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SYS Podcast Episode 226: Writer/Director Brad Silberling Talks About His New Drama/Thriller Starring Ben Kingsley, An Ordinary Man (transcript)

This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 226: Writer/Director Brad Silberling Talks About His New Drama/Thriller Starring Ben Kingsley, An Ordinary Man.


Ashley:  Welcome to Episode #226 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 Brad Silberling. He’s done a number of high profile films like City of Angels, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Moonlight Mile and Casper. He comes on the show to talk about his new film An Ordinary Man which stars Ben Kingsley. 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 or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated.

Over at iTunes I wanna thank two people who left me some very nice reviews. Thank you to Lost It All and The Hong Kong Writer. Thank you both to you, it’s really appreciated to see some people out there getting value out of the podcast. I really appreciate you taking some time out to leave those nice reviews. If you have a minute please do go to iTunes and leave some feedback. If there’s a comment you wanna make to me that you don’t want to be public that totally fine and that’s appreciated as well. Just email me at info@sellingyourscreenplay.com. Any and all feedback as I said is very much appreciated. These iTunes reviews really do help me out. It helps get the podcast listed in more places in iTunes so it reaches a broader audience.

Also if you subscribe to the podcast in iTunes then you’ll get the new episodes downloaded to your phone each week automatically so that’s a nice convenient way to stay current on the podcast. Anyway, thanks again to Lost It All and The Hong Kong Writer. Again, those reviews are very, 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 show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #226. 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 you 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 am interviewing writer-director Brad Silberling. Here is the interview.

Ashley: Welcome Brad to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.

Brad: Thanks so much Ashley, happy to be 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?

Brad: Sure. I am not a native Angeleno but as close as you get. My family moved out to Los Angeles when I was three years old so I was a valley kid and I consider myself a valley filmmaker. I started making super 8 films back when I was 11 on the streets of Angelo, Boulevard in my neighborhood in Studio City. My father was initially a documentary producer. I was not yet born when he worked for the USIA which is the US Information Agency. It’s the fancied title for really what is our own propaganda arm. He was producing films about the presidency and about our government factoring the Kennedy administration and then moved out to LA. Of all things I don’t know how they have the wisdom to make somebody transition from documentary to work at network television, but he started working as a network executive in the ‘60s. He was at ABC and then TBS.

I would just grab his [inaudible 00:0413:11] on a sunny LA day [inaudible 00:04:14] always want to go to set any time. That’s kind of my earliest memories of visiting Paramount in particular because my father’s shows with The Mod Squad and The Brady Bunch and he had all these shows with Paramount. I was entranced by the world of set life and by specifically the story telling life, but it was June ’75 I went first screening first day to Century City to the Plitt Theater. My dad was working at ABC and I forced him to take me inside to go see the first screening of Jaws. I walked out of the film wrecked but also with the question, “Who specifically has that job?” I just was entranced.

I felt the story teller’s hand in every frame and literally stole my father’s movie camera from the closet that night and started making my short films. I was making silent short films. It didn’t have a sound pad…all through my teens. It was my father who I heard said how many of his [inaudible 00:05:28]  they wanna be directors you’re gonna need to start writing [laughs]. I didn’t write my first screenplay until I was in undergrad because I had essentially just been writing silent scenarios and making short films prior to that but I had an incredible writing mentor at UC Santa Barbara, a fellow named Paul Lazarus who Scott Frank was like two years ahead of me [inaudible 00:05:57] people came. Just had this quiet little class but that really kind of kick started my love of screenwriting.

Ashley: So let’s dig into An Ordinary Man starring Ben Kingsley. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a log line for that film.

