Ashley: Welcome to Episode #271 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourccreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing producer Tom Bhramayana and writer Stephen Hoover. They just did a film called Tinker, a family-friendly sci-fi drama. They both live in Louisiana and are making careers for themselves far from Hollywood. We dig into their story and how they got this film produced. This is an especially inspiring story for all the writers who aren’t living near Los Angeles. 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.
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Quick few words about what I’m working on, I’m trying to get my next project going. The Horror Thriller film I’ve been talking about for the last couple of weeks or couple of months now I guess. We’ve got a first draft of the budget completed but it’s way too high for the amount of money that I actually think I can raise. There’s three producers on the project, me being one of them so we’re just trying to get together for an actual in-person meeting. We’re basically just gonna go through the budget line by line and try and figure out where we can cut corners and potentially bring the budget down quite a bit more. And it’s just proving difficult to get all three of us in a room so that’s been the delay for the last couple of weeks.
We’re probably not gonna be able to meet for another week or two but it is slowly moving along. In the meantime, I’ve just been tweaking the script and starting to make shot list. I’ve just been going through thinking about transitions between the different scenes and sequences, starting to just come up with some sort of rough shot list. One of the things that I found, I got this advice from my good friend Nathan Ives before I went into The Pinch, was just really make sure you get a lot of pick up shots and those are just little inserts, just little insert shots for every scene. And when you’re on set things move quickly and so you often sort of just forget, “Ah, we could use that or use that.”
It’s very, very helpful when you’re editing if you just have little insert shots, you know, the person’s hand twiddling their thumbs or picking up a pencil, just those little things can sometimes really save you and editing. I did some of it because I did get this advice. But that’s one of the things I’m doing with this next script. It’s like transitions. I’m going through really trying to think through one of those transitions. Those need to be planned out ahead because sometimes if you’re panning the camera one direction you wanna pan next in the other direction on the next scene and those scenes might not be shot back to back they might be shot days and days apart. You just gotta think that stuff through.
That’s what I’m trying to spend the time, go through with that, the scene transitions and also as I said just come up with a basic shot list for these inserts. I found, especially when I was doing The Pinch, I found until you really have the locations it’s hard to really know exactly. You can kinda make a rough shot list but it’s very difficult because the location is gonna be somewhat dependent, especially something like this where a lot of it is at one house. The house is gonna be important. Frankly, whatever house we end up getting, there’ll probably be some rewriting on the script just to accommodate that location. And that’s fine and that’s normal. But just in sort of a broad sense I’m trying to get the transitions, trying to get the insert shots and just a rough idea of how I would shoot these scenes, so just going through the script like that.
Again, it’s just familiarizing myself with the material, really thinking it through, understanding the sort of the purpose of each scene and just doing it slowly as I’m doing I think is helpful. Oftentimes I just wanna get going on my next project, you know, things have kinda slowed down so I’m resisting that urge to start writing something new or working on something new and just try and stay focused on this project because I am kinda committed at this point to getting this one done one way or another at whatever budget level I ultimately am able to raise. I just wanna keep my focus on this project on this script, keep trying to make it as good as possible so that I just give myself the best chance of success once it is done.
So anyway that’s the main thing that I am working on here this weekend for the last couple of weeks. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing producer Tom Bhramayana and writer Stephen Hoover. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Stephen and Tom to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Tom: It’s a pleasure.
Stephen: Thanks for having us.
Ashley: So to start out maybe you can give us a little bit about your background. Tell us a little bit about your background. Just a couple of things just to bring us up to speed. Where did you guys grow up and how did you guys get interested in the entertainment industry? Tom let’s start with you and then we’ll go into Stephen’s in a second.
Tom: Well, I’m from Louisiana and never really was into film or production and it was a really big deal back in early 2000 when we started having a really robust film industry. A lot of studio films were coming to the area and back in 2000, goodness gracious, 2011, I sold a house to an actor that came in from LA wanting to relocate and he said I should be a producer and I had no idea what he was talking about [laughter]. I wish they came with disclaimers [laughter].
Ashley: Exactly. You’re still not sure what he’s talking about but you’re… [Laughs].
Tom: And so I mean, I’m from Louisiana, I went to LSU for Mechanical Engineering. Professors told me that I was too outgoing and talked too much so [laughter]. My dad’s a Masters Civil so I mean, I understood exactly what he was talking about. Got into Real estate and been doing it 15 years and I love what I do, It’s helping families. I just felt like I could help other people and inspirational meaningful film just kind of was pulling on my heart strings and here we are man.
Ashley: Okay. So Stephen, yeah, maybe you can bring us up to speed too.
Stephen: I’m a practicing attorney here in the Baton Rouge area but I’ve been a lifelong fan of film and I mean, [inaudible 00:06:55] Michael Spock I think I saw Kirk Douglas was there with Woody Allen [inaudible 00:06:58] back when I was in college. I’ve been a long time avid movie fan and then I guess about ten years ago I started writing scripts again and you know the film. Folks came here and I had some success in various contests and got a few things optioned, a few things still under option and as a go getter I’ve sold this as a film that was actually gonna get made and I think you kinda reach a point, as you know, where you just kinda wanna get something done and not just have it on the page and in your computer but out on some screen somewhere and Tom’s definitely had to make that happen so [Crosstalk].
Tom: Yeah. Did you know that all screenplays didn’t get made?
Stephen: Yeah. Amazing [inaudible 00:07:41].
Ashley: There was a few of them. There is a few of them out there.
Ashley: How did you guys meet? I’d be curious to hear how you guys sort of formed your partnership.
Tom: You know, Stephen and I, we’ve been friends for years now and it’s because I got involved with the film community. The first production company I opened up back in 2011 was on a film called Zombie Plantation, don’t go IMDb it because it never did get made. But it was a beautiful script. We actually met through the circles that we were doing meetups. We had a lot of similar friends, acquaintances that had the same type of ambitions and they wanted to tell a story. I could respect Stephen being an attorney because I knew that he had some ethics behind him past people that I worked with did not [laughter]. It cost me about 40 grand to learn that first lesson.
