Welcome to Episode #206 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing distributor Keith Leopard from Uncork’d Entertainment. Keith is a distributor behind many of the films that I’ve showcased on this podcast over the last 12 or so months. A couple of weeks ago I talked with Martin Gooch who did the film The Gate House. His film is being distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment. Then maybe a month or six weeks ago I had a filmmaker named Justin Price on the podcast. He recently did two films- The 13th Friday and The Elf. Both of those films are being distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment. And there’s a variety of other films and I will mention many of those in the interview.
This is a fascinating look at filmmaking from the distributor’s perspective. Understanding what type of films can sell in the market place is really helpful for screen writers because ultimately, screen writers have to sell their scripts to producers and ultimately producers want to sell these produced movies in the market place. So understanding the markets is just so important as a screen writer. Stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode viable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on.
You can find all the podcast notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #206. If you want my free guide- How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I’ll teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log line and creative letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for a material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now a couple of quick words about what I’m working on. Quick update on my feature film The Pinch. It’s my crime-action feature film that I am finishing up post production on. I’ve got what will hopefully be the second to last cut of the film. I’ve been waiting to get back a few clips from the colors which came back late last week, and now I’ve got it go back to my editor, insert those cuts and then we will pump out as I said, what will hopefully be the second to last cut of the film. I will then watch the film one more time and make any final tweaks. Just a little back story on these clips so you kind of understand what is going on with them. I think this is a pretty normal type of a problem to face at this stage of post production. There was only four clips and one of those clips was split in two, so I guess five clips total.
Basically here’s what happened. The colors, when he did his output, the editor…we did our locked picture, I then take all of those files and I take them to the colors. The colors loads them into Davinci Resolve. He starts doing the color and then once he’s colored the whole film, he outputs a really high resolution version of the film. It’s a 4K version. I think it was over a hundred gigs, like just that cut of the film. But it’s the entire film in one basic movie file…in one file is what he outputs. There was a couple of glitches in that output file that he made. There was one five second clip that just got repeated over and over again for like 30 seconds. Obviously that needed to be corrected. All we have to do is I went back to the editor, we output the non-colored version but the correct version basically of those clips and that’s the one that got split in half because the repeating went across two different cuts in the film.
Again, it’s probably less than 30 seconds. It’s probably like about 15 seconds…maybe 20 seconds worth the film. So you output the uncolored but correct version and then we sent those to the colors, he colored them and then he sent them back. There was two missing inserts and it was a clock ticking and again for some reason when the color was output his version those inserts didn’t get put into this movie file. Again, we just had to give the colors those exact two clips. He just colors those two short five second…three second clips and then sends those back to us. And then also there was one special effect shot that got corrected by my effects guy. Thank you Kurt for that. And then again that was sent over, sent to the colors and then he colored it and then sent that back.
So late last week he sent me all those re-colored clips. Now I’ve got to go with the editor. I’ve got a couple other corrections that need to be made as well. Hopefully that will be done this week. I’ll go up with my editor. I’ve got to email right after I get done with this podcast. I’ve got to email my editor and see if he’s available this week for probably just a couple of hours. I’m just gonna run up there with the drives and we’re gonna load up these clips, he’s gonna drop them in the time line. There’ll be a bunch of other tweaks, but probably just like an hour or two worth of work and then we’ll have another version of the film which will basically be the completed film. I’ll watch that one or two more times and then that will be pretty much it. There is one minor sound issue but I probably will not end up dealing with that until a little bit down the road once I find a distributor.
When you get a distributor, they run what’s called a Quality Control Report. It’s a QC Report. Basically they run that and that includes audio issues, but it also includes any video problems. Problems with the picture, missing frames, drop frames or something like that. It will catch these things in this QC Report and then you have to go back and make any corrections if you need to. I mean, maybe it will pass, maybe not. What I’m basically doing is I’m asking some of my friends who are producers what their thoughts are. So basically what I’m doing is I missed one…there’s one line of dialogue that got mixed from the final sound mix. And again these friends of mine that are producers, they’re telling me that I probably won’t pass the QC Report and there will be some audio issues, so I will have to go back and do some remixing on the final sound mix. And so that’s the time to do it, insert this final line of dialogue.
That’s sort of the issue that I’m wrestling with. But again I will be able to output a version of the film and from just the casual observer, they will not even be able to tell that there’s anything wrong with it. That’s gonna be great. I’m gonna be able to do the kick starter. People are still waiting to see a cut of the film. I wanna get back to them before the end of the year, a version of the film to them and then also I want to…it will be nice to at least start figuring out a casting crew screening if I’m gonna do that. And then also as I said this version of the film, it will be to just…anybody who watches it, they won’t notice that there’s even a problem because I will bake that one line of dialogue. I will bake it back into the output version. But then also as film festivals view the film, they’ll have a more complete version of the film. There might even be some distributors that I go back to with this latest version of the film as well and they will be able to watch it and hopefully get a little bit of a better sense of the film as well.
Anyways, it’s a little bit annoying to have this issue at the last bit but it’s nothing that a few hundred dollars and a little time can’t fix, so I’m not too worried about it but that’s kind of where I am with that. So hopefully as I said by the end of the year I will have a basically unfinished version of the film that I can start really showing to people and getting out there and then again, once I’ve signed up with the distributor, I’ve started to look at some of these lists of the deliverables and the deliverables are just…it’s a whole range things from still images from the film, they want that, obviously they want the trailer, a version of the poster, different types of cuts to the film. There’s just a long list of these deliverables that I’ve got to work through and that’s a whole other project, but it’s somewhat dependent on the distributor you go with.
