This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 327: With Actor/Writer/Director David Wall.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #327 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing actor, producer, director, and also writer David Wall. He just did a new film called Gold Dust. We talk through this film and how he got it produced. It’s another great example of a guy getting out there and making things happen for himself, so stay tuned for that interview. The SYS Six-Figure screenplay contest is now open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The early bird discount runs through May 31st. The idea for this contest was simple, find the best low budget scripts and present them to the industry.
I’m defining low budget as less than $1,000,000, in other words, six figures or less. If you have any questions about how to figure out the budget of your screenplay, I created a video which you can find on the landing page, which will hopefully help you estimate the budget of your screenplay. Here is how the contest is going to work. Every submission will get read by at least three professional readers. These are readers I’ve hired to read through the scripts in the first round. Each reader will give each script a quick assessment, which you can actually purchase if you’d like to see some quick feedback on your script. The scripts that stand out from the first round will move into the second round where I will disseminate the scripts to our panel of industry judges, and then the industry judges will grade the scripts.
Again, I’ll of course look through everything and we will decide on our winners. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winners. I’ve lined up about 40 industry pros as judges. These are producers, these are other writers, these are directors, actors even. They’re listed on the contest page with links to their IMDb pages so you can actually see and get to know who these people are. Many of the judges are people who have been on this podcast. These are real filmmakers who are making movies and the reason many of these filmmakers are willing to be judges is because they’re hoping to find material that they themselves can produce. Once again, if this sounds like something that you would like to learn more about or perhaps enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest.
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 #327. 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. Hopefully everyone is staying safe with COVID-19. The lockdown is still very much in play as I’m recording this podcast episode. I’m working on my mystery thriller film, The Rideshare Killer, which we shot in December. The editor is putting together a rough cut. So far I’ve seen about 30 minutes of this first rough cut. It’s just rough, but it’s coming together nicely. I’m really happy about how everything is looking. Tony and I, Tony is the other producer, we are making notes as he is sending some of these sections. He’s sending, so far, he’s sent three 10-minute sections, we view them, we’re starting to make notes on them and we’ll start passing notes back and forth. Just working like that remotely until COVID passes.
Most of the post-production stuff can be done remotely, so it’s not always ideal. There are definitely some moments where I would rather be in the room with the editor telling him my notes as opposed to just emailing them, but it basically works. But there will probably be some moments hopefully in another month or six weeks about the time where he’s got his sort of first version of the rough cut and taking a couple of passes with our email notes. We’re kinda hoping that COVID will have kinda passed a little bit so we can kinda get in a room with him and maybe those last two passes of the film, maybe two or three passes, quick final passes will be in person. Most of the post production stuff can be done remotely. I mean, a lot of it is done remotely anyways.
The guy that creates, you know, the composer that creates the score he just sits in his apartment, his house, his studio and he’s just watching the film, composing the music and obviously there’s back and forth and stuff obviously. Eventually you do wanna get in a room with all these people, your sound design, color grader. There’s just always little tweaks you wanna be in the room and just talking. Sometimes you just have to try little things. And so it’s not always that easy to send an email, having them adjust things, send an email back. Sometimes if you’re just in the room with somebody you can get through stuff a little bit quicker. So it’s not ideal, but overall, I don’t think COVID is really going to set us back that much.
Which is great, just in terms of getting the film done. So I think we’re still kinda on pace to get this film done, six to nine months. But certainly let’s say by the end of 2020, we should be done or very, very close to being done. At least that’s the goal. And as I said even with COVID going I think we’ll probably be able to hit that goal. Anyways, so that’s the main thing I am working on, just pushing that film through.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing actor, producer, director and writer David Wall. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome David to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
David: I appreciate you having me.
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?
David: Sure. I grew up in the Mojave Desert, California. I became an actor back in the ‘80s, came to LA and started getting work as an actor. And at some point I just, by a fluke I took a trip to Europe and it was a terrible trip. My wife and I took a trip to visit my brother who was trying to be a writer in Paris. It was a nightmare of a trip. We went from Paris, we went to Ireland and it was just anything that could go wrong went wrong. When I got back home, I wrote a letter to my brother about the trip and he said, “Okay, I quit. You should be the writer, not me and you should submit this.” I submitted it and The Washington Post bought it. And I was shocked, completely shocked and I thought…
Ashley: And what did you actually write though? You wrote just like this letter to him detailing how bad the trip was and it was just comical. And so he thought…?
