Ashley: Welcome to Episode 258 of the selling your screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourccreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing UK producer Dean Fisher. He’s been producing movies since the early 2000s. He started off doing short films and has now produced nearly a dozen feature films over the last decade or so. We’re gonna talk about the early days of his career when he was doing these short films and then also get into his latest film The Bromley Boys, which is a coming of age comedy and how that project came together. So stay tuned for that interview. Also, at the end of this episode, I’m gonna do a run through of my own projects and give some updates on all of those projects just so you can kind of keep up to date with what I’m doing. So stay tuned for that as well.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing UK producer Dean Fisher here is the interview:
Ashley: Welcome Dean to the selling your Screenplay Podcast. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Dean: Thank you. You’re more than welcome.
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?
Dean: Well my background is I’m from the UK. I’m an English film producer. I’ve been producing now for 20 years so I’ve been around the block a little bit. Basically I started as an actor and went to drama school and thought I would be the best actor in the world and you know, you come out drums. You start getting a few parts and thinking you brilliant and then what happens is they dry up and then you think the world’s against you. So I started to produce films initially to get myself better parts. And then what was happening was I actually really enjoyed the mechanics of producing and pulling it off against all the odds and you never have enough money and trying to do all the deals and everything that is involved with producing.
After a while actually I won better actors than me so in the end I wouldn’t put myself in my own films and if I’m not gonna put myself in my own films who else is going to. And so it was just a natural thing to stop acting and focus on producing and who knows 20 years later I’m still doing it. And later I also did a lot of French theatre shows, so small theater shows but film was always my passion. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, spent about seven or eight years making short films, which is a long time to make short films because you don’t make any money at it, but it’s a great way of learning your trade. And I really didn’t want to make mistakes when I moved into features so I really wanted to spend the time getting the mistakes out.
Ashely: Let’s talk about the short films. For just a minute let’s talk about the short films. I’m curious, maybe you can talk about just like you said you didn’t wanna make mistakes on the features so you spent a lot of time on the short films. Maybe just talk briefly about how those short films prepared you for a feature. What were those mistakes and what was the benefit? Did any of them lead directly to a feature film, like did one of them take off and that get you financing for your feature film? Maybe just walk through some of those. So how did the short films help you?
Dean: Well, to be honest just what it was about say was now in hindsight, probably what I spent all my life on my short films I could have made a small feature film for. Actually I just watched a feature film which was made for a lot less than that last night and it was very impressive. So I mean, the reason why I wanted to not make a mistake see, short film production is really a learning tool. You wanna learn and the sort of mistakes you’ll make is that you know first few films are terrible. Generally they are because you don’t really know what you’re doing. I didn’t go to drama school or anything like that. Sorry, not drama school, I didn’t go to film school. So I learned through making films and getting my mistakes.
So sometimes you try and do everything yourself, you build the sets and try and do too much. Really after a while I realized that I need to get people in disciplines. You know, that you needed a production designer, this focuses on the art department and on the other side you need a cinematographer to come in and focus on that. And then it’s a case of getting better scripts, stronger ideas. A lot of my short films are made on film so it gives you the discipline. You can’t waste slots or takes because 35 meals are very expensive not just for this stock, but then the [inaudible 00:06:04] and then all the process and everything else. So I know that was a reason why I think short films really helps.
Obviously that was just before all the Red cameras and the digital era went crazy. But now I would say if I’d go back in time, there’s a short film, it was a film called 10 Minutes which I wrote and produced and financed myself, which was a crazy thing to do because there’s no way that was ever gonna make money. But it went to 22 international film festivals, it picked up awards and it really at that point said to me, “Right, I’m ready to make that transition.” But if I was gonna go back and start again I would do probably about four or five short films, I wouldn’t make as many and then the last one would be a short version of a feature film that I would eventually wanna make because then that can become your marketing tool to raise the finance for the feature film so you can prove that it’s working in a short film.
That will basically give investors more of an idea of what you’re trying to do. What I’ve learned over the years is investors can be a bit lazy. Not so much lazy but busy people. The reason why they’re so successful and have surplus money to invest in things is because they’ve been very successful and busy at doing that certain trade. So you’ve only got a small window to hit them and not a lot of people wanna sit and read scripts straight away. So if they can watch a five or 10 minute video which is a short version of that feature film, then I think that gives you so much more of a calling card to prove that this could work in a long form.
Ashley: Yeah, I think it’s interesting and I wanna point that out to the listeners. You just said you made a bunch of shorts and now if you went back you would do maybe four or five shorts. I think a lot of people they wanna go too quickly and they’re thinking, “Oh, I’ll do one short and then a feature.” And even after all this experience you still think four or five shorts is probably a good number. It’s not just do one short and then jump to the feature, there’s still a learning curve there.
Dean: No, there is. The problems you face when you go into feature films is there’s different sides of the business. So when I say mistakes, one is not knowing your market and having a clear route to your market and knowing where your audience is. It’s no point just making the film for film sake because some people say, “I just wanna make a movie and everyone’s gonna love it,” but you’ve got an audience or you got to find your audience and now it’s becoming more and more harder now to find that audience. So in feature film world I would probably be more selective on the types of projects you try and do. Certainly the first ones because you really got to make a mark. When on our first feature film we made still it for really low money. It was made for about $70,000 but it was a simple idea.
We shot it over four weeks and it was a profit share so no one really got paid. But then our first deal was for the same sort of money, about $70,000 to a big American company and then we’ve got a sales agent on board and we started to do loads of deals. But if I hadn’t had that experience for short films and said in the short films I think I would have blown a lot more money on a feature and you know, when the budgets get bigger and the stakes get higher, then you’ve got a lot of people’s investments, you know, their hard money invested into the film. It doesn’t guarantee it’s still going to make a return and be successful, but you wanna give it the best shot. As filmmakers it’s trying to get the best ingredients we can together to make sure that that film has a chance to becoming a hit.
Ashley: Yeah. And that movie, was that Night Junkies, that first one you’re talking about?
Dean: That was Night Junkies, yeah.
Ashley: And how did you raise the $70,000? Where did that money come from?
