This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 338: With Director Agnieszka Holland.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #338 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing Agnieszka Holland who just did a film called Mr. Jones, which is a Cold War thriller. She is a very accomplished Polish director and a real artist, and has some very interesting things to say about this film and her career in general. So stay tuned for that interview. The SYS Six-Figure Screenplay Contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The contest closes on July 31st, so less than two weeks away. We’re looking for the best low budget screenplays.
I’m defining low budget as less than $1,000,000, in other words, six figures. Every submission will be 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’d 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 the contest every year. So just check out the landing page to see what upcoming dates might be approaching. Once again, that URL is 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 #338. So just a couple of quick words about what I’ve been working on.
Still plugging away on my mystery thriller feature that we shot in December, The Rideshare Killer. I’m still waiting to get the second rough cut back from the editor. I’m hoping that will be next week, but in the meantime, I’ve started to go through résumés so we can build out our post production team. On a small feature like this we’ll hire a composer. They will do the score music, some original music, all the incidental music as well. We’ll get a bunch of sound people as well. We’ll need a sound mixer. That’s the ultimate sound guy that comes in and he mixes all the sounds together. That’s an important job and one that takes, obviously there’s some technical skill, but there’s also some just… you need like certain machinery, certain equipment to produce the 5.1 surround sound.
There’s some things that the mixer, real technical sort of things that that guy will do. There’s the dialogue editor who will go through and just tweak all the dialogue, make sure everything is clear and understandable. And then there’s also sound design, which has all the sound, doors opening, punches, people, falling, footsteps, all that sort of stuff. So I’m getting all of that sort of stuff set up, the composer, the audio people and then also the colorist. That’s the other thing, who does the color grading. If you don’t know what color grading is, it basically, is just, he goes in and tweaks the color. Obviously the film is shot in color and when you’re looking at the rough cut it’s in color, but you can tweak the colors just digitally nowadays.
You can go in and very easy, just pull out certain ranges of color and it can really make it pop. You can take an image that looks, it’s color, but it still looks a little bit flat and you can just tweak it and then you can really make that image pop. But a big part of color correction is just making sure the film is consistent from front to back so that you’re not going from scene to scene and then things will just look off. Films will have a certain look to them, whether it’s like, a gritty sort of rough look, but that look needs to be consistent throughout the film and the color grader can go in there and kinda give it that look and that color that it needs to be consistent, again, as well as make it pop.
Again, if you’re interested in all this, just go to YouTube and do a search for something like color grading examples. All of these guys that are replying, sending me their résumés, they’ve done little one, two-minute videos that they’ve put on YouTube as sort of examples. And they do real clear… they’ll show like, it’ll be a shot and it’ll be somebody running and then they’ll do sort of a demonstration of what their color actually does. They’ll swoop the color in and swoop the color out and you can really get a feel for what they’re able to do. So if you have any interest in learning more about that, I’d say check out YouTube. Anyway, that’s basically what the post team will look like for a film like this.
And as I said over the next few weeks, we’re gonna be hopefully bringing those people on so that once we get a locked picture, we need to actually lock the picture so that there’s no more actual physical edits that’s so that they can score it. Obviously you don’t wanna pay your color guy to color a bunch of scenes you’re not gonna use. So you have to make sure everything is locked before you get these other sort of technical people to come in and do what they need to do to the film. Anyways, hopefully in the next month or two, we’ll have a locked picture and then these guys can go to work and we’ll stay on schedule and get the film finished. There’s some renewed life for the kid’s TV show that I wrote a couple of years ago.
You might remember, I did mention that on the podcast. It was written for a Vegas performer. He’s back at it trying to raise money to shoot a pilot episode. So we’ll see how that goes. But the plan there is, raise some money, shoot a pilot, and then hopefully take that pilot and pitch it around town. If you’ve ever looked at me, look me up on IMDb, you might have noticed a credit I have listed called Josh Taylor’s Prom Date. At some point maybe I’ll go into the whole saga. It’s a long, long story at this point, but the movie got shot about two years ago. So they completely shot the movie. Everything I heard, I wasn’t on set, it wasn’t shot in LA so I wasn’t around to seeing the shooting.