David: Exactly, exactly. And The Post published it as ‘The Best Story of The Worst Vacation’. And I thought, well, I’m gonna write screenplays because that’s what I knew. I wrote a screenplay and then tried to get a director to direct it. And of course nobody’s gonna direct it without any money, and so I thought, well, I’ll direct it. That was my first film called Joe & Joe, which got into Sundance. And then you just try to make the next one. The next one I made was called Noëlle. People can watch that on Amazon right now. It’s doing real well on Amazon. Then this is the third one. This is the third one I’ve made.
Ashley: Yeah. So just the long and the short of it. How did you get Joe and Joe together? And then Noëlle, on IMDb it’s listed as Mrs. Worthington’s Party, correct? Noëlle is…
David: Yes, I think it’s also listed as Noëlle. It was originally titled Mrs. Worthington’s Party. When Paramount, picked it up, they named it Noëlle, yeah.
Ashley: Okay. So just sort of in a nutshell, how did you get the money and just to get those into production? You had your script, you were working as an actor, so you had some contacts, but just again, what was sort of that process of going from having a script to actually having a finished film?
David: Great question. You write the script and then you… I wrote the script based on what I thought I had at my disposal because I knew that writing a script with aliens and clashes between worlds, I’m not gonna get the money to do it. So I thought, what do I have? I was on Cape Cod at the time, my father had a house on Cape Cod, and I had a friend who, a couple friends in LA that were actors that were willing to be in it. And I began raising money and raised about $35,000. This is literally with just family and friends. And that’s what I had. So I shaped the script around that. And then the shooting you do also have to shape around the story, which is the script, which is what actually can I get that will tell this story?
Not I wanna get all these shots. No. What actually gets this story told? I think we shot it in 14 days. So anyhow, that’s… your money runs out basically at that point.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. And was it similar for Mrs. Worthington’s Party, that was family and friends or were you able to get some equity or venture capitalists?
David: Family and friends. Family and friends, it was a bigger budget, it was on Cape Cod once again, but using what I had, the houses, the locations, the… people that owned hotels that would put up crews. I mean, you’re [inaudible 00:09:33] all those relationships into… so your, I think at the end of that time, your budget’s probably much higher in terms of what you actually got. But on paper it looks pretty low.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. Okay. So let’s dig into Gold Dust, your latest feature. Maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline, what is that film all about?
David: It’s about a couple old prospectors that live out in the Mojave Desert that have been looking their whole lives for the ship of the desert. The lost ship of the desert. Which is an actual myth. Some people say they’ve seen it and then they can’t find it again. Nobody knows what’s in it, but it’s untold wealth. And these guys have spent their lives in the desert looking for that and every other mythical treasure of the Southwest over the years. They stumble across a very strange what appears to be a drug deal gone bad where a drug dealer is using kids, like kidnapped kids to fly ultralights deep into the desert to do the exchange. They stumble across this, find a ton of money and their lives are gonna change radically. They’re gonna…
What are they gonna do? Are they… They’re running for their lives, people are after them now. Are they gonna rescue these kids? So it turns into an adventure. Comedic adventure.
Ashley: Yeah, I got you. So where did this idea come from? What was the genesis or kernel for this?
David: Well, I live out in the Mojave Desert. And when you’re out there, I go out there, I have an old four-wheel drive and I’ll drive out there with my kids and they shoot a lot of little films and we’d go out there to shoot stuff. And when you’re out there you find old mines and you think, “What’s in here? What were these guys looking for?” You find old shacks, you find graves, you find… your imagination just comes alive and you start thinking, some of these stories are probably true. There’s probably treasure out here. And I think that’s how… plus, the other thing is you do think about with the drug war going on in the last decade or so, you do see little planes fly over and you think, “I wonder what that guy’s doing way out here,” stuff like that. So I just sort of combined the two.