Dean: It came from the director who’d seen my last short film. I also did like a documentary on how we made that short film. It wasn’t like a how we made it, it was basically showing all the processes of what we went through. I [inaudible 00:10:24] and everyone got interviewed all on the line, so there was a full story so someone could watch and say, “Oh, I don’t agree with what you’ve done or you’ve done a terrible job there or I didn’t like this about your film. But it just showed the full attention of what went into the process of making that film. I’m finding out from someone that I’m working with now was one of the actresses in that and now she’s producing with me.
But in terms of the director, he saw that and he lived locally and he said, “Look, I’ve got this ambition, I wanna make a feature film before I’m 30. I’ve got some money and my boss has got some money and together we’ve got this budget and here’s a script.” I looked at it and it was an interesting idea. It was basically a vampire thriller but rather than being so much vampires they were junkies and their addiction was blood rather than heroin or cocaine. So their addiction was blood and they was always trying to get a fix and so that was the interesting thing. It had heavy jamming in times but I think it worked quite well for that type of budget. And then that led us on to my next film which was City Rats which that was…you got two actors in this country that was doing very well at that time and that was Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan.
That film basically was really like a magnolia like for stories, very dark stories. But when we sold to distributors because it had those two actors they just sold it as a gangster film because one of the stories is gangterish and I thought okay with gangsters, the Vegas market and those two actors were associated to [inaudible 00:12:19]. It did really well. It went to number three in the charts we sold nearly 400,000 DVDs and that really helped my career because then you would get meetings with everyone because they wanted to know what was next. Sometimes it takes a film like that and that sort of success story to push you along the ladder. That was the base of my career then.
Ashley: So let’s dig into one the Bromley Boys your latest feature film maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or logline. What is the Bromley Boys all about?
Dean: Bromley Boys was a labor of love as a project. It took seven years to get off the ground. Many times we thought this is never gonna happen but it was originally a book written by someone called Dave Roberts. The book was a swinging story but it didn’t really translate to a film so we got in a writer called Warren Dudley and the base is a coming of age comedy. I hate saying that coming of age, there’s a lot of things to all of this but marketable. But there is. It’s a kid who becomes obsessed with this team called Bromley FC and Bromley FC who were a soccer team in the UK. They at that time where the worst team in the land and they couldn’t win to love nor money. He’s addicted to them and he knows everything about the players, what they eat for breakfast, every intricate detail. It keeps him being let down by the team and basically this was set in 1969, 1970.
So we’ve got all the classic cars and really pulled off that era quite well. But he becomes more and more obsessed with the team. Basically they’re about to go out of business because the chairman’s been gambling all their assets away and if they don’t win the last game this season they will go down and not only go down, they’ll also go out of business. So he gets the chairman to gamble his Aston Martin which now is worth a million pounds but then it would have been worth quite a bit. So he gets him to sell his car and gambling on that last match and then he becomes the coach and manages the game and then obviously if they win then the club survive and they get to try another season.
Ashley: Yeah. How did you get involved with this project? Maybe to take us through that journey.
Dean: Well every project I get involved in has different reasons. Sometimes it’s something that I have commissioned as a script from an idea, and then sometimes it’s a screenplay that I’ve seen and managed to get the financing. In this scenario another producer was introduced to me who had optioned a book but he’d never really produced it. He was an actor- producer. And so he asked me to come on board and steer him through it because he’d never been through that journey. So that’s why I came on board. But to be honest he was the one that was instrumental in getting the finance together. It’s was always his passion project and then I was always there to offer support along the way and then any documentation he needed for investors and things like that, so I was very helpful on that side.
And then basically after seven years he said, “I might have the money.” I went, “Okay!” And then the journey started really and we didn’t…He said we had the money and then he believed he had the money but then he only had a quarter because the investor didn’t deliver what he was supposed to. But then we went on that journey then and we instructed some brokers to help raise the money. We got to a point where we worked out, we had enough to get to the end of the shoot but then that wasn’t gonna cover post but we didn’t want them to get paid at that point until we could actually get the rest of the budget together. So it was a bit of a risk but we knew as soon as we had something to show people then that would help get the rest of the money and it did.
So we cut a promo out of the shoot that went to investors and the rest of the money came in very, very quickly after that because then everyone could see that it was a strong idea and a strong project and it made it a lot easier for us. So then we got the rest of the budget and that’s just essentially how I came on board. I know it’s a long answer.
Ashley: Now, what did you like about the script or the book? Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. This podcast is first screenwriter so maybe there’s just some sort of things you can point out that these were the strong elements in this particular story might be helpful.
Dean: Yeah. Well, to be honest I never read the book and I still haven’t to this day and I’m really bad considering how…I’m actually quite friendly with the writer of the book. But it was more of a producer TJ got involved in and brought on board the writer to do the initial draft and I only came on board after the first draft was done. But why I liked it and what I saw from it as a producer, sometimes certainly from a producing point of view you have to identify with the story because you’re gonna have to fight for a long time. It’s not just getting the finance and that is ahead of a journey as it is. And then you also got to go through production and then trying to sell it and you’re kind of the parent of that project for the rest of its life.
So you’re gonna spend a long time, you’ve got to really love it. So I saw myself in the lead character. It’s about a kid that falls in love with soccer and I did. My grandfather used to take me to see a team called Arsenal which is quite big in the Premier League now. Although I don’t support them, I actually support a team called Western. But that was me as a kid and I could see myself how we fell in love with the team and then how you wanna know every detail about all the players and so on. So it’s basically I think everyone could identify…and is it wasn’t just soccer because you could fall in love with a major league baseball team or one of the minor leagues and become obsessed with them. So it’s just that kind of fandom thing isn’t it, of falling in love. That’s what I identify with and I thought a lot of people in the audience would.
Ashley: Yeah, so flip that around. You mentioned that sometimes you would get a screenplay and you’ll option a screenplay, so you must be reading a lot of scripts. Maybe flip that question on its head. Are there some things you see that writers do that really turn you off? Things that as a producer you think, “Man, the writer really should not do this or not do that.” Maybe you can give a couple tips in that direction.
