Ashley: Welcome to episode #167 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing Producer, Dallas Sonnier. Many of the film makers that I have talked to on this Podcast have worked with Dallas. He’s produced such films as, “ Bone Tomahawk”,
“Dark was the Night”, “Some Kind of Hate.” And I’ve interviewed the writers and or directors of all those films. We talk about the earlier part of Dallas’s career as a producer and a manager. And then we go into some of the more recent projects that he’s been working on. And we really dig into how he found the screenplays for those projects. And get his ideas on how screenwriters should pitch to producers like him. So, stay tuned for that.
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A quick few words about what I am working on this week. So, once again, the main thing is post-production on my crime, action, thriller feature film, “The Pinch.” I’m still in the process of trying to get to “Locked picture.” My editor had to go out of town last week. So, that put me back a little bit. Hopefully, I will meet with him this week. And hopefully whatever changes we need to get into the final, final pass on this thing? Hopefully, it’ll be this week or next week. So, hopefully we are close to “Locked picture.” In the mean-time, I’ve started to Email with people who are going to be doing the various post-production things to the film: Color correction,
sound mix, dialog editor, the composer, to score the film, sound design, all of those things require you know, skilled people that know how to do them. A lot of technical things, to a lot of the stuff, dialog editing. Certainly, you know, there’s a lot of the doing the final sound mix, requires a leveling of everything off. So, there’s quite a bit of just technical stuff, expertise that I don’t personally have. So, I’ve got to bring on these other people. And as I said, I’m just Emailing with people now, you know, working on resumes, listening to a lot of different sound design. scores and that kind of stuff. Trying to bring some people on, and so, hopefully I will have this team in place and ready to go once I do finally get to “Locked Picture.”
So, hopefully we will be up and running very shortly into that final stage of post-production. I signed an option agreement this past week from my limited location female protagonist thriller script this is a script I’ve mentioned numerous times on the Podcast. I’m, I’ve optioned it several numerous times over the years. I think if you go back to about September/October, of the first year of the Podcast. That was like 2013 I actually optioned it then, to a producer for I think it was maybe a year or something? I, since then, I’ve optioned it to another producer, a UK producer. And now this producer is here in Southern California. So, I’m optioning it to her.
This was a lead I got through “Ink Tip.” If you don’t use “Ink Tip?” It’s worth taking a look at it. Ink Tip has done a great job promoting their service to producers. So, they get a lot of producers using their services. And they do get a lot of options for writers through their various services. They have a few different ways writers can use their services. And this particular option that got was, through their weekly newsletter of leads that they send out. I pitched my script they sent out a little Email of leads, a producer was looking for something that was similar to what I had. I pitched through the Ink Tip System. I then pitched the producer, which I did, he requested the script. I sent her the script. I wrote the script enough that she wants to option it. The producer is not super experienced, but I talked to her on the phone. She seems smart, and motivated. And she had kind of just a good take on how she planned on raising the money. She didn’t bring up anything else about the copyrights. Which is another big factor for me. As I typically don’t like to get into any of those re-writes. Especially when the producer is a long ways from actually raising the money. The one thing I liked about this producer is, she seems to realize that raising the money is the hardest part of this. And that’s the main job that she has at this point. And this may sound obvious, like of course, that’s what a producer does. But, a lot of inexperienced producers, a lot of producers especially inexperienced producers. They really under estimate how hard raising the money is going to be. And so, when you talk to them, the first time? And they’ve got some very, I would say, sort of small plans, fairly simple ideas. Oh, I’m going to get the money this way or that way. And eh, I don’t think it’s going to be quite that easy. But, she had a lot of different ideas. And just her ideas seemed good for how she was going to raise the money. And so, that’s a big part of the equation, for me to decide whether I want to go with this producer or not? I don’t, as I said, I don’t spend a lot of time on re-writes. And a lot of inexperienced producers when you first meet them. You know, they want a lot of changes to the script. Or they want to spend a lot of time finding a director, or an actor, and rallying to get to this. The conversation really revolves around all these other things. Which frankly, supervalous. As I said, bringing on a director, bringing on actors, that stuff’s all great. But raising the money is like 99% of the hard work. You know, bringing on a director, bringing on an actor. Once you have money you can get plenty of very experienced directors, you can get lots of names and talent. If you have, if you’ve spent the time raising the money. So, when I have the conversations with the producers and that, this where they want to spend the time. Oh, let’s re-write the script, or oh that, this gives me some real cause for concern. And this producer wants none of that. And I actually brought up a few things. And she said, “Yeah, let’s talk about that. Let’s figure out how we’re going to raise the money. Let’s get the money and then we’ll talk about that.” And that’s from my standpoint, is exactly what I want to hear from a producer. Because again, if the producer under estimates how hard it’s going to be to raise the money. The project is just never going to go anywhere. So that was one other thing that I really liked about her. And I’m saying all this, to sort of preference. Because I’m going to talk about the actual Option Agreement. And all these things. I’m talking about. So, sort a segue into how the option, and what I’m going to do with the option agreement, or whether I’m going to option it to the producer.
