This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 306: Writer Jamie Grefe On How Social Media Led To A Screenwriting Career .
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #306 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing screenwriter Jamie Grefe. He’s got a number of produced screenplays as well as a few projects in development. He’s another great example of a real hustler. He’s just a guy out there making things happen for himself. All his success that he’s had has been without an agent or manager, it’s just him hustling and doing the work. We dig into his various projects to find out how he got the scripts that he’s sold, how he got them sold and how he got them produced. He’s very candid about all of this and we go into great detail about a lot of his projects. Stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me 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 #306.
If you want my free guide-How To Sell A Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really, it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
Quick few words about what I’m working on. I’m still slowly putting together the horror thriller mystery project I’ve been talking about over the last couple of months. Yesterday we did some more casting, we’re trying to figure out when we’re going to shoot the film. I’ve got… I pretty much gotta figure that out today. Our debate is whether to shoot before the Kickstarter or after. There’s a number of issues that are kind of restrictive on the schedule but if we don’t shoot in December, it means that we’ll have to wait until March, April-ish. So at least for the next few days I’m gonna just really go through the budget and the production notes, everything, try and get things lined up and really just see if reasonably we can get everything together by December.
It would be nice obviously, to get the film shot and in the can, and then we would do the Kickstarter afterwards to raise money for post-production and the marketing of the film. That’s the debate right now. I think we’re close to having our three leads cast so I should have an announcement about that hopefully soon. That’s kinda where I’m at with that project and just as time’s going on it’s obviously consuming more and more of my time. Even just setting up a casting session and getting all the actors, getting the location, it’s fairly time consuming. So this is definitely when I’m gonna be here, whether we shoot in December or in March, April, if I’d say for the next four months, really after that because then we’ll have post-production.
But the post-production’s not quite as frantic once you get in to that. If you get busy with something else you can put it on hold for a week or a day or whatever you need to. So it’s a little bit just of a different production, is a lot of sort of just a lot of moving parts and it all kinda has to come together at the same time. Anyways, stay tuned for that, I’ll certainly hopefully have some updates here as that project goes along. That’s the main thing I’ve been working on the last few weeks. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing Screenwriter Jamie Grefe. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jamie to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jamie: Thanks Ashley. It’s a pleasure to be here.
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?
Jamie: Oh, man. I grew up in Northeastern Lower Michigan and I grew up in a small but very artistically thriving town. And so even at a young age… I mean, in middle school, and it’s funny you ask, I was writing screenplays in these kind of composition books, and a friend of mine passed this on to me about 10 years ago. But I grew up in a small town writing kind of stories and narratives and then in high school even using kind of VHS cameras to capture narrative. Moving on to college in Western Michigan and not studying film but at the same time doing film on the side kind of pre-YouTube days with a kind of collective of friends, making these short 10, 15, 20-minute narratives just for fun, to be honest with you, never thinking that it could evolve into a career and actually not even writing at that point.
But the seeds were planted I think very early on. Whether that’s from the influence of satellite television in the house, HBO, cinematics at a very young age, to, like I said, this kind of thriving town, rich musical background and lots of really creative people influencing these artistic decisions.
Ashley: Yeah. And that’s fascinating because I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland and I didn’t feel any of that. I didn’t feel like there was any real artistic community, at least not one that my parents or me were actually involved in. And I wonder, do you think that gave you some inspiration, were there some role models in that, some people that were actually making a living from their artistic endeavors? Because I think that’s what was missing for me.
Jamie: Yeah. We had a really active musical community, and it was such that we were welcomed in… it was a community where it was like, “Hey, we’re going to not just gonna play music and we’re not just gonna have house parties, we’re gonna rent out spaces and organize shows. We’re gonna bring the community. We’re gonna make posters for this, that kind of DIY punk, grunge, metal.” It didn’t even matter the genre, but these were high school kids and young people who were just making things happen. I think that sense of like starting a project and then having a goal, giving high school kids this sense that they could actually organize events and see them through, that counted towards a lot.
And like I said, even in high school there was the idea that I could get a VHS camera. And I wasn’t the only one doing this, there were others around me, “Hey, we can get a VHS camera, cut together a movie.” And this would be like 12,13,14,15 years of age, and we could have a VHS product that we could then take to our friends and show it off. This kind of spirit of doing it and just kind of doing what needs to be done was I think a real richness in the childhood experience.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay, so you’re going through that, through high school, through college, making some of these shorts, what was that moment where you thought, “Okay, I’m gonna try and turn this into a career, I’m gonna actually try and sell some screenplays?” Maybe take us through that transition a little bit.
Jamie: Absolutely. Well, so I got my bachelor’s degree and right away after getting the bachelor’s degree, I left the USA and I was actually out of the USA for 10 years. I was doing teaching and translating and I even did a stint in television. So I’ll slow it down a little bit. I went to South Korea for one year, studied Japanese as an undergraduate, kept studying Japanese in South Korea. And then I made the move to Japan where I just really immersed myself, teaching by day, making these kinds of strange noise compositions improvised music, doing this kind of sound-track kind of work but no film, but simply just experimental music, going really deep into that.
For a long time I started working in television over there because my Japanese at that point got so good that I was able to find a kind of a PA production assistant level job in the Japanese TV world. Was not prepared for the 60+, 70+ hours of work that was demanded of me at that time, speaking in a foreign language, but I did it and I made a lot of great friends. I did it for about a year, got married, stick with me, moved to China, taught English in China, and I was starting to teach like… I was teaching real English. Like I was teaching diplomats’ kids and kids who had come from all over the world to this international school teaching Shakespeare. For the first time in my life I was really reading Shakespeare. This could put me at about age 30, and I’m 40 now.
