This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 319: With Writer/Director Francis Annan.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #319 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing UK writer-director Francis Annan who just finished a film called Escape From Pretoria, starring Daniel Radcliffe. This is an adaptation. We talk about that some, he got the book, he adapted it for the screen. We also really dig into just the logistics, how this movie came together and also talk a little bit about how he was able to cast Daniel Radcliffe in the film. So stay tuned for that interview.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review on 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 #319. 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.
A quick few words about what I am working on. As I record this episode the Kickstarter for The Rideshare Killer just ended this past Monday. Again, I keep talking about this, but I record these a couple of weeks out now. So you’re listening to this, the Kickstarter has already been completed a few weeks ago, but just as I recorded this, it was just a couple of days ago. I’m just gonna give you some of my thoughts on sort of the process. My thoughts might change over the course of the next month or six months or year or whatever, but just as someone who just completed a Kickstarter here on Monday, I’ll just lay out some of my thoughts. Overall it was definitely harder than the last Kickstarter I did, however it was probably I would say less stressful.
Going through the Kickstarter before, I sort of knew the ebb and the flow and there are definitely some moments where you feel very demoralized, you don’t feel like you’re anything close to your goal. But I knew from the Kickstarter I did with The Pinch, I think about three years ago, maybe almost exactly three years ago, because it was around January, February I think of 2016 to 2020. I don’t know, maybe it was four years ago. But in any event that Kickstarter, it was the same sort of thing. I only had about half my money. I had only raised about half the money going into that final weekend and yet I was able to exceed my goal with The Pinch. So going in with this one, I wasn’t that worried.
I knew after the first week I want it to be coming up close to half or at least a third, and then going into that final weekend I felt like I had a good chance of hitting our goal if we were just even to the 50% or maybe a little over the 50% mark. We were basically hitting those sort of milestones along the way, so it wasn’t super stressful. Again, when I did The Pinch because it was my first time, I just didn’t really know what to expect. And with this one, as I said, there was less stress because I wasn’t as worried about it, but it was definitely hard. I probably put a lot more time and energy into this campaign. I was trying to raise more money. So I say it was more difficult because it was more actual work but probably less worrying than the one I did a couple of years ago.
The overall… the number… the amount of money that I raised this… for The Pinch, my goal was 12,000, which we exceeded by a little bit and then this one was 20,000 and we just barely hit it. I would say somewhat oddly, at least this feels odd to me, I mean my audience through Selling Your Screenplay has definitely grown in the last two, three years. So I was actually expecting that I would be able to raise more money through the Selling Your Screenplay audience. And part of what I do, part of my thinking here is that I genuinely try and give value. Anybody that listens to this podcast, I hope anyways that you get value out of just hearing me talk about this process much like I’m doing right now with this Kickstarter campaign.
Hopefully you’re gonna get some little seeds of knowledge that hopefully you can use if you decide to do your own Kickstarter or just crowdfunding or just raising money in general. Hopefully some of this will be interesting and helpful to you. And so I kinda feel like the Selling Your Screenplay audience gets a lot more value. I prefer not to say lean, which is very typical. People lean on their family and friends. And I prefer not to do that just because I don’t always feel like my family and friends, I mean, they love me and they like me and they’re willing to support me, that kinda thing, but I always feel a little bit weird asking them because I don’t feel like they get the value out of it.
I legitimately try and give value to the Selling Your Screenplay audience and I feel like I do that. So I don’t necessarily have a problem asking the Selling Your Screenplay audience for contributions because again, I feel like it’s all sort of part of the process and the people who listen to the podcast are gonna get a lot of the value out of it. So again, that’s sort of what I’m trying to lay out. I would say on this one… and same thing with The Pinch, about $10,000 of the money that was raised was I would say directing. I can go through the list of contributors and a lot of names I just recognize through Selling Your Screenplay. So I would say about $10,000 from The Pinch was raised through the Selling Your Screenplay audience.
And frankly, it was probably about the same on this one. Again, that surprised me a little bit just because I felt like my audience had grown over the years. I don’t know if maybe it’s less compelling to do postproduction. Maybe people feel more invested if the movie hasn’t been shot yet. I don’t really know. The other thing that was a little surprising was I had a lot less contributors. Again, the amount of money from the Selling Your Screenplay audience was about the same as The Pinch, but there was a… it was… so it was a higher dollar value per contribution, but there were less people. I don’t really know how I even… I don’t know why that was. It seems strange to me.
I would have expected more people contributing, just individual contributions. So I don’t really know why that is the case and I’m not really sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I would think you would want more people giving less than less people giving more, but I don’t know. But anyways, those are just sort of some thoughts. I do wanna thank everybody who did contribute. I mean, I get people emailing me all the time for, “Can you contribute to this Kickstarter and this Kickstarter,” so I know how annoying it can be. And I definitely leaned on my email list a lot, my Selling Your Screenplay email list. I was definitely emailing folks and just saying, “Hey, we’re still doing this Kickstarter, please contribute.”
