This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 218: Writer/Director Roland Joffe Talks About His New Film, The Forgiven Starring Forest Whitaker.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #218 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer and director Roland Joffe. He’s done films like The Killing Fields, The Mission and the Paul Newman film Fat Man and Little Boy. He just finished a new film starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana called The Forgiven. We talk about that film and how he got his start in the business and how he got his first directing gig directing the film The Killing Fields. Stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode viable, please help me out by giving me a review on 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 or 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 show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #218. 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 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 query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing director and writer Roland Joffe. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Roland to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Roland: Hey, yeah well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here.
Ashley: To start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Roland: I grew up in England long ago than I care to remember. Probably long before most of your listeners probably. To be strictly truthful which I guess I shouldn’t be, I ended up in the entertainment industry because I wasn’t much good at anything else. It never really occurred to me when I was younger I’ll have to earn a living. At one point because I could draw and paint, somebody suggested that I go and work for a small theater company as a designer and I thought that was a good idea so I did and I started designing things. One day when I was designing a set for Jane Eyre I think it was, the producer walked in and he said, “I like that Jane Eyre set.” I said, “Good.”
He said, “Well, how long would it take you to paint out and turn it into a country cottage?” I said, “Why would I do that?” He said, “Because you’re in the theater, dope, and in the theater things change.” He said, “So we’re not doing Jane Eyre anymore, we’re going to do Love In a Mist which is set in a country cottage, not in a large house in the country. So by tomorrow please I’d like a country cottage.” That was rather a shock but I decided, well, I better have a go and try and do it. And as he was leaving he turned looked at me and said, “By the way, you said you went to university, didn’t you?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “So you can read and write, can’t you?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Good, so I’d like you to direct it as well because we don’t have a director and we’re opening in two days. Goodbye.”
So I found myself repainting the set, learning the lines because I was a director in it and directing it and for some reason if I can’t quite understand it sort of landed me another directing job and that landed me another one and before I knew it I seemed to have become a director. That’s the long and short of it.
Ashley: Okay, sure. So was there some transition from directing plays to directing television?
Roland: Yes. What was happening in those days, which was sort of the ‘70s, television companies were looking for new directors and they were running schemes for people who wanted to be directors or worked in the theater or whatever it was or in other things actually. Or camera men who wanted to become and directors. So I got asked to go to Granada Television where they were doing courses. Mike Apted, Mike Noll and various other directors were not in my year, I think they were certainly before me but were all on that course. That gradually took me into television and doing TV series and things like that. So before I knew it I became a television director and then suddenly the Killing Field was popped up and before I knew it I became a film director. I’m still not quite sure how that happened or even whether I deserved it. Probably not.
Ashley: Yeah, and then I wonder if you could just talk for a minute about that transition from directing television to directing the Killing Fields. How did all that transpire? Did you have an agent, he got you on the project, you just were at the right place at the right time?
Roland: What happened was a bit more organic than that actually. What happened was that I just finished doing a big TV film which was sort of a film big enough to go to over two nights I think for the BBC. Colin Welland was playing a police chief in it. Colin Welland had just been in a film called Chariots of Fire produced by a wonderful producer called David Puttnam. He obviously mentioned to David Puttnam that he’d really enjoyed working with me because I [inaudible 00:05:28] I didn’t know and there was a very big producer at the time saying would I read the script. I said, “Of course I would.” I read the script written by Bruce Robinson which was a sort of 180 page version of the Killing Fields and I wrote David a letter about it.
Basically what I said was this is a really remarkable screenplay and it’s quite an extraordinary story, horrific story, and the more horrific was this true but it could easily be a war movie like any other. But there is something else here, it’s also a story about friendship and a story about loyalty. That story of friendship and loyalty has to be set against the wall because it will redeem this film and stop it being just another war movie and make it a movie truly about what it is to be a human being in all its darkness and its richness. And I would send that letter off and then I never heard about it again, but a year later David called me back into his office and sat me down and said, “You wrote me a letter?” I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Do you remember what was in the letter?” And I did. He said, “Can you quote it?” And I said, “Yes,” and I quoted it. And he said, “Good. Well, I’ve been all around the world and I’ve talked to many directors but I never found anybody who’s really understood the film, so I want you to direct it.” I said, “Well, but David, I’ve never directed a feature film.” And he just looked at me and said, “I’m not asking you how you’re going to do it, I’m saying do you want to?” I said, “Yes, I absolutely do.” He said, “Good, well start! Go on, get down the office and get to work.” That’s kind of how it happened. It’s a shorter version but that’s how it happened.
