Ashley: Welcome to Episode #223 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer/director Susan Walter who recently did a film called All I Wish which stars Sharon Stone. We go into great detail about how this movie came together for her and we also dig into how she was able to land Sharon Stone for the lead in this film. Stay tuned for that episode. 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 or sharing 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 #223. 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. Quick few words about what I’m working on, a quick update on The Pinch, the crime-thriller feature film that I wrote, directed and produced last year. I haven’t really had much of an update over the last couple of weeks but I’m still talking to a few distributors trying to figure that out, whether I’m gonna go with a distributor or one of these aggregators like Distribber or bitMAX.
I’m still waiting to hear from a few more festivals so that’s still moving along and I’m still waiting to get my poster created. My poster artist came back to me the week before last with a first version of his version of the poster, so he is making some revisions now. Hopefully that will be done fairly soon. On the writing front I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, I’m working on some shots, so I have finished three short scripts and I presented those last week to my writers group. I’d say they went over okay, which is to say they probably all need quite a bit of work, but I would say one of them needs quite a lot of work. I’m gonna plough through probably two or three more of these shots and then probably circle back and polish these up.
I’ve got this idea bank of shots. I’ve been collecting these ideas literally for years. When I have a random idea I just put it in there. So I’m just going through and kind of picking out the ones that I think would make the best shots. So far it’s been pretty fun, pretty easy, pretty simple process just to pump these things out. One of them was about 16 pages, the other two were about five, six pages. Again they’re just getting them out quickly, going through them because they are shots and they are so short there really isn’t a ton of time spent in the outlining stage. You know, I kind of have the idea already and it’s much more about just executing one very specific idea, whether that be a funny character, an interesting situation or some specific emotional pay off.
With each shot I try and just hit one thing really well to see if I can get that one thing to work. For instance one of the ideas I’m gonna be writing up this week is about a five minute…maybe it will be up to seven, eight pages, but definitely less than 10 minute horror script. I’m just trying to make it as scary as possible. Obviously in eight minutes there’s not a ton of time for backstory and character development, but I’ve just got this idea that I think will be really creepy and kind of scary, so I’m just gonna push that as hard as I can during the as I said the six, seven pages of this script and kind of see where it all lands. But that’s kind of my approach to these things. Looking at them is kind of experiments and I said I usually come up with sort of one thing.
And gain in the case of this horror, I just wanna make something as creepy and scary as possible in a five, six, seven minute span. The other thing I’m finding writing up these shots I would say of the three I did over the previous week, one of them could probably be turned into a feature film. There’s probably enough meat there that could actually be expanded into a feature film. I would say of this next two or three that I’m gonna write, I can see there’s one of those probably in fact this horror that I just mentioned could probably also be turned into a feature film. And I’m kind of…there’s sort of this like scary demon character and so I’m sort of spending some time coming up with a back story.
And as I’m coming up with that I’m kind of thinking this could actually be a feature film and maybe this shot that I’m writing is like the opening sort of the teaser of the film where you see something scary happen and kind of sets the whole film in a motion. Again just trying to play different angles to think about how this could work into maybe the context of sort of a bigger project writing up a feature. The other interesting thing that I’m sort of finding is these other shots that I’ve written up. I kind of see that they could be worked into like a TV show or a web series or some kind of episodic content. And again that’s kind of interesting too. I’ve got one of these next ideas that I’m thinking about writing up.
It could be kind of like a web series or a TV show so I’m thinking maybe I would write up a show bible, write up the short script and then shoot this eight-minute short script as kind of a primer for what a TV show would look like of this particular idea. So again just trying to play different angles and think about how I could possibly turn these into something that would be more useful than just a short film. But again so far the process has been pretty simple, pretty straight forward and I’ve enjoyed it. Writing features, it can be demoralizing at times because there’s many moments when you’re writing features where you just feel kind of hopeless and you feel like you’re never gonna get this thing done and you feel like it’s the worst feature film script that’s ever written because it’s just so long and it takes so long.
