Ashley: Welcome to Episode #290 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director Cal Barnes. He is an actor and a writer-director who’s out there making things happen for himself. He’s got a bunch of short films and features that are all coming out over the next few months. He’s one of those guys with a lot of energy who really is just out there just making things happen, creating projects for himself. 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 #290. If you want my free guide-How To Sell A Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons.
I’ll teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Cal Barnes. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Cal to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Cal: Yeah Ashley, thanks for having me. It’s a real honor.
Ashley: 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?
Cal: I grew up in Salem, Oregon and I didn’t really come from an artistic family like a film family or anything. I think the only person, my aunt, was an international model. She was like the only… and she was gone… She was always travelling so I just knew that was cool when I was younger and everyone else in our hometown. I didn’t really grow up in that background. I didn’t even really see film as really possibility or how it was done. I just loved movies since I was a kid. I would use it as a way to escape and I just thought it was amazing. Anytime I’d hang out with my friends it’s movie night and I loved… in high school I really got in Indie film, Cameron Crowe.
I just loved good Indie film, whatever… Garden State, whatever my definition was in time. I travelled a little it after high school. I travelled abroad, kinda went to… I took a year off and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. So I travelled, I went to… I lived in Mali for like six months and then I [inaudible 00:03:12] in Nepal and I went to Thailand and this was like finding myself and then I came into college. If I look back I was always writing. It was actually always a thing for me. I didn’t really see it as a career option but I was always just very gifted at it and I didn’t click until later on once I was in Hollywood but I always used to be kind of cool in school. I would write stories in class in English and everyone always wanted to hear my stories, they were like, “Cal.”
I’d write these epic stories and read them and then also in college too, I took one year of college in Portland State and I would write papers and my teachers would always bring me in and be like, “This is incredible work, I don’t even know how you came up with this!” I’d be like, “Yeah, I guess I was just looking for…” I knew I maybe wanted to start writing at that time, and then really what brought me to LA was acting is I took… I was living in Portland, downtown and I took a theater class my second term and I just went around Portland and watched plays. It was so incredible just watching all these incredible plays in Portland which has a great theater scene. After that term in watching plays I was like maybe I should try acting, I mean, it’s just so incredible.
And so I took this beginning acting class at Portland State with this teacher Mike O’Connell, who is probably really responsible for the fact that I have a career in Hollywood at all. You know, I was acting and he was like, “You should really consider maybe…” It was the beginning class and the competition was low, but out of everyone in that class I was like one of two people that people were like, “You could probably do this.” So yeah, he was like, “Maybe you should really consider this” And that was like literally all I needed. I was looking for a way to start my life and I just packed up my car and drove down to LA [laughs]. And that’s how I ended up here.
Ashley: And let’s talk about that for a second because I’m sure there’s a lot of people listening to this podcast thinking, “Oh! Maybe I can move to LA.” Talk about what that experience is like. Everything you just throw in the car, you pull into LA. How did you find an apartment, how did you find a job, did you have a nest egg of money to let you go for two, three, four, six months? Maybe sort of describe some of that process of actually putting a beach head here in LA.
Cal: Yeah. What is all I needed was that with Mike saying that to me it was really like the first time a person called out the artist in me. And to hear someone that I look up to be like, “You can do this,” it was really enabling. That was really all I needed to just be like, “I’m gonna take this risk,” I guess it’s sort of a personality thing too. It’s like I like adventure. As a kid I was always going on adventures in the creek and going off by myself into uncharted lands or whatever. I guess the move was really just… I didn’t really… it was funny, I’ll never forget, there was this job, I was pretty poor then living in Oregon, living off student loans and I wanted this job as this bar-back, it’s a really high-end restaurant where I would be probably making a lot of money for me at the time.
And literally the day I was leaving I get the call and they’re like, “You’ve got the job.” I’d been looking for a job like six months. So it’s like I’m literally at $300, I have my Volkswagen and I still have my 98GTI that I’m still paying off and this job that I wanted calls me and it was really like the choice. I was like, “Wow! If I’m gonna stay this is it and if I’m going to go…” I mean, it was… I remember just being like, “No, I have to just do it,” and I think it’s just… like the move is really just, you kinda need that catalyst I guess. If someone wants to do it I think it really helps to have some kind of success wherever you are that propels you even if it’s just being top of your class in acting or you write something that shows some promise or something that you can take down here that gives you some kind of hope that you can make it.