But we just connected and since then we’ve done film festivals, we’ve got with groups, we’ve collaborated. It’s good to have somebody that does stuff.
Stephen: I think when you come from a business background it’s more like, “Okay, this is something we can go do, let’s treat it if it’s building a house or building a legal case.” There’s certain steps to take and then you make those things happen. I appreciate working with Tom because he’s a finisher, he is not a talker, he’s a producer as you know.
Tom: Well, we don’t get paid unless we finish something.
Stephen: Yeah. Right [Laughs]. Exactly.
Tom: Both of our jobs.
Stephen: Well, I get paid by the word sometimes, it seems like, but yeah.
Tom: I do envy that.
Stephen: You have to accomplish something but… Yeah. A lot of these producers I started doing options with. And as you know you kinda take a chance with different people and it’s like, “Are they gonna get to the finish line? Are they gonna get there? Are they gonna walk across the coals and write the cheques? And you know, who would take money out of their account or are they just kinda talking and kind of throwing wooden stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks? ” Unfortunately, I guess over the last 10 years I’ve had more of the latter kind and haven’t been able to make it happen and I’m just…
Tom: Well, they wanted you to raise money.
Stephen: Right [Laughs].
Tom: Everybody is like, “Oh man. Great. I got this great idea. I’ve got this great story.” And I’m like, “Okay. How long have you been working on it?” One person I know has been working on their project four years and when it all comes down to it the question they have to meet, especially after we had success with Tinker is, do you have anybody that has money? You know you kinda wanna help them but at the same time it’s like giving your referral out to somebody. You gotta be cautious because you don’t know what their work ethic is. Sometimes you just kinda wanna keep tight lipped.
Ashley: Maybe you guys can both just answer this briefly. You go to these sort of networking events, and I’m a big proponent I mean, almost every week on the podcast I’m telling people go to local film festivals, get involved in local film communities. And I think this is a prime example of exactly the good that can happen to it. But I’ve also been to a lot of those local group meetups and you meet a lot of people that you’re just listening and you’re like, “I don’t know if this guy’s really ever gonna do anything.” How do you discern the people that you can work with and you think actually have the work ethic that you have or versus the people that are maybe more into talking.
And maybe, there was some little thing that you saw in the other person that kind of maybe could help other people. Things to look for.
Tom: Base thing is you have to have a place for them and what I mean by that is if I talk to an actor or I talk to somebody who’s below the line, I need to be able to have a place for them. Because I’ve learnt at this point it’s a lot easier to find something that I have a passion for and then to tackle it myself because I can’t wait for studios, I can’t wait for other people’s projects because I’ve just kind of, and I hate to say it, but I’ve gotten burned waiting on other people’s projects and it’s cost years. Years of development, years of just basically walking away and I don’t have the time I mean, I know I look great for my age but I’m 45 [laughter] okay? I just don’t have the time to put two hours or two years into something just to say I have nothing to show from it except debits from my checking account.
Ultimately I meet people and I find out what they were doing, some people were reclaiming old sets from like The Expendables. I had a friend of mine that was just taking all the old sets so I realized that was a resource. It doesn’t dictate the development of the project but it can be collaboration once you get past the development but realistically…
Ashley: So this friend of yours is like buying up, as these movies come into Louisiana they’re shut down the production, they sell all this stuff off and he’s just buying up all these props and…
Tom: Matter of fact he basically [inaudible 00:12:27] but he got to a point to where he ended up getting the walls and the steel ladders or the steel steps from Expendables or just sets. I mean, he’s a cleaner and he has a warehouse and he’s like, “Look, I’ve gotta lay down your [inaudible 00:12:44].” I mean, realistically if you find people that had taken advantage of that, for an independent filmmaker, I mean, what are we about? Budget, saving money so if you can bring somebody on board to get a credit, make them part of the crew, you never know it could become a great relationship. But most of the people at those meetups are actors and a lot of them are just looking for work.
So what we did here is that we formed a filmmaking group which wasn’t just made up of actors but we made a commitment of doing four shorts one per quarter, whether it was going to be on our iPhone or whether it was gonna be on a dragon. It didn’t matter. The job was to come up with shorts, produce them and if we didn’t have content we would just duplicate something that’s already been done. But it’s the idea of working, teaching, learning together.
Stephen: I would say, just looking at the track record, if you have somebody, let’s say you’re a writer you’re looking to work with a producer, what have they done in the last five years or 10 years that they’ve been trying to produce. And then I guess certainly, do you get along with this person because it’s a long haul and where you will end up go on that ride with someone with on that journey with someone.
Tom: And do you need $2,000,000 or are you gonna do it for $500,000.
Stephen: Right. That’s a big question. But I do wish that I had the time, with my family commitments and my work commitments, to be able to go to more film festivals because I felt like once we started going to those, you’re meeting with producers, directors…
Stephen: Yeah. I got an option on a script that shot just in major places. We didn’t get a deal but hey I got reads with some big name production company so the film festivals will be a very good thing to go travel around. On the meetup you do see lot of actors and then if you’re in LA of curse you’re kinda just talking to other desperate writers so I don’t know if you’re making much progress. But be that guy that, you know, just talk to people. Don’t try to immediately go into a pitch and sell and then you have that smell of desperation. Just try to get to know people and make a friendship and make a contact and then let them suggest, “Hey, I do know a guy over here that’s gotta be maybe looking for something like that.” Even if it’s not something they do.
I see a lot of people will talk to a producer if it’s not, “Oh, you don’t produce what I write,” they just walk off. It’s like, you don’t know who that person knows and who their spouse is or friend or cousin. I mean, you’ve got to develop the network and make those contacts and actually care about the other human being a little bit along the way.
Ashley: Yeah. Sound advice for sure. So let’s dig in to Tinker which you guys were both writers on and Tom you were also the producer. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or logline. Just what is that film all about?
