SYS Podcast Episode #269: Chris von Hoffman
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #269 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourccreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director Chris von Hoffman. He was on the podcast before in Episode Number #165 so check that out if you haven’t listened to it already. I will link to that in the show notes. In this new interview we talk about his latest film Monster Party. It’s a low budget Horror Mystery Thriller feature film that is out now. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes, or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #269. If you want my free guide-How To Sell A Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide
Quick few words about what I’m working on, on my feature film The Pinch The Crime Thriller feature which I finished last year. As I mentioned before, we’re officially launched on several VOD platforms including iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, which includes Amazon Prime, and that should be available in the US, Canada and in the UK as well. I just signed on with a sales agent to handle the other territories and potential cable and TV deals. I haven’t gotten an update for him in a while so I need to email him this week and hopefully see what’s going on over there. If you do subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can basically watch the movie for free. You just go find it in Amazon Prime and you can just play it. If you don’t mind please do write a review and post that in Amazon.
Those reviews are very helpful it just gets the film listed in more places on Amazon if they’re seeing a trend of people liking the film. Also, I sell the film directly from my website www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/thepinch and that’s all lowercase, all one word, just www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/thepinch. If you buy it from there you can also add the three hour webinar I did called The Making Of The Pinch. I cover every part of the process of making this film, writing the screenplay, raising the money, pre-production, production and post-production. I put quite a bit of time preparing for this webinar. So if you’re thinking about making a micro budget film, I think this would be a very educational video for you to watch.
The film is slowly starting to make some money back which is always nice. I’m gonna wait a few more months before I really dig in to the money and how much money has been recouped and really kind of go through that. I think this sort of information isn’t shared often enough by filmmakers. But I think it’s very important just to share it and show other people what the reality of these micro budget independent films really looks like. Right now, the film has recouped about 10% of the hard dollars that are in it, which I think is a good sign for the first few months, so things are at least chugging along. Hopefully you can keep going. Now keep in mind 10% is not a lot of money considering there’s only about $22,000 of hard dollars in it.
So before I really dig into the weeds with distribution again, I just wanna let things settle and kind of get a better picture of where we’re gonna end up with The Pinch. Anyway, so I’m trying to get my next project going which is a Horror Thriller. I’ve talked about that a little bit. I’ve got my producer working on the budget and schedule so that should be done this week and then I’m gonna go back to some of the potential investors I’ve been talking with over the last couple months, see if I can bring them onto the project. They’re asking the normal questions. I’ve talked to a bunch of people just about coming on in various aspects of the film and they’re asking, “Well, when are you gonna shoot? What’s the budget look like?” and that kind of stuff.
So I’m just getting that a real format, an actual budget and actual schedule done. And that’s what we’re gonna use to shoot this film. So that’s moving ahead slowly. Everything always takes a little bit more time. What I’ve been doing as a writer in terms of my own writing is I’ve been going back through the script and working on transitions. Just trying to make some of the transitions between different scenes just a little more creative writing, some notes about how we’re going to shoot this. I’ve been coming up with some very basic shot list. I’m not going through a real definitive shot list kind of a thing but as I’m going through the script, just have like a little outline of how potentially I would shoot certain scenes.
I’m also just tweaking little things, bits of dialogue here as we go. It’s slow going. The script is basically locked. It’s slow going because you go through a bunch of pages and you don’t necessarily do a lot so you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing a lot. But just slowly I’m going through the script, becoming more familiar with the material, just thinking it through a little bit more. But the script is basically… it’s not basically, it is locked. It’s locked. And when I say it’s locked, that means that once you do the budget and breakdown, that budget breakdown correlates to page numbers and scene numbers. So in final draft, you can just go and say, “Lock script.” and then basically just it locks the script down.
So when you add a scene it becomes instead of like scene 75 and then you add a new scene it doesn’t become 76 it becomes scene 75A. Same thing as you push on to new page numbers. If you’re on page 60 and you push on to page 61, it actually labels that new page 61A in final draft so that the page 62 is still intact and exactly as it would, it was before when you did the budget and schedule. The budget and schedule, again, that references back to these page numbers and scene numbers, so you don’t want those to change once you’ve done the budget and schedule. But of course, obviously things do change. So that’s what a final draft does. Again, it just keeps track of those scene numbers as extra 27A or 35A page numbers, scene numbers and that’ll be 27B or 20C, D. And it keeps track of the versions as well.
