This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 334: With Writer/Director Vaughn Stein.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #334 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing director Vaughn Stein who just directed a film called Inheritance starring Simon Pegg. We talk about his career working as an assistant director and then how he was able to transition into directing and then how this film came together for him. So stay tuned for that interview. The SYS Six-Figure screenplay contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The regular deadline ends June 30th and then the contest officially closes on July 31st. So less than two months to get your screenplays entered.
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. Every submission will get read by at least three professional readers and I’ve lined up about 40 industry judges to read the scripts that move out of the first round. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winners. Once again, if this sounds like something you would like to learn more about or perhaps enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. And if you’re listening to this podcast after the contest has closed, we’re planning on running this contest every year. So check out the landing page to see what upcoming dates might be approaching.
Once again, 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 #334.
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 am interviewing director Vaughn Stein. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Vaughn to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Vaughn: A pleasure to be here. Thanks for 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 in the entertainment business?
Vaughn: Sure. I grew up in London and I sort of fell in love with theatre actually when I was a kid. I acted a lot and I was always involved in professional theater. And I sort of started to… I started to change trade from theater and fell in love with film, kind of when I was just at the end of what you guys would call high school, I guess and then into university. I read film, drama film and theatre as it was called then at University of Bristol. I finished that and realized I did not have a clue what to do or how to do it. I just knew I wanted to be involved in film. I had sort of really, the film as a medium had just wholly taken over for me. I started working as a production assistant, which is what we call the run out within the assistant director department.
And I got very lucky and apparently I made much doing coffee. I sort of was placed in the teams I was working with. I worked on some incredible, incredible films. I’ve sort of had the pleasure of, the privilege even of working on kind of everything from micro-budget to little TV shows up to kind of temple block busters over the seven or so years I was working as an AD, but otherwise wanted to write and direct. That was always my passion and otherwise where I wanted to tailor my career. I made a short film which did pretty well on the festival circuit and for the 2014, 2015. Then I made Terminal with some very, very good friends of mine, Tom Ackerley, Josey McNamara and Margot Robbie and Sophia Kerr who run a company called LuckyChap Entertainment.
Tom and Josey were runners and assistant directors the same time that I was. We used to work in the same teams, we used to lock off together, we liked doing coffee together and we made our first film together. And it sort of, it all, yeah, that was sort of my transition into writing and directing.
Ashley: No problem. Yeah. So let’s talk about that just quickly and then we’ll move into Inheritance next. What was that transition like going from… because you have a number of AD credits and I’m just curious, what was that transition like going? Did you always make it known to people you were working with, “Hey, I really wanna be a director,” as you’re doing these AD jobs so that they were sort of prepared for it? Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. How did you sort of use your contacts to actually make that leap? And how important was the short film to making that leap?
Vaughn: An answer to the first one, so a yes and no. People who I was friendly with, I would talk to about writing and directing, with some of the colleagues and actors I got on with well, and writers I got on with well, I would talk to them about it. But first and foremost, I wanted to earn my stripes and be recognized as a great assistant director. I was fiercely, I am fiercely proud of doing that for years. It’s an amazing job and you sort of have the opportunity as an AD to rub shoulders with all the different departments. You work with directors, actors, writers, producers, stunt, costume, everything, you have the gatekeepers, to everything as an AD. But for me my transition really came about, I was very, very lucky early in my career to work with a real hero of mine, Alex Garland, the amazing writer, director and producer.
He wrote a film called Never Let Me Go that I was a production assistant on and we got on very well. Maybe because he’s got gray hair and a resting bitch face just like me. And we… he…I don’t remember how it happened, but he also reads my sort of [inaudible 00:06:53] and he wrote me an email saying sort of, “Stop bicking around, you’re really good at this. This is… I don’t say this often, I guess from a lot of stuff. This is really good. This is a really good script. You should do this.” And that really sort of inspired me and yeah, I sort of… my short film was made, and made well because of the relationships I had with amazing gaffers who lent equipment, amazing producers who lent their time, actors who liked me and wanted to come and work.
Making a short film is without a doubt one of the most important things you do in your career. That first statement as a creative, it is so important. A lot of people just talk about it rather than do it and my advice for whatever it’s worth is just go and make it [inaudible 00:07:40] the shorts. And if you can get behind the camera, like go and make tea and coffee for… and work for amazing directors, like I had the job to do. It was a privilege. I was on Chris Nolan’s [inaudible 00:07:54], now I’m struggling for [inaudible 00:07:57] Patty Jenkins. It was an amazing thing to be a part of.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So let’s dig into your latest film Inheritance, also starring Simon Pegg. Maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is that film all about?
Vaughn: Oh, that’s a good question. So, Oh, now if I have to remember though, the good luck like I said, it’s about… It’s set in New York and it’s about that sort of diagnostical family who suffer some bereavement, and Lauren Monroe, who is our protagonist with fiercely independent daughter, the patriarch who died suddenly and she is… she suddenly finds herself the beneficiary of very dark Inheritance, dot, dot, dot [laughs].
Ashley: Gotcha. How did you get involved with this screenplay? You direct it, you did not write it. Did it come across your desk as it was written, did you get involved early on in the development process?