Tom: Tinker is about a farmer who just really doesn’t care about anyone else, he’s a reclusive person, on the spectrum, sticks to his farm that was handed down to him by his father. And he just tinkers. He goes into his workshop and he works on small engines. But what happens is he discovers a journal that’s hidden in his house that he hasn’t seen ever. And it’s his father’s journal from the Vietnam era where he was drafted by the military and brought to an undisclosed location to work on some of the top scientists projects like Einstein, Nikola Tesla, but what happens is he actually… we pick up kind of mid story. So Tinker is actually a second book of three stories because that’s how it was written.
And it was the cheapest book [laughter]. So what happened is he finds this journal and inside this journal is the plans for potentially wireless electricity machine. And simultaneously he’s alerted that he’s custodian of a six year old nephew after his sister passes. So these storms collide together and he has to decide between his obsession of tinkering or being a guardian and a father to this six year old boy. And it really plays out beautifully because Clayne Crawford and Colt Crawford are father and son and their energy was beautiful. But yeah… but it’s a family film. It’s something that is no cursing, no swearing, no sex, no drugs, and I’m sorry, we just lost half your audience.
Ashley: You lost them all.
Stephen: If you see the poster behind [inaudible 00:17:33].
Tom: But you know what, you know, we discovered that there’s a market. Because it’s really made for adults, it’s not a kid film. It’s an adult film but it’s got elements that kids like eight years old, 10 years old, they’re just coming back and they’re telling their mum, “Oh my gosh, favorite movie ever.”
Ashley: Okay, that’s great. So where did this idea come from? How did you guys get hooked up to this story? It sound like maybe it was written just three books, and I notice on IMDb there’s a number of other writing credits, someone got a Story By credit, someone got a Co-writing credit. So maybe you can just talk us through what everybody did, how you guys found the story and then how you guys developed it into a screenplay.
Tom: Back in 2012, the director and myself, Sonny Marler, he’s our director, we started KoCreo Productions and we weren’t quite sure if we were gonna be able to work together well and so we took a year of working on documentaries, music videos, reality TV with some friends out of the LA area. And we found out… I learned his editing style, I learned his shooting style and then I realized that we could actually put a feature film together. We really started on $40,000. And what happened is he had these ideas, they were all up here, every last one of them. And then he put them on paper, then they were all torn out in sheets and so that’s why he got the Story By [laughter].
He actually was good friends with Clayne Crawford and Christian Kane who are main SAG actors and they said, “We will be in your debut, once you find a producer that can do the job,” and he finally says, “Look, I got somebody and I think you’re gonna like him and he’s gonna get it done. That’s how we basically started forming a story around Clayne Crawford and Sonny Marler’s idea involving a child because Clayne Crawford wanted his son to be in the film. We literally formed a script that was going to be… when we look back you know, the [inaudible 00:19:39] that. And so we really shot 15 days for start, but realized we had a lot of holes, we had a lot of elements that we really wanted to bring to fruition. That’s when we went to Kickstarter.
Ashley: Okay. So you literally shot for a bunch of days and then did kind of a rollback, sent everyone home and then six months later went and short some more?
Tom: Yeah. Matter of fact it was a solid 12 months later, it was the following year, we were worried about the child having no teeth because he was six at the time, we came back when he was seven, which was beautiful because he was actually… he was very smart. Colt Crawford was six years old reading at an eighth grade level. And so he was even more mature and smarter when we came back. But yeah, we did basically two weeks of pick-ups 12 months later.
Ashley: And so then, who is the co-writer? Who is the guy that got the co-writing?
Tom: Okay, well Jade, she got the co-writer because she was a crucial asset. She was also my second AD on set. And while we were literally shooting on the first production we were just trying to go ahead and put these elements together because we literally went from a screenplay in November to production in December. And a screenplay was… it wasn’t what the results are, and that’s why I brought Stephen in because I knew he was a writer, he had books published and I was like, “Man look, it would be embarrassing if we win an award and I’m the writer.”
Stephen: And I think there were a lot of elements that kind of had to be tied together you know the footage that was shot, but there was like, “Okay, how do we put this all together to a movie?” So that was kind of a challenge working with what we had, which I guess would be another tip to your listeners like, “Hey, you know, you just have to manufacture [inaudible 00:21:35].” Sometimes you gotta come up with a way to get a credit, and that could be working with something that’s already in development or they’re already they’ve got elements, there are things that are already ready to go do…
Tom: Especially shorts these days.
Stephen: Yeah, exactly.
Tom: You know, you get a SAG actor on a short, you have an IMDb credit, very good chance of a Sundance, South by or Toronto, some type of festival appearance. But the experience is more valuable than the title.
Stephen: Right. And I think this year, like I said this was a collaborative effort but I think it turned out well and there was definitely some great acting in it and some good moments and we’re happy with the result. But I mean, it really takes a producer that’s gonna get in there and just and just bulldoze the team to get to the finish line because there were many times when I know Tom…
Tom: Pissed off a lot of people.
Stephen: We had to break out the cheque book to keep it going, you know just let’s get going or you know, encourage everything to get to get to the finish line because you know, okay you finish shooting and you gotta go through post and then oh, you need color correction, oh, you need sound. Oh, the distributors has this check list of things they need. So it’s a long process to get through and a lot of people… you know it’s one talking and going to the movie premiers but I mean that long haul to get from production… You know when you start shooting…
Tom: …to sell.
Stephen: To sell is a… it’s tough [laughs].
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So I’m curious Tom, earlier you mentioned that this was the middle story of a three story trilogy. How did you come up with that because when you first said that I thought maybe it was based on books or you were pulling a book but it doesn’t sound like that? It sounds like you guys cooked up this story and then maybe there’s other aspects that you’re thinking maybe shooting before and after. Maybe talk about that a little bit. I get a lot of people asking about this sort of stuff and I’m always hesitant for writers to pitch in their query letter, “Hey man. I got a trilogy here.” Just because it sounds a little overly ambitious. It’s like let’s just get one on the books before we start talking about trilogies.
