Ashley: Welcome to Episode #248 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer Craig Walendziak. He’s another great example of a screenwriter who doesn’t live in Hollywood but he’s been selling spec scripts and getting writing assignments for a number of years now. We dig into his various projects and how he’s been able to succeed without being in Los Angeles, so stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode viable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me 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 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 #248. 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 writer Craig Walendziak. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Craig to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Craig: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell me a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Craig: Sure, I grew up in Boston Massachusetts and I was always interested in bands, particularly when I did music. I played with a lot of punk bands, hardcore bands growing up, did a lot of touring and I got a lot of my creative side out that way. As I got older I needed another outlet and writing was always one of the things that I enjoyed doing and cinema was always something that I just loved. Like when we were on tour most of the time we’d stop…wherever we were playing we’d stop and go see a movie that night. So it’s just always something that I really enjoyed and really loved, so I kind of got into it that way. I needed a creative outlet as I get older and I started writing.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And what were some of the steps to actually turning this into a career and being a professional writer? What were some of those early steps you took?
Craig: A lot of it was working two jobs like everybody else does. You work your day job and you write at night. You pay your bills nine to five and you live your dream after that…that sort of thing. So I worked in a consulting firm, like a production [inaudible 00:03:02] consulting firm and I was the managing director of that company. So when I [inaudible 00:03:07] I knew I would be writing and right there I’d write at night when I got home. At first it was really just for myself, I really had no connections with the film industry. So I wrote my first screenplay, the first one that I really finished and was happy with and it was just this horror one named The Devil’s Hammer. I turned it into…I did a broad search and I found that website called Script Shadow and I submitted it there.
It’s really how it all started and then like a month and a half later, it was on there on Friday night showdown or whatever you call it, I’m not 100% sure. I had no idea it was gonna be up there and then I got this email that it was and then I got to see all these comments of people reading it. Just like any industry some are really harsh and some are really inspiring and helpful. They picked it apart but it won that that week and then it went and got reviewed by Carson on that Saturday. He gave it a worth three, that sort of thing, which was good. And then I thought to myself, “Well, maybe I can do this. It’s a dream. That’s what screenwriting is, it’s a dream and you don’t realize how much hard work it is until you really get into it.
So I really started ploughing the way at that point and I wrote a couple other screenplays and I submitted The Devils Hammer to every festival I could imagine just because why not, because again I had no connections anywhere. It started placing well in certain types of competitions. Obviously it didn’t make top 10% in whatever you call…the Nickels and that sort of thing. It’s not gonna win those because it’s a very little buddy horror type of movie. But that boosted my confidence a little more. I was like, “Okay well, it’s placing and it’s winning some of these things, maybe I should just kind of go all out on this. And then I wrote another script and then I got an assignment off The Devil’s Hammer, a small assignment for contracted phase two which was a sequel to a buddy horror movie that I really liked.
Ashley: I’ll just cut you off there and then we’ll come back to that because I definitely wanna get into that first sale. You’ve done a lot of producing I noticed on your IMDb page. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. What is your interest in producing? I mean, these are some decent films, The Chair, had Roddy Piper, her never died, had Henry Rollins. What is your involvement as a producer and why are you involved with those projects?
Craig: Usually the ones that I’m involved with are some way that I’m connected to during my music career. That’s kind of what a lot of those were going back with the punk stuff, like Henry Rollins was always one of my biggest dare I say heroes growing up. So when I had a chance to help out with that one I jumped on it. The Chair the same thing. It had a lot of the actors that I loved as a kid and it was based off a comic book. So I had a lot of expendable income at that point so I could help out on the production side and connections and promoting things, that sort stuff. So that all was just kind of me being in the film industry and taking it kind of how I used to take The Punk Rock type of attitude toward things and just going at things, doing it myself, helping friends when I can help friends. I really liked just spinning as many plates as possible without any falling.
Ashley: And I’m curious, have you thought about trying to write and direct and produce one of your own features?
Craig: Sure, directing is probably the next thing that I’ll try my hand in. It’s just that for me I don’t like spending my time doing shots, you know, making short movies. I can totally see people doing that and see the benefit in it but it’s just for me it’s like I’m writing, that pays the bills right now [inaudible 00:06:56] a lot of bills, but it pays the bills right now and when I get a chance to direct something hopefully I’ll jump at it. There was a couple of projects that were in the works of me directing recently and one of them is on hold and the other one fell through. That was actually Contracted Phase III, which was the…we were set to go to production last year, it’s just on pause right now. So yeah, I was gonna write and direct that one. I wrote half the script.
