This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 351: With Writer/Director/Actor Jessie McCormack.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #351 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-producer and also actor, Jesse McCormick. She wrote, directed, produced and acted in a new TV series, and we talk about that and exactly how she put it all together. Just really a lot of hustle, so she goes into some great detail about how it came together for her. 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 #351. 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 a 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. Quick few words about what I am working on. I’ve been narrowing down the contest entries. We’re gonna be announcing the four semifinalist scripts this Wednesday, October 21st, so keep an eye out for that. I’ve been digging in and reading a lot of the scripts now too, so that’s been fun. I’m a very slow reader so it is very time consuming, but it’s fun to dig in and read some of the scripts that my readers have told me are excellent.
There’s always this hope and sort of this excitement as you open a new script that you’ll discover a true gem, and hopefully I will. I think there’s a lot of scripts that have come through that my readers did like, and I’m looking forward to reading them and figuring out the gem. As I mentioned the last couple of weeks, the industry judges have been reading the scripts. I’ve been getting feedback from them. So everything’s working well and as I said, we’re gonna be making that announcement on October 12th… Wednesday, October, I’m sorry, October 21st, for the semifinalist. I’m still plugging away on getting my next film into production. It’s a noir mystery. I’m hoping to shoot in the first half of 2021, assuming of course COVID is under control.
At least tentatively I have some verbal commitments for the funding now, so that’s good. I’ve been doing some more rewrites on the script. Just trying to get everything honed in. A lot of what I’m doing now, that I’m sort of realizing like what is gonna be the budget, what are gonna be some of the locations. A lot of the rewriting now is not so much story or character or dialogue. A lot of this is very practical types of things. The next step is I’ll be locking the script and really start breaking it down in terms of production. I’ve already done a budget for the film, but we need a schedule made just to see how many days we’re gonna need each actor, how many days we’re gonna need each location and how many days we’re gonna have, with our budget, how many days we’re gonna have to shoot.
In the meantime, I’ve started to scout out some locations. When I say scout, there’s all kinds of websites these days. If you just google, I can’t even remember Peerspace or something, I think is the one that I’ve been using. But in any event, there’s a number of websites now that just aggregate all of these different filming locations in all, I think just about all major cities across the country, but certainly they have a lot in Los Angeles. So I’ve just been going through that, thinking about what my main locations are, and starting trying to figure out some of that. And maybe in the next couple of weeks, I’ll actually go out and try and visit a few locations, make sure they’re gonna work. But that’s probably a ways down the road.
But in any event though, I have been spending some time on that. I’m still ramping up, or actually I’m hoping to ramp this up, as the Rideshare Killer hopefully finishes up. I got the next cut back of the Rideshare Killer this past week so I’m going through that, making some notes. I think at this point it’s pretty much to locked picture. We just have a few scenes we need to noodle on, and I think I’ve got to do that in person. There’s some minor notes that I’m gonna send back, but I think the next step is just gonna be having an in-person, couple of in-person meetings with the editor. So we’ve got to find some time to get that done. That obviously will be a little more difficult than what we’d been doing.
So far everything with the editor I’ve done has been, I dropped off the hard drives at his editing bay and met him for five minutes. But everything’s been done, with COVID, everything’s been done remotely and it’s actually worked pretty well. And to be honest with you, it’s been very, very efficient in terms of how it works. When I was doing my previous film, the last film I wrote, directed and produced- The Pinch, my editor lived probably an hour away from me and just the routine we got into was I would actually make the notes, but then I would go up there and sit with him and we would do the notes together. It worked well in the sense that then I was there and we could kinda try some things, and I thought that that’s what I would be missing, but this has actually worked pretty well.
