This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 309: John Suits Director of the Sc-Fi Movie 3022.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #309 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing filmmaker John Suits who just did a sci-fi film called 3022 starring Omar Epps. We talk through this film and how it all came together for him, so stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated.
Any websites or links that I mentioned 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 #309. 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.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing filmmaker John Suits. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome John to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
John: Well, thanks for having me.
Ashley: You were on the SYS podcast before a couple of years ago in Episode Number #44, so I will refer people back to that and link to it in the show notes so they can kinda get your backstory. But today let’s dig into your latest film 3022 starring Miranda Cosgrove and Omar Epps. To start out, maybe you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
John: It’s a film about what kinda happens when you’re basically the last four humans left alive. You’re on a space station and you see earth blow up. Then it goes into those sort of existential crises of like do we try to live, is it worth trying to live, what is there to live for? And every character handles it differently, and things kind of devolve from there. So yeah, that’s the basic premise.
John: Okay, perfect. How did you get involved with this project? Another writer Ryan Binako wrote the script. Maybe just walk through that process, was this an idea that you had, you hired Ryan to write it, was it a spec script that he came to you with? Maybe just talk about how you got involved with this screenplay.
John: Yeah. I actually found it, gosh, it might’ve been five years ago now, four or five years ago, maybe five, where I was on The Black List website where you… like the database where you just read a bunch of screenplays. I go on there a lot and just sort of read loglines and try to find material and I came across this logline and was really fascinated by it and read the script. It was very different at the time, but I loved it. So I contacted Ryan Binako, the writer and he at the time was based out at Sweden, his wife is Swedish. So when I contacted him, he… we talked for a while and I didn’t end up optioning it in time and he optioned it to someone else. And so when I approached him with an option, he’s like, “Oh, I just had optioned it,” then they kept the rights for three years.
Meanwhile I’d gone on and made some other movie, I directed the movie Pandemic I think after that. Then I kinda took a break from movies for a while. My second kid had just been born and so I’d been more directing commercials and branded content. Then I started to miss movies again. So I started thinking of old scripts I’d read that I loved and wanted to make and immediately the first one that came to mind was 3022. I contacted Ryan and the option that the other company had for three years had just expired a couple of months prior, so it was perfect timing. We talked about it and then worked on the script a bunch together and got it ready and went out and put it all together
Ashley: Perfect. And so I’m curious, you mentioned you found it on The Black List. What do you look for when you’re using The Black List? I know a lot of writers listening to this podcast certainly use The Black List, and there’s always these scores. Are you just purely looking at the loglines, do the scores and the feedback that writers make available, does that influence your decision? Maybe give us a little sort of inside baseball on how a producer uses The Black List.
John: Yeah. And I’m sure everybody has their own process. For me what I would do is I would just read a ton of loglines and then if a logline was interesting to me, I would click on it and then that’s when I would start to look at the other things. I would see like did it have script reviews? Because if it did have… the thing I cared about so probably wasn’t the reviews it was the coverage. I really liked when a script had coverage and I could read and kinda get a sense of it from the coverage. That was helpful to me. I also would look at the reviews as well because if you see a few low ones you’re like, “Oh, maybe this isn’t worth my time.” But I’d say… First though, it’s just kind of looking at loglines.
Usually I would pick a genre that I’m interested in or when I was [inaudible 00:05:40] reading tons and tons of loglines and then clicking on them and kinda going through that process. It also would help if it had something like, quarter finalist in Nicholls or Blank Contest and things like that. Just you’re looking for reasons to go to the next step. So a lot of times a strong logline is crucial obviously and that’s the first piece, but then after that there was like a whole set of criteria that I would be like, do I go to the next step? And then the next step would be I’d read a few pages and then decide if I wanna read the rest of it. So definitely having a strong first 10 pages is extremely important.
Ashley: Yeah. How much does the actual interfacing with the writer count towards these things? Just in other words, if you email, if you get on a phone with them and just something seems a little weird or they don’t seem that easy to get along with, how much does that impact you? Have you ever had a script that you really, really, really liked, but once you talked to the writer you just thought, “This seems like he could be difficult?”
John: Not really. What I’ll more say so happens because I’ve definitely run into that. Truth be told with Ryan, I had to really convince him to let me option the script. But we’re friends now, we’ve known each other for years. But at the time it was… there was people being like, “Oh, we’re gonna make it a $30 million movie.” And that sort of stuff and that sounded more appealing. But since we’ve worked together a bunch of years and stuff like that and so it was fun to finally get to make this movie together because that’s how we initially met. He moved to the States and he’s now in Los Angeles. But what I more so would say can be off putting then… Like once I’ve read a script, if I like and I want it, it doesn’t matter how difficult a personality seems or different or stuff like that because I want the script. The content is definitely king there.