The first version is the blue version. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m just doing some little tweaks here and there. And that hopefully won’t affect the budget and schedule really at all. I mean, I have enough production experience to kind of know. I’m not going in there and rewriting whole scenes that are gonna dramatically alter the budget or the schedule or anything like that. It’s really just some tweaks at this point. Anyways, that’s what I’m doing. And as I said, hopefully we can get this budget and break down figured out this week. And then I can start to really go back to some of these potential investors and get all that locked in. Anyways, that’s the main thing that I’ve been working on over the last few weeks.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Chris von Hoffman. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Chris to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Chris: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
Ashley: So you were on my podcast almost two years ago on Episode Number #165 with your film Drifter, so I’m gonna link the link to that in the show notes. People can check that out to get a little more background information on you. And then today we’re going to dig into your new film Monster Party starring Julian McMahon and Robin Tunney. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick logline or pitch. What is this new film all about?
Chris: It’s about three teenage thieves from North Hollywood from the valley of [inaudible 00:07:34] the main kid is forced to inherit this debt from his father and he is abandoned. They kind of form this game to infiltrate a mansion’s dinner party posing as waiters. And but over the course of the night, they discovered that the people running the dinner party and people hosting a dinner party and the guests and all, they’re all part of this society of recovering serial killers for the social elite and then [inaudible 00:07:58] spirals out of control and goes in there and becomes a survival story inside this mansion to get out alive. Yeah, that’s the gist of it.
Ashley: Where did this idea come from?
Chris: I mean, I was developing it in like early 2016… 2016 actually with my producing partner, and it was the first project that I was developing with him. And he was looking for low budget, high concept stories, limited locations. And so I pitched him a bunch of ideas and he really seemed to respond to this one because it really had something to say. I think underneath I had a little substance to it, which is always the kind of story that I’m attracted to begin with. So we kind of were in sync on that and then I just sort of developed it pretty much all throughout 2016 just getting other producers attached and having different financing from different people kind of flow through and then finally I was able to get representation to this project as well as the Drifter and I was able to get financing package through that and so I was just…
I think I was born sort of in between both these worlds slightly growing up. My father’s side of the family was slight upper class, my mother’s side of family was that much more blue collar middle class. So I was just, I was actually born in between these different worlds and seeing both sides and just how different they were radically. I just would always… whenever they would overlap with each other, it was always kind of strange and awkward and didn’t quite mesh. So I always thought, I just thought it’d be a pretty cool personal thing to integrate into the story and, but also under sort of genre umbrella and see what happens when these two worlds kind of crash under, you know, crash together under very bizarre circumstances and just see how it plays out.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So let’s talk about the writing of the script a little bit. How long did it take you to write this script? You mentioned sort of this long development process. Just from top to bottom. Did it take you a year? You said 2017.
Chris: Yeah, yeah. No. The entire year of 2016 I was writing that story. It was definitely going to different levels, getting more and more notoriety around it as we were progressing through it. But I was writing… well I was still writing when we were at pre-production as well like in 2017. The major rewrites…. I was writing it all throughout 2016 before it was really strong enough to go out to cast and their agents to read. So it took about like a yearlong writing process of writing the scripts.
Ashley: Yeah. So you say you didn’t feel like it was strong enough to go out to cast. What does that development process look like for you? You had a draft you sent it to this producing partner. Was there anybody else taking a look at it, giving you notes?
Chris: Yeah, no. I was definitely getting like pretty endless amount of notes all throughout that year. At the time when you’re in the middle of it just feels like the notes are never gonna end, but it was definitely… it was pretty wall to wall notes just really trying… and I think in the beginning, because this was my first time working with a real producer and other people’s money and another production company, so I was kind of… in the beginning, I was little naive with the writing process of wanting to just try to be overly generous and just take all their notes and try to make it work somehow, and I realized pretty quickly, that just doesn’t work. You really have to be careful about that kind of nip and tuck what they’re really saying because they’re gonna kind of just sometimes note three doesn’t connect to note 12.