So if you were annoyed by that and unsubscribed, I certainly understand and I definitely apologize, but if you bared with me and stuck with it I do appreciate that. Now again, I think hopefully anyways, you’re kind of seeing what I did and I’ll get to that a little bit more in a minute. But I do think that it’s somewhat educational for people to be on my email list and see how much I’m emailing, seeing what I’m actually emailing out to people. That might be informative to you if you’re looking at doing a Kickstarter campaign, just understanding what I was actually doing might be helpful. I’ll talk about that a little bit more in a minute. Again, I do wanna thank people, again, I get these requests for Kickstarter money so I know just contributing money in situations like this is often hard.
It’s not the thing at the top of our mind and we all have busy lives. So I genuinely do appreciate everybody that listens to this podcast and did contribute. It is a big help. It is helping me. Hopefully it’s helping all the Selling Your Screenplay community, just getting this project off the ground, getting it through post and that help again, I just want it to hopefully give value back to everybody. Not just the people that contributed, but everybody that listens to this podcast. Don’t hesitate to ever reach out too. If you’re looking at… trying to run a Kickstarter and want some tips or anything like that, I’m easy to get ahold of info at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. And really just, like I answer all the email that comes in, I haven’t hired anyone to do that.
So most of the emails that that are gonna come in, I’m gonna see them and I’m gonna give you a response. If you do have any questions, comments, anything, just comments about what I did, questions about what I did, I’m happy to answer those. So just bear with me here. I wanna thank everybody personally that contributed. Some of the times when people contributed through Kickstarter, they only gave a first name or they just registered as a guest. So I unfortunately can’t thank every single person, but again, I really do appreciate everybody that did contribute. I’ll just start out with a fellow named Mark, no last name given. He was one of our final contributors. Thank you, Mark. Michael Kazikaki, he was one of our executive producers. Big thanks to Michael.
I really do appreciate that. Gary [inaudible 00:09:07], thank you. Theresa, Bob Kiley, Jonathan Levy, Alberta [inaudible 00:09:11], thank you, Sharkie Zartman, Von [inaudible 00:09:14], James Musselman, Steven Deal, Rick McCormick, Dan Benamor. Dan’s actually a good friend of mine. He’s been on the podcast before. Thank you, Dan. Douglas Glenn Karch, Bernie Rao. Bernie, you’ll recognize, he was my DP from my previous project. Thank you, Bernie. Alison Greenberg, Dave Meyer, no relation to me, but thank you Dave. Brenda Allis, Tammy Grose, Ruth Carlson, Loma, Julia Bergeron. Julia is an excellent writer and she’s actually a writer from my writers group. Big thanks Julia. I really appreciate that. C. Dunn, John Adam Schwartz, Richard Anderson, Tom Alexander, James William Thomas.
He was another one of our executive producers. Again, a big thanks to James. It’s a lot of money just to kick in and I really do appreciate it. James Shapiro, Florian Wench. Linda Androlia, Joey, John Rabbits, Diana Guth, Kenny LWP [inaudible 00:10:07] Rubel Rafael Ahmed, Socrates Frantis. Socrates was one of our actors as well and I’m gonna talk about this more in a minute. Socrates was real good about getting word out there. So Socrates not only kicked in some of his own money, which I really appreciate, but he was very, very helpful in getting word out there as well.
Jean Oswald, Derrick Caucus, Lisa Richards, Joanna Grimer, Franklin Solars, Karen Kate Lavender, Duke Chow, Ted Israel Wozniaki, Sharon Grant, Steven Haas, thank you, Eric Namoto, thank you, Paul Grose, Kathy K. Peterson, Clint Williamson, Will Bermandur.
Thank you, Joe Gold, another writer for my writers’ group. These are my friends and so thank you Joe. Shannon Mayer, another writer for my writers’ group, both excellent writers. Shannon, thank you. Harrison Angle, Charles Wibbelsman, David Santo. David Santo is a writer that’s been real supportive, again, he really helps me out. So big, big thanks to you David. He’s always very, very active on just supporting me and just getting word out there. He’s got a big following on Twitter and stuff. So again, big thanks to David. Michael France Brown, thank you very much, Cal Barnes. Cal is a filmmaker. He’s a guy I just met through this podcast, literally. He’s a filmmaker that came on the podcast and listened and approached me and he’s a filmmaker as well. He’s been emailing actually throughout this process, just giving me his sort of thoughts on it.
So again, big thanks Cal. Jeremy Clark, Tarina Case, Wally Wingert, Martin Bartlet, The Creative Fund, Art Payne, Wendy Mamola, John Reynolds, Mark Cohen, Dave Bolas. Dave Bolas, he’s another person I met years ago. Big thanks to you Dave. And he actually had the Dave Bolus podcast and we actually went on, we’ve been on each other’s podcasts, so that’s fantastic. Darren Coyle, another good friend. He actually helped me on The Pinch. So thank you Darren. Heather Dowling is an actress from my writers’ group. Big thanks to Heather. Chet Floranzo, Mary Goldman, Scott. Heberson, big thanks. Scott was one of our co-executive producers. Thank you, Scott. Amy Hoodnaz, Mike Yerling, Jody Singer, Brian O’Connor. I recognized Brian.