It’s such a competitive industry. But yeah, I remember just driving down, luckily I had one contact, my aunt. She lived in Santa Monica but I knew that was, I couldn’t, I didn’t have too much time there. I knew I’d have a time limit. I stayed with her for a month or two and I just drove around the city looking for jobs, mostly like just a survival job to start making money and I just would stay at her house and then go out all day and drive around LA wander around the city and then also to try to find jobs and then… yeah, I mean, it was a really challenging time. There was just a lot to tackle. I spent some nights after that, it wasn’t that she was kicking me out, I just felt bad and so I spent some time in my car as well which is like a lot of my favorite actors did.
I guess maybe it’s like a rite of passage for every writers. But yeah, it’s definitely hard and I would definitely suggest, if you can save up any kind of money please do it. Take it easy on yourself. And then I guess just learn the city. I think knowing where you’re at is huge. If you have a car just drive around, go to the different towns, try to get some bearing of where you are in such a big place. And yeah, I mean, I guess…
Ashley: What was your first job? What was the job that you first got? You survival job.
Cal: My first job, I was a valet at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel at Santa Monica at Wilshire and, what’s that street, Ocean Avenue is. Right there. It was kinda cool. I mean, it was a really cool place to work.
Ashley: And then you got an apartment from there too, you kinda got an apartment and just got your life basically going?
Cal: Yep. I had a… I got a… [inaudible 00:09:23].I got an apartment in one of the towers. And I remember it was like The Hills was going on at the time, that show. So it was like, “Oh! This is where it’s at. This is where all the young people are [laughs].” From people I met I wasn’t the only person that had that idea so it’s pretty funny looking back.
Ashley: Okay, so you have the apartment, you have this job as a valet, what were some of your first steps into actually turning this into a career? Were you writing this whole time, did you start trying to get an agent for your acting? Maybe walk us through that a little bit.
Cal: Yeah. That’s definitely a good question. I really came down here just for like… when I took the acting class of writing, screenwriting I didn’t even really know movies were written… I mean, I knew they were written, I didn’t understand, I’d never even seen a screenplay. I’d seen plays, I hadn’t seen the screenplays. I came down here really just for acting and I just started auditioning. I came down, met a bunch of actors, I can’t remember the exact pacing, I mean I was making… once I got that job I started making money and then I found out about Actors Access LA casting, submitted for a bunch of those. I probably did like 20 short films honestly, unpaid short films because I knew I just wanted to start leading projects and just get that experience on set like anxiety. I was 21 and I had zero set experience so I knew that anything I can get on set, especially a leading role, I think that’s what was cool about student films is I can come in as an unknown and play these leading parts which if you… for TV if you’re an unknown you’re maybe getting a line or two. That was cool.
Ashley: How did you get these acting gigs on these student films?
Cal: Oh, yeah. Just submitting on LA Actors Access LA casting. And then auditioning and then booking. I remember… that’s really what I did for a couple of years is just that and it was very… I got an agent too I met through, I started meeting actors, I got a recommendation and that was cool. I started going out for stuff, booked a few there was always like a few little [inaudible 00:11:34] commercials. I was still majorly struggling, really these jobs didn’t pay anything. And if anything I was paying to work on it with time, gas and taking work off. It was very hard. And I was paying for class. I was making more money than I’ve ever made and had zero to show for it at the end of the month. It was very exhausting but I was 21, I had the energy to do that.
Ashley: Then when did you start to make the shift to starting to think about writing, directing and producing?
Cal: If you ever hear like Brit Marling is one of my favorite actresses and writers. If you ever hear her story on how she started writing, it’s almost identical. With my first [inaudible 00:12:19] it was pretty quick that I realized that I was not going to get the roles I wanted with… I just wasn’t gonna happen for me. I had no connections, I was… or it would’ve happened I knew that I was just exhausted. I was doing so many auditions and I started spreading myself really thin and I started losing my love for it just in a couple of years because I wasn’t making any money and I really wanted to. I started really wanting to move into features. It’s really hard because everything kinda funnels up in this industry and so it was really hard and I kind of realized pretty quick that, I was like, “I could write. Maybe I should just start writing.”
