This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 189: Writer/Director Sonny Dyon Talks About His Thriller Short Film, The Grove.
Ashley: Welcome to episode #189 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m
Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing Writer/Director, Sonny dyno. This is the final short film in the series I’ve been doing with the short film makers over the last few months. Sony wrote and directed a short film called, “The Grove.” Which is available to watch right now for free at www.screeningnow.com. We walk through the entire process of how he made this film.
So, stay tuned for that interview.
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So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing Writer/Director, Sonny Dyon. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Sonny to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today.
Sonny: Yeah, I’m psyched, I’m really happy to be here.
Ashley: Perfect. So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Just kind of tell us, where did you grow up, and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Sonny: Well, I kind of, as far as personal background, I’ve kind of been all over the place. I do all kinds of hometowns, of Chicago Illinois, and upper Michigan. Ironwood, Michigan, in this tiny little hamlet of a town, near the Wisconsin boarder, in the great North Woods, as the people call it. And I was heavily involved in acting, as a kid. You know, I was a thespian, as a child. I always knew I wanted to be an actor, or involved in film, or something like that, since I knew anything. I was in the Air Force for 6 years, as a broadcast journalist, kinda
“Good Morning Vietnam” thing. I was in Panama, and that wasn’t nearly as funny. I did that and I saw the movie “Swingers.” And I guess it would be ’98? Almost 20 years ago? And thought it was hilarious, started looking into it. I was like, I could write this. This is the kind of stuff I know these guys. And saw the Jon Favreau, and he wrote it, and that was in it. Oh, that’s what you do, that’s how it works. You just write a screenplay and put yourself in it. I literally had no clue. So, I was like, yeah, super easy. I know, I can totally do this. The first one I wrote, was awful. Not awful but, you know, formatting is just so hard. And it’s so alien if you are a writer to take any kind of formal writing style. Now, after you write for years, and year, and years. You try and write pro’s or you try to write a novel. You’re like what the hell? Where, is this outside? Where is this? But yeah, I wrote my first screenplay. I like I said, about 20 years ago. Wrote another one, pretty much after that. Which was considerably better. I read all the books. You know, I read Sigfried Eldgen, and Mckey, and you know, all that stuff to try and kind of learn the craft from books. And I went to, I submitted a second script to several of the big contests. And I finished in like the top 5% of 4 out of 5 of them. And I was like, okay, maybe I can write. Maybe I am a decent writer? And I came out here for the “Creative Writer Contest” in 2004, I guess? And yeah, I’ve just been writing ever since.
Ashley: What do you mean, you came out here for that contest? You won something?
Sonny: I was in the top 5%. And there was this writers camp, thing? That they, I don’t know. I should know this because I actually keep in touch with some of the guys there, that were involved. But, I don’t think they are involved with it anymore? But, they have this writer’s booth camp thing. Where they pay on writer on the east coast, on the west coast. And they basically would put them up, they gave them a small salary stipend. And they develop one of their scripts, to make into a film. And I was a finalist for that. There were of course 4 or 5 judges on that. Of course I’m probably fudging the details, because it’s been 18 years or something? But, one of the guys this guy Jim McCurrio, who’s awesome, he championed my script. He really liked it and the big running joke was, it was an action comedy, you know, it acts like a “Buddy film.” 6 months after the buddy film franchise died. Nobody was buying them. And if I had written it, a year earlier, who know, I could be shaving black. Nobody can be shade black. But, you know, that’s kinda what happened.
Ashley: Okay. Let’s talk about your short film, “The Grove.” Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a log-line. Or just kinda tell us what that movie is all about?
Sonny: So, “The Grove” is, I don’t really have a lot of, and I should probably. You know, it started out as something bigger than it was, or maybe smaller than it was. It’s a horror thriller, it’s mostly a thriller. There’s not really a whole lot of horror elements aspect of, no real blood and guts in it by design. I was like, the thrillers that are up here, in your head. More so than the scares, you know, the blood and guts.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Sonny: It’s not that I don’t like them, those movies are fun, you know, and everything. I prefer a psychological-thrillers. And it’s basically about this girl’s a real estate broker. And she’s got to serve a real estate foreclosure papers on this family. And this is just the wrong family to serve foreclosure papers on. They are very protective of their homeland. And they like, live in the middle of an orange grove. And it basically came about. I was walking my dogs in a little community we lived in. We lived in central Florida, at the time. It was in a little town called, “Claremont.” And I was walking my dogs. And there’s an orange grove there, backed up against our community. And it was like dusk. And I’m looking down like a Kubrick candy, you know how Kubrick always has those single point perspective. Things very much like that, I’m looking down this row of orange groves, orange trees. And I’m like, that is scary as hell. And I’m like looking down at that. And I, if I got lost in there? I’d literally just give up, forget it, I’m just going to die here. So, I just started thinking about it. And I just started writing a story basically about that. I came up with this narrative about you know, everything starts with a person. And you know, it’s weird, all of my features, I’ve written are about a middle-aged guy. And probably is a proxy for me, in some way? And all of my shorts have been about a woman, like a woman in peril, all that ends up, you know, over-coming odds. Or you know, or doesn’t. Actually, I think both of my shorts they don’t. But, I don’t know why? It’s just the ways it’s happened. So, I wrote this short, she comes upon these people, there’s this great old lady character. Who is played by Dawn Campion, and she’s just literally, you know, like this southern you know, this slow drawl. Just mean as the day is long. And, she says the wrong thing, the real estate agent is cocky. And she says the wrong thing, literally all hell breaks loose. It’s kind of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre without the chainsaws or mask.
Ashley: So, was this something, you intended to be a short or initially you said, “Well maybe this could be a feature?” What did this sort of start out, in terms of like action producing it?
