This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 357: With Writer/Director David Freyne.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #357 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing Irish writer-director David Freyne, who just did a film called Dating Amber, which is a queer coming of age comedy. We talk through his journey as a filmmaker, which started with him doing super low budget shorts and eventually getting grant money to shoot bigger and bigger shorts, and then he now has two feature films under his belt. We talk about his new film, but I also was curious to hear what he had to say about getting the grant money from the Irish government. That’s not something that we have here in the United States, but it’s something that I hear about from other countries, other filmmakers outside of the USA.
So I was interested to talk to him about this. How do you get the grants, apply for the grants and ultimately what those actually look like in terms of helping you produce your project. 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 #357. 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.
So now just a couple of quick words about what I’m working on. If you watch this podcast on YouTube, or even if you don’t watch it on YouTube, I’ve created a second YouTube channel, which I will link to in the show notes. The URL is a bit hard to read, I think until you get a certain number of videos, posts or subscriptions, they don’t let you create a custom URL. But I’ve created this second channel as a small clips channel, where we put out small little pithy questions and answers from the interview. So it’s usually like short clips from these exact interviews that you’re listening to now, like this, but they’re usually short two to four minutes, that just highlights some question and answer.
So have a look at that if you think it might be interesting and please do subscribe. I’m just trying to kick off this channel and kind of see how it does. We’re still moving along with my mystery thriller feature film, The Rideshare Killer. We’re moving really into the next phase, I’m getting the trailer done, I’ve got my trailer editor all set up next week. I’m gonna get him the footage, he’s gonna start cutting that. I’m starting to interview some poster artists, so I’m going through that process as well. Then I’m also gonna be adding some motion graphics. At the very end of the movie, there’s sort of, it’s like a one-year later thing and there’s like this little commercial for this woman’s new business has kind of hopefully shows her change in her arc.
She’s created this new business and so it’s kind of like an advertisement, so I’m gonna do a little motion graphics, the kind you would see in an advertisement. So I’ve got to find a motion graphic artist that can do… you know, someone that’s done a lot of advertising. I mean, you see these things on YouTube, just little logos that spin and that sort of stuff. These are fun projects, at least I think so. They are sort of the icing on the cake that is this very long process of making a movie. Getting the trailer done will be super exciting, because then I actually have something that I can start to show people. But anyways, those are the main things I’ve been working on over the last week, so now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing writer-director, David Freyne. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome David to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
David: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great
Ashley: To start us 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?
David: Yeah, of course. So I grew up in a rural kind of town in Ireland, it’s like Dublin. I always wanted to be a filmmaker, but didn’t know how to grow better I just kind of rented out films a lot. Yeah. After college I did a master’s in film, in theory and then I started working as a runner in post-production house and worked my way through the post house. At the side, I was making short films with friends and just learning how to do that and then they started doing quite well and getting into festivals. Then we started getting funding to make short films with Screen Ireland and RTÉ, which is kind of a national broadcaster. And that just started kind of gradually leading to being a full-time filmmaker and developing my first feature, The Cured with Screen Ireland. And here I am now.
Ashley: Got you. Okay. Well, that’s good. I think we can appreciate sort of the progression of that. Let’s dig in a little bit about that. I’m from the United States and I know I talk to a lot of European filmmakers and there’s always these grants that you’re talking about, like you got these grants to do these short films. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. How do you get into position to get some of that grant money? It sounds like you did a couple of shorts, basically just on spec. You just went out, did a couple of shorts. Was that enough to kind of get you into this grant program? But maybe talk about that a little bit. How can other people potentially get access to some of this grant money?
David: Yeah, of course. Yeah. I mean, it’s… you know, we’re so lucky in many of the European countries, like in Ireland to have these funds because I know in America and other countries they don’t have them and I think they are so vital to have that kind of support for young filmmakers. So yeah, I made a lot of short films normally just with friends and broken cameras and some of them are really, really bad, but you learn your craft a little bit and you eventually start making good ones. Once they started getting really good, we started getting into big film festivals around the world. That started getting me noticed by the different agencies in Ireland and those agencies used to have films that allowed you to finish a short film in order to get into the… in order to, kind of get into the festivals.
So it was kind of proving you have a smash ring of talent with those things and then you write short film scripts and you submit to the various grants. I submitted about 20 before I actually ended up getting one, so you have to really persevere. And there isn’t that many, there’s only like four a year. I eventually started getting them, and I ended up getting three or four. You start working with budgets and learning how a big actual set works and working with professional crews and just figuring out how to work on an actual feature film or a TV series. It’s a very, you know, it’s quite a slow methodical process. It’s not easy, grants are really hard to get.
Well, as I mentioned, I failed a lot to get them and each one of those rejections is heartbreaking. Because when you’re in a small country, even though we have funds, there’s nothing else. You know, I’ve been making short films without any money is my thing, and with friends, is the best way to start, you know?
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Sound advice. So how did you make that leap from doing these short films to doing The Cured? What was the process there? Had you been writing feature scripts all along? And just in a nutshell, again, I wanna get into Dating Amber, but just in a nutshell, how did you get that movie produced, The Cured and how did you make that leap from shorts to features?
David: Yeah, I mean, it’s so funny because when you’re making short films and you’re making them in that ecosystem of Ireland, you get used to just writing short films because you’re making… Then it was, I’d been writing a lot, but I hadn’t been writing features. And then, I had the idea for The Cured. So I wrote that on spec and I used the first draft of that to get funding from Screen Ireland to develop it further with their producers. And so I ended up writing it on spec to get this funding from Screen, the government body. Then before we… I was still just a lowly filmmaker and it was a big film in many ways. So we ended up then making exclusive concept short film that again, very lucky, Screen Ireland financed.