Ashley: So let’s dig into some of this writing assignments and some of the scripts that you’ve sold. Let’s start with Contracted Phase II. You just mentioned that you got that writing assignment. Maybe you can talk about the ins and outs. How did that writing assignment come to you?
Craig: Sure, that was after The Devil’s Hammer. The Devil’s Hammer again was a pretty brutal buddy horror type of horror movie and Contracted Phase II, Contracted the first one [inaudible 00:07:47] read The Devil’s Hammer and loved it, read my [inaudible 00:07:55] screenplay called The Eternal Lies and he loved that one. And they had an opening for Contracted Phase II and they had a very short time, about three weeks to write the whole screenplay from start to finish and so they offered me the assignment and I was very happy to do it. I actually loved the first Contracted and I just went at it and it was definitely a learning lesson, like you’re in such a time crunch, three weeks trying to please all the producers you’re working with, the director you’re working with and get it done in such a short time for him to turn in rounds and notes and stuff like that.
But all in all I’m really happy with how that film turned out. Mine is the ending, the ending we never really agreed on and they kind of winged it I hate to say it. They kind of did the [inaudible 00:08:41] themselves. But yeah, all in all it was a good experience [crosstalk].
Ashley: How did The Devil’s Hammer, how did that script even get in the hands of that producer?
Craig: That one was from Script Shadow.
Ashley: Okay, so he saw it at Script Shadow.
Craig: Yes, he saw it at the Script Shadow. I should mention that The Devil’s Hammer… I actually used your service for The Devil’s Hammer. Again, I was searching the internet, what do I do. I found your service online, the blast service and you did it for me and I did get a ton of interest from the blast actually and I had a couple of producers willing to option it for a dollar, that sort of thing. I made some good contacts that are keeping touch to this day. So that was very helpful in the beginning. I appreciate it.
Ashley: Yeah, no problem at all. That’s good to hear that you had good results. So let’s talk about Desolation. How did you get involved with that project?
Craig: So I submitted…for a brief time I was on a website called Stage 32. That was just me again trying to cast as many lines in as many places or whatever cliché you wanna use. So I went to Stage 32 and there was a producer from New York that was in the horror films that I liked and I just got to talking with him and actually submitted The Devil’s Hammer. Same as that thing, it was [inaudible 00:09:59] and it was a good writing sample. He really liked it and he was producing a movie called Desolation and they had a draft for the screenplay that they couldn’t get funding on and they needed somebody to rewrite it. And so he gave it to me as a page one. My compensation went up a step and so it was really nice and I wrote a page one rewrite of it. The producers loved it, the director who’s also a producer liked it. So instead of using my page one draft we combined them and that’s how I got the writing credit on it. We got a shared writing credit.
Ashley: I see.
Craig: That’s how that came about and that was a great experience working with David Moscow who’s a director. He’s a really nice guy, he’s a producer himself and David Harris who is the main producer on the film. Again, I can’t say enough things about him and I think he’s gonna be doing a lot more bigger things soon.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about The Marine Six Close Quarters. How did you get that assignment or was that a spec script?
Craig: So this was…The Marine Six again, I’ll go back to The Devil’s Hammer. I had a manager at the time and going to Hulu or was there anything like that but he just wasn’t sending my work out. I kind of felt like he pocketed if that makes sense, like he wanted me to write what he wanted for himself and wasn’t sending any of the stuff out. I thought The Devil’s Hammer would be perfect for WWE, and that’s WWE Studios and so I just looked them up on IMDb Pro and I sent a couple of people an email. One of them responded and I sent him The Devil’s Hammer. He read The Devil’s Hammer and he loved it, but The Marine Five which was the one before The Marine Six was about a motorcycle gang and so is The Devil’s Hammer. So he was like, “I love this but we can’t do it right now because we just made a motorcycle gang movie. Let’s table that, do you have anything you’re pitching?”
So I pitched to him like three or four action ideas. One of them was the action idea that we used for The Marine Six. He took it to his box and said, “Hey, I wanna make this movie,“ and the boss said, “Well, can we just fit this for the Marine franchise?” And we did. From that point we went to outlining it and just going back and forth and figuring out how it would work with the Marine franchise and that’s how The Marine Six came about. They bought that pitch and then paid me for the screenplay.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So we can just talk about this briefly but I’m just curious, I’m just looking up your credits on IMDb to kind of get a feel for your writing history. But there must be a number of projects that got so close to production but didn’t quite make it. You mentioned the one that you were scheduled to write and direct. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. I like your approach in that and I think it’s especially interesting that all three of these films, they kind of came from a different avenue and one of them didn’t necessarily build on the other. So many screenwriters I think have this misconception that once you get that first credit it’s smooth sailing from that and you’re out there basically. Any one of these scripts could have sold independently of the others, correct me if I’m wrong.