Brad: Yeah, essentially a man that we only meet as a general is being clearly moved in like a chest piece hidden in plain sight. This is in you don’t know exactly where but it’s in Eastern Europe, actually Belgrade, Serbia…Clearly sort of in a post-war situation a fugitive is being moved like a chest piece by a number of loyalists and finally placed in his own apartment. One gets a sense because he’s such a pain in the ass and he’s alone, which is his own worst nightmare. Suddenly second day in, he is in the door, a young woman walks through the door with cleaning supplies and is clearly the maid of the prior tenant who got whisked out to make room for the general. And both because she clearly knows who he is, she essentially becomes a hostage he would say that he’s taking her [inaudible 00:07:18]. That begins a sort of emotional cat and mouse game where he’s trying to figure out who this young woman is. He’s fascinated by her and the twists and turns that ensue really are our story. So it’s a bit of a psychological drama, psychological character thriller. We [inaudible 00:07:38] leading to some pretty crashing revelations to both of them.

Ashley: Where did this idea come from, what was the genesis of it?

Brad: It came from life, from actual real life…a bit of a composite. I took three films over the years to the Sarajevo Film Festival and really fell in love with the region. It’s got scars, it’s got tremendous beauty…Bosnia as well as Serbia as well as Croatia. And I about 10 years ago just in the New York Times newspaper I read…It almost read like a comedy. The Hague tribunals were beginning for war crimes and Serbia of the countries that wanted to get into the EU and the EU basically said, “Not until you bring in your fugitive war criminals we’re not going to admit you.” So each of the countries were sort of trying to put on a show and Serbia at the tribunal, some loyalists for the fugitive general Ratko Mladic went on sworn testimony and basically said, “Oh yeah, we can tell you where he’s been.

We can’t tell you where he is today but they sat and just [inaudible 00:08:53] this remarkable map of him having been just moved around like a chest piece in plain sight but under the sort of sorry ass condition like a crappy little Hugo and having to go sleep almost like couch to couch with his loyalist families and the guy clearly seemed like a pain in the ass… [laughs] his personality. So I was so struck by that and then they said at one point they moved him into his own apartment and he didn’t own a security detail. All they gave him were phone cards, groceries and a maid. And so my story teller brain went nuts. I thought, “Well okay, who is the maid? This guy is paranoid, is imperious…how did he trust her, was she clear headed and what was that relationship because the guy clearly was a social animal and needed just to truly subjugate people, investigate people, interrogate them–

So that struck me. There was another in that region, in Belgrade named Radovan Karadzic. He was hiding in plain sight as a spiritual healer. He got a cable access show [laughs] and the world was looking for him. The journey of these fugitives I found honestly compelling and it was when I read one of the in this case Mladic’s daughter after the wars had taken her on with his [inaudible 00:10:27] when she found out the truth of his actions during the war. That’s when I realized that it was a story I wanted to write. That I was gonna write the story of the man trying to vicariously have a relationship with his own daughter that he never got to have because of his own actions and he still refuses to take responsibility for them. So that’s how it left from the truth of what was going on there in the Balkans to this little dark fable.

Ashley: And I’m curious…and clearly you’re very passionate about this story and really falling in love with the story. I’m curious as you’re sort of going down this rabbit hole starting to form the story. Did you reach out to some producers or some distributors to kind of find out if this was an idea that might have some market potential? How does that factor into this idea as you were working on the project?

Brad: Yeah, you’re assuming I’m far too adult to do that… [laughter] no. I have to say for better or worse [inaudible 00:11:33] I know how to work it was true that the films that I’ve made that I’ve written- Moonlight Mile [inaudible 00:11:40] Steven Spielberg said it once, when you have the ghost of an idea you have to go and chase it and capture it. And so I hate to say I worry about marketability later but it’s essentially true. What I know is if I’m passionate about something, because I make these movies and I know how long they take to make. If I’m passionate it’s gonna sustain me through this unbelievable marathon that is making a movie. And if I care enough about it…I love going to the movies. I’m a big movie goer, I’m a big audience of many kinds of stories. I have to believe every filmmaker has to believe that if I’m passionate about this it’s gonna connect.

