SYS Podcast Episode #272: Mike Kravinsky
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #272 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 Mike Kravinsky who just did a feature drama called Nothing To Do. We dig into this film and how he got it produced. We also talk about his background and how he got into screenwriting. 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 #272. 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.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Mike Kravinsky. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Mike to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Mike: Thank you actually. Thanks so much for having me.
Ashley: So to start out maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Mike: Well, I [inaudible 00:01:57] for me. Filmmaking, writing and directing are a second career for me. I spent 29 years working for ABC news in Washington DC for… as I said for 29 years, and back in 2010 they were offering buyouts and I just used this bat as an opportunity to try this second career this… I always had wanted to make films. At ABC I was a video editor and a technical director and in the back of my mind I had always thought I’d work in film but ABC turned out to be such a great place to work and you know, great people, you know, meeting interesting people, all of that stuff. And so I stayed, but when this opportunity came along, and I do call it an opportunity as a buyout for me, it basically gave me the seed money to experiment with this new career. And so basically I’ve been learning and making films and writing since 2010.
Ashley: Okay. And so what were some of those first steps? So you’ve got this buyout, you’ve got a little bit of seed money, what were some of the first steps to actually saying, “Okay, now I’m gonna try and actually turn this into a career?” Had you been writing screenplays sort of in your spare time, were you literally starting at ground zero? Maybe you can kind of describe that transition a little bit.
Mike: Sure, I was actually starting at ground zero. I had done just in my spare time while I was at ABC, I used to just make these fun little videos. This is pre YouTube and so I would make these things at work and then I would show them at parties and things like that. But I’d never really sat down and tried to figure out a screenplay and doing something that is fictional from beginning to end using all of the lessons learned about story arcs and all of that stuff I started with in 2010. I did a small film called The Nextnik which was a story about a guy who worked for 25 years at a company and then he’s let go, you know, but still almost autobiographical. And he journeyed to find out what was next. It was so basic.
The story idea, the whole arc of the story, all of it was just really very simplistic. I got a few local actors who were willing to hold my hand and walk me through the process. And it actually turned out okay, but you can definitely tell it’s a first effort [laughs]. But from there I realized how much more complex and how difficult it is to write a story that’s engaging, that has those little twists in it, you start at point A and you end at point B, and how do you get there. That was really the genesis of the whole process of learning to write a screenplay. I tell this story about how much I didn’t know. I was shooting this film The Nextnik and it was the very first scene at the very first location.
The very first time I was standing next to a Director of Photography and we rolled to record and the actor was on across the street in a parking lot. I yelled out, “Okay, go!” And he just stood there. The DP had to say… he turned to me and he goes, “Say ‘Action” [laughs].” And all of a sudden yelled, “Action” and all of a sudden the guy started walking. So it was like that’s how little I knew. But basically the next film after that and then there was a short and then the film after the feature after that, each time, all of these films are very on the low end of ultra-low budget. Each time I do it I just learn a little bit more about the writing process and how to get actors to really understand what you’re trying to say.
Ashley: And for The Nextnik, was that self-funded or did you go out and try and raise money, sort of the typical way [crosstalk].
Mike: No, that was self-funded and it was like a no-budget film. I guess it’s the best way to describe that. As I say, I had these actors… Go ahead…
Ashley: I’m curious, one of the big obstacles that I think many writers have is just having the confidence to go out and actually just go and actually do it. And how did you have the confidence? How were you confident? All they say is you’re describing are probably scaring people away, not even knowing when to yell, “Action” as the director. Obviously that’s embarrassing or whatever, but how do you get over those moments and just persevere and push through that hesitation that most of us feel?
Mike: I gotta tell you, ignorance is wonderful. Ignorance is your friend. If you don’t think… like in my case I never thought anybody was gonna make fun of me, I just thought that they were gonna be nice, and for the most part they were. From time to time there was an occasional breath of exasperation with me as I was learning, but I think everybody has to go through it. Nobody starts out knowing what to do. Even if you have attended film school or you take writing courses or… no matter what you do, the first time you’re working with a group of people, phrases are gonna come up, situations are gonna come up that you just didn’t learn, and the only way you’re gonna learn is by doing. That’s basically what happened in my case.
Ashley: Okay. I noticed too on IMDb you did a short in 2016. What was sort of your motivation there? You’d already done two features, why go back and do a short film?