If you go more of the south distribution route, you need to do a lot less of this kind of stuff. If you go with a more traditional distributor there’s a variety of things that they require that I will have to work through. Again, I’m not too worried about getting that stuff done. At this point I just kind of wanna get the film done, get a version of the kick starter. People have been waiting now for almost two years to see the film, so I wanna get them a cut of the film to take a look at and as I said, just kind of from my own stand point be basically done with post production and then moving on to distribution and the film festivals and the marketing of the film. All that will be some new challenges. Anyway, that’s what I’m working on, now let’s go ahead and get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing distributor Keith Leopard. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Keith to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Keith: Thanks for having me.
Ashley: To start out I wonder if you just give us a quick overview of your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get into the entertainment business?
Keith: I grew up in Portland, Oregon. I live in Dallas, Texas now, but I grew up in Portland, always was a film nerd, went to…back then there was no video, there was no cable TV, we had four channels and four other [Inaudible 00:09:23] and basically everybody went to the theater on Saturdays and Sundays, three or four movies. Back then it was single screens, so we couldn’t even sneak into multiple movies. We had actually to go pay for each movie. And just when I got out of high school I actually went to college first couple of years in radio broadcasting and realized that that was not gonna be a career choice and I’ve always loved film. I went down to San Francisco State. While I was going to school there was a small chain of video stores, rapid stores called Warehouse Records back then and Blockbuster was just coming into existence then.
I thought this would be kind of cool and moved back up to Seattle and worked for them and ended up working 11 years in Seattle at the Blockbuster franchise. In 2000 I came down to Texas to work for Blockbuster Corporate and when they were about ready to go in final stages of bankruptcy I just thought well, at that point I’m 50 years old, do I go get another job or do I take all that I’ve learned over the years in marketing and movies and artwork and trailing and all that and do my own thing. And so I thought I’d just do my own thing. So I’ve been doing that for about five years.
Ashley: Okay, and so specifically what were you doing at Blockbuster when you got to their corporate headquarters? What was your position within their organization?
Keith: There was three buyers there and we bought all the movies for 4500 stores. I would say right about the third year I was kind of bored. I thought anybody can buy Spiderman, Lord of The Rings from stores, so I just went to the head of the department and said, “I wanna buy all Indie product.” So for the last seven, eight years I worked there I basically bought all the product for the stores through all the studios, like just anybody like Lionsgate or smaller at the time. Lionsgate’s bigger now but back then it was really smaller. So I just did all the Indies, so that gave me an amazing exposure to just all types of films.
Ashley: And I’m curious, it seems like that sort of the opposite position as you are in now. Before the filmmakers or the distributors were coming to you to sell films. Now you’re in the market of trying to find the other buyers. Do the buyers at Blockbuster, do they know the buyers at these other organizations? Why did you go this direction as opposed to maybe another direction?
Keith: Well, the one thing is that I’ve always been a product guy. I tell people how I’m different from a lot of my competitors is I’m a product person with a distribution company, not a sales person. When I’m talking to filmmakers about their movies, I understand the movie, I understand how to market it, because I’m that film guy. I am not just somebody that says, “I need a movie for April and we’ll put in that slot.” I travelled a lot because I did all the Indie work I knew all the guys in iTunes and I knew all the…at the various platforms I also knew all the other distributors and I knew sales companies because I would work on getting the exclusives for Blockbuster. So when I started my own thing I already had a pretty good connection with a lot of folks out there. The only ones I didn’t have a connection with were actual sales companies and so I just did what everybody else [Inaudible 00:12:48] and went out there. The first couple of years were tough trying to get movies and then after that when I got a good reputation and started dealing more directly with filmmakers and it took off from there.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. So first we’re gonna start with just sort of some general questions about distribution and then we’ll dive in specifically to some of the films that you’ve distributed over the last year or so. Specifically what types of films is your company- Uncork’d Entertainment looking for?
Keith: I need it to be too [Inaudible 00:13:19] but it’s like I know it when I see it. That’s just what 37 years in this business of kind of understanding…I think I have a good feel for what the public wants. I do a lot of genre films because I love genre films and they are still very popular and I always say genre films are very forgiving. If you do a comedy it better be funny. A lot of times they’re not funny. The genre films are horror films, supernatural. Those just tend to be a little more forgiving with the general public because I’m that guy too. I watch nine crappy horror films hoping for that one amazing one and when we see that we all just geek out and go, “This is great.” That’s kind of what I look for. But because I’m a film guy I also look at foreign films, I look at documentaries. Anything that I feel I can cast a pretty wide net to generate revenue back to the filmmaker.
Ashley: Okay. So now, let’s say somebody submits a film to you and you’re reviewing it and maybe even push past things like genre, sort of the typical things, what are some of the mistakes you see from these low budget filmmakers…these independent filmmakers? What are some of the things that you can tell like in five minutes of watching a film that it’s not going the right direction?
Keith: The first thing would be just production value. I know it’s easy now to make films but if you can’t do anything correctly, your film needs to look good. I think that’s probably one of the first things I see, is that the production quality is just not there. The next is being different. Something original. Five kids going to a turban and getting killed, that’s just been done way way too many times. What I will hear is, “But mine’s different.” And what I normally say is, “Look, my job is to give you what I think and I think it’s not different. I see this type of film all the time.” So I’m always trying to give positive feedback.
If look around and if you see a lot of certain type of movie happening, don’t do that. The other thing I try to get feedback on is create a film or a project that goes to a bigger mass than just say the fan boy. What I mean by that is someone will make a smaller movie and yes, you get lots of coverage on all the sites but when you go out to the real world, the real public, the person sitting on that couch clicking through their paper view, it doesn’t work then. So I try to get people to think about going beyond just the fan boy or the contained group of customers.