Dean: It’s difficult because initially I used to read a lot more screenplays than I do now and I just went to…I like the AFM and probably read about four or five on the way to LA [inaudible 00:19:36] on the way back, but as I don’t get that much time to read because I spend most my time actually making films or trying to finance the ones you’ve got so I rarely now at this point I actually read many scripts so that generally now comes from other people that I know so other producers that recommend them to me. So in a way it’s not been screened first of all. So someone has read it, fell in love with it and then said, “Oh, you got to read this script.” That’s generally how I look at most scripts. I generally get probably two to three scripts a week and I just don’t have time to read them.
And I still respond to everyone nicely, but the thing is we can only make so many films at a time. We probably spend probably eight to 10 films at one time. When you’re in production, you’ve got no time to do anything else because it just takes over your life. And then when you come out production then you’re trying to get the rest of your slate off the ground. So I’d say for a writer’s point of view it’s difficult because you say, “Okay, well how do I get these scripts under your nose?” Sometimes agents will email me and say, “I’ve got really good scripts, would you be interested?” But really as an independent producer I’m not a massive production company so I’ve got tons of script readers, I have to do most things myself.
So I will not probably read or accept many scripts. I did at one point and then people were hassling me saying have I read them and you just don’t have that much time.
Ashley: Yeah, I think that’s actually how we met. I think I pitched you a script.
Dean: But I read yours. I did read yours and I really liked it. But the thing is you’re quiet…for many times I was getting regular emails from you saying, “Look at my scripts, look at my scripts.” I couldn’t ignore you after a while because you kept them put under my nose. So I mean, persistence does obviously help and I get that. But I suppose it just depends on the producer situation. I mean, every producer is different and they have a different [inaudible 00:21:54]. Some are specializing in horror or have got different things. Myself at the moment because of the kind of film that I’m producing now, plus I’m starting to shoot a short film version of the feature.
I mean, I haven’t made a short film for about 15 years now and now I’m going back to do one but only because it’s a short film version of the feature that we’re trying to finance so then the financiers got something to work with and show to their investors.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s just talk about Bromley Brothers back to that again. I’m curious, one sort of the just general screenwriting advice is to avoid period pieces because they’re typically expensive to do and the market is somewhat limited. Maybe you can speak to that a little bit with Bromley Boys.
Dean: Yeah. Well, I suppose people were fearful of periods but I suppose having done it, I actually found it quite a pleasure. I like challenges so to try and get 1960s, ‘70s London is a challenge because a lot of buildings are modern, they’ve all got satellite dishes out the front of them now or alarm boxes so you know it’s very different. And then when you’re on the street you’ve got loads of modern cars so you have to place your old cars in front of the new cars to block them out because you can’t afford to shut down the streets and things like that. But really, if you had the budget, that’s what you do. But we still did it on a relatively low budget. We had a lot of car collectors give us the cars for free.
A couple of investors had some very flashy cars like the Aston Martin I mentioned was about a million pounds is now worth. I didn’t enjoy driving that at all because he just gave us the car and said, “There you go, it’s yours for the next few weeks and we were like, “Okay.” But driving around in a million pound car you think would be really nice. But the insurance alone would have wiped our film out if we had one knock on that. So I didn’t really enjoy that part. So cars are one of the things. You can get loads of collectors. Then costumes can be expensive because you’ve got a hire a lot more than you normally would. But there’re vintage places that you can go to and still get away with it.
And then the other thing is we had to probably spend a bit more and post because whenever a modern element like alarm box appears in your shot, you have to paint that out. But I still think we got a lot for our budget. We spent a lot of time finding locations because it’s period you wanna spend a bit longer finding the ones that could work for that era. So it worked, but also worked for the story that we had. If it was a film in Central London it wouldn’t work because all the buildings are so modern now. You’d have to find really specific areas of London and that would be harder because it’s a mix between new and old, so you’re bit more limited on where you could go. You’re better going to another city which is probably a bit less developed.
Ashley: Yeah. And I’m curious too, another big thing sort of just general advice is cast. You had a really good cast for this film but I wouldn’t necessarily say you had big names in it. How much do you think that affected or is going to affect your marketing and distribution?
Dean: Well, cast is essential and the way the market’s becoming tougher and tougher distributors generally want films with massive A-list casts and they wanna pay next to nothing for it. Obviously that’s not the way the business works, you can’t make a film for nothing and have Tom Cruise in it. But for our budget we had a cast that was known in the UK. There was a lady called Martine McCutcheon who was quite big in the UK at one time. She was in a film called Love Actually which I believe was very successful as well and she had quite a leading role, but she took some time out because she wasn’t well for a while. So she’s still carried some weight but she’s not a big star internationally and that probably affected us internationally.
Then we had another name in the UK, someone called Alan Davies who is quite known and he can get on big TV shows like Graham Norton which has got 14 million views and then he’s quite well known worldwide. So but we wasn’t paying massive amounts. I can’t obviously specify exactly what we paid them but they were the right sort of level casting for that budget. If I was gonna go back, and this is why a lot of British films don’t travel as well. Really you want that American TV name that helps sell the film because you can go around any market like Cannes, Berlin or the American Film Market and you’ll see who’s selling because you’ll see the poster up about or the name on about six or seven posters and you know they’re working that time.
I’ve worked with Luke Goss in a film called Interview With a Hit Man. At that time he was… everything he was in he was doing extremely well and we did really well with it because he was [inaudible 00:27:43] at that time. The problem sometimes is that a lot of actors end up doing too many films and then if they don’t do as well then that value drops quickly and then you’ve got to really keep an eye on that because you could go to a sales agent, you go, “I got Luke Goss,” and they go, “Oh no, Luke Goss was out a year ago and this person’s in now. It’s so difficult, it really is. It’s not that they’re any worse actor because you know Luke’s an amazing actor, but that’s what can happen a lot with actors, that they can change and then they’d be back in again in six months’ time.
Ashley: And I’m curious, you just said you really have to keep an eye on this. How do you actually keep an eye on this? How do you tell what are the actors that are gonna be hot in six months or a year when you’ve done your film?