It’s been much more efficient. I don’t have to drive, I had to drive an hour there an hour back. Obviously there’s a little bit of chit chat when you’re hanging out with somebody. So it wasn’t as efficient as what we’re doing now. But as I said, at some point it does feel like you have to get in the room and just, you just have to noodle on some things, just try some things out. We’ve kinda been doing that and we’ve come to the point where it’s like, “Eh, try…” some things I told them to try on the last cut, they didn’t quite work. So really we’ve just got to get in there. We’ve got to just try them out and then make the decision whether we’re gonna use these ideas or not and then move forward.
But in any event, we are still pushing to try and get this thing done by the end of the year. Definitely gonna be tight if we can hit that end of the year deadline, but definitely is still moving along. Anyway, those are the main things I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer, director, producer, and also actor Jessie McCormack. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jessie to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jessie: Oh, thanks for having me on.
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?
Jessie: Sure. I grew up in New York City and my parents took me to the theater a lot when I was a child. So that kind of sparked my love affair with showbiz. Then in high school, I started acting in school plays, and so I started off as an actress. I knew as a teenager, this is what I’m gonna do. But then when I graduated from school, I went to Brown and in Rhode Island and did a bunch of theater there. And then when I graduated, I went back to New York and started auditioning for things and I kind of became so disenchanted with the quality of the auditions I was going on, and of the script, the material that I started thinking, “You know what? I can write something as crappy as this.”
So I just, I really started writing as a way to generate performing opportunities for myself. Then I discovered, oh, I kind of actually prefer writing to acting. And then I discovered, I really wanna be directing as well. I’m not cliché, what I really wanna do is direct. So I left acting for a while and kind of on focused on writing and directing and then this project Piss Off I Love You that I shot in London brought me back to acting again. That’s kind of been my trajectory.
Ashley: Yeah, I got you. So let’s go back a little bit and just take a look at some of your early projects. You’d had your first feature film Expecting had a good cast, looks like a cool film. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. How did you get that project off the ground? Maybe even too, we can talk about some of maybe the resistance you got going from being an actor to a writer-director. How did you navigate and get across that bridge? But even specifically to Expecting how did that project come about and how did you get that one produced?
Jessie: So prior to Expecting, I made a short film that I also wrote, directed and acted in that was my first foray into directing. That short did well on the festival circuit, and it kind of allowed me to get this feature film I wrote, Expecting, to some people. I actually met a producer named Richard Gladstein at a film festival where my short was playing and we really hit it off. He’s produced many great films, including Finding Neverland, which Radha Mitchell was in, who is in my film. He also knew Michelle Monaghan’s reps, and I was friends with people who knew Radha. So it was this sort of very organic way of me getting these two terrific actresses interested in the film.
And because I had made the short film, The Antagonist, where the character I played was sort of similar to the character Michelle plays in the movie, I was able to show it to her and say, “Look, this is the tone of the film.” And I could give that to her along with the script of the feature, and it kind of went from there.
Ashley: I got you. So that’s a good story. And I always am a big proponent of people submitting to festivals and taking their shorts to festivals. You just never know what’s gonna happen. It sounds like just doing that and you were at the right place and you were prepared and had something to show someone.
Jessie: Absolutely. I have to say that festival was the Florida Film Festival. This was about a decade ago. And I met a number of people there that changed my life, including Richard Gladstein and including the actor Gaynor Howe who plays opposite me in this project Piss Off I Love You that I made that I’m gonna be talking to you about in a little bit. Another wonderful filmmaker, Diane Bell who knew Radha Mitchell, and Diane put me in touch with Radha. I mean, it was just bizarre. So I always tell people, and I tell aspiring filmmakers, and I’m still learning so much myself, but I always say, definitely go to festivals. Sometimes, even if you don’t have a project screening there, you just never know who you’re gonna meet.
And yeah, I’ve made some lifelong friendships from festivals, so… And they’re also just really fun. It’s like adult stuff, you know?
Ashley: Yep. No, I do. Yeah, exactly. They’re usually fun and there’s usually some at least business opportunities there. So it’s a win-win. So let’s dig into your TV show, Piss Off I Love You. Maybe you can talk about that one. Maybe to start out, just give us a quick pitch or a logline for it. What is that show all about?