Ashley: Yeah. I wonder if there’s…and this hopefully gonna sort of dovetail into what we were just talking about. But can you name a few films that you didn’t distribute over the last couple of years that you wish you had. Like some good examples of films that you said, “Wow, that was a really unique film or that was a film that I would have loved to get.”
Keith: Well, some of the films that I tried to but being a smaller guy I was just kind of outdid was The Babadook. I loved that one, I saw it at a festival. I’m glad IFC got it because they did handle it correctly, but that was one of my favorites. I did like The VHS Series. I thought those were really quality. I liked The Tales of Halloween although from a commercial standpoint anthology movies don’t seem to really catch on with the public. There’s a good opportunity where I would…I liked these movies, I really would love to have distributed them but they would have been smaller in each kind of titles.
Ashley: Are there some trends that you’re seeing in the independent film world as terms of the audience is uptight. You’re mentioning some of the things like be original and this kind of thing but are there some trends, are there some undeserved markets? IT was a big studio hit so I’m sure we’re gonna see a million Steven King and Steven King [Inaudible 00:17:28] movies coming down the pipe. But are there some other trends that maybe are not so obvious to screen writers?
Keith: What I’d say is do more…you look at what the studios are doing that is different. One is the more supernatural versus out now horror. Blood and Guts really doesn’t work anymore and we have [Inaudible 00:18:00]. But for foreign sales, horror movies are just the flood of the market. Horror doesn’t work if you’re trying to get your movies sold in other territories as well. I say once a studio movie’s cut out, if it’s been a big hit, you need to look on that front side of that and you feel that it’s going to be a hit you need to come out with a weird scary clown movie before it, because afterwards there’ll just be tones of clown movies and then nobody really wants those anymore. I used to tell people most what to stay away from. Like found footage. I don’t distribute any more found footage. The genre’s tired for me. You may find one of them once in a while that gets a lot of press but in general that was played out. Blood and Gut slasher’s played out. You’re trying to find things that would appeal to a wider audience.
Sci-Fi is always good because Sci-Fi costs a little more money. So you have to have a little more on your production to do Sci-Fi. Practical effects…I tell people to work on practical effects. They’re cheaper, then try and do CGI because every time we try to do CGI at our budget level it looks awful. If you do practical effects, it gives you a higher quality look to it. And then actually right now I tell people Westerns. In the US, a good solid little Western where people are actually shooting each other and there’s real sets, it’s just not somebody with a cowboy hat up in the desert, those still do well. So it’s looking around at the trends but not necessarily Box Office. Really more like what you see when you go to iTunes and what’s in the top in how the rank the top 50. Try to look and see if there’s anything that’s a little different.
Ashley: Are there some specific sub genres, and as I talk to distributors and producers, for instance family movies always come up. It seems like filmmakers, and I include myself in this, we wanna make the next pulp fiction we’re not that interested in. So there’s millions of guys like me trying to make that next pulp fiction, but not so many people that are trying to make the family movie. And then there’s even sub genres of the family movie with a horse or the family movie with a dog. Are there some markets like that that maybe feel a little bit underserved?
Keith: I think for what I look for, again the Sci-Fi, it doesn’t have to be like ships flying around but just an interesting kind of local mix of Sci-Fi drama, like you know that movie Primer where it was a drama where it had those Sci-Fi cookie elements, it was a good script…movies like that. Family movies are tough because there’re so many really good high quality ones out there, but you can never go wrong with a dog…you know, the talking dog. I always stay away from just dramas. It could be a great little interesting script or how you grew up or as I tell people, just because you have a tough childhood it doesn’t mean that everybody wants to watch that same tough childhood. Comedies, stay away from them, they don’t work without any real cast. You need to look at genres that work without having any kind of cast. That’s where you get back to your horror, western, kids, things like that that will do well. You get more credibility and you don’t need a cast.
Ashley: Okay, so let’s talk about again in general, how do you typically find films? Do you go to film festivals, do you just network with other filmmakers? What’s the typical flow of a film that you end up distributing and how it came to your attention?
Keith: So the early days, it was being in the pavement at all the festivals and markets. After about a year, three when I felt I was pretty established and then a lot started coming to referrals, because in this business, just to be distributor has a bad reputation. So you’re trying to find somebody that will report correctly, pay you and I started getting a very good reputation of paying people, which is odd because you would think if you owed money we would pay you, but that’s not always what happens. So we started getting more referrals and then I was working with filmmakers and we’d do one film and we’d do another and we’d be like, “Hey, we like working together, we get each other, I trust you to deliver the film, you trust me to pay,” and now I probably have seven, eight, filmmakers that I have done two, three, four or even more films with. So now it tends to be more referrals, more repeat business.
Ashley: How did those types of partnerships work? Do you give them minimum guarantees, do you just talk to them in the development process and look at what they’re thinking about doing and say, “Yeah, I think this is something I could sell?” What does that relationship actually look like?
Keith: For the most part I don’t do any financing. That would come much later but let’s we’ve done a few films together and I trust that you can deliver correctly, I might put some money into the pre-production of it. Regarding MGs, it can go all the way from no MG to depending on the scope of the film, how I think we can generate revenue, how we can market it, if there is a big enough audience there. But you have to remember when a distributor takes on a movie, if there’s no MG, that doesn’t mean there’s no skin in the game. It still costs when you look at [Inaudible 00:23:34] work a good trailer, getting everything out there. I’m still in it $8,000 to $12,000 before it even comes out. So we always have skin in the game, but I do understand that people have been burned and sometimes you want that comfort of an MG. Maybe your financiers says, “Hey, I want a little bit out of that,” so that kind of where I just look at each film on it’s own merit.