Brian is a filmmaker, screenwriter, and he’s been doing some animation projects. And actually someone, I think he lives in Arizona, he was actually out in Southern California, met him. I think he contributed to The Pinch a few years ago, so big thanks. Martin O’Connor, Martin Regentes, Kristin Golatz, thank you Boaz [inaudible 00:12:41], another writer from my writers’ group. The writers are very supportive of each other. So again, big thanks Boaz. Eric Morris [inaudible 00:12:49] Jordan Imiola, another writer from my writer’s group and you might recognize him. He’s been on the podcast a number of times as well. Optioned a bunch of things that we’ve talked about through the podcast. Farren Rosenthal, Chris Johnson, Nick Kane. Nick Kane was actually was one of our G and E guys on the shoot.
So big thanks to you Nick, definitely above and beyond the call of duty. Lee Bailey’s, a company called Fun Fund Studios, thank you to you, and a big thanks to Sylvia Matta. She was literally the first contributor and that’s always just fun. When you launch this thing, it’s always a little bit scary, you don’t know what’s gonna happen. And so getting that first contribution is just a real moral boost to your system. It’s fantastic when you see that. Sylvia was the first one, Sylvia Matta was the first one to contribute. So again, a big thanks. And again, I wanted to personally thank everybody here on the podcast. I really, really do appreciate it. It’s just, it really is above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you everyone and again please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or comments about what I did with the Kickstarter, why I did certain things.
I’m gonna get into some of it here today, but don’t hesitate to reach out. I wanna talk about some of the mistakes that I feel like I did with this Kickstarter campaign and hopefully you can learn from them and hopefully I can learn from them as well and won’t do them again. If you listen to this podcast, you’ll know that one of the goals here was to bring on actors that had decent social media followings and try and get them to help with the Kickstarter campaign. That was sort of the idea and I knew it was an experiment just to see if that could work. And I would say it did not work at all. The actors for the most part, I would say they weren’t unwilling to help, but it just didn’t seem like they really understood. And I tried to sort of politely give them some tips, but they just, the actors just didn’t understand.
And I can look at that list, I mean I just read all the contributors, and I know most of the people, so I kind of have a real good sense about where the money comes from. There wasn’t a lot of names that I just flat out didn’t recognize. A lot of the people… I just mentioned Sylvia, she’s someone that I email with, like I recognize her name. I know we’ve emailed a number of times over the year. So I’d say the experiment was not a success. I mean the actors, again, it wasn’t that they were completely unwilling, but they just didn’t really understand that you need to be much, much, much. And really this is what it is, like the way they didn’t understand is you have to be super, super aggressive with your tweets and your Facebook posts and everything else.
Yeah, it can get a little annoying and yeah, you’re gonna lose some followers, but that’s sort of the level you’ve got to get to to get this thing, get the word out there. You just gotta be super aggressive. As I said, the actors just really just didn’t understand exactly how aggressive you have to be. Through Selling Your Screenplay and some of my other websites, I do a lot of online marketing, so I think I’m maybe just a little bit more used to sort of what it takes. And again, the actors, it wasn’t that they were unwilling completely, some of them just didn’t really seem to be interested in helping. But it just wasn’t… they just didn’t understand. Instagram too, as I said, we had one of the… an Instagram model with hundreds of thousands of followers.
She was actually real proactive. She posted a number of times. I don’t use Instagram, so I’m not exactly sure how it works, but there are these little like swipe up things that you can post in stories or something and it has a link and everything else and you swipe up and you go to the page. And she was very generous with her Instagram account and was posting a lot of the teaser trailers and the pictures and stuff that I was getting out. And I’d use Google Analytics. Kickstarter will actually let you put a Google Analytic code on there so you can actually track where people are coming from. I don’t know the exact numbers, but let’s say we got 10,000 hits to our Kickstarter page over the two weeks.
Literally there were only 10 from Instagram, and again, none of them that I could tell contributed. There really were not any major contributions that I don’t know where they came from. So I’d say Instagram models are probably not, unless they have really done a Kickstarter before, probably not. You’re not gonna be able to cast a bunch of Instagram models and lean on them to bring in the money. But I would say in general, no matter how many… because a lot of these actors had big Twitter followings, Facebook followings, and again, it just didn’t really pan out that they were able to send much traffic. I think if I were to do this again to sort of modify that experiment, I would try and cast a couple of actors that have actually done a successful Kickstarter campaign before.