Dean: It is difficult. It’s one of those crystal balls that you can never tell because when you’re casting your film it could take six months before you finish it. So what I generally try and do is go to every major market. So the three key markets is Cannes, Berlin and American Film Market. And it’s expensive to go around those markets but by going around the marketplace you’ll see the posters and what’s up there. If you can’t afford to go to the markets then subscribe to like a screen or a variety where you see all the posters that are being advertised because all the sales agents will spend all the money advertising their titles to get it under the distributors noses so they can sell their films.
So by subscribing to screening around the markets you end up getting the dailies and that’s where you see a lot of posters and all the information of what films are at the market is also available and you can see who’s in it and that will give you an idea. Also maybe speak to sales agents. Some are approachable and try and befriend one because they might tell you who’s working for them. But remember sales agents can only take on so many films at a time. So it’s worth speaking to about three or four because if they have worked with that actor they know exactly how well that film’s done before and what the value was.
Ashley: And it feels like to me as sort of the filmmaker, when I try to engage sales agents, distributors, it feels like the value of the actors is sort of their proprietary information and so a lot of times they’re not always that interested in sharing it with you or anybody else because that’s sort of the secret sauce of what they’re doing.
Dean: So I lost that. Sorry, we broke up, say that again.
Ashley: Yeah, I’m saying when I’ve tried to engage sales agents or distributors trying to find out well who are the actors that you recommend, it feels like that that’s sort of their proprietary information and they’re not always that eager to share that.
Dean: It depends on how friendly they are, and if you’ve got something that they want then they will be a bit more free with the information. But understand they’ve got to protect…the problem is sales agents now and they would admit it themselves, I think in a few years’ time you’ll probably see hardly any in the market place. There’s obviously some that pop up and you’ll get new companies every market, but because filmmakers can go direct to the platforms or go to an aggregator directly. The thing with sales agents and the way that works, you have to give them your film and then they will take it to the market. They will put a marketing cost of going to the market attributed to your film.
That could be $50,000 plus sometimes…well there’ll be other fees on top of that that don’t fall into that remit, then you’ve got that commission on top. And so it could be about $70,000 or $80,000 your film needs to take before you the filmmaker ever see a penny. And they will take on four or five films a market and work on the basis that those films keep them in business. But now even some films are not set in many territories at all and so they’re not even covering that fee that keeps them going. And as a filmmaker I think the sales agent system at the moment is flawed. Unless you’ve got a big cast with big, big names that everyone knows and you’re making a film worth five or 6 million plus, then I can see the value in a sales agent because they can pre-sell to all the major studios.
But if you’re doing the lower budget stuff I don’t think I could advise going to one. There’s only a few territories at the moment paying good MGs. So if you can try and subscribe to Shenandoah and try and do those deals in those territories yourself that will be better advised, and then go to a BitMAX or Distruba or Indie Rights or someone like that that has direct relationships with platforms aggregators and you’ll see more of a lion’s share that way, you know, you’re just cutting out the middle people. A lot of sales agents now they’re also doing the same thing. They’re going to those type of companies and taking a commission on top of that. So yeah, it’s a changing landscape and no one knows the way it’s gonna go, but I could see the sales agents eventually falling out the marketplace.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So how can people see the Bromley boys do you know what the release schedule is going to be like in the US and elsewhere?
Dean: Well, we still haven’t tried out the US deal. In the UK we’re done very well. We basically put it out to all the major studios and everyone said a really lovely film but don’t know where they’re going to play it and so on. Always you get those lists of negatives and very rare that people say, “Right, I’m going to take a chance on this.” So we decided to raise the money for what you call Pinson advertising to market the film ourselves. And so we did a theatrical release which involves going into conventional cinemas and then it’s about 50 or 60 screens and then having a big premiere which we had at Wembley Stadium, so then we got loads of press off of that.
And then after that we then put it into football stadiums, football clubs communities and did quite a big theatrical campaign. Funny enough we are up for Screen International Awards against all the major studios that turned down our film. As at tomorrow night probably the timings will play a bit longer and then we were lost already. But to be honest I’m not really worried about losing. I mean, Screen International Awards are the big awards for distributors in the UK. And so just to be nominated alongside the people that turned you down I think it’s an award in itself, so I’m quite happy with that. But so yeah, basically we did the theatrical ourselves, we got a cinema booker hired a PR agency to work closely with us and did all the marketing ourselves.
I learned so much from that experience. Would I go and do that again? Yes, but probably different for each film. I think you have to create a different strategy for each film. It’s unique to that film and give a reason why people go to cinema and spend their money. So in the US we’ve got about five or six deals on the table. No one’s offering big money for the rights so then you’re looking at what are they gonna do for your film, what type of campaign they’re gonna run for the film. We’re at the moment just deciding what is the right deal and we’re kind of going through an interview process of interviewing the distribution companies because there’s got to be a lot of trust. If they’re not paying money up front as a license fee then you got to make sure that they’re gonna pay you and report properly because there’s no point doing all this work and then giving someone a film for nothing virtually.
And still there’s a lot of costs because you’ve got to deliver all the items that they need, the hard drives and [inaudible 00:36:22] and then not see a penny out of it, so [inaudible 00:36:27] in the award. But so at the moment that’s what we’re looking at. But there’s a chance one of the companies is talking about doing a theatrical, so going out in LA in about three or four screens and the roll it into different cities. And obviously as a filmmaker and now we go [inaudible 00:36:46] cinema. But that might not be the best deal revenue wise for the film. So we’re just trying to work out which one it will be. And then the idea is to try and get it out probably about April time. March, April in 2019.
Ashley: Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, a website, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes.
Dean: I’m absolutely useless to be honest on social media. My website is about three years out of date, probably hasn’t got the last three films I made on there. I do need to get better at it. But the thing is, you got to work out what a website is for you. If it was to attract investors then really I should make it a bit more slick and I just haven’t had time to do it. So the website’s probably not the best. It’s got basic information about my older titles but we’ve moved on quite a lot since then and done quite a few more things. So maybe once we have our website updated that’s a good way. I am on Facebook and I do definitely use Facebook more for work not a lot of personal and Twitter never on there really. Just it’s another thing that takes time, isn’t it?