Sonny: It was always going to be a short. So, I didn’t go to film school. Like the whole famous Tarantino, in that I didn’t go to film school, films. I really intended to just be a writer. And honestly not just a writer, 100% content to make a living writing scripts all day long and that’s all I ever did with my career. Sign me up, today. But, I wanted to see myself made. And I wasn’t getting any traction selling my features. I almost got a couple we could talk about that if you’re interested? I got really close on two projects, I was writing. But, one of them I had financing, and the financer bailed, held. Because I never done anything, because I was going to direct it. And she basically said, “Listen, I like the script, I like the talent you attached. But, you’ve never directed anything?” You know, I directed theater, I’ve never directed a film. So, I go and direct some stuff, and come back and we’ll talk. And so, I was pissed. And I was like okay, fine! I write a short and direct a short. So, I wrote another short that’s on “Screening Now” website. www.screeningnow.com. Called, “Clarity.” And I’ve really enjoyed it, and that taught me a ton about, you know, how to direct. And you can’t, obviously, short’s not going to feature everything. As a matter of fact, you know, Scorsese, is ever been, or as good, as this will ever be. And he said, “He used to learn on everything.” So, if the master does, who the hell am I. So, we did that, but “The Grove” is always fun. It was supposed to be our second short.
I wanted it to be kind of a horror short. Because it’s not really like, my wheel house. I wanted it to be more action oriented, you know, I wanted to exercise muscles that I really hadn’t exercised specifically.
Ashley: So, what was the total budget for “The Grove?”
Sonny: Excuse me. We spent roughly $15,000.00. We spent about $3000.00 a day roughly. We shot it in 3 days. And I shoot like a feature, when I shoot my films. I set it up like a regular film production. I don’t shoot it over a year, you know, weekends and stuff. You’re just to me, it just drags on, and on, and on. And actual she’s pregnant, and someone’s hair gets cut off. But, you know, dude decides, that a woman’s whole life, all this stuff that happens. It’s like, alright, so, it’s just, to me, set it up, everybody take time off. You know, we pay our cast and crew, not a lot. I mean maybe $75.00 bucks, $100.00, but everybody got paid, except for us, It just didn’t make anything. But, you know, we set it up over, for “The Grove” it was 3 days. And we spent, yeah, I’m sorry, we basically, $5000.00, a day. And a film crew, in from Chicago, to do it. A camera, basically, an entire camera team, was from Chicago, and they came in. And then the rest of the crew, was pretty much all local.
Ashley: How did you raise that money?
Sonny: Angel funding basically. I’ve got a partner, Tom Searsee, who’s, he’s a best selling business author. I mean, a few people are sales people, not to put a pitch in, but on www.huntingsales.com, is this company that dude’s the smartest guy I’ve ever met in my life. And I’m not just being hyperbolic, he’s a genius. And he’s a great friend, one of my best friends in the whole world. And he basically helped me finance half of it. We haven’t even this deal. I’ll just give you half of it, I’ll fund half of it, and then you find the other half, the other half was just literally, friends, you know, people I’m close with that happened to give me $300.00 bucks, you give me $500.00 bucks, you $1000.00. My brother gave me like a grand or something? And I put in probably, you know, my wife and I put in $3000.00 bucks, $5,000.00 bucks, maybe more of our money, something like that? But it was all just, you know, a little bits of money here and there, till we got the budget.
Ashley: Okay, so now you’re saying, $5000.00 in a day, that’s $15.000.00 over 3 days? How much did you have for Post-Production? Did you have all that lined up for free?
Sonny: Well, that’s kind of, I broke it down that way. But, literally, the whole entire budget film was $1500.00, with post. My camera guys that came in did post pretty much for nothing. Like my, I’m sure, I think we paid the editor $500.00 just something? He’s kind of part of our family. You know, we got a crew. And we did, he and I took turns editing it. So, I did a couple of the cut. He took my cut and cut the hell out of it. I went back and said, “No, I can’t lose this.” You know you’re killing your dialog is like. We back to, you know what? You know, I can’t lose this. And then we fought you know, whatever else. Because I love having a secondary voice in there. But, yeah, that’s kind of where it was good.
Ashley: Where was this shot?
Sonny: We shot in Claremont Florida, this orange grove, called, “The Showcase of Fortress.” Which was actually, it’s an actual working orange grove. But, the interesting part about it is? It’s a tourist attraction. So, we had to like shoot around tourist sometimes. Like there was literally times when in the middle of a scene a guy is chasing an ax. And a kid might come through and screw the shot up, and like, “Okay, cut, hold-up.”
Ashley: And that house and stuff, that was on the property? This sort of dilapidated house?
Sonny: There was like one of them, the workers that lived on property. It was, we originally weren’t going to shoot there, we had a different house that wasn’t on property. Now when I was touring it, there was that little double wide trailer. And I was like, who’s here? And like at the time, no body was. And I was like, can we use this? Can I pay you, can I use this? They were like, you can use it, like nobody lives there. And I was like, amazing! And then we decorated it. We did set deck for it, it didn’t really look like that. We did a lot of set deck for it. Then the day we got there, or the day we did the shoot. Because we did a couple of sight location visits. The day we did the pre-shoot, the crew was in town. We went there to show everybody. And they went, oh yeah, I don’t know if you can shoot there now? Because one of our, you know, our groves-men lives there. I’m like, okay? Can we talk to him, because I’m kinda screwed if we can’t shoot here now. And they were like, Oh yeah, because people don’t know? They don’t know where I at? So, you can just shoot somewhere else. No, you can’t really do that. So, we talked to the guy. He’d seen a lot of English movies, he was really nice. And I think we ended up giving him $150.00, we just dooped him. Just handed him some cash, okay man? We promise we won’t break anything. He was like, okay. And all of a sudden just let us do it.
Ashley: Now, why did you decide to shoot in Florida? I mean, there must be some orange groves here in California, that you could have used. Did you already have the location in mind when you wrote this? What was, just talk maybe talk us through some of those, that decision making process.
Sonny: It literally just a matter to me, it was just I lived there. And this orange grove literally lived, it was right behind my house.
Ashley: I see.
Sonny: So, yeah, I just moved to California, a little less than a year ago. So, I was still living in Florida at the time. And like I said, the majority of our crew, except for camera. My Co-Director, and my DP, and the camera department came in from Chicago with the camera gear. And then everyone else was local, make-up, hair, props, all that was local, or central Florida talent.
Ashley: Yeah, did you approach these people that owned this orange grove, before you wrote it? Like, was that part of the process, like, hey I’ll see if I can get, just wrote it, and then when you were producing you went over there and said, “Hey, can we shoot here?”