By the time you’re getting into the third act you can barely even remember what you wrote a month or six weeks or whenever it was you started writing this script, you can barely remember what you were even writing. It’s a little bit of a…there’s more sort of wrestling and more dips and emotional lows when writing a feature film. I’m not finding that with these shots because they’re so simple and so straight forward. I’m able to kind of generally speaking anyways pump them out before it gets to that point where you’re feeling demoralized or something. So it’s been a nice change to actually give these shots a shot. As I said have a nice idea bank for a shot so it’s interesting just going through those, picking out the ones that I think will make the best shots.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been working on the last few weeks, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer/director Susan Walter. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Susan to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today.
Susan: Thanks for having me Ashley.
Ashley: To start up, 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?
Susan: So I’m from Boston, Massachusetts and I have a Liberal Arts degree from Harvard. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up but when I was at Harvard I did an internship at a local news station thinking that maybe I’d be a journalist or an on air reporter. When I was at the station another intern was doing and applying for a program called the DGA Assistant Director’s training program which is basically the only meritocracy in Hollywood. You take a test, they interview you to see if you’re fit for this program where they actually train you on set. It’s on the job training to become an assistant director. So I made it into the program and that’s when I hoped on a plane and I moved out west and I never looked back. So my career started as an assistant director trainee and then an assistant director.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Let’s dig into your new film All I Wish starring Sharon Stone. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a log line for the film. What is the film all about?
Susan: Well All I wish is a story of a woman who knows she wants to be a creative person but is kind of stalled. We meet her and she is sleeping with inappropriate men and drinking and smoking and she just is having a hard time figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up and mind you the role’s played by Sharon Stone who’s in her 50s. So the stakes are pretty high. If she doesn’t figure it out pretty soon it’s probably never gonna happen. So what I did is I constructed the film over seven years and each year we see her only on her birthday. Only on that one day. So when you meet her she’s in a place where she’s stuck in her life. And then you flash forward exactly a year to her next birthday and you see her over the course of many years sort of flourish into the woman and creative person she was always meant to be.
Ashley: Yeah, and what’s sort of the germ of this idea? Where did this idea come from?
Susan: Well, I tell you what, one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time is When Harry Met Sally. What I loved about that movie is it took a mature relationship…You know, a lot of times when you see a romantic comedy sort of they meet you on a Monday and then by Friday they’re engaged. And I was like, “That’s not very realistic!” What I loved about When Harry Met Sally is this is a relationship between two complicated people that literally took a decade or more to develop. So I thought I’d love to do something like that about a relationship that develops over a long period of time. So I sort of seized on this hook that what if it’s just once a year and then what’s a once a year that’s interesting and compelling?
And I picked birthday because a birthday is a time…a lot of times where you are self-reflective, right? You look at your life and say, “Where was I a year ago and have I met my goals and I’m I ahead of my peers or behind my peers, and I just felt like the stakes were super high on a birthday. And plus cinematically, on a birthday you sort of convene all the people who are important in your life, your best friend, your love interests, your mum or dad. So it was a good way cinematically to bring back the same characters year after year in a way that makes sense.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. How much time do you spend outlining verse how much time do you spend in final draft actually crafting scenes and dialogue?
Susan: That’s a great question because I know everybody has a different process. For me with this movie I actually start with character. I start with the germ of a character and what’s an interesting place for a character to be in his or her life and what’s an interesting conondrum that they need to overcome. So I sort of come from a place of character and then I start journaling in the character. And sort of journaling with this character once dreams is struggling with and then in my journal sometimes I write sort of rumbling monologues, sometimes I put them with another character to just talk things out. When I really feel I know who the character is that’s when I think of, “Okay, so what’s the way in to this story?”
That’s certainly how All I wish started. I myself, I mentioned I came from an AD background which is largely a managerial job and I wanted to be a creative and I kept year after year looking at my life seeing like I’m working in the movie industry which is where I wanna be, but I’m not doing what I wanna do. So I started having basically a conversation with myself and what was holding me back and what was sort of this self-destructive things I was doing. That’s how I approach most screenplays, from a sense of who the character is, what do they want, what are they struggling with and what’s interesting about it.
