This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 323: With Writer/Producer Jon Adler.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #323 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Jon Adler. He is a screenwriter who turned a life experience into a screenplay which turned into the film Dead Sound. I’ll be talking to him this week about his career, how he got into the business and how he was able to turn again this really horrific life experience into a produced feature film. 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 me 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 #323. 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’m working on. So again, the main thing I’m working on now is my feature film The Rideshare Killer, which we shot in December. We did finally settle on an editor this week, so I’m actually gonna bring him the hard drive right after I finish recording this podcast. He seems like a really good fit for this project, so I’m excited to get this going. So hopefully in four to six weeks we’ll have a rough cut of the film and really start to know where we stand with this thing. As I mentioned last week, I’m also trying to get my next project off the ground. So far, no hits or any real news to report since last week, but I’m still about 60 percent funded. I have started to dig deeper and deeper into my rolodex, so hopefully something will turn up.
But it’s definitely taking up some time, just emailing people, talking to some people on the phone, pitching them the project. I have one person that wants to see like a pitch deck, I’ve got to decide if it’s worth the effort to go ahead and make that. That’s a considerable amount of time, creating a professional pitch deck. Anyway, still working on that. Again, it’s taken up quite a bit of time, but hopefully that will reach some awards here in the near future. The other thing I’m working on is a low budget screenplay contest which I’ll be running through Selling Your Screenplay. I’m still a few weeks away from launching it, but I’m really hoping that this can be a good avenue for producers to discover low budget scripts.
I’ve been reaching out to all my producer contacts and so far lots of them wanna come on and be judges. I probably have 30 reputable producers that wanna come on and just be a judge in the contest. And a lot of them specialize in different types of genres, you know, action, thrillers, whatever. So we should have a good… really a good representation of producers again, that are looking for material really across the board in different genres. I took that to be a really good sign. I’m gonna tie this contest to the annual budget list which I put out towards the end of the year. I always get some interest in this budget list. I know at least a few of the scripts have been optioned through the budget list, so I know that there is demand.
I know that there’s producers looking for good, low budget scripts. So hopefully this can be again, another way that they can discover them. We’ll start taking submissions probably in a couple of weeks and then we’ll announce the winner, probably in October, November, and then we will of course highlight them in the budget list. There’s gonna be a bunch of other prizes. We’ll have a cash prize for the winner, a whole bunch of SYS Select services, and I’m talking now to some potential sponsors as well, so I might even be able to get some additional prizes, just depending on what other companies might wanna be a sponsor. So to really just trying to do… what I really tried to do is take a step back, I talked to some producers, talked to some other screenwriters and really try and design a system that really will find the best low budget scripts.
What I’m doing is… what I’m gonna do with this contest is the first round, each script will be read by three readers. And those are readers that I’m gonna pay a little bit of money too so that I at least know it’s not gonna just be a producer who maybe gets tired, or maybe doesn’t necessarily have the time to read it. I’ll have three reads on every single script and from there I’ll start to be able to vet them, start to be able to figure out the ones with the highest grades. Each reader will grade each script so then I’ll be able to kinda look at the grades, go back, maybe read some of those scripts that get higher grades, and then start to push those out to the producers. Again, there’ll be some genre matching I would say with the readers, but certainly with the producers as well.
As I said, a lot of the producers have specified what types of scripts, whether it be comedy, drama, thriller, action, whatever. So then after this first round we’ll get three reads and then again we’ll start to push them out to the producers, we’ll start to get their feedback, the producers will grade them as well. And then from there we’ll willow them down to quarter finals, semi-finals, finals and then of course one winner. The main sort of the carrot that I’m dangling to the producers is that they’ll be only reading vetted scripts and then also they’ll be one of the first people, if not the first person reading the script. Once it’s vetted, they’ll be one of the first people reading it. So they’ll have sort of first crack if they really like it, they’ll have first crack to option.
It won’t be something that’s been read by tons and tons of people at the same time. That’s kinda the carrot that I’m dangling for them. And again this seems to be working because I have tons and tons of producers as I said. I think I’m up to about 30 now that have expressed interest in being a judge for this. So I think we’re gonna do… as I said, I think it’s gonna work well, and I think hopefully we will be able to find some scripts for producers and then hopefully those producers will actually be able to go out and get those movies produced. So stay tuned for this. This is kind of a pitch, in terms as to what I’m working on, but this has sort of been taking a lot of me time recently. So stay tuned for more info about the low budget screenplay contest.
Again, I’ll probably be launching it in about two weeks. Those are the main things that I’m working on this week. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer Jon Adler. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jon to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show today.
Jon: Well, thanks for having me Ashley.