Craig: Yeah, it’s correct and the key that I wanna tell everybody too is none of these came from representation. So Contracted II was before I had a manager, Desolation was before I had a manager and The Marine Six was in lieu of a manager. I signed with Gersh while I was negotiating it and Gersh closed the deal, but this is all…and I’m currently working on another assignment that was not from representation. So in general that’s important for people to know. There’s ways to get work without agents and managers and you just got to put your head down into it.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So I wonder if you can talk just briefly about some of these other projects. The reason I ask is because I’d be curious to hear some of the other things that you’ve pursued trying to market your scripts but haven’t necessarily paid off in produced credits. Because it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t work, it means that they just haven’t quite worked for you yet. So maybe there’s some other angles or some other projects that you’ve gone down the road with but haven’t quite made it into production yet that you can talk about.
Craig: Sure. One of them is Welcome To The Other Side. That was a screenplay that I developed with Kelly [inaudible 00:14:25]. I was represented with Kelley for about two, two and a half years. It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve ever written and it’s essentially Jurassic Park with ghosts. So instead of dinosaurs there’s ghosts, things go wrong and all the ghosts get out of the park and the people are trying to get out. I loved it. It’s [inaudible 00:14:41] it’s fun, it’s big. We went out with that and that got great reception and that’s what got me my water bottle with horror, that sort of thing. We had a pretty major independent studio buy it. They’re about to buy it…they’re gonna buy it and then I was gonna have the offer on Monday and then they shattered their entire production arm over the weekend.
So it never sold and we had a couple of other people that were interested but they wanted to do work on it and essentially my agent at the time didn’t wanna do any work on it when I keep trying to sell it. The problem with screenplays and this is something that people learn soon is once one agent sent that out no one else wants to do anything with it. You know, like you’re not gonna bring your old projects to a new agent, they don’t wanna see them. It’s either sloppy seconds or they just don’t like it. They wanna have something fresh and new and fun. But to this day Welcome To The Other Side is my favorite project and one that I could see doing very well when it gets made. It’s just it’s stuck in this limbo. And I’m not with my manager anymore and I’m not with the agent anymore. It’s kind of just stuck there.
So it’s like that was really frustrating because I was like it was gonna be my first big sell and it just fell through the cracks. We just sat there waiting on this one producer to get his ducks in a row for three months. He had a relationship with the agent and nothing happened of it. That’s really unfortunate.
Ashley: How did you get that…you just mentioned that the lady who runs the Blood List. How did you get hooked up with her originally to submit your script and get signed on with her?
Craig: It was back when she was a…this is prior to the recent update. She was doing…you could pay her for notes just like any other service, you know, that sort of thing. I sent in The Devil’s Hammer for notes and she liked The Devil’s Hammer. She didn’t wanna go out with it but she liked the writing of it. So we kept in touch, we kept talking and she’s a really nice girl and woman and we just kind of hit it off and started working together. We only did about two screenplays together, but it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that time spent with her.
Ashley: So I’m curious, how come you have not made the move to Los Angeles, what keeps you in Boston?
Craig: So actually I moved. I moved from Boston and we were actually heading towards Los Angeles and then we had some family health issues and wound up in Santa Fe, New Mexico. So we’re in Santa Fe, New Mexico right now. I’m taking care of a few people and it’s about an eight-hour drive which isn’t so bad for me, I’m used to that kind of stuff for an hour and a half late. So when I’m not on assignments usually once every two or three months I’ll fly into to LA and set up meetings with all the warm contacts that I have and I’ll ask my management and agency to get me some water bottles or water bottle meetings, cold meetings if you wanna call them…pitch meetings if they wanna send my stuff out there, that sort of thing.
Ashley: Yeah. So have you found it to be a hindrance not being in LA? You think the eight-hour drive or hour and a half flight is adequate?
Craig: Sure, I think it’s…for my professional career I wish I lived in LA where it’s much easier to network, it’s much easier to meet people, it’s much easier to find like-minded people. When you’re immersed in the industry that you wanna be immersed in. In New Mexico we have a lot of production side for television shows and movies. There’s a lot of big studios out here, but there’s nothing on the writing side. Yeah, again for work I wish I lived in LA, familywise…you know family’s always first. So I just keep plugging away from here.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, do you go out to Starbucks? What does your writing desk look like?