Ashley: Okay. Again, this is sort of a general question, not specific to any of the films but someone who wants to work in this low budget genre film, we’re talking about not a lot of cast, what sort of budgets are appropriate in these cases? Again, just a general kind of investment. Are we talking about 500,000 or are we talking about sub-hundred thousand? What would you recommend to a filmmaker who wants to make one of these films and actually expects to recoup their finances?
Keith: Everybody has a story on I made this movie for 5,000 [Inaudible 00:24:27] let’s just talk in general then. But the movies that I’ve seen over the past five years, the first one you can call in favors and you can do it, you know, you might find a special effects guy that has a day job or wants to do a movie, so there’s lots of different ways to do that. But I feel you need to be in that $75,000 minimum to have the movie look good, so you can run a good camera package and all that. Where we see the differences, when we start getting to the 125, 150, maybe up to 200, then you’re really starting to see that you can get a much quality, better quality movie, maybe some better effects and not necessarily cast but people that can act. That’s the other thing. You see now you make a $50,000 movie but you go out and get five people that wanna act in LA, they’re not really actors. I always say go to a smaller town, find young people, old people, maybe what you’d consider good looking people and character people so it really makes the film look very different.
The big stumbling block is you see a lot of movies made and it’s just five or six of the same 28 to 25 year old male or female and everybody kind of looks the same. From a standpoint of how do you…if you get up to that 300, 400, 500 thousand, then you got to really look at the movie, like how am I gonna generate my revenue back? When I talk to people, when they’re getting to that level, it’s like guys, let’s lay out every possible way to generate revenue. Whether it’s Netflix or Redbox, Walmart, all these in play, and you can try to have almost reverse engineer, you know, do I have to hit on every single cylinder for me to even break just a little even. If the answer is yes, then it’s like guys, maybe you wanna cut back on what you’re spending on the movie.
Ashley: I just have…this is sort of a specific distribution question and a lot of filmmakers have been telling me, watch out for this sort of…when a distributor has a whole bunch of films, they package them together and they make a deal, and that deal is, your film is sort of in that deal. I’ve had a lot of filmmakers tell me, be careful of this. But what are some strategies to try and get a good deal in that sense? When a distributor signs a deal of like 10 or 20 films at once, how do you figure out what percentage goes to what film because all films are not created equal and the value that the films bring into that package are certainly different.
Keith: Well, from the packaging, I mean you see packaging a lot in international circles. For the US in my experience, the packaging really comes much later down the road after you’ve exhausted the transactional, the [Inaudible 00:27:18] and all that. What I do for instance, I just look at if I’m selling let’s say 20 movies to a TV station, at that point down the road, I just put everyone at the same amount. I do any funny games where I apply a higher margin to one versus the other one, because you’re in the light side of the movie where it feels like all movies are kind of created equal at that point anyway. I’ve stayed my size because I’ve never wanted to get to where I am releasing 10, 50 movies a month. The Uncork’d label, we only release two, three a month and that way we can say I touch every movie I work on. I don’t give it to an intern or somebody else. I work on the artworks, the trailer and I can focus on each one.
There are some companies that are bigger [Inaudible 00:28:18] and will take on a lot more number of films and we just chose not to do that because it’s hard to give everybody a fair shake if you’ve got to many films. But that’s just my size. If I had maybe two or three of me, I might get to do more.
Ashley: Okay, so I just wanna run through some of these films and I’m gonna ask the same question about all of them and you can just give this…we can call this like a lightening round where we run through this hopefully pretty quickly. So I just interviewed Martin Gooch on my podcast. He did a film called The Gate House which you guys are distributing. I’m curious, first of all, how did you get involved with that project? He’s a UK filmmaker, I don’t think you had worked with him before. So how did you find that film?
Keith: That was 100 percent referral. I had worked on a movie called Tree House four years ago and to this day I still pay overages and the producer on that I think he was talking to one of the producers on Gate House and I think she mentioned we’re getting ready to go out there and look for a distributor in the US and he was like, “Call Keith.”
Ashley: And what does that mean “overage”? You’ve been paying overages. What does that mean?
Keith: Oh, sorry, so you pay…all the revenue that keeps coming in over the years, I take my fee and I pay overages. It’s an industry term for, “Hey, look I keep making money, so I keep paying you.” In this business, it has a reputation of after the first couple of years you suddenly don’t hear from the distributor, and there’s no reports and there’s no revenue and we try to just really keep…you know, if I make money I pay.
Ashley: What attracted you to this project? What was it that you thought you could ultimately sell?
Keith: It was different. It’s more of a spooky little fairy tale. I love movies that are shot in Europe because you got instant production value with all the castles. It’s hard for us to go find castles. Over there every block has one. I like the way it was shot. I like the way it was lit and it was an interesting story. So that I can go, alright, I can take this and I can market it, make it maybe a little more supernatural than it really is, give it a few more horrific elements, make it seem more fairy tale-ish and there’s a creature in there and hopefully that appeals to a pretty wide audience.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s talk about two of Justin Price’s film. I just interviewed him a couple of weeks ago as well. He did a film- The Elf and The 13th Friday, were the two films that I was talking specifically to him about. Maybe you can talk about those projects. And my understanding from talking to him was that he had kind of bounced the ideas of these films off of you ahead of time, so this is sort of an example of someone you had worked with before and were working with one of these I guess seven filmmakers that you trust.