Ashley: Let’s talk about your film that you wrote and produced, Dead Sound. Maybe we can take a little step back and you can kinda just give us a little of a background. You’re not the typical film maker that comes on this podcast. You had a horrific life story that you then turned into a screenplay and a movie. Maybe we can sort of take you back to your pre and post college days. Tell us a little about that story and then tell us how you got into filmmaking.
Jon: So the real true story is some friends and I were going to Block Island for the weekend. It’s an island in Rhode Island, where we shot the movie. We drove from Grange, Connecticut to New London, Connecticut where you catch a ferry over to Block Island. We missed the last ferry on a Friday night. We really had to get to this big party. So we went out on the docks and we found two fishermen, gave them a little bit of money and they said they’d take us over to Block Island that night. We were like, “Great, this is awesome.” We were on their boat, having a good time, and halfway across in the middle of the Long Island Sound at night, they pulled the short gun on us and held us hostage on their boat.
They locked two girls down the bathroom below deck and made my buddie drive the boat with a shot gun to his head. It was definitely the scariest thing any of us had ever experienced. Fortunately we made it to Block Island and physically unharmed. We got off the boat, of course we went to the party that night, and then we told the police about it.
Jon: Yeah, we had to go to the party. That was the most important thing. So it left us all with a traumatic experience. And that was back in 1993. Then…
Ashley: I mean, just out of… I hate to keep interrupting. Just out of curiosity though, what was these guys plan? I mean, they knew that you were gonna get off the boat and call the police. I mean, what were they really thinking?
Jon: Well, I think they were just messing with us and my instincts tell me that, New London is probably one of those places, at least back then where I guarantee you the captain of the boat, the guy that took us hostage was probably somehow very well connected to like the chief of police of New London. I mean, I think he just knew he’d get away with it. A lot of kids go through New London to go to take a ferry to Fisher’s Island or Block Island and you’d kind of get preppy kids coming through there, that kind of clash would be difficult, the locals that live there and everything. So I think that this is probably not the first time or probably not the last time that something like that happened. But I do think it’s the first time that a movie is coming out where that happened.
Ashley: Okay. So that’s the sort of the laying the groundwork for this project. So then maybe take us through sort of what is your background in film and screenwriting specifically and producing?
Jon: Right. So I actually played division one lacrosse in college for two years and got injured. And I had known I wanted to get into the film business. I’ve always loved films my whole life. When I was in high school, I had the experience of visiting a friend on his movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood who’s one of the biggest directors and producers in the industry. I just fell in love with it right then and there. You fast forward a couple of years later when I [inaudible 00:10:52] there was no future in lacrosse and it was time for me to pursue my interest in the film industry. I went to a great little film school at the University of Colorado at Boulder. We had… there I learned how to write, direct and produce short films.
Some notable graduates were the two South Park guys [inaudible 00:11:19] year before I got there. We had a great [inaudible 00:11:23] Stan Brakhage, who was one of the big avant-garde and documentary filmmakers. So I got a really kind of unique education at that school. And then I went on to spend some time at a USC graduate school for film as well, but I ultimately left to make a movie and I’ve been working in the business for quite some time. I worked at a production, a post production company 15 years writing and producing for them. And in about 2008 I was talking to a friend of mine who had owned a production company and I was pitching him a bunch of ideas and I told them about this Block Island story, snd he just said, “That’s it. That’s the one that you have to write. You have to make that movie.”
So I started writing the script with an old friend of mine, Ted Weihman, who’s credited as a writer on the film. It was a lot of fun collaborating with him, but he’s a professor, he’s a teacher and he had to go back to work. So I ended up spending the next few years working on it. And it’s interesting about writing for me because I never… again, I was an athlete, I was always used to being part of a team and being around people so it was something different for me. And when I was in film school, I remember we had this professor who was kind of like a mad genius professor, and he used to tear out people’s scripts in class in rage. He would turn delicious shades of red and just shred a script.
I remember I had written something for him that was pretty personal, it was just a short, and I reluctantly handed it in and I was so nervous that he was gonna rip it up. But he ended up making my script the topic of the class that day. So I just kinda thought to myself, “Well, he didn’t shred the script, so maybe I can write.” Then later on when the time came to write this movie I did and I wrote it… I knew I was gonna raise the money myself and produce the film and I wrote it knowing it was gonna be a low budget. So I tried to keep it down to mainly one location, which is on the boat. It was just a great experience. And that basically kinda gets you up to the point of production. I don’t know if you want me to talk about that at all.
I’ve written a couple of other thrillers that I plan to produce. I’m talking to a studio right now. So it’s very exciting. And I love writing. It’s an amazing experience to try and come up with something really out of thin air in your own head and the process of going through, is it good, is it not good? Some points you have a gut feeling that you know people are gonna like a certain scene and other points you have to get someone to read it. I have a good friend who was one of the head writers for Johnny Carson, and then he was one of the senior writers for David Letterman. He wrote the original Bad Boys movie and he’s a really good friend. He reads all my stuff and helps ease… he’ll tell me right off the bat if he thinks I should just throw the script away and move on or if he likes it.
