This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 343: With Writer/Director Gavin Rothery.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #343 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director Gavin Rothery. Gavin was roommates with Duncan Jones when he did Moon, and Gavin ended up doing a lot of the concept art for that film. He talks a little bit about that and that experience, but he’s moved along in his career and recently wrote and directed a cool sci-fi film called Archive. So we’ll dig into that film as well. 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 #343. 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 writer-director Gavin Rothery. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Gavin to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Gavin: Hello. 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 interested in the entertainment business?
Gavin: Well, I grew up in Yorkshire in North England in the ‘80s. So I was kind of… I wasn’t around any entertainment. It wasn’t like I was an LA kid or anything like that by quite a long shot. There was nothing around me. So I grew up in Britain reading comics, reading 2000 AD, Judge Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Strontium Dog. Then I went to school and all I really wanted to do was be an artist. So that’s what I did. I basically focused on my art, got myself into uni, blah, blah, blah, followed the trajectory towards being a comic artist. Then in like ‘96 when I graduated, the comic industry kind of rolled over and died because Sony launched PlayStation and everything… the games industry just got really hot.
Fortunately the skills I had been working on to be a comic artist translated into work in a game studio. So that kicked me off down a trajectory of working in games. I worked on a GCSV on the Xbox scale, did all sorts of stuff for Time Wars. Then I ended up meeting a chap called Duncan Jones at a games company called Elixir Studios which is gone now. We ended up becoming mates. He was at film school, wanted to do film stuff. I was just doing all of this VFX and stuff. We ended up moving in together and flat sharing. I was just like this sort of obsessive, always working at home all the time just trying to do cool stuff basically. He was making student films, I was doing all of this visual stuff and we just ended up just becoming mates and just working on everything together.
So we ended up living together for 10 years trying to make a film. We had a couple of false starts but eventually we made Moon. That whole project just came from, was sort of kicking around our flat really feeling like we were never gonna get anywhere and being quite… feeling quite desperate about our careers and just being like, “What can we do? How do we get this done?” And we came up with Moon. So we just… Moon was born from us talking about what our limitations were and how restricted we were with things. And yeah, we got Moon made. That was all cool. So working on… I did so much work on Moon. Like I was, I designed it all, did all the graphic design, motion graphics, I even did stunts and stuff in the film.
I was just around everything, just making sure it got done right. Like myself and Duncan, I was like the kind of art side of his brain really, just kind of think of it like that. So having gone through Moon and being right there, right in the middle of it all, that gave me the confidence to have a go at doing it myself. I thought, “Yeah, let me finish Moon.” Duncan moved out to LA and he was trying to get me to go out with him, but I had just met a girl that I really liked so I stayed in London. Fortunately now we have a little girl of our own together. We’ve actually…
Gavin: [laughs] Simply enough. Everything comes full circle. So yeah, that put me down a road to doing it myself. It’s all just about self-empowerment really. It was just about me getting an idea together, figuring out how to get it made.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about that and dig into sort of Archive. How did you make that transition as you were going through like, an example, as you were going through Moon, you’re working on other projects, did you start to just let people know, “Hey, I also wanna be a director?” What were those steps to actually going from visual artist and making that next step to being the director and the writer on this project?
Gavin: Well, I’m quite shy about my art in a sense, because I learned quite early on that the people that tend to talk about their work are the people that aren’t really doing that much work. So I prefer to talk about work once I finished it. I only really talk about work in progress when I kind of have to. Like, occasionally you have to try and do something to raise the profile of something. Like right now on Twitter, I’m just talking about Archive constantly. I’m trying to kinda lift it as much as I can because we’re like a week away from the release at the moment. I think one of the things too that I would definitely wanna mention about this, is you’re gonna have to have two jobs. I mean, that’s what I’ve done.
I mean, even now I have two jobs, like Archive is about to be released and I have another job that I’m working right now. So I am a film director and a film writer, but right now that’s not paying my bills. What’s paying my bills now is doing concept art for stuff that is in the games industry. I’ve been working with those guys for the last like six years and they’re a wonderful team and everyone gets on great and it’s brilliant, but I need to have another job. So I basically have to spend all my time working to get this stuff done. But that’s cool, I signed up for that. But yes, you’re gonna need another job. What you do need, you got to… okay. My big advice to aspiring writers is it’s all about using your time.
It’s about how you use your time, and where you deploy your kinda mental resource. So first of all, before you write… now, one of the things that I always kinda find quite funny when I’ll see people like on Twitter and they’ll be talking about their script and they’re like, “Ah, I did five pages of my script today,” how often is that? And I used to feel really bad about that because Archive was the first thing I’d ever written, and I used to see that and just think, “Wow! You’ve written five pages today. So if that’s a hundred page script, that means it’s gonna take you 20 days to write a script and that’s it. That’s all it took you and you’ve got a film in your hand in potential.” It doesn’t work like that.