Keith: Right, so Justin and I have worked on quite a few films together and what we do, because he…it’s hard to deliver a film on a decent budget and I think he gets pretty good production guys for his budget. So what we do is him and I just will sit around and noodle on ideas. The 13th Friday was originally like, “I wanna make a Friday the 13th movie that we can bring out on Friday the 13th but we don’t wanna call it Friday 13th just in case.” And so we came up with The 13th Friday. It has nothing to do clearly with Friday the 13th. We thought it would be kind of fun to light on the word and then I just said go out and write me a treatment and then we talked about the treatment and he writes the script and we talked about it and I tell him here’s the things that I wanna see and one of the things that Justin’s very good at, which you need to be in a low budget movie, is things have to happen early and often.
There’re no slow burns. You can’t do a slow burn. You can’t say, “Oh, hey wait till the last 10 minutes there, doozy. Some of the things got to happen right away and then every 10 pages. With the Elf we were just thinking about…because every year I try to release some Christmas horror movies. We did a couple Krampus movies in the past and I didn’t wanna go back to another Krampus movie. So we were just talking and I’m like, “You know, it’s been a long time since anybody made a killer elf movie. Let’s just do that and then we just have calls talk about it. So it’s a very collaborative effort. It’s more just like you and I sitting around having a beer or cup of coffee going what would be a cool film to make that not everybody is making.
Ashley: And so again, what kind of influences educates you on what that would be? Is it just the films you’re seeing submitted, the films you’re seeing selling or you’re talking to buyers as well and the buyers are saying, “Yeah, we love holiday horror movies, can you get some more of those?”
Keith: I would tell you and this much sounds like a cop out, but a lot of is I’ve just been doing this for so long…I don’t talk to guys. I just come up with things that I think as a buyer. Remember I’m ex-buyer. I spent 23 years buying. I just think of the things that I would have bought and as a buyer of Blockbuster and how they would have rented and how they would have done and even though Bracken Moor is gone, it’s still a movie, right. The same movie that…a cool idea 30 years ago is just still cool now on digital. There’s not like a structure and I think that’s probably why…otherwise it would be really easy and everybody would go out and just make these movies and everything would be a huge hit.
Ashley: American Exorcism is a movie I just wanted to mention briefly. Was that an example of one of the sort of you wanna trail or draft off of all of the other exorcism movies that are coming out, some bigger budget exorcism movies? Maybe you can talk a little bit…
Keith: Oh yeah, definitely. We do movies like that all year long. I did one called Ouija Exorcism and that just came because we were like, “Well exorcist movies work, Ouija movies work, why don’t we do that?” Originally we were gonna do Ouija versus Krampus but then we pooh-pooed that idea. But we did an alien kind of knock off this year. American Exorcism was… “Hey I wanna do an exorcism movie,” and we were just trying to think of different ways to make that up. We did an Amityville knock off this last summer. We’ll do our fair share of I guess we’ll call it asylum type movies. I worked with those guys earlier on at Blockbuster, so I got a history of looking at what types of things to draft off and that’s how we do it. But you’ll normally see me only go back to the well a couple of times and then I move on to something else. I just don’t wanna be the guy that made the tenth exorcist movie and that’s the one that nobody wants.
Ashley: Just out of curiosity, why did you pooh-pooh Krampus versus…what was it about that idea that didn’t work?
Keith: Well, because in general horror comedies do not work to a wide audience. And we just thought Ouija versus Krampus was starting to seem a little cheesy and so I was like, “Guys, you know let’s just find something different.”
Ashley: Camera Obscura, I interviewed Aaron Kunst a few months ago as well. I’d be curious to hear how you found that project and what was it you liked about that one.
Keith: That was actually pretty easy. It was produced by Chiller and NBC Universal puts them out on digital, but when it comes to DVD because it’s really a smaller market, they just came to me through referral and said, “We need somebody to help us with the DVD rights on this. I watched the movie and I got asked for, and so I took it out to help them sell it just the DVD. So they did their own digital and I did the DVD. I will work with a lot of vendors like that. I try to probably work with three or four like that where I just help them with their DVD.
Ashley: How about My Pet Dinosaur? I interviewed Matt Drummond last…I think it was maybe March on his film. That was kind of a cute family film, like sort of an ET type of a thing. What was it about that? How did you find that film and what was it about that that attracted you to it?
Keith: Matt’s amazing. I mean he does his effects that are like multi-million dollar effects for basically next to nothing. I saw this movie- Dinosaur Island I think five years ago, six years ago, and I just thought the effects were amazing. And he makes My Pet Dinosaur and it came…we hooked up through a referral again, and I don’t do a lot of family movies. I saw this and I’m like this is a cool family movie, the effects are great, the acting’s good and I told myself, I think I can do something with this across all platforms. He had heard the things about us and that we get a good reach and if we make money we pay everybody and so he was like, “I’ll take a chance and let’s partner on this one.”
Ashley: What is it about family movies that you say, “Well, we don’t do a lot of family movies.” Is it just the buyers that you have connections with are more into the horror movies and so you just don’t have those connections, or is there something just inherent in family movies that you think is more risky?
Keith: The family movie can be risky because one there’re so many good high-quality movies out there. There’s a lot of guys out there that already have auto deals with like Disney Channel and all the TV broadcasters so they can go out and make a higher quality film and they get it sold to TV and what have you. Find me a film even if we’d spend a couple of hundred thousand, that’s not gonna guarantee you a TV sale. Parents are fickle. Kids are fickle. You might say I got a cute little dog movie and the mum says, “I don’t like that dog,” or something on those lines. It’s not my comfort zone and that’s why if My Pet Dinosaur had just been My Pet Retriever, I probably wouldn’t have worked on it but with being Dinosaur and effects I can do more. I can really generate more revenue on that kind of a film.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s talk about Bornless Ones, that’s a movie I talked with Alex probably it’s got to be nine, ten months ago on his film. I was really impressed with his film. I really enjoyed it. That was one that I watched all the way to the end. How did you find that film and what attracted you to it?