Ashley: What do your writing days look like? Are you working on other projects, are you doing some other directing or do you just write for 12 hours a day and get that first draft out? How does your process work?
Susan: You know, what’s super interesting is a lot of blogs and books tell you like if you wanna be a writer you need to write every day. I’m not sure I agree with that. I mean, I think writing is kind of like reading. You need to inhale and you need to exhale. So when you’re out in the world that’s the inhaling, right? You’re observing, you’re existing, you’re trying to be in the moment and feel real feelings. And then when you’ve sort of taken it all in then you need to exhale. You need to sort of sit down and for me it’s journaling. Sort of write down what you’re experiencing and what’s compelling and what the conflict is in your life or in what you’re observing.
So I go through a period of inhaling and exhaling. Sometimes the inhaling period is quite long- weeks or months, and I don’t actually write. And then usually I sort of get to a point where a structure appears to me and then I sit down and…I’m not a big outliner. I know a lot of writers think that that’s sort of a rebellious renegade thing to do but I find that if I journal things sort of fall into place in my head and then I sit down. Normally I write a first draft in three to four weeks.
Ashley: Okay. What does your development process look like? How do you know when your first draft is ready to show people and then who do you show it to typically?
Susan: I usually show my first draft to my husband. He’s the most honest critic of everyone and he’ll tell me…the thing I wanna know most is did it hold your attention, is it boring, and did it feel true, did it feel forced? Once he’s read it I have a small circle of friends, I have a person that I’ve taken on sort of a producing partner, her name’s Selah Victor, she’s also an actress. She produced All I Wish and she’s in the film as an actress. So a handful of people. I’ll show it to writers. Writers are other writers’ worst critics. They’ll find everything wrong with your screenplay and that’s good and bad. Sometimes I’ll show it to four or five different writers and I’ll get four or five different deconstructions of different ways to do it and why it’s bad.
It’s always good to sort of take that in because even though a writer will have a very specific way how you “fix your screenplay”, you may not agree with the fix but if they think there’s something that needs to be fixed it’s usually an indication that there is something not working. And so I sort of take all that in and I compare what are the moments consistently that my writer friends or the people in my inner circle are identifying as places they got bored or they wanted me to do something different. And then I just take a little bit to rethink that.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious, how do you approach genre requirements. I mean this kind of falls under that romantic comedy umbrella and there’re certain tropes and stuff. How did you approach those? You’re aware of them, you wanna maybe do some different things. Maybe just talk about kind of your approach sort of just as of writing a romantic comedy.
Susan: Yes, that’s a great question because All I Wish is kind of a different structure in that it takes place over seven years, so there’s a way to look at is that is seven different acts. But I also try to put a macro-structure on it and to say like so if these episodes each year they were kind of clustered, is there an act one where she’s really struggling, is there an act one turning point where suddenly things start to move in a different direction? So definitely with a romantic comedy there are bits you need to hit, right? She needs to meet the guy and she needs to meet him pretty early. And then act 2 needs to see that relationship in conflict. So what is drawing them together and what is pushing them apart?
So I was definitely aware especially as I was getting ready to direct it to make sure that her sort of self-sabotaging behaviors were the things that were the obstacle to them finding happiness and staying together. And then of course act three, at the end of act two you wanna have the act two crisis where something happens and it seems like they’re doomed. In this particular case she sabotages the relationship and guess what, he’s a great guy, he’s attractive, he’s funny, he’s successful. He finds somebody else. So you put them as far apart as you possibly can at the beginning of act three to see if they can find their way back to each other.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious as you mention the seven years, how did you decide on specifically for this script that you were gonna use seven years? I mean, why not three years or five years or nine years?
Susan: You know, I have no idea. That’s just kind of I picked these different things to happen and as I confessed to you I don’t outline. And the first birthday was definitely the longest birthday because you’re establishing the world and I think that’s like around 20 pages. And I didn’t really know, I just sort of wanted to hit those macro act one and act two in section points. So it just kind of fell together in that way and it felt like an appropriate length. Actually I had an eight birthday which was sort supposed to be like the dénouement at the end and when we [inaudible 00:18:31] the film after my first cut, I think people thought the movie was over after the seventh one and so we turned that eight birthday into a very short, heightened [inaudible 00:18:45].