And he gave me a lot of great notes for the Dead Sound screenplay as did… I got a lot of great notes from my friend in the industry who’s a director whose film set I visited all those years ago. He’s a good friend and he gives me a lot of great advice. I mean, that’s the other thing, it’s having good advisors help you along the way is huge.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s dig into Dead Sound specifically and talk about the writing of that. It sounds like you started out doing this collaboration with this screenwriting professor. What did that actually look like? Were you guys sitting in the same room, were you talking on the phone or Skype and then dividing up scenes? How did that collaboration actually go while you guys were working together?
Jon: Yeah, actually he wasn’t a screen… this was his first screenplay as well. I wrote an outline and worked on the first draft. And we were not together. He wrote and I wrote and then we sent each other our stuff and then we get another draft and then he had to get back to what he did for a living. For me, I took a year or two off from working on it and worked on other stuff and then I revisited it again and then I took another year or two off from it and just kinda stuck with it. Then one summer, my mother really kinda cracked the whip and she said, “I’m tired of hearing about this movie and if you don’t…” she basically told me I had to finish the script that summer. And my mom, I don’t like to mess with my mom. So I got it done.
I cranked it out in about two months. That two months was an incredible process because at that point I think it was important that it took a few years to get there because I had a lot more life experience at that point and I could… and I was able to incorporate that into the script, which is what I think really kinda took it to the place where it was ready to be shot.
Ashley: Yeah. So I’m curious with something like this that is a very personal story, it’s based on actual things that happened. I’m curious how you approached being faithful to the source material as opposed to finding those moments where you kinda had to dramatize stuff. How does that sort of play in with the fact that this is a thriller, the screenplay structure, in real life things don’t always fall into the neat three act structure, genre requirements, you mentioned that is a thriller. How did you kind of approach those things, again, coming at it from something that was personal and real?
Jon: Well that’s a great question. Actually it was pretty easy because I had the real life events to draw from and I had told the real life story hundreds and hundreds of times and every time I tell it to someone, I love the expression on their face, their jaw just drops and the hair on the back of my neck stands up every time I tell it. And that was really all I needed to write the script was I wanted to translate that fear that my friends and I had on the boat onto the script and ultimately how they come across in the movie. I think we did a really great job with that. Our director Tony Glazer did a great job, our cast and crew, everyone did a great job. Now it does… this movie, I think does fall into the classic three act structure.
I basically had the first act done because it was… I just had to put down what actually happened. That’s all in the movie. But then the rest of the movie basically becomes sort of my version of what could have happened on that boat if we weren’t so lucky. And it just… it was a fun script to write because the majority of it takes place on the boat and there’s only so much you can do on a boat in the middle of the Long Island Sound at night. There’s only so many things you can… the action that takes place… And so I wrote it, and we got very lucky. The first boat that we scouted was perfect for the movie. I mean, it had all the… it had an escape hatch that was written into the script, it had a second deck in the wheelhouse.
So writing the script was actually… once I got to that last few months, it was very easy to do. I had some great inspirations for it. Certain movies like Jaws and Dead Calm, the original Funny Games, believe it or not, it was our inspiration and of course, Deliverance as well. I hope that answered your question.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay. So now you’re done with the script, what are your next steps to try and actually raise the money? Did you have some contacts that you could send it out for, did you just start beating the pavement? Maybe talk about it a little of that journey of actually raising the money and getting this thing into production.
Jon: Sure. Producing the film was really the most fun part for me. Raising the money, I raised it all through friends and family, I had some help from the film’s executive producers, Ken and Janet Schur. Once I had the money in place it was really all about getting the right team together. We had a couple false starts. We were gonna try and shoot it in New Orleans, we’re gonna try and shoot it elsewhere for tax reasons, but then I, through a friend of mine, I met Summer Crockett Moore who was the film’s line producer and she was one of the co-producers on the film as well. In talking to her, she told me about her husband Tony Glazer, who had directed a feature called, I believe it was called Junction. I saw that film and I said, “This is the guy that could do a great job for Dead Sound.”
So right off the bat I had my line producer and my director. Then things just took off from there. The last place on earth I thought we were gonna be able to shoot this movie was where it actually happened on Block Island or on the way to Block Island, and we actually got to shoot the movie on Block Island. And things just started to really fall into place. It was just one of those experiences that you hope and pray you have on an independent low budget movie. I have a good friend who lives on Block Island and he… his name’s Mike Kiley. He became our location manager. And I mean, he’s basically like Block Island royalty, so we nicknamed him ‘The Location Prince’. He opened up all the doors for us on Block Island.