But everything I’ve heard from the people that I know that were on the set, it was a well-run set and they did a good job shooting it. They ran into some problems in post-production and the thing has just been bogged down now for a couple of years, but I did hear from one of the producers this week and it seems like he has a real clear plan of action now to just move the project forward and get it finished. So that’s really, really promising. I mentioned this just so people have some idea that even, you know, you get that option and you’re excited and then eventually you get that sale and you’re excited, and then sometimes your movie even gets produced and you’re excited, but even after the script is optioned, sold and produced, it can still be a long road.
The movie I did called Rush Lights and I talked about that on the podcast as well, the producer, I think he had it optioned, literally, he was optioning it for over the course of like nine or 10 years, and then even after he finally bought the script, raised the money, shot the movie, bought the script from me, it still took them two or three years to get through post production. These independent movies can be a real grind. Financing is always a problem, trying to make sure everything’s gonna add up on the financial side is very difficult, which makes it very difficult to raise money. So just things can happen and no matter how close you are to the finish line, things can always, always go wrong until you’re across the finish line.
So anyways, between that and the Rideshare Killer maybe I’ll get two credits this year, which considering what a year we’re having here with everything going on, I think it would actually not be a bad year. But anyways, that’s the main things that I’m working on now. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing director Agnieszka Holland. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Agnieszka to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Agniezka: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. So just to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background just quickly. Where did you grow up and how did you get started in the entertainment business?
Agniezka: Well, I grew up in Communist Poland. My parents had been to [inaudible 00:07:55]. My father was Jew, my mother is Polish Catholic. It means she’s not a believer, but from that by her family. I started in Czechoslovakia in the film school, and I started to make my movies in Communist Poland in ‘70s and became slowly, but surely the film director later in several countries.
Ashley: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. What is it, do you think that attracted you to the entertainment industry?
Agniezka: It wasn’t the industry for me, it was the art. I think that when I was 15, just director because I loved the cinema, which I worked in the art houses, and it was a great period for the cinema. It was very, very new and very avant-garde and speaking the way no one spoke before, and speaking about the things which have been not shown before. I loved all kinds of the movies. So the richness of this medium attracted me and I was not thinking about film or about money or Box Office some of the stuff like that. I wanted to be a painter first when I was teenager, and then I realized that I need the visual expression, but I need also to tell the story and all, and by the last but not least, I need also to have the power to tell to the people what they have to do.
So I decided that first you create the images and you direct the crew and back the actors.
Ashley: So let’s dig into your latest film, Mr. Jones. Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Agniezka: It’s 1933. It is the story of the young Welsh journalist, very ambitious, curious, and bright young man who was the first journalist interviewing Adolf Hitler after he took the power. Then he decided to go to the Soviet Union and to interview Stalin. He felt that something is not right in this country, that the numbers don’t add, that the economy must have been much worse state than officially it is expressed. He went there and he realized that something wrong is going on in Ukraine. He traveled to Ukraine and discovered an incredibly tragic famine man-made by Stalin himself for political means. He decided to report the story to the world. So the film speaks about his journey and after his quest, how to deliver the truth to the world and to say the public opinion to help the dying people.
Ashley: I got you. So how did you get involved with this screenplay or this project? Did it come to you as a fully fleshed out screenplay and then you signed on as the director, did you just get like a novel or a book? Maybe talk about that process. How did you come onboard with this project?
Agniezka: It was a script which was pretty much ready to shoot which came to me. Some [inaudible 00:11:24] screenwriter, Andrea Chalupa, an American journalist. I found the script very intriguing and important. Very relevant. After we started together with Andrea to develop the script, to change it and to make it better, to make it more original, everything you are doing with the script when you are developing it. Then we found the producers who found the money, and it was a long process and it was painful, but by them we have the film we are proud of.
Ashley: I see. So when you got involved with this, though, did it come through your agents and your managers? I’m just curious about sort of the flow. How do scripts typically get to a director like yourself?
Agniezka: Mostly it comes through my agent or manager, but Andrea who is very stubborn and very active young person, she found the direct way to me. So she sends me the script personally and after she… I was in this time in film festival in Toronto, and she found out the where I am and she came and, I don’t want to tell that she was pushy, but she was very enthusiastic, very perseverant. She really believed that I am the best person and maybe only person who can tell this story.
Ashley: Yeah. What was it about the writing that really drew you in and wanted to get you involved with the project?