So this credits over, was it actually was originally supposed to be her eighth birthday but the testing process showed me like, yeah, seven was what it should be. When we get to that eighth birthday I think people were ready for the movie to be over. So that was like…okay, they were very satisfied after the seventh, I don’t need that eight birthday. Let’s get into a big, bouncy song and roll some credits.
Ashley: I just wanna talk quickly about getting Sharon Stone attached to the project. I get a lot of emails from screenwriters specifically saying, “Hey, how can I get this actor attached or that actor attached?” Maybe you can just talk about that process. Did you guys hire a casting director? Obviously you have a lot of experience in the industry working as an assistant director so you probably have some contacts. But maybe you can talk about sort of just quickly that process of getting the script to her and how you went about that.
Susan: Actually it’s the hardest part of the process, is getting an actor to seriously engage in your project. And in this particular one I was able to get the script to Sharon because we were at the same agency at the Gersh Agency. I’m still at Gersh but she isn’t any more. I had another actress attached, a much younger actress attached to play the lead role and I’d offered Sharon the role of this actress’ mother. She read the script and she really, really responded to the voice and the script as a whole, and then this other actress got pulled into another commitment and the movie sort of fell apart and I was heartbroken and I thought, “It’s not gonna get made.” And then several months later she called me and she said, “You know, I had read your script, when you offered me the mum I really, really liked it. Why don’t you let me play the lead?”
It was such a shocking and scary and fresh idea to make a coming of age romantic comedy about a woman in her 50s that was so bold and she was so excited about it, I sort of fell into her infectious energy and we did it. And I got to tell you, it didn’t really change much on the script to accommodate a 50 year old versus a 25 year old, and it was super exciting. So I guess to say casting outside the box and being open to an idea that wasn’t necessarily my first impulse is the thing that made it possible.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s a great story. How can people see All I Wish? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Susan: So the movie comes out on March 30th. That’s a Friday. It’s coming out in select theaters nationwide but also on VLD platforms. So direct TV, iTunes. And so that’s just a short 10 days away.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, if you’re on twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing you can just tell us that now.
Susan: Yeah, my twitter is @suzie_filmmaker or you can follow us on twitter @alliwishmovie.
Ashley: Perfect. I will get those and put those in the show notes. Susan, I really appreciate your time and coming on and talking with me today.
Susan: Thank you so much for having me Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you and good luck with the film.
I just wanna mention SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a log line, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget range and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays that they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. I launched this service at the beginning of this year and we’ve already started to see some success stories come out of it. You can check out SYS podcast Episode 222 with Steve Deering. He was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database, so check out that podcast, you can hear his story and how his option materialized. You can learn about this service by going to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services we’re providing to SYS Select members. Those services include a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads. We have partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve been getting five to ten high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the game, there’s producers looking for specific types of spec script, there’s also producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties.
They’re are looking for shots, features, TVs and web series pilots. All types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also you can get access to all of the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your log line and query letter and answer any screen writing related questions that you might have. Also in the forum are all the recorded screenwriting classes that I’ve done over the last few years, so you have access to all of those classes as well. You can learn more about the classes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/online-classes. I will link to that in the show notes just so you can check that out if you want to. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about or perhaps sign up for just go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer Rob Tobin who’s film Get Married or Die was recently produced. Rob gives a great interview, he’s a guy that’s toiled on the edges or screenwriting for 25 years and he’s finally started to find some real success in this business. It’s an inspiring story about persistence and eventually he did win the day. We talk specifically about this project Get Married or Die but he’s got a number of projects going, writing assignments, other specs and that kind of stuff. So we dig into all of that and again it’s a great interview. He’s very candid about what he was doing and what he did and how he made all of these happen and it wasn’t easy.
As I said he’s very open about that it took literally decades to try to get his career going, but he just persisted and kept doing the right things, kept writing, kept networking and now things are really helming for him. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.