Ashley: Yeah, now that’s a fantastic story. So let’s dig into your latest film The Forgiven starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a log line. What is this story all about?
Roland: This story is both personal and political in a sense, and social I guess you would say. It’s a story about redemption, it’s a story about compassion and forgiveness and its set in South Africa just at the time that Nelson Mandela had become president when there was great fear that the country could descend into civil war. Both sides were demonizing each other, there was tremendous fear and suspicion and Mandela and Tutu between them worked on the idea that there should be a Truth and Reconciliation C ommission. In other words what they said was, “We can’t go on living under the [inaudible 00:07:54] of just hatred. On the other hand we can’t forgive unless we know.
We have to openly, publicly discuss what has happened and if people can openly confess and admit and ask for redemption for what they did, we will offer them a chance to rejoin society by giving them forgiveness if that’s possible and if they can earn it. And that’s a remarkable period in human history, but is also extremely relevant. It’s very relevant to what is going on in America today, it’s very relevant across many cultures in terms of our histories and how we deal with our history. Remember that history is not dead even though we might not learn about it in school we live out our history every day. Every thought that we have, every family aspect that we have, all our culture, the streets we walk down, everything is the results of our history and much the same way is what we do will be our children’s history.
So if that’s not addressed honestly what can happen is that the history perverts people from the true richness that they can live and sets them one against the other and that creates an even worse history. So there has to be a time when truth, open-eyed, compassionate telling of the truth and admitting what’s happened historically can be the only way to take in what all good Hollywood movies are about which is the idea that maybe an advance towards a better future. A more loving, more compassionate and more human future than sometimes seems possible.
Ashley: Yeah. How did you get involved with this project?
Roland: Well, I went to see a play. I was invited by a producer to actually go and see a play written by Michael Ashton which was called The Archbishop and The Anti-Christ. There was something in it that really attracted me, the idea that Tutu was in it and the culture of Blomfield. The idea that these two cultures in a weird way were one human being or rather also separate human beings because each one was an aspect of the other. That kind of intrigued me. And then I began to think about the importance of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission not in political terms but in social terms. I was watching television and then I saw an extraordinary interview on CNN with a woman in Rwanda who’d survived the Rwandan Tutsi/Hutu genocide and she’d lost most of her family.
The interview was in a small hut in the village with [inaudible 00:10:39] says “This is Mrs. X and she lost her three children and her husband in the recent Rwandan Hutu/Tutsi massacres.” The interviewer was blonde…some blue-eyed American woman goes a little panicky and the camera turns across and she says, “And this young man is the person who killed her family.” Then the interviewer turns back to this farmer’s wife and says, “How? How on earth can you do that, how can you forgive the killer of your family?” And the woman said something that really, really struck me. And she’s not an educated woman at all. She said, “I loved my children more than my life, I loved my husband as much as my life. I’m I to turn that love into an act of hate? No, that would be a second killing of my husband who I loved and my children who I loved.
No, I must use their love for me and my love for them to show him love so that I honor that love by making him see what he doesn’t have, what he has taken and how he can earn it. In that way I use their love to do good and honor their love and that’s what I want to do. That’s why I forgive him. And then she said forgiveness was a process. I was so struck by that because this wasn’t a psychiatrist talking, this wasn’t an educated person, this was innate human wisdom. Then about a week after that by fluke I was also watching CNN again and they had an interview with a middle-aged Palestinian who just lost his daughter maybe a year before to a tank…a bulldozer I think knocked a wall down and killed his daughter.
His response to that was to start a society for promoting friendship between Palestinians and Israelis. His reason was remarkable. What he said was, “I understand hate. I lost my daughter to hate, I lost love to hate. Do you think I want to spread more hate when I understand what the pain of it is? No! The only way I can honor my daughter, the only way I can make any sense of my daughter’s life is to use her memory to promote love and to promote forgiveness and compassion. Both of those were simple people, ordinary people. And that determined to me that I wanted to make a film about ordinary people in that situation and well as about Tutu and Blomfield who of course some of that situation. Those are the reasons that drove me to want to make this film.