Mike: Well, I will tell you this, is that I was just discussing this with my wife the other day, is that it’s nice to do a feature and you have [inaudible 00:09:19] to work and stuff like that. But there’s something really special about a short. And in this case it’s called I’m Your Server it’s a little comedy about a server in a restaurant who just can’t shut up and he’s just turning off all the patrons in the restaurant, but it ends up turning into a little love story. Actually I was gonna post it on the Nothing To Do Facebook page tomorrow because Valentine’s Day is coming up. I was just gonna repost it. But I don’t know, there’s something kinda neat about shorts. Number one, you get to do what you love to do, which is making films.
Really the only down side to shorts is that they’re not money makers, but everything else is exactly the same. You’re telling a story, okay, it has a story arc and instead of it being 90 minutes or 80 minutes or whatever, it’s 10 minutes. But everything still holds true for all of the points in a short film that holds true for a feature, which is we have to get from point A to point B. And in the case of I’m Your Server we were actually [inaudible 00:10:43] for the film that’s out now called Nothing To Do, and there is a character in the film called Nothing To Do that is a pizza guy. He’s like a counter server at a pizza place. And he’s exactly like the character in I’m Your Server.
It’s the same guy. He did the table read and you know in table reads people don’t really.. they haven’t really [inaudible 00:11:15] up their characters yet and they don’t really know, they’re just sort of just reading just to see what it sounds like. But this guy Andrew Nickels who plays the pizza guy in Nothing To Do, he had really thought about his character, and he came into that table read and he did this most amazing character of this oblivious guy who just opens his mouth and says stuff without really thinking it through. And when he finished his first bit in the table read, the entire group of people around that table that were doing the story, reading the screenplay, everybody applauded.
And that’s when I said, “You know what, we should do a short, just some little inexpensive short that kind of accentuates this amazing character you’ve developed.” So that’s what we did. We went in, there was some local restaurant that let us shoot there, and we got some friends and we did this whole bit. As I say, I’m like anyway that I can save money, I’m saving money. And so it was very inexpensive to do. But it turned out great. It was just a sweet little story that has moments in it [inaudible 00:12:46] touch on the film Nothing To Do. There’s characters in it that basically are explained in the story Nothing To Do. Originally, I wanted to use that as a pitch film to try to get money for Nothing To Do, but it just didn’t work.
It was just… it was too much of a comedy and Nothing To Do was more a dramedy and so… but it was really an enjoyable process.
Ashley: Yeah. One thing I wanna just touch on just briefly is you mentioned that you found a local restaurant that was going to let you shoot there. I’m assuming you didn’t have to pay them since it was a super low-budget short. Maybe you can just take us through, what does that process look like? Did you know someone that worked at the restaurant or owned the restaurant? How did you actually go up and pitch them and what did you tell them to get them interested in being a part of this short film?
Mike: Well, actually this is a local restaurant in Arlington Virginia and just outside of Washington DC. So there are a lot of small Mom and Pop nice restaurants in the area. And [inaudible 00:14:00] where you are, but when you go to a restaurant there they just see it. They don’t wanna charge you. Their first inclination is not to charge you. Their first inclination when you ask them if you could shoot there is, “Sure, you shoot there like early in the morning and you be sure to put our name in the credits and when you promote it be sure to say the name of the restaurant of the Facebook page or whatever.” So a lot of restaurants, a lot of locations are happy to let you shoot there free of charge.
That’s generally the… I’ve been fortunate, and it doesn’t happen in every case. Like in the case of Nothing To Do I had to shoot in a medical facility and they’re not going to… I had to pay location fees. But for smaller places in an area like this where film making isn’t the main business people are a little they’re happier to say, “Okay. Shoot in our place as long as you give us some promotion.”
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. Okay so let’s dig in to your new film Nothing To Do. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is that film all about?
Mike: Well, let’s see, the logline is despite an overbearing sister… I’m sorry, I’m trying to remember the logline. Despite an overbearing sister a washed up DJ, a radio DJ, takes on takes on the first real responsibility of his life helping his father take his last great adventure. And basically Nothing To Do is a story of a father who is at the end of his life and is in hospice and has basically made his son, who is a very irresponsible guy in his fifties the main guy to care for him. The idea being that you think that the father is actually trying to give him one real responsible thing to do in his life and that is caring for him at the end of his life. Then there’s a sister who is much more accomplished, much more tightly wound and she just wants to send her father back to the hospital to get well, which is really an impossibility.