But what I would say can be a turn off is if you’re… this isn’t necessarily happening in The Black List site, but I’ve had things where let’s say someone submitted a screenplay or something and I go like, “Cool!” or like a look book and a log line and a little thing and I’m like, “Cool, I’d love to read the screenplay.” And then they say like, “Oh, well before I send it to you, I need you to sign this NDA,” blah, blah, blah. I usually don’t. That’s usually the end of the conversation because that to me it feels a little green kind of. And it’s not saying people shouldn’t be safe, but it just feels like an extra step and I’m always kinda like, “I don’t know if I wanna keep talking to this person.” Just to be honest, that’s more so off putting.
Like before I’ve read the script, if someone’s making it difficult for me to read the script, then that’s usually I’m like it’s not worth it to me to try to read the script I’d say. But after I’ve read the script if I like it, it doesn’t matter how difficult they’re being, I’m gonna try to get it. Yeah.
Ashley: Okay. Well, that’s great advice. And again, I hope writers are listening to that because I often get writers asking, “Oh, should I make the producer sign an NDA?” And my advice is always don’t do that for precisely what you’re saying. Why are you creating hurdles to have people read your material? So it’s good to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Okay, let’s talk about the actual screenplay for this. So you find it on The Black List, what are some specific things that you really liked about Ryan’s writing that just really got you engaged and fired up to go and try and option this one? Especially because it must have made an impact, the fact that you kept coming back to it after all these years.
John: Yeah, it really did. I think Ryan’s writing in general… and I used him on a bunch of other things to do like script doctoring type things and stuff like that. Actually even some on commercials and stuff like that. But what I like about his writing is it felt like he has a very strong voice, it felt like he knows his craft, the… I mean, obviously you have to… when you’re first reading the script, dialogue is the thing you’re paying the most attention to. Like there’s… do each characters have their own voice, does it feel fluid, is it not too expositional, all that sort of stuff. I think Ryan’s got a real… I really like his style and how he writes and you… Immediately reading and I’m like, “Oh, this guy knows what he’s doing.”
Then additionally, I really liked the concept and how things evolved throughout the script and what I’d say is… What’s funny is the current movie is pretty dark, but the original script was much more dark even. So I like darker material, but it was even I was like, “I think we need just a smidge of some hope in the script, a little bit.” So that was one of the things I know that we worked on, those sorts of things. But I think he has a cool, unique voice in the way he approached the writing. I’ve read a lot of his other material, it’s also super strong and interesting, but it’s definitely… I would say that the biggest hiccup for me is if the dialogue isn’t working. That’s the thing immediately where I’m like, “I don’t know if I wanna keep going.”
At that point, I still don’t know if the story’s working or the characters or any of that sort of stuff, but if I love a concept and I start reading it in the dialogue’s bad I’ll usually not get past page five.
Ashley: Yeah. I got you. Okay. So let’s talk about some of the other changes. You mentioned that his version was maybe a little darker than what you ultimately wanted to have. What were some of the other changes that you needed to make to the script? And even just stuff, I’m always curious to hear if there’s logistical stuff or budgetary reasons, I’m always curious to kinda hear about that. It sounds like other people were offering him, “Oh, we’re gonna make this move for $30 million.” So clearly that would be a different script than probably what you guys ended up with. But any of the changes I’m always just curious to hear what changed to get it actually into production.
John: Yeah. So it’s funny though, between the $30 million version and the sub million dollar version we… it’s actually this… I didn’t change anything production wise, that’s…I’m always… and that was like the… I had to really, really sell Ryan on that I could do it, because he was not convinced. Because it was extremely challenging. We ended up having to build sets in parking lots and stuff like that. There was a lot of… and shoot, I’d rather on sound stages because we couldn’t even get the right sounds stages. There’s a lot of logistical challenges that came into it, but I always believe that for every $30 million version there is the sub million-dollar version of that.
And so more so from a logistics thing, I think the original scope was like 120 something and then what we also ultimately shot was 95 I think or… So there’s just initially things like that, I’m just trying to get the page countdown because every… the way I look at it, every page is about two hours of shoot time roughly. And if you can cut five or six pages, that’s like you get a day more to shoot. So there’s a lot of that stuff. Then beyond that it was working a lot on the sort of characters, the arcs, figuring out just some of the pacing, stuff like that and finding ways to make it so that it fits both of our sensibilities. Because, not to say that anything was wrong with the initial version, it’s just that there’s some ways that I wanted to try to approach things differently.
And Ryan’s a great collaborator and able to kind of… I think got it to a good place, a place I feel good about it after kinda working together on it for a while.
Ashley: Perfect. So at what point during this process do you get distribution in place? Was that early in the process when you option the script from him, do you go through, make the movie then get distribution? Maybe talk about that a little bit.