And time is a battle at the moment. You could work for 14 to 16 hours a day sometimes. So I wish I could be more proactive in the social media sites more. Hang on there’s someone else entering my house at this time. It’s coming home from work time now?
Ashley: No worries. Do you want to pitch you’re VOD platform that’s gonna be launching in January as well, you can talk about that.
Dean: I’d love to.
Ashley: Okay, yeah, tell us a little bit about that.
Dean: Yeah, so basically there’s a new platform which we’ve been developing the last couple years. It’s called Film Ahoy. In essence it’s film taking on the pirates, although I don’t think people suffer from piracy the same as they did with Netflix and these subscription services. But basically…hang on a second, I’m just gonna quickly move to another place. It’s getting quite loud in my house.
Ashley: No worry.
Dean: So basically what Film Ahoy is, it’s a non-subscription service where people can watch films for free, but then there’s commercial breaks every 20 minutes, but they only last two minutes long. So the idea was to not have long commercial breaks that really make it boring for the consumer. You can’t fast forward through the commercials, but those commercials basically generate the revenue for the film. So you could probably get in a 90 minute film about 20 cents out of the viewing and then it’s about higher volume. So if you can get loads of people going on there watching your film for free, but then you’ll get 20 cents time, knowing it can add up if you’re getting 100,000 views or so on.
But then if they don’t wanna watch the film with commercials because they say it’s a quality movie and they don’t see the point of sitting there watching commercials then they can pay what is in our country a pound, so it’s probably about $1,20 and then you watch it commercial free and then all revenues basically split 50/50 with the filmmaker. We’ve got about 150 to 200 films to go live with and probably gonna go live in January. I just see it like a secondary market. I still say do your iTunes and Amazon and all the other platforms first where you can get your top prices for when you launch your film. But then something about Film Ahoy at this point could be a secondary market where you could start seeing revenue coming in.
Eventually the idea is that we also…because I’m a producer, that I will produce content specifically for that and having obviously had all the stats and figures of the site I know what sort of revenue that can generate, so that gives me an idea on how much I can be making my films for and how much I know I can get a return. That’s just a way that I’m looking at going forwards now. And it’s no guarantee it’s gonna work but every time you make a film you’ve got a brand there that you have to get out to the market and get everyone to watch your film. So I just thought, why not do a platform where I can give loads of other filmmakers a chance to generate some revenue plus obviously I can make some money at that but also gives me another market to put my films.
Ashley: It’s literally gonna be www.filmahoy.com?
Dean: That’s correct, yeah.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Yeah, I’ll get that and I’ll put that in the show notes as well. Well Dean, this has been a great interview. Lots of great information. I think screenwriters…
Dean: Thank you. Sorry if I’ve gone on too long. I apologize about that.
Ashley: No, no, no, not at all. So as I said these sorts of conversations, I find them interesting and I know the listeners of this will too. It’s just really some insight into the workings of a real producer, so I really appreciate it.
Dean: No, that’s okay. Well, just one other thing I was gonna say is one thing I have noticed, and a big change is the change between films and TV and probably more screenwriters now probably want to write a TV series where before it was just a feature film. I don’t know, you’re, very much a feature film screenwriter, but how much do you now do as a TV screenwriter?
Ashley: Yeah, and I’ve had this conversation with other people. I run a script analysis service. So I see what people are writing and submitting and truthfully it’s still mostly features. Now maybe some of that is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy because I am sort of geared towards features so maybe most of my listeners are more geared towards features. But I still see it’s predominantly feature films that people are writing at least through my script analysis service. But I hear that what you’re saying as well.
Dean: To be honest, also I’ve been stuck in my ways in a way and spent 20 years really just focused on well, at first it was short films and feature films. Where do I start on TV, who do I go to to get that deal? But you can’t ignore it because the money is falling out of films at the moment. And so everyone’s moving to TV because obviously I believe the quality you get from making feature films should be transferable to TV. The stuff you’re seeing now on Netflix that a crowns $16 million an episode and it looks phenomenal. It really does.
Ashley: On HBO with Westworld and these things, these are high production value stuff, yeah.
Dean: Yeah, exactly. So but I suppose as a screenwriter and a bit of advice would be you know, maybe not just rely on writing feature scripts via a few series as well. To be honest I should be looking out for that more. I know I’m busy making film after film at the moment but really I should be switched on to looking at series because you never know. I know it’s a hard market and I understand from my little knowledge about TV they’re always looking for the season writer, the one that everyone’s talking about. And maybe feature films is a way where you can get notice to then going to TV because that’s where the money is at the moment. But I would definitely be looking out for TV series. That’s probably some advice to writers that write probably equal amounts of TV series as well as the feature films.
Ashley: So yeah, sound advice for sure. Well, Dean again, I really appreciate this. Good luck with the Bromley Boys and good luck with all your other projects.
Dean: Thank you. Take care. I’ll catch up next time. Cheers Ashley.
Ashley: Take it easy.
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To wrap things up. I just wanna touch on something from today’s interview with Dean. I thought it was very telling that Dean’s movie City Rats was the one that really kicked his career into gear. If you haven’t already done so, check out Dean’s IMDB page. I’ll link to it in the show notes. But that will really give you some sense of sort of the full scope of what he’s done over the last 10 or 12, 15 years. You’ll notice the short films are on his IMDb page before City Rats. And you’ll also notice that he did a film- Night Junkies, which we talked about, but it was a feature film also before City Rats. So often filmmakers think that they just need that one Clerks or Blair Witch Project. Just that one hit and they’ll just, you know, their career will just take off to the stratosphere.
And while that can happen, and I hope it happens to you, it’s very unusual. Sometimes it takes more than one film to kind of get things going. Sometimes it takes several films, a decade’s worth of hard work to really get things going. Things don’t always happen as quickly or as easy as they might for the Clerks or the Blair Witch Project filmmakers. Those are sort of anomalies. Even though they’re exciting, sexy stories, we talk about them, we mention them, here I am mentioning them on the podcast decades after they occurred because they are just sort of legendary stories and we think that’s how it really happens. But I think Dean’s story is probably more typical. City Rats was again, it was Dean’s second feature film, plus my guess is you listening to this podcast have never heard of City Rats.