Teaching Shakespeare, teaching J. G. Ballard, poetry and so on and so forth. And they had this work shop, and this teacher, I believe her name is Susan Danoff, and she’s based in the USA. I think she still does workshops around the country for educators, but she came to the school and she said, “I want to do a creative writing exercise with all the teachers.” Essentially it was a visualization exercise where she had us all shut our eyes and she told us this tale and she really eased us into it. It eased us into it, almost hypnotized all of us into this really relaxed state and then she said, “Now I want you to imagine yourself in that story and I want you to write what you see, what you feel, what you hear.” And so it was really a creative writing exercise.
And I had done these kinds of similar exercises with the kids in the classroom but this took it kind of… this went really personal; this went to a different place within me as an adult. So I wrote that page and then I shared it and everybody was quiet, and I was like, “Oh no, did I just… did I share too much essentially? Did I just open up something?” And all of my colleagues were like, “Oh my God, the English teacher is kind of nuts.” But no. Lo and behold, people came up to me and said, “You know what, that was really good. Have you considered writing, have you thought about writing?” I thought, “Well, yeah. I’ve dabbled in it throughout the years.” But there was just kind of this push inside me.
Like I said, I was making that music in Japan and I did that for years and that kind of hit a stopping point, and I did my last show in Beijing, China. I think it’s even up on my YouTube page, I put the show on there. And I kind of… at that day I thought, “This is the last show I’m doing. Now I’m gonna write.” Because writers only need a notebook or a laptop but a musician, you need a lot more than that and it’s a lot of setup and it’s a lot of takedown, and I was just tired. So I started writing, and I wrote, and I wrote and I just almost like got it all out of me that following weekend. I think I wrote like a 27,000- Word document, a story. Not good, but at least I did it. From there, I just started working that angle of how can I learn to be a better writer?
Now this is not screenwriting. The first screenwriting opportunity that came was in 2013. Now, I’ll tell you, from 2010 to 2013 I actually got a lot of publications because there’s this whole… there’s a very rich… much like screenwriters, we query directors or producers production companies, well, authors query publishing houses or online journals or print journals. So I had a lot of experience in being rejected. I got rejected 40 plus times for one story, then finally that story hit and I was like, “Oh my gosh! That’s the formula. Get rejected. I’m doing something right, I got rejected.” I learned that and then I took that with me and then in 2013 my wife and I relocated back to America to Michigan, had one child at the time.
I was on Facebook and I was like, “You know what, I’m gonna reach out to a filmmaker that I really like.” Found him, added him as a friend, it was very much just a whim actually. And his name in Jim Wynorski and he’s a bit of a B-movie legend. He came up under Roger Corman, he did this movie called Chopping Mall which is kind of a colt classic. He’s done a lot of movies, maybe 100 plus movies. Anyway, he was on Facebook, I reached out to him, I said, “Jim, can I novelize one of your movies? I’m a writer.” And I even had this book came out, The Mondo Vixen Massacre was published a few months before that. This was actually written in China and then got published right when we moved to America.
And I said, “You know Jim,” I said, “Here’s a PDF, this is what I’ve done.” I said, “Could I novelize one of your movies because I think I’m the guy that could do that?” He said, “Well, okay. Write five pages or whatever and here’s the movie you can novelize.” And he gave me one of his titles. So I did. For about a week I just worked at it, worked at it and then I must’ve replied to him at the right time because the day I replied to him I said, “Here’s five pages, here’s what I’ve been working on.” He said, “Hold on.” He said, “Jamie, this is a screenplay. This feels like a screenplay.” He said, “Do you have final draft?” I said, “No.” He said, “You need to buy it tonight.” He said, “I have a job for you.”
I was like, “What do you mean?” “Writing a movie.” “What do you got?” He’s like, “Well, I got these really goofy, sexy comedies for TV.” And he said, “I got a few of them, interested?” I’m an open-minded guy. I said, “Yeah, sure. What do I have to lose?” And it’s like your idol kind of like comes to you and says, “I have something for you.” You don’t turn it down. It’s like one of those crossing the bridge kind of moments. So I learned really quickly, I bought final draft and you know what Ashley, I was reading the manual. I was like what is final draft, how do I operate this program? Within a couple days I was like, “This is a fantastic program. Screenwriting…”
It went back to like that childhood kind of like, “Well, I’ve done this before in some capacity.” And the beautiful thing is Jim said, “Here’s an example of a script that I’ve… it’s a similar genre, same genre.” And he said, “Here’s a two-page outline boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. This is what I want you to write.” So right away, the first writing assignment, he gives me the template but he was still very cautious. He said, “Give me 15 pages then let’s talk on the phone, we’ll see how it is.” The other cool thing is he said, “These scripts are only 45 pages long because half of them are simulated lovemaking. The other half is [inaudible 00:14:39]. Alright?” Hey, it’s true. It is simulated lovemaking [crosstalk].
Ashley: Just out of curiosity, what was the script that he gave you as an example? What was the example script?