And really how much money I’m going to try and get from the producer? So, this is a pretty standard Option Agreement for me. I gave her a free option for six months. And then she has to pay $500.00 to extend it past that. I’m usually not that worried. Usually producers, they want some ability to extend the Option Agreement. Because sometimes these things do take time. And I kinda feel like if you give a little bit of free option. You know, the producers should know after six months if they’re getting traction with the project? And so, that’s the generally speaking. It’s a pretty fair thing to do. I do rarely do I ever get a producer that gives me any really blow-back on that. I mean, it’s giving them a free option for a while. It gives them the ability to take the script to their contacts. And $500.00 it’s a small enough sum of money. They’re not going to pay it, if they are not getting traction from the script. And that fine, and you get the script back and you can try actually someone else, that’s precisely why it’s there. But, by the same token, if they pay you that $500.00 in after six months. It probably indicates they are getting some traction. Because independent producers do not want to spend a lot of money on Option Agreements. And again, this is not necessarily something I would do with every producer. But, all the factors that I just talked about? Those kind of go into my decision of whether I’m going to give her free option or not? Some producers I already talked to said, Nah, just I’m not going to give you a free option because I just wouldn’t have that much confidence that they have any chance of getting the movie produced. And so that’s just kind of one of the decide how much time I’m going to give them, and how much I’m going to charge for the option. And I’ve talked about this on the Podcast before. So, hopefully if you’ve heard some of my thoughts on option. Anyways, that’s my week, as I said, Option Agreement. I’m still working on, “The Pinch.”
So, now let’s go ahead and get into the main segment for today. I’m interviewing Producer, Dallas Sonnier, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Dallas to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today.
Dallas: Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow-up how did you get interested in the entertainment industry?
Dallas: So, I grew-up in Dallas Texas. I always wanted to go into the film business. I would read books about the movie industry. I had a subscription to the, “Hollywood Reporters” sent to my house. As early as middle school, I was a little bit of an overachiever in that regard. And I would actually download screenplays from “Drew’s Script-o-Rama” website, and read.
Ashley: Oh, well, well, well.
Dallas: Read those scripts and then Tarantino in the ‘90’s would publish his screenplays for “Natural Born Killers” and “Pulp Fiction” and then “Reservoir Dogs” actually in book form. And they were available at whatever version Barnes & Noble was back then. So, I was reading screenplays. And the true story, really is? One day I asked dad to buy me a Playboy, and he did. And I actually read the articles.
And then the article was this a sort of a sweeping in detailed look at Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. And what I latched onto? Was the lifestyle, they would show up to, you know, the table reads for “Top Gun” in their underwear. Or they would drive matching black Porches. I was still a kid, and so I really didn’t understand that Simpson himself had died of this horrific drug abuse, and things like that. But what I just discovered then and there, what it was like to be a movie producer, what it was. I was the kid who, I asked for HBO in my room for Christmas one year. I wanted to go to Blockbuster every Tuesday when the new movies came out. I was just possessed with it. Like some people have hobbies, I didn’t. I didn’t play sports, I didn’t care. I learned to watch movies when I was obsessed with it. So, whenever I was 16. Years old. I applied for a USC Summer Program, they accepted me. And so, I went out and lived in the dorms for a summer in-between junior and senior year of high school. And then went to USC full time as a freshman after high school. So, it was great. It was a great experience.
Ashley: And aside from that article, had you been gravitating towards producing? You were reading all those scripts. Did you try and write some scripts? And felt that wasn’t your forte?
Dallas: Never wanted to be a writer. Never planned on being a director, never wanted to be an actor. I was pretty clear from the day one, that my skill set was in managing, organizing, and producing, and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t have the willingness or the ability to deep dive into a screenplay the way that writers have to do so. I didn’t have the ability to turn-off the rest of my life from that in that regard to the level that a great script requires. So, no.
Ashley: And so, what were the first steps, you were going to USC Film School. What were the first steps to actually turn this into a professional career.
Dallas: Well so, I interned at Scott Cruden on the Paramount Lot, and that was really fun. I got to read all the scripts that he was making. But, I also got to read all the scripts that he wasn’t making. That it had been submitted to him. Or that his office had a copy of so, I remember reading screenplays like “Monster’s Ball” and “Pretty Horses” and really starting to just like formulate what a great script was in my mind, and what the difference was between that and say, schlop that the interns were given to read for coverage. Because these were from submissions from people that were never going to be made by Scott Ruden. But, we still had to cover them, I mean, send them out. So, there was a Vice President at Scott Ruden’s company, who was from Toronto. And she didn’t have a driver’s license. So, one summer, I drove her to every single meeting, and every single lunch during my internship. And my deal with her was? That I could come in at the very end, when I was picking her up. And I could introduce myself to the person she was having lunch with. So, I met producer Chris Riders, agents, and I met an agent at the time Antonio Baps, who was at UTA. And Tobin got my resume, and gave it to the mail room. And ended up having a second internship, at UTA. That got turned into a full time job. Literally the day after I graduated from USC.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. So, let’s dive into some of these projects. As I mentioned, in the pre-interview, you’ve produced a bunch of films over the last few years and I’ve interviewed the film makers on this, so I thought it would be interesting to just sort of get the producers sort of prospective. So, I think, to start let’s just get some general terms. And then we’ll dig into the specific films. Just in general, how do you find scripts?