But how did that sort of or its way into it and is that a little bit audacious to come out with your first feature and say, “Yeah, this is the first of a trilogy?”
Tom: Well, no. Actually, and this is gonna be really something I’d learned a lot and this is gonna benefit your writers. When you first start, and everyone who’s a writer knows that, when you first start you kind of are gonna start with an idea and then that idea’s gonna grow into something. Well’ usually that’s actually developed in your character and you wanna know what makes your character so sometimes you have to establish what type of background they come from. Where did they come from? What type of elements took place in their father’s life that put them on this path? It’s not a family curse it’s just what cards they were dealt. What happened is we said, “Okay. Well, I mean, this is going to be a story.”
It’s kind of a mystery especially because we’re working with this second part of the story but who was Grady Senior? And then who was his mom? What caused Grady Junior to be such a reclusive person besides the fact that he’s a high functioning autistic individual? And then we said, “Okay,” so we wrote a whole bunch from the sixties, late sixties, where the Vietnam era was to the point to where we actually got to the point where the little boy is actually a teenager and we’re like’ “Man, this is a great story but we can’t shoot this [Laughs].” I mean, and even some of the stuff that we shot I would say probably 25% of our film got to the cutting floor because we shot so much with so many backstories and so many layers.
Stephen: There was a subplot that we had to really trim down to keep it to that it’s kinda sweet spot the 90-95 minutes.
Tom: Stephen had some friends [inaudible 00:25:26] Nashville, she knew some people at Nashville Film Festival and we sent the film, they loved it but they were like, “Ah. We only wanna know about the little boy and the uncle. All these sub stories, these plots is distracting us”. We had to trim it and it’s our fans, mainly the Kaneiacs were disappointed because Christian Kane had some beautiful scenes in it but we tried… I mean, we still trimmed it just to get down to 96 minutes you know, so…
Stephen: [inaudible 00:25:54] watch DVD edition.
Tom: But yeah. I mean, when we developed the story there was so much backstory, locations we embellished on and by the time we said, “Okay. What can we afford to shoot?” and it was literally the moment where the uncle gets custody of his nephew and that’s where we picked up.
Ashley: I got you. Okay so let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. It sounds to me, and again if I’m wrong just correct me, but it sounds to me like Tom, you guys cooked up a script and then you went out and shot and then you brought Stephen in after that first bit of shooting. Maybe let’s talk about that process because I know this is actually something that I think is more common than people realize where a script is maybe going into production but in trouble and the producer brings in a writer so I’d be curious just to talk through that. Stephen, what did you get like when you started the project what did you actually have and then how did you and Tom work together?
Was it collaborative in the same room? Was Tom just basically saying, “Here’s my original draft go make it work.” Maybe talk through that process a little bit.
Stephen: It was actually even stranger than that it was… a lot of it was footage where I would just watch the footage and say, “Okay. Here’s that footage in screenplay format,” or I’m like typing it and transcribing it and creating a screenplay from that point. Then we would have gaps in the story were Tom had… it was a very difficult process because Sonny, like he said, has got a lot of ideas up here getting it expressed and on the page was difficult so that took navigating and Tom was very clear in what he wanted so we would have meetings and I would go write stuff and…
Tom: But mainly dialogue. That was a dialogue. Who picks a character that don’t talk?
Stephen: Yeah. Exactly.
Tom: Unless you’re doing [inaudible 00:27:45].
Stephen: It was a strange process but it was kind of a refreshing break because I was living over in the spec land and writing this where I’m controlling everything to a well. Here at least there’s something that’s gonna get there and I’ve got something to go by that’s already you know…
Tom: Well, it was convenient for him because we literally went in and although I had a script as a producer and a guide from me for my shot lists, Sonny was just out there and depending on me to get locations, me to go ahead and set up these scenes. But it wasn’t like we were passing out sides something that was gonna be definite, you see what I’m saying? We had these elements that we wanted to capture but we knew that Sonny mainly focused on the quietness of the characters, the reactions, the wincing of the mouth, the grunting. And he really got into capturing those elements which developed these characters even more so once we started that with Stephen.
Stephen: Yeah. And it was a great departure for Clayne because he just showed his range as an actor to be able to do a quiet role and get it because usually he’s offered areas you know, good old boy, buddy type characters [Laughs].
Tom: Yeah. A tough guy, you know.
Stephen: I think it showed a lot of range for him. But it was fun to develop. I mean, it was an unusual process we’ll say [Laughs].
Ashley: I wonder if there’s one specific problem, Stephen, that the script had that you fixed and maybe you can just talk through that. What did you actually get and then how did you actually fix that problem?
Stephen: I think we had an issue, there was just so much of the backstory and so much of that history that they had richly developed and I mean, that’s back story. Occasionally you’ll read a script or even see a film where you’re like, “Wait a second. The first 10 minutes I just saw this movie was backstory that we didn’t need to see.” I’ve seen a major Hollywood film like that a while backwards about a boy that I believe is born on Mars and he comes back here, they had this whole… it’s like the first 10-15 minutes of the movie was backstory. You don’t need that, so trying to trim back what we really didn’t need, that was essential and then also to dramatize things because the tendency is to, “Okay, we’ve got all this information let’s do voiceover,” and we would have these battles.
If we did have any battles, it was about voiceover and cutting that back and cutting that back.
Tom: What Stephen helped us do is isolate our characters.
Tom: I mean, really. We had multiple characters that we felt all were stars and they were but we had to isolate the characters which simplified the storyline and he helped us simplify because we didn’t. We had a lot of… I mean, you know how people wanna do, “Oh. We’ll cover that in the backflash,” or, “We’ll cover that in this.” And unfortunately that just gets monogamous if you just can’t run the story so that’s why, luckily for us, the full film is cut twos. It’s no fade, no cross blends. It’s hard cuts on everything.