So I mean, just kind of like speed balling things that they’re suggesting. The writer’s responsibility is to really see which ones makes sense for the story and which ones just are not even worth trying. At a certain point I was just like, “You know what, let me just write the script that I wanna see.” And when I did that, that’s when all of a sudden things started to like… I mean, there was still rewriting after that, but that’s when all of a sudden just the process started to… it got to the next level. That that ended up being the best draft. So yeah. So I think it’s always good to just take a step back and just really focus on just the story and not try to juggle all these notes in your head because you’re just going to go crazy.
Ashley: Yeah. How many drafts do you think you wrote of the script?
Chris: Might have been like… I mean, I guess maybe not an enormous amount [inaudible 00:12:24] I’ve heard people talking about how they had 30 drafts. It was probably like seven or eight page one rewrites. Maybe like six page one, maybe like a couple more heavy revisions. And so probably, I’d say seven or eight drafts or so.
Ashley: Yeah. And maybe you could give us an example of some of the notes that people were giving you just to kind of get a sense of what you’re up against.
Chris: Well, actually one of the notes in the beginning was… there were… one producer was sort of suggesting I write it right like the PG 13 version, sort of like write it like a PG 13. And I just kind of… actually I tried. I really did try to write a version that was PG 13 friendly and I just hate a PG 13 horror movie, so I was like, really dreading doing that because I just didn’t feel like it was gonna lend itself well to this kind of story especially with these kids and just the way they talk with each other. So I never liked writing that draft. I ended up just hating the dialogue because I just didn’t feel that the dialogue was authentic inside PG 13 kind of movies.
And that was definitely like a note that I… it was kind of like just a one off kind of note but I certainly tried to make it PG 13. It was kind of funny doing that, but yeah…
Ashley: I’m just gonna say how do you approach screenplay structure? You know Blake Snyder, Sid Field maybe something more intuition based? When you’re writing a script, how do you approach screenplay structure?
Chris: I mean, I definitely… I just really feel like we’re living essentially in a televisual age where it’s like TV is such a big deal over movies now and people have short attention spans, like Netflix and YouTube videos and all that. So I think really kind of adapt to the times when it comes to the way you’re gonna lay out your story. I think with me, I really liked movies that are complete escalating, and I really try to approach my movies almost like three hours or three episodes of TV or something. And more like constantly propelling and shifting and piling on top of itself that you really have the most entertaining experience I could possibly give you because there’s a certain amount of time that you have to get your story and I just really want to make sure I’m filling to the brim as much as possible.
So I think at this point in my life I’m just approaching it the way I would wanna see the movie and then well, I’m just approaching it the kind of speed and the kind of tempo that I wanna see the movie and I feel like that’s gonna work for other people as well just because every… Unfortunately, it’s just that people’s attention span’s just gotta be very careful about how you’re gonna structure your story. You gotta make sure that it’s constantly escalating and then there’s no fat on screen because people just don’t have time for that. Including myself so.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, sure. So you mentioned this producing partner that you started this project with developing with him. How did you meet that producing partner?
Chris: It kind of all connected back to the Drifter honestly. It was the guy who was the domestic validation for Drifter ended up referring me to the producer and kind of got me in a room with him and I just. He had made… he was kind of making a career out of making a lot of high concept, low budget films and that was sort of… That’s certainly in my wheelhouse. That was certainly the kind of stories I wanted to tell were similar to the kind of stories he was producing. So, I just kind of… My first meeting with him, I mean, just my first meeting with him was kind of… I didn’t quite know what they were looking for exactly. I just had a lot of ideas about I realized they had a very specific framework to this very, very Roger Cormanesque to design the story around.
So I just went back home and followed up like 20 ideas that fit his framework and this ended up being the man he wants to move forward with.
Ashley: Yeah. And so then you mentioned that you had your script and you were sending it out to people. You were trying to raise money, those things were falling through. Who was sort of taking the lead on that? Was this producing partner or did you have a number of contacts that you were trying to raise money for as well?
Chris: The producing partner was definitely… because at the time he was at a company that was gonna… that actually did the financing themselves, but it was on a much smaller scale than the movie ended up being on so we… But then through him and the script, I was able to get representation, like, proper representation. And I think once I got representation, all of a sudden so many other doors opened up and so many connections all of a sudden happened and my manager was just like… He’s just an incredible person. He just kind of really believed in the film He just kept on [inaudible 00:17:07] want to make sure that we had the best… the most appropriate budget that we could get for the movie. And so we’re meeting with a lot of different people but eventually we landed on the best person for the job or for the project so.