Keith: They were working with a sales company that I’ve done probably seven or eight films with and he brought it to me first and I watched it and it kind of reminded me of Evil Dead-ish. I thought the acting was good, I thought the story was cool and the effects were great and I was like, yeah, I’d love to work on this.
Ashley: Okay. How about Anti Matter? I interviewed Keir Burrows again probably six months ago, and that was a film…you mentioned Primer earlier. That movie sort of reminded me of that. Maybe you can talk about how you found that film and…
Keith: So referral. I need to keep saying referral but again that’s why you look really hard and I try to have this reputation of I understand when I’m talking to filmmakers, I work on your film and we get it out there and if we make money we pay you, so I get a lot of referrals, but I saw that one and I was like now this is really smart. It was an extremely smart script. Anytime in this low budget world you can work with an amazing script, because you know a lot of times the scripts are lacking, I was like, I wanna be part of this. I started working with them probably a year ago December and then I met Keir at the Berlin Film Festival. Just to talk to him, meet him…I always like to meet people face to face if I could. I was like, “Look, I love your movie, [Inaudible 00:40:46] I would market. I would make it a little more Sci-Fi-ish, but I go, “And I’ll cut the trailer to be a little more action Sci-Fi-ish, but I’m like, “This is one that I have no doubt if somebody watches it, they won’t say I really enjoyed that and then they will tell a friend to watch.”
Ashley: Okay. How about All Girls Weekend by Lou Sue Simon?
Keith: I love Lou. I have worked with Lou on HazMat, All Girls Weekend and we just finalized on the latest one Free. I’m going to be helping her distribute that. We just hit it off and I try…her movies are lower budget but she’s like a Jack of all trades. I tell her, “Look I wanna be involved and hopefully I can get singles, doubles and maybe [Inaudible 00:41:34] for you.” So I guess it would be the third film I’ve worked with her on.
Ashley: How about Cold Moon by Griff Furst. That was actually a recent interview I did with him probably a month or two ago.
Keith: Griff came through a sales company that I have used quite a few times, but I called him and we just hit it off and I talked about what my strategy…I love the movie. It reminded me of Body Heat and Blood Simple but with some cool special effects. We started talking, I felt it was a good enough film to give it a 10 market theatrical release. I guess the industry term is premier-ability, so it’s theaters but digital at the same time and you get a much better placement for your movie. So we did a 10 market release form. I also include filmmakers as much or as little as they want. Griff’s a very hands-on guy, so we talked about the artwork. When I cut a new trailer we talked about that so he was very much hands on in that. We did a big premier out in LA. His father recently passed away so we did a premier where we dedicated to him. I really enjoyed working with him as a person, as well as I thought the movie was just awesome, and so it’s out there and doing pretty well.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Let’s see here…if there’s just one title, and this is kind of a general question. If there’s just one title Uncork’d Entertainment has done over the last five years that you are super proud of, like if you just wanted people to watch one movie that you’ve done over the last five years, what would that movie bee?
Keith: Oh boy, that’s like the [Inaudible 00:43:25], right? Well, I would say I got like…can I do two or three?
Ashley: Sure…two…no problem.
Keith: There’s a movie probably three years ago called Avenge. It was originally called Savage. We changed it but the production values were amazing, the story was really cool. I just really enjoyed that as…I don’t like to say especially nowadays the genre rape revenge but it was one of those types but it was just the way it was made and everything was just wonderful. We did a movie earlier on, my first [Inaudible 00:44:02] called The Dinosaur Project and that was a British Film. It was actually a combination found footage but the effects were great. That was a very solid movie. And then I would say within the last year, I would say a movie called The Hollow. If you haven’t seen that it’s a wonderful film. It’s a lot like Blood Simple or Body Heat. Miles Doleac directed that. And the Cold Moon is my other one right now.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you guys? Anything you’re comfortable sharing, a website, a twitter handle, anything. I can round up and put all that in the show notes so people can just learn more about Uncork’d.
Keith: Well now you’ve exposed me. I have twitter but I don’t run that. I don’t have time, so if you’ve dealt with Clint and his team at October Coast, they do all my PR, they help me with the twitter and all that. We have a website that I list all the time. It’s really Clint and his team doing a wonderful job with all of my PR.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, I’ll round up some of those accounts and I’ll put them in the show notes. No problem at all. So Keith, I really appreciate your time. You’ve been very generous. This was great information. I think it’s really fantastic for screen writers to hear this kind of information because ultimately screen writers have to write scripts that somebody can produce and make money on. And you’re absolutely correct, you’re like the one distributor who really does have a good reputation, so I applaud you for that. You’re literally the only one that I know of, so good on you for that.
Keith: Yeah, look it was…when I started this I was like, okay I know how bad the reputation is. How do I create a model where…I have to make money, right? We all have to make money but if I make money then the filmmaker, producer and financier are making as well. And a lot of it was just I watched the cost but I also partner with other trustworthy people. So I know the guy doing my trailer and he’s doing a good job and we just really watch it and I think being a fan and being a product guy versus just a sales guy is really helpful.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Well, Keith I wish you luck with all of these films and once again thank you for coming on and talking with me.
Keith: You’re very welcome.
Ashley: Talk to you later, bye.
Just wanna mention two things I’m doing at Selling Your Screenplay to help screen writers find producers who are looking for material. First, I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log line per newsletter. I went and I emailed my large database of producers and asked them if they would like to receive these monthly newsletter of pitches. So far I have around 400 producers who have signed up to receive it. These producers are hungry for material and happy to read scripts from new writers.
