This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 330: With Screenwriter Alan Trezza.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #330 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Alan Trezza. I interviewed him a few years ago on the podcast on Episode Number #83, so have a listen to that episode if you haven’t already heard it as he gives his backstory and kinda how he broke into the industry in that episode. This week we’re gonna be talking about his latest project and how all that came together, a film called We Sermon The Darkness, 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 the 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, a screenplay that could be produced on 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 help you estimate your budget. Here’s 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 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 these and get some quick feedback on your script.
Then the scripts that stand out from the first round will move into the second round where I will disseminate the scripts out to the industry judges based on those judges’ genre preferences. The industry judges will grade the scripts and then we will choose the winners from the ones that stand out. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winners. I’ve lined up about 40 industry pros as judges. They’re listed on the contest landing page with links to their IMDb pages. These are real filmmakers who are making movies and the reason many of these folks are willing to be judges and read scripts is because they’re hoping to find material for themselves to produce. So again, another great way just to get your material in front of producers.
Once again, if this sounds like something you’d 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 #330.
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.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing screenwriter Alan Trezza. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Alan to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Alan: Thanks so much, Ashley. I’m very happy to be here.
Ashley: So you were on the show a couple of years ago in Episode Number #83. In that episode we got into kind of how you got started in the business and worked your way up to Burying the Ex film was the one we were talking about. So I’m gonna refer people back to that, checkout Episode #83, and I think today we’ll talk primarily about your new film, We Summon The Darkness starring Johnny Knoxville and Alexandra Daddario. To start out, maybe you can give us a quick pitch or a logline for this film. What is this film all about?
Alan: Yeah, so We Summon The Darkness takes place in the late ’80s around what was known as the satanic panic. That was when church groups and certain government officials thought it in their heads that the devil was speaking to children through everything from heavy metal music to role playing board games to Saturday morning cartoons. So our film takes place in that [inaudible 00:04:32] where there’s this paranoia going around and three girls are on the road going to a heavy metal concert, and all throughout their journey they hear on the radio and it inspired murders that are occurring. They brush it off and they go to the heavy metal concert where they meet three guys, they hit it off, they go back to one of the girls home to keep the party going and that’s when darkness falls, let’s just say.
Ashley: I got you. Where did this idea come from? What was the seed or sort of the Genesis of this story?
Alan: Well, after we had made Burying The Ex, I wanted to write something that I really wanted just in the market place. A lot of screenwriters, myself included make the mistake of trying to chase the marketplace. What I mean by that is they try to sell a script that they think Hollywood is gonna buy for like a lot of money. They’re gonna try to write the next Avengers film or the next Christopher Nolan film. And I decided to do the exact opposite with that. I wanted to write something that I really just wanted to be the first in line to see. And I sat down at my dining room table where I write all my screenplays, and just started to write a list of things that I would wanna watch or get excited by.
I started to write about a time in my life in the late ‘80s. I was a heavy metal drummer during that time period, and I remember having to have a lot of aggravating conversations with people who thought that my friends and I worshiped the devil because we listened to King Diamond. The irony of that is that it wasn’t our minds being poisoned by the music, it was their minds being poisoned by the religious right.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s dig into your writing process just a little bit and we can use this one as kinda the example. How long did it take you to outline this film and then how long did it take you to actually write the script once you got done with the outline?
Alan: This one was one of the faster scripts. It took about somewhere between four to six weeks. And that was because I wanted the script to have a sense of urgency, excitement, and the film takes place [inaudible 00:06:43]. So I wanted to just keep the fire that was inside of me burning so to speak. So I would often stay up very, very late sometimes until 2:30 AM to the following morning at maybe 6:00 AM and just keep writing, writing, writing, and hoping that I would get this sense of excitement through the words. So very, very fast, four to six weeks that includes treatments, outline and the entire script, which was about maybe 90 pages in length.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay. So as you’re developing this idea, are you talking to your managers, agents, other writer friends, producers, directors? Are you starting to just see if there’s some interest in the idea? And then maybe talk a little bit about getting notes. Once you had… through this four to six weeks, you have a first draft, what does your development process look like from that point on?
Alan: No, I actually kept this one very, very close to the vest because I didn’t think that anyone else would be excited about it. I didn’t think anyone else would really care to tell you the truth. I was simply writing this for myself. I had never done that before. I have since done that and have had other sort of great success writing films that I get excited about and then [inaudible 00:07:59] about them as well. But this one I got very, very close to the vest. Actually I wasn’t thinking about sharing it with anyone, because when I was finished with it, I said, “Well that’s something I wanna… I’m not sure if anyone else is gonna wanna see it.” But I had a lunch with a producer named Christian Armogida.
Christian has done numerous sort of independent horror thriller films and he knows this [inaudible 00:08:24] and when we met, well, I still remember, he showed up for our lunch wearing a Faith No More tee shirt. And I said, “Okay, this guy’s kinda cool.” And just the more we spoke, the more we figured that we had the same taste, but at the end of the lunch I said, “You know what, I got this crazy screenplay, I don’t think anyone’s gonna really dig it or even buy it, but it takes place in the ‘80s, it’s about heavy metal, it’s about satanic murders. Let me know what you think.” I emailed it to Chris, three days later, he called back and basically was like, “Man, film is great.” I was like, “Really?” He goes, “Yeah.” So that started off the journey of getting it made.
Ashley: Yeah. And so let’s talk about that journey then a little bit. How long from this point where he comes on as a producer, he loves the material to actually getting into that first day of principal photography. How long did that take? Maybe you can give us some ins and outs of that journey?