Certainly, before I had met Dean it was not a film that was on my radar at all. So my point to all this is that a film can be successful but still doesn’t necessarily need to have the kind of success as a paranormal activity or some of these just real big indie films that just really blow up. They can still get your career going even if they’re not super big hits like a paranormal activity. It can be much more modest hit and still move you further along the road of your screenwriting career. Also, I thought it might be interesting to give some background information on my relationship with Dean because I think it’s really crucial to understanding sort of how screenwriting actually works. He is a producer obviously, you just listened to an interview from him, and he’s someone that I met through my own email in fax blast service.
Never had met him, never heard about him. He’s on my list and I just sent him cold query letters. I honestly don’t know how many cold query letters I sent him before he responded to one, but the bottom line is he eventually did respond to one of my cold query letters, said, “Okay fine, I’ll read the script.” He read the script, he liked it, he ended up optioning it. He was never able to get it going so I actually got the rights back, but we’ve stayed in touch. We got along during the option period. He was always very communicative to me, which is a lot more than I can say for a lot of producers, but he kind of just would keep me in the loop. Every few months, he would kind of just tell me how things were going.
We just kind of got along just chatting. We had talked a couple times on Skype. He gave me some real good advice, when I was going through The Pinch I knew him. I would say I probably had met him maybe a year or so before I started working on The Pinch, so I had some established relationship with him. As I started to work on The Pinch, just coincidentally we might be on a Skype call talking about the other script and I would just mention The Pinch. And again, he’s an experienced producer, so he was able to just give me some just casual advice off the top of his head that was pretty helpful to me. So again, these relationships are…it’s about establishing them and building them and just honestly getting to know someone as time goes on.
Just another example, last year in 2017 he was actually in Santa Monica for American Film Market. I was actually at American Film Market with The Pinch trying to sell that, he was there trying to sell his film Bromley Boys and we made an effort to meet up and have breakfast. There’s nothing like an in person meeting to really just meet someone and get a real feel for them. There’s nothing better than an in person meeting. So again, he made an effort to make himself available to meet for breakfast, I made an effort to meet him. And again, the relationship just got pushed a little bit further down the road. You know, is Dean ever going to produce one of my scripts, who knows? But it’s a professional relationship.
He’s a good example of someone who you want to get to know. He’s a real producer, he’s producing movies, he’s not at the highest level where he’s only looking at scripts from CAA and the top agencies. I mean, he has to be a little bit scrappier to find his material. And those are the people you want to get to know as a screenwriter. He’s a real producer, he’s working, he’s producing movies and that’s the sort of relationships that you wanna establish. And again, these relationships can take years before you see maybe any real fruits from it. But again, there’s a lot more to these relationships than just selling a script. I think that’s what a lot of times, screenwriters miss.
As I said, he was able to give me some advice in The Pinch. As I start to ramp up on my next project I’m sure he’ll be available, at least an email, maybe an occasional Skype call, he’ll be available to help me on that. So there’s a lot of very sort of subtle nuance things that you might get out of the relationship in addition to just did he buy your script, did he producer your script? So again, really think about these relationships and sort of the whole with taking a long view of these things, and it’s not going to necessarily happen overnight. The script I originally optioned to him, it was my female driven thriller script and I optioned it to him a couple of times over the years. I think it was probably like maybe four years ago…three, four years ago when I first met him. So again, these things can take time as things develop.
And again, just that’s the kind of relationship you wanna get. I get a lot of people emailing me about my email and fax blast service and they always say stuff, “Well, how many scripts have been optioned? How many scripts have been sold?” And there certainly are examples of people optioning and selling scripts, but I think this is a better example of what you can really hope to get out of any email or fax blast or any of these services- InkTip, The Blacklist, any of these services, Virtual Pitch Fest. Any of these services you’re using. Yes, there’s always a chance you might just get that option, get that sale and get that produced credit. That’s best case scenario. But even if that doesn’t happen, you can still build relationships with producers that can still bear fruit months and years and maybe decades into the future.
So again, really take a long view of this. Anyway, the script that originally optioned to Dean, it was my female driven thriller script and I’ve opted it a few times over the years. In fact, the first time I optioned it was right around the first time…it was right around maybe September, October when I started the podcast in 2013 because I remember it was the first option I ever talked about. It was actually not the option to Dean, it was actually to another producer. She was not able to get it going then I option it to Dean and he was not able to get it going and then I have since optioned it to yet another producer who I met on InkTip. So it’s still out there still getting pitched. So well, I’m not overly confident that this new producer will get it produced.
At least someone has it and is trying to get it made. Now, just to be clear, and this is going to be a reoccurring theme with my recap this year, the option for the script, this female driven thriller script, it actually expired…with this producer I met on InkTip, this new producer I met on Ink Tip, it actually expired in March. But I have this sort of verbal agreement with this producer not to do anything with the script without checking in with her first and giving her like a first look at this. So if someone else is interested I’ll go back to her and say “Hey, I’ve got this other interest where are you at with the project?” And then she can kind of decide whether she’s ready to move forward with it or not. This is pretty common.
Oftentimes options…and usually when I sign the option agreement, I usually make sure that when the option expires if a producer wants to continue the option, they usually have to pay me $500 or $1,000. And typically what happens is at the end of these six months the producer hasn’t gotten the project going and they don’t wanna pay that $500 or $1,000, which is fine because what it means is, is that now we have to renegotiate everything. They can pay the money and then they can get that extension. So if they feel like they’re close to getting the movie made fantastic. Just pay me the money, keep the option going. If they’re kind of still taking shots in the dark too or pushing the script around and they’re not that confident, they’re not going to want to pay the $500 or $1,000 whatever, you can negotiate.
