Ashley: Welcome to Episode #276 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourccreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Brian Ackley who just wrote a cool Sci-Fi feature film called 2050 starring Dean Cain. We talk about this project and he how he got involved with it as well as the early stages of his career doing short films and low budget features, 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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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer Brian Ackley. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Brian to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Brian: How are you doing Ashley? I appreciate you having me on. I’m excited about this.
Ashley: Yeah, no problem. 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?
Brian: Sure. I grew up in South Jersey, that’s about 45 minutes from Atlantic City in one direction and 45 minutes away from Philadelphia in the other direction. Working class, I grew up with two sisters, both of which annoyed me most of my childhood, so I did what I could to avoid them. I was a very shy kid, so this ultimately ended up… it means I spent a lot of time in my head just kind of imagining things. I was a big fan of He Man, The Transformers, so that sort of eventually morphed into an interest in… once I learned about film and movies I was drawn into action and adventure films like The Goonies, Romancing The Stone. So then I would recreate these in my own way with my action figures and match box cars and stuff like that.
And then I got a little bit older and I became a little bit more aware of what the camera was doing by the time I got to high school and I became fascinated… I think it was pretty much Terentino that pulled me into, or that opened me up to this world of what a director does or gave me sort of an understanding of that. And then from there I just sort of… again, working within my own head I just kinda create these stories and that would eventually, that would lead pretty easily into writing. So yeah, I’d spend a lot of my time writing and talking to myself basically, acting out different scenes, creating different things. At one point in my youth I created an entire film.
In fact this may have been the first film that I wrote that I didn’t actually write because I acted it all out in my backyard, just kind of one scene at a time. It may have taken me a whole week to play with the different… It was an action film that involved all my favorite action heroes. Fast forward 20 years, 25 years and you The Expendables. But it was a similar concept. So it was me running around, climbing trees, dogging, tire swing and rolling around in the dirt.
Ashley: And did you have a camera set up so you’re actually filming this or are you just acting it out?
Brian: No,I didn’t have a camera [laughs], it was just me talking to myself and running around and playing so yeah.
Ashley: I get you.
Brian: Yeah. No, I didn’t get a camera until after I graduated from high school. And I did make a film. I began to make a film with all my friends, not knowing anything and this is just as I was starting to learn about the filmmaking process, becoming a fan of Terentino in particular. And that footage is just garbage, I mean, I haven’t seen it in a decade, but I wouldn’t wanna see it [laughs]. It’s the classic you get your friends together… I mean, I wrote out the script and everything but you just have a bunch of non-actors, not knowing what you’re doing, you got glare in the lens because I really knew nothing at all. And then I think, I’d say within a year or so I became more serious about what to do with that, with this passion for filmmaking and I brought myself up to New York City.
I was in South Jersey so I wasn’t really too far from New York but it was two and a half hours away. I’d only been there two times I think two brief visits so it was sort of a… it was kind of an emerald city. It still had a very… it was still majestic in a sense. But I decided to… I looked into film programs and I came across Brooklyn College. It was the cheaper version, cheaper than NYU but I ended up having a blast there. I absolutely loved the program and this is where I really fell into writing and directing in particular. I’ve always had an interest in acting and acting is sort of what got me into… interested in films. But ultimately I landed more with writing and directing, with creating the world that presents whatever given story.
Ashley: Sure. So let’s talk about that. You’re going to college and I assume you’re making shorts or just doing what typical film students do. What was that next step? Once you get out of college how did you actually take a step to turn this into an actual professional career?
Brian: Well, it was a lot of… I spent a lot of time in college on sets. I did get a lot… I got a lot from the classes themselves and I’m still in touch with a lot of faculty and my peers, but I got the most experience out working on every possible set I could find or that would accept me doing anything. And so that led… I sort of accidentally fell into a good habit of networking and meeting people which used to not really be me at all and I’m still not the most social person, but through a friend of a friend who was looking for a camera I connected with another filmmaker, Princeton Holt, who is the director of 2050 and over a period of a few years we developed a working relationship that ultimately led to him inviting me to join his production company called One Way Or Another Productions.
And there we spent another several years working together with the team. He had already built a team of people to develop and produce films and we did that together. We made shorts, we made some features, we made some docs and that sort of also allowed me to gain a better aspect of what a producer does and gain some kind of understanding of the film industry. So that’s how I got into filmmaking as a professional.
Ashley: Yeah. And let’s talk specifically just for a minute, it looks like on IMDb your first produced credit as a writer is a film called Uptown. Maybe you can just walk us through like exactly how you got that script produced just sort of as a point of reference of those early days in your career.