Dallas: Okay, so primarily, I found scripts. So, I was a Manager, from 2005 to 2008, at, “The Shift Company.” Which was now TMGT. And then Jack Heller and I left, and we formed “Caliber Media.” From 2008 to 2016. And then I formed Cinestate in 2016. And so, basically, Jack and I were managers/producers. And so, a lot of the scripts that I gravitated towards as a producer, in the last couple of years. Frankly were written by people I would represented. Because my taste as a manager matched my taste as a producer. So, whenever I left the management company, the management world. And started to transition out of that space and into full-time producing. Although, I still represented Craig Zaller because we have such a deep r relationship, that really benefits both of us to continue to work together and that regard. We, so a lot of, so whenever I transitioned all of my clients and director clients to other managers, and such. I stay in touch with all of them. So, in fact I’m working with several of them now, developing scripts and things like that. That I just frankly loved him as a manager. So, it’s a way for me to extend my business in that regard.
Ashley: Okay, so let’s back-up just a little bit. When you were a manger. How would you typically find scripts and get new clients and that kind of stuff?
Dallas: Sure. So, at every agency I have two or three literary agents, who literally, we share brains, right? I mean, our tastes is, are the same, we tend to like the same stuff. Some examples that at UTA, Julian Twan, Julian Ferrarro, at CAA – Dan Ravennou, at WME – Sulkow Shullette, several of those people, whom we are always on the same page. They send me something, I’m pretty much going to love it. And if I send them something? They’re pretty much going to love it too. And so, we always represented a lot of clients together, and have had a lot of success. Oh, I should also mention “The Verv Guys.” Brian Besser and I, same thing. We always had very similar taste. And so, we had all this success. And so now, that I’m producing. You know, whenever I was a manager. I would constantly check, who they were signing. And try to get in business with them, and bring them business. Because we were literally always in synch. And I found that I had, three or four clients with my favorite agents. Rather than one client with a number of agents. Does that make sense?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, so, could you repeat that one more time?
Dallas: So, so, like Ryan Besser and I Julian Twan and I, Dan Rabenell and I. We shared multiple clients between me and that agent. Because I just had a rhythm with them. And Frankly, it was easier to call one person and hammer down the list of things to do, and things to talk about. Rather than have to make multiple calls to different agents. So, really, double and triple the down on the agent, almost as much as the client because that relationship was so key to the success of the client. Is the agent/manager relationship. If the agent and the manager are in synch. You as a writer are solid gold. Your in the best possible positon you could possibly be. When the agent and the manager don’t have a strong relationship, there is room for error. And theirs room for missed opportunity.
Ashley: So, let’s just talk about just, just again some general, you know, tips and tricks for writers who are looking to get that first manager, first agent. I don’t know, you go to the manager first? And the manager will hook you up with an agent, or visa-versa? And then just some general tips for new writers.
Dallas: Yeah. So, I always believe that unless you have a direct line to the agent? Of value, you should go through a manager first. Let the manager kind of groom you, and clean-up your presentation, work on your pitch skills. All that kind of stuff a manager, a good manager really will help do. And then present the opportunity to the agents in almost a bidding war like respect, right? So you have to, I call it, “Create the Circus” right. You got to create the circus, for anyone to pay attention to, okay? There’s too many opportunities, there’s too many scripts. Our reading stacks are too long. So, as a manager with a new client. When you sign someone? You’re going to bring them to the agency, you have to create the circus, to make it feel like all these agents are coming after this client at the same time, so people get excited. Okay, but backing-up from that. So, I read every single quarry letter, every single one. It’s just something I am committed to doing. Because you never know. I think.
Ashley: And even to this day, you will still.
Dallas: Even to this day, if you find my Email and take the time to send me an Email? I will read it. I would say, I was respond to 70% of them, right. And out of that 70%, 98% of my responses are, “Thank you very much for reaching out. But this is not right for me.” So, here is the trick of the quarry letters, two things, well, it’s 3 things. #1. Create a reason for this person to care about you, okay? Okay so, were you, you know, a part of the. If you went to an Ivy League School, and you were a part of the Lampoon’s group, you know, can you talk about that? Did you write for you know, a major publication, like, Huffington Post, or a magazine that I. Find a way to like, give yourself a leg up in your own bio. Something that gives you a little bit of experience. Or something for me to sell you from, right? So, that’s the first thing. The second thing is, watch my FUCKING movies!! Right! Watch them, if you’re going to ask me to read your script, go watch, “Bone Tomahawk.” Go watch some kind of tape, go watch,
“Dark is the Night” watch my favorite Steve Austin that I made called, “Damage.” Watch my movies. Because it’s, if you’re going to ask me to do something, go watch my films. Otherwise you have no idea who I am? You’re literally shooting off arrows in the dark, right? And then, the last thing is, present me a script, that I can actually make, right? It is, it would take a moron 5 minutes to go onto IMDb, and figure out the kinds of movies that I make, right. So, I don’t understand why people send me comedy? I don’t understand why people send me important dramas. Those are, I don’t even make those, I don’t even watch those. So, it’s so bizarre that people would take the time to send me the Email saying, “Hey, I’ve got this family comedy.” Or Like talking dog movie. It’s like, oh, what?? What are you, crazy!! Like, don’t send me that. So, it just happens to take an intelligent approach. Take the time to watch my movie films. If you’re going to bother me with an Email. And try to give yourself a reason to be more valuable that just a writer. What’s the angle, what’s your bio that’s. What’s the part of your bio that’s interesting. Where you a Marine. You know, did you grow-up in a foreign country? What’s your life’s story, that’s going to help you? Did you lose a family member early on and it’s really affected your writing? All kinds of stuff, there’s all different ways. But, you got to have a way to pitch it, you got to have a way in. So, those are the three things for me. When someone does those, three things? As a manager, I’d say 70% of the time I assign them. Because they were usually pretty great, they were usually great, their scripts were great. They were thoughtful, and we gave it a shot. We had some real successes that way. So, it’s crazy for me that people take time to just blast out these Emails with no rhyme or reason?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And I’ll just throw out one counter argument to that. I worked early on for a production company. And they had just done that Sean Connery movie, where he was the dragon, the Talking Dragon. And it was a CGI. And they were getting bombarded with similar scripts. And the manager there told me, we don’t want to do another one, a movie like this. We would rather take scripts that have nothing like this. So, I’ve often given that advice. That you just don’t know what a producer is looking for until you ask them.