I can’t remember when the flip switched that maybe I could write screenplays, I can write stories. I just started reading scripts, I knew what scripts looked like by that time because I had been auditioning so much. That was key. Then I just wrote… Plunge was my first short film that I wrote and produced and I hired… that was a really special project for me because I had this story, one of my friends passed away when I was in high school, one of my good friends and it was my first experience with real death. It was heavy and was kind of haunting me for my whole time in Hollywood, my first few years and so I wrote this short about it and I hired a… I raised $2000 on Kickstarter and I hired one of the best humans I’ve ever met Ezra Lunel, he directed, I worked with him on a couple Chapman USC or Chapman Films.
I hired him as a director and he brought on a whole MFA student crew for me and we shot that in one night. It’s not my best but I learnt so much on it. I hired a SAG actor that I knew and I figured out that I could get my SAG eligibility if I worked on a film with a SAG actor. So I produced the film, I wrote a good… got myself, basically in one go I wrote something important to me, produced it, learned how to produce, got one of my best starring parts at the time, got my SAG eligibility and probably the sweetest part about this is that Christmas I screened that film in my hometown for my family and friends and everyone else who lost this person and then dedicated that film to him.
I remember after I made that short it’s such a huge point in my career because the light turned on. I’d never gone to any festivals, I didn’t have any money to submit to any festivals at that time. I learned that you need to budget for posts and stuff. But it was like a light turned on that, “Wow! This is amazing!” The whole experience of filmmaking and telling a story I care about was just so much more epic than any of the shorts I’ve ever worked on. It was just so much more personal and the ability to kind of… I remember that wave was lifted, I was like, “Wow!” I kinda delved into something that I was struggling with and created art out of it and I was past it. As soon as that film was done I was like, “I’m free from that burden of that. I get why it happened.”
That was a really amazing project and that’s when it all started the writing.
Ashley: Perfect. Let’s talk about the play that you wrote, Rise. I think you mentioned that was in the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Maybe quickly just tell us, what’s the premise of that?
Cal: That play, it’s a modern-day pastor, you know, an emerging church pastor is visited by a woman from his past that has knowledge about him that can destroy his entire new life.
Ashley: I got you. You wrote this as a play. When you wrote it as a play did you think, “Hey, maybe this could be something that could be turned into a feature film,” or just you wrote it as a play and that was your idea from the start?
Cal: Yeah. Basically what happened quick, real quick here is I was writing a few… I started writing features after that short. I just went to dive into features and just started cranking them out. And I had this neighbor Brett Colbeth who’s still one of the best actors I’ve ever met, he would read at me and be like, “Dude, awesome, we’re doing this.” Then it was at the Hollywood Fringe 2012, he’s a great stage actor and he wanted to put on play so he asked me, he’s like, “Would you wanna write a play? A stage play?” and I was like, “Yeah.” And so we started, I had this idea and I knew that good work for me at least came from personal stuff and so I had some past experience growing up in Christian America that was… still it’s like sort of I’m glad that play came out because I was able to create this narrative around it and kinda work through some of those things.
But yeah, so I just wrote this play and we workshopped it for like a month. We had a director and a company and we worked hard and fast and then we put it up and yeah, it was like, it won, it won Best World Premiere out of like 300 pieces [inaudible 00:17:38]. It was amazing.
Ashley: So you mentioned that you were able to option this through this Hollywood Fringe Festival. Did you invite producers to come out or does the Hollywood Fringe Festival just have enough of a reputation that it attracts producers to it? How did that option come about is basically what I’m getting at?
Cal: Yeah, so basically what happened is that a lot of it has to do with the actor. Brett Colbeth is one of my best friends like he’s a very talented actor and it was just a huge role for him too. He also like lifted… the material was solid but he really… his performance really lifted it to the next level. It was a master class performance. A lot of people came out to see it like the LA, there’s a lot of reviewers that came out and word started going around The Fringe that people, there were other producers that were like, “We’re gonna option this script.” People were starting to talk to me about optioning it and turning it into a screenplay and he got word of it which is smart by him and he which as an actor I think it’s really brilliant.
But this is the best part he’s probably ever had. I don’t know if what he, I haven’t kept up with him so much since, but at least to date I think he would say that. So what he did is he wanted to make sure that he was locked in on that part so he got a group of investors from Chicago and they started a company basically and auctioned the script giving a development deal basically with him attached. It was a huge thing for him, a huge thing for me, huge thing for him and that’s really how it came about. I think it’s brilliant and it’s really smart play.