And so then it becomes this negotiation back and I can say, “Well, no thanks. I don’t want to continue on with you.” Or I can say, “Sure, let’s do another free option,“ or I can just say, “Hey, no, you got to do the $500.” With this case of this producer that has it now, I like her and she seems to be working hard on the project, so I’m fine, don’t worry about it. She actually did do one $500 extension and then the second extension I think I let her go for free. In the case of Dean, Dean had the project was the same thing. I think I gave him a free six month option and he came back to me after six months, he had a couple of other ideas of places he could send the script, he didn’t wanna pay the $500 and I didn’t really have a problem with that.
Again, that was part of just forming this relationship with Dean. I wasn’t gonna like try and put the screws to him or make it argumentative or confrontational. I felt like he was doing a good job. I know he’s a legitimate producer so it was totally fine. I just re-signed the option agreement. He’s a little more sophisticated than this current producer and so he didn’t want to have a sort of non-exclusive verbal agreement, he wanted to sign an option agreement. And again that was fine because I had met him and talked with him and liked just sort of the direction that he was going with the project so I did give him an extra free six month option. That eventually did end and that’s about the time that I met this new producer.
I think Dean would have actually taken the option for another six months but I just told him honestly. I said, “Hey, I got another producer who’s interested in taking it and I’m just gonna let her take a take a spin at it.” And he was okay with that. I think he probably could have paid the $500 and gotten a renewal, but, you know, it gave me a good sense of how serious he was. He wasn’t willing to pay the $500. So, you know, he had had it for a year and I think that’s enough time for him to kind of vet his contacts and his financing sources and see where it was. So I didn’t have a problem after giving him basically a free option for a year, moving it over to this other producer who has it now. So that’s kind of the first piece of this 2000 recap, my female driven thriller.
It’s still kind of optioned in sort of a non-exclusive way still moving forward. Again, this producer is doing a lot of work on it so I know she is trying to get it going. I think her plan is actually to re-option it at some point in the near future. Certainly, if I start to send it out or if I wanted to push her a little bit certainly she would, but I’m kind of okay with how things are now. So that’s my female driven thriller. My baseball comedy that I’ve been talking about for years on this podcast is sort of in a similar spot. The producer still has it and is still trying to get it made but that option lapsed. I think it might have actually lapsed last June or July. But again, we’re still sort of basically with the producer, we have this sort of verbal non-exclusive agreement.
In his case, he’s paid us several $500 payments over the years, because he’s had the script for a number of years. I think there’s at least two $500 payments over the years. Maybe there’s more than that, I honestly don’t even remember. But he’s had the script for a number of years. In fact, I met him before I started the podcast, so it’s been more than five years he’s been working on this on this on this project. And again, he’s just a guy, I like him as a producer. In this case, it’s a script I wrote with a writing partner. Both me and my writing partner like this producer. And so we’re willing to just keep rolling the dice with this guy. I’ve got enough other material that I can kind of always send stuff out.
The fact of the matter is if I see something on InkTip or if I meet a producer that’s really looking for something specific I can send him this baseball comedy as well because again it’s not optioned in sort of the traditional sense. I’m not gonna really like mass market it and really push it out there as long as this producer’s doing it. But if I meet someone who’s just, “Oh, we’re looking for a minor league baseball script with an actor in thus and such age range,” and if my script is perfect of course I’m gonna submit it and see what I can possibly do with it on that front, and I can go back to this producer say, “Listen, I found this other guy, he’s serious, he’s ready to go and part ways with this other producer.”
So again, these are sort of non-exclusive verbal option agreements. And we have these old option agreements in place that we can just re-sign and re-date. So it’s not that hard to get it going if one or both of us wanna do that. I’d say the big career milestone for me this year was selling my teen comedy Josh Taylor’s Prom Date. That’s also written with a co-writer Nathan Ives who I also wrote the baseball comedy with. I’d written a number of scripts with him over the year. So we sold that script, it was actually shot last August, so it’s in post-production so that’s fantastic. It’s another one where the option lapsed for me years ago, but again, my writing partner on the project, we both kind of liked this producer so we just sort of kept this loose, non-exclusive semi option going.
Again, I think it’s been like four years. I know I optioned the script to him before I started the podcast. And the reason I can remember this is because I physically moved from one house to another. I started the podcast when I had been living in my current home for about two months, and I know I’ve been living here for five years. I remember when we were doing the option I was in my old house. So that’s in excess of five years when we first started that option agreement. I don’t remember when it expired. It might have expired three years ago or something but certainly the beginning options were as I said over five years ago. But again, we stuck with the producer and he eventually raised the money and went out and shot the movie.
Again, in my opinion, this is kind of an example of this strategy that I’m taking actually working. If we had made him pay the $500 or $1,000 every six months to keep the option going I don’t know that he would have done it. I think there were some real moments where he basically kind of just lost interest in the project altogether. He would get depressed or frustrated that he wasn’t able to raise the money and things and if he had to pay one of those $500 thousand re-options during that period I don’t know that he would have done it. You never know for sure but that’s my sense. So again, he’s a guy that me and my writing partner like so we just stuck with him and lo and behold he raised the money and shot the movie.
I also wrote a short animated TV pilot on spec this year and I optioned that to another producer. And it’s another producer like Dean who I’ve optioned a bunch of projects for. I met him through my email fax blast, but I have a real good working relationship with him. So I didn’t even really send that script out I just knew that he might be interested in it, went to him and sure enough he was, read it and liked it and optioned it. I don’t have high hopes. I think he’s very busy. He’s got a number of other projects going. I think he had a couple of sort of avenues to pursue this animated TV pilot and I haven’t heard from him in a couple of months so I need to follow up with him. But I just have a feeling that’s probably not gonna go anywhere. But who knows.
But would be the script probably that I really try and push in 2019 because that option I had with him will probably expire within the next couple of weeks and I’ll have like a frank conversation. I’m good enough friends with him at this point to have an honest conversation with him if he’s not doing anything with it he’ll just be fine with me sending it out to other people. So again, that one’s sort of loosely optioned and hopefully moving along but I don’t have high hopes for it. If you remember too this past year I was working on a script for Las Vegas performer Gregory Popovich, no relation to the San Antonio Spurs coach, but he has a Vegas show. It’s a kid’s animal show [inaudible 01:02:46] like juggling and clowning and animals, trained animals, dogs, trained dogs and cats and he has this Vegas show.
