Ashley: Welcome to Episode #251 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 Jeremy Wechter. He just did a horror-thriller film called E-Demon which is a micro-budget feature and it’s a great example of going out there and making things happen for yourself. We talk through his background and how he got to the point where he was ready to make this first feature film. 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.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Jeremy Wechter. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jeremy to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jeremy: Thanks for having me Ashley.
Ashley: So 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?
Jeremy: I grew up in South Jersey and I was very much involved in the visual arts- painting, drawing, sculpture, the whole nine yards. At one point I went to art school and I took a video class and suddenly I realized, “Wait a second, I like it when the image moves.” I realized I should be studying film so I ended up transferring to film school here in New York NYU and started pursuing my filmmaking career.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. What would you say was your first step into turning this into a career? I noticed you’ve done a ton of shots on IMDb, you have a ton of shots listed. Maybe walk us through that going from hey, just a kid who wants to be a screenwriter, be a filmmaker to actually someone who’s got some produced credits.
Jeremy: Yeah, that’s the challenge because with filmmaking the process and the medium is so expensive compared to something like painting. Paint is expensive but not compared to making a movie. And so it’s a challenge for everyone who is trying to pursue it. So my thought process was always, “What kind of resources do I have, how can I turn this script that I wrote into a movie?” A lot of times I realized in terms of feature scripts, the script I wrote was just too big of a budget, so then I wouldn’t write another feature script. I’m like, “I’ll think about the budget this time and I will make it like a low budget script,” then I realized the list in terms of me producing it myself, this one’s also too big, so then I would write another feature script.
Finally I actually decided to just reverse engineer the process. In other words before I write the script I thought to myself, “What do I have access to in terms of producing and what do I have access to in terms of acting talent. From there I came up with the idea. Because I was able to make all those shots I realized if I can make a short film I should be able to make a feature. Waiting around for someone to kind of discover me was not of interest to me. I kind of just didn’t wanna wait. So I [inaudible 00:04:22] my student’s and my screen writing clients. I say you can either…submitting your films to folks is great but you can also produce them, or at least produce a short version of them as a proof of concept.
Ashley: Yeah, and so as you’re writing these various scripts were you also trying to pursue that angle of just sending the scripts out, the typical stuff, get an agent, get a manager find a producer for some of these scripts that maybe you didn’t have the means to produce?
Jeremy: Yeah, I mean, I have a couple big budgeted scripts and yeah, I sent them out and I was able to get some attention for them and there was some rumblings of some producers wanting to make them but nothing panned out. Nothing panned out because the truth is a producer can be interested and then they still have a gigantic, epic process in front of them, which is of course to raise money, to get attachments in terms of acting talent and potentially directing talent as well. Even if they’re 100% on board it doesn’t always mean that they will be able to make the project come to fruition.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So let’s talks about some of these shots. How would you say they helped your career? As you were doing all of these shots what did you learn and what did they do to sort of advance your career?
Jeremy: Well, a lot of times on panels you see people talk about persistence and so forth and while persistence is 100% true, you absolutely need to be persistent in order to get something done, you also have to be simultaneously working on your craft. So shots are a great opportunity to work on one’s craft both in my case as a writer and as a director. It’s a great opportunity to find out who you work well with and sort of create a group of team members in order to make the next one. I think that’s the largest impact it had. Some of my shots were able to get into festivals and do the festival circuit and I was able to meet some producers that way, but honestly for me it was really just the largest impact was craft.
Ashley: For sure. So let’s dig into your latest film E-Demon. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or logline. What is that film all about?
Jeremy: So E-Demon is a supernatural cyber-thriller. It’s about a group of former college friends who get together for a night of laughs and beer and reminiscing and during one of their pranks via a video chat one of them accidentally releases this demon that had been trapped for centuries in the [inaudible 00:07:26] Massachusetts artic. From that point on the night takes a turn for the worse and the friends have to determine what is real and they have to determine who they can trust because this particular demon is able to possess multiple people at once. It really becomes a sort of psychological thriller where the audience is put in the same sort of position as the characters themselves. The characters are on a video chat, the audience is on a video chat.