Basically the story Nothing To Do is about families and how they deal with a very stressful and emotional time of a parent at the end of their life. And it’s something that’s very common. It’s actually based on my experiences with my father. I cared for him at the end of his life in hospice and so a lot of what happened between the father and the son are fictionalized versions of what I went through with my father. It made the writing process really easy because I could just tap into my own emotions and my own feelings about that moment. And it seems that we’ve filmed at a number of festivals. We’re now on Amazon and we’re about to be on iTunes.
When we go to festivals it’s invariably somebody or more than one person is going to come up to me or one of the actors and they wanna discuss what it was like being with their parent at the end of their lives and it’s really touching. We’ve had people break down and cry because it… and it’s like a terrible negative… of course it’s an emotional thing and it’s not in a terrible negative way, it’s a reminder of what a special moment that was to be there and care for a parent when everything is reversed. The parent isn’t taking care of you anymore, you’re taking care of the parent. And so it’s… a lot of what Nothing To Do is based on all of these… my own personal experience but also a lot of what I researched about the tensions within families during that time.
Ashley: I got you. So let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. Just a couple of quick questions. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, do you go to Starbucks and write at the local Starbucks? What does your righteous place look like when you’re actually writing?
Mike: I’ve tried the coffee shops. We have a Starbucks but I prefer [inaudible 00:19:12] [laughs] Starbucks is too busy, it’s too crazy. I tried that but for some reason, I don’t know why, I don’t need other people around when I’m working. I’m perfectly happy to sit at home and write. Every once in a while I do need some people around me but once I get into the zone of writing and I’m working on like a scene or five scenes or whatever and each one are depending on each other, I don’t like to have a lot of distractions and if you’re at a public place there’s always something to look at there’s always… And they’ve all done a really good job of making this kinda non-descript music that plays but I don’t know why that bugs me [laughs].
Yeah. I just need silence and just to be with my thoughts and to write. So that’s the way I generally write. I start out with a… before I even open up final draft like I’ll just stare at a wall and I just imagine the… not every scene but kinda the overall way the film is gonna go. And then generally what I do is I just open up text edit and I just write one per scene, one, two three, four, and I just keep going down. And it’s never always… it’s never right… it’s never once I’m done, okay this is gonna go, this is gonna go, this has to move up here. But once I’ve done that, once I’ve given myself [inaudible 00:21:05] then I start with final draft and start doing…
Ashley: How long does that process last when you’re just doing the outline and kind of just contemplating things?
Mike: Well, in the case of Nothing To Do it was maybe two to three weeks of just a rough draft, rough outline of what I wanted to do. Then I spent about a month, now I will tell you this, that I had come off of a previous film and I was trying to write and I was having a lot of false starts and I couldn’t figure out… I couldn’t think of what to do, I couldn’t think of what to write and my wife, who was also here with my dad at the end and she knows what a major thing it was for me, how I felt about it and she just offhandly goes, “Why don’t you write about your dad?” All of a sudden it just sort of like, “That’s it right there.” After about a couple of weeks of kinda roughing out things on text edit I opened up final draft and the first draft of the film, which was at 110 pages I think, was done in a month, a month after that.
And then it took about a year and 24 drafts later before I was at the point where I was happy enough to start really showing it to people. Within that time I had worked with a screenplay doctor you know, showing him the screenplay. He gave me some suggestions, a lot of suggestions, and so I just worked within that. I think the work paid off. We were a finalist at [inaudible 00:23:22] and an honorable mention at [inaudible 00:23:28] in Los Angeles and yeah it was good. It worked out really well and there was a little bit of interest from some literary producers for possible optioning but it just didn’t [inaudible 00:23:42] how it goes. You think you got something and then all of a sudden you don’t get any calls anymore. So I just, yeah, whatever, but… so I just said, “Forget it, I’m gonna just do this as another ultra-low budget film,” and it just didn’t work out, it worked out great.
I mean, I think I would’ve liked to have had a serious budget, I think it would’ve been great but I feel like it would’ve been a long time to try to convince people. Because there’s like a lot of comedic moments in it. It’s still about the death of a parent and so I think it would be a real hard sell to a lot of people. I could’ve been wrong about that but it just seems like at the time if I was gonna move forward I had to do it on my own.
Ashley: Yeah. So what is your goal with these films? You just told us how people are touched by this movie, they’re coming up to you after seeing and in some cases crying. Obviously that’s reward enough itself. But the same token are you doing these films thinking that maybe one day you’ll get to write and direct a studio level film? What is sort of your ultimate goal with these micro-budget films?