Ashley: Okay, and so then let’s dig in a little bit to the development process. Is this screenplay somewhat based on that play that you saw? I’m not familiar with the play that you mentioned.
Roland: Yes, the play is called The Archbishop and The Anti-Christ. The film is based on it to the extent that the character of Desmond Tutu and the character of Blomfield both grew out of that play. What we did in turning it into a film Michael and I was to explore the whole Pollsmoor situation, that’s the maximum security prison, the gangs, how the gangs operate in prison because the prison’s the perfect metaphor for what apartheid South Africa was like in many respects. It explored the character of Mrs. Murobe who’s not actually in the play and the way in which those things aren’t seen on television could then be built into the film. You could say that the film grew with the play whilst keeping that conflict between the two which I find absolutely fascinating and very visual actually and dramatic [inaudible 00:14:22] set in the wider context which is what film can do.
Ashley: Yeah, and I’m curious, and this is sort of a general question. So you were going through this process, you realized there’s something just sort of fundamental artistic that you’re interested in exploring here. How much does the business side play into this decision? Did you go to some producers that you know and say, “What about a film like this, do you think we could get this financed?” Or was it just more of like this is what you wanted to do and so let’s go and see what we can do with the script and then take it that step?
Roland: Well, it was more of the latter really. I obviously tried the idea in front of a couple of people and very quickly realized that this was gonna be an uphill journey because the way the movie industry is going is independent features are notoriously difficult to set up and you have to find a cast and you can’t find a cast unless you’ve got a screenplay, so you can get into a chicken and eggs situation. I decided anyway to do it was to take the risk, develop the screenplay to a point where I thought I could show it to directors and then take it from there. I didn’t feel that I would get a producer if I just took the idea around. And then my manager Craig Baumgarten is a great guy. As I began developing this he sort of came on board as one of the producers and we sort of grew with the project together.
Ashley: Okay, and just to kind of get a sense of the scope of you and what you do in your day to day life, how many other projects are like this? I feel like a lot of people come into the film business and they’re looking at the successes and not realizing that a lot of times there’s a lot of failures. Do you have a number of projects like this that you tried to develop and this is the one that go or you were just super passionate about this one and put all your energy into this one project?
Roland: It’s a little bit of both. I felt this was one that I had to put all my energy in in terms of the screenplay. In other words I said, “Okay, I’m gonna dedicate X amount of time to writing the screenplay and working with Michael Ashton and developing this to the stages that I think it’s right to a stage where I think I can show it to people. Once I got it to that stage I felt well, I have the horse, the horse is groomed, it has no racecourse to run on yet but the horse is there. All I have to do is keep feeding it. So at that stage I was also working on other projects because like everyone else I need to live, but I could then always be carrying the screenplay around with me and testing opportunities and particularly starting to look for actors who might help to make it real because that’s also a part of it.
I think it was probably about six or seven months after I had written it I was at a film festival in Morocco and there was Forest Whitaker. I’ve always admired Forest both for his acting ability but also for his compassion as a human being. I knew that he runs a non-governmental organization that deals with…a foundation that deals with conflict resolution. I knew he was socially engaged so I tried my arm and I said, “Look Forest, I know everybody says this to you, but I got a screenplay I’d love you to read it. He is very open and he said, “No, by all means do that.” And he did read it and he liked it and he stuck with it for eight years although we were constantly almost gonna get it going, nearly had the money and this is the way things go.
But he stuck with it so I had those component parts. I had the screenplay I had the actor and I had the director since I was gonna direct it. So we [inaudible 00:17:56] to keep going and bit by bit by bit you begin to find more chances. We found a bit of a chance financing [inaudible 00:18:03] to go to Eric Bana and Eric brought some…you know, because of who he is brought a certain amount of financing as well and you just piece the thing together. It took eight year, so it’s a long process.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. And I’m curious about your relationship with Forest. Did he know who you were as you came up to him? Were you somehow involved with this film festival so when you came up he knew who you were or did he not know who you were?
Roland: That’s a good question. I think he knew who I was. Maybe didn’t, but I think he did…
Ashley: The reason I asked is because I get screenwriters all the time saying, “How can I approach this actor?” And obviously you’re in a different situation than many of the screenwriters listening to this podcast. But I’d be curious to get your take on maybe talk about that conversation, talk about pitching to a professional like Forest and how you go about handling that situation and not feeling weird or creepy or anything like that.