Because if they’ve run a Kickstarter before, they’re gonna be much more in the know about what they have to do. Again, it’s not rocket science, it’s really just about how aggressive you have to be getting word out there. You have to have stuff to send out every day, you have to be building a story around your Kickstarter campaign and you have to keep that going the full length, the Kickstarter campaign every day. You’ve got to tell your audience, “Hey, this is what we’re doing today, we’re still trying to get contributions.” That’s really the single biggest piece of advice. I did get some questions. One of the other production guys on The Rideshare Killer, he just asked me as I was getting this done, he was like, “Oh, I was thinking about running a Kickstarter.”
And it’s really about the audience. That was his piece of advice was he was like, “Well, how can I do it?” It really is about having that audience first, building the audience first then run the Kickstarter. Again, in my own example, I’ve been putting out podcast episodes literally for five, six years now. I’m on episode… this is gonna be like 318 or something. So I’ve been building an audience slowly over many, many, many years. I’m not going into the Kickstarter trying to build the audience because I don’t think that could ever work. Again, I don’t know if the actors are gonna be that much help, so if you don’t have an audience, I would say you might wanna start building one or perhaps Kickstarter may or may not be for you.
So that’s the one question I got and that would be my tip. Again, it’s not rocket science, if you Google “How to run a successful Kickstarter campaign”, that’s gonna be like the first thing everybody mentions. This is not my brilliant insight, but you’ve gotta have an audience, you’ve gotta start to build an audience before, long before you try and run the Kickstarter campaign. So those are I’d say, sort of the mistakes was maybe relying too heavily on the actors. Now, some of the good things I did… again, one of the things that you need to do with a Kickstarter campaign to be successful is you need to be really aggressive with your audience. Now you gotta be a little bit more creative than just, “Hey dude, I need some more money can you please kick in money?”
So what I was trying to do was highlight, we had a great cast for this film, so I was trying to highlight some of the actors every day. And so I would create an image, in some cases I would also create teaser trailers with those actors and post those along with us, but at least I had something new to send out. So when I was sending to my email list, my Selling Your Screenplay email list, I had a new teaser trailer, “Hey, we’re still running the Kickstarter, we’re still looking for contributions by the way, here’s another cool little teaser trailer.” You need something that it’s not just a basically me begging for money, you need something that people are enjoying so that they’re getting invested in this whole thing.
They’re seeing the teasers, they’re getting invested in the movie, they’re getting excited about it so then hopefully, 10 days, five days, eight days, 14 days, whatever it is, into the Kickstarter campaign, they’re excited about it and they will give. So you need… they will give some money. So you need to get something set up beforehand. Think this through about what you’re actually gonna send out. More than just, “Hey, I need more money.” Something compelling, something that’s actually gonna make people open that email and look at your Kickstarter page. And again, in my case it was these images, highlighting the actors and it was also the teaser trailers. Now the teaser trailers were very time consuming and that’s why I say with this Kickstarter campaign, I spent a lot more time creating all of these materials.
I did all the editing, I’m not an editor, so I was literally in some cases on YouTube, looking at Adobe Premier tutorials, trying to figure out how to do certain things in Adobe Premiere. So it was a little bit time consuming. I kind of enjoyed doing it and I kind of just thought, “Could I ever actually edit a feature film?” let me try and throw together some of these scenes and kinda just see if I thought I could do that. I’m not gonna be able to edit The Rideshare Killer, my editing chops are definitely not there yet, so we’re gonna find an editor. But I felt like it was good experience, but again, it was very, very time consuming and I was not… I just didn’t have the time to create a teaser trailer for every single day for every single one of the actors.
And so I ended up creating… I think I did three or four of them and, and promoted them heavily and tried to make them as good as possible. I knew they were a little rough around the edges, but again, that was really a function of me just not being an editor. The other decision I made was I went for a two-week, it was 15 days, so it basically started on a Monday and ended on a Monday, so 15-day Kickstarter campaign as opposed to what you normally find is like four weeks or 30 days. I think this was actually a good thing for a lot of the reasons that I’m talking about. Number one, if you have 30 days and you gotta come up with 30 days’ worth of material to send out to your audience.
In this case, I only really had to come up with 12 days or 15 days, whatever, my Kickstarter was 15. The first day, it’s exciting, you have something to talk about, the last day you’re like, “Okay, this is the last day,” So you really only need like 12 days’ worth of stuff. I think I took some of the weekends off. So you’re only talking about like 10 days’ worth of stuff that sort of material that you need to create. The other big thing… and so what that allowed me to do was it allowed me to stay focused and come up with one unique, interesting, at least I hoped it was interesting to the audience, it would allow me to come up with one thing a day. In this case, again, it was teaser trailers and it was these images of the actors.