Craig: Sure, I have a home office and it’s a separate office in the house. Yeah, it’s here…a standard computer, video games, television with movies, that sort of thing. The video games get [crosstalk].
Ashley: When do you typically write, are you a morning person, evening person?
Craig: Actually I’m a better evening writer but I have a three year old daughter so that doesn’t happen anymore. So it’s nine to five for me. I get up, I get my daughter ready for school, my wife takes her to school and it’s like I’m sitting down at my desk by 08:39 am and it’s usually about an hour of planning and responding to work stuff and business things. And then I try plug away and get two or three solid straight hours of writing in and that’s usually split up when I take breaks for thinking, walking, eating, that sort of thing.
Ashley: And how many hours a day will you write till she comes home from school, at two or three?
Craig: Yeah, exactly. They get usually home around four or five and so that’s usually when I’m done writing for the day. And then when I’m on a deadline they’ll give me more time.
Ashley: Sure. How much time do you spend preparing to write in that outlining index cards stage versus in the final draft writing dialogue and scene description?
Craig: Sure, this year’s been exceptionally tedious for me in the outlining treatments, that sort of thing. I’m working with a new manager, Jeff [inaudible 00:20:09] from Bellevue. He’s great…he’s very good with outlines, very meticulous, pays attention to them and treatments, that sort of thing. So it’s a lot of planning before we get to writing, which is probably great in the long run. I just have problems writing treatments. I like to find my characters and I like to find scenes and beats in the moment. I like to have a loose outline, not a huge treatment. So I’ve written four or five treatments this year and my treatments seem to be about 30 to 40 pages [inaudible 00:20:45] screenplay when you start putting it out with dialogue, and that sort of thing.
So this year’s been tedious with that, but then when I start writing I tend to write very quickly, five to 10 pages a day of a screenplay if I have an outline. I just need to have an outline. So it’s a double edge…I hate it but I have to do it.
Ashley: So what does your development process look like? It sounds like now you’re working with this manager, he’s giving you notes. Do you have other people that you get notes from as well?
Craig: After I write, yes. So like the pre- fade in final draft stage, it’s just my agent sometimes I’ll send them both ideas. Like I’ll come up with 10 ideas and I’ll send them to my agent and my manager and see which ones they like and then whatever one they pick, if my manager picks I’ll go with that and I’ll try to beat down an outlining and get something done. Then the whole time pitching people that I now at the same time through other projects. So that’s the beginning of the process and they give me the go-ahead on two or three ideas and I see which one I can come up with, flesh out the best myself.
Ashley: Yeah. So what do you do in a situation where maybe your agent or manager are giving you a note that you don’t necessarily agree with, and especially on a spec script where it’s not like they’re paying you and it’s more about what’s gonna ultimately get these scripts sold. How do you deal with notes that you don’t necessarily agree with?
Craig: Yeah, that works a lot. I’ve had to deal with that a lot with producers and…not so much on the agency and manager’s side. But if it did come up the important thing to realize and think about is…the hardest thing to do I think as a beginning writer is to find a representation. That’s the hardest thing, so you have to kind of trust these people. And then on the second hard part is like they’re not gonna send it out with the same gusto they would have had if they know they want you to implement. If it’s not like a shuttering no or like story breaking no just go with it, you know what I mean? Sometimes you’re in sync so often then once you establish yourself then you can have more push but you have to understand that an agent can essentially just take your screenplay and say they sent it to 10 people and put it in a [inaudible 00:23:07].
You wanna think they don’t do that but they do do it. So listen to your agent, listen to your manager. Sometimes they’re right sometimes they’re wrong but in the end listen to them.
Ashley: So what advice do you have for people seeking to break into TV or feature writing?
Craig: Just stay at it. It’s a long, long process. You hear the miracle people write something and sell their screenplay but it’s a long, long process, it’s a tedious process and like a lot of people you see and you’re like, “Well, these people have made it,” they haven’t made it. They may have some couple of movies out, they may even have movies in the theater and may have made a couple of sales but they’re still chewing their nails and trying to figure out how they’re gonna make ends meet and that sort of thing. It’s just it’s very difficult and I’m very happy that I started as a hobby. It was my hobby, but I never thought I could make it and then it was like a dream when I figured out that maybe I could make it and then like I kept climbing my way up and now it’s like I’m at the bottom run of a ladder hanging over a cliff.
I’m just hanging on and I’ve got three credits, an agent, a manager that I both like, I just finished another assignment but I have no idea what I’m doing next. Other than a spec I have no idea what I’m doing next. So it’s just one of those things you that you realize there’s four million people trying to be screenwriters and I think that’s a number I’ve heard and there’s not that many jobs. And then once you have the union locking all the unsold writers out of the equation it’s very difficult for you to get your foot in the door. It’s not impossible but it’s very difficult.