Sonny: I so, when I write, I write, you, if I outline, I outline, I usually use note cards. But, when I get the feeling, when the muse speaks, I’m prolific, I wish it was like that all the time. Because I would be pouring out material, of course I’m not. But, when I do write, I write prolificly.
I wrote “The Grove” in the entire script in 2 ½ hours, the first draft, I mean it’s, whatever, it’s like 25 pages or something? You know, we cut I knew what I wanted to do. I knew the story I wanted to tell. You know, write is re-writing. I’ve changed a ton of it, you know, for the actual location once we found it. But, I wrote it around on or around an orange grove. In Central Florida, there are dozens and dozens of them. I got super, super, lucky. These people worked for us. They had a tourist trap. I went over there, they were nice. I Emailed first, and then I called, we went and met with them. I told them what I wanted to do, I was passionate about it. And I think you know, I’m sure you know, I’m sure, on your Podcast, that’s probably a similar thing, passion sells everything. And that was for me, I was extremely passionate about it. And they were like, God I want you to shoot here, because you’re so excited, to shoot here. So, they let us, they didn’t even charge us, they were great. “Showcase Citrus” is the name. I don’t think I said that right because I couldn’t remember it? But that’s what it was.
Ashley: So, let’s talk about your cast. I mean, you had, like for instance, Tom Proctor in there. He’s an actor, you know, a character actor that you certainly recognize, who’s done a ton of stuff. How did you go about getting the cast, especially for a short film? There’s not a lot of money in it for actors. Just maybe talk about the casting process, and bringing those people in?
Sonny: Sure. So, nobody in it, was pre-cast. We did a complete full casting. We did it in most through “Actors Access” and then I had a Facebook group. So, you know, I know what kind of actors. So, I did a Facebook group for local actors, Central Florida actors, Miami actors,
Tampa actors, you know, Southeast actors. And everyone I knew, I invited. I said, “Hey, this is a role I think you would be good for, if you want to read for the script. A great friend of mine, that owned a dance studio. And she let us into the dance studio for 3 days for auditions. And we just held, you know, we had cold readings, first. I’m sorry, we had people submit video, if they didn’t live locally, when everyone else had an audition slot where they came in and auditioned cold for us. And we had 300 something people, audition for certain parts. The toughest parts to cast obviously, were Sam, the Female lead, and Dave, the male lead. And so, what we ended up doing is, the two older folks, John Henry Scott. Who played “Old man, Jenkins.” And Dawn Campion played, Franny Jenkins. They’re actually from, Dawn is from Atlanta. she lives out in Atlanta. And John Henry lives in South Carolina. They submitted through Actors Access. I loved their look, they have such a unique look. And they, did a video submission. They self-take, and killed it. Their audition, they were the easiest ones to cast. Because literally, and we had those parts. But, they were, you know, the leaders out of the gate, if you will. I mean, like the minute we saw them. It was like, oh, my God, this is brilliant. And we ended up, they were pretty much the favorites from the beginning, and then stayed the whole way. Then every other part kind of was, different people read, different people went through it. And you know, had different takes on it. Tom Proctor, is real interesting. He wasn’t, initially I cast another actor. A guy I knew really well, in Florida, was going to play a part, cast. We went through like 3 months of you know, him being cast. During rehearsals, read-throughs and everything, and he bailed a week before we shot, because something came up. You know, the show must go on, you roll with the punches. I was in panic mode, and I’m like, oh, my God, what are we going to do now?! We are so far out, we are literally shooting in a week, I have to find somebody. I knew Tom, because he and I are Co-Producing a feature film, that he is in. A friend of mine is going to get a real lead is producing a feature called, “The Black Pills.”
Tom’s already cast in that. So, he and I talked on the phone, I sent him the script, I was like, I have nothing, I have no body for this. Is it, obviously I’ll pay for your flight. I’ll put ya up, you know, whatever else. Is this anything at all you’d be interested in? And he read it, and he was like, I love it, I’ll do it. And so it was over Thanksgiving weekend, it kind of sucks because you know, had Thanksgiving with friends and family. But, I love it, and I want to work with you. And yeah, it was amazing. It was a complete shock to get him.
Ashley: Let’s talk about your crew. You said you flew them in from Chicago. Did you just not feel like was the local talent like you couldn’t find a cinematographer with the skill set you needed? What was your decision making? Because obviously that was a huge expense of flying people in, versus getting people locally.
Sonny: A, well, Terry Jun, who was my Co-Director on this. And Corey Ledell, who was our actual, DP, we’re friends, I’ve known him for a long time. They own a company in Chicago, they make films, corporate videos and all this stuff. And Terry and I have been friends forever. We shot, “Clarity” the movie together. And initially I was going to use a local Cinematographer, before this. But, we just could not get on the same page, like visual wise. You know, we were talking, and I’m very specific about what I wanted, and my Assistant Director, this guy named Damon Mead, story boarded everything for this film. And that’s just one of the things I’ve learned. We kind of winged it on “Clarity” my first film. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing? So, I like, you know, there is a lot of coverage. There really isn’t anything special about it, it pissed me off. I love the film, I’m very proud of it. I don’t want to say it like that. But, it really pissed me off, when I looked at it afterwards. It didn’t have a signature, it didn’t really have a look to it, it felt safe, and it bothered the hell out of me. So, I wanted this to be very specifically visual I, so we designed every single shot. Really, he and I sat and talked through it. And then he went and story boarded it. He’s a brilliant story board artist, and he did 3 story boards and stuff. After talking about this, put this other gentleman, who was going to be the DP. We just could not, we just could not track at all. And then I was kinda like, alright so, maybe we’re not going to do this. I basically said, alright, I don’t want to have to go find somebody else. And go through the same process. Because it’s kind of a long process, of eliminating this guy. And I by chance, had talked to Terry about some festival that our other film had been in. And he said, “What’s going on with your, aren’t you doing “The Grove?” I’m like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “You should send me the script, I’ll come and do it.” And I’m like, “Really?! You want to do that?” And he’s like, “Sure.” So, I sent him the script. And he’s like,
“Dude! I love this, let’s do it!” And so, DP’s normally they’re normally a big expense. I basically I paid for travel, I put them all up in an air B & B. And just like, shipping cost. So, normally, I nobody got any of those, none of us got fair day rates. So, they made $100.00 bucks a day, whatever else. They just did believe in the project. And you know, we’re tight, so they did me a favor, you know pretty much said.