Basically it was a still from the movie of the actor acting in the movie. I thought that that was easier to do for the duration of 14 days versus 30 days. The other thing, and I’ve talked about this before, when I did the Kickstarter for The Pinch those middle two weeks, I got zero contributions, so it was really demoralizing. I’m sitting out there, you just feel like you’re kinda just treading water. So I just kinda thought, “What’s the point in running it for those two middle weeks when I didn’t get any contribution?” So I actually think my decision to do the two-week versus four-week was a good one. I would do it again because at least for me, it allowed me to stay more focused. It’s hard for me or it’s hard for anybody to take a month off of everything.
I mean, we all have lives, we’re all busy people, so it’s very difficult to take 30 days off and really concentrate on the Kickstarter. But I was able to take off two weeks and kind of put some of my other work aside, put some family obligations aside and just say, “Hey, I really gotta stay focused on these two weeks.” It gave me time to do the editing on the teaser trailers, creating all the images, sending out the emails, tweeting, re-tweeting stuff, writing emails, all that sort of stuff, I just had the time to do it. It would have gotten a lot more diluted over the course of four weeks. And again, I didn’t get any money when I did The Pinch in those middle two weeks so I don’t know if that would have helped.
I think if you’re gonna try and raise a lot more money, again for The Pinch it was 12,000, for this one it was 20,000. I think if you’re gonna try and raise a lot more money, then you might wanna go with the 30 days and come at it with a little more planning. Maybe you take a few months and kind of do all that preparation beforehand where you create the teaser trailers and the images and stuff. You really spend maybe three, four months getting all that stuff ready so then you have 30 days’ worth of material ready to go on day one. That would be the smart thing to do. Again, if you’re gonna try to raise more money, you might need those 30 days. But again, I was not able to get a lot of money with The Pinch in the middle two weeks, so I don’t know if it would really increase or not.
But I think I would probably do it again just for the 15 days instead of the 30 days. Anyway, so those are my thoughts on the Kickstarter campaign. Again, any questions, comments, if you’re thinking about writing one, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. So now what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna start meeting with editors next week. Hopefully the project can really start moving along quickly and we’ll just get it done and hopefully I’ll have a movie to show everybody. I’ll definitely be talking about the movie as I go through the process, but hopefully I’ll have a movie to show everybody fairly soon.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing UK writer- director Francis Annan. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Francis to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Francis: My background is more political. My [inaudible 00:25:50] to study political science, something like this and follow in the family career so, and so. Then I did a certain course from the BBC back in 2002, 2003 and then switched to complete [inaudible 00:26:03] television at school down in [inaudible 00:26:05] in UK. Then when I graduated I went back to the BBC and did some more training and then won some awards for short films in Europe, and back in London and did some music videos and commercials in the Middle East and in Eastern Europe. And then the filmmaking [inaudible 00:26:24]. My ultimate plan was to try and break into features by directing them myself or directing other people’s scripts.
Then yeah, eventually in 2012 I ended up meeting the producers [inaudible 00:26:38] British producers at a film competition that I was kind of entering into. And yeah, they gave me the book and it kind of worked from there.
Ashley: I got you. So let me just touch on a couple of things from what you just mentioned. You mentioned that you were involved with these programs with the BBC. What exactly are those programs? I know here in the United States, we don’t really have sort of those equivalent types of things where the government is sort of supporting the arts and trying to help people like that. What did you have to do to apply to that and how did you get accepted into this program at the BBC?
Francis: Yes, because [inaudible 00:27:16] a bit different now. About 25 or so years ago the BBC used to run two yearlong training-ships and you would work in the different departments from news to [inaudible 00:27:28] to live broadcast and sort of rotate, but after two years they were never paid a thing, but would then decide which department you want to go into. It was great, fantastic. They would take about anywhere from six to about 20 people a year. Then that started getting contracted and reduced and I sort of got on the last vestige of that which was a mentorship scheme of about eight months and got paid in the middle of two months but should make a documentary or a drama.
And all the moments you were sort of given lectures about BBC etiquette and standards of practice and these sorts of thing. And I was doing that whilst I was at college, so it was quite difficult just to get all these different things in. But now they don’t really do anything that long anymore. It tends to be sort of bespoke and project by project.
Ashley: I got you. Okay. So let’s dig into your latest film Escape From Pretoria, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is that film all about?
Francis: Well, the film is about two Caucasian South Africans who are very much against the apartheid regime and their kind of system of racial segregation in South Africa in the ‘70s. They decide to speak out and they let off leaflets launchers which sort of say, “Apartheid is wrong and we should stand up.” The government find them, the secret police find them, they throw them in jail for 8 and 12 years and they meet a [inaudible 00:29:01] a French freedom fighter in a whites only physical prison and the three of them decide that they’re gonna break out and gonna have a good old Crockett when they breakout of this prison and showing the government that they are wrong. The film basically charts their escape attempts over the course of 18 months.
Ashley: Okay. And so let’s talk about the development of this process. You just mentioned that, it sounded like in 2012 you came in contact with this book. Maybe you can talk about that process. You guys get the book, on IMDb there’s a Karol Griffiths that has a story development credit and then it looks like you wrote the script with an L.H. Adams. Maybe you can kinda just talk about that process. How did everybody contribute and what did the process look like getting that script ready for production?