It may be a specific audience, it may be a [inaudible 00:12:21] audience but I just…otherwise I don’t think I would feel empowered to do what I do. And so no, I went off and wrote…I couldn’t write it right away because I was off making another film but I had a [inaudible 00:12:37] waiting to go edit. And then essentially my process is more…to me the title of the other podcast is Selling and Packaging Your Screenplay because as a filmmaker these days especially, that’s really your next move. So I write what I know I believe in and then that lets me aggressively pursue talent because there’s really nowhere to put these movies together today without talent whether it’s [inaudible 00:13:05] for the world of Netflix or otherwise. So I write something I can standby, I can sit in a room with Ben Kingsley, look him in the eye and he will know my passion.

I can speak to the screenplay with hopeful intelligence. And then together we go off and try to find that financing which is the moment of reckoning as you’re talking about, like who thinks it’s marketable or not. I looked towards films like…I knew this would be definitely more of an arthouse but it’s more selective character based, more of the lives of others or more of the reader. It’s not an action film, it’s not Taken. It’s not one of those. So I believe for the right price is where as a filmmaker I can help control that. I really put a number in my head on what I think the film can bear in terms of costs versus how it will play out the world. So [inaudible 00:14:11] a film I write we make for $2 million because I know I’m gonna try to limit the exposure because it’s again a more playful, more character driven arthouse film and this is why we really worked incredibly, reasonably just on passion.

Ashley: I’m curious…this is more just a tactical question. When you have a passion project like An Ordinary Man, do you have multiple projects that you’re working on that are passion projects that you’re pushing down the field at the same time or do you just basically grab on to the project you’re most passionate about and you try and just hammer that home and you don’t stop until you get it produced?

Brad: Yeah, I do wish was more the former and I wish it was a case scenario traffic control and many irons in the fire. It’s rarely that case with me. I am sort of monogamous when it comes to just my focus and I think that’s how I get my movies made. Again at times trickier but that was the case with Moonlight Mile. Now, it may take a few years in the process and so what that means is I’m working hard to get that film made. Now there may be another film, another script that comes along the timing is right for and I take a step to the left and go make that film. That was true of City of Angels actually because Moonlight Mile I had written that script prior that that opportunity came along and I was still trying to put together a cast and financing for Moonlight Mile.

I have yet to really…like I’ve got a new original film that I’m in the middle of trying to as we say package or trying to put my cast together for that piece and I don’t have another that I’m essentially shopping at the same time. I’m kind of all in. I think somehow that focus helps me. It’s mental, it’s also somehow communicated to the community like, “This is the film he is bent on making, cares passionately about it.” The cast knows that I’m not jumping from meeting them on this to another project that I’ve also written. Again I was talking about the [inaudible 00:16:30] but we kind of go movie by movie.

Ashley: Yeah. How can people see An Ordinary Man? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?

Brad: Yeah, absolutely. The film is opening a week from Friday. It’s opening a week from tomorrow in 10 cities in major city markets, LA and New York, Chicago, Seattle and I’m forgetting a few but the film is being released by Saban and actually if one goes on to the Saban website I think it will list all of the theatrical markets. So the film goes out theatrically and day-and-date it will be available D.O.D and I think all of the [inaudible 00:17:12] through local cable or local dish I think. So it will be available day-and-date, so both experiences. I hope people who are in the market they can see it on screen because I’m very proud of the work on screen. I think it’s a pretty compelling visual story of [inaudible 00:17:34] big but yeah, that would be a week from Friday.

Ashley: Perfect. Well, Brad I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film.

Brad: Thank you so much and thank so much for [inaudible 00:17:46]. I appreciate it.

Ashley: Thank you, will talk to you later.

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On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Fritz Bohm. He just did a fantasy thriller film called Wildling starring Liv Tyler. We talk about that film, how it all came together, and we also talk about his early days in the business and how he got to the point where he is now directing feature films like Wildling. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.