Stephen: It is a movie that demands your attention. I mean, you’ve gotta sit down there and you do focus on and you kinda get into the flow of the…
Tom: So much deeper than what the focus is.
Stephen: I think it’s played really well with festivals where people are there to watch the whole movie and you got kinda focused movie folks. It’s been interesting with the reactions one of the reactions we’ve had have been somewhat divisive. But it’s I think it’s because we’re talking about fathers and sons and some of these issues about family that we kinda seem to be cutting close to the bone for some of the audience.
Tom: Yeah. Well, they’re so used to seeing something more political, something that’s more familiar and what we are is we’re really an old story. I mean, when I first started working on Tinker I watched Sling Blade like seven times during the writing process to see how that relationship brands back a new relationship from two strangers can actually grow into something and that was my inspiration in the process of getting the foundation. But that’s an old story. Now it’s not that quite in demand but we’re finding that people are reading under the actual surface story and they’re seeing the Sacre Geometry and they’re seeing the resonation, they’re seeing…we’ve got Reiki masters that are going like, “Oh my gosh! You’re the first one to actually make a movie that addresses the stuff that we believe in.”
Stephen: And we had a Tesla machine. It was in the office. We got some [inaudible 00:32:23]. There was a company that actually is building these little…
Tom: [inaudible 00:32:26] a resonation machine that basically purges the ions in the atmosphere and it’s… We did a ton of research, it wasn’t just something like, “Hey, let’s go do this. It sounds cool and unusual.” We did a ton of research.
Ashley: Yeah. Tom I wanna just talk through that moment where you guys have gone and shot for a bunch of days and you’re in that moment where you have to make that decision to cancel production, go back and retool. And I know that must’ve been a difficult moment and I think there could be a lot of value hearing your process because I know as a screenwriter, we’ve often written a draft after draft and then we get done and we just realize it’s just not working and we just have to go back and almost do a page one rewrite and those are very painful moments when we were working on something for a long time and we just have to… and it’s a lot of being self-aware and being honest with yourself and saying, “You know what? This really is not working.”
Maybe you can just talk through that process. What were the emotions you were having and ultimately how did you push through because I know there must’ve been something in the back of your mind that you knew once you cancelled that first production there was a good chance it was never gonna get back there? And that’s the fear, you know, you got this train rolling.
Tom: Yeah. That’s a painful realization too and I realized it on set whenever we were doing a moment that was your reveal and it wasn’t good enough. I mean, it just did not have that wow factor. All of a sudden I’m going like, “We had all intentions of doing a full feature,” and I’m looking at what we have, which was absolutely gorgeous, and going like, “Wow! We have a short. A mediocre short.” So we put an edit together and we started looking at this edit and we presented it to Clayne and we presented it to Christian Kane and our executive producers and says, “Look. We’ve gotta raise more money. We need to finish this film but it’s got to be bigger, it’s gotta be better like a GEICO commercial.”
Tom: And I said, “We have to do this but we don’t have any money.” I pitched to them that I could do a Kickstarter campaign and at that point we took it to social media and we were super… I mean, look, if you’re going to try to do a project of any value and you wanna kind of build your own awareness and you’re not on social media, you’re totally missing a boat. You’re missing the support. That’s the big thing. The support of someone who loves your story or loves your actors or loves the location you’re shooting at, that support really carried me through this process. And it was very disappointing looking at what we did but didn’t realize that this would never be a full… we weren’t even complete, we were well, 50%.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s talk about Kickstarter a little bit. I’ve done a Kickstarter myself for my movie The Pinch so I’d be curious to kinda get your thoughts. Maybe you can talk through that. How much money did you raise and how did you go about doing it? Did you read up beforehand? Tips, tricks, anything you can add because I know there’s gonna be a lot of people that would love to run their own successful Kickstarter campaigns.
Tom: I did a lot of research. I do a lot of research on anything, I just my nature. But at that time I realized that Kickstarter was going to be the only means because Seed&Spark just came out, you had… was it GoFundMe?
Stephen: GoFundMe. Yeah.
Tom: You know, you had a couple of those platforms but those platforms were saying, “We’ll give you a percentage of your money even if you don’t get it.” And I was like, “Okay. So now I’ve got $30,000 of $100,000 that I need. Now what do I do with that?” so I basically dove all the way in with a 30 day campaign and what that campaign did… I mean, I’ve got envelopes right now here because I was promising DVD’s to people like two months after we’re done.
Tom: You know [inaudible 00:36:18]. Look, naivety sometimes will let you accomplish amazing things [laughter]. But I literally was in perks, we were offered t-shirts. I mean, realistically we’re probably getting… you know, now that I think about it, maybe 75cents on $1 once you ship and pay for products so maybe not even that much so we still were short on funds. But we didn’t just go to Kickstarter and put a video out there, we hosted a gala, we found people that were willing to sponsor the gala and we had an artist, Jared Emerson, who is a famous artist at Greenville and he basically did a live finger-painting of Tesla and he let us auction that off. We had somebody that was so supportive of the film, they paid $3000 for it.
We had a lot of fans of Christian Kane that was able to show up set and be in the film. They’ve been huge supporters throughout that process, not just for that money but it was also supporters of the film which really was a prideful moment when we were able to share the movie to them and they were like, “Wow!” All these years at least I’m not disappointed [Laughs].
Stephen: It helped later doing the film festival circuit, like these are the folks who would say, “Hey. We’re gonna come bring the film to your area with the film festival come outs,” so we had a film festival here in the Baton Rouge area we had like four full screenings of it. Then it helped with going to the distributor because you say, “Hey look, here’s our social media. We’ve got x thousand number followers. We’ve got these people who’ve already contributed and bought…”
Tom: We won an audience award at Indie Film Gathering in Ohio. It was the 20th anniversary of that festival and we won an audience award because a lot of our actors’ fans took the 4-5hour drive to see the film. And they literally went in with Gamebusters and I’m sitting here texting one of the fans and they’re going like, “Okay. They’re about to announce. They’re about to announce. Oh my god! You just won audience award.” I’m going like, “Out of all festivals I didn’t go to.”