The characters are trying to determine who they can trust, and so is the audience. So it’s an exciting film and the key from the very beginning was how can I ensure that this is a visual movie. Since this was written prior to Unfriended it was all fresh and luckily it turned out well in terms of it being a pretty dynamic and visual movie.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. You mentioned a moment ago just sort of the budget constraints that maybe you were working under. I’m sure that impacted the story a little bit, but maybe you can talk about sort of the genesis of this idea. Where did the idea come from and then how did you move that into an actual screenplay?
Jeremy: Yeah, as I mentioned it was all about reverse engineering, what did I have access to in terms of resources, locations, actors and through that…
Ashley: Let’s talk about that. Maybe you can talk about some of the resources that you had access to because there’s probably people out there that maybe have access to the same sorts of resource but maybe are not thinking in those terms.
Jeremy: Yeah, when I say resources I mean like what kind of locations could I get, because even something as simple as that when you watch a movie and they’re in a restaurant in a hospital it might not seem like that elaborate. But the truth is it can be really challenging to film in a hospital or it can be really challenging to film in certain restaurants or in a school or something like that. So I definitely was thinking in terms of domestic locations- people’s houses, people’s apartments and so forth. Here in New York City you’re able shoot on the street without a permit as long as it’s considered hand-held. So I knew street shooting was a possibility. We have the Brooklyn Bridge here in New York City, so I’m like, “That’s gonna be in the movie.”
So that was actually the start of it. I have a pretty expensive acting network and I was able to get some really great audition space for free and we did an extensive casting process for a small movie. We had over 10 casting sessions, I think we saw like 500 people. It’s a relatively large cast for a small movie like this and so I t was really critical to ensure that various cast members had chemistry in terms of the friendships that were supposed to be there, the family relationships that were supposed to be there, the romantic relationships that were supposed to be there and so on.
Ashley: Perfect. Let’s dig into your actual writing process. Where do you typically write when you’re writing?
Jeremy: Let’s see…I don’t really have one single location. I’ll write in my apartment, I’ll write in a coffee house, I’ll write in the park. I always tell my students and screenwriting clients, “If you have an idea write it down, write then and there wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the subway, in the middle of a party or in the middle of sleeping, find a piece of paper or some sort of iPad or iPhone and get it down. So there’s no one particular location.
Ashley: And when do you typically write? What time of day, are you a morning person, a night person?
Jeremy: I don’t have a particular time that I write but what I do if I am writing a screenplay at the time is I will write 10 minutes minimum per day. And I know that doesn’t sound like a lot because it’s 10 minutes, right? But the key here is like 10 minutes minimum. So that means there’ll be days when I put on the timer, start writing, the timer goes off and I’m done because I just don’t want to keep going. And I don’t have to feel guilty that day because I wrote. Other days I’ll set the timer and I get in the groove and the timer goes off and I keep on writing and that can turn into an hour or two hours or three hours. So to me it’s really about the habit of writing. It’s not about waiting for inspiration because if you wait for inspiration you can write but there won’t be any consistency to it.
So by creating a healthy habit of writing, by learning to write every day regardless of whether you feel like it or not can be really great. The beautiful thing about the 10 minutes minimum thing is it’s not intimidating. In other words if you felt like you were to write for three hours in a day, that can feel intimidating. The reason this is more beneficial than waiting till the three hours you have on a weekend is because a lot of times people get to that point, it’s Sunday, the three hour slot is there and then suddenly what’s in the refrigerator becomes really interesting or then you need to check Twitter again, and the three hours can often dwindle away. But by doing it every day for at least 10 minutes minimum even if you stop after the 10 minutes your brain, the subconscious part of your mind will still be working on the process…working out some things, working out some issues.
In fact for one screenplay I tried to do the 10 minutes minimum like at night so that way when I went to sleep I would be still processing it. And honestly there would be days in the morning when woke up and I had a fresh, new idea for the screenplay. So it can be really, really productive.
Ashley: Yeah. And have you experimented with…it sounds like the other big hurl of that 10 minutes is like sometimes starting is the hardest part. So if you just push for 10 minutes, once you get through that 10 minutes a lot of times you’re in the flow of things. Have you experimented with that 10 minutes? Like have you tried five minutes a day, have you tried 15 minimum, have you tried to sort of move that around and see if there’s any other times that work better?