Brian: Well, one common theme that you’ll find with my work is this idea of doing it yourself. So I matched up with Princeton pretty well in this respect because he’s someone who will get up do what is necessary to get whatever thing done as opposed to waiting around or as opposed to waiting too long for either money or resources or as a writer for an idea. Uptown came about by me just wanting to make… I had made a few shorts and I was just ready to make a feature and we were coming off of Princeton’s first feature Cookies and Cream under his production company and he was very grateful for my contribution to that because I stepped up from an actor… That production Cookies and Cream had many, many problems in the long span it took just to make the film production itself.
And so as an actor I became invested in seeing this finished, so I went out of my way to lend a personal camera of mine and my time to see that the film beyond my scenes, I was just a supporting role, to see that this film got made. And Princeton was very gracious and he essentially returned the favor in a way, and he said, “Well, I’m ready to produce your next film.” We came together in this way and we both ended up producing Uptown on a very small budget. We knew going in we were… at that time we were inspired by the Mumblecore movement and these were another group of people that were about the art and the idea of making something, like we only have 200 bucks so, okay, we’re gonna take this $200 and use it as best as we can.
Now our case wasn’t that drastic but it was certainly… it was very down and dirty get run out, collect your locations… I did spend a lot of time figuring what my locations would be because I knew that we would have to grab them guerilla style with available light only. And most of our story… most of that story, which is semi-autobiographical, it takes place at night. We had very few resources and we took our time to make sure that we used them as best we can.
Ashley: Sure. So I’m curious, at this point you’re acting, it sounds like you’re also doing whatever crew positions need to be done on a variety of films. Was there a moment where you said, “Really the writing is the thing, the writing and the directing is the thing?” And I’d be curious to hear specifically with that relationship with Princeton, at what point do you say, “Hey, by the way I’m also not just an actor but I’m also a writer, would you read my script?” Was it just a very organic process you got to know him well and so it just came up in conversation? Maybe you can talk about that building those sorts of relationships with guys like Princeton.
Brian: That’s is a key piece to it. I’m not sure I can answer that question too well but I can speak more about the necessity of building a relationship and the patience that you need with that. Because the romantic idea of breaking into the industry is that you’ll be given a lucky chance and then that will lead to something else and so on and so forth, but so many aspects of making a film or participating in a film, so many aspects or raising money for a film come back to this idea of the first networking and then connecting with the right people on a personality basis. You wanna be able to like the person so that that leads to more conversation and you wanna be able to respect what it is that they do and what it is they want to do.
This leads to a building of a relationship over many years and so it was a very organic process Princeton and I had worked on and he… Princeton saw some acting work of mine very early on through this mutual friend of ours and he asked me to be a part of a short film, so that was the first time that we worked together and we worked well enough for him to bring me on to his first feature as an actor and then that led to me lending more time and more of my resources to help complete his feature film. And so all of this, we built this great mutual respect for each other’s work ethic and what we wanted to accomplish. So it was really a quick turnaround. When I shared some aspect of Uptown as a story and he becomes fascinated by it.
And so he turns around and says… because it’s partly, like I said, it’s partly autobiographical, so when he heard the story of it he said, “If you make this film, if you wanna turn this into a script then I’ll produce for you.” And I couldn’t turn him down on that. I mean, he may have been half joking but I held his feet to the fire because that’s exactly what I wanted [laughs], a partner in crime, a partner to help me figure out how to do that.
Ashley: Perfect. So let’s dig into your latest film 2050. Maybe to start out you can just tell us what that film is all about, a logline or a pitch for it.
Brian: Yeah. Let me give you basically our pitch. In the year 2050 a married video game developer is having trouble in the bedroom in the guy is at research for work he seeks out an underground sex parlor that specializes in customizing androids for human companionship. We call them e-mates in our movie, short for evening mates. Anyway, so this character ends up falling for the e-mate that he makes for himself.
Ashley: And where did this idea come from, what was sort of the genesis for this story?
Brian: Let’s see. Well, I need first to give credit to both Princeton and another partner of ours David. We had worked together in our previous production company One Way Or Another Productions with other people. Coming from that experience we were ready to make the next thing. This particular concept came first from us fishing around for interesting ideas, maybe controversial ideas or thought-provoking ideas, weird stuff, something off-putting even and somehow AI technology got our attention. So we started to explore stories that would connect humans and robots in a meaningful way. We knew that we wanted to work in the Sci-Fi genre.
David in particular, he’s a Horror fan but he also has a deep appreciation for Science Fiction. And I find when I look back at all these early favorite films of mine, like back to the future, there’s so much Sci-Fi. A lot of times the Comedy kinda comes out maybe first but it turns out that I’m a Science Fiction fan also, I just never knew it all these years. But then at the same time… so we knew we wanted to work with Science Fiction, in the Science Fiction genre but our strengths are with character-driven films. If you look at our collective IMDb pages, especially Princeton and mine, you’ll see stories that are character-driven. We like characters. We like following a characters journey.