If you wanna participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers, sign up at www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. Secondly, I’ve partnered with one of the premier paid screen writing leads sites, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There’re lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material or who are looking to hire screen writers for a specific projects that they’re working on.
If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. These leads run the game from production companies looking for specific type of specs script, to producers looking to hire a screen writer to write up one of their ideas or their properties. Producers are looking for shots, features, TV and web series pilots through these leads. It’s a huge array of different types of projects that these producers are looking for and hopefully among your scripts there will be lots of matches and lots of stuff that you can submit to them. These leads are exclusive to our partner and SYS Select members. To sign up just go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Carole Kirschner who is an entertainment career strategist. She has a ton of experience in television. She created the CBS Diversities Institute Writers Mentoring Program and she helped develop the WGA show runners training programs- the curriculum for that program. She’s got a lot of great advice for people looking to break into television. So keep an eye out for that episode next year.
To wrap things up, I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Keith. The one thing I wanna be real clear at and I’m gonna talk more about this and this is gonna be kind of the focus of this final segment of the podcast. I wanna be real clear that I’m not suggesting that you just copy what other people are doing. There’s a little bit of that in Keith’s model, like what we discussed- American Exorcism, these are movies that are clearly sort of designed to piggy back on other larger movies out there that are spending a lot on marketing, that are popular and you can kind of ride those cartels. And that’s not really what I’m suggesting and I don’t even think that is necessarily what Keith would suggest to a new writer trying to break in or trying to meet a producer who’s producing movies for somebody like Keith. I think it’s more a matter of understanding the market place. The more original and the more creative you can be within certain confines, I think the better off you will be.
There’s a great line in the Blake Snyder book Save the Cat. It goes something to the effect of they want the same but different. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. It’s not a matter of just copying or doing something that’s derivative. It’s a matter of doing something that fits into a box where there’s clearly an audience for it, but doing something that is original and unique but yet still can check off these boxes, meaning that it still has an audience. I think a great example of that is Quentin Tarantino. He really goes into the genre films with a kind of a new unique angle and he’s able to give it kind of a twist. I mean, all the way back to something like Reservoir Dogs was very much a gangster film. There’ve been films sort of like that before…limited location, city guys, crimes, bank heist gone bad. Those are things we’ve seen in films for decades, but he gave it a unique and an original twist. I think that’s really the key is giving these tried and true genres. Giving them your unique and interesting twist.
Now, I got a question a couple of weeks ago from a listener and I thought that that was something that I would read here and try and answer it. I thought it really kind of made sense because…it made sense in this context of talking to Keith because I understand that a lot of people are listening to this podcast and thinking, well, I don’t wanna be a producer or director, I wanna just write and is there a place for me? Let me just quickly read this letter that I got from a listener. The listener’s email went something like this: I love your blog and I’ve learned a lot from it. Primarily what I have a learned is that you needed a ton of ambition to get your script up on the big screen. That’s definitely true. It’s gonna take a lot of hard work no matter how you go about this. It’s just gonna be very very difficult and it’s gonna take a lot of hard work.
Okay, so back to the email. My question to you however is what about us writers far away from Los Angeles who really just like to write and will be happy to sell our scripts to ambitious guys and girls like yourself and let them do their best with it. I’m beginning to feel like that unless I’m willing to run my scripts all the way to the end zone I shouldn’t even be playing. I’m retired and really don’t want to learn how to produce, direct or be a talent negotiator at this stage of my life. Is script writing only considered old school now and there still a market place interested in buying scripts from writers like myself? We’d love your quick thoughts on this. I think my answer to him and I’ll kind of read through my response to him. The first thing I wanna state, and I state this a lot and I wanna be super clear. Nothing in the entertainment industry is written in stone. There’s nothing that there’s like only one way to do it. And if someone ever tells you this is the only one way to do it, you that person doesn’t know what they’re talking about and you kind of wanna turn away and probably take advice from someone else.
So please keep that in mind. Any advice that I give you, it’s not the single only way to do it. It’s just one subtle…there’s a lot of subtlety and nuance to these questions and to these answers. And these are just my opinion and is just my opinion at this particular moment in time. You ask me in another week, you ask me another year, I might totally change my mind. I mean, everything is evolving and changing and again there’s no one way to skin a cat. There’s no one way to be successful in this business. So let’s start with the question is, is it old school to be writing and selling scripts? I’d say absolutely not. You can still sell spec scripts. It’s happening all the time. I’ve sold spec scripts over the course of my career, I’ve known lots of screen writers who have sold spec scripts. So if that’s truly your mission and that’s how you feel your talents are best utilized, there’s definitely no shame in that. That’s definitely a way to go about a career in the entertainment industry—writing spec scripts and trying to sell them.
My big problem with that and as I said I’ve done that over the course of my career. I’ve sold numerous of spec scripts. Many of them have been produced. You can look me up on IMDB to check all those out. But my big frustration with that process has just been the lack of creative control with those projects. When you sell a spec script to a director or a producer, they’re the ones who have the money and ultimately they’re the ones that are gonna make the decisions and so it just always felt a little bit creatively unfulfilling when I’ve done that, and that was a big part of my reasoning for going out and doing The Pinch. It was I wanted to be the director and the producer and the one ultimately raising the money. Raising the money is the hardest part but I wanted to be the person that did that for my film The Pinch because ultimately it’s the person that raises the money is the person that gets to make the decisions. And that’s as it should be. When money is on the line, someone is responsible for that money and someone ultimately has to try and make that money back. So it’s that person that raises the money that ultimately has final say in this business and that’s again as it should be.