Ashley: Well, perfect. Let’s talk about your other film Adolescence. What’s the premise of that film?
Cal: Adolescence is the story of one of my good friends out here Mickey River, it’s his life story. It’s about a young teenager from an abusive household meets a free-spirited scene girl that kind of takes him on kind of like on a fast lane lifestyle of drugs and addiction. It’s kind of like a classic drug bad romance story.
Ashley: Okay. And this script you sold to Winterstone Pictures. Maybe walk us through that. How did you get in touch with them and how did you ultimately sell it to them?
Cal: Winterstone, yeah. It was funny because I used to hear around Hollywood it was like it takes 10 features to sell your first script and I was like I’ve always been like, “No it’s not. If that’s the way it is, so be it. But it will only take me a couple,” it was literally my 10th script. My first actual sale on a spec and it was literally my 10th which is kind of funny. But Mickey had this great story, he was like he had it in a short form content and he was working on that, I was working on something else and then he came to me and then I wrote a script. We wrote a triband then we wrote a screenplay and we built this project for two years. I had a failed feature right before that and I really, I had a couple.
I was trying to get a couple of projects off the ground that were way above what I could do at the time looking back as very ambitious projects and he had this and I was like, “I just wanna work with someone, work on someone else’s story that’s not just me,” and I was very excited to kinda get behind him and help him since I’d been writing quite a bit more. Once we had a good first draft in place we just literally did what we could for like two years. We didn’t have a lot of connections to money people, we just didn’t but we did have lots of connections to actors, writers, people in what we did in those circles. So definitely unorthodox filmmaking. We just started casting without having… we kinda just were like, “What can we do today, now?” So we were really just started building it and attaching talent and auditioning and I had a connection with a casting studio, they let me cast there for six weeks which was really amazing.
Mickey is also really good with marketing. He’s really good at marketing himself as an actor and so he really was bringing so many options to the table in terms of producers and people that, you know, big names. I mean, there was a lot of talk but I mean, there is a lot, we went through a lot of potential A-listers even that were interested at least through which was crazy for me. I didn’t even know how this is happening but it never happened which often does in Hollywood. But we just built it for two years and the out of nowhere we kinda gave up and then we couldn’t get it going and then out of nowhere Mickey’s management there’s Winterstone, like that company found it and they wanted to do it.
They just said… it was at least six months probably since we worked on it and then I just got a phone call and I guess all that pre-work we did. We made a deal and that was pretty much it. Now it’s two, three years… it just premiered literally at the Chinese last month, three years from that sale to getting it till it’s done.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, let’s dig into one of your latest feature films The Astrid Experience. Maybe to start out again, maybe you can give us a logline or pitch. What is that film all about?
Cal: The Astrid Experience, the logline is a recovering alcoholic writer meets a free-spirited scene girl who shows him he has something more worth living for.
Ashley: I got you. And where did this idea come from? Was this also a very personal story?
Cal: Yeah. This one’s actually really my story from, probably about 2015, 2016 till now or until between a couple year period between 2016 and 2018. And yeah, I mean, it really started as, I was working with this actress a long time ago back probably in 2012. A lot of good projects came out of that year. A lot of like seeds of good projects came out in 2012 and I wanted to do something with her really low-budget that we could shoot over a night and shoot very Cinéma vérité mumble core almost style just to make something new. I was very frustrated with my million plus dollar projects I couldn’t get off the ground and I was like, “Let’s just grab a camera and shoot.” That never happened, things went south with us and so I had this… I had a lot more, it was end of 2018.
I knew a lot more artists, musicians… like a lot of people just wanted to make a movie and I’m like, “What do I got that we can make? With everything I have available, what do I have that I can make a respectable film?” I brought out this, I had this little 50 paged first draft kind of this script from 2012 and it’s a really cool, I mean, a really cool Hollywood insider industry love story. And so I just took a couple days, I had about 30, 40 more pages to work with and I just infused everything from 2012 until now basically into that script and made it very personal and very modern, so to speak, and we filmed it. Yeah.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. How did you raise the money for that?