Francis: Yeah, of course. So the producers, they’d lost the rights to the book I think back in 2011. I met them in 2012 and they said, “Well, what floats your boat? What are you interested in? What kind of genres do you like?” So I said, “I did school history and enjoy politics and thrillers and I watch a lot French cinema and that sort of thing. And so Mark [inaudible 00:30:10] producers kinda floated the book across the room and said, “Well, we had the rights but lost them, but have a read anyway [inaudible 00:30:18] what you seem to like.” So I read it. A couple of months later, the rights had not been executed by the previous, whoever had the rights at the moment, they reverted back to team, so the producers got the rights back.
Then there was a couple of years where I think there were one or two drafts that I was attached to directly it but there were a bunch of drafts that kinda weren’t really working, so I took over. So I started right from scratch, I had the book, I had my own sensibility and I had my own tastes so I kind of started again and wrote a book [inaudible 00:30:54] credits on this thriller element trying to sort of find the thrilling element out of it. Karol Griffiths was kind of a friend who could have done… Yeah, I was trying [inaudible 00:31:07] so a really minimal, clean approach, and she as well. So we chatted about how to sort of make that work and at that time I don’t think we got into the prisons by page 40. So it was quite a part thriller, part prison beak.
Then yeah, so we wrote it about a month or two together, but then the script sort of changed a lot once the financiers came on board. They were like, “You need to get to the prison, this needs to be a prison movie.” That really sort of leanly cut down [inaudible 00:31:42] that really juicy thriller-type stuff that was after the prelude to the prison and trying [inaudible 00:31:51] most essential parts. So I spent a year or so cracking through and reformatting the script myself. I went to Dan [inaudible 00:32:00] autumn 2016 [inaudible 00:32:05] and said she would like to look [inaudible 00:32:07]. She loved it, she sent it to Dan the same week, he read it in about a week or two weeks and he then was intrigued.
We met the following week and buying it, it took about three or four hours and he looked at the script and we were on. There was a bit of a wilderness period where I think that the sales agent that we previously were supposed to be able to capitalize on the presales for whatever reason, let me reach to different agents who ended up becoming the co-producer. And yeah, and then there was another big change where we had to move last minute, literally four or five months before prep, we had to move from Cape Town where we were going to shoot the film to Australia for a range of reasons. And there was a third of real truncating because obviously there was a kind of budget increase with moving away from South Africa.
But we had to shoot that because otherwise the film would have been fallen apart. And so I had to make a lot of further and very essential cops to get it down to its very, very sort of component parts. I think a lot of the stuff I did was very helpful. Part of that had to do with getting an Australian kind of co-writer on board to sort of make some changes. I don’t know how much I should say about that, but basically they had to go back to my draft. We sort of did the draft together but we had to go back to one of my previous drafts which the cast seemed to be more attracted with. And then we sort of made some final changes from that and off we went. So yeah, so from 2012 it was quite an interesting process.
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding. Maybe you can give us just a little insight into the adaptation process. I know I get a lot of people listening to this, they’re trying to adapt a book. What were some of the changes you had to make to the book to make it work for a film? Were there some things you dropped, were there some things you added? Maybe you can just give us a little insight into that process?
Francis: Yeah, sure. I mean, a lot of the truncating processes that I ended up taking were purely pragmatic. I didn’t necessarily want to take them, but because we couldn’t afford this scene it or we couldn’t afford [inaudible 00:34:27] 1970’s paraphernalia, I had to find a more artful way of thinking the same things. So a lot of that was not my artistic choice as it were. But that aside the book is about one quarter pre-prison and about three quarters prison and [inaudible 00:34:52] to it. So I tried to take out my template in terms of I’d split the film where the book is very obsessed with the escape attempts. In this escape it’s quite technical first of all, and there’s a lot of repetition which I really love. I love that kind of repetition.
I watched a film called A Man Escaped by Robert Bresson and that had to do with detail and repetition and obsession. I loved that. You probably should look it up [inaudible 00:35:21] by the audience. And so I was trying to spend a lot of time just studying. If they did something several times, like, okay, well each time they learn this and that and that and that and I’m gonna [inaudible 00:35:36] things that they learnt that can put the most important things and try and make them learn that in one scene where they go down the woods [inaudible 00:35:45] in one location, that might have to do with what happened to a different location so I can get two or three things happening at the same time in that location [inaudible 00:35:57] chronological truncation.
Kind of one of [inaudible 00:36:03] that want to keep all that juicy stuff but not have to keep trying the different scenes and different types of things.
And because I knew I only had 29 days to shoot I also can jump around in lots of locations. So sort of keep the essence of what happened, but then combine it with all the other things that happened and put it in one location. And that was my little trick to try and help my [inaudible 00:36:24]. Yeah, that’s one thing I did.