But that has been my big frustration with writing the spec script, selling it and then watching it on the big screen and just barely even resembling what I had envisioned as a filmmaker or as a writer. It’s barely what I had envisioned what ends up showing up on screen. So again I found that process to be a ton of work. It’s a lot of work and a lot of effort and is the fruit of that effort and work worth the final result? That’s something only you can answer. Only you can go through the process and you can decide for yourself if that’s worth it for you. So for me, I’m pretty organized and a lot of what I do, running this podcast and running the websites that I run, it’s similar to producing. I’m managing people, organizing people, keeping things on task, keeping things on calendar. A lot of those things that I do in my daily day to day work life I think are very applicable to being a producer. Just staying organized and getting people organized and managing people.
For me it was not a difficult transition to try and do some actual producing on a film. But that might not be your situation. You might just have absolutely no interest in that. Again, that’s totally fine. But ultimately I do think you’re gonna have to really go through this process and figure out what that’s like, sell a couple spec scripts, option a couple spec scripts and see how those turn out. That’s one of the reasons why I keep going back to this about short films. The reason I’m so bullish on short films is that they’re easy to write, they’re fairly easy to get produced and so you can go through this entire process of taking a script, and no you’re not gonna make a lot of money off it. But if you write a half way Disney short film, half way aggressive marketing it, I feel reasonably confident that you can find a director, a producer and maybe even an actor who will be willing to go and produce this short film for you, and then you can get through the whole process and you can start to figure out for yourself.
I enjoyed the process for this but I was a little disappointed in how the film turned out. Or maybe you’re happy with how the film turned out. Maybe you find a good collaborator. Maybe you find that director who you work well with and he understands your vision and he’s able to translate what you write under the screen and you’re happy with that relationship. But you can only find those relationships and you can only get into those positions where you understand what you like by actually doing it. You’re not gonna be able to listen to a podcast and understand that. I’d say that’s kind of the long and the short of it. Can you still sell spec scripts? Absolutely. That’s a large part of what I’m still trying to do as a screen writer and certainly a large part of what I’m trying to do here at sellingyourscreenplay.com. I’m not offering services to learn how to be a producer. I’m offering services so that screen writers can potentially meet producers, network with producers, get their scripts in the hands of producers. It definitely is still a part of my strategy and I definitely think it’s still should be a part of any writer’s strategy. But again, is it worth the effort. That’s something you’re gonna have to go through the process to really know if it’s worth the effort for you.
This kind of leads me back to my own career and what I’ve been working on this year. I wanna take a minute to just talk about that. This is gonna be the last episode of the year. The next episode is gonna be I think January 2nd or January 1st. That first week of January I’ll put out the next episode but this will be the last episode this year. I thought it would be a good time to just run over what else I’ve done this year aside from The Pinch, what else I’ve got writing why. So let me just run through that. And I’ve talked about many of these options and just the different things that some of the different writing projects that I’ve been working on. Hopefully this will kind of bring people up to speed. I still have two options that are still out there and active. One is my contained female-driven thriller. I’ve talked about that script numerous times. I’ve optioned it. The current producer that has it optioned is the third producer that’s optioned the script just since I’ve been doing the podcast.
It was one of the first options. It was another producer but it was the same script. It was one of the first options I ever talked about right when I started the podcast within the first few months of doing the podcast. I think that producer had the script for a year or so and then the next producer had the script for a year or so and now this producer who I actually met on InkTip, she has had the script I think since March, so I think she’s got another couple of months. She is working hard on the script and she actually sent me a text yesterday, so I’ll hopefully talk to her on the phone today. She’s definitely working hard trying to get the script going. I have high hopes for that. It’s always tough to raise money as I said, but I do have high hopes with that one. The other option I still have active is my baseball comedy. This is another one I’ve been talking about pretty much since I started the podcast.
I met this producer through my own email on Facts Plus. I met him before the podcast even started. He’s optioned the script and I think the option has lapsed for six months and he’s come back and re-optioned the script and I think he’s got the script optioned through the end of this year and I think even into January. My guess is he will re-option it again because he had a couple of things he was working on. That’s the options that I currently have. Again I’ve mentioned numerous options in the podcast and if I mention them you can assume now that they’ve pretty much elapsed without going anywhere because these are the only two at least to look at my board of scripts and options. These are the only two that I think I currently have active. I’ve talked about the last over the summer and into the fall, I talked about the two TV pilots that I wrote for a producer. It was the same producer’s two TV pilots.
One of them sort of thriller and I don’t think that one is going anywhere, at least not with me involved. The producer, and he had another partner on that project, I don’t think they were crazy about the pilot that I came up with that. And they are re-working that one. Maybe I’ll hear from them on that one again, maybe I won’t. I’m not sure. The other one is a kids TV show and I talked to this producer last week and he’s still out there. He’s got a couple of angles to play on that. Who knows, maybe he’ll be able to get that one going here in the early part of next year as well. Again, I have high hopes for that one. It will be a great project. I would love to see that one go just because it will be something that I could take my kids and they can watch it and that will be super fun just to have a nice, fun family show that I have written and can actually show my family as opposed to The Pinch, which has a lot of foul language and violence and it’s certainly not something you’d wanna show your kids.
And the last thing I wanted to mention, in the fall I think of 2015 on the podcast I talk about two writing assignments that I did pretty much back to back. One of them I think fell through. I did do the writing assignment, they paid me but I don’t think that script will ever get produced. The other one the script did get produced and I think it’s coming out in 2018. It’s called Snake Outta Compton, it is a spoof. It’s nice to see that one finally move along. I haven’t seen a cut of the film so I honestly have no idea how it turned out. The trailer looked pretty funny so again I have high hopes for that one. Hopefully it turned out well and they did a good job on it. But I think that pretty much wraps up what I have going film wise sitting here at the end of 2017.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.