Agniezka: I found it very relevant. I mean, the story of the courage of the journalist and the corruption of the medias and the cowardice of the government and fake news and false truth and the manipulation and for the propaganda, regimes which are covering the real nature of what they are doing, all that I found extremely relevant. I liked also the main character, the young man who is naive and stubborn in the beginning, and who became the messenger for the people who are dying and who is able to sacrifice himself in order to help others.
Ashley: And so once you had this script, you read it, you liked it, it drew you in, what were the next steps from there? Do you have producers that you’ve worked with before, and then you went to these producers and said, “Hey, what do you think of this project?” Maybe you can talk about that process a little bit.
Agniezka: Actually, Andrea found the producers, but she found them also because she was selling the fact that I am interested by this script. And the main producers, and I mean Polish producers who I didn’t work before with, but I knew them and I trusted them. I wasn’t sure the case is it was not easy to finance if they will be able to put it together. After they found the partners in Scotland and in Ukraine and in [inaudible 00:14:24], and until the very last moment I didn’t believe that they will put it together financially, frankly. So I was really surprised when they came and they say to me, “We can greenlight it now.” And because I was in the middle of another work, I had to accelerate another work in order to jump into this one because the window for this film was pretty busy.
It took altogether three years probably, which is not such a long time for such a complicated script.
Ashley: As I was preparing for this interview, I read a blurb about your career right before you did The Secret Garden. I guess you had a real struggle to get Angry Harvest made, and at least according to this article, you were close to giving up filmmaking. I’m curious, is that true? Then you were hired, I guess, to direct The Secret Garden, but I’m curious, is that true? What keeps you going through the very hard times? I think a lot of people that get into the business, they feel like things are gonna get easy once you have that first break, and I think there’s still a lot of struggle. What keeps you going year after year when you run into these roadblocks? You just made a sort of an interesting comment that you didn’t think the producers would actually raise the money for this project.
I’m sure that was not disparaging on the producers, the fact is most projects just simply don’t get off the ground. But what keeps you motivated, what keeps you going when you do run into setbacks?
Agniezka: It’s difficult to say, but yeah, I faced several periods in my life where it was difficult to make the movie. Mostly it was for political reasons or because I was forced to immigrate from my native country and it was not so easy to establish yourself first in France, in Germany, and finally in United States. Actually, United States is the easiest because they wanted me because I already did the movie which… the two movies which have been nominated for an Oscar. Angry Harvest and then Europa Europa which was relatively very successful movie of this kind. So, and [inaudible 00:16:29], but I cannot complain. I was really lucky. I’m working in this in like 40 years, over 40 years. And I [inaudible 00:16:40] many movies.
I didn’t do everything I wanted to do, but I never did something I didn’t want to do, which is a really desired big achievement. And I’m a woman and for women directors to have this steady career and to make the movie after movie, even if some of them are not the books of this success, it is very difficult, you know? So for many of my younger female colleagues, I am like the role model. One of them, I met one of them in [inaudible 00:17:15] not long time ago and she told me, “You are my hero.” So somehow I became the mother for the younger film directors, female film directors, and I tried to help them as much as I can, because I think it is very important that we can express also the female voice. That we are the half of the humanity and it was not normal that our stories and our point of view, we’re not presented for.
Ashley: Yup. Do you know what the release schedule for Mr. Jones is gonna be like? How can people see the film?
Agniezka: You’ll have to ask frankly, the distributor. Because it’s supposed to open in the theatres, mostly landmark theaters, but not only on April 3rd, but because of the COVID and the lockdown, it wasn’t. So now they try to make the mix of streaming release and the theater release. I don’t understand exactly the details of the strategy because it’s much more complicated than just to open the films in the theatres in the country. Anyway, it will be possible to see.
Ashley: Well, perfect. I’ll get those dates. I’ll get the dates from the distributor. Do you use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook? Is there a way for people to just follow you and kinda keep up with what you’re doing?
Agniezka: I am on Facebook and that is the only social media. It already takes too much of my time. So if somebody wants to connect with me, you can through Messenger or Facebook.
Ashley: I really appreciate, Agnieszka coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.
Agniezka: Thank you. Same for you. Good luck.
Ashley: Yep. Thank you very much. Will talk to you later. 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 Joshua Caldwell, who just did a film called Infamous, starring Bella Thorne. It’s a sort of social media fueled Bonnie and Clyde crime story. We talk about how he got this film produced, how he got to this position in his career. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.