Ashley: Yeah. No, sound advice for sure. Let’s talk a little bit about the casting of this project. I get emails all the time, people are wondering how they can attach talent to their screenplay. Do you know anything about the process? How did you guys get Daniel Radcliffe attached to the project and how much impact did that have on the funding of the film? Was that with the people that came in and funded it, did they definitely want some name talent involved in this project? Was it before the money or after the money?
Francis: Yeah, good question. Well, I know when to cast a vision ambitiously. Originally it was very small because it’s 1.52 million pounds. So as the thing grew. We said, Okay, well, this is gonna be a bigger project, a very good one and we want to do it well. Then some of the casts, I was quite strategic perhaps or I needed someone who was inventive… Think big enough, a big name, but somebody who was invented and somebody who took risky projects. I don’t think this was necessarily a risky project in terms of being esoteric or being abstract, but first time director and blah, blah, blah. I needed somebody who would take a pump.
I knew that Daniel Radcliffe would sort of take on very interesting projects, whatever the subject matter or… He did a film with BBC 2 which was a TV movie. He played the dead body, he played the guy with horns coming out of his head. So I knew that although this was a more maybe straight project or a more commercial project, I though with the talent I had, if I could the interest you can see the value and he might go for it. So I was quite strategic in making sure that although we had a big name, it was somebody who would be interested and somebody who would probably give us an answer quickly and Dan was on top the pile for that. He’d just done a book called Imperium, so that was again a straight drama, so I knew that he wasn’t just looking for [inaudible 00:38:19] strong through this.
So with all of that he was somebody who I knew was really interested in and we all went to see Imperium and looked at it and said, Right, that’s it.” No qualms. And that was the strategy in going for somebody who’s a big name, but who would be willing to consider an independent film like this with someone that’s very [inaudible 00:38:41]. In terms of [inaudible 00:38:46] yeah, his name meant a lot for the presales, with maybe a first time director the presales, they needed something to hook the project on to get distributors to commit to giving you what they call a minimum guarantee but paying money and to have the exclusive right to sell your film before you’ve made it in Italy or Spain or Germany or whatever given [inaudible 00:39:11] and you could have names, they don’t know what the film is.
Well, when they see Dan Radcliffe they go, “Ah, okay. We can look at Dan Radcliffe films in Italy or Spain and go, “Oh, they’re very successful, therefore we’re willing to pay this much money.” Hopefully before you made the film to be able to secure the right to sell the film once it’s finished in Italy or whatever territory. I think a name gives those distributors something to peg the film to. And then it gives you [inaudible 00:39:43] to your money in cash. The distributors are ready to pay [inaudible 00:39:48] the rights to sell your films. But then enabled that, top it in Cannes, American Film Market, EFM and so on.
Ashley: How can people see Escape From Pretoria? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Francis: Yes. It will be out in cinemas in the US from 6th of March and in the UK from 6th of March. It’s also out online, obviously as a good filmmaker, I want you to go and find a cinema and watch it there because I spent a lot of time on the mix. I think that the massive quality of the mix is really part of the process. It’s available for those that might not have a cinema close by. It’s available pretty much every digital platform. But yeah, for cinephiles and people who are interested in reading I would encourage you to get the best experience by going to see it in the cinema.
Ashley: And what’s the best way for people to keep up with you in your career? Twitter, Facebook, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will round up for the show notes.
Francis: Yes. Directorfrancis, all one word, Directorfrancis, and also on Twitter @Francis [inaudible 00:40:59]. Yeah, so you can check me out there and also for Escaping From Pretoria online, you’ll see lots of stuff there as well.
Ashley: Perfect. Well Francis, I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film, and of course good luck with all your future films as well.
Francis: Great questions and yeah, I hope people enjoy the film.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you very much.
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To wrap things up I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Francis. I thought it was really interesting about halfway through the interview he made the comment that “It wasn’t my artistic choice.” He was talking about sort of the logistics of things. I’m always interested to hear that sort of stuff. And especially people as they’re coming into the industry, newer screenwriters, they don’t realize how much logistics and just practical things often stand in the way of your artistic vision. And you could see, you could hear that. Francis was doing that balancing act of the practical sort of producer production and logistics side versus the artistic creative side trying to make something really cool. And that’s just the way it is.
And I just always enjoy hearing that stuff because it just reminds me and I’m not the only one. And so often when I was shooting the Rideshare Killer, we’re rushed for time, we can’t get quite the shot we want and we just have to move on. And that’s unfortunately part of filmmaking. That’s a big part of it. So I thought that was interesting just to hear him talk about that. He even had a movie, what he was talking about a million, $2 million budget, whatever this budget ended up being at a much higher level than I was able to do The Rideshare Killer. There’s still logistical and money, those things still dictate a lot of what ultimately gets filmed.