Ashley: Yeah. So, let’s talk about once this film was done. What were your next steps did you enter into film festivals. Maybe just take us through, ultimately you know, landing on
“Screening Now” www.screeningnow.com.
Sonny: So, we did, we entered it in film festivals. We had a great composing team, who put the score together too. That was like the biggest part of post, probably? And there would be these 2 guys that did our original score. For it are really, really, popular, like Indie rock artists. There was this band called, “Wild” that’s great. And they did the score for us. And they have another band called, “Weather” that did the original songs, the song at the end. It was an original song. And they put that one there. And that was a really cool thing for us. Because we have this music that was, when we did “Clarity” it was all Royalty Free Tracks, you know, we bought. And Brenden Rogers, my Co-Producer and I literally, Frankenstein’ed everything together. We cut tracks, we mixed them. And did all this stuff to try and make it work. But, it wasn’t the same, it was written for our movie, it was for “a” movie, you know.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Sonny: So, we had these guys write this score for us, for our movie. And we saw the score for our movie, and all this, and that was amazing. So, that was kinda the finishing, I just wanted to mention that. But, so yeah, we entered it in film festivals. One of the things I learned, from my first short was? The kind of movies I make probably aren’t going to “Sundance.” You know, I submitted my first to Sundance, and Caan, and tried that. And it’s a 30-minute heist short. They, you know, don’t care about that. Sundance does not care about a 30-minutes heist film. Sundance wants, you know, Muslim lady gets lost in Hebrew grocery store. They meet each other then live on an island and learn about the meaning of life, they want that. They don’t want, you know, popcorn films, like the kind of stuff I make. It’s totally fine, I get it. But, I didn’t know that at the time, and I wasted literally thousands of dollars, submitting to all these high end festivals. That, first of all, I didn’t a 30-minute short, no body wants to see a 30-minute short. So, clear, they went crazy about the length and it’s hard to program in all that. So, we learned a lot from that. We call it tuition, we learned a lot from that. Then, with “The Grove” we wanted to keep it under 15 minutes, we wanted it to be fast paced. And we wanted to target the kind of film festivals we thought it might play in. So, that’s exactly what we did, we were very specific, I entered it in maybe 12 film festivals, and we got into 8 of them, you know. So, I was pretty happy about that.
Ashley: No, yeah. That’s a great ratio. Tell me about targeting the festivals. It’s been a while. But, years ago, I did a feature film. And was submitting to festivals. And I always found back then, it was without a box. Now film freeway has come up. But, back then, without the box it was very difficult to really vet the festival. I mean you could go to their website and click around. But, it wasn’t always that easy, figuring out #1 if it was a good festival that is even worth entering? And #2 if it would cater to the type of genre that you had. So, maybe you could talk through that process a little bit, finding these festivals that are a good fit for your film.
Sonny: Well, that’s a great point. Because we did “Clarity” got into a couple of festivals too, my first short. And one of them was here in California. We were living in Florida at the time. And I paid the airline, came out to go to this festival. And it was a shit-show, I mean, It was just, it wasn’t. I’m not going to say what it was, I don’t want any trash talking.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Sonny: But, it was run, so poorly, I think they just pick any, any film can get into it. You know, just pay the price. They rented this theater out, I mean, like this multi-plex. They had like, 500 films or something? But, it was like they didn’t know when your film was going to air. You know, it’s supposed to be like, in this block. And then you get in there, and there’s all these films in this block. And then you go to watch the block, and 4 of the 5 films, aren’t actually in that block. So, I’d be pissed if I paid money to see films in a block when they’re not there.
Ashley: Not there, yeah.
Sonny: I have like a big following, I had like 12-13 people came out just for our little short to see it locally here. And it was a mess. And I spent a ton of money to come out here. And it was like, super disappointing. But, what we did was one of the first things we wanted to do was? We wanted to go to a film festival, in Central Florida, called, “Cenflo” and the biggest reason why because it was like our local fest. It was close, it was a movie-maker’s top 25 film festivals’ worth their money, 3 years ago. And that was the original reason I submitted to it. And then I found out, it would, it was like 2 towns over from us. We’re, where we live in Central Florida. And when we got there, we had a really good following, in Central Florida. I mean, we really do, we have a great following, very passionate fan base, and friends. And when we got there, they were like, wow, you have a lot of people that bought tickets to see your short. I mean, we really have not see a short with a following like this, with us, I mean, it was so flattering. Bob Cook, the guy who runs the festival was like, you know, no short has ever won the Audience Choice Award. He’s like, it’s always been features of ten years festival. We’ve never had a short win, “The Audience Choice Award.” And I’m like, “Okay. Challenge accepted.” And I told all my friends, I went on Facebook and said, “Hey, you guys come out, support us, buy a ticket, vote for us. No short has ever won there.” We won! We were the first short ever to win it. And then he teased me, and said, you know, are you doing another film next year? I had kicked around the idea for “The Grove.” I hadn’t written it yet. I had this idea in my head. I was thinking about it. He said, “Yeah, well, if do, do it? I’m just going to tell you. No one has ever won back-to-back awards in any category. And I was like, son of a bitch, we ended up winning. We did, we won back-to-back Audience Choice Awards. That was really exiting. But yeah, we submitted that for sure. Because we were coming back, because I was presenting there too. I presented the award. So, we came back for that, and we submitted to “The Orlando Film Festival.” So, we tried to do some local fest. that even though I knew I was going to be in L.A. already. We could have a following. People, our people that worked so hard on the film could see it on the big screen. So, we wanted to make sure we had some way to do that. So, we submitted to that We submitted to Florida Film Festival, Cenflo, we didn’t get in. And then the rest of it, we submitted to a bunch of horror type of sci-fi festivals, genre fests, and we got into a couple of them. A couple of them were just hash-grabs, you know how it is?