Dallas: So let me make it clear, a clarification. That’s a studio movie, and I’m in the independent world.
Dallas: In the independent world, you have to pick your lane. You got to pick your lane and move your niche right? My niche is, sort of predominately masculine, you know, thrillers, action, horror, sci-fi. I reference movies like, “Usual Suspects” you know, “Reservoir Dogs” the original “Terminator” “Die Hard” you know, even a movie like “Glen Gary, Glen Ross” which is so awesome. There’s a same way that Jason Blond has done a terrific job of creating a brand for himself. I’m trying to brand myself. So, if I was obsessed with, you know, talking dragon movies. Then I would also go and produce “Lord of the Rings.” And “Game of Thrones” “Shanara” and I would just own that lane. So, I’m just a little different in that regard. But, I also think in the independents days, look at A24? Okay? A24 has done as many business out of buying like these really elevated cool movies, right? And they all have a pateena to them. They all have a through line, they all live in the same sandbox. Yes, one’s a horror, one’s a this, one’s a that, one’s moonlight but they are all from the same universe. And they are all geared towards a slight variation of the same audience. And so, that’s for me what I’m building is a, I’m going to be the best at my lane. So, that’s the difference. In the studio space, you’re really looking to diversify. But then look at my old awesome mentor, Marty Bowen. That guy also has made a career now, with Godfry and Temple Hill, out of a very sort of specific silo of films, right? The Nicolas Sparks films, “Twilight” even “The Maze Runner” is kind of sort of in that youthful zone, man, they own that zone. And they’re the best at it. So.
Ashley: Yeah. Good clarification. So this can be kind of like a lighting round. We’ll just, I’m going to read off some of the titles of some of your recent films. And if you could say, kind of how you found that screenplay. And what you like specifically about that screenplay that got you fired up to make it. Let’s start with, “Dragged Across Concrete.” Now I know that’s a Craig Zoller movie. And we’ll talk about that relationship in a minute. But just tell us some, how did you find out about that screenplay, and then, what did you like about it specifically?
Dallas: Right. So, I had been Zoller’s manager, still am. But, when he wrote a spec. script called, “The Big Stone Grid.” And, “The Big Stone Grid” sold to Sernie. It was one of his most successful spec. sales. And it attracted, at the time, Michael Mann, and Jeremy Renner, and then all kinds of people. And then it went onto, “A Little Lotus” Joshua Bratton producing I believe, it’s attracted Peter Berrel, and all kinds of different people. So. It’s a really commercial version of Zoller’s writing. And in many ways, it’s the most commercial script he’s ever written. And so, when we did, like, “Tomahawk”, and now, “Brawl in Cell Block 99.” And all of these other thing that’s all I was writing.
It was very encouraging, to return to the crime, drama world. And so, he wrote, “Dragged Across Concrete” to satisfy his next directing effort. And we see it as a constant evolution of the size and skill of his movies. Also budget wise, it’s much bigger, and that’s how that came to be. So, Zoller and I had a terrific relationship. Like you said, we’ll take about that later. But, I was always encouraging him to go back to the sort of the effort that he made on “The Big Stone Grid.” And so, that’s been replicated and some, and he blew it through the ceiling, with, “Drag.” So.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. Chuck Hank and the San Diego Twins. How did you find that screenplay, and what did you like about it?