I also thought it was super interesting what he said about casting Daniel Radcliffe. This is so important and what I’m specifically talking about was that he was aware of the fact that Daniel Radcliffe might be open to being in a low budget drama, you know, crime, prison heist or prison escape movie. Now how do you know that? Well one of the ways you know is by looking, you know, staying sort of attuned whether that is reading daily variety Hollywood reporter reading some of the trade magazines, Deadline.Com, any of those things and just any of those publications and just following along with what actors are doing, what type of movies actors are being in. Sort of just being aware of that. I mean, Daniel Radcliffe, I think he’s being super smart doing these types of movies.
Clearly, coming off the Harry Potter, he was a big star. Those movies have started to wane. I think they’re basically done. They’re doing now the whatever, the prequels or sequels without him, because he’s gotten too old for the Harry Potter character. So he’s got a lot of name recognition but he’s never quite broken out outside of Harry Potter and had a big success outside of Harry Potter. So he’s trying to just do some of these films and he’s been on a couple of other films that I’ve interviewed for this podcast. So he’s doing some of these lower budget films. And again, the way you know that is just by reading the trades and kind of just staying abreast by that. And this is very, very important because so often I get emails from people, Oh I wanna get this actor or that actor.
And it’s clear they just have no idea what they’re even talking about. You know, every actor would not be right for this $2 million prison heist movie. You have to understand that, and if you go… the agents and managers, if you’re so far out of the ballpark of making an offer, like you just, you know so little and you start making ridiculous offers, you’re gonna just get ignored by the agents and managers. They’re gonna know, like I know that you don’t know what you’re talking about oftentimes I’ll get these in. And what I mean by that, it’s like, “Oh, how can I get Tom Cruise in my movie? It’s like Tom cruise is not gonna do a low budget prison heist movie. He’s just not going to do it.
I mean, his career is not… he’s still doing Mission Impossible movies. But Daniel Radcliffe, I guarantee you Daniel Radcliffe, he would go do a Marvel movie if he could get it, and that’s what he’s probably hoping for is that he does a bunch of these indie films, keeps his name out there, and one of these indie films might actually take off. Some of these indie films will take off, some of them will win awards and when award season comes, and that’s exactly what a guy like Daniel Radcliffe wants. So again, it’s understanding sort of where these actors are in their career and then positioning yourself in a way that it is beneficial for him. Everything in life, it has to be a win win. I mean, the best deals are where both sides win. Daniel Radcliffe gets to do a cool indie movie and Francis gets a well-known actor in his movie.
So it’s a win win for both of them. And that’s how you’re gonna get people involved. Now just in terms of the logistics Francis didn’t get into that so much, but it’s not that hard to just hire a casting director. If you… you could try this. I have not done this, so I don’t know if this will work, but this would be an example. Even if it didn’t work specifically for this, it might work for something else. If you thought Daniel Radcliffe was right for your film, go see who the casting director was on this film and go into IMDb Pro, drill down on it and send that casting director an email and see if you can talk to them. Now again, these are professional people, so you’re going to need some seed money to hire that casting director. But it’s really a straightforward as that.
Having a conversation with a casting director, you know that this casting director was involved in casting Daniel Radcliffe before, so you’re bringing someone on that probably has at least some connection, says some reasonable chance of getting your script to them. Again, this category is not gonna do this for free and you’re gonna need some money. They’re gonna want what’s called a pay or play offer. So you’re gonna need some money in escrow to go and offer Daniel Radcliffe. He’s not gonna just read your script from an unknown writer, unknown director. But if you come at it and if the casting director comes at it and you’ve paid the casting director and you’ve got money in escrow to pay Daniel Radcliffe he’s most likely is gonna read your script and if he likes it, he might sit down and have a meeting with you and you might get him attached to the script.
Again, probably gonna be what’s called a pay or play offer so you’re gonna have to have the money to pay him whether you shoot the movie or not. This is not for the faint of heart. These are professional people with lawyers and so you’re not gonna be able to wiggle your way out of it. This is legitimate stuff. I had a friend once suggest, “Oh, I’ll go in there and I’ll make it seem like I got an offer and then he’ll love the script so much he’ll agree to do it for less money and…” Do not do that. Just straight up. Do not think along those lines because this business, and I can tell you the more production experience I get, the more I sort of interact with just everybody involved in production from the production assistants all the way up to cinematographers, the actors, everything else.
It’s a fairly small business. Your reputation is all you have in this business and so you don’t wanna be that guy that is never actually raising money but is always trying these weird ways of hooking people in and stuff. You will get a reputation and you will get known for that, and you do not wanna be known for that. Be legitimate and go out, do what the proper steps are. But anyways, all that is just a warning. But that’s really what the process is of getting talent attached. It’s really as straight forward and simple as that. That can potentially help you get additional funding if you bring on name talent. It can certainly help bring on other name talent. Once you have named talent involved in your project, it oftentimes means other talent will take your project more seriously.
So again, all that stuff I thought was interesting. I thought Francis was very candid with us. So another interview that I thought was very interesting. Hopefully you got something out of it as well. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.