Sonny: It’s just hit or miss with these festivals. But, we did that them is film freeway am now without a box reviews. You can go on and they will actually have a list that will come out. With like, highest rate reviewed festivals. You know what I found on that, this is, you’ll this this is really funny. Almost all of the people that review the festivals really well. 1. got into the festival. 2. Probably won something.
So, like your average film maker, that’s submits to a festival, even if they go and they don’t get in, didn’t review it. So, it wasn’t just like the people who just attended the festival? It was film makers that were in the festival. Well, I mean, typically if you go to film festivals, you’re not going to shit talk it. You know what I mean? You’re just really not going to do that. Because it’s bad karma, or whatever? That could move onto Paramount. It’s like, I don’t remember you? Yeah, that bad review. So, that’s kind of, I mean, that way, look at their Twitter, look at their Facebook, see how active they are? Because that’s a telling thing to me too. See how active they are? See how good marketers. See if they market their film. With film makers that was important to us as well. You know, did they actually, what are you going to get out of it? I mean like, it’s great to see your film on a big screen. But if that’s your angle? Save the money and go rent a big screen. You know, save $400.00-$500.00 bucks. You could probably rent your local screen and do a screening for all your friends and family. And charge them $3.00 and make your money back. But, instead of spending $1000.00 or $2000.00 in festival entries. You know, casting this big wide net. So, that was a big thing, for us that’s helped, kinda how we vetted it.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I just want to talk just briefly like, what was sort of the goal of making this short, ultimately? And what did you accomplish that goal? Just talk about what was sort of your intention of making this short film? Obviously, there is never really a lot of money in shorts. So, that’s probably not a big thing. But, whatever sort of your thoughts were? And do you think those goals came to pass?
Sonny: That’s actually a great question? I think, you know, not giving the artist the answer. But the truth for me is? Anytime I do anything, I write a script, anytime I shoot a film, the goal is to tell a story, period. That’s my first goal, is to tell a story. I like this story, I thought it was fun and interesting, and I wanted to tell it. So, as far as that goes, I totally, it’s made, that’s always great. It’s, any sort of writing you can see your words, somebody saying them on the screen as writer. You’re like, “Oh God.” (Whispering) or like “Oh Jesus, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.” Seriously there’s that side of it as well. But, the further goal of that too is, film maker, not as a writer. As a film maker is just to make another movie, learn more. There was so many things that I loved about our first film that I did together. So, many things I learned, and was so exciting. And that was 5 of the greatest days of my life, you know. But, also when it was done and over with. There was so many things I. Why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I, oh my God, why did we do this? You just start second guessing every little thing. You wish you had another angle. Or, you wish you had the actress take another take. Or the actor do this, or why didn’t you come from this angle, instead of that, whatever? A billion things you question, oh why did I write that line of dialog? You know, when you’re a writer, you can kind of faint that off on the director, or the talent. And say, well I wrote it, they just changed the line. But, when you do all of it? And I was actually in the first film, I got credit, I starred in it too. So, it was like, whoa, the buck kind of stops here, I produced, I directed, I wrote it, I starred in it. I can’t really whatever? The short comings are? I have no one to blame but myself. So but, we learned a ton. For “The Grove” my big thing, was I didn’t want to repeat mistakes that I had made. So, we story boarded everything, to make sure we had it. I’m a big believer that structure leads to flexibility, and not the opposite. Like a lot of people, eh, I’m not going to story board anything so I can be flexible on set. Cool, and then when you don’t make your day. Because you didn’t have anything scheduled. Then you’re going to wonder why you should have had everything scheduled. So, we schedule everything, and then we find we have time, hopefully.
On an independent film, there never seems to be enough time? But, you know, you’re so super aggressive because you don’t have any money. So, you know, instead of doing 24 shots in a day, or 24 pick-ups in a day, you do 39, or 45. And it’s like, that’s pretty good, I think let’s go, let’s go. You know, we got to move to the next location, or whatever? But yeah, our sort of goal for that is to learn to make another film. You can be proud of. And then to learn, you know, different things we hadn’t learned from the first one. I can tell you the biggest lesson learned from it. When you have a chance to get the shot you know you’re going to need, get the shot. Because we literally shot pretty much, in a central location. We moved around the orange grove to different places. But, there was not you know, for the most part in 3 days, we weren’t more that 15 minutes away, from the central location. The first day we were there, we beat our day, and we had extra time. There’s this last shot of the movie which you’ve seen. There’s a last shot in the movie. Which I don’t want to give anything away, but it was crucial. You don’t have it, you don’t have a movie. And I was like, hey, why don’t we shoot that shot right now. We got some time, instead of going home, it was dusk. We mine as well do it now. Maybe tomorrow gets away from us, we don’t have it. Because we were supposed to shoot it on the 3rd day. And I’m going to, and if we don’t get it, and something happens on the 3rd day, we’re screwed! Oh, it’s fine, we got plenty of time, bla, bla, bla, bla, bla. And then the 3rd day came. A bunch of things that piled up on the 3rd day, which happens. And by the time we had to shoot that, we had run out of light. And the shot that’s in the movie, is the rehearsal. I always record my rehearsals. And we ran it to get the movement right on the camera. Because we had a golf cart, we shot it with a golf cart, a tracking shot. And literally, I told him, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, the rehearsal, go, go, go, go, get it now, everybody! And you can kind of, if you look, close, you can see people pushing the cart. You can kind of, it’s a fake then. But you can kind of see the people shoving the cart. But yeah, so we, I didn’t think we got it. As a matter of fact, I’m going to be completely honest, I started crying, I was so pissed, I you know, baby tears. But like, I was so mad, I wanted to pound somebody’s head in, because I didn’t think we got it? And the actress was black, and it’s night, you couldn’t see her. You know what I mean, you couldn’t put any artificial light on it. Because it looks staged then. But, it had to be dusk, and it was just right passed dusk, the sun was down, we shot in 4K. We shot with Sony MP5 cameras, so we had great cameras, thank God, and we shot raw. So, we could manipulate the footage. But I honestly, left the group In tears. I wanted to rip somebody’s head off. Because I was so angry, thinking we didn’t get the shot. And then we went back and looked at it. And I went, you know what? It’s not exactly what we wanted, it’s a little dark. But, if we add color to it and clean it up and lower the contrast. We actually, it’s usable, we actually get to totally use the shot. And I was like, Oh, thank God! Because I didn’t think we got it? The lesson was, if we had shot it on the first day, We still could have shot on the 3rd day. Maybe we will use that take anyway? But, you know, we should have gotten it on the first day.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, the movie that you’re working on now, “Relatively Super.” Starring John Heater. And I just wonder? How, maybe you could talk just briefly how you were able to position yourself into that. And did this short film help you get to that point.