Jessie: So I play a sort of down and out TV host, a New Yorker. I am a New Yorker myself, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. And my best friend Gina on the show was played by one of my best friends in real life, Gaynor Howe. She’s a Scottish character who offers my character a job to come to London and host a show that kind of examines the cultural differences between the US and the UK. And when my character arrives in London, it turns out that Gina who’s producing the show, neglected to tell me that the budget of our show, so there’s the show within the show, has been slashed. So I’m forced to stay in a flat with her and her two twin girls and her estranged English husband, Hugh, who can’t afford to move out. So we’re all under this one roof together. And it’s a little claustrophobic going on there.
Ashley: Sure. So where this idea come from? What was the genesis of this idea?
Jessie: From the time I was a little girl, I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, it was a place very close to my heart. I’ve also, I’ve always loved Culture Clash comedy. A Fish Called Wanda is one of my favorite films. So I really have always wanted to make a Culture Clash comedy, and because I knew Gaynor, we became great friends and I wrote this for us to act in together and her daughters in real life play her daughters on the show. So it became a real family affair and a labor of love. And I just knew I wanted to write something for us all to do together, and this sort of came out of that, because they all live in London.
Ashley: Got you. Now, what was the… did you, as you’re going through deciding what project you’re gonna try and produce, you’ve written this thing, was there some talking to other producers, maybe a more seasoned television producer, some distributors? What was sort of your plan going into something like this?
Jessie: This was somewhat of an unusual situation because I have very dear family friends over there and they happened to be doing a lot of work on their house. A very large house. And there was a window of opportunity where I could shoot in this house while no one was living there. So one of the producers and I, we lived in this house while we were shooting there and using it as a number of different locations. So it just kinda came about that way.
Ashley: I got you. So let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. How did you go about writing this? Are you someone that writes in the middle of the night, do you go to Starbucks, do you have a home office? What is just sort of your general writing schedule like?
Jessie: I’m not someone who has a very [inaudible 00:13:42] schedule. Sometimes I will write at home, sometimes I will go to a café to write. And I will often write in spurts. Like I will write for sometimes 12, even 14 hours a day for two weeks straight, and then I will take a week or two off. Now, when you’re under a deadline, you can’t always do that obviously. But if I had my druthers, I would just write whenever I’m inspired to which, and if I’m in a flow, that’s absolutely every day and sometimes I can get a bit of tunnel vision and people need to say, “Hey, you need to stop now and like eat something or take a shower,” you know? So, yeah.
Ashley: And so this one, did you plan it for like season one was gonna be six episodes and then did you knock out six episodes? Did you write one episode, get some feedback, then tweak it, then go write another episode? Maybe talk through that process. Because I know this is a little bit unique. Generally we have feature writers that come on here, they write one feature, but how did you approach the writing of this?
Jessie: I did write all six episodes at once. I approached this almost like a feature in a lot of ways, and certainly I approached it like a TV show. Even though it is a web series with shorter episodes, I wanted it to feel as much like a TV show as possible. I used certain templates like High Maintenance as an example. So my intention was never, “Oh, I’m just gonna write one episode and see how it feels.” I knew I wanted it to be a series and for it to be a kind of calling card to turn it into a TV show. And also I have written another feature I wanna make that is also a Culture Clash comedy. And I wanted to use this as a way of convincing people to make that project as well.
Ashley: Got you. And then, so when you’re in the process of you’re doing your 14-hour days, how much time do you spend on an outline index cards versus how much time do you spend actually in final draft, cranking out script pages?
Jessie: I do spend a fair amount of time on outlines before I start writing, I will admit that I often have to stop myself from just writing dialogue when I am at the outline stages. But I also feel like, you know what, if I’m feeling inspired to write dialogue right now, then I’m just gonna let myself go ahead and do that. And sometimes it ends up not going in obviously, but I am a big proponent of outlines. When I first started writing I didn’t really use them, and I would inevitably hit a wall at the mid-point of a script. And now I really swear by outlines, but I… and it doesn’t mean I will stick to them, but I spend a lot of time on the outline so that by the time I sit down and actually write the script it does kind of flow out of me.