Alan: Oh yeah. It was a long and perilous journey, so we say, but not as long as some of [inaudible 00:09:25]. I would say from my lunch with Christian, so we were on day one [inaudible 00:09:34]. It was a little over two years I would say, maybe two and a half. There were a lot of false starts. We went through a whole slew of directors. I think the tally was five directors in total. And that’s actually like having very fruitful meetings with them within the past for triple months at a time. And we could have them drop out or leave because there was personal reasons. So it was a very, very tumultuous journey to get this thing up and running. But everyone that came in contact with it shared this really, really sort of honest sense of excitement for the material and wanting to see this.
And the multiple multitude of directors that we had hired and then later had to part ways with they would always say, “I’m sorry it didn’t work out. I’m gonna be the first person in line to see this thing and I hope you get it made.” So it really had this sort of cult following even just as a screenplay. So, yeah, it was a very, very long and very…
Ashley: What were the notes that Christian had and how did you address those?
Alan: Christian had some very minor notes, but they were important in the overall sort of scheme of the film. He really wanted to delve deep into who it was exactly that were committing these murders and can we really sort of bring in these people that are doing it sort of more to the forefront and examine how they operate? Just really, really make clear what their modus operandi is, and get too specific because really big twists and turns. But Christian was very adamant about making it exactly clear who these people are and why it is they’re doing what they’re doing.
Ashley: Got you. What’s your connection to Alexandra Daddario? I noticed she was in Burying The Ex. Did you guys share an agent or manager or something or it’s just a coincidence that she was in your previous film as well?
Alan: Well Alexandra, yes, was in my first film Burying The Ex. And this was before True Detective and Baywatch and before she was San Andreas and all those big sort of high profile projects. I had only known Alexander because I had seen the movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D and thought she was the best thing about that movie. And on day one of Burying I heard first everybody on set was completely blown away and knew that she was gonna be like a huge star. I also knew that she was capable of doing a lot more than what she was required to do in Baywatch and San Andreas and I really wanted to tap into the talent. So when this was finished, of course she was one of the first people that we thought of.
Thankfully she responded to the material. It was great to work together again. I’m still happy that she’s getting the notice that she’s getting for this movie because I knew that her range as an actress basically knew no bounds. So she completely owns this role and it’s just amazing in the movie. It’s incredible.
Ashley: Yeah. And I’m curious, do you have any insight just in the casting? Do you have any insight into the casting in general? I know you also had Johnny Knoxville in this film. He’s obviously well-known and well regarded in comedy or whatever. And I get emails all the time for specific people. Do you have any insight into the casting of Johnny Knoxville, how this script got to him and eventually got him signed onto it?
Alan: With both of my films I’ve really been so fortunate to get such great casting. Burying The Ex we got Anton Yelchin, it was one of his last movies [inaudible 00:13:21]. And this one we got Alexandra Daddario, we got Johnny Knoxville, Maddie Hasson who’s gonna be a huge, huge star. But first and foremost, they really responded to the script and they wanted to play these characters, they wanted to say this wild outlandish dialogue that was actually not too far from what was being said around that time period about heavy metal and about what they believe to be these events. And so it was a confluence of the screenplay of getting a chance to work with our fantastic director, Marc Meyers, who was coming off of an indie hit called My Friend Dahmer.
And also these are really great producers. Kyle Tekiela partnered Jarod Einsohn, Christian Armogida. It was just sort of that whole marriage of people wanting to bring this thing to life.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. How can people see We Summon The Darkness? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Alan: Yes. We’re gonna have [inaudible 00:14:24] as well as a VOD, but because of the pandemic that’s going on we are now going to be released on VOD and digital on demand April 10th, 2020. And I encourage everyone to go check it out. It’s a really great time.
Ashley: Perfect. And one last parting tip, we got a couple minutes left. You mentioned the actors responding to the material. Give us a tip or two. How do you write those characters? How do you write that snappy dialogue that’s gonna get high-level actors to respond?
Alan: You know, dialogue is one of the hardest things to write and I spent years and years and years honing it. My influences are people whose dialogue is a little bit more stylish and a little bit more as you said, kind of crisp and snappy. My main inspiration in terms of writing dialogue is Daniel Waters who wrote Heathers, as well as of course Aaron Sorkin. So basically you just wanna write dialogue that you would wanna hear, that’s not boring, that keeps the story moving. And if you can add a joke or two in there, I mean, go for it. Is there any sort of secret salt? Not really. It’s [inaudible 00:15:41] and just write something that you would be entertained by having an actor and actress saying.
And I bet that my influences are pretty wide ranging, but when it comes to dialogue I love what Daniel Waters did with Heathers.
Ashley: Perfect. Well Alan, I really appreciate your coming and talking with me. Good luck with this film and good luck on your next films as well.
Alan: Fantastic. Hopefully I get to talk to you again soon.
Ashley: Perfect. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
Alan: Fantastic. Bye bye.
Ashley: I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre, and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of this service, you can find out about all the SYS Select successes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also on SYS podcast Episode #222, I talk with Steve Deering who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. These services include the newsletter, the monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads, we have partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads services, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner, recently we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also, you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS Select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join.
The classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept to outlining, to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing filmmaker Darren Coyle. He has a new film out called Chasing Sunshine. We talk about how this film came together for him. He cast Trevor Penick who was in a boy band in the ‘90s called O-Town, so we talk about that process, how he was able to cast him in the film. He also did a crowdfunding campaign for this project, so we briefly talk about that as well. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.