Jeremy: I think you make a good point. It’s sort of like going to the gym. Sometimes it’s just like putting on your shoes and leaving the apartment to go to the gym is the hard part and then once you’re there it’s like, “Okay, I’m here.” So whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes or 15 minutes to me it’s the non-intimidating number of minutes that will ensure that you can create this habit and do it every day because 10 minutes, it can fly by. Yet here’s the thing, I guarantee and I don’t use the word “guarantee” lightly, guarantee you’ll get more done in 10 minutes minimum per day than zero minutes per day. Zero minutes per day will get you nothing.
Ashley: For sure. So how much time do you spend preparing to write, in other words creating an outline versus actually opening final draft and writing out dialogue and scene descriptions?
Jeremy: Got you. Just to be clear, when I say 10 minutes writing per day, that includes anything. So that includes writing an outline, that includes brainstorming ideas, that includes…even on some days I’ll even count research as the 10 minutes minimum per day if there’s something I need to look up. So anything as long as you’re doing something as opposed to thinking about something because thinking about writing is not writing, but if you’re brainstorming ideas for a particular title or a particular character name or a particular scene or event then that counts as far as the 10 minutes goes. Certainly if you’re working on an outline that counts. I’m huge into outlines. Huge into that because screenplays are a blueprint for visual storytelling and because movies exist in time screenplays tend to be a lot more pure in story than something like a novel.
And what I mean by pure it’s not a judgement of good or bad, it just means in a novel you have the luxury of digressing into poetry or digressing into an essay and then eventually coming back to the story. In cinema you don’t wanna digress from the story for too long, I mean, there’s a few exceptions if it’s like there’s a musical number or some sort of comedy dynamics going on than you can certainly digress for a bit. And because screenplays…of course cinema exists in a time oriented art form therefore things like duration, piecing, rhythm are central and because of that, that’s why structure is essential. In fact there’re some more parallels in my opinion, between screenplays and writing music than there are between screenplays and writing a novel.
If you look at music, even if you don’t know how to read it you can very much see that there’s structure involved and that’s one of the reasons why I am so big on outlines. Is because it allows you to step back, see the bigger picture, sort of like a Google maps. The screenplay itself is straight view and zooming all the way out is outline view and when you see the big picture you’re able to see where the issues are in terms of duration, piecing and so forth and then solve those issues.
Ashley: I got you. So how long does it actually take to write this e-Demon script? What would you say timewise for the outline and then timewise for actually producing the script?
Jeremy: This was my fastest feature screenplay ever. It was essentially written from beginning to end in about six months. The other unique thing is while I was writing it I had already started producing it in the sense of reaching out to potential collaborators in terms of producers and DPs and even reaching out to some acting friends prior to setting up this sort of elaborate casting that we ended up having. The other thing that was unique for me was when I conceived of it I also put on the calendar a day that I was gonna produce it and it was basically a year later. The weird thing is I was able to stick to that schedule, which is crazy because for me in terms of writing a screenplay and producing it all within one year was pretty exciting.
Ashley: So of those six months writing this script how much was outlining and how much was actually in final draft producing the pages?
Jeremy: The vast majority of it is outlining. To me when you read a screenplay that means…in my opinion, when you read a screenplay it means you’re looking at the surface of the screenplay. The dialogue, the description, all that’s important. So when I say surface I’m not meaning it in a derogatory way, just like when you walk into a building, the surface, the walls, the floor, the ceiling, that’s what you see, but there’s 90% of what you can’t see in a building and in a screenplay that’s fundamental. The underlying foundation, the underlying structure is fundamental. If that’s not right you can spend all your time rearranging the words, you can paraphrase the dialogue all you want but if the underlying story structure isn’t sound then it’s just gonna be like moving around chairs on the Titanic in my opinion.
Ashley: Sure. So how do you know when your script is ready to show others? You’ve been working on this draft, you’ve read it over and you feel like it’s almost there. What is that moment for you when you say, “Okay, I need to start getting feedback from other people?”
Jeremy: So I think feedback is key. You absolutely need fresh eyes on the story and this is true of any screenwriter of all time. As far as I know I’ve read a lot about even high-end folk and they always enjoy some good feedback. I think it’s important to be able to select a specific group of people that you’re giving it too because you wanna make sure you’re getting healthy feedback. That consists of combination and balance of positives and constructive because if it’s too far in one direction or the other it’s not gonna be helpful. In other words if you’re sending it to people and they’re just saying positive things then that won’t help you solve the issues that need work and if you’re sending it to folks and they’re just like tearing it apart then at the very minimum that won’t be good for morale.