Jamie: The example was Double D Dude Ranch. Horrible title, but he pitched it to me as a sexy spaghetti western. You know, again, I’m interested, you’ve intrigued me. He gave me The Double D Dude Ranch, obviously there’s emphasis on a certain body part. Okay, there are certain bits that need to be hit but he provided the template and I wrote it, and I fleshed it out. I put meat on that skeleton, gave him the 15 pages, he said, “This is good. Go ahead and finish the thing.” I finished it. Literally Ashley there were no notes. How rare is that? Super rare. This is not me bragging but this is me going, “What a weird thing, great!” Then he said, “I have another, would you like to…?” I said, “I have the funds to make another, could you pitch some things my way?”
I did, we took one and ran with it, it became The Nurses movie. Originally it was called Savage Nurses. Now Double D Dude Ranch actually sold to Showtime and so that’s a later thing. But actually that did go to show time and it went in households of age all around the world. Sexy Nurses as it came to be called went on a couple streaming platforms but not as big. But then a really cool thing happened where he said, “I have another,” and he said, “I want it to be a shark movie but I don’t have a shark, but it’s already in place, I have financing for it. You have 24 hours, come back at me with an idea,” and I did. It was just… I guess just to boil it down Ashley, it was a really kind of punch in the face.
It was a… that’s just the wrong way to put it. It was just this great rush of energy. Here are several projects, let’s go back and forth, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. And at the end of the day I wrote four of those for him and three of them got distribution. The other I’ve never seen. I know he shot it. It’s like this mystery movie that he holds and he won’t let me… he won’t show it to me for some reason. He just won’t give it to me. He’s busy. But anyway, four of those. And that kinda started things but it started things in a really weird way. But there is no normal way into screenwriting, am I right?
Ashley: Yeah, definitely. Exactly.
Jamie: There’s no way. You know that by interviewing hundreds of people. But this was my side door into one room of what we call screenwriting.
Ashley: I got you. Okay, so then what was that next step? On IMDb you have a number of other credits, The Wishing Forest, maybe let’s start with that one. You’ve done these three movies for this guy Jim, and then what was the next step to try and maybe work in a different genre, propel yourself forward?
Jamie: Absolutely. Actually, I got my…
Ashley: Actually, let me stop you there because I had one follow-up question. So this relationship that you have with Jim, because I know I’ve heard of people that have had success with social media, sounds like you just found him on Facebook. How long did it take before you got to the point where you were saying, “Can I novelize this thing?” Was it pretty quick? Did you have some messages back and forth, “Hey I’m a big fan of your work,” blah, blah, blah? Just maybe go through that a little bit. Because I feel like a lot of people, they think that you’re just gonna friend someone on Twitter, “Hey man, can you read my script?” And it’s generally not quite that it’s… That’s not quite how it goes.
Jamie: Yeah, it’s such a case by case thing. And it’s so weird Ashley I mean, I’ve been… I use social media, we all use social media, and we use it for these purposes as well. In the case of Jim, it was very much like student to teacher relationship. I approached him very professionally. Friending somebody on Facebook, okay fine, it is what it is. Then I sent him a message, “Hi Jim, this is my name, this is who I am.” Being very open and transparent about what I wanted to get out of that relationship. Literally it was a query. It was based on my publishing experience and how I queried journals, maybe to get them to read a story of mine. I simply did the same thing with him. I didn’t start as a friend or I didn’t build that relationship as a friend.
And I’ve done that with other people, I’ve actually had directors and have directors and producer friends of mine who I will email them and they will email me and we’ll just literally have a back and forth, maybe for a long time. And maybe when something is right, a project will blossom out of it. But other times you can literally go right to the gate and say, “Look, I like your work. I would like to work with you and here’s what I bring to the table.” That’s just one way…
Ashley: And this was through the Facebook messaging system. Like you didn’t have his email or anything like that. Just through Facebook you sent him a message which was essentially a query?
Jamie: That’s right. That’s correct.
Ashley: Okay. Well, good. That’s good to know. Okay, so let’s talk about The Wishing Forest then. You’ve done these three movies for Jim and then now you’re moving along. How did you get the Wishing Forest set up?
Jamie: Well, actually, in between The Wishing Forest there was a director in Alabama who’s work… he made a foe trailer, a fake trailer for the Halloween movies and his name’s Jay Burleson. In 2016 I friended him and him and I talked. I loved that trailer; you can look it up. I don’t remember the name of it but it’s Halloween, it’s a trailer, it’s a fake trailer. Anyway, him and I… he had a script and I wrote that script for him and we kinda chugged along with that. And that actually became A House In Your Neighborhood which is nearly complete right now. But back in 2016 with him working on that, this was still… I was living up in New Mexico at the time. Then I moved to… I got my master’s degree in creative writing, had another publishing success and then moved out to The Los Angeles area.
Out here is where I met… I just happened to be… it helps to read the trades. So when I say the trades, I guess the trades could include anything that’s relevant to your purposes of the genres that you like, right? I like many genres, I like many kinds of things. But say I’m reading a horror news website and suddenly I see, okay such and such a director has such and such a project, here’s the trailer, okay cool. There was a movie that looked at that time given where I was at as a writer, which wasn’t setting the bar too high. There was a low-budget director and, who probably prefers to remain nameless at this point. But I reached out to this director and I said, “I like your work.”
Again, it was like the Jim situation, “Do you have anything?” “Here’s what I can bring to the table and I think I could complement your directing style.” I think that’s kind of the thing I look for when I see a movie. I kinda go, “Wow! That’s a really neat movie. Who is this person? And are they open to what I’m doing?” I love that alchemy. I love trying to cultivate that. I have several of those right now. And I always try to keep those going. But anyway, with this director he did happen to say, “Yes, I do have something.” So again, I was just kinda getting lucky. In between that there’s obviously a lot of people who don’t pan out for one reason or another, but this guy did.