Tom: Use Kickstarter as a way to build your base. You can go ahead and get some money from it which is great but you also get a 1099 from it too. Okay, so use Kickstarter to… make sure that you request enough but don’t go overdo it. We did a strong push from the very beginning just to get the number up and then at the very end we did a strong push, we’re hosting a gala, getting somebody to sponsor a venue, we had 150 people at this venue. We did silent auctions so if somebody wanted to buy a piece of artwork a [inaudible00:39:09] artwork, they basically made their… they bought that artwork but they basically did it to a contributional Kickstarter. You see what I’m saying?
Stephen: It was a ton of work. I mean, again back to the producer [inaudible 00:39:20] to push it. I mean, Tom put in a ton of work.
Tom: Yeah. It wasn’t just a whole bunch of people giving us money, they were literally… we were saying, “Okay. We’re going to do this but you’re going to do this in kind basically through Kickstarter and you win this jade neckless.”
Stephen: That may also come back and influence your casting because if you’re looking at an actor like let’s say, “Hey this guy… this one’s good. This one’s good. Oh! Wait. This one has x thousand followers.”
Tom: Cool story.
Stephen: [Laughs] Makes a difference.
Tom: Cool story. So next go around we’re raising funds for the next movie, Chalet is not part of this film yet, our little young actress who won her fight against cancer, she was 10 years old at the time and she saw it on Kickstarter and she wanted to be a part of the film. Her reps reached out to us and says Chalet Brannan wants to be on Tinker and I was like, “I don’t have a role for her. We’re working on the screenplay right now so we finish the film.” It was beautiful because it actually allowed us to give Kai, the other… Colt Crawford his soundboard, his buddy. So we wrote her in based off of her contact and it’s from Kickstarter.
Stephen: Right [Laughs].
Tom: And she has a huge… Cool story right?
Ashley: Yeah. That’s a real cool story. Yeah.
Tom: Yeah. She has a huge following and she’s done a lot of stuff but I mean, she was a breath of fresh air so we literally added a whole different type of story line by introducing her. That really helped the full development of Kai which is the nephew, the young boy.
Stephen: And there are some actors out there that are looking to create that opportunity. They may have the financial background, the resources but obviously you still need your leads to be able to sell your film but hey, there’s that third role, that fourth role, if you’re bringing something to the table, you can get the job. A friend of mine wrote a script but there’s a notable… a wrestling actor who brought $50,000 to the table to be able to get his first role so you gotta think creative [Laughs]. [inaudible 00:41:36] first film I believe was funded by a mobster who wanted to get his girlfriend in the lead [laughter] so whatever it takes to get your film made…
Tom: I would have not taken that money.
Ashley: Avoid career criminals. Actors are okay, career criminals, not so much.
Stephen: Yeah. Not so much.
Ashley: What you just said Stephen is a very good point and I don’t think people realize outside of the business how much of this goes on. My guess is those sub-million dollar movies, I bet like half of them are funded by the actors to be honest because I hear that so often. When you really drill in to how these movies got funded so often that’s what you…
Stephen: Right. And a lot of it is scrabbling pieces together because you can get Gap financing, you can find tax credits so it’s trying to come up with that initial money or you’re $100,000 short so all kinds of things happen to make those films go [Laughs].
Ashley: Yeah. All kinds of things exactly [Laughs].
Ashley: What advice would you have for people that are looking to break into the business? Just some general advice. What do you think? And maybe you can come from the producer, Tom, angle as someone who’s a screenwriter looking to find a producer. How can they find a hustler like yourself? And then maybe Stephen you can give us some sort of advice for the beginning screenwriter.
Tom: First off, sometimes you have to do it yourself. Okay? That would be the biggest advice and it saw Tinker become what it has. You have to do it yourself. Because if I was waiting on producers, because I wasn’t a producer, and I still say I’m not a producer but I am, you have to just go out and do it yourself and have a vision. Also, if you do and you are going to show me a script it needs to be than 100 pages of ideas that are down because I wanna visualize this. And I really don’t wanna take the time to visualize your vision, if you will, if you’re not established. The biggest thing I guess I would say is that you have to really accompany what your vision is and the problem I see is that so many people write so boldly on their first screenplay and you’re like, “Okay, who do you see playing this?” you know?
“I see this eight-year actor and this eight-year actor and this eight-year actor and we’re gonna do it for 500 grand.” [Laughs]. And I’m like, “Okay, no.” now you gotta go ahead and gear it back a little bit because the producer’s looking at the dollar. He’s looking at the locations, the dollar, how he’s gonna lock all this down so I think it’s probably gonna be beneficial if you’re gonna put a story together try to put a story together that makes sense to a producer. Not only, “I’ve got this grand story,” but, “Look, I’ve got this grand story that’s a contained.” That’s something that’s more character driven and has some good dialogue but it’s not gonna cost you a fortune. You’ll get more chances from producers that way than you will with this, with Avatar three.
That he’s not gonna be able to raise money for or he doesn’t have the resources for or if he does, he’s gonna pick another project. So that’s the biggest thing. Be mindful about what you’re writing. It’s not all about throwing it in the 70’s if the 70’s has nothing to do with your story. Because it’s gonna cost me money.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. Stephen how about you?
Stephen: Yeah. I would say make sure your script is ready to be shown. You’ve got an excellent group of readers that you provide, I’ve used them several times before. I think a lot of people you look back and you just kinda cringe you’re like, “I really had that opportunity and I handed them a script that was not up to speed because I mean, you think it’s great, your buddies think it’s great, you’re roommate whoever, you really need to get a professional reader to take a look at it and tell you if this is Hollywood quality or what you need to do to gear it up. That’s step one, you’ve got resources available for that. If people are in LA they may have other resources they could use but I really recommend to get not a friend.