Oh, like, I can write five pages a day fine, but if I’m working on my story and I don’t know what my story is, it’s gonna be five pages of garbage probably. So I spend a lot of time working out my stories before I get into the script. When you’re actually writing pages of your script, what I do is I’ve got the story document, like a story roadmap, which has usually got a lot of detail in it. A story roadmap might be like 30 or 40 pages and what translates to a hundred pages of script. There’s a lot of detail and I don’t ever give myself any rules. I want to say like, it’s basically just… my story document is me dumping my thoughts and then ordering them. I’ll go through multiple versions of it.
And whenever I’m working, I go through a process of filtering the document. So I’ll start off just having those notes and ideas and then they’ll eventually, I’ll just end up with a really long document of notes. Then the next one will be, I’ll open up a thing up next to it and I’ll copy and paste and I’ll put them in some kind of an order that feels like a story. There will always be some square things and I don’t quite know where they fit yet, they always go on the bottom. Then I’ll go to bed and I’ll sit in bed at night and I’ll read through it and I’ll have my iPad and my phone. I’ll read it on my iPad and whenever I have a thought about what needs to be better, I’ll make a note in my phone and I’ll read through it all and then go to sleep.
I’ll be in a pitch-black room and my girlfriend asleep beside me, I’ll just be reading it. Then when I wake up in the morning I’ve got a list of notes of things that will make my story better. So at any point I can sit down at my computer and those notes in my phone are telling me what I need to do. It’s a very easy way to trick yourself into starting to work, because I don’t really need to think about it because I’ve already done the thinking. So all I gotta do is sit down, I’ll pull up my word document, my story, look at my notes on my phone, and it’ll say, okay, halfway down the first page, that character shouldn’t do that now, they should do it in 10 minutes in that other scene to give that more power.
In this scene you should be doing something else, a bit more relaxing to lead you into it. Things like that. It’s always notes and conceptual stuff. So then I’ll pull it all off the fender and I’ll save the document off again. I always use Dropbox, so I’ll save it in Dropbox. Then when I go to bed that night, I’ll do the same thing. I’ll read through it again, I’ll have my phone open and this time I’ll have a better version of my story and I’ll have different thoughts on it and those notes will go in my phone. I’ll just repeat that cycle, really nice way of working I’ve found. Because having the notes in your phone before you go to sleep, it makes you feel good and sleep soundly because you’re working in the middle of the night, everyone else is asleep and your story is coming on.
But also more important that means that when you need to get into the business of actually pressing some keys the next day, it’s very easy to be productive because you’ve literally written down a thing to tell you what to do. So you can open up a document, cold and just get into it. And once you start typing, you’ll stay typing, as long as you’re not getting distracted by anything. If you can clear away, make sure you don’t have to break off in 10 minutes for some random stuff that’s happening, give yourself a bit of time and just put all your notes in, and at the very least address all your notes, they’ll tell you what to do, because you’ve already done the thinking. Literally follow that list and do all of the things on that list.
Save your document and read it again in bed in the darkness. Just keep doing that. That’s my cycle. I just keep doing that. And that’s where all my stories come from.
Ashley: Yeah. And that’s an excellent tactical tip just for someone, especially if someone has another job and they’re working a nine to five, it’s a great way to just continue to push your project forward.
Gavin: Yeah, it keeps on forward movement. And the whole thing that I had, because it was the first thing I’d ever written, I had a whole thing about writing at the beginning and I was like, “Oh, I’m not doing it right. I need to hire a little cottage up a mountain and I’m going to go up there for three weeks and not talk to anybody and turn my phone off and write.” I remember talking to my producer Phil about this in a meeting we were having. I was saying like, I feel like it’s all fraud because I’m just jumping in and doing 20 minutes of writing and then having to do a lot of other stuff and then coming back in at the end of the day and doing an hour and a half and then reading my thing in bed and making some notes.
I was saying, I feel like a real fraud because I think I’m not doing it properly, like a proper writer. He just laughed and he said, “That is being a proper writer.” And it really stuck with me.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. For sure.
Gavin: Yeah. So long as you’re getting forward motion, it just doesn’t matter, just keep moving.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s dig into your latest film Archive. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Gavin: It’s about a chap called George Almore, set in 2038, 20 years in the future. He is a robot assistant, robotic scientist working on a human equivalent AI. He loses his wife in a car crash and he basically dedicates his… he’s on a research program to create an artificial intelligence human equivalent. So he basically secretly skews his work towards trying to recreate his wife.
Ashley: I got you. So I’m curious, and this is a kind of a trivial question, but I’m always curious. How did you decide on the year 2038? It always seems to date movies, I mean the famous book 1984, obviously we’re well past that and I think Fahrenheit 51, I think I read that that actually takes place in the year 2020. So how did you decide on 2038 and what’s to not feel dated because obviously in 15 years, 20, we’re gonna be very close to 2038 and this film is gonna feel kinda dated if we’re not close to this.
Gavin: Well, I don’t know. It’s 2020 now and judging by the events going on in the world I think this might be the last year.
Ashley: We might not make it, so there we go.