Ashley: I got you. So let’s talk about your writing process and we can be specific with Gold Dust, but even just sort of general, you know, generally speaking. How much time do you spend doing the outline index cards, sort of preparing, and then how much time do you spend actually in final draft actually writing script pages?
David: I don’t really do index cards. I always kinda start with a kernel of an idea. Before I even write anything. I’ll go, “Hmm.” It may be something visual that creates that kernel, it may be a concept, but I start with a kernel and then what I usually do is just yellow pages just sort of writing ideas, which I guess is a form of index card but just saying, you know what, this is… I look at it as a path through the woods. I wanna get from here to there and I wanna keep a straight line. And so I kind of think, “Hmm.” I’ll many times get the kernel, then I’ll get the ending and I’ll think, “Okay, how do we get there?” And I’ll write a few notes and I kinda jump into final draft pretty quickly. I jump in and start working and it usually takes me a couple of weeks to a month to finish it.
And then you start honing it. Many times you’ll have to chop stuff out because you just think, “If I do this myself, I’ll never be able to do that, so I got to adjust that.” And a lot of times that’s a blessing because you have ideas that may be too convoluted or may be too complicated and necessity definitely is the mother of invention. You think, “I can’t do that. Let’s do this,” and it works.
Ashley: So let’s talk about the development process. You’ve written the script, you have that first draft, what does your development process look like? Do you have… it sounds like you have a network of actors, do you also have a network of writers or producers? Do you send the script, do you get notes back? And then how do you interpret those notes? Maybe walk us through that process a little bit.
David: Yeah, it’s not a huge network. I usually… my network is people that I actually think can help me make the movie. I’m not just sending it out shotgun, blast, “Hey, tell me what you think.” Because inevitably you’re gonna get pretty discouraged, as you guys know. I mean, everybody’s a critic. Everybody’s gonna tell you what’s wrong and then you’re gonna say, “Hang on, have you ever made a movie?” “No. But when I do…” and you’re like, “Okay, let’s go to the next. Let’s go to somebody that actually knows how this works.” So I use a group, a small group of people that I think, “Hey, you know what? This guy can help me produce it. This guy can help me get actors. This guy can help me get the equipment. What do you guys think of this? Logistically, does this work? Story-wise, does this work? Do the characters work? Where’s my weak spots? Tell me.”
And a lot of times they’ll come up with stuff. This is a little bit of a diversion, but I hope it’s helpful. On Joe & Joe, I was trying to figure out a technique. We had no money and I wrote in these two characters come to the door in disguises. One of the actors said, “You’re not putting disguises into this, that’s so stupid. I can’t believe you would even think of that.” And I thought, “Well wait, no.” And he goes, “No, we’re not doing disguises.” So what I ended up doing was writing into the script as sort of a paranoia that one of the actors had about wearing disguises and then it was like one of the best scenes in the movie. So that’s an example of using what people tell you to adjust the story, if that answers your question.
Ashley: Yeah. No, absolutely. So one of the things you mentioned is you were giving your pitch, obviously this is a sort of a comedic take, but it sounded very No Country For Old Men. There’s definitely some of these types of films. Obviously No Country For Old Men is, excuse me, is all drama, not comedy, but how did you approach it? Just sort of the genre requirements, looking at some of the other films that were in a similar sort of sub-genre. How did you approach the genre requirements, how did you approach this material? What other films did you look like and how did you just prepare? I mean, you wanna do, there’s always that saying the same but different. You know, you’ve got kind of a premise, but how did you want to subvert some of the tropes, how did you wanna play into some of the tropes?
David: Yeah. I guess overall I wanted to create something that had a child’s heart, that had anything’s possible, go out into the wilderness and let your imagination go crazy. And in that sense, it’s a wacky film. Anything can happen, it’s silly, it has this childlike heart to it. However, I wanted to dress up that childlike heart in the looks from like Once Upon A Time In The West, from Madmax, from Raising Arizona and with a little bit of Lawrence of Arabia thrown in. In many ways when we were out there, we’re trying to make a film, we’re trying to survive rather than just make a film because you’re deep in the Mojave Desert. So I would tell everybody this is almost like Breaking Bad meets Lord of The Rings out here. We’re mixing genres.