So the three of us passed around some ideas and pitched different concepts and that’s basically where this particular… where the seeds for this particular story came from. And then from there after we had some seeds, I would take the material because it was understood that I would be the writer on this project and I would develop them and then I’d come back to Princeton, David and see what they thought about this particular storyline or that particular storyline and they would offer feedback and then I’d go away for another few days and come back with a little bit more development until we were ready… until we had ourselves an outline.
Ashley: And I’m curious, so I understand that you guys just wanted to work in the Sci-Fi genre because you love those movies. But was there any business sort of decision being made here? At this point you guys have a good number of films under your belt, you must have some relationship with distributors. Was there ever any sort of business things like hey, because that’s always what I hear. Distributors love these grounded Sci-Fi films, that’s always… they play well overseas and you get that kind of advice. Did that play into kind of your approach or why you decided on this story, a Sci-Fi story? Was there anything involved like that?
Brian: There absolutely was. In fact now I’m embarrassed that I’ve just completely shot over that because we were coming… within the time that we spent with our production company we got to know distributors and we got to know what sells and we learnt, based on our previous films, for example Uptown. Uptown didn’t make any money at all, it turns out people are not so interested in watching two people have a conversation that lasts 90 minutes. Then we experimented a little bit and my next feature that I write and direct is Alienated. In Alienated we enter the Sci-Fi genre but we don’t take advantage of it, we still remain more loyal to the idea of developing characters and studying the dynamic between two particular characters in general or specifically.
So even that film ends up being more Drama than a Sci-Fi and so with 2050 we are pushing, we are looking for something that is more genre, that is more appealing to a mass audience. We were looking to grow in that respect and I think it takes time, it takes practice, it takes time to get around the idea of wanting to create something, a piece of art we could even call it, for someone else, for an audience. It’s not an easy idea as an artist, to wrap your head around the idea of doing something for someone else to enjoy. An artist is supposed to express themselves and that’s all well and good but there has to be a… what you wanna do is there has to be a marriage between you expressing yourself and you giving a piece of yourself to the world and also you creating something meaningful for someone else to receive.
There has to be some kind of marriage and what we’ve come to learn is that yeah, like you said, that Sci-Fi is very big as are some other genres. So it was a very important piece of why we moved in that direction for this particular story.
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. Let’s talk about your specific writing process and we can talk specifically about 2050 or even just sort of in general. Just a couple of quick questions. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office or are you the guy that goes down to Starbucks and writes down there?
Brian: Well, that’s hard for me to answer because for the past three to four years or so I’ve been somewhat in a transitional period of time. My wife and I have been moving around trying to figure out where we wanna move. I am fortunate enough that I can write almost anywhere so I would fall into that second category. Creatively speaking and based on my past I have written in different places. In fact in… we were living in St. Louis for a time period and a story came to me that was inspired by a location and I ended up spending a lot of time at that location. I was fortunate because the place was abandoned and nobody was around so I could easily stop by and wander around.
In that case the location was, that’s where I wanted to be when I was… I should say more so with the prewriting stage than the actual writing. But for 2050 I wrote most of that either in the bedroom or at the dining room table.
Ashley: And when do you typically write, are you a morning guy, middle of the night guy, regular business hours? What does your writing schedule look like?
Brian: I prefer to write in the morning. I prefer to take at least a couple hours in the morning from eight on and write in the morning but I can and have adjusted, in fact if I’m… I also write for other people too so I’ll tend to be less interested, less… not interested, that’s not the right [laughs] less passionate about what I’m writing that I’ll want a routine. Whatever time I do decide to write, if it is in the morning, then I’d like it to be the same time every day. If I’m working in the morning, some years I’ve been working in the morning and so I’d have to do late morning or afternoon, then I just prefer to be consistent. Consistency is more important than the time of day.
But then there have been times I… for personal projects when I’m really going then I’ll stay up, I’ll write in the middle of the night. In fact, Alienated was written in a period of three or four days, just non-stop flow. So it all kinda depends on the situation of me creatively but also my surroundings and where I happen to be.
Ashley: How much time do you spend outlining a project versus actually in final draft writing script pages?
Brian: I spend a lot of time outlining, which isn’t to say that I spend… well, let me rephrase I guess. I think for me the most important part is outlining. I prefer not to begin a script or not to write the actual script until I have what I call a detailed outline. So I spend a lot of time, in my head if I have access to locations then I’ll go there, but I’ll spend a lot of time figuring out all of the major bits of every scene and then I’ll place that in an outline and then I’ll begin to develop more the locations because I’m very big on settings and having settings help tell the story. And so I’ll work out all of this, and usually that could look like a week if this is the main project that I’m working on. If I’m collaborating with other people or if I have other things going on, then this could stretch out to a month.