Ashley: So let’s talk about it… sounds like you got a manager first and he was the one that kind of opened some of these doors. Is that correct?
Ashley: So let’s just talk about that for a minute. What does that actually look like? And for you, what was that? You went into a meeting, you guys chit chat, you try and see if it’s a good fit. Maybe you can just give us some tips on sort of, once you get that meeting with a manager, what are those next steps and what do you need to do to impress the manager, but also what do you need to do to look out for to make sure that that manager is actually gonna be a good fit for you?
Chris: Yeah, I think really it’s just like everybody’s a human being. So I think it’s just so much like a blind date. You’re just going into… I’ve been talking to them. The producer and suggested me to them, I looked him up, looked at their client list, I was pretty impressed. I thought it was a perfect level for where I was at because they represented a lot of up and comers, but it was also a lot of some veteran people. It was just a perfect balance. It was very intimate, and so I finally went in. I’ve been emailing with them a little bit of that. I send them some of my stuff on top of the most prescriptive, they read, they liked and then I just ended up meeting with…
Actually I have two managers. I was meeting with both of them and one of them was the co-founder of the company, so it was even more pressure. And I just went in the room, went to one of their offices and just they were just in front of me and they’re just asking some questions but I really, I really I enjoy… I love doing interviews so I mean, I love just talking about all the stuff and… I started making movies since I was like a child, so I just had all the stuff turning up inside of me to explain myself to them and just let them know that it’s just what I’ve always wanted to do. And that is where I see myself in 10 years. I was very specific about the kind of movies I wanted to make and I didn’t really make any apologies for them.
These are the kind of movies I wanna make this kind of telling them I’m going for it, these are my favorite movies, this is my favorite director, and these are… I was just very clear because that’s all they want. They wanna make sure that you’re very clear about what kind of director you wanna be, where you see yourself in 10 years. And so I just… and I knew pretty quickly that they were like the guys from… I just really loved the atmosphere. They were just very… they weren’t trying to, li bullshit me about anything today. Yeah, they were I could tell that it was going to be, it was going to be very good. It was just a gut feeling.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk about the casting of this movie. You got some great cast- Julian McMahon, Robert Tunney. Maybe you can talk about that process. I get a lot of emails from people saying, “Hey, how can I get this actor attached to my project?” Did you guys hire a casting director? Was it the cloud of your manager being able to get in touch with these things? Maybe just talk about that process a little bit, bringing on some name cast to a project like this.
Chris: Yeah, it was. For me like casting, I used to be an actor for like six years, in high school and after high school in New York City, and I do a lot of theater. So I’m very obsessive about performance and very obsessive about getting the right cast. I feel like cast trumps everything else. I think there’s so many filmmakers that just don’t seem to really care about cast and they just want to get some pretty faces and just focus on getting the goal or something, and I just don’t subscribe to that kind of thing so I take it very seriously with performance. Certainly, I think definitely my representation helped massively getting a lot of the cast members were able to get because they just had so many connections with people’s agents and managers.
We had a wonderful coverage at CAA there was [inaudible 00:20:25] that I’m still great friends with to this day and I’m still working with on another project right now. He just really helped us so much. He believed in the material and just really getting us connected with people that we needed to connect to and want to make sure that we’re able to get the best people for the job. And we’re able to get a nice balance of up and comers and veterans, and then people at the right time and they hadn’t really done something like this. I just wanted to make sure that I was going to be able to meet with them immediately to explain to them that I’m not just trying to make a one dimensional glory fest.
I wanted to make a movie bigger than what it is, we’ll just have something underneath it. But still deliver on what it is, but hopefully just what I was going for with the tone and the kind of performance I didn’t want this to be… I just let them know that I care very much about what they do and I really truly put a lot of tension on them so that they will respond to that because I have much more… I can relate much more to actors than I can camera people and just people that are overly technical and the effects people and all that, because I didn’t go to film school, so all I really truly respond to is performance.
That’s the thing that I love the most. I think it was big getting in the room with them. There was an enormous amount of self-tapes. They were being sent by mail with tons of actors. Some made somewhere in the movie, some weren’t. It was really a great experience just meeting a lot of people around town and a lot of up and coming actors, and there’s some familiar actors. So yeah, but definitely my management and my agents, definitely they were huge in helping us get the cast we were able to get.