Roland: Well, it’s a difficult one. Of course it is. There’s nothing worse in some ways if you’re a director or an actor to be taking your driving test and the driving instructor suddenly turns around and says, “Hey, by the way I’ve got a screenplay,” because of course that’s eating up time. The fact is that how many screenplays can you read? Of course one wants to be polite. So I think the…probably the way to do it is to research quite carefully what the actors’ interests are, where their chemistry lies if you like, and then find a way of bringing that up first. So one will probably say, “Look, I know you’re interested in X,” and let the conversation go along that path a little bit, so the actor isn’t feeling, “Oh my God, someone’s gonna land me with something, but that you can encourage a bit of an open discussion.
Then at a certain point if what he’s saying feels like he’d be interested in this aspect of my screenplay, then I think you’re probably free to risk it and say, “Look, by the way you know obviously you really love this etc. and I’ve got something I’d love you to read.” Then you just have to kind of just beg fate to be on your side. But I would spend a lot of time researching who the actor is and what he or she likes so that when you do say something if you get that opportunity you’re talking about that as opposed to, “’Ooh, I have a screenplay.” I think that’s probably a better approach. No guarantees.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. You wrote this with Michael Ashton. Maybe you can talk about that process a little bit. It sounds like you had the idea and then you brought him into the project. Was there some pre-existing relationship you had with him before this?
Roland: Well, Michael Ashton had written the play and the play was The Archbishop and The Anti-Christ. The character of Tutu and Blomfield and the main lines of the debate if you like was already drawn, but this was a small stage play and it needed growing. So Michael and I talked about it and the way I like to work I like to say in that [inaudible 00:21:28] “Okay, let me take a stab of what I think should be brought into it so I’m free to do that. And then I’ll show it to you and then we’ll get backs and forwards.” And that’s kind of what happened. I said to Michael, “Let me look around and search in me the things I think we need and I began researching, I began to research the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, what it was all about.
I read a lot, I read a tremendous amount about people being involved in the security forces, I read as many books as I could. There’s one of the books on the subject and notably I think Land of My Skull by Antjie Krog. It was a wonderful book. I read all of that, I researched the Prison Pollsmoor, I researched gun culture and then I kind of did a stab which brought all that into the screenplay and then sent that to Michael and said how about this, how about that and we talked about that and that’s basically how it worked. I felt that at that stage I needed to bring the film side in relatively freely. The process can be different. It depends on the writer and it depends on many things but that’s an interesting way of doing it.
Ashley: Did you get a formal option for the movie rights on his play or was it just more conversation and…
Ashley: Okay, so you had that stuff buttoned up.
Roland: I don’t know but I decided earlier on that…we did it together. We created a joined option we both owned. So we set up a company, we both owned it. I said, “Look, I will…” an earlier producing partner we had sort of couldn’t stay the course or at least so we decided we were going on out own and make this work the two of us.
Ashley: Yeah, and how long did this writing process where you guys were bouncing the script back and forth, how long of a process was that?
Roland: Well, you could say it was eight years or you could say it was probably eight weeks. I would think it was around eight weeks because I was under pressure because I had other things coming up. So the gestation period, you know, my learning curve beginning to work out what I think we needed all that sort of stuff and then taking that first stab and showing that to Michael. That was probably about eight weeks and then after that in bits and pieces as we were going backs and forwards things would keep growing and mutating.
Ashley: Maybe you can just talk just briefly about what kind of stuff you have to add. I mean, you’ve got a stage play, so I would think that there’s a lot of dialogue that maybe you’re gonna use for the screenplay. But maybe you can just talk specifically about what are some of the things, just the visual elements or the more movie type things that you had to add to the play.
Roland: Well, a stage play basically is just concentrating on character and the setting is not really that important, but a film works in a very different way because a film has to be set somewhere and that’s also its strength. So obviously what began to fascinate me was well, in what world did these characters live? What was the real world? And if you like the film imported the real world into the play, in the play the gangs don’t exist. They’re not part of the story. In my story then in our version of the story they’re very, very important and play a very important role in Blomfield’s kind of partial capitulation in a way, which is what it is. It’s only partial. But the way in which he feels the connection to Benjamin, that’s very important. That’s something to use in the film and not in the play.