Now with The Wishing Forest this director said, “Hey, I have a very small budget. I have no interiors. I literally only have a big woods.” Now I’m from Michigan so I’m like, “Hey, fantastic. I grew up in the woods.” He said, “I have a big woods and I have a horse that I can do a unicorn horn and I have about five or six actors. Needs to have a unicorn in it.” That’s what his investors were telling him, “Can you give me some ideas?” So it started from that sand box. We’re not in the Jim territory, we’re in more of like ‘here are some parts to play with could you…”
Ashley: A kids’ movie, yeah, yeah. A family friendly…
Jamie: [inaudible 00:22:35] that’s the weird thing about this one. It’s an adult oriented fairytale, it’s you know… But yes, the unicorn part was really confusing. So you’re gonna do a unicorn movie but you’re gonna have tons of gore, it’s a really gory movie, actually. But he said it’s for the German market, so I said, “Okay, understood.” So I pitched him a screenplay, an idea, he said, “Great, go with it.” And he said, “Write it up.” And I wrote it up. Now with him it was really interesting because he’s the kind of director where… and I’ve noticed this as well, which is that every collaboration, obviously they’re uniquely different. But there’s still much to learn with each collaboration.
In this part he even said like, he said, “I can’t shoot the script this way.” Then he would play with it then give it back to me and he would go, “But I can shoot it this way.” So, okay. Okay, I can see how you can shoot it that way. Then he said, “But your writing needs to be cleaned up. Could you give me a scene by scene breakdown?” Okay, I’ve never done that before but here’s a chance for me to do that. So kinda being included in this kind of other way helped me gain experience as well. But he ended up shooting it, selling it and I think it’s available in Germany, Switzerland and I wanna say Austria. And I know it is up for dibs on www.thefilmcatalogue.com. I believe ITN Films is trying to distribute it in the North American market but I don’t know if that happened yet or not.
Ashley: And that’s fascinating that a unicorn movie is specific to that sort of Western European market.
Ashley: Was there anything to that? Are unicorns more well regarded in Germany than they are here? What was the sort of the logic behind it?
Jamie: Yeah. I mean, honestly, I was kept in the dark. I don’t know but I assume based on what you just said that it was an attempt to market that to a specific niche of people. Again, based off of the company that gave him the funds, right? I mean, there’s always this power in, how to say this… As a screenwriter, we obviously can bring our creative talents to the table and when I write spec scripts, which I have a collection of spec scripts, I craft them in the way I wanna craft them and I put in what I wanna put in them and they’re truly mine. But in every collaboration, there’s always these parameters and there are always these expectations and then there’s the challenge.
And it can be a really good challenge or it can be a really frustrating challenge or it can be both of taking notes and implementing notes and shaping a narrative to how the director or investors, buyers want it, right? With the unicorn thing, it literally was like, “Hey, screenwriter, you’re a hired gun. Do you want the project?” “Yes.” “Okay. There’s gonna be a unicorn.” “Okay.” “There’s no interiors.” “Okay.” “Here’s the deadline.” “Fine.” It was very sterile and it was just satisfying. The movie turned out pretty good. The trailer’s actually out there as well.
Ashley: Okay. Got you. So what about… Let’s go back to A House In Your Neighborhood. How did you meet the guy, the filmmaker in Alabama? How did you guys interact?
Jamie: Well, so I’m a family man, I have children. It’s hard to get out of the house. I work every… schedules are tight. So with Jay again, is just this method of using social media and maybe if that’s one theme that’s running throughout our talk right now. It’s value that anyone with an internet connection can literally, with the right intention and the proper use of your communicative force, you can create relationships to other creators. So Jay is and has become a good friend of mine. But I literally reached out to him and said, “Hey man, it looks like you’re a young filmmaker down in Alabama, you did this Halloween trailer. It’s awesome man. I wanna tell you that it’s awesome. And again, if you have anything you think you need somebody to write or you want help with, let me know.”
I always see the writer as… and myself as being that kind of a force. And you’ve talked about this before, I believe, in your other podcasts which some… and you know this from your own experience. Sometimes there are producers, not sometimes, there are producers out there who are too busy to write what they wanna write. So if they can find you and if they can trust that what you are giving them is of the quality that their buyers expect and if you can be a really good communicator with them, there can be a collaboration there. With Jay, it was mutual interest followed by, “What are you working on?” And he happened to be nursing this idea of a haunted house script. I had not done a haunted house script.
I was in the middle of getting my master’s degree and I thought… and that was more focused on fiction. And I thought, “Hey man, if you want me to take a stab at this…” Because that’s another skill… I think as a screenwriter, it does also help to analyze your strengths and your weaknesses and be very honest with yourself. Where are you coming from, what can you really bring to the table? And I know one thing I can bring to the table is speed. That is one thing I can bring to the table. I can sit down and I can write and I can sustain myself in that chair writing and I can crank out pages and they’re not necessarily bad. I know some people they, “Okay, I hit five pages a day.” Some people 30 pages, 20, whatever, everybody’s different.
And I’ve realized about myself is that I can set… maybe it’s not even just being sustained but it’s also being disciplined. I can tell myself, “Alright, from eight to 10pm, I’m gonna write. Then I’m gonna wake up at four and I’m gonna write from four to six. I’m gonna go to work,” I have two breaks at work. I have a lunchbreak at work, I’m gonna write for those lunchbreaks. I’m gonna hit 50 pages today. It’s ideal, I’m just being vague. But that kind of stuff, that mindset can really change a lot. With Jay I said, “Hey, you have a screenplay maybe you don’t have time to write it, why don’t you let me take a stab at it. I’ll do it for free.” That’s another thing Ashley, if you’re offering to write something for free sometimes, you’re gonna find that doors do open for you.