Gavin: I think I’m fine. I think I’m good. No seriously though. I actually… you’re right about that stuff. I tried to not have any dates in the film for that very reason, but at the same time I felt it did need that whole one foot in reality, one foot in the future vibe to it. So I thought it needed a little bit of that. And given that we had limited production, I was taking a few liberties with things like where I used to look at a spirit sports car in the film, which is actually a seventies, eighties car. So I was doing that whole thing about mixing it up a little bit and I just, I didn’t… I don’t know, it just… the date just kinda fell in there and then it felt right. My rationale about it dating in the future is I’ll worry about that later.
I’m making a small, independent sci-fi film now, if it turns out that people love this film in 20 years, I’ll just consider myself very, very fortunate and leave it at that, do you know what I mean? It’s like I can take that one on the chin. You know?
Ashley: Yeah. So where did this idea come from? What was the genesis of this idea?
Gavin: It came from a really, really bad weekend I had where I had two computers that… my computer I should say, failed over at the same time in a weekend. I was in the middle of a huge fight claim, so I was feeling miserable and my house was a mess. Both my computers went down and it was, I don’t know, I still don’t know what happened to it, but I lost it on hard drives and all sorts of stuff. It was a horrible, horrible affair. When you work freelance and your computers die it’s a bad day. So I was trying to just get… it was in the weekend, I couldn’t do anything about it straight away so I had to sit with this problem all weekend and then finish tidying up my fat mess [inaudible 00:14:33] just in a real [inaudible 00:14:46]. I was just… my brain was in a dark place.
I was trying to get ideas together for a film and I was just thinking about all kinds of stuff generally. And I just, somebody creating artificial intelligence that was meant to be human equivalent and when he turned it on, as soon as it became sentient, it just killed itself. I thought that was like a really weird, creepy idea that kinda took hold in my mind. It was a bit dark, but it’s what about it that I found quite compelling. So then I tried to expand that into a story by thinking about how might the person that created this AI, how might they then go about trying to convince the AI to live? What would that be? As far as getting the story together, I personally, I mean, this all comes from me being a fan.
So whenever I’m making something, I always try and make something that I’d like to watch. One of the things that I always like in films is stakes in the film that I can get behind. Sci-fi can be really bad for this because quite often the stakes are… we’ve got to do this thing or the world’s gonna end, or our humanity will be destroyed. It’s all really big. It’s always big scale things that don’t really register beyond the scale of a rollercoaster popcorn ride. It’s nothing personal. I wanted to write around the themes of love and death, because those are the two like universal constants that we all have experience with in some form or another. So taking this core of an idea and then sort of pushing it down the road around the themes of love and death, it very quickly manifested itself into what we became Archive.
Ashley: Yeah. And just what separates an independent sci-fi movie like this from a 90-minute episode of Black Mirror. And I say that with reverence because I think Black Mirror is excellent. But what do you see as the differences between an independent writer-director like yourself doing a film like this and an episode of Black Mirror?
Gavin: Well, I mean, I’ve not worked with the Black Mirror team to be honest, so I don’t know how they work. But I think one of the things that you do get with something like this is you get that kind of alter experience where our production team at independent were just superb. They really trusted me and just kinda let me go with it. I mean, I might never get to do that again in the rest of my career, I might never get to make another film, I mean, who knows, but this was me like doing whatever I wanted within the restricted budget that we had, but the film was designed around a restricted budget. So that was fine. It was always gonna be restricted so I was writing around that and I was picking the battles with the production to make sure that we didn’t overspend or get into a hole, like… the money was always very carefully deployed in what we were gonna do with it.
We weren’t gonna overstretch or get ourselves into a place we weren’t gonna be able to get out of. So I guess the one thing that would make this different would be that it would be just me doing my thing. I mean, I wrote and directed it, I designed, did a lot of the concept work, I was doing production design, I did all the graphic design, motion graphics, all sorts of stuff. Like I was very involved. It’s the proper baby project. It’s like my baby. There aren’t that many jobs on a film set that I can’t do and so I get in everybody’s department,
Ashley: How can people see Archive, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Gavin: Well, we’ve got a US release on the 10th of July. It’s gonna be On Demand because the theaters still aren’t open. So there’s a bit of a bummer there because it was supposed to be a wide theatrical release in the States, and as a filmmaker that’s what you want. And then we get this whole pandemic thing and it’s all streaming. But you know what, I got a film finished. I can’t complain about anything. Everyone’s got big TVs in their house, everyone’s got big speakers, comfortable sofas, fridges full of snacks, watch in your pajamas at nighttime. I can’t complain about any of that. So it will be on Video On Demand, so I’m just hoping that people can sort of enjoy the cinematic vibe I was trying to bring to it.
Ashley: Yeah. How can people keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes.
Gavin: Yeah, you can get me @GavRov on Twitter at G-A-V-R-O-V. So get me on there. I kind of live on the internet whilst I’m working, so I’m on there all the time. So yeah. Twitter is the only real social media that I do.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, Gavin, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.
Gavin: Yeah. Thanks, Ashley. I appreciate that. Yeah. Nice one. Nice talking to you.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you guys later.
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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 writer-director Eric Bress. He wrote a number of big budget, horror films, including Final Destination II, and the Butterfly Effect and now he’s moved on in his career and his writing and directing. We talk a bit about his backstory, how he broke into the business and then we talk about his new World War II horror film called Ghost of War. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.