Ashley: As we wrap up I just wanna ask some general questions. What is some advice you would have to writers that are seeking to break into the business and I would say even we could put that in terms of you being an established director. I get a lot of screenwriters coming to me and they’re saying, “How can I approach such and such a director?” What do you look for in a script that really gets you excited when you read some material?
Roland: I think probably most of all just for me I would say does it take the audience on a journey, then however painful has a resolution that offers a sense of change? In other words does the story tell me that actually human beings are not fixed entities that are robotic, but they’re human beings no matter what their history, no matter what they are engaged with are works in progress, because I think that’s what people want to watch. So for me that’s what I look for in a screenplay. Not necessarily that has happy ends. I don’t mean that, but I mean that in the process of watching the story we’re watching people go through a process in which they’re changing, adapting, bumping into obstacles whatever it is, but there is a sense of evolution if you like. That’s kind of what I would look for as the most important bone.
Then with it that I’ll be looking at what is the genre. Is this political, is this criminal, is this family? In what area this is actually happening and in what way? And then one then begins to look at things [inaudible 00:26:49] what are the characters, how are the characters working, how well do they work with each other, how do they work with this evolving process, what’s their dialogue, how are the scenes, is each scene of its own capable of standing up on its own? Is each scene a mini-movie of its own? In other words could I just watch a scene and I’d be engaged? So the scene is the scene isn’t just moving you from A to B, it’s of itself is full of interest and yet there’s flow and thrust to the story. I think those are the things I’d look for.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Sound advice, I appreciate that. I just like to wrap up the interviews, is there anything recently that you’ve seen, TV or film wise that you highly recommend to our listeners?
Roland: Wow, that’s a very difficult one. Probably I’m blanking on names, probably what I would recommend is actually directed and produced by my son. It’s called Tin Star with Tim Roth and it’s a really fascinating story about a flawed cop. An extremely flawed cop, and it’s about how being flawed affects everybody’s lives around you. It’s a really, really interesting and rich story I think.
Ashley: How can people see The Forgiven? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Roland: Yeah, it’s open in Los Angeles and New York. It plays [inaudible 00:28:29] I think in Los Angeles. I’m not quite sure where it plays in New York and then I think it goes wider a week or two weeks later. So certainly in LA it will be at the [inaudible 00:28:39] Theater and I think also Santa Monica Boulevard.
Ashley: Perfect, I’ll mark that down. And just to wrap things up, how can people keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes, but you can just mention that now as well.
Roland: Well, we have an Instagram which is @theforgivenmovie. That will have news and things about the film and various other things attached to it.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I’ll get that and put that in the show notes. Roland I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film.
Roland: Thank you so much, you too. Take care.
Ashley: Thank you, talk to you later.
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So last week I mentioned that this week I was gonna have Austin Ramsay and his director brother Julius Ramsay on the podcast. I had to pump that back to get Roland into this episode. His movie is coming out very shortly and so we wanted that one to air. So the Austin Ramsay, Julius Ramsay interview, that will be published on April 2nd. Next week I’ll be talking with Kimble Rendall who just wrote and directed the film Guardians of the Tomb starring Kelsey Grammer. We talk about his latest film and of course how he broke into the business, so keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Roland. I think that’s a great story about how he got his start in the business. Just being on set, painting the backgrounds at a small theater and then getting the chance to direct that play. I’ve talked about this before many, many times in the podcast but I think it’s worth repeating here. By far the single biggest way that people break into the business as a screenwriter is by working in the industry in some capacity beforehand. You’re around other likeminded people, you’re exposed to professional level writing, so you really see what works, what’s getting produced, what’s getting on stage. You’re seeing how people are reacting to stuff, how are the actors reacting to material, how are the producers reacting to material.
Just being around the business really in any capacity. You start to get very good at sort of understanding why these projects make it to the points that they make it to, and that’s just invaluable knowledge. Aside from all the networking opportunities finding these fluky opportunities that Roland mentioned above, even a job painting sets and then off, off, off Broadway Theater is a step in the right direction. There’s so many advantages to being in the industry in some capacity that I think is really worth noting. Talking to the different producers, writers, directors that come to this podcast, so many of them got their start in some similar fashion, being in the business, being around other people that are in the business and getting a break from that.