Ashley: Yeah, fantastic. Let’s talk about It Hungers, how did that movie come about?
Jamie: It Hungers was a follow-up with the same group of people that were involved with The Wishing Forest. And literally it was just this, “Hey, here’s what I have. I don’t know how to finish it.” And these are the kinds of relationships I like to see because I can help you finish it. Let me see it. Let’s write it out. Let’s do an outline. And I think as a screenwriter that’s one thing we can always work to improve upon is our storytelling skill. And I’m always learning… I think I emailed you a while ago about, “Hey, have you ever seen Dan Harmon’s story circles?” I’ve bought books from people that you’ve interviewed on your show. Just always good to be upping those competencies.
With It Hungers, the guy had a story, the guy had an outline, but again, just couldn’t quite pull it together. And to be honest, some people, writing is not their strong point. A director doesn’t have to be a great writer. They might be fantastic behind a camera or giving instructions, maybe writing isn’t their strong suit. So I came in, right person, right place, right time, right budget. I made it happen. And then that movie did… it took a while, but it came to fruition and now I believe it has distribution forthcoming later this month in the Netherlands, in Belgium and again, with hopeful USA release. And I’m always kind of out of those loops at this point so I don’t know. Sometimes I just hear via hearsay as well.
Ashley: What about Collide and Bluebird? Those are two projects that are listed as In development. What’s the status with those?
Jamie: Absolutely. Collide’s been a beautiful project to work with. The director of that who’s attached Johnny Martin, is a very experienced stuntman, director, producer. Very, very experienced. And I had the good fortune of approaching him at the right place and the right time and asking him, “What are you looking for?” And again, this kinda ties back to that idea of when that door does open for you, when somebody does get back to you. If you query somebody and they say, “Well, I’m looking for a Christmas comedy.” If you happen to have a Christmas comedy or you have that idea that you’ve been kicking around and you tell yourself that, “I can write that Christmas comedy.” And you do write it. Take advantage of those moments, right?
Those are the moments that I think we wait for. With Johnny, I had just been coming off of another collaboration that didn’t seem to be happening but a lot of work was put into it. And then I reached out to Johnny, he got back to me and said, “Hey, here’s what I’m looking for.” And it hit me and I said to myself, “I’m gonna write this script for him and I’m gonna just… I’m gonna nail it.” For whatever that meant to me, I’m gonna… it’s an action, it’s gonna have suspense, it’s gonna have just this great tension. He’s a car guy, so I’m gonna make this just such a powerful car-driven suspense script. And it was one of those stories where I did give him something good. Good enough to the point where he said, “Let’s talk. I have changes, but let’s talk.”
And so that relationship’s actually been ongoing. Hannibal Media acquired the rights to that script earlier in the year and I believe they’re still standing behind their, well, they’re standing behind it as a production company and there’s some things working with it man. It’s really great.
Ashley: And how did you meet Johnny? Was that also social media?
Ashley: It was.
Jamie: I don’t go out Ashley. I don’t go out man. I’ve got kids, I’m… time is just a commodity and I… So again, that’s what I wanna teach these younger screenwriters who might be in college or somebody who might be just not in college but just somebody who’s a screenwriter going, “How do I break in? How do I get in?” There’s no one way in. There’s many ways in. Who are you, what can you bring to the table and can you meet who you need to meet? I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also been rejected a lot too. A lot of things just don’t go anywhere. Sometimes you nurse a lot of projects and then they, [inaudible00:33:23] flow [inaudible 00:33:24].
Ashley: And let’s talk about that for just a second because a lot of this work… and this is just the nature of screenwriting and we’ve all been through it. But how do you deal with those projects where you put in an enormous amount of time on it and then it basically just dies? Those are heartbreaking, gut-wrenching moments. How do you keep going, how do you get over those speedbumps? And I think… I don’t think anybody fully understands that until they’ve actually worked as a professional screenwriter, actually gotten into the trenches and actually started doing that. I think people that come to this, they think it’s gonna be, “Oh, I’m just gonna write my spec script and send it in and it’s gonna these things.”
But those are just absolutely heartbreaking moments when you feel like your best work is basically being flushed down the toilet. How do you get through those and how do you deal with that and just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and then continue to trot on?
Jamie: Yeah. Fantastic and it’s… for me it all depends obviously on the project; how much I’ve invested into it. But and it always, I don’t wanna say always hurts, sometimes it hurts more than other times depending on what’s riding on it. But what I found personally for me is a couple things: one is, first of all, how am I interpreting rejection? That’s a big thing. There’s obviously this common idea of rejection of this project failed, it died. What does that mean to me? So if I work on a project for a year and it keeps dying and it seems like it’s gonna die and it seems like it’s just gonna fade away, am I able to take a step back from that and ask myself, “What did I get out of this?”
“Did I get anything out of this? How has this made me a better screenwriter and what do I control in this process?” Because sometimes you work on a project and you pass it off to the director and then it kinda goes into their court or the producer, and then it’s up to them. How do they try to pitch it out? How do they take it out to market? Maybe they’re not savvy at getting the right person for the script. Maybe it is a script problem. Maybe it does need to come back to you. But nothing… I think that still holds how do you interpret failure? There’s a great philosopher who’s work I liked, Emil Cioran, he said, “An existence transfigured by failure.” The idea of failure being something that you not only can learn from but something that can enhance your life in a way is a really counterintuitive way to contemplate rejection.