A lot of these writers’ groups I think people are just kinda smoking with each other, they’re not really giving a real feedback because they don’t wanna be critical. You gotta get that objective voice to see if you’re ready to show it. Then the other thing is, as Tom suggested, write something that you can get made at a budget level for a new writer. I’ve got a book called Trap that’s about contained thrillers so I’ve got one of those I’m trying to put together right now that could be made anywhere from $500,000 to $2,000,000 depending on the cast of it. But you’ve got a limited cast, limited number of sets, limited budget and that’s something like of course the film buried, the ultimate limited cast, limited set, got made and not launched, launched his career.
I mean, you’ve gotta make sure your script is ready to be shown and also write something that might… that you can get made as a newcomer. Because if you write these big budget things, and I see people trying to shot with like The Trilogy or The Lord of the Rings type thing right out of the game. It’s just difficult. They’re gonna replace you. They may even… even if they love the idea maybe you’ll get a story by and they’ll replace you or you’re just not gonna be able to even get it to the producers who might be able to have the money whereas if you wrote something that was budget friendly you might have been able to get sale.
Tom: You have a better chance. And I’ll be reminisced if I don’t mention this, make sure your story’s marketable. Because I mean, a producer if they wanna do it for the art that’s one thing but that’s the director, he wants to do it for the art most of the time. But a producer needs to get the money back and if he’s gonna help raise money, he needs to give the liabilities their money back and if you come to a producer with a story that’s been done multiple times or there’s just not a market like that’s why Genre films you know zombies, Horrors, I mean, Horrors in general. But like if you come in with a comedy or something sometimes it’s tough to find a market so you gotta be able to… but what makes your script so unique and potentially make me money?
Ashley: Yeah. Sound advice for sure. How can people see Tinker? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Tom: Well, we actually did our LA premiere and that was in November. We were in consideration for the Oscars but we didn’t have the budget to build the fame.
Tom: 354 I believe. You know what the cool part about that is? The moment we found out that we were in consideration as one of the small films I got my list and I saw all these beautiful films that I’ve seen throughout the year on this list and then there was Tinker right above Tomb Raider [laughter] because it’s alphabetical so I’m like, “Ah! This is so cool.” But the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts library reached out to me and requested a copy of the screenplay to put in their Core collection. But I didn’t just say, “Oh yeah, here’s a PDF.” I went ahead and called the librarian and I said, “Okay, look, I am new to this.” There’s one thing good about being a first timer in anything is you just play stupid and I was like, “Look, I’m new to this. I have no idea what the Core collection is.”
And he explained to me that the Core collection doesn’t get every script like every nominated script because the stories have been done over and over and just because it’s nominated doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something they wanna add to their collection. But they found that Tinker was a very unique film just in its entirety and they wanted to add it to their Core collection. I was like, “What does that mean?” he goes, “Well, pretty much your name is an infamy.
Tom: Take it. Take it.
Ashley: Yup. Yup. Exactly.
Tom: So where do you find this jewel? Right here. This is Tinker and we won 2019 Best Of throughout the festival run, 25 nominations. Our distributor for domestic is Gravitas Ventures and currently you can see it on Amazon, Voodoo, any cable outlet, Video On Demand, direct TV, AT&T, Vimeo, iTunes, you can buy it on Amazon.com, Amazon Prime. I know that Netflix is gonna be coming as well so luckily for us the audience, the people that have watched it have been vocal enough to give a review so we’re four out of five stars on Amazon and we’re four out of five on Voodoo and we’re like a four point three out of five on iTunes. I think the film is speaking for itself but right now it’s for transactionals which is the process, you have transactional which is the very first phase of distribution and then you’ll get to subscription based.
We’re only three months… almost three months into our release.
Tom: Watch it. And if you do watch it and you love it, please give it a review. If you watch it and don’t like it don’t give it a review.
Tom: Well, this is what we find. He was saying that the audience was polarized. We have people that are five star and then we have about 10% that are one. And it’s interesting because I really think that production value alone I worth three [Laughs].
Stephen: And you know, I think they’re okay. It’s like if you make a film and there’s no strong reaction to it and people are just like, “Yeah. Whatever,” and they forget about it even if it’s not that they walked out of the theatre, that’s negative to me, that’s the I don’t watch. If I have a strong reaction even if it’s a whatever, if it’s positive or even negative, sometimes the negative ones I’m like, “Ow! Why did that film bother me so much?” so I mean I’m okay with it.
Tom: Well, it’s the marketing too because I mean, I’m marketing this is a family drama. Yes there’s some fantasy elements, we hit number one on Amazon fantasy, we hit number 43 on Amazon family and number 62 on Amazon drama when we released. We didn’t hit the number one spots but for a small film that’s low budget, ultra-low budget basically through SAG’s terms, we did a lot with what we had which was very little and it was the collaboration that was able to help us do this with great talent, good visuals. But realistically, they were marketing this as a sci-fi and I’d do too but it’s not a sci-fi if you are a sci-fi genre fan. I don’t have big spiders, three-headed sharks, I don’t have anacondas eating giraffes or… so no.
This is not a sci-fi for you. But if you’re into family and real struggles and being a fly on a family’s wall while they go through heartache you might see some inspiration in this.
Ashley: Well, perfect. Perfect. So what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Anything you’re comfortable mentioning, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, website…
Tom: Oh yeah. What we’ve done right now is that, I’ve got a lot of producer films and it’s funny because when the film was released they stop, they don’t promote, they don’t try to sell anything, they won’t even talk about it, they move on to the next project. We have a huge fan base on Facebook because we share behind the scenes photos. We’re about to start dropping a bunch of cut footage, the bloopers. We’re staying active because we do have a trilogy. We do have another two stories to tell and the first one we wanna sell as a prequel. So at Facebook @tinkermovie, you can find us on Twitter @tinkermovie and on Instagram @tinkermovie and you know it’s kind of… no fairies, we don’t have any fairies in the movie.