Keep in mind too, this doesn’t have to be as clear cut as getting like a low level job in the business, being a PA, fetching coffee for people. It doesn’t always have to be like that. If you’re young and you have no commitments then by all means, pack up your things, move to LA, get one of these entry level jobs. But I know a lot of people who listen to this podcast aren’t in a position to do this. I don’t think you necessarily have to get a job as a PA fetching coffee to break in to the business. There’s a lot of other ways to doing this. When I started this podcast one of my objectives to this podcast was networking with other writers and potentially directors and producers.
One of the directors/producers that I’ve had on the show has hired me to write a screenplay for him. So I know that that’s like a tangible example of this actually working but there’s been many opportunities through this podcast where I’ve gotten to know other writers, gotten to know other producers and it’s really helped me as just part of my own screenwriting career. It’s been very, very, very beneficial. Again, this is something I just started on my own, no one gave me permission to start a podcast. It’s just something I went out and did. So maybe there’s something like that that you can do. Maybe you can start a podcast, maybe you can start some sort of a YouTube channel. There’s a lot of ideas.
I had a writer named David Garret on the show, episode number 81 if you wanna go back and check that out. He is a lawyer and a screenwriter and one of the things he did to get to know people in the entertainment industry was offer his legal help and advice for free or for greatly reduced pricing. And it worked. He’s got a long list of produced credits. Check him out on IMDb. David Garret is his name. He’s written some big studio movies, he’s written a bunch of smaller stuff as well but again all of this stuff, if you go back and listen to the interview, a lot of the stuff really stems from him just networking with people and by offering his legal services. Everybody needs legal services in this business. So that’s a great angle to approach it.
Again, it’s not about standing out as a low level PA fetching people’s coffee. He got in on a slightly higher level. That’s fine. You might have some skills like that, accounting skills, bookkeeping skills, legal skills. There’s a number of skills that people in the business probably need and you might be able to offer those skills to get to know them. You could start doing a short film. You could start producing short films on the weekend. You’d get to know people in your area who are trying to do similar things to what you’re doing. Again, you’re going out, if you cast a short film you’ll definitely get to know some actors. You’re networking with those actors.
Some of those actors will be serious, some of them won’t. Some of them will advance in their careers, some of them won’t but you can start to become friends with them and as their careers advances maybe your career can advance with them. Again, fantastic networking opportunity. They’ll also be crew people. Same situation. A cinematographer, maybe a sound guy. All these people you will get to know, some of them you will click with and you’ll become friends with. That’s just networking opportunities in your local area. You could start a local film festival in your local area and you can meet all the filmmakers who come thorough that festival.
That’s a great opportunity just to constantly get out there, meet people. It’s something you would do annually so if you have a fulltime job it’s something you might be able to do. Maybe there’s a slow time in your job, maybe if you’re an accountant your slow period is in the fall after all the tax returns have been filed. So maybe you have some more free time in the fall and you could do a film festival. Again, every filmmaker that came through that festival, if you screen even a dozen films a year you would get to know those directors, those producers and, “Oh, by the way, I’m a screenwriter and what kind of material are you looking for?” That’s a way of bringing people to you, networking, getting to know people.
There’s really just a million ways to engineer these types of opportunities but it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. This opportunity that Roland is talking about, when he describes it, it feels sort of very fluky and you don’t know when those specific opportunities are gonna come to you. If you just put yourself around these people, that’s how you’re gonna engineer those opportunities, is by just being in the right place at the right time, so when something like that comes along you’re the one that’s there. You’re the person that maybe this person that maybe this person calls on to go and, “Oh, we need a little short play written. Maybe you could go and write us a little short play and maybe you could get something produced locally on the theater.”
There’s just a million opportunities. You just got to think outside the box and think about how you can make this work for you. One other thing that I wanna mention and this kind of is going a little bit of a different direction but it relates to what I just was discussing. Whenever I give this sort of advice I always get a bunch of emails from people saying something to the tune of, “Wow, this sounds great. I know this is a great or potentially a good strategy, but you have so much energy and I just don’t have the energy to do all of this. All I really wanna do is write.” That’s totally fine. I think that there’s definitely a path for writing but I still think networking is a big part of it. I still think getting out there and meeting people is gonna be a big part of it.