Vaughn: When it came to me, as I sort of vividly remember, I had read some pretty terrible scripts earlier that morning and I was just completely transfixed by it. Matt Kennedy, who wrote it, brilliant, brilliant writer, he was sort of able to blend very complex, very sort of high stakes dark thriller genre writing with this very satirical, very prescient sort of almost folkloric edge to it. You know, the monster in the basement, the skeletons in the closet, the nature of legacy and sort of dark secrets passed down the generations. And I remember thinking it was just, it was beautifully dominant. It had me gripped. I was involved a lot in working with Matthew very closely, just sort of tweaking the script once Simon came on board and Lily came abroad and sort of tailoring the characters to the actors and also to the locations as we found them.
I loved collaborating, it was a real pleasure for me actually to collaborate with a writer and to be able to work with some of them very closely and sort of sculpting an already great script.
Ashley: Yeah. So how did this screenplay actually get in front of you? Did it come through your management, did you have a friend of a friend that recommended it? And all those terrible scripts that you just mentioned that you were reading, and the reason I ask is because I get a lot of screenwriters asking me, “How can I get my script in front of this director or that director? So I’m always just curious to hear kind of how scripts filter to directors.
Vaughn: They came to me through my agent, through UTA. My agent and very good friend Jordan [inaudible 00:10:40] had sent me a batch over. He also, he sent me the script separately saying, “You should really read this. This is a great script.” And nothing impresses Jordan. So I knew it must be good. And just an answer to your question, I can’t lie, I think… look, it’s very hard for you, of course it’s hard to get scripts through [inaudible 00:11:02] and I’m finding that actors and directors and producers, they read. They read voraciously. Everyone lives in fear that they’re gonna pass on the big one. And I think for me they… it comes with a certain level of kudos when it comes through your managers or your agents, but like I get sent scripts, sorry, direct from producers and actors I’ve worked with all the time and yeah, it’s hard.
There’s no recipe for it. There’s no like sort of, this is how it happens, having representation agents and managers always helps because it’s a village, Hollywood, isn’t it? Everything’s connected. So that is definitely a benefit.
Ashley: Yeah. And I’m curious, how much does the influence, obviously the script as a director, especially you as a writer, someone who’s also written a lot, how much does the script impact your decision to direct it? And I know it’s a big important, but what I’m kind of asking is, how the other things like the fact that Simon Pegg was potentially attached, maybe there was some funding in place. How much do these other decisions weigh on you when you’re deciding as a director to take on a project?
Vaughn: Heavily is the honest answer. I mean, for Inheritance specifically Simon wasn’t attached at the time, but I knew in my bones I wanted to work with him again having had such an amazing experience with him. And weaving it and sort of thinking about what we had done together on Terminal and how we could develop played a huge part. I think like anything, particularly in the independent sphere where I’ve put most of my work as a director, you need to be open to the fact that things aren’t financed and you’re not gonna get things financed until you get cast attached and those cast are gonna have their own schedules and they’re gonna have their own availabilities and you’ve got to be very flexible about stuff.
But in answer to the question, it is important. You need to consider the fact that, is there money behind it, are there cast attached to it? Who’s working on it? What agencies are working on packaging? All of those things need to be weighed up before you commit, because I’m sure it’s the same for all directors. When I commit, I commit full steam, I’m gonna give a huge amount of time and effort for it and I wanna, I need to believe in it wholeheartedly.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. And so, and I throw this question back, you know, when you’re bringing Simon Pegg, obviously you had directed him in a previous project, so you had some relationship. How much impact do you think the script has on attaching talent like Simon Pegg, as opposed to you as the director of someone he’s worked with before and potentially trusts you, how much does that weigh on them? How important is the script, do you think to getting the talent attached?
Vaughn: I think it’s hugely important. I think the fact… I’ve heard a great expression on that, I can’t remember who said it. You can’t make a good film out of a bad script, right? I think that’s absolutely true. Like I think a well-crafted, well-honed, well-polished script is so important. I mean, yes, Simon and I were really good friends and we had a preexisting professional relationship because of The Terminal, but I was never gonna put a script in front of someone as Simon with world class caliber and pedigree without believing in it wholeheartedly. And of course, I think for him knowing that we worked together well professionally was a big factor.
But he’s an incredibly disciplined and highly, highly intelligent actor who picks holes in everything and looks for the… comes just like Lily did with hundreds of questions that the script needs to be able to answer or I need to be able to answer as the director.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. How can people see Inheritance? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Vaughn: Well, with what is sort of going on in the world, we are fully… everything’s going on to streaming platforms or VOD, I think is the right expression. So it comes out on Friday on all good and evil VOD sites.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Perfect. So people can look for it there. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, are you on any of those channels I can link to in the show notes?
Vaughn: I’m not. I should be, but… my feedback tells me over and over again to be, but I’m not. I don’t know how any of it works [inaudible 00:15:30]. No, I… Yeah, no, I’m afraid I don’t have any of them.
Ashley: No worries at all. Yeah, no worries at all. I just figured I’d ask. So well, I really appreciate your coming on the show with me today, Vaughn. Great story and a lot of helpful information. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.
Vaughn: Alright. Thank you very much. Pleasure talking to you.
Ashley: Thank you. Will talk to you later.
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 director, Kevin James Barry, who just did a feature thriller called Among Them. We talk about his career and how his film came together for him. Like a lot of filmmakers on this podcast, Kevin began by making a short film and now he has progressed to making features. So he’s got a great story to share and tell us next week. So keep an eye out for that episode. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.