I mean, everybody there was so helpful to us and we’re incredible hosts while we were there for a month and things just went incredibly well. We had great weather, which is important when you’re shooting on a boat. But yeah, so producing the movie and working with a whole team of our cast and crew and seeing everything come together, that was an amazing experience. I really gained a lot of confidence as a producer as well.
Ashley: Sure. So I’m curious, just taking a step back, what was your pitch to your friends and family as you’re trying to raise money? What did you… what materials did you create? Did you create the pitch deck, the slide show or whatever? What materials did you create and do you think they helped and what was just sort of your general pitch to these friends and family?
Jon: We had a pitch deck, we had a look book with some pictures and stuff, but it was easy for me. I sat in front of my investors and I told them the story of what happened to us on the boat. And they smiled. Well, first they were… the ones that hadn’t heard it before were kinda shocked and then they smiled and said they would love to invest the film.
Ashley: How did you get these people in a room? Did you email them, were they friends of your mother so you could get your mom to maybe do some of that leg work? I’m just curious how you were able to set up some of these pitch meetings. What did that look like?
Jon: Well again, they were friends and family, so I was able to pretty much just call them up and say, “Hey, can I come over and have a cup of coffee with you and tell you about a film I’m making?” Ken and Janet Schur helped with some of those phone calls as well. But that part… all of these people knew what I had been doing, trying to break into the movie industry for years, and it was just my time. When the time came, I went to them, I never had gone to them before and it was just kinda like they were ready to help. They believed in me. And I’m forever grateful to all of them because without my investors this film never would’ve gotten made.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So let’s just… what’s next for you? What are you working on next?
Jon: About six months ago I started a producing partnership in a new production company with a New York Times bestselling author. I can’t really go into too much detail about it yet because within a month of starting our company, our agent out in LA got us a deal. We negotiated a deal with a studio for my partner’s series of bestselling novels. We’ve got a star attached and the deal is done. We’re executive producers on it, our production company is one of the production companies on the film. I just can’t… unfortunately, I can’t talk about it because the deal hasn’t been announced yet, but we’re very excited. And my partner’s got another series of best seller [inaudible 00:25:52] that our agent is about to start taking around. Like I said, I’ve written a couple more scripts that the studio is interested in.
So it’s really exciting because this little movie we did, Dead Sound, which turned out to be beyond my wildest dreams. I mean, it was so close to my original vision. It’s already led to… now I can kind of… making an independent film is a difficult process. I know, I seem like I maybe made it sound like it was relatively easy, but it wasn’t. It’s very rewarding. But now I’m able to move into Hollywood movies which is what I’ve always wanted to do.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, sure. What have you seen recently, you thought was really great? Again, just keeping in mind this is a screenwriting podcast. Is there anything that maybe it was sort of a little below the radar, Netflix, Hulu at the theater, anything you’ve seen recently that you would recommend to the audience?
Jon: Oh my gosh. I’d really have to… I have to think about that.
Ashley: Putting you on the spot. No worries. How can people see Dead Sound, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like for it?
Jon: Tomorrow the movie is being released based on pretty much all the digital platforms and on DVD, iTunes, Amazon Prime. So yeah, we’re very excited about that.
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
Jon: At the moment, I post the progress on Facebook and on Instagram. I don’t have a Twitter account. I don’t know if I’ll ever want a Twitter account. But you can also check out the www.deadsoundmovie.com website. But I think when our new production company gets underway, that’s gonna be the best the best place to follow along with what I’m doing. I can tell you the name of our production company, it’s called Eldorado Entertainment.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, Jon, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Sounds like a great film, I wish you the best of luck with it. And when you get your next project finished, I hope you come back and talk about that one as well.
Jon: Absolutely Ashley. I really appreciate the opportunity. I hope I said at least a few things that might be helpful, but I can leave you with this, sticking with it throughout all the ups and downs is the most rewarding experience any filmmaker could ever have. You got to get that first film made.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So, well, Jon, good luck and we’ll talk to you later.
Jon: All right, thanks a lot, Ashley.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you. Bye.
Ashley: A quick plug for the SYS Screenwriting Analysis Service. It’s a really economical way to get a high-quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack, you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors- concept, character, structure and marketability, tone and overall craft, which includes formatting, spelling and grammar.
Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write your logline and synopsis for you. You can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product. As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis, so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material, so again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Benjamin Kasulke who just directed a cool film called Banana Split starring Hannah Marks. Benjamin was actually the cinematographer on a film called Safety Not Guaranteed and we talk briefly about that film as well. He’s got a real great story, real transparent, and really kind of describes how he broke into the business. He had kind of a low-level job in the business, started to network, started to shoot shorts and just low budget films and just slowly has worked his way up and as I said, now he is directing really quite a good film. So keep an eye out for this episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.