Even if you don’t wanna produce and direct your stuff, running a film festival would be a great way to meet producers. All the producers are gonna come through that festival with those films and you’re gonna get to meet the producers that are making independent film. Those are exactly the type of people you wanna meet. So again, doing something like this, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about me producing the film or you producing your own film. I think there’s a path for just writing, but I think networking is definitely a big piece of that. The second part of that, and this is very much in line with what I was discussing. But maybe it’s a little bit of a new direction in the conversation, is I don’t always feel like I’ve got a lot of energy. This isn’t easy for me either.
Many mornings I get up, I’m tired, I don’t feel like going out and doing this. It’s a constant battle just to get out there, keep working away, working on selling your screenplay, working on my own writing, working on projects with producers who I don’t really think is ever gonna go anywhere. I mean, these things can be very demoralizing. Doing The Pinch, not getting into the film festivals that I wanna get into, not having this kind of success with the film that maybe I wanted to have. And that’s all part of the process, but we’ve just got to keep going. I basically believe in the process and I believe in what I’m doing and so that helps me to keep focused and to stay going. But please do realize that it’s not easy for me either.
It’s tough figuring out all these different things with the podcast. When I started the podcast I didn’t know anything about it. Podium never created any real audio content like this. But I just went out there and made it happen. Same thing with The Pinch. Starting it wasn’t easy, finishing it wasn’t easy and now that it’s basically done I know I really need to get out there and start to do it all over again and I’m tired and I’m dragging my feet because I know it’s a ton of work. I’ve got to get out there, do another Kickstarter campaign. That was brutally hard work for a month as well. I’ve got to go and polish up the screenplay and really get it ready for production. We’ve been reading through some of my old scripts, some of the scripts I have written and thinking, “Is this something I could do on a micro budget?”
Producing is a lot of work. It was very stressful those months living up to the production, making sure everything was in place, the crew, the cast, the locations, it’s a ton of work. It was not easy. And post production, do not even mention that, post production for a year and a half. It literally took me a year and a half to get through post production. None of it is easy. Then you get to the end of it and it doesn’t even really generate the kind of success that you want. That’s why I share all of the successes and failures of The Pinch. I hope that you see that it’s not all about just easily doing something and then having great success with it. I do think that there’s some things with The Pinch that have been a great success.
I enjoyed the process and overall I enjoyed the process and I think as an artist there’s a certain creative fulfilment that I got out of it. So there are things that I got out of it. The networking opportunities, I met a lot of cool people doing it. So even if The Pinch never goes any further that it’s gotten now, I will look back on it as a success. I think it’s important to realize that these things don’t have to just take off to the moon. They don’t have to just want you to [inaudible 00:42:08] to still have value and to get success out of it. But it’s hard and please don’t realize I come on the podcast every week and try and put a positive spin on things. I’m not gonna get on this podcast and just bitch, but it’s not easy for me and it is a lot of work and I get demoralized just like everybody else.
I became really aware of this a couple of weeks ago when I published the interview with Alex Ferrari, because I look at him and think, “Wow, this guy’s got a lot of energy. That’s episode 210 if you wanna go back and check it out. But after that interview published, I get a bunch of emails from people that were similar to these ones that I just about that I’ve been getting where they were saying, “Wow, both of you guys have so much energy.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s surprising,” because I look at Alex and think, I mean, he’s much more energetic than me. He is pushing out a ton more content for his Indie Film Hustle than I’m doing for Selling Your Screenplay. It just seems like he’s doing a lot more stuff.
He did his feature film from start to back like five months. What took me like two years, he did it in five months. So I’m looking at this guy and thinking, “Wow, he’s just got a ton more energy than I do.” So it was surprising to me that someone put me in that same class. But I kind of realized that we’re all probably looking at everybody else thinking everyone else is in better shape than us or feels better or has more energy than us. I can pretty much guarantee you that Alex has days where he’s tired and he doesn’t feel like doing it either, but again, he believes in what he’s doing and so he just keeps putting it out. That’s really all I do as well. I’m sure it’s not always as easy for Alex as other peers.
Just really one last story. I do the YMCA adventure guides with my oldest daughter. The highlight of the group is this three camping trips per year. So it’s me, my daughter and then nine other dads and their daughters. We go camping say about two or three times a year. I was hanging out with one of the fathers at one of the camping trips and we were talking about me being a screenwriter and he says something to the effect of, “Yeah, I know I’m not a writer and I could never write a screenplay.” And I thought about that and I thought it was a funny thing for him to say because honestly I feel the exact same way. I never really felt like I was a writer. The only difference is I just don’t let it stop me. That’s the difference between us.