Ashley: And then how did you approach some of the genre requirements? I mean, there’s kind of a history of the American, the fish out of water American. I’m trying to think of some other similar shows. We always like to do something, put a new original spin on things. There was an Amazon show where an American guy goes over there and has a one-night stand and then… I can’t remember the name of the show, but there’s… I was watching Fleabag, it sort of sounds similar. I think that’s on Amazon. But how did you…?
Jessie: I think Catastrophe is the name of the show you’re thinking of.
Ashley: Catastrophe, correct. Yeah. So how did you go about just sort of playing into some of these tropes, but also trying to do something original?
Jessie: Well, you named two shows that I absolutely love, Catastrophe and Fleabag, but I had actually written this show prior to having seen either one of those shows. This really only happened because I met this woman Gaynor and she and her daughters inspired me to write the show because we shot some of it and her flat, I knew of other locations I could use. So it’s very unusual for a writer to know, “Okay, I’m writing it for these actors. I know I’m gonna be able to shoot in these locations.” That is really what inspired me more than anything else, but that is fairly unusual. And then when I watched Catastrophe and Fleabag I felt like, “Oh, this …”
I was really knocked back that Culture Clash comedy, particularly with Catastrophe, it’s making a comeback. So I was excited about that because I feel like we hadn’t seen that for quite a while, and it’s just a genre that I love so much. That’s why I wanted to make the show, because I feel like I wasn’t seeing that out there.
Ashley: Yeah. What does your development process look like for something like this? You wrote your six episodes, it sounds like you had some of these actors already in mind. Were you giving them episodes before you finished all six? What kind of feedback did you get and how do you ultimately interpret that feedback?
Jessie: So, yes. Gaynor and her girls were given all of the episodes before we shot. And we even, we all met up in New York where I grew up prior to the shoot so that we could… because they live in London and I live in LA. So we met up in New York and did some workshopping on the scripts and kind of went about it that way.
Ashley: I got you. Perfect. So then what was your next step? You had scripts that you wrote, you’re happy with, what was your next step to actually going out and raising some of the money for this?
Jessie: So some of it is definitely my own money. I was able to solicit a few other private donations, but the other thing about this show that is important to share with people is that I didn’t pay my friend and her kids and I wasn’t paid, and we were able to get so many locations for free because I have spent so much time over there and I have a lot of dear friends over there. So we were able to cut down drastically on the budget because we weren’t, I was able to pull so many favors. In a weird way, I was able to pull more favors over in London than I would’ve been able to do here. That’s another thing I always encourage filmmakers starting out. You gotta just be very brazen about asking people for help and for favors.
It’s part of independent filmmaking, that’s the part I hate the most, to be honest. I hate asking people for favors, but there’s no other way. There’s no way I could have made this project had I not. This show has more locations in it than the feature I made does. That’s only because of the kindness and generosity of people I know. So I’m very grateful for that.
Ashley: Yeah. So what did you do once you had your six episodes shot and through post-production? Did you take them out to some festivals, did you go to distributors? What do you do with an indie TV show or web series like this to try and get some heat on it?
Jessie: So we are having our world premiere at Dances With Films and our screenings are coming up on Saturday, this Saturday, the fifth and Sunday, the sixth. People can go to the Dances With Films website, and were in the Dances With Pilot section. You can see the first episode that way. And then from there we were gonna, we’re still figuring out where is the series is gonna live? So again, when you’re making something independent, it’s the same thing with my feature, I didn’t know what the distribution situation was gonna be when we were shooting it. You have to take a major leap of faith and just hope, okay, this is, we’re making this and it will find a life somewhere. You just often don’t know where something will be seen, but you just have to have faith and push through.