So, does it hurt? It can, but can you learn something from it that allows you to move on and do what needs to be done for the next project? Another thing that helps is having a very fertile imagination. Instead of having one project that you nurse for five years, why not have a notebook full of projects that you feel you could pull off? Maybe set up goals for yourself. Get yourself an InkTip account. Start figuring out what are people looking for. They do weekly newsletters, right?
Jamie: Okay. What’s the market looking for? Start to get into that mindset. Don’t get caught in the idea of, “My script’s not going anywhere, I’m not good enough.” Maybe you’re not good enough but good enough for what? So set yourself… be… take an honest look at yourself, where you wanna be, what kinda scripts you wanna write, move towards that, can you get access to those scripts? I mean, there’s always stuff to learn. So interpretation of failure and interpretation of rejection to me counts for so much man. I’m a firm believer that as a person thinks… your thinking influences how you’re going to react to things, how you’re going to interpret and move forward on projects.
Dude, I’ve had projects, yes, full year, six rewrites, seven rewrites, page one rewrites, agent the… the director’s agent gets it, agent goes, “I don’t know how to sell this.” Then you just kinda look and you’re just like hanging off the edge of a cliff. But then maybe the director comes to you and says, “Don’t worry I’ve got our second project. Do you wanna start on it?” Then what do you do at that moment? I think you have to look at yourself in the eye and go, “Do I still want to write? What is screenwriting to me? Does it mean that I write without getting paid?” Those are the learning moments man, right? What do I do? How much do I really feel I’m a screenwriter? The process goes on and on and on and on.
I mean, Collide might not come to life, I certainly hope it does. Bluebird might not come to life, I certainly hope it does. But we all know there are chances that these things won’t come to life.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s talk about balance with family life. You and I are in a similar situation, we both have children, that obviously that requires a lot of time. And so maybe talk about things… I mean, I can tell already that one of the keys to your success is just straight forward discipline. And that’s not necessarily always easy to teach. But maybe give us some pointers on, how do you manage your day to day, how do you keep up with these projects? I think you’re also working a full-time job, obviously you had… you told me you have three children, young children at that so they require a lot of time. Maybe talk about that, a little bit of the work balance life that you’ve tried to work towards.
Jamie: Yeah. Putting things, seeing… being able to see your day in terms of what can I do today? How to say this, let me put this the right way. When screenwriting becomes necessary, when it becomes… not even a… and it’s not like, “Oh, maybe I’ll write today.” or, “Maybe I’ll keep pursuing people.” But when it comes down to, “I need to do this,” then I feel the time does happen. Kids sleep. After the kids sleep instead of winding down with a nice tv show, I might open up final draft or in my case I use Fade In which I feel is a great software. I open up Fade In and go, “Okay, I’m gonna at least outline this project tonight.” Boom! Outline the project. Again, sleep, wake up super early in the morning.
I feel it’s those early morning hours, the late-night hours. It’s taking advantage of that free time. It’s how to do that and then how to shut it off. Because my kids don’t care about what I’m writing. And they shouldn’t have to, it doesn’t matter to them. I’m not gonna tell them no. They might see me working on something during the day when I have to sketch something in the notebook and they get curious, “What are you working on? Are you writing?” “Yeah, I’m writing. Writing is great.” That’s a teachable moment. Then maybe they start to do some writing and crafting stories. So kind of weaving that into the day as well. But when it comes time to like paying for the house, paying the bills, having a full-time job, those are very real concerns for people.
And you do what you have to do. But in addition to doing what you have to do, you also do what you have to do to be a writer and to sustain that. Not in terms of how much you want it but what are you actually doing? What are you in control of and what are you doing? I’m constantly crafting and recrafting plans. I’m kind of looking at my day going, “Well, today I’m probably not gonna be able to do X but you know what, I bet I can do it tomorrow morning.” And then sticking to that. So doing what needs to be done when it needs to.
Ashley: Yeah. Sound advice for sure. Another question I had for you, I get a lot of people emailing me ‘should I move to Los Angeles, should I not move to Los Angeles?’ And I think these are actually conversations that you and I had via email some years ago. What was it for you that you decided, ‘okay, I’m gonna move to the LA area’? Because, it sounds like a lot of the success you’ve had was not dependent on you being in LA. A lot of your success has just been your reaching out and building these relationships. And I doubt Jim… when you were writing the Double D Dude Ranch, I doubt that he really cares that you’re living in LA.
Jamie: He didn’t care. He didn’t care. He didn’t know where I lived. It’s like where do you live. I mean, we know that Los Angeles is the cinema city, right? There’s a magic here. I mean, I think I’ve lived in different cities around the world, Tokyo, Beijing other… these are big cities, they’re thriving, but they’re not cinema cities. And so I think there’s always this mystique to the LA area, there’s some kind of allure. But I remember in two… I didn’t mention this, but I actually had two novelizations published for an Adult Swim tv show called Decker. It’s this kind of action comedy thing. And I was invited out to Decker-Con which is this convention to celebrate that tv show. And to be out here in a theater at the time it was in that Cinefamily theatre in West Hollywood.