Dallas: Okay, so I saw, “Bell Flower.” I saw “Bell Flower.” At Sun Dance I believe, and then South By Southwest. And I was still signing new clients as a manager at the time. And I literally stalked the Co-both guys, Evan Blowdell, inparticular. I stalked those guys. I showed up at every party. Their agents were like, what the fuck is wrong with this guy?! This is crazy. They were always nice to me. But they were like, we don’t need a manager. We know what a manager is. They were off doing their own thing. So, I realized I wasn’t going to sign them. And it wasn’t going to happen. And so, I said to them, let me finance your next film. Whatever it is? Just
Carte Blanche some of my own money. And I know the perfect two or three other partners, who will help me finance this thing. And so, I, they don’t want to admit this? But, I got the phone call after everyone else had seen it, right? They were like, wait, what about that Dallas guy, he said he would finance it for us? And so, I think I got, I was like, you know, the 75th person on the list. They finally came to me, and I was very happy. Because I believed in it. And I told all my financing partners on this, they came to me through CAA, Nick O’goni who represents the film. And I said to my partner. I said, “Guys, realize what you’re getting into here. “Bell Flower” is, in my opinion a work of art, and it cannot be rushed. And it cannot be put through a traditional film production schedule. And certainly, not a post-production schedule. And if we are getting on this train. It’s the Copol train, we’re here to support that, to be helpful to them, and their sort of methods and vision. And so, that came to me through CAA. I put together the money, in literally 5 days. And, we shot the movie. And it’s been a long wait. But, I’ve seen the film, it’s great. And when we find the right customer, we’ll premier it. It’s going to blow everyone’s mind. So.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. I can’t wait to see it. How about “Militia?”
Dallas: Yeah so, “Militia” came to me through Charlie Farraro, at UTA. Charlie and I have a great friendship. And have done a lot of business together. And Charlie’s been a supporter of mine. And when “Militia” came out on “The Black List.” He got phone calls, on his script for a lot of people who were in, who were deeply entrenched in the studio. And for anyone who’s read “Militia?” This is, I started calling it “Glen Gary, Glen Ross” with guns, right. It is not a studio film. It is a very thoughtfull, masculine, violent, indie. And it takes a, someone had to support Henry Gun vision 100%, with no compromise. And so, anyone who put Militia through the studio system. Or the high expensive indie world, the search lighter, or whatever? They would have watered it down, they would have revised it, they would have cleaned-up certain things. I wanted the rough and roll version of it. Because that’s what’s special about it. And so, Militia was this raw script, it was this raw-rider that had so much ambition. When this kid talks about his ambition for the film. It is literally off the charts.
And I love that, because I’m going to invest in it. So, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m basically taking the lead on this film. So, my optioned screenplay from Henry. We went out, it took us a long time to cast. A movie called, “Militia.” At this day and age. I think a lot of actors worry about getting dis-invited to George Cloony’s Oscar after party, as the star of Militia. But, anyway, I joke, we found a great cast. For anyone who’s seen, “The Witch.” We got the dad, Ralph Dennison. We just cast someone in a supporting role from one of the hottest TV shows that’s out right now that we’re going to announce soon. And then we’ve got Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Jack Houston in the leads. And I think Jack Houston is a minute away from being a mega star. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan is having the run of a lifetime on “Walking Dead.” So, I think they are a perfect fit for this. Because we really see this as our version of “Reservoir Dogs” and “Glen Gary”
“Usual Suspects.” Who is talked about a lot. Because the cast, is the sum of the cast, plus Henry’s vision. Is greater than all of the individual parts. And so, that’s how we put that one together. And so, I have multiple financing opportunities on that. And I have “X, Y,Z” in Berlin right now at the film market, I’m starting to sell foreign, eh the movie’s going to do very well.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. Let’s talk about “Some kind of Hate.” And that is one, it’s the Podcast episode #92. I will link as I said, I interviewed Adam Egypt Mortimore on that.
Dallas: Yeah, he’s the best.
Ashley: Maybe you can tell us again? How did you find that screenplay and what did you like about it?
Dallas: So, Adam was a guy that I’d admired. I had a manager working for me at the time, at Caliber, who knew Adam. And wanted to help him jump start his career. And Adam had a lot of voices in his life, explaining to him, that he needed millions of dollars, or millions, or close to a million dollars to make this film. And I’m a realist, right, so. If someone tells me they need 3 million dollars. I’m going to come back and say, “Your movie’s actually worth $600,000.00 how do you really want to make this?” And so, I pitched Adam on a way to make the film for $199,000.00. And he looked at me like I was crazy. And everyone in his life looked at me like I was crazy. And I persisted, and kept chiseling away, and chiseling away. And we made the movie for $200 and nothing thousand dollars, and I am so proud of it. it’s on NetFlix right now. It is a producing feat, it is a directorial debute feat. There are so many phenomenal performances in there. Grace Phips, Sera McCormick, Ronin Rubenstein, Nella Segan. I brought on my team. Which, John Wagner, whom I work with a lot as line producer, Amanda Mortimer was a big part of that movie. So I, that is one of my proudest producing moments is that film. Because again, if you give someone total creative control in their vision. And you support their vision, 100%. Bring the budget down, so if they wiff, right? Or strike out, big time, no body loses their house, right? That’s the way to produce in independent film. Because that’s how you find greatness and support. Real true singular visions, that’s all I’m interested in, singular visions. Because I’m not a director, I don’t want to be a director. I want to be a producer. Who provides the sandbox, and the sand, for a director to go build something beautiful. So.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about “Dark Was The Night.” I had Tyler Hisel on the Podcast, that was episode #90.
Dallas: He’s a great guy.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. He was very friendly, very nice.