Cal: This one is mostly self-financed, mostly by my co-producer John That and also a little bit by me. And we wanted to… I knew from experience it’s key to keep as a director, especially as a writer-director, it’s key to keep creative control. I mean, I’ve tried like anytime I felt… and maybe it’s just bad experiences, but any time I trusted, and that’s just like, I mean, if I’m trusting David Fincher to make my script that’s one thing, but I’m not so far. So anytime I’ve trusted someone to make it the way I’ve written it, it hasn’t happened. Not even close. I was like, “I’m keeping creative control of this at all costs so I can make a film that’s… a feature film that has me all over it.”
The best way to do that was figure out how to make it as cheap as possible, it’s self-financed. We’ve had many investors come to us with terms that just aren’t favorable to us. So we’re like whatever we have to do it’s like… I listened to this great interview by Jay and Mark Duplass, it’s literally like whatever you have to do to keep make it the way because it’s you’re only really as good as your next best if you’re in a lost project so I’m like, “That’s it.” So far it’ been self-financed and it’s imposed and now we are looking for… because I was able to provide so much upfront I wanna make sure that I’m doing justice to my own work by… I’m not a post person, I don’t have any skills in post, so I wanna make sure I’m hiring proficient people to do justice to the work that we all did upfront.
That definitely I think is gonna cost us some money. So we are considering investors there but we’ve gotten all the way through production by ourselves so far. Yeah.
Ashley: Got you. What advice would you have for writers that are looking to break in? I love just your do it yourself attitude and not waiting around for permission from somebody else, just getting out there and doing it. But what do you recommend to someone that stumbles into LA? What would be the first thing you told them to do?
Cal: First thing, I would just say, as from a writing perspective because I know that’s the focus of this podcast, is just start writing, honestly. You just need material and you just need to write bad scripts. Everyone thinks they’re the best, I thought my first script… and it’s not terrible but I thought when I wrote my first feature screenplay, this was it. There’s no one that can tell me anything. I’m the best writer in Hollywood. And it’s really, I needed to get to 10 to realize how not good my first one was. And so I think really just like start writing scripts. Some people really study the technique and learn by doing that which I think is good, I think maybe you’re healthy doing that as well as you’re writing but I just was just like any ideas, I just started writing. That’s it.
I knew what a feature looked like because I used to read feature screenplays. I’d say read feature screenplays too, read the best scripts ever written. Read like 100 of them. Go to the WGA find the 100 best screenplays ever written and just read them. And there’s this website ScriptShadow who at the time had all these great spec scripts, like these kind of that have never been made and I’m just reading all these super innovative screenplays that I’m like, “That’s how you write a spec that sells.” I’d say read screenplays and then just start writing. I really think that’s it. I mean, I think that’s one surefire way to get stuff out.
Ashley: Yeah. Sound advice. And often the simplest advice is the best advice. What have you seen recently that you thought was great? I’ve been asking guests recently what they saw. I’m always looking for recommendations. Netflix, HBO, Hulu, anything, even something in the theatres. What have you seen that you’ve really enjoyed and thought would be good for screenwriters to check out?
Cal: Yeah. Shoot. I just don’t watch a ton of any movies for… too because I was researching editors for The Astrid Experience. Stranger Things obviously was awesome, watch that. Game of Thrones, other than the last episode, I really liked [laughs]. And I think Indie movies wise I saw, I watched so many good ones recently. There is this film The New Romantics on Netflix is really good and actually this film is really good on Netflix is People You May Know. I think you had the producer, the producer of that was on here on your show a long time ago. Yeah, People You May Know on Netflix, I’m talking to the editor Johnathan Melin. He’s super talented, he cover-shooted Jones’ first film Jesse and Celeste Forever. Yeah, People You May Know is really awesome. It’s a cool look at modern, metropolitan Indie filmmaking.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. Yeah, I’ll have to check that out. 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 will round up for the show notes.
Cal: Yeah, I pretty much social media, I pretty much only do Instagram and that’s @calbarnes just my name, @ C-A-L-B-A-R-N-E-S and obviously email as well, I think my email is on IMDb. Yeah.
Ashley: Okay. Well, perfect Cal. I really appreciate you coming on the show, just a fascinating story. As you know, from listening to my podcast, I’m all about just people getting out there and doing stuff. So I applaud what you’re doing and I welcome you back next time you finish a film and wanna promote it a little bit.