Ashley: Yeah. So what does that mean to you when someone says they made it or I’ve made it or you’ve made it? What does that actually look like for you? When can you say, “I Craig have officially made it?”
Craig: When I stop applying for jobs in LinkedIn indeed. Honestly when you’re comfortable you can make a living wage every single year doing the job you wanna do. That can be like one big sale than can carry you for three years, that sort of thing but you have to have some sort of play point of work or opportunities for work or potential for work. You have to have an agent that’s sending you on general meetings and sending you out to pitch meetings. You have to be a working screenwriter and I think it’s difficult to maintain work every single year, year in year out if you don’t have a team working for you because it’s hard to write the projects and find the projects.
Ashley: And I heard this conversation with another screenwriter and the conclusion that we came to was the only people who have really made it are people that have enough money in the bank to never have to work again. And I think that’s a big part of again sort of the misconception that I don’t think people that are trying to break in fully understand is that even once you’ve sold some things there, even making money from this there’s still just such an element of unpredictability to it that even the most established screenwriter in the world, next year he could be completely flat broke and not working and that’s just part of the gig.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. And like sometimes you could have 50 producers that love you and wanna work with you but they could be backed up on their slate and are not gonna work with you for three or four years. The good thing about writing is that as long as people still read you your next screenplay can be the one. And so one of my points that I always tell people or new writers is keep in touch with everybody, be warm and friendly with everybody but don’t annoy anyone because the last thing you wanna do is have a producer that doesn’t wanna check your emails or doesn’t wanna read your work. As long as they’ll still read your work then you got a huge open door and a huge opportunity and so just don’t be that person.
Ashley: So what have you seen recently that you felt was really great? TV, features, something on Netflix, anything that you’ve been watching recently that you could recommend to our listeners.
Craig: Sure, I guess…listen, I love popcorn movies, so I really love The New Jurassic World. People ripped that thing apart online but I love that movie. I went and saw it twice and it was exactly what I thought it was gonna be so I really enjoyed that. I really enjoy summer movies like that and…what have I been watching…my wife loves Riverdale which is on Netflix, that’s the Archie comic adaptation. So I don’t watch a lot of television at night because I just feel like I should be writing. But when I have that hour, hour and a half with my wife after my daughter goes to bed we watch back to back Riverdales for three seasons worth and that was better than I thought it was gonna be.
Ashley: Not a glowing recommendation.
Craig: It’s not a glowing one but I would say it’s more than I thought it was gonna be. Yeah, that kind of thing.
Ashley: Cool. So how can people see The Marine Six, do you know when that’s gonna be released?
Craig: Yeah, it’s coming out this fall. We don’t have an exact date and it will be VOD, BluRay DVD, that sort of thing. WWE is really good at getting their thing out there. I’m not sure if we’re doing a theatrical, they might do a small theatrical because it is from all counts they’re telling me it’s the best one they’ve done yet. The director and all the actors and it’s got a pretty cool cast and I think it will play more like a buddy cop movie than anything else they’ve done because it’s got Shawn Michaels and the Maze playing old ring buddies. They get caught in a bad situation. I wanted this one to be more light hearted and kind of play the actor’s strengths. We’ve seen in those guys when they’re actually wresting in WWE and they’re very funny and they can handle jokes and lines well and so when it kind of get to that.
But there’re still some great action scenes and that was a really fun project to work on and I hope to do more stuff with them in the future.
Ashley: Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing? Sure, I’m @Craig_Mac on Twitter. I deleted a lot of my old tweets just because of all the James Gunn stuff. It didn’t seem worth it to have them up there. I don’t think there was anything that bad, who knows. So I deleted them all but I’m still pretty active on there. And Facebook, if you wanna add me on Facebook you’ll add me non-stop. And that’s just my name Craig Walendziak and you can look up the spelling on [inaudible 00:29:46].
Ashley: I’ll link directly to it on the show notes.
Ashley: Well, perfect Craig. I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me. Sounds like you’re off to the races and I look forward to having you on in the future when you have another film to promote.
Craig: Great, thank you very much Ashley. I really appreciate it.
Ashley: Perfect, will talk to you later.
Craig: Thank you.
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On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Bradley Striker who’s an actor as well as a writer, director and producer. He just did a really cool horror, thriller film called Land Of Smiles. We talk through that project and exactly how he was able to get it produced. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show, thank you for listening.