Ashley: Sure. What is the length of each one of these six episodes? And I’m curious just in terms of, did that play into your strategy with film festivals, you know, not submitting one 60-minute short versus one 10-minute episode?
Jessie: Yeah, well, I always knew in my mind that I wanted it to be a series of shorter episodes rather than like one 60-minute episode. The episodes average about eight to 10 minutes each. Each episode is slightly longer than the previous ones. The first episode is actually the shortest one out of all of them. But again, I used other web series as templates, like High Maintenance, which I think those episodes averaged around eight. Don’t quote me on this, but I remember them running around eight to 10 minutes each and I thought that was a great… it gives you a really good… I loved the web series of High Maintenance and it was a big source of inspiration for me.
I think that it’s a short amount of time to make an episode, but it’s enough time to give people a taste of like, “Oh, this is what the TV series could be like.”
Ashley: What advice do you have for people that are looking to break into TV or features as writers?
Jessie: Well, I think just creating your own stuff. I think everyone an iPhone now and picking up… Even if you’re not interested in directing per se, I still think picking up your phone and just making things with your friends is a great way to get people’s attention, and as a writer you can still do that. People were still very much interested in reading scripts obviously, but during the pandemic, if you just make something on your phone and get it to someone and they respond to it, they’ll say, “Okay, I wanna see more, send me some scripts you’ve written.” So that’s kinda my advice to people.
Ashley: Yeah. Good advice for sure. What is next for you?
Jessie: I’m trying to take my own advice. I’m thinking about things I can just shoot on my iPhone right now because I just wanna be making stuff. I don’t know if you ever saw that feature film, Tangerine that was shot on an iPhone, but it was terrific.
Ashley: Yeah. I interviewed those guys on the podcast years ago.
Jessie: Oh really? Oh man. They are heroes to me. So I’m thinking about things I can shoot on my phone and in the meantime I’m also working on a few different scripts. So yeah, the wheels are turning on a number of different projects right now for me.
Ashley: Perfect. What have you seen lately that you would recommend to screenwriters? Is there anything Hulu, Netflix, HBO, anything that maybe you saw within the last year or so that would be helpful for screenwriters that maybe is a little under the radar?
Jessie: You know what I love that I saw on Hulu was a show called Normal People. It was shot in Ireland and it follows the relationship between a young man and woman starting in high school, and they go to university together. It really blew me away. It was just so nuanced and honest. It was such an honest depiction of young love and heart ache, and I really can’t say enough about it. And there’s one other show I really love. Well, there’s so much great content out there, but there’s a show called Dave that I discovered on FX that might be playing on Hulu now as well, about this white rapper. It was so not something I would necessarily picture myself enjoying, but I thought it was so hilarious and innovative and brave.
It’s another… and the writing is great, the acting is great. So I really recommend people check it out.
Ashley: Okay. Yeah. Two good recommendations. Thank you for those. How can people see Piss Off I Love You, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like? Are you guys gonna put it up, you mentioned Dances With Films, but are you gonna put it up on Vimeo or YouTube at some point?
Jessie: Well, that has been, we’re sort of figuring out our next steps. So we’ll let people know where the whole series will live when we’ve got that nailed down.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I will round up for the show notes?
Jessie: We have a Piss Off I Love You Facebook page, an Instagram page, and we’re on Twitter. So just look up Piss Off I Love You, and we’re on all platforms.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, Jessie, I really appreciate you taking a few minutes to talk with me today and good luck with this project and good luck with all your future projects as well.
Jessie: Oh, thanks very much. Thanks for talking to me.
Ashley: No problem. Thank you. We’ll talk to you 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 Will Wernicke. He just wrote and directed the thriller feature, No Escape. It’s another very timely film about a social media personality who goes to Russia for the ultimate escape room experience. Will gives us details into the early part of his career, and then ultimately how he got this movie produced. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.