Mike: Well, actually that’s exactly it. My goal is that somebody gives me some money. I think… I’m sure that’s the goal of every filmmaker, that somebody believes in you enough that they’re gonna give you like seven figures to make a film and you have a real crew and you have a real support system. That is certainly my goal too but, in the [inaudible 00:25:38] the nice thing about technology today is that you can do these things yourself and so that’s where I’m at. I think I had mentioned earlier, I think Nothing To Do is probably the last one I’ll do as a feature. I’ll probably do short films because they’re really inexpensive and you get to tell a story and if somebody sees it then they say, “Oh. Let’s see if he has a feature.”
But that being said, I am writing. I have a short that I’ve just about finished and I have a feature that is still in the text edit mode [laughs] but it seems to be coming together. And who knows, if somebody sees what I’ve done in the ultra-low budget range maybe they’ll look at it and say, “Let’s give him a shot with a real budget.” And so that’s my goal. I’m sure I’m not [laughs] I’m any different than anybody else who wants to do films but it just seems that… at this point it seems to be working out for me.
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. So just to wrap up the interview, I’m curious, is there anything out that, whether be on Netflix, Hulu or in the theatres, anything out that you’ve seen recently that you thought was really great and maybe we can just highlight that now for our listeners.
Mike: Well, I generally am a fan of the stories, the kind of heartfelt stories. Greta Gerwig’s Ladybird. I loved that film. It [inaudible 00:27:32] a place that she understood. So those are the kind of things that I really like. I loved Roma, I’m just like just [inaudible 00:27:45] it’ll be interesting to see how it goes in the Oscars. I’m trying to think of anything small there’s not… I haven’t seen any kind of really small budget films recently that I could recommend but I’ve seen, except for… there’s one that I haven’t seen. I’ve seen all of the Academy Awards nominees for Best Picture, Best Director. I’m hoping for Roma, I’m hoping Spite gets something it just… we’ll see. But that’s what I think.
My thing is that you know, the small films that really tell a personal story even in a fantasy way. There’s a film that was out several years ago called Whale Rider that I just loved because again, a small personal film. In this particular case it was a fantasy at the end but the… you could tell it came from a place that somebody wasn’t just doing something, just didn’t do a lot of research. Like it really meant something to them to write that screenplay.
Ashley: How can people see Nothing To Do? You mentioned that it was already out on Amazon, I think, and coming out on iTunes. Maybe you can just talk about the release schedule so people can find it and potentially watch it.
Mike: It’s on Amazon now. On Amazon and Amazon Prime in the US. Then on March 15th I believe, we are going to iTunes to the like 60 USA territories, 60 English-speaking territories and countries. And so hopefully we get a bigger audience, pay back that investment [laughs].
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing or potentially contact you? Twitter, Facebook, a blog. Anything you’re comfortable sharing. I will round up for the show notes.
Mike: Well, the Facebook page, the Nothing… what is it… www.nothingtodo.com or @nothingotdomovie, @ntdmovie is the Facebook page. Then I have a Twitter account and its @NextnikFilms, Mike Kravinsky @NextnikFilms. And that’s really all I do. A lot of people that I’ve worked with said, “You should be on Instagram and Snapchat.” It’s like yeah. I mean, to me it is such a time [inaudible 00:30:47][crosstalk].
Ashley: Yeah [inaudible 00:30:48]. We can’t be on all the platforms.
Mike: If somebody wants to find me @nothingtodo on Facebook and the Twitter page, they’ll find me [laughs].
Ashley: Perfect. Well Mike I really appreciate your taking some time out of your day to talk to me. Fascinating interview and I’m just a big proponent of people going out there and just making stuff happen. Congratulations on getting this film finished and I look forward to talking to you in the future when you have your next film.
Mike: Oh, I appreciate it. And thanks so much for having me on Ashley. This is really nice.
Ashley: No problem at all. Will, talk to you later.
Mike: Okay. Bye.
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Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas this is a great way to do it. We will also write your logline and synopsis for you, you can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product. As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis, so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material so again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants again, that’s www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
Just a quick shout out to screenwriter Martin Barlett, he found a director of photography for one of his screenplays through the SYS Select screenplay database. And this cinematographer wants to direct the script. They’re making some tweaks to the script and then they’re going to take the script out to his contacts. This is exactly the sort of relationship that you need to be building as a young screenwriter. Finding an experienced DP who wants to direct is exactly that sort of young ambitious person who will champion a screenplay that he gets interested in and he’s usually very open to reading scripts from newer writers because he doesn’t necessarily have access to the top agencies, to their top screenwriters.