In that regard, some people are gonna get it, some people aren’t. So far with kids, we’ve had kids just love it. And I love that and I love that there’s so few films for kids where it’s like an adult can sit with them and go, and I mean kids eight to 16 or whatever, but where an adult can sit there and go, “Hey, this is pretty fun.”
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I’m curious too, just as you’re describing shooting out in the Mojave Desert and stuff, maybe you can talk a little bit about that. What kind of crew did you have, what are some of the things about the desert? Do you need permits out there, do you need a ranger to be with you, you got to pay him. Well, how does it actually work shooting out in the desert and getting people out there, getting food out there, hotels, what does that all look like?
David: Great question. And that was the challenge of this film. A, we shot deep in the Mojave, so kind of near Joshua Tree, not totally near but in that area. And yes, you’re supposed to have a permit Bureau of Land Management. I tried to do this the right way. I went to them, I never got a response. I went back, I had no response, and I just said, “Guys, we’re gonna shoot until we get shut down.” We never saw a single soul the whole time we were out there, which is almost a month. Secondly…
Ashley: Were you on public land though?
David: Yes, we were. We were. I mean you’re on the areas that every, all the four wheelers, all the off roaders, the people that take their trailers and go camp in the… we were in a different time of year, but normally they’re out there right now. We were in October. So yeah. And the second thing, you make a really good point, one of the things that I had to succeed at in order to make this was find a place to put a crew because you can’t drive every day that far. So I actually found a ranch that was willing to rent us space and was willing to let us put trailers out there. And so that was huge because that brought us within about an hour’s journey of all the locations.
Secondly, you’re out there, I went out there for probably three months scouting locations. And I know the area well, but I went out there and really learned it. And you find amazing things. You find caves, you just can’t believe, you find ravines that are just… I found a sort of a secret dry lake bed that I never found before that really play into the vibe of the script. But then you have to figure out a way to get a crew to these locations, and some of them you cannot. So you have, if you find a cave that’s amazing and you can’t get to it, well then you need to find a cave that’s less amazing that you can get to. So there’s a matter of constantly compromising, right? Otherwise you’re not gonna get a film. So that’s something that we had to do on a daily basis.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. Okay, so you had the script, what was your next step once you had the script as far as getting financing? Did you send it to some producers, was it back to your friends and family to raise money? What was that process like?
David: Yeah, I went to my partner Rich Cook, who’s with Oculi Entertainment, he had been responsible for the distribution of my previous film. And I said, “Hey…” He’s made a lot of bigger films. He had just finished a film with some big names and I said, “I know this is probably far below you, but would you take a look at it because I’m thinking about just shooting on weekends with my kids unless we can get somebody to put up some money.” Rich was instrumental in bringing about, you know, we had a very small budget, but bringing about the money it takes from going from a home movie to a real film, and he was huge that way. And he was really the one guy I went… I went to a couple guys, but he was the one guy I went to that said, “Hey, I love this story and I think we can do it.”
There was something that I think is key. When you go to a lot of guys that have made big movies, they can’t think in terms of, for example, do you have to have a ranger there in every shot? Boom up goes to the budget. Do you have to have a first aid guide there, a stunt coordinator or whatever, all the things we think of as a film? Yeah, you probably do, but you’re not gonna get it made for the budget you have if you do that. So in many ways there’s a guerilla aspect to this and my job is to make it look as little like a guerilla as possible, if that makes sense.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. So then what was your next step with this film? Okay, so you shot it, you got in the can and then how did you ultimately find a distributor? Did you do the film festival route? What did that process look like?
David: You know, we didn’t. I did the… I did festivals with both my first two films, they won awards and whatever. With this, we tried to go straight to a distributor and it took longer than we thought until we finally found… we found a company called The House of Film, which is our sales agents internationally, and they actually brought us to High Octane. So that’s how we found them.