Dallas: Okay so Tyler. I’m trying to recall? Somehow that script made it into our office. I believe, possibly through a colleague of ours at the time, Morgan White. Because I can’t recall? And it found, we were looking for something for Jack Heller to direct. And Jack had done a great job on this film called, “Enter Nowhere” Which we released through Primestone Lionsgate. Essentially what’s Lionsgate Premier now. And it starred at the time Kathy Waterston,
Sarah Paxton, and Scott Eastwood. All who were, you know, young, up and coming actors. And now this time they’re all mega-stars. But, ah, it’s really funny. But everyone was, Jack did such a great job on this. And “Enter Nowhere” we financed ourselves. It literally cost $110,000.00, something ridiculous. And we just went out into the woods, and made it. And we’re really proud of it. So, we wanted to make a second film for Jack. And so, we wanted to do something in the genre, space. But, also Jack has relationships in a family home in the Hamptons. And so, we were also looking for something that could be filmed on Long Island. And so, when we Tyler’s script, it was a perfect fit, size wise, scope wise, genre wise, location wise, really for Jack to direct. And so, that’s how we got into business there. And Tyler’s incredible because Tyler understands that he’s gotten to kinda promote yourself, right? So, I always appreciate Tyler social media. And how he got out there, and talked about the film. What a positive guy. Big thumbs up to Tyler.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. And so, now let’s talk about “Craig Zahler” a little bit. I had him on episode #106. Obviously, you really like his writing. You think his abilities, he has great vision, and fresh voice. But I’d even like to go take this step aside. I think a lot of screenwriters they get into the business and they think it’s all about the writing. It’s like there must be some personality thing, because you guys just click on other levels. But what is it about Greg, other than the writing that you like. And that you continue to stay in business with?
Dallas: Right. So, I talked to a little bit about singular visions and affording the singular vision. That is absolutely the case with Zahler. “Bone Tomahawk is, I think I got 2 or 3 notes in there, that I’m really proud of. But that is his movie, and I was there to support his movie, and I’m so proud of it. That’s why I mortgaged my house to cover the loan for the films. So, it all worked out for everyone, and it created a Zahler and I were very close, I was his manager for several years leading up to “Bone Tomahawk.” But, that literally solidified a relationship with, where I suspect we will be buried next to each other in a cemetery someday. But, Zahler and I when you look at our skill-sets. And you take a Ven Diagram, and you go like this. One overlap is very small. Which is always the best sign of a perfect partnership. So, Zahler, trusts me implicitly on all the financing, and it means all of the setting up of the sandboxes that I said. And I trust him implicitly on all of the creative choices. So, he has a blanket, a blanket creative approval process, on every single thing. From the crew, cast, script, edit, lens package, I mean everything. He has, and so, again, if you try to put Craig through the studio system. And water him down, put him in a box, it wouldn’t have worked, right? It would have backfired on everybody. And there are some simple area stories about Craig, you know, doing early re-writes to his career, on notes calls and things like that.
But it, anyway, when I, so I had been hitting up Julian Quan and UTA for several years, about trying to sign Craig, I think it was his manager. And Julian was doing a great job with Craig. And eventually he decided, let’s open this up to management. And so, my 0o
understanding of this story was said, I will meet with basically, you know, any manager that will, that called him. And that has a good version of why they should sign me. And so, we got
back-to-back phone calls. Me and my peer managers and I took two approach to this. One, I didn’t want to spend the 15 minutes I had with him on the phone focused on what I had done in my career. Why I thought I was the right fit for him? I actually took the 15 minutes and treated it as a strategy session. As if I was already his manager. And so, I just went in and started saying, here’s what I want to do with this script. Here’s what I think we should do with this script. Here’s who I want to send this script to. I think he really responded to that. And then the second thing is, I told him, you know, that I was going to be in New York a couple of days afterwards with him, would he like to have lunch or dinner? Which was bullshit, I wasn’t really going to New York. But, he said, “Sure.” So, I flew to New York, literally for the soul purpose of course of meeting him. And we had a great dinner and kind of shored up the relationship there. My job, my place, in Craig Zahler’s life. Is as his full back, right? To use a football analogy. He’s the quarterback, and the running back, and the wide receiver, I am the full back, right? I’m the offensive line, alright? I’m their block, tackle, to push things out of the way. And really I’m there to go and accomplish his vision, from a producing prospective. So, we go through cast lists. He tells me the actors he likes. And it’s my job to go bust down doors on his behalf, to get this actor to say, “Yes.” To get this financier to agree to the terms. All that kind of stuff. So, we have a great relationship there. Also, I am a collaborative personality by nature. And so, on behalf of me, and Zahler as a team. I can go out there and be a collaborative voice. So, that he can focus on the creative and the process. Craig, has an interesting, you know, life style, he writes a lot at night. Because it’s quiet there, no one’s calling him, no one’s bugging him. He sort of organizes his meals each day. So that he can know, I’m going to eat this here, everything is organized to a “T.” I mean literally, if he says, I’m going to call you in 7 minutes, it’s not 6 or 8 minutes that he calls you. He calls you in 7 minutes. And so, to keep up with that. And to understand that his photographic memory he’ll be able to remember anytime you change something? Or forget something? Or whatever? It takes a special level of commitment to stay up with the guy, right? Keep up with him. And so, I literally I was made to be Craig Zahler’s partner. I really believe that, that it was what I was meant to do in this business and. I’m so excited. That he and I have that relationship. And I’m taking all the things I learned from him, and applying it to my new company. And I’m building, and building up this company so, other film makers like him. Can benefit from our model, that we crafted in order to give Craig Zahler what he needed to make his movies. And so, he is, the cornerstone of the creative of this company. But, also he has paved the way, for me to create a model to others. So, I just can’t say enough about him, about the guy. He’s one of the most important people in my life. And I’m having a blast working with him.