This business really is all about relationships is and this is exactly how those relationships are built. I get emails all the time asking how many scripts have been optioned and sold through SYS Select and well, there have been numerous sales and options and paid writing assignments of course. Building relationships is really the key because a relationship can span years and decades whereas one quick sale or option may or may not even really result in anything. Even if a film is produced it doesn’t always mean that it’s gonna help your career. You might make some money, you might have a credit but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s gonna translate into more credits and more films unless you spend the time building those relationships.
Those are really the key. Selling that first script, optioning that first script again, it’s really not about the sale or the option it’s about the relationship. And so I’m excited to hear about this from Martin. Just seeing him build a relationship, having a DP his corner, having someone who wants to direct, that’s exactly what you wanna do. You wanna get as many of these sorts of relationships going as possible. And some of these people you’re gonna click with more than others, some of the relationships are gonna be… they’re gonna last for a little while and peter out. But the more networking you do the more chances you’re gonna have of meeting that person that’s gonna ultimately help your career.
And it’s a double-edged sword too or a two-way street in the sense that Martin builds a relationship with this guy and he might be able to help this guy do something down the road as well maybe as a DP. Maybe Martin sells one of his scripts and he’s able to get this cinematographer onto that project as a DP or something. These relationships are two-way streets and they should be looked at that way. It’s not just about hey, meeting people and trying to figure out what they can do to help you it’s about building a real relationship and maybe helping that person and then as your career progresses you guys can help each other. But people are always asking on networking.
Networking comes across as a sort of word like you gotta go to cocktail parties and like shake hands and that’s not always how networking works, it’s not always what networking looks like, this is networking. Especially with stuff like my email and fax plats which I do which goes out to thousands and thousands of producers and hundreds and hundreds of agents and managers. Again, it’s not always just the quick sale or the quick option it’s about just finding that person that likes your writing and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met somebody, they read one of my scripts, it’s not quite a good fit for what they’re doing right now but sometimes you still are able to maintain that relationship.
They’re able to read some more of your scripts down the road and that’s really what you wanna do. And again, if Martin has a good relationship with this guy, and from the email Martin sent me it sounds like they do, working with him, tweaking the script, it sounded like Martin is quite enthusiastic about how that process was going so hopefully these guys are clicking. Again, hopefully that will just be another name that Martin has in his [inaudible 00:37:09] of industry contacts and you know, you keep up with these people, maybe you try and have lunch, coffee if you’re in town, if you guys are in a geographic area that’s convenient to that or just a phone call or an email every once in a while to kinda keep these relationships going.
But that’s really so, so key and it’s more important than just that option or that sale because, as I said, I’ve optioned and sold a lot of scripts over the years and many of those things just… they petered out. You’d get you’d option one script for whatever reason you don’t necessarily click with the director or the producer and so those relationships don’t build. Then it becomes almost a waste of time if you’re not looking to build those relationships because you are always gonna spend some time and energy getting that option contract done, doing the rewrites for the producer. Again, if you can build that relationship and make it a long-lasting relationship you’re just getting a lot more value out of what you’re doing.
All that stuff that you’re gonna have to do, there’s a lot more value if you can really build these relationships. Anyways, congratulations to Martin and thank you for emailing me to tell me about this success story. I added a little blurb about it on the SYS success page if you wanna learn a little bit about the specifics on this or if you just wanna check out what other people are saying about the SYS Select services and hear some of those other success stories. Of course there are many of those sale and options mentioned on the success story page so if you are interested in learning about that just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Again, www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success.
I love hearing these success stories. Really does make me feel like the content and services that I am offering are helping people which is extremely gratifying. If you have had some success with the SYS Select services please do let me know or even just some of my own free stuff. I send out my free guide that’s www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. That whole guide is about how to sell your script so any successes, even if you’re not a paid member of SYS Select. I love hearing them, I love hearing what other writers are doing to market their material and get their material optioned, sold and ultimately produced. So please do email me if you have any sort of success story.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing screenwriter John Fusco. John has a film out on Netflix right now called The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson. This is a script John wrote on spec many, many years ago. He came close to getting it produced numerous times and finally he found a home for it at Netflix. John has written such films as Young Guns and Hidalgo along with many other projects. He’s originally from Maine so like many of us did not grow up in and around Hollywood, didn’t know a lot of people in the film business and he really had to kinda figure things out on his own. He’s got another good, inspiring story for us and I think a lot of people will really get some inspiration out of… and some just practical tips to just hearing kind of how he was able to make it.
So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.