To step into that atmosphere and to see people coming there, talking movies, feeling that energy, knowing that you’re in the city of cinema. There’s a real energy there. And it’s almost like some people they soak that in, and I thought, “I wanna soak that in.” Actually, I thought I wanted to live up in a cabin in the mountains and that’s why I moved up to the mountains of Taos, New Mexico where the sage fields stretch on for miles. But that’s not where my heart wanted to be. And I get kinda esoteric about these things as well whereas I applied… I was a school teacher up in Taos, New Mexico during when I was getting my master’s degree and I thought to myself, “I know I don’t wanna be in the classroom anymore. Actually, I wanna be in Los Angeles.”
And it was almost like just this inner feeling. Then I applied for so many jobs, didn’t get them. But I did apply for a certain job and it lined up. I remember I did reach out to you and I said, “Where do you recommend for families man?” Because LA can be so… it’s almost like an incomprehensible city until you start to really study it. And it helps to have people who live here and live in the general sprawl who can go, “Well, you know, these neighborhoods are really neat. You might wanna think about these neighborhoods.” And you were very helpful Ashley at that time.
Ashley: Well, thank you.
Jamie: And then the job that happened to come through for me was literally like five miles from… I was literally like, right near where you had recommended and I was like, “This is it. This is that magic that I needed. I need to nail this interview.” And I did, I nailed the interview and I go the job. But do you need to be in the Los Angeles area? I actually don’t know now how to answer that. Does it help? Absolutely. It does help because what if somebody calls and people have called and said, “Can you meet up for coffee? Can you come down to Burbank? Can we meet up in Studio City?” “Yes. Yes. Yes.” Now if I would’ve said no, probably… I don’t know. Would I still… we don’t know the answers to these questions.
Ashley: It’s subtle and nuanced. It’s hard to tell. Yeah.
Jamie: Absolutely. But being out here absolutely feels… and if it feels right for you and you feel like you wanna make the jump and so on and so forth, yada, yada, come check it out, come see how it feels and you know… Yes.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. Well, Jamie, I really appreciate you coming on and talking to me today. This was kind of a great interview, just sprawling, talking about a lot of projects. The one final question I have I’ve been… I’m not trying to put you on the spot, but I’m curious. What was your… because so much of your success has been just reaching out to people. And one of the things I can tell you as someone who you reached out to, you always had a very just pleasant, normal way about you. It just didn’t come across as selfish. And I can’t emphasize that enough is how many people they reach out to and it’s just all about them. “Hey, can you read my script? Hey, can you get my script to this producer? Hey, can you help me produce.”
And it’s just like I’m inundated with that stuff so when I finally find someone that’s just asking legitimate questions or smart questions or something, it’s just a [inaudible 00:45:42]. But what was your intention reaching out to a guy like me? And I’m really just trying to get sort of your philosophy in general, reaching out to people in general.
Jamie: Yeah. And thank you for saying that, Ashley. I’d like to think that most of the time in most all of the cases, my intention is honestly good and it’s in… and let me think, in yours particular case. Around the time I was looking to learn as much as I could and you provide such a great service to writers, I mean this. I’ve told you; I think I’ve told you this before. But at the time you were doing the forums and I learned so much about crafting loglines from you. I really appreciated that. And I was in that kind of learning mode. And I think when somebody is truly in the learning mode, they become interested in other people. And when you become interested in what other people are doing, there’s… a beautiful thing can happen there.
That opens up room for collaboration. It’s not that you’re shutting out your work, but it’s that you’ve approached somebody and hopefully you’re approaching them for the right reason because you really do like, you love what they create and you want to learn from them. If that’s the case, if there’s something there that’s really pure, I feel you’ve done no wrong. You can literally go to sleep that night going, “You know what, I’ve tried. I’ve put myself out there, my intentions are pure. I’m not trying to cheat anybody out of anything.” And sometimes really great things come from that. And actually, every example I’ve given you today, I believe came from that space, that mental space of reaching out to somebody not with the idea of, ‘my scripts are great’.
I used to live In Japan for six years and the one thing you learn when you live in Japan is to stop boasting about yourself. That’s a very American way of interpreting yourself. It doesn’t mean that you denigrate yourself, but it means that you humble yourself before the people around you. And so getting into that mindset has helped me put myself into a more receptive state, if that makes sense, towards other people. And when you’re in a receptive space, it opens the space for, like I said, collaboration, creativity, learning. And if I reach out to you, “Hey, you know there’s something in your work that I really like, let’s… life is short. Do you wanna work together?” I think that having that mindset can help, can really help. I do believe in mentors.
I believe that having a mentor can really impact somebody’s life in a positive way. The one example I’ll give you is this script Collide that we’ve been talking about. I can tell you with all honesty that working with Johnny Martin has been a grad school level education. And I’ve been through grad school, okay. Somebody who can read your work and open it up and tear it down and then open it up and build it up and get you to push yourself beyond your limits, that’s worth… I don’t know. What is that worth?
Ashley: Yeah. It’s priceless for sure, yeah.
Jamie: That’s priceless. Yeah. You don’t want people who are just… that’s the thing. The Jim Wynorski experience was fantastic, but to hand over a first draft and to say have somebody go, “Okay, this is great.” It doesn’t teach you what you really need to be taught, I feel. Because I feel there is room to grow.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. 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.
Jamie: Absolutely. www.jamiegrefe.com, J-A-M-I-E-G-R-E-F-E.com. That’s the site. I do update it with news or kind of big projects that seem to be coming to life. Otherwise, I check Twitter a lot, so it’s just twitter.com/JamieGrefe, all one word put together. Probably those two spaces if you’re a Facebook person, go ahead and search my name on Facebook. Go ahead and add me there. Those are probably it. Yes.
