the hell is this guy? Okay, I know, it was really, weird. That was one of many things during this screenwriting process with, “The Shelter”
just weird stuff kept happening? The shoot was smooth. And post-production, which was stuff, whatever you want to talk about is?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so let’s just talk about in general. What is your writing schedule look like? When you get in a good groove? Especially when a more typical example, when you write a script and in 3 months. What is your writing schedule look like when you’re writing for six or eight hours a day? Do you write for 2 hours in the morning? What does your schedule look like?
John: Ideally, 5 pages a day.
Ashley: And how long does that take you?
John: It depends? On some days you’re on fire. And some days, everything you write is garbage so a, you’re not feeling it. So, for myself anyways, I still try to keep writing anyway, even though what I’m writing is to me, absolute garbage. And then you revisit it the next day, and then with this, how come I wasn’t able to, hey that wasn’t that bad. Maybe that’s a good idea here, ya know. So, the last script I wrote, I binged wrote it. Because generally, post-production on “The Shelter.” There was so many negative things happening, that I couldn’t write. I had no creativity in me. I couldn’t write. And recently, now that, “The Shelter” is out. I went and locked myself in the cabin by the lake. And I wrote, hopefully my next film, called, “Eva.” Which is a true vision vigilate flick. And that took me 1, 2, 3, 4, weekends, 3 days, almost like
Back-to-back mostly. So, it varies. You know, it, everything in life frankly, 5 pages a day, and first thing in the morning. Just get them out of the way. And then, I can like, focus on other things, producing, and stuff that I have to do.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, how do you know, when your script is ready? When you need to start showing it to people. You have that rough draft, maybe a first draft. How do you know when it’s time? To start getting feedback? And other people’s input?
John: For me, my process is, I do a first draft. Then I step away from it, for maybe like a week. And then I go back to it with fresh eyes and then I do a second draft. And then I usually take that second draft and send it. I have my trusted sources, people that I’ve always relied on. You know, some people who are in the film industry. Some people like your average people that don’t usually read scripts. So don’t even, just like fun movies, action movies or whatever. And then I get feedback from them. And then I go back for a third draft. And then you usually have a third draft, is where I stopped. But like now, for example, like “Eva” that vigilante film. I started showing it around to interested producers. And they came back with some notes, you know, so? Some of them, I read with, and I’m actually going to implement in the script, others I didn’t. So, you know, we’ll see what happens? If they come on board or not, it’s up for debate. So, that’s usually my process.
Ashley: Okay, okay. And how do you approach, especially a film like, “The Shelter.” How do you approach the genre requirements? You know, there’s probably like with a main actor, you do got to use him in enough scenes. There’s probably certain horror things, certain like horror films, something scary has to happen every ten minutes. Just, how do you approach those kinds of things.
You just mentioned an action movie, like I know the distributors and producers, are going to say, “Well, we need to see an action scene every ten pages. How do you approach those kinds of sort of structural things in your scripts?
John: “The Shelter” I didn’t, I didn’t at all. I “The Shelter” is just, it’s the most how must I say this? As I say, I’m a producer, and as a producer I was very quiet. As an artist, or a screenwriter I was very vocal, and I told the producer to shut-up! I just did what I wanted to do. And I didn’t think about, and I’m being honest, shelter. I didn’t think about the audience, I didn’t think about the distributors, I didn’t think, the only place I did think about with the distributors was, for the girls, so I could give a tits shot, that’s it. Otherwise, I didn’t. I didn’t think about them, I didn’t care if they thought it was mainstream or not mainstream, I didn’t care. And you know, I made it for a low-budget. It was going to be for my directing debute. And I was going to do what I wanted to do, and that’s it, obviously for other films. Other than projects that are bigger budgets, not my money. It’s different when you have to adhere to them, ya know. But with “The Shelter” you know, it was like, it was all me, you know. So, I didn’t have to answer to anyone, anybody. I only had to answer to me. So, and I didn’t care, it’s really the purest thing I’ve ever done. How about that.
Ashley: Yeah okay. So, now once that you were finished with it, the script. Now maybe you can talk about some of the first steps you did in terms of raising money. In terms of getting actors
on-board, just maybe walk us through that process. You done with the script, now what were your next steps to getting this thing produced.
John: Well, I went to the AFM and met with some sales company I knew, met new sales companies. And people read the script and wanted nothing to do with it. It’s like, it’s too weird, it’s too out of the box, it’s not mainstream enough. If you want mainstream, it’s not mainstream enough. So, with my producer Donny Bruce down in Louisiana, where we shot the film. He was getting me everything I needed. And it was dependent on me finding enough money collection. But then, the end of the year came. And I didn’t find the money. So, I came at a crossroads,
ya know. We had Michael Pare already, he wanted to do it. So, I said, “Okay.” So we, there I put in all my life’s savings and all my credits, and I assist this movie. And next year I’ll be broke. Or, I’m already broke anyways. But next year I won’t have a movie. So, which one am I going to do? I put in everything, my I said, “Fuck it!” Sorry about the language. But yeah, I said,
“Forget it!” Ya know? I put all my money on everything I had. All my Visa’s, Mastercards, my line of credit, my cash, I financed all of the production. And then when it came down to time for post-production. I got my good friend Bridge Garabedien, out of Joe Blow Movie Productions. And he came in and financed the post. So, that’s how “The Shelter” came about. You know,
I mean, it’s not your standard way of raising financing. And I’ll never do that again. But, I’m happy that I did. You know, otherwise, there wouldn’t be a film.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, let’s just talk about one minute about getting Michael Pae involved in the production. Were you involved in that at all? And maybe we can talk just a little bit about how you go about getting an actor like him attached to your project?