Sonny: So, “Relatively Super” was one of those projects I was talking about earlier. It is actually an animated series. Ideally.
Sonny: And the short version of it is, I’m sitting at a restaurant with my kids. They found, you know what an ossuary is? It’s a grey box, it’s a stone-grey box. That they used to use, like in biblical times. And they found this ossuary in Jerusalem, you know, whatever? This 3ft stone box, you know, which held remains. It was carved in the side of it, here lies James, son of Joseph, son of Jesus. And my family is not a very big religious family. My kids were like, dad is that like, Jesus, Jesus? Like Jesus is real? And I’m like, historically, yeah, he’s absolutely real. And they were like, wow, wouldn’t it be neat to be Jesus’s brother. And I was like, are you kidding me? It would suck! What? Your brother is Jesus. How do you live up to that? You’re like doing the thumb trick, at the pool for like a cute Palestinian girl. And she’s like, yeah, your brother just walked across the pool. And we just started cracking jokes. One of my son’s said, “Dad you should totally write that. That should be your next screenplay.” And I was like, you know what, it was funny. But some people would, when it comes to faith, they don’t have a sense of humor about it.
Ashley: That’s funny.
Sonny: Yeah. My goal is never to really piss anybody off. I’m not afraid of it. But, it’s not my goal. So, you know, I was like. But the concept is ubiquitous. You know, sibling rivalry, living in the shadows of somebody like that. And I was like what if Superman was your older brother, or your younger brother. And you were like Randy Quad. If you could run kind of fast for a guy your age, and your brother is like Superman. No matter what you do, it’s like, dude your brother’s Superman. You know, so that concept became, you know, I thought it was ubiquitous and obviously relatively Super. So, it started out with a famous comic book artist, George Perez, he created, “The Teen Titans.” I mean like, tons of stuff, he writes with Mark Wolfman, forever for DC Comics, I mean an icon. He’s a friend of mine. We’ve done community theater together. We knew each other from Central Florida. And I told him about it. And he was like, Hey you know what, if you want I’ll do your characters for you, your designs. And I was like, Please! Are you serious?! He was writing for Superman52 at the time. He was literally doing the new Blue 52 Superman for DC Comics. And I was like, God that would be absolutely. He’s not writing, he’s the artist drawing. And I was like, oh my God, that would be amazing. So, he did the initial character sketches. I decided I was going to do a film. I wrote a feature for it. And then I was like, oh cool, all I need is this spare $40. – $50. Million dollars, does anybody have that? And realize, that, that is just not going to happen. A friend of mine, was like, oh, why don’t you just do an animated thing. And I was like, oh yeah, animation is cheap right? No idea? I can’t draw, at all, I can barely write my own name. Like if it’s like not a typewriter, I’m illiterate. So, I’m like, this is fantastic. So, I wrote this cool little pilot. Thinking, it would be easier to find somebody to draw than do an animated series. And then the dominos just started falling, by pure luck. Then, first of all a friend of mine, that knew George, this girl Tara Cardinal. She’s an actress, she worked in a ton of stuff. She was like, are you still looking to cast this? Because I have some names of friends who may be able to help you get funding. I was like, yeah! And she said, “Well, I know Michael Dorn.” And I said, “Like Warf?!” Yeah, and she says, Yeah, he loves George. So, I’m like, “YES!” Got on the phone with him and we talked. Through, I sent the script to him, to his agent, he signed on for nothing to do voice over for him. I was like, “Really?” Please, a pittance, I don’t want to talk about the exact dollars, but not a lot, not what he’s worth. And then, Mark Hamill is in it.
But, it’s interesting, he, somehow his name dropped off on IMDb, it was there forever, and it just, I noticed the other day, it’s not on there anymore? I put in a request to IMDb, “What’s up with this?” But yeah, Mark Hamill is in it. Kevin Conroy, who’s the voice of Batman. John Heater, like you mentioned, Jonathan Mangum, Gary Anthony Williams, is like the lead. Gary Williams absolutely made it the funniest human being on the face of the earth, he’s hysterical. “Boone-docks”, he’s in the “Ninja Turtles Movie.” He’s been in everything, he’s amazing. Anyway, so I knew, like I reached out to a couple of friends. I have a whole bunch of friends who are working actors. They knew somebody, who knew somebody. You know, working that, that web. And what happed with, to get Mark Hamill, actually was? Originally, Michael Bean, was attached to play this, the other male lead off of Gary Williams. And we weren’t union initially. Because it was literally just a pilot pitch. So, it wasn’t supposed to be there. It literally just a pitch, this is really an essential. And Michael Bean’s agent, they just stopped calling me. And he had signed a contract. And I went back and it was just like, hey, what’s the deal with this? I’m scheduling a studio to go with to record everybody. You know, Michael is not calling me, his agent and stuff, aren’t returning my calls. And they were like, oh, the agent left, he got fired or something? He’s not there anymore. And now the owner of the agency, is still representing, Michael. He’d like to talk to you. And we get on, and he’s like, so, why should my client go and do this project? And I’m like, Ah, because he signed a contract?! I’m not pitching myself again, and he already signed a contract, I already did all this, you know, he agreed to do it. Oh yeah, he really doesn’t want to do anything that’s
non-union. Which I get, you know what I mean? And so, I was like, oh, well, you know, I don’t think we’re going to make it, I said. Because there is just no sense in it. So, a ton of extra work, and money, so, we’ll release him from the contract, so we did. Brian Cox, who was supposed to the Mark Hamill part. And Brian Cox wanted to record it, and we just didn’t have the resources to do it? He was doing some project in London, and so, he dropped out. And so, now 2 of my main leads are gone? I’m panicking! And I call this agent because we almost had Bruce Cambell do it. And I call this agent on my, could you re-approach Bruce? Because at first, he didn’t want to do, because he’d be the only one big name in it. But, now I’ve got all these great actors. And maybe now, if he sees it. We’ve got all this great talent? Maybe he’ll be interested, I’ll approach him again. So we approach him, and like, Bruce is going to pass. He likes the project, but he’s doing, “Burn Notice” producing “The Evil Dead” and there’s all this other stuff, and just doesn’t have time, I get it. His, but I’ve got other actors, do you know who Kevin Conroy is? Is that like, Batman Kevin Conroy? He’s like, yeah, of course. He’s like yeah, he’d probably do it. I’m like, that’s the character, the character is that? It’s a blatant rip-off. So, he approached
Kevin Conroy, and Kevin agreed to do it. My wife didn’t know who that was? I was showing her YouTube videos, and it was him and Mark Hamill. Because Mark plays the Joker? And my wife goes, “Oh, you know, for that Butler part, you should just get Mark Hamill to do it. HA! Okay, I’m going to get Luke Skywalker to do my animated series, yeah okay Sher, why don’t you let me handle this, okay? She’s like, just ask him, what’s he going to do, say “No!” I’m like, well, maybe? Okay so, went and found out who his agent was? His agent happened to be
Gary Williams agent. So, I had already had a relationship, I reached out. She said, “Listen, he’ll never do it, if it’s not said.” And I said, “For Mark Hamill, I’ll make it said, man!” So we did, we made it a said project. And sent the script to Mark, he loved it, he signed on and did it. And he loves cabins so, a lot of that had to do with him and Kevin Conroy getting to work together. But it was a pilot. We recorded all of it. I don’t want to say, it died on the vine. But, it’s withering on the vine.