Ashley: Perfect. Jamie, again, congratulations on all your successes and I look forward to having you on again in the future. You can talk about your next couple of films.
Jamie: Awesome. Ashley. Thank you so much man. Have a great night.
Ashley: Yeah. You too. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
Jamie: Alright. Bye.
I just wanna talk quickly about SYS select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre, and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of this service, you can find out about all the SYS Select successes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also on SYS podcast Episode #222, I talk with Steve Deering who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. These services include the newsletter, the monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads, we have partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads services, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner, recently we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also, you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS Select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join.
The classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept to outlining, to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. To wrap things up, I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Jamie. As I was putting this episode together, I had to write that little spiel at the top of the podcast where I mentioned that I was going to be talking with Jamie. And obviously I’m trying to spin it as best I can to get people to listen to the episode. So the angle I took was basically screenwriter reveals how he sold his screenplays.
I know this is something that most screenwriters are going to want to hear so I thought it was a good angle. I honestly think it’s an accurate description of the episode. Then I’m wondering as I’m putting this thing together and now putting these final notes together and thinking about recording this, how are people gonna feel after they’ve listened to this episode? Are my listeners gonna feel like it lived up to the hype? Do you think that it did live up to the hype? That’s a question for you and perhaps only you can answer it for yourself. I know a lot of people, and this is in every field not just screenwriting. People want a magic bullet. Some super simple tip or trick that will radically change the trajectory of their career. And that’s sort of the bait and switch.
I know that’s what people want and I know that’s sort of what I was hinting at with my opening, when in fact that’s the thing, there is no simple tip or trick. I’m sorry that there isn’t. And believe me I wish that there was some simple tip or trick that I could just give to people and totally transform their career. But the thing is, Jamie laid it out for us. Write a ton of screenplays, network like crazy, be easy to work with so when a producer does hire you, he wants to hire you again in the future. In other words, just do the damn work. It’s really not rocket science. It’s all right there. Jamie just laid it out. Go do the work. Make things happen for yourself. Go do a short film, go write a bunch more scripts, enter some screenwriting contest, network, go to some film festivals, go to AFM.
These are all the things that you could be doing to move that career ahead a little bit. I’m gonna use a few boxing metaphors here. If you wake up one day and decide you wanna be a boxing champion, you’re not just gonna go challenge the champion in your weight class. Maybe you would, but I’d say he’s probably not gonna respond. You’re gonna go down to the gym and you’re gonna start working out and training, and you’re probably gonna do that for a while. Probably a long… Hopefully you didn’t do it for a long while, and before you get a professional fight, you’re probably gonna do some amateur fights too. And if you work hard enough and have at least some talent, hopefully you’ll eventually get a pro fight.
But that pro fight ain’t gonna be at the MGM Grand, it’s gonna be in a dingy gym in the valley. You’ll probably get your ass whipped a few times, there’s probably not gonna be many people watching it either. But if you win some of those fights, you’ll slowly move along to the next level. That’s what Double D Dude Ranch is. It’s an early professional fight. He got paid, he learned, he made a connection with the guy who’s making a lot of films and is rehiring for those films. And believe me, most of my writing credits are similar. I’m not poking holes in Double D Dude Ranch, because that’s pretty much what a lot of my credits are, but go look me up on IMDb. My most recent credit is literally a film called Snake Outta Compton.
I’ll sometimes post something on Facebook or Stage 32 or Reddit is particularly nasty. And I often get these snarky responses from people. Whatever I say there’d be a snarkier response, “Who is this idiot? He wrote Snake Outta Compton, LOL.” And it’s a fair point. What have I done? I wrote a script called [inaudible 00:56:10], have a couple of credits, Ninja Apocalypse, Snake Outta Compton. These are not great movie credits; I certainly understand that. Of course, when I asked the person, “Hey, well, what are your credits?” they never have any credits at all. And to me, having a bunch of shlocky writing credits, it isn’t a tragedy. If the movie isn’t any good, people just forget about it and move on.
But the writer made a little bit of money and hopefully learnt something too. That’s not terrible. Now, is Jamie ever gonna win an Academy award? Who knows? The odds are long. Am I ever gonna win my Oscar, considering Snake Outta Compton is my most recent credit I’d say it’s not looking real good for me. But continuing with the boxing metaphor I’m gonna leave it out on the mat. I might get a few bloody noses, but I’m never gonna feel like I didn’t give it my all. That’s really what strikes me. And that doesn’t strike me as tragic either. Giving it your all, really trying hard and not succeeding, that’s not tragic. That’s admirable. I think people look up to that and people think, okay, that’s what you gotta do.
But you know what is actually very, very tragic, It’s Marlon Brando sitting in the back of that car on On The Waterfront saying, “I could’ve been a contender.” And you know what, Jamie never is going to have to say that to himself, you know why, it’s because he is a contender. And I have these filmmakers on the podcast all the time. Last week I had Wendy McColm on. She’s a contender too. A few weeks ago, I had my friend Nate Ives with his documentary. He’s a contender. And my buddy Bernie Rao was on a couple of weeks ago with his film, Killer Sofa. He is a contender too. In fact, I just saw an article in The Hollywood Reporter that said his film was a hidden gem at this year’s AFM. Congratulations to that, Bernie. He’s a contender too.
And you know what is circling all the way back to the beginning of these little section. You know how you become a contender, you stop looking for tips and tricks and magic bullets and shortcuts, and you just do the damn work. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.