But nobody had this dagum name except for a short which kinda blew my mind and so we were able to kind of… we connect through Twitter. As a matter of fact, our Twitter audience is just awesome. We don’t have a whole bunch of followers we have a lot, I mean, my social media coach is like, “You all have so much retention.” The content is what people are looking for, they’re looking at the behind the scenes photos, they’re hearing the stories of the characters that are in the film and their development and their backstories. That’s what we’re showing. We’re not just saying, “Buy the film.” Buy the film, she says I need to do it more often so I might take her up on it. But right now we’re just sharing our journey because it’s an amazing journey.
Stephen: And I’ve also got a blog Wagstaff the Blogspot, you search Stephen Hoover you can find that. And then also and then also my Amazon page has all the books available on various film topics.
Tom: So Stephen, what do you have coming up because I know that’s what he asked right?
Ashley: Yes. What’s next for you guys?
Tom: So what next will you do?
Stephen: What’s next for me? Well, I’ve got two projects under option, one’s for a Horror comic that’s the one that got I wrote that won a bunch of awards when I first got back in screenwriting and I mean, Jesse Rosenblatt has that optioned and he’s trying to put together pieces of the puzzle. Then I’ve got the contained Thriller that I’m actually trying to raise the money to do here. Then I’ve got another project called the Funk You that’s a fish out of water Comedy that [inaudible 00:55:08] has optioned and he’s trying to get the attachments together. I guess I’m kinda like actually in that, “Hey, I’ll option stuff with people, hope they can run with it,” but I’ve got multiple projects in various stages of development always [Laughs].
And I also realized sometimes you just gotta get your own money and make your own film happen.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. And I wonder if you can just briefly, Stephen, just talk through those three projects. How did you actually network with those producers? Was it through Intel? Was it through this service, that service? Was it just networking at events?
Stephen: You know, the Funk You, which is a fish out of water comedy that was actually through an Intel contact, I did actually get that through Intel. Then with Horror comic I can’t even remember where I met Jesse, I’ve known him for about 10 years now. He was actually an attorney for the Weinstein Company then he went to LA and he just liked the script and he said, “Hey, what have you been doing with that?” I said, “Well, look, the other got the other option ran out,” he said, “Look, I’m out here in LA, let me see if I can run with it.” And he’s that producing partner out there. I give people an option if I feel they have a decent chance of making something happen.
Ashley: Yeah, it’s totally worth it, yeah.
Stephen: Yeah. I mean, it’s like, “Hey, you wanna go and try to make it happen?” you know, go for it and like I said, I’ve got a buddy, he’s got three producer brothers and even he’s like, “Oh, I never get three options,” I’m like, “If the guy can make something happen.” I don’t wanna make $500 to be in the way of making it happen. And then Tom and I may work on a project together again. We…
Tom: We started it.
Stephen: Yeah. We started it, they were still on the wraps of the…
Tom: It’s a series so I mean it’s a comedy and it’s something that I’m familiar with and he actually was starting to put our series bible together and we got these characters but all of a sudden we have a shift on how we want the story to go which… so yeah, we’re working on that.
Stephen: Yeah. We’re working on that, it’s gotta be reworked and it’s always a process and you never know what thing is gonna get hot that’s what… I mean, people who write one thing and they’re working on one script for 10 years, I’m sure you’ve run into them, you’re like, “Man, I’ve got multiple things happening. “ you never know what project is gonna… Hopefully, it’s like popcorn, one thing after another starts popping. But right now we’re still heating up the skillet [Laughs].
Tom: I tell you what happened to me is that after Tinker got the buzz that it did, I was actually being approached by people that wanna do projects. And I always told myself, “Why would you do a short film?” but then again, I find myself having a short film that we’re shooting in March on an April and we’ve got another one potentially in May or June. I’ve luckily been able to have part of the writing on that because I’m also looking at these shot lists and try to envision the way that I’m seeing this film to come out. I’ve been approached to do a documentary, a pretty large documentary. And then of course we just submitted to the International Christian Film Festival a screenplay called The Well based off of a book by a friend of mine who lives in upstate South Carolina Michelle Barfield.
I read that book back in, I’d say 2015, 2014 and I just was like, “Oh my goodness, this is…” I don’t wanna bore you with the full story but it was just meant to be. We just got finished doing our multiple last revision [laughter] and we’re happy with it. There’s still some elements that we wanna clean up but it’s a feature link. I still gotta sell houses to pay for this addiction.
Tom: Okay, this habit but hey I…
Stephen: Still chasing legal cases to pay the bills so yeah. You gotta do what you can do with the time that you’ve got.
Tom: Yeah. But if you like family film, if you like something that you can give the family just follow me because I’m definitely focusing on that. The Well is an awesome story and I can’t wait to… we just actually launched our Facebook but I’m looking forward to bringing that one out. It takes place in Africa or basically takes place in the green screen.
Ashley: I got you.
Ashley: Green screen in Louisiana.
Stephen: I got invited to join the WGA because the Funk You producer’s a signatory even though they hadn’t made the film yet so I’m kinda debating that, I’m like, “Well, I mean, this is not a professionalism but…” I don’t know.
Tom: One day I’ll be union.
Stephen: We’ll see.
Ashley: Yeah. We could have a whole conversation on that. Maybe we’ll circle back on that. Email me when you make your decision because I’d be curious to hear kinda your thoughts on that. Anyway, Stephen and Tom, I really appreciate you an hour out to talk with me. Great interview. Congratulations. I know how hard it is to get a micro budget film done so it really is a long journey and I wish you guys luck. And of course when you guys have done your next film let me know and we’ll have you back to talk about that.
Stephen: Okay, we’ll…
Tom: Actually, thanks so much man.
Ashley: Thank you. Alright guys. Take it easy. Bye.
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.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Mike Kravinsky who just did a feature Drama called Nothing To Do. Another inspiring interview from a guy who’s just out there making things happen for himself. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.