Ashley: I got you. What do you think, and just again, in general terms, what do you think about the festival route? You’ve done it with the other two films. Do you think it helped? I mean, it sounds like ultimately your second film sort of secured this relationship, which ultimately helped you get the money for Gold Dust. Would you recommend the festivals? I mean, there’s always some debate. When I talk to distributors, they always kind of are down on the festivals. They don’t feel like it really helps their job selling the film. So it really becomes… obviously the big festivals are different, but just sort of those mid-tier festivals, are they really gonna help you? What do you feel about that as someone who’s actually been through the process with a couple of films?
David: I feel like the festivals were, this is just my opinion, I could be totally wrong, but I’ve talked to a couple of film guys that have independent film theaters across the country, which are becoming less and less by the way. And they have said, and I believe that festivals have changed radically. Back when I got into Sundance, which was like 20 years ago, it was amazing and it was a true Mecca for independent film.
Hollywood in my opinion, has sort of dressed up as independent film and takes small films to these festivals and takes up all the spots. It’s what it looks like to me. But I’m not sure. I’m not sure. Like with my second film, festivals were great. What I was told with this one from some of the cinema owners was, it’s changed. You’re probably not gonna get into a festival. They’re massive moneymakers, everyone has a festival. And I don’t know, my opinion might have changed or maybe just because we didn’t get into some huge festival and… But I do believe it has changed a little bit in the last decade or so.
Ashley: Well, how much do you feel, and I always ask, you know, everybody on the outside always thinks, “Oh, if I can just get into Sundance, my life will change.” How do you feel like going to Sundance? Do you think it was all that it was hyped up to be? Because I ask filmmakers, and to be honest with you, most of the filmmakers were like, “Yeah, it was a great experience, but it’s not quite the rocket fuel that most people expect to their careers.”
David: It’s not. It’s a super heady experience, it’s an amazing experience. It’s super rewarding as a filmmaker to have a big audience see your film and respond well to your film without a doubt. But it’s also… and you think to yourself, “Wow, that’s it. I’m off to the races. I’m off to the moon.” And that’s not necessarily how it works. It does every now and then and that’s what we all strive after, right? But it didn’t for us, I mean, yes, they put us on the Sundance channel, it went on PBS, Carmike Cinemas picked it up. You meet a lot of people who say they’re gonna watch your work. Big, big names who say, “Okay, we’re gonna study your work,” and you wanna say, “Hey, I’m ready to keep working, study it now. Don’t wait for my next film.” So it is frustrating.
I’m super glad I got to go. I’m honored I got to go. But it is… you’re right. It’s not exactly what you think it’s gonna be. And I don’t mean to put that down. I think we should all try to go, it’s just you’re not gonna have a three-picture deal necessarily after that. Somebody’s gonna maybe, but not to…
Ashley: Yeah, hopefully you do. But yeah. So how can people see Gold Dust? What’s the release schedule gonna be like in the next couple of weeks?
David: I’m probably not the best person to ask on this. As far as I know, it drops April 7th on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Xbox, On Demand, you know, probably as many streaming platforms as most people are convenient for them. But that’s about all I know in terms of that. Apologies.
Ashley: Yeah, no, no problem at all. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you comfortable sharing? I will round up for the show notes.
David: I don’t really have anything. I’m embarrassed to say.
Ashley: No, no worries.
Ashley: Truthfully, I’m not big on social media too but it’s the thing to do. So I round up these thongs for the people that do.
David: No, I appreciate it. But you know what? This movie in a way was made as an antithesis, especially with what we’re going through right now. It’s a chance to disconnect, unplug, go to a different world because it looks like a different world and just imagine and have fun in your brain for just a… just 90 minutes or whatever and then plug back in afterwards. So in a way, this is sort of a, I would say, a medicine to what we’re all going through. Not medicine, but you know what I mean. Just a little vacation from social media.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. So well, I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today.
David: Not at all.
Ashley: Yeah, this was a great interview and I’ll drop you a line when it goes live.
David: Awesome man. Thanks for taking the time.
Ashley: Hey, thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
David: All right, take care.
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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.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Neasa Hardiman, who just did a cool film called Sea Fever. It’s a limited location thriller, takes place on a boat out at sea. We talk through her career, how she got started, and then ultimately how this film all came together, so keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s our show. Thank you for listening.