John: You see again, it comes back to people you know. I met Mike through a mutual friend, Eric Red, a Writer/Director, Eric Red. A while back, and then at some point we were on the same film together, called, “A Hundred Feet.” I played a cop, and Mike played the ghost, in Budapest. So we got to hang out and get to know each other. And one thing that struck me about Michael was that he has a lot of presence and a lot of charisma, you just kinda like the guy. You have to like the guy when you’re around him. So, when it came down to casting, “The Shelter.” I told my producer Donny, okay, let’s find a guy like Michael Pae. I need a guy that looks like
Michael Pae, with the same vibe. Because I wrote the script with him in mind, but I never thought I’d get him. And he finally told me, you know Michael Pae, why don’t you send him the script? And I’m like, well, he’s busy, you know, he’s Michael Pae. Eh, so send him the script. Yeah, okay, and I sent him the script. And Mike reacted to it, he loved it. And that basically lead to him, he was in Montreal, we met together. And kinda discussed everything. And then I went to L.A. and negotiated with him there. And we made an agreement, and that was it, we had him.
Ashley: Okay, okay, great, perfect, perfect. So, what else do you, you mentioned your action film? Do you have some other things going on? Kind of what’s next for you?
John: Right now, I have two movies. 2-5 million dollar budget. One of them is called,
“The Shadowing.” Which is kinda like, “The Predator” with a twist. And the other one is called, “The Prize.” Which is kind of Conan the Barbarian meets “The Grey.” With Liam Neeson. Those are big movies. I mean, two million dollars minimum to make. So, I knew I needed $300,000.00 – $500,000.00 budget range. Which is pretty popular production money right now. So, I wrote a vigilante film called, “Eva.” Having to do with a young girl, who is kidnapped and put in the sex trade. And eventually something happens, and when she’s older. She gets to get her revenge. And that definitely had to be the trickiest script to write, In terms of balancing. The sex-trade business is a horrible thing. And the research I did on that, I was horrified. You think you know stuff? But, I didn’t know, I knew it was bad. But I didn’t know the gravity of it. I didn’t know it was so rampid in North America. I thought it was all stuff that happened in Eastern Europe, and shit (pardon). So, it was tricky to make it an action film. While at the same time, giving the subject matter, treating it in a responsible fashion. But, I think I pulled it off. So, that one’s doing the round right now. So, now I’m going to have some people interested, we’ll see?
Ashley: And, I was just at AFM, I guess last week? And one of the things that definitely popped up, you know, low-budget action movies. Definitely seemed like something distributors can sell. And I’m curious again. How much did that go into sort of your mind-set? Knowing you’ve got to hit this one for 3 to 5 hundred-thousand-dollar budget. As opposed to doing another horror or a thriller. How did you gravitate towards action?
John: A, the horror market right now is, and this is my opinion, people share it. It is over saturated. It’s, everybody’s making it, them. There’s so many of them that it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. But, to make an action film, and with good action something that really stands out. Demands, like, directing action is not like directing like anything else. So, it demands a higher level of quality, I think. So, really in terms of “Eva” It was just a story that I’ve always wanted to tell. And now was the time to tell it. I really didn’t think about the market.
But while I was in the family’s kept telling me to bundle up, don’t do another horror movie, the market’s over saturated. Buyers are starting to not wanting to know anything about it! And don’t do another horror movie. And so that did stick with.
Ashley: Okay, okay. Good to know. So, how can people see, “The Shelter?” Do you know the release schedule?
John: Yeah, it’s already on DOD, it’s on Amazon.com/ondemand, it’s on ITunes, It’s on YouTube, it’s on Time Warner. I think it’s going to wind up on ROKU fairly soon? So, it’s out right now. And the DVD’s coming out January 3 2017. There’s a lot of extras. I give a director’s commentary. Kind of connect a couple of dots for people, for people who kind of want to know what I’m trying to say more. Of as opposed to their own perception of what they feel is happening in the film. So,
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And I just like to wrap up the interviews just by asking the guest. Just how people can follow along and keep up with what you’re doing? If you are on Twitter, you can mention your Twitter handle, Facebook, you can mention your Facebook link. Anything you feel comfortable sharing. Just so people can kind of learn more about you.
John: I’m at Twitter @JohnHFallon, the “H” because someone had taken John Fallon. And I’m on Facebook, www.Facebook.com/JohnFallon. And also visit www.theshelterfilm.com. And give me a sec. let me check this, sometimes I make mistakes. And “The Shelter” is also on Facebook, at thesheltermovie.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. I will round all that up I’ll put it in the show notes, where people can find those links. John, I really appreciate you coming on the show. I wish you a lotta luck with this film. And good luck on your next projects too.
John: Thank you so much Ashley. Thanks for having me man.
Ashley: Thank you, we’ll talk to ya later.
John: You got it, have a great day.
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On the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Screenwriter and Director Paul Tantor, he just did an action film called, “Kill Ratio.” We walk through his early days. And how he got his first gig as a screenwriter. And then we talk about how he was able to turn that screenwriting career into a career as a writer and director. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.