But it’s very important. I absolutely love outlines for myself anyway. And when I’m working with someone else it’s very important also so that once I do break away, like with 2050, once I do break away and write the story, the script itself, there aren’t gonna be any surprises or not any major surprises. My partners will know, my collaborators or the producers I’m working with, they’ll know what’s coming so there are no surprises in that respect. But also for me personally I can just get into the scene, whatever the scene is, and just go with it and just sort of follow the characters. I can just trust that it’ll all work out because it’s already worked out, we’ve already figured out what the entirety will be. So it works very well for me in terms of work flow.
Ashley: Yeah. So you mentioned Princeton and the other fella that you were working with on this project and give and get notes back and forth. How do you handle disagreements. I mean, these are guys you’ve worked with a lot before. Are there ever those moments where you just don’t see eye to eye and how do you get past those?
Brian: That’s a great question. I have an easy answer for you and it’s somewhat fortunate because there are three of us and that is that we vote. I mean, two out of three wins. And so this goes back to when we shared a company with other people, One Way Or Another Productions, we also worked similarly in that we worked by committee. One person had… if one person felt something they… about any given issue or opportunity they could bring it to the group and then the group we’d discuss it and who’s in favor who’s not in favor. We always said we’d vote by committee and we’d answer questions… all of it is by committee, in the same way developing the story of 2050 it was pretty simple. There were some things that I really wanted to push and other things that David wanted to push and Princeton also.
We’d come together, we’d have a conversation and we never had to push any ideas or to force our way in any way. It’s just because we all were coming from the same place, what’s most important to the story, and then beyond that, what’s most important to the audience. So two out of three wins.
Ashley: So now you have a script you guys have developed, you guys are all happy with it, what is the next step after that? How did you take it out and actually raise the money to produce the film?
Brian: All of this was happening at the same time. And this goes back to the idea of the networking and building relationships. This is one of the… where does the money come from is kind of my favorite question but at the same time my least favorite question because it’s so difficult to… there’s no actual plan or… I don’t know what I’m trying to…
Ashley: There’s no template. Yeah, I got… yeah.
Brian: There’s no template, exactly. Yeah. But in our case this was a… 2050 was a film that came from an idea from another film that we that we had developed back when we were another company and through that we had ben reaching out and connecting with different financers and so there was interest in this other version of the project. And then all throughout our 10 or 12 or 13 years span as One Way, I’d go back to Princeton especially because he was the primary guy, he was our CEO, he was the one who founded the company. He’s the main networker, he’s the main communicator who’s reaching out to people and making connections and trying to close deals and bringing on financers for certain projects.
Some people come on, some people leave after a while so it ends up being a very long process. Maybe over the period of six to eight years in terms of here’s someone who is possibly interested in the film, in helping to finance the film and then building that relationship until they become very comfortable. So that’s one piece we ultimately had. I don’t know for sure, I believe we had somewhere between four different financing entities. And so it’s a very difficult question to answer but it does go back to the idea of looking for people that you respect and that you have a mutual… some sort of… that you get along with, but then also building those relationships so that that person would be able to, or that group, would be able to trust you.
Trust you as a business person and trust you to be able to make back any money that they are considering lending or investing. So it goes back to the relationships.
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. How can people see 2050? Do you know what the release schedule’s gonna be like?
Brian: Yes. Some details follow along. We’ve partnered with AMC Theatres, we’re incredibly blessed to be working with AMC Independents. AMC is showing our film in select cities. We’ve already opened in New York and L.A. We did L.A for a week, we did so well they ended up letting us stay for another week. What we have coming up is… well, we’re in Baltimore this week until Thursday and that’s the Thursday March 21st, then we jump ahead on Friday March 29th we are in Nashville for a week, then on Friday April 12th we’re in Houston for a week. And I’m scheduled to be in Houston for at least one maybe two Q & A’s whatever the weekend is, if it’s gonna be the 13th or 14th.
More cities will follow if we do well and also we are telling people that they can request the film to come to their city if they’re interested by going to our website which is www.2050movie.com.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes and you can tell us that now.
Brian: I appreciate that. Yeah. I mess around on Twitter, I spend more time on Facebook but my Twitter handle is my first and last name Brian Ackley and you can find me just as easily I’m pretty sure, on Facebook too.
Ashley: Well, Brain I really appreciate you taking some time out of you day to come on and talk with me. Fascinating interview and I wish you all the luck with this movie.
Brian: This was fun. I do appreciate your time as well. Thank you.
Ashley: And thank you Brian. We’ll talk to you later.
Brian: Alright, bye.
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On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Allan Plenderleith. Allan has spent the last few years working in the interactive space both writing and directing a number of interactive films. We talk about the process of writing for interactive media as well as how he got his start in it. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.