Cal: I love it man, yeah. Thanks for having me. It’s a real honor. Thank you.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you. Will talk to you later.
Cal: All right. Take care.
A quick plug for the SYS Screenwriting Analysis service. It’s a really economical way to get a high quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors-concept, character, structure and marketability, tone and overall craft which includes formatting, spelling and grammar.
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.
To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Cal. I really liked what he said about his college professor when he was taking the acting class, just the professor giving him some validation, telling him that he thought that he was really good at this. Finding that validation is so important. People told him that he was good and that was just enough of a push to get him motivated to move to Los Angeles. It didn’t necessarily make his career, it wasn’t his big break having this college professor tell him that he was a good, or had talent as an actor but it was enough to move the ball down the field just a little bit. And I’m really sensitive to this issue, I’m originally from Annapolis, Maryland and I didn’t have any mentors or role models, there were no successful screenwriters in Annapolis, at least none that I knew, and there was really no screenwriting or filmmaking community, at least none that I was involved in.
And so it was hard to find any sort of validation, it was hard to even feel like moving to Hollywood was even a reality. I remember the summer before I moved out here when I would tell people I was going to move to LA to be a screenwriter, you know the strange looks of disapproval that I would get from friends and neighbors, kinda roll their eyes, “Well, you’ll be back here in six months,” just sort of snide remarks. And it did shake my confidence is you know, I just would think to myself, “Am I making a mistake? What do these people know that I don’t know?” I never had that validation. I never really got that. I wasn’t great at school so certainly no one ever thought, none of my professors ever thought that I had any writing talent or anything like that.
That would’ve been so nice to have. Now for me I had a college buddy who was also interested in moving out to LA. Neither one of us, as I said, neither one of us were good students so we didn’t have tons of job offers out of college so it wasn’t like we had tons of opportunities or anything so that was definitely a factor. But getting that validation and feeling like you could actually do this and feeling like it’s not a complete pie in the sky is so important. And for me I think, as I said, I had this buddy who was also interested in moving to LA. That was a big factor. I didn’t feel like I was moving here alone and so I’m thankful for that. The other thing and I’ve mentioned this also in the podcast was I sent out a few query letters before I came and I actually had one guy call me.
The query letter was terrible and all that but he was nice enough just to call me, that for me I think was the validation that I needed was it just felt real talking to someone that was actually in Hollywood, in production, making movies, in development was just such a moment that it all of a sudden felt real and I think that combined, at least for me, combined with not having any job opportunities out of college and also having this friend who was very willing to also move there with me, that was enough for me to be validated and for me to take that push and make that leap. But getting this validation even from some smaller sources is just so important. And this is one of the reasons why I’m not so down on the smaller screenwriting contest.
The small screenwriting contests, they’re not gonna get your career just launched into the stratosphere. It’s gonna be a slow plod forward, and the smaller contests they can provide some of that validation. Even if it’s a small contest that only gets like 100 scripts and you get a semi-finalist, you’re one of the top four scripts or 10 scripts or something, that just… you know you’re doing something that feels like other people are responding to in a positive way and those little things can add up and those little things, those little bits of validation can motivate you and keep you motivated. And I think that is just so important and should never be underestimated.
Ultimately if you’re gonna be successful in this business it’s gonna be a long journey as a screenwriter, there’s gonna be a lot of ups and a lot of downs. You’re gonna need these small little sign posts of validation along the way to keep your spirits up, to keep you motivated and just to keep you going. I think starting with just the local acting class or maybe the local writing class and seeing if you can get some validation there. Entering some of these small contests, doing a short film, entering a short film, writing and producing a short film and entering it into even a small local film festival, see how people respond to it. Those are the things that can kind of just start to build your career, start to motivate you and start to make you feel like this isn’t just a pie in the sky, this isn’t just a shot in the dark or something that’s just not realistic.
And again, I’m really sensitive to this because I grew up in a place where filmmaking wasn’t anything that anybody did. There was no real film community in Annapolis, Maryland or certainly not a thriving film community where you had people making money and earning a living from it. So I didn’t have that perspective and didn’t get that validation but it is out there, especially now with the internet and everything else, it’s easy to find these local film festivals. You just have maybe to reach out to the local film community, find a local screenwriting class and try and get some of that validation and that can be the sort of the foundation for which you start to build your career. Anyway that’s the show. Thank you for listening