This guy is a very successful sales guy. He sells financial services. Probably the most successful person just objectively looking at it. Probably the most successful person in the group. He’s smart, personable, he’s got a great sense of humor. So I’m sitting here thinking, he could probably write a better script than me. He’s probably smatter and funnier than I am. But why doesn’t he write a script or why couldn’t he write a great screenplay? It’s because he doesn’t think he can. Now maybe there’s a motivation thing, he doesn’t wanna do it and that’s totally fine if he’s not into doing it, but the reason he’s not writing screenplays or writing good screenplays, it’s not because he’s not a writer. God went to him and said, ‘You’re not a writer, but over here Ashley, he’s a writer.”
That’s not it. I feel the same way. I don’t feel like I’m a writer. I just don’t let that stop me. And I was terrible…I was terrible at pretty much every aspect of school but I would say especially bad in spelling and grammar and writing in general. So any reasonable person would probably have come to the conclusion that being a professional writer given my background and my history with writing probably isn’t in the cards. But again I just did it anyways. I didn’t let that stop me. So if you’re the person that’s out there thinking, “Oh, I could never produce a short film or feature film, just please keep in mind that I felt the exact same way when I started The Pinch. I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing or how to do it or that I could get through it, but again I just didn’t let it stop me.
I wanna be clear, this isn’t just about saying, well you have to produce your own stuff. I think there’s different paths for different people but I do think if you’re the person saying, “I couldn’t start a podcast, or I couldn’t run a film festival or I couldn’t do this.” It’s like there’s all these opportunities and all these things you can do and you’ve got to do something and some piece of the equation has got to be networking. Real networking, real meeting people. Real getting out there, being a part of the industry. It’s just so, so important. I wanna make one final point. I try and make this podcast as evergreen as possible. I try not to talk about current issues, politics, social issues, issues that will feel very dated in a few years.
I want this podcast to be listened to pretty much forever. So I’ve purposely tried not to mention current events, current politics in them so that the people in a year or two years, three, years, five years, 10 years can still listen to this podcast and it will feel relevant and feel like the information is still good. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about Donald Trump on this podcast but I do wanna make this one final point and it relates to Donald Trump. It’s one of the many lessons that I’ve taken away from watching him over the last I guess now two years as he ran for president and then became president. Whether you are a fan of Trump or not, you have to admit the guy has real nerve.
He literally has no idea how to be president, but he doesn’t let that stop him. He just ploughs ahead, he pretends or acts like he does know what he’s doing and he just doesn’t let people see him sweat. It seems completely crazy but you got to admire that on some level. And again, just put your politics aside, even if you hate Trump, you’ve got to give him credit for getting up every day, going out there, doing the work in the face of probably the harshest criticism any single human being has ever produced. I’m not being political here, I mean, the man gets beat up in the press on a daily basis. Two out of the three major news networks just openly mock him. I think it’s fair to say that he’s got harsh criticism and people are making fun of his kids, his family, just anything. Nothing is off limits for this guy.
I don’t wanna make this political whether he deserves it or doesn’t deserve it. Certainly some of the criticism you could argue is deservedly but I don’t wanna make this political. Whether it’s deserved or not deserved. He still gets up there and he just act like he doesn’t let it bother him. He just keeps ploughing ahead, he just keeps doing what he wants to do. His agenda, he keeps focused on that. I guarantee you, no matter how terrible your short film is, when you go out, you write and produce a short film, I guarantee you, you will never get that level of criticism. You will never get that level of hatred and just negativity pushed your way. Keep that in mind. We literally have a man at the top, the most powerful man on the planet who doesn’t really know what he’s doing but he doesn’t let that affect him.
So just try and use that as a lesson. That’s a big part of success. Not letting the self-doubt hold you back. I mean, Trump is not doing it…he must have some self-doubts somewhere in the recesses of his mind. There must be a little bit self-doubt but it doesn’t let it hold him back. Even when you feel like I could never do that, you’ve got to push that feeling aside and not let that stop you. Realize that everyone at some point feels like that too but the only difference in the winners and the losers is that the winners don’t let those feelings stop them. Trump certainly doesn’t letting those feelings stop him, I try not to let them stop me either and you should not either.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.