He also tours around the country. I wrote a script sort of around that and I found a producer/manager who liked the material and is interested in it. He wanted a number of rewrites done on the project before he was willing to send it out to his contacts. And they were all good stuff. He’s a really smart guy, he’s a good literary manager, he’s a good producer but I just never had the time to do these rewrites. They were smart…his ideas were good and I didn’t disagree with them but I just never got the time and eventually we were able to cut a deal where basically he’s gonna have one of his writer clients do the rewrites and then maybe I’ll be on as a writer if the show ever gets picked up but I’ll definitely be on as an executive producer, just have some contact or some…I’ll be able to work on the project at least to some degree.
But this worked out fine because then I didn’t have to spend the time doing the rewrites. It’s still sort of out there and moving. I need to [inaudible 01:03:54] another one I haven’t heard from in a couple of months so I need to follow up with him and just see what’s going on with that. I probably need to spend more time trying to get stuff optioned this year. The last couple of years I’ve been maybe a little slack on this. I haven’t done a lot of the blast for myself, I haven’t maybe written as much material just because I’ve been spending it on The Pinch and now I’m kind of spending…I mean, the last really two years have been spent a lot on The Pinch and then am I actually starting to gear up for my next own writer-director production which is a horror-thriller script. I’ve been talking about that over the last couple of weeks on the podcast.
And I actually did finish a draft that last week so now I’m just polishing up that draft. I’m gonna send that out for notes and hopefully we’ll have a locked script here on the next couple of week or month or so. The other thing that happened was a script I wrote a few years ago called Snake Out of Compton, that actually was produced and is now released. It was probably produced probably right along with The Pinch but it now was released. They had their release in September. So that was released and that’s great. If you have a moment definitely check that out. They’re doing a good job with the release, so it’s available on all the normal sources. I’m not sure if it got on Netflix yet but it’s on Amazon and iTunes and all that sort of stuff.
So if you’re interested in checking that out definitely do. It’s called Snake Out of Compton. It’s one where I was hired to write the first draft of the script then they ended up hiring a director. The director came on with his writing friends and they rewrote the script. So a lot of it isn’t my writing but hey, it is a produced credit so it’s good to get a produced credit but honestly I’ve never seen the movie so I’m not sure how much of it is mine or not. So all in all two films, The Pinch and Snake Out of Compton were both released this year, finished and released this year so that’s great. Josh Taylor’s Prom Date was produced, so a few other small options still floating around there.
It’s funny because when I sit back and do this recap, like I really hadn’t done a recap in my own mind until I sat down and kind of outlined what I was gonna say in this podcast today. And when I sit back and think about all this, it seems like a decent year for me as a screenwriter. Certainly over the last 20 years I’ve been doing this. That’s a pretty good year, one sold script, two movies released. I can’t complain but it’s like again taking a step back and looking at it, I’d say it’s not a bad year, but it never feels like a great year is all I can say. And I just sort of share my feelings on this and hopefully they’ll be helpful. For example with The Pinch, sales are pretty sluggish now that it’s being released. It’s becoming clearer and clearer like it won’t even come close to recouping the money that’s in it.
I knew this going into it so it’s not surprising, but still just a little bit disappointing. With Snake Out of Compton as I mentioned I’ve never seen the finished film. At one point the producers I noticed on IMDb they didn’t give me a writing credit, they gave me like a characters buy credit or something, something strange kind of a credit and I went back to them and said, “Hey guys, my contract actually says that I’m supposed to get writing credit on this.” So they did change it on IMDb but this was about a month before the film was released but they wouldn’t show me the film. Like they wouldn’t actually show me a cut of the film, and I suspect it’s because they had forgotten to give me credit in the actual credits of the film which my contract actually mandated so maybe they were afraid of upsetting me with that.
But again, they never sent me a link to the film, I never actually saw it. I’m not really worried about it frankly if my credit is not on the actual finished film because most people are not gonna see Snake Out of Compton but they will look at the IMDb. So really at the end of the day the value of the credit is being on IMDb. But again, it just puts a little bit of a black cloud kind of over the whole project and sort of my involvement with it. With Josh Taylor’s Prom Date my writing partner and I are still negotiating on the final contract since the option had expired long ago. We didn’t actually have a purchase agreement in place. Sounds like it’s all gonna get worked out, which is fine, but again it just sort of feels a little odd.
It makes the whole thing just a little more unpleasant than it should. It just was very odd basically for this producer to go shoot the movie without having the contract in place. I mean, I didn’t know him that well, me and my writing partner at one point weren’t sure if he was just planning and never gonna pay us. He had the script and he was just gonna shoot it. We never really thought that because again on IMDb he was giving us credit and that sort of stuff so he wasn’t trying to hide the fact that we were the writers on the project but he just didn’t send us the cheque. I mean, any writing agreement says that basically the writer has to get paid the first day of [inaudible 01:08:28] photography at the latest and that did not happen.
So again, he just made it a little bit more unpleasant than it should have been. It’s all getting worked out so that’s good, but it just never quite goes as smoothly as you might want it. And I’m sharing all this because I’m hoping it helps other people out there who are going through this. If you’re optioning, if you’re selling stuff it’s not always…it’s always a little bumpier and people like to talks about, “Oh, I sold this script and you never really hear the nitty gritty details of how they didn’t get paid until after the movie was shot and they had to get their agent to go and threaten the company to get their money. There’s always a little back story that you don’t hear about. So hopefully trying to just tell some of that and hopefully if you’re going through the same situation, know that that’s kind of just part of the course as screenwriters.
Yes, the writing is part of but there’s a whole bunch of other stuff that comes along with it. And if you’re not yet to the point where you are optioning and selling scripts, just go into it with your eyes open and realize that there still are many pitfalls ahead even after you option and sell that first script. There’s still a lot of work to be done and things will not always be rosy, and that’s fine. Just understand that’s part of the process and hopefully we can all get through it together. So that’s it for 2018, I hope everyone listening had a good 2018 and I hope everyone has an even better 2019. Good luck to everyone and thank you for listening.