John: Yeah, I mean a lot of the times the ways it goes now is you try to get some deals in beforehand and that’s definitely I tried to do on this one, trying to get at least some of the deals in and to sort of help you with getting the rest of the movie together. So it was kinda a combination of things there and… But I had relationships from previous films I’ve made and it’d been interesting because I’d taken a couple of years off, so coming back and going back into the marketplace, it was funny to see that it had changed a bunch again. And you sort of always think like, “Oh, maybe this is now the new normal,” but the new normal is always changing. So that was cool and I was able to rely on some of my previous relationships and stuff like that to kind of get all the pieces in place and do it that way.
Ashley: And so when you talk about deals just… and we don’t need necessarily the specifics of what you’re talking about. You get the distributor and he’s able to sell rights in the UK and Germany and that gives you some upfront money to help pay for the actual production, those are the sorts of deals you’re talking about?
John: It’s things like that or…
Ashley: Basically pre-sales.
John: Yeah, or the [inaudible 00:14:40] in some sort of like MG, pre-sale type thing that you can use like the contracts for stuff. And it’s not that you get the money up front, but that you’re able to have a contract so you can use that to work on financing and stuff like that. So it’s a kind of combination of things and… But yeah, essentially something like that.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. How much do you think genre impacted your ability to get these MGs to do some of this pre-selling? Sci-fi is always a genre that seems to travel internationally. But maybe you can talk about that a little bit. How much did that impact your decision to go with this particular story and how much ultimately do you think it actually helped you?
John: Yeah, I mean it’s actually a lucky thing that I really like science fiction and I’d actually been really wanting to make a spaceship movie. I know it sounds silly, but I just always really, really wanted to make a spaceship movie. It sounded like a cool challenge and… But luckily elevated sci-fi seems to have a healthy presence internationally. So I obviously knew that beforehand too and I know kind of the rough value of a movie and how all those elements work together. But it was definitely a thing where I think genre is crucial obviously, to the value of your project. Like if you—People don’t wanna say this, but I mean, the way they think of a drama is that a drama is not worth any money.
It doesn’t mean that there’s no exceptions to the rule, but if you’re thinking of it as like statistically if you’re making a drama, it doesn’t mean you’re not gonna get it distributed. But you’re not gonna get minimum guarantees, and it’s very difficult to make money. So that’s obviously, unless you have certain level of talent involved and things like that, but… that can always be a hiccup. But sci-fi what’s nice about it or why it seems to be working at the moment is there’s a lot more people making movies, so you’re trying to look at ways of how do you distinguish yourself so that your movie can have more value. For example, horror movies obviously or thrillers have had this presence internationally for a long time, but essentially anybody can even take an iPhone or something and make a horror movie.
You can find a creepy house and shoot it. And if you’re talented, you can make something cool. When you go into the sci-fi space, it puts you in a different place where not everybody’s gonna be able to build a whole spaceship set. So right there it already narrows down how many films you’re competing against in the international space. Then additionally, it’s about cast on top of that because if you’re doing a horror movie, it’s true that anybody can shoot a horror movie and find a creepy house, but not everybody can get an elevated cast in that situation. So then if you get names in a horror movie, that’s how you can give value to it. Similarly, in a sci-fi film there’s all these components and that’s just one of them.
You’re trying to look at like how do you stand out from the thousands and thousands of movies that are being made. So if you have no names and you’re making a horror movie or a drama, there’s a lot of those movies being made and that unfortunately puts you in a position where your movie has to be that much more special in order to stand out.
Ashley: Yeah, sound advice. Thank you for that. That’s excellent advice and a good description of kind of how all this works. How can people see 3022, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
John: Yeah. It comes out on November 22nd. It’s playing in select cities and theaters and there’s also a certain day and date where it’s gonna be on Video On Demand and all the Apple stuff and direct TV and all those different places. Kinda everywhere, November 22nd. And not sure of all the cities, they’ll play in some cities in theatres as well then.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I will round up for the show notes.
John: I’m super lame and I sort of stopped at Facebook, so yeah. I don’t have the best social media presence I guess, but I’m on Facebook. So there’s that I guess, but yeah [laughs].
Ashley: Perfect. You got a few hundred friend requests coming your way then. I’ll link to that.
John: Okay, great [laughs].
Ashley: Well thank you John, it’s always a pleasure talking with you. Good luck with this film and I look forward to talking to you about your next film.
John: All right, thanks. Likewise.
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Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write your logline and synopsis for you. You can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product. As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis, so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material, so again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
This will be the last episode of the year. As I’m recording this, I’m literally just a couple of days away from beginning production on my horror mystery thriller feature that I’ve been talking about for the last couple of months. Hopefully everybody has a good holiday and the podcast will return normally early in January, so keep an eye out for that episode coming up. I will have a big update once the production is over and we’re gonna be ending… our last day of shooting is December 21st, so I should have a few days there to prepare the episode and hopefully get one out early in January. Anyways, happy holidays and I’ll see everybody in the New Year. Thank you for listening.