Because I don’t have an animator for it. I have all this talent, it’s great script, it’s a great concept. But, I don’t have an animator. I don’t have an animation team to do it. And the funny things, these animator’s series needs animation. Yeah so, who knew. It’s like Trump, who knew this would be hard. But it’s like, yeah, everyone. But yeah so, I kinda forgot that part of it.
Ashley: Had you already recorded the voices?
Sonny: All of them, I recorded them, I had a scratch track. I mean, I have like a 22 minute. I have the audio of it, 22 minute. I can do a great radio show, of you know, a great Podcast. It’s a 22 minute episodic Podcast of this. You know, with the sound effects. There is an original score, for it. It’s brilliant, it’s really funny. You know, and the cast is absolutely amazing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. That’s good to say. I know we’re out of time, I just want to wrap up, how can people see, “The Grove.” Maybe just talk a little quickly about that.
Sonny: Exclusively, they can see, “The Grove” in Clarity actually, both of them the two of them were the only shorts available for free, on www.screeningnow.com. Screen Now reached out, they agreed to do this for us. And I think there is 10 shorts, something in total. And they picked both of ours, which is a huge honor. So, yes, www.screeningnow.com it’s “Clarity” and
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And I will link to that in the show notes. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you and kind of follow along with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, Blog, website, anything you feel comfortable sharing? And you can say that now, and I’ll grab that as well and put that in the show notes as well. You can just tell it to us now.
Sonny: A, my Twitter is – sontzu411@ s-o-n-t-z-u-4-1-1, I will give a warning. I’m weird as hell. Most of it is, me bashing Donald Trump. I’m just going to say it straight out. Just in case people aren’t into that. I do talk a ton of film. And I have a lot of stuff I got honor with as well. But I am, there’s a lot of, I’m very political. My Instagram is – sontzu411 is as well, Just kinda boring pictures of California, and stuff like that, it’s pretty tame. On Facebook, we have Chico Films. My films company is – Q-i-c-o-f-i-l-m-s, and if you find Qico Films “The Grove” has a page. Actually, it’s very interesting. I think it’s “The Grove” picture on Facebook. I’ll send you a link, the actual thing because I don’t remember off the top of my head. There’s like 100 episodes of production diaries, that we did. Which is really fun, we made it. Anyone cares, the walking it’s probably not, but it’s really, really funny, as we talk through the entire process. Of going through everything. It’s you know, a fun little film. I trip down memory lane, if anyone is interesting,
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. I just wish you all the success with this and with all the other projects.
Sonny: Thank you so much, it is an absolute treasure, and your Podcast is amazing. I’m so psyched to be a part of it, thank you.
Ashley: Thank you.