Ashley: And I’m curious, what came first- getting some of these name actors signed on to the project or raising money? Did the name actors help you raise money or was it vice versa, you already had the money before you started pitching the actors?
Chris: We had the money before we started pitching the actors, but of course you want to… once you have the money you’re not exactly… certain movies once you have the money you’re not necessarily making the movie immediately. You gotta make sure that it balances out with the cast but value wise matches up with the budgets so everybody’s happy. But yeah, I definitely feel like the raising the money part was much harder because there was at certain point we’re really getting like, I mean, all of a sudden [inaudible 00:23:23] at a certain point it just started snowballing I think.
I was really… just really… it was just blasted timing with a lot of things and… but it was a pretty… there were some tricky things. There were some roles that were getting some passes that we needed to kind of re-approach certain strategies by getting certain actors and roles. But overall everyone just really seemed to respond to material and someone like Lance Reddick and Erin Moriarty already they were like first two people to come on and they were… I had been a big fan of them for years. So yeah, I think once more and more people start to get involved other people start to respond to material. And I put together like a rip real and there’s a lot of things that I put together to show them what this movie is. They kind of instantly knew what it was. So yeah, definitely…
Ashley: How much do you think Drifter helped versus just having a piece of strong material? Was the combination of the two… do you think if you’d had a piece of strong material, it didn’t really matter that you had already done a film like Drifter? Maybe you can weigh that a little bit.
Chris: Overall, I definitely think the combination of the two helped massively. But that being said, someone like Lance Reddick signed on and he hadn’t even seen Drifter, he just really liked the script. So I think not all the actors who’d signed on had immediately seen the movie. They just seemed to enjoy talking to me and they enjoyed material, then later on, they watched the movie. But definitely a lot of them did watch the movie in the beginning, but not all of them. So I think… but for me it was definitely a combination of both. I think Drifter certainly elevated and helped a lot.
Ashley: So how can people see Monster Party? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Chris: It’s coming out on November 2nd USA. We’re gonna get a National Select Data release. And then I know in Los Angeles it’s playing at the Laemmle Monica Film Center. In New York appointed the Cinema Village and then it’s sort of playing in AMC Theaters Miami and Chicago and Tampa in different places. But it’s also getting a dual digital release as well so like on VOD, iTunes all that, but it will be released everywhere on everything on November 2nd this Friday.
Ashley: Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing and just kind of stay abreast of your career? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I’ll round up for the show notes.
Chris: Facebook. I think Facebook and Instagram are certainly… I do have Twitter which I do post on but Facebook and Instagram are definitely the major social media outlets that I use.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Perfect. I will round up those links for the show notes. Chris, once again, congratulations on this film. And I look forward to following your career and talking with you about your next film.
Chris: Well, thank you so much Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you. Will talk to you later.
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 logline, 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 more 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 are 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 gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They’re looking for shorts, they’re looking for features, TV 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 logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting 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, the 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.
Just a quick shout out to screenwriter Alec Peters. He just optioned to screenplay through one of the leads that we syndicate through SYS Select program. A big congratulations to Alec and thank you Alec for emailing to tell me about this success story. I added a little blurb about his option to the SYS success stories page if you want to learn a little bit more about it, or if you wanna just check out what some of the other people who have tried our services are saying, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. I love hearing the success stories. They’re inspiring. I just love sharing them with other people. It really does make me feel like all the content and the services that I offer through Selling Your Screenplay are actually helping people, which is extremely gratifying.
So again, just a big thanks to Alec for writing in and telling me about this one. If you have had some success with any of the SYS Select services or even just the free blog and the free podcast any success stories at all, just don’t hesitate to email us at info at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Again, I just really love hearing all these success stories.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Mark Steven Johnson. He started his career as a writer and has now moved into directing as well. In fact, this latest film that he did, Finding Steve McQueen, he actually just directed he was not the original writer on it. I think he did some rewriting but he doesn’t actually even have a writing credit on the film, so he’s really moved into a lot of directing. Obviously his background is in writing. He started his career writing the spec script for Grumpy Old Men and then he went on to write a bunch of studio films Simon Birch, the Ben Affleck Daredevil, Ghost Rider with Nicolas Cage, and a number of other big studio films.
So it’s a really interesting interview getting that sort of perspective on this, just how to break in, how he broke in with Grumpy Old Men and it kind of got his career going. And then again, we talked about this this latest project that he’s working on. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.