So you need a good balance. Quite frankly it’s important to know what it working so you can build on it. It’s not just about seeking out positives for the sake of you ego, it’s so you can build off of what’s working and fix what’s not. And as far as when to show, if you have a trusted group of folks who you know to show, I think early is good and when I say early I mean in the outline mode. I often think there’s no problem whatsoever to if you have a five paged synopsis, a 10 paged treatment, whatever you have, show it early because you might be able to get fresh eyes on an issue that can save you many, many drafts and tons of heartache because it will solve an issue before it gets too engrained.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay, so now you’re done with the script for e-Demon. It sounds like you were already doing some of the producing as you were going along. But maybe let’s talk about that. What was that next step? I would assume at some point you’ve got to go out and raise the money. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that, what did the financing look like for this film?
Jeremy: Yeah, we did do a Kickstarter Campaign which is not fun at all. It’s not fun to do at all. In fact it’s my least favorite part of filmmaking is the sort of money part of it [laughs]. It’s obviously also a gigantic obstacle. Luckily because of how I designed the movie from the very, very beginning this was not gonna need $10 million. So that part I knew that I was gonna get the movie done. So from the little Kickstarter Campaign plus from investors we found I was able to get it done. After that it really became all about casting because again we have counting extras like cops and paramedics and so forth. There were 50 people, five-zero people. The core cast was like 10 people- the group of friends and their family and spouses.
But there was a point when like I said cops and paramedics start entering the picture and it sort of expands and some of the characters leave their apartments and houses and we get to see sort of more of the world that they inhabit. The other key element was locations. Even for residential staff as much as I thought, “Okay, I can make this work,” it was a challenge because one of the locations is this old Salem house with multiple levels. Luckily I had this really talented producer names Michael Gonzalez who was able to secure us a location that fit it perfectly. It was really interesting, even the artic element that I mentioned, that house, the trunk that trapped the demon, when we went into the house they had it.
They had the artic exactly how I had written it. It was really exciting to see that. So luckily that came to fruition and it’s really cool to see it on the screen.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s talk about Kickstarter just for a minute. Do you have any tips for people that are maybe considering doing a Kickstarter on their own…just a couple two or three tips for them.
Jeremy: Yes. Tip number one, you definitely, definitely, definitely need to have an extensive email list because just popping it onto Kickstarter isn’t gonna magically raise the money. Kickstarter is really sort of a mechanism that you can then send out to folks that you already know. Tip number two, make sure that your pitch video is engaging and I think in my opinion the fault that I see a lot of folks doing is they present it as like, “I need your help,” versus, “This is a cool opportunity for you,” or “Would you like to see this kind of product or movie in the world? Then come on board and join our team.” Versus again the concept, “I need your help!” Because the, “I need your help,” there’s so much of that in this world that a lot of folks just tune that out.
Even people that are like a former co-worker or something, they will be like, “Erm no, I’m not interested.” And let’s see, because we said three, tip number three would be make sure you plan all these elements in advance of launching it. You can’t launch it and then try to figure all these out. So you might spend literally several months planning this all out before you actually launch the Kickstarter. And a bonus tip, tip number four, I believe at least when I did it you could I think choose between like 30 days or 60 days. I would choose the shorter and the reason is when people get an email and they’re told that they have 60 days to do something they’re just gonna put it on their back burner.
You need to create a sense of urgency in folks that they’re running out of time for this opportunity and so the shorter would be better for that plus it’s just like a log of energy and you’re just gonna kill yourself if you…
Ashley: I wanna throw this out to you as someone who’s done a Kickstarter myself and you’ve done a Kickstarter. My Kickstarter was 30 days and literally those middle two weeks I think I raised zero dollars. It was the beginning and it was the end. I was actually thinking on my next Kickstarter of just doing it for like 12 days. You get the beginning and you get the end and then you just skip all that middle stuff which didn’t really seem to do much. Maybe I did bring awareness to those people that eventually gave at the end but I was even thinking of taking it a step further instead of 60/30 even going down to 12 or 15 days.
Jeremy: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. Absolutely.
Ashley: How did you build an email list? I know that will be a follow up question that we’d get. You said it’s good to go into Kickstarter with an email list. How did you build an email list before you did your Kickstarter?