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So, on the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing, Irish writer/Director, Brandon Mulldowny. He recently directed a film called, “Pilgrimage.” It’s a great example of low-budget period piece. He kept it very simple. It’s a kind of a story, of say, some religious people, that have to transport an artifact with them all across Ireland, in the Middle Ages. All kinds of sword fighting, bows and arrows and that type of thing. It really is an interesting film. Well done, and we talk through his entire career as well as specifically about this film. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with
Sonny Dyon. So, this is the final short film showcase. In the series of 4 that I’ve done. I started with Mark Hanley’s $200.00 short film, called, “Dark Afternoon.” And that’s in episode #170. Then I talk with Richie Greer, about his $1,500.00 short film “Lost and Found” and that was episode #182. And then, a few weeks ago, I had Joe Taylor on the Podcast. We talked about his short film called, “Last Call.” He did that film for about $4000.00, that was episode #186. And then today, I Talked to Sonny. And I think this is really a great round-up. I did these in the specific order of budget. So, each one was higher up on the budget range. Hopefully, you can find something in these that motivates you, fires you, makes you want to learn from it. I will link to all these episodes in the show notes. I know I sound like a broken record, if you listen to this Podcast a lot. I’ve said it before, I’m going to say it again, hopefully not for a while? But, I really do believe that creating material specifically short films is a great way to advance your screenwriting career. All of these writers are now producing screenwriters. And they didn’t have to sit around and wait for someone to give them permission to be a writer. They just went out and did it. If you have no production experience? Hopefully, listening to these episodes will demystify the process a bit? I guess at the end of the day, that’s really my main goal is to just. So you that the guys that did these short films. They are just people like us. They are just guys trying to be writers, be directors. Advance their careers and they went out and made something happen. So, hopefully, just hearing them talk will really demystify that process, if you don’t have any experience in production. But sometimes, you do just have to jump in and do it, and learn on the job. That’s part of learning as a person, that’s part of just, you know, moving your career down the line. You might just have to do some of these, do it yourself position where you don’t necessarily feel that comfortable. As a personal high, when I started this Podcast. I didn’t know anything about Podcasting. I didn’t know anything about technical challenges. How to record stuff. You know, and now, after 200 episodes. There’s probably still people who think I still don’t know anything about producing Podcasts. So, you know, it’s all a learning process. I keep plotting away with this thing, every week. I hopefully get a little bit better with each Podcast episode. And that’s really how you really need to look at these short films. The first short film you make, it will probably be garbage, it’s not going to win an award. It may not even get into festivals. It may even be a complete disaster. But, keep the budget low, keep the budget, you know, at a reasonable amount. Money that you can afford to just throw away, and loose. And use it as a learning space. And start to create you know, a portfolio of short films, and build from there. And hopefully each one will get a little bit better. And again, hopefully these Podcasts demystify the whole equation of a little bit. But ultimately, sooner or later, you’re going to have to just jump in and just do it. And as I said, learn on the job. People tend to look at successful people, and specifically in this case, successful screenwriters. And not fully appreciate the effort that it took to get to the professional level. Doing short films are, or low-budget feature films, it’s a great place to cut your teeth and get experience. There is just very little risk other than spending a little bit of money on it. You don’t have to wait for permission to make it, your film. You don’t have to wait on an agent, or manger, or producer, to validate you as a writer. You just have to be willing to dig in and do the work. Doing shorts is not super sexy. You’re certainly never going to make any real money doing it. Much of us get rich. But, I would argue, if you don’t want to do this? You might be in it for the wrong reasons. Doing these low-budget shorts, you’re certainly not working at the same level as Quinton Tarantino, or Steven Spielberg. But, you are still basically doing the same thing. You’re making movies, you’re a creative person, you’re an artist, you’re getting your stuff out there, into the world.
And I think ultimately, that’s what this is all about. It really doesn’t matter, so much what level you’re working at? I’ve been real curious to hear from some screenwriters who listen to these Podcasts regularly. And they don’t necessarily want to do short films and low-budget feature films. So, if you’re one of those people? Do Email me, your thoughts on why you’re not interested in pursuing this? I mean, perhaps there are some good reasons, that I’m not thinking about? But, I would be real curious to hear from those people. Because maybe there are some good reasons, maybe there are some good reasons that you know, I can help people get over those, you know, concerns, the fears, the problems. Whatever those reasons are? That you don’t want to make your short film? Just Email me those, and maybe we can have a conversation about that? And maybe there are some sort of practical things? And maybe there are some people who’s experiences I can bring onto the Podcast as I said, I can help people get past some of those issues, some of those reasons why they don’t feel like they’re in the position to make a short film. So, you can always Email me firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d be real curious to hear your thoughts. Again, especially if you’ve listened to all these Podcasts, and you’re still not convinced that this is worth doing? I know for myself, doing, “The Pinch” has been the most creatively, from my screenwriting career. Much more so than any of the scripts I’ve sold. Again, go on IMDb, look me up. And look at all of these projects I’ve done. I mean, “The Pinch” by far has been the best experience in terms of creative fulfillment. And that’s because I did everything myself. That’s, it was a lot of work. You’re trade, you’re making trades on that. You’re having to do a lot of them, the work. You’re doing the producing, you’re doing the raising the money, you’re doing the directing, all of this stuff. But for that, you will also the rewards, and in this case. For me, anyways, it’s the reward of seeing my ideas, and my script get produced. Basically, as I intended them. And you know, as I said, the scripts where I just sold the scripts and basically had nothing to do with the production. Those experiences, I mean, I guess I wouldn’t trade them. And I guess there is some definite positive things from them. Mainly, that I don’t enjoy doing that. That’s probably the biggest experience. But, the biggest lesson, I’ve learned. But, you know, really think about that. And especially if you, you know, are not too at that level where you sold some scripts, and had some movies produced. Listen to what I am saying to someone who has been through that experience. Those experiences at least for me, were not creatively fulfilling at all. Were not particularly enjoyable. And overall they were a disappointment. And a lot of that was just because the way those experiences happened. I don’t think there’s any change in it. It’s just a function of how these movies are made. They go through a meat grinder. Different people get to write them in a lot of cases, I felt like the people didn’t know what they were doing, creatively. What they were doing with the story? They didn’t understand the story. They didn’t really understand basic screenwriting. So, those movies, in my opinion, didn’t turn out well. And in a lot of cases, I felt they got completely re-written. Now, maybe “The Pinch” will come out, and maybe it won’t be particularly good either? But, at least I don’t have anybody to blame, but myself, and at least it’s again, creatively fulfilling experience for me. So, I think this, doing this short film. Which is really the first step to doing feature films. But, again, it also just gives you a good background in production. And understanding the practicalities of production. Seeing how you wrote a scene, that got changed up on the day. Even if you are writing and directing, and producing, “The Pinch” is a prime example. There were scenes that I wrote. Where I had envisioned a certain way. But you get on set, and there are certain practical situations where things change. Going through those types of experiences. Will make you a better writer. It will make you understand these situations. And why certain scenes don’t work on set It might work on the page, but they don’t necessarily work on set.
And being able to understand those situations before-hand, will make you a better writer. Because you’ll be able to write them. Hopefully, in a way that they have a better chance of being shot. And again, these are subtle nuance things. But, there will be just so many things that you take away from doing these short films. And then again, it’s not about doing a great short that goes viral, and just propels your career into the stratosphere. It’s not about that, it’s about doing the short film, that you feel like, was creatively fulfilling. And hopefully, you will like it and enjoy it. But, ultimately, it’s really about the experience of just going through that process again, and becoming a better film maker, and better as a screenwriter. Anyway, once again, I will link to the short film showcase, these 4 short films show cases that I’ve done on the Podcast. I will link to them in the show notes. So, if you’re listening to this Podcast now, or in the future? You’ll just be able to go to on this episode. Like I said, it’s #189. And you will see links to these other 3 short film showcase Podcast episodes that I did, and be able to find them easily.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.