Ashley: Yeah. And so, kind of the flipside of that question is? Are there some questions you found writers that you feel like, wow, this guy’s a really good writer. But, I wouldn’t want to work with him? And maybe you could talk about some of those, sort of personality quirks or traits that turn you off as a manager and as a producer. Well, so if they’re not willing to do the work? Right so, if they’re not willing to for go whatever Hollywood park is on Friday night? Stay in and bust their ass on that script. Why am I going to stay home from the party to strategize Monday morning’s spec. release. You know what I mean, it’s a 2-way street.
And so, that was a big thing for me as a manager is, finding people who’s ambitions match mine, right. I mean, that’s a huge thing. I represented this guy Michael Starberry. This kid was so fucking ambitious he would just, he always had bright ideas, he had the right level of ambition. He never let us off the hook. And one of my favorite colleagues Julian Rosenberg, is now at Circle of Confusion. And represents Michael, now that I’m not upper-management across the board. And they are having great success. Because Julian learned from me. And frankly I learned from Julian a lot. But, we worked really well on Micheal, and Michael always pushed us to be better managers. And so, that was a must, right, that is an absolute must. If someone is kind of checking down on there, right, in their career. And they’re not going to give it everything that they are possibly going to give it, I am out! Because I give it everything I have. And I expect it to be matched. So, that’s really the only thing that bothers me is when people don’t match my ambition, or my willingness to work hard for something.
Ashley: No, no, yeah, yeah. Excellent tip. So, what’s the best way for people to keep up with you and your company? You know, Twitter, you can mention your Twitter handle,
Facebook page, anything you’re comfortable sharing. And I’ll round that stuff up and put it in the show notes.
Dallas: Yeah, so. A few things, there’s a terrific article in, www.thedallasobserver.com
A local paper here in Texas. That’s the other thing, I packed up shop in Los Angeles a few years ago. I lost both my parents in a very tragic circumstances, you know, it’s not something I hide from. But we’ve been profiled on 20/20 and Dateline, and all kinds of stuff. There’s a, everyone’s heard of PTSD, you go through these tragedies and you kind of, you just kind of go into a hole. Where life gets the best of you. But, there’s something that I discovered, that happened to me called, PTG, which is – Post Traumatic Growth. And my parents were both very alpha, and they were both very successful. And they would have been pissed at me. If I had shucked my responsibilities, or had been a bad husband, or a bad dad, or a bad producer, bad businessman, in the wake of their deaths. And so, I work every day to honor their legacy. And I’ve experienced growth through those trauma. And so, I moved my family back to Dallas. It’s where I grew-up. I’m in the independent world, I don’t make studio films. I control the financing in a way doesn’t require me to be in L.A. more than once a quarter, something like that. So, I just get on a plane, hop out there. So, I built this new company here in Dallas, called, “Cinastates” and we basically have brought books and film and audio, underneath one umbrella, for basically the first time ever. We’re doing it very independently. We’re inspired by things like “Fargo” the series of “Fargo.” And how it goes from a one time period to the next. But it’s all kind of in the tina of the Cohan brothers and Fargo and Nella Holly. So, we’re inspired by things like that. We’re on the audio front. We’re taking busted screenplays. And we are turning them into highly produced audiobook. It’s kinda like an audio book meets a British radio play, meets a table read. With a full sound mix, and a composed score. And so, we’ve done our first one. We have an exclusive digital distribution deal with www.audible.com, and so they are going to be releasing our first audio program here in a couple of weeks. And that’s called, “The Narrow Gates” Craig Zahler, screenplay, from earlier on in his career. And so, our goal was to dust off some old spec. scripts, that didn’t make it, or they got stuck in the system, or are collecting dust, and give life to them, through this really cool audio program.
So, that’s a big initiative for us. But, anyway, so. www.thedallasobserver.com wrote a terrific article, if you just type in Dallas Observer Cinastate, Google. You can see this great article that really outlines what we’re about, and what we’re doing. And then the terrific article in “D Magazine” once again just type in Google, “D Magazine” Cinastate and you’ll see an article about me. And what I’ve been through in my life, with my family tragedy, and moving to Texas and things like that. So, that’s a good starting point to learn about me. And then from company www.cinestate.com, is our website. And then all of our social handles are Cinestatement, so Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so Cinestatement is our handle. So, those are the spots.
Ashley: And I will get those articles, and I will put those in the show notes. So, people can just click over to that, so that’s no problem. Dallas you’ve been very generous with your time. I wish you luck with all your, these new films your producing. And I really appreciate you coming on. Any time you have something to promote, when “Narrow Caves” comes out. Don’t hesitate to hit me up. I mean, maybe we can talk about that. Or maybe Craig can come back on and talk about that or something? Because I’d be happy to, I think that would be a great opportunity for screenwriters to learn more about that.
Dallas: Great, I’m happy to come on the show, thanks for that, and the opportunity to talk. Anytime, I’m coming back.