Jeremy: Yeah, that’s the magic question. So in my case because I work as a script consultant and screenwriting teacher and I also teach acting and directing I have an extensive list of all my students, over a thousand people and we also brought on some team members so I had some producers involved at that point and so they brought on their list and folks that they had worked with. It’s a challenge in this day and age and even more challenging…as every year passes it gets more challenging because we have that many more emails clogging our email boxes so it’s so easy to just delete an email even if it’s from someone you kind of know because there’s just so much. So the thing that can really push you over the edge is that solid pitch of a video and then hopefully folks will share it on their social media.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s talk about your pitch to these investors that just put in money. What does that pitch look like for a low budget film like this? I’m just curious to hear sort of your thoughts on what you actually said to these people and made it appealing to them.
Jeremy: I was talking about how this is a really unique way of telling a story because again this was prior to Unfriended. They had about $1 million in their budget and production budget not counting their marketing budget and so they were able to get to the Box Office before us. At the time it was a super unique way of telling a story. The story itself is extremely different in Unfriended just to be clear and weirdly enough the social message in this movie, it’s a subtle social message. It’s playing around with the notion of what happens when a mysterious evil force uses technology to manipulate and divide us? This is something that’s very much in the Zeitgeist right now.
It’s literally the headlines of foreign powers manipulating and dividing us through modern technology. And so when this demon is released centuries after it was last trapped, which was around the 1600 [inaudible] trials, it discovers technology and it discovers how it can use technology to speed up the possession process. So it was a really exciting concept.
Ashley: And that’s what you pitched to the investors, it wasn’t so much about ROY as much about a totally original idea?
Jeremy: No, it was not about ROY because anyone who’s claiming that their movie…movies in general are not a good investment from an investment standpoint. Compared to stocks and bonds and things like that, even high end movies with high end people, they’re not in good investments because people lose their money all the time. The other thing you can offer potential investors though is the sort of “sexy quality” of making a movie in the sense that you can have them on set, you can have them meet the actors, you can have them meet the crew, you can have them see the process, you can have them be in the post production space so they can see how that’s put together. So it’s really an investment if I were pitching to investors or giving folks advice on how to pitch to investors.
It’s investment like in the experience of being a producer versus, “Oh, you’re gonna have this amazing ROY.”
Ashley: So how can people see e-Demon, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Jeremy: Yes. So e-Demon, those people the supernatural cyber thriller was released in theaters in New York City and LA last month. So from this point forward is now available on Video On Demand, places like iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube. Also direct TV and…let’s see, dish network, TIVO, Comcast, COX. If you want the DVD Bluray version you can get that as well from Amazon.
Jeremy: Nice. So wherever movies are found it sounds like you’re available. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will round up for the show notes but you can mention it now here.
Jeremy: Sure. Well, the movie is certainly on social media and on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at e-Demon. I think the handle for most of those are e-Demon Resist. The website is www.edemonresistancenetwork.com and so those are the great places if someone needed to contact me personally. I’m pretty much just on Facebook as a person but the movie is on a whole bunch of social media. In fact another interesting, unique dynamic going on with this movie is that the story continues past the end of the movie itself. What do I mean by that? Well, we’re using trance-media storytelling. So the story continue on YouTube and on Twitter to an extent but mostly on YouTube where we get to see one of the characters in the aftermath of the movie itself. So the idea was if this movie happened to do super well this trance-media storytelling would sort of be the in between storytelling for each subsequent movie if there were sequels, but even regardless of that I think it’s like a fun way to sort of dive into the movie, learn a little bit about it in the aftermath and then go watch the movie on any of those platforms I mentioned before.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Well Jeremy, I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today, I really wish you luck with this film.
Jeremy: Thanks a lot Ashley, I really appreciate you having me.
Ashley: Thank you, will talk to you later.
Jeremy: Okay, bye now.
I just wanna talk quickly about 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 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. 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. You can learn about all of this by going to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database that I just mentioned along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. Those services include the monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also 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 to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties.
They’re are looking for shots, they’re looking for features, TVs and web series pilots, all types of different 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 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 years, so you’ll have access to all of those as well. The classes cover every part of the writing process from concept to outlining to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you would like to learn more about please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Ari Gold who just did a film called The Song of Sway Lake which is an indie drama. We talk through his background and how he got this film produced, so keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s today’s show, thank you for listening.