Ashley: Thank you man, I appreciate it.
Dallas: Take care.
Ashley: Talk to ya later.
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So, to wrap things up on todays interview with Dallas. First off, you know, he was very generous, kind of telling us how to pitch him, and you know, seems opened to new pitches. I would say, be respectful whenever you are pitching him, or any other producer. Be very respectful and act professionally. There are lots of guys like Tony Bill whom I had on last week on the Podcast. Dallas, whom I had on this week on the Podcast. There are lots of producers, experienced producers out there. And they are pretty easy to connect with. These are all the guys that as writer you should be getting to know. And at least they should be on your radar. You know, keep in mind these are not guys that I knew very well before the Podcast interview. I mean, with some of them, someone like Dallas. I just kept seeing some of his movies come up on my Podcast. And I thought I need to try and have him on. And so, I just tracked down his Email address, and Emailed him. And he responded directly, you know, I found his Email address online somewhere? And Emailed him. And he responded. Yeah, I’ll come on your Podcast. So, he’s available, and he’s reading his Emails. And I would say the same thing with Tony Bill whom I had on last week. He is someone who, is on my Email and Fax Blast Service. And I think I mentioned this in the episode last week. He responded you know, many years ago. In fact, the script that he liked is, the script that I optioned this past week. That the limited location female protagonist script. That’s actually a script that he actually read and liked. And that kind of kicked things off our relationship. And I was just using my own Email and Fax Blast Service. I just blasted the script out. He responded to the call quarry letter, and he said, “Sure” we’ll send it along. I said, he Emailed me back and said, “I think this is actually a pretty good script. It’s nothing I can do anything with at the moment. But, keep it up.” So I kept his Email address through that. And I’ve kind of kept in touch with him on that. And I’ve sent him a few letters, since then. And then as I said, since then, 3 or 4 years ago, I initially sent him that script. I’ve just sent him all of the scripts I’ve gotten. Sometimes he agrees to read the script. Sometimes he says, eh, not for me, no thank you. So, I would say, maybe half the scripts that I’ve written since that one. I’ve pitched them all to him. And I’d say maybe half of them he has actually taken a look at. So, again, these are just 2 producers who are opened to reading material from new writers. So, those are exactly the kinds of guys that should be on your radar. A couple of things I want to point out. These guys might not be a good fit for your type of material and that. So find, again, it goes back to being respectful. Listen to what Dallas said in this interview about how you pitch him. Understand what types of movies he’s making. And pitch him stuff that’s appropriate for this. Keep in mind too these are not the only 2 producers in the world like this. You know, there’s lots of other producers that are doing, you know, independent film. And you should be getting to know those people as well. If you listen to this Podcast, regularly, and you’ve never heard of Dallas? I think you’re doing something wrong. I mean, as I said, Dallas has produced a number of movies that have come on the Podcast. And you should be looking at the people that I am interviewing. You should be looking at those people on IMDb. You should be looking at those movies on IMDb. You should be drilling down, seeing who produced those movies. And if again, if you’re not doing that, I think you’re doing something wrong. He’s and Dallas is a prime example of it, if you listen to this Podcast. And you’ve listened to a whole bunch of my Podcasts in the past, and you never heard of Dallas. I don’t think your maximizing the value you could be getting out of this Podcast. And wouldn’t take that much time to do that extra little bit of research, and track down the producers and find out who’s producing these things and maybe reach out to them. Maybe not, maybe just put it in your database and kind of remember him. Maybe down the road it’ll have a match with a script you’re working on. This is how you’re going to build your networking, and build your Rolodex of people. I know from fact, that a lot of writers are already doing this. I talked to writers that are doing this. I get Emails from writers who tell me they have done something exactly like this. You know, they listen to a Podcast episode. They find it in IMDb, they drill it down. They find the producer, they find the producer’s contact information and they reach out to him. So, these are all things you could be doing, they don’t cost a lot of money. It takes a little bit of time. But, especially, you know, when you have something you know, you can talk to me. You can Email a producer, hey I heard you on the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast” Thanks for going on the show I really got a lot out of your thing. And by the way, here’s a pitch. You know those are kinds of customized Emails I think they can be effective because you’re actually communicating with someone. It’s not just a cold quarry blast. It does require a time, you do have to put in the leg work. But again, I don’t think those can pay off. Again, that’s how you’re going to build your Rolodex, that’s how slowly but surely get to know producers that are actually making films. Again, I want to really stress this, be respectful, I heard a quote earlier in my own screenwriting career. A new writer was asking, how can I can get people to treat me like a professional when I have never actually done anything? And the answer is super simple and straight forward. And hopefully everybody will really listen to this, and take this notice of it. When pitching these producers, Dallas, Tony, or any other producer, act like a professional and you will be treated professionally. Be respectful, be courteous, you know, and don’t be weird.
I think you’ll go a long way to actually getting to know these people. All of these producers you know, again, Tony and Dallas, and any producer in the world. They are real people, they are human beings. And if you communicate like a real genuine person. I think you’ll find that for the most part, people are pretty nice. And they understand where you’re coming from. And they will be respectful, if you are respectful yourself. Good luck everyone.
That’s the show, thank you for listening.