And that was just a snippet from the world that proved how I would envisage and how it will be directed and to go out with the scripts to the financiers. So, there’s a very… Financing of The Cured was a very long, bumpy road. Financing came and went. It had its ups and downs as I think every filmmaker can identify with, but it was again just a real lesson in perseverance.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Okay. So let’s dig into your latest film, Dating Amber. Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline, what is Dating Amber all about?
David: So Dating Amber is a comedy drama about two gay teenagers in a rural town in Ireland, who decide to fake a straight relationship in order to stop all the taunts and speculation around them. So, yeah, it’s a kind of a platonic love story about these two kids, Eddie and Amber. They kind of navigate through.
Ashley: Yeah. Where did this idea come from? What was the genesis of this story?
David: It’s very autobiographical. I’m very much Eddie in the film. I grew up in the town of Essex. My dad was in the army and it was very much a struggle to come out. I had a friend in school who later came out [inaudible 00:09:58]. And it was in hindsight that I was thought how easy it would have been had we just faked this and pretended to be straight, and if we did a lot of abuse. So that was the genesis of the idea, but it’s definitely as biographical as I’m probably ever gonna get with a script.
Ashley: Yeah. Got you. So maybe we can talk about the writing process a little bit. What does your process look like? Just in terms of where do you typically write? Are you someone has a home office, do you go to Starbucks and write with some background noise? And when do you typically write, you write in the morning, evening, afternoon? What does your writing process look like?
David: Yeah, like it’s changed over the years. I used to write at night, I used to find it really easy to write in those late hours, when you’re tired and you’re kind of self-punishing voice telling you crap isn’t really working. So I used to write at night a lot, but now I kind of train myself to write more during the day. And it’s like I write by just writing down notes and notes and notes and writing them down like a jig saw puzzle. And before you know it you have about a 20 page document of just kind of indecipherable notes only to you. Then I start slashing that out into a script. I genuinely, once I have those notes in the order that makes sense to me, that’s when I generally start writing my first draft, and I spend a lot of time with that kind of map.
So when I start writing my first draft, I very often write my first draft quite quickly, because I spent a very long time, like months putting the plan together. So yeah, I write my first drafts quite quickly then, and then I just do rewrites as you go. But my first drafts are usually quite good and with Dating Amber in particular, it came together very quickly because I’ve been living with the story and the idea for such a long time and just come out in many ways for the forms, which was great. But yeah, it’s a slow on and off process. I don’t really… sometimes I go to cafés, I have a home office that I use sometimes. I write whenever I get an idea.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious since you did a lot of short films before doing features, and it sounds like you were writing a lot of these shorts. How did that process change? And I know when I talk to a lot of filmmakers that do a lot of shorts, they’re there, it sounds like you’re not this, but I’m just curious, sort of to get your take on it. A lot of the short film makers, they can write the entire script without doing a lot of prep work outlining in index cards and stuff, just because it’s a short piece you can kind of muscle your way through that. It sounds like you do a lot of preparation work, but what do you find is sort of the differences in your preparation for a feature versus a short?
David: Well, no, I think that’s right. I think when I was writing shorts, you have the idea, it can come very quickly. You can write the first draft in one sitting, but obviously a feature is a much different endeavor. I think the structure and process of a feature is much different and it’s much more involved and it takes a long time. The big lesson coming from shorts to features is actually just patience. The patience you need to write a feature and the kind of legwork you need to put into each characters arcs and dreams. I think short films are such a great training ground for features, but I think the problem very often, and I admit, I probably got into that too, is where you’re so used to writing a short piece, you kind of don’t… you stop, you almost train yourself out of how a feature script works in terms of structure and moments. So, yeah, so I think it’s just a totally different muscle. It’s like running a marathon.
Ashley: What does your development process look like? I’d be curious, just to talk specifically about Dating Amber. Like you had a first draft that it sounds like you were pretty confident with. Who do you send it to, who do you get notes from, do you have sort of an agent and manager that you trust, do you have other writer friends? What does your development process look like on something like this?
David: Absolutely. So yeah, I had my producer on this, she also produced my first feature. She’s a really good friend of mine, I was in film school with her. So that was always a straight go-to. My brother’s a writer, so I always send him stuff as well and he’s always a very trusted reader and I have a very dear friend, who’s a very trusted reader as well. So there’re always three people I’ll send to straight away, that I’m happy to gloat. I’m happy to send them things at an earlier stage, than I would send it to anybody else. I mean, yeah, I get their notes and I think… sometimes I’ll disagree with them entirely and sometimes there’s something really interesting in there. But I like to continue to develop.
So once you have a strong first draft or a strong draft that you can start going out with, I think it’s important for me that the producer could start the financing process and start that process while you’re then fine tuning the script. Because it’s never… for me the script is never done until you’re shooting it. So I continue to kind of tweak it and develop this as I go along. There’s never really an end stage. And I find for myself that particularly with this film, Dating Amber, because it’s a comedy and it’s all about how things end, you find things and change them when you start rehearsing with your actors and you realize what’s working and what’s not working. And we ended up casting this film very early while we were still financing.
So I had the opportunity to do table reads with the cast and see what’s working and what’s not working, or then another joke would come to me because an actor said something really funny. So it was a really strong first draft, but we were able to start the financing process with it, but then I kept working late and fine tuning it and making sure it was the best version it could be. And making sure with this particularly that the jokes will be on it, because writing a funny joke is very different to having a funny joke performed. So it was all where everything landed.
Ashley: Yeah. You mentioned this producer that you had worked with on The Cured. How early in this process did you bring that producer into writing Dating Amber? And I’m curious, did you even pitch the idea? Like before you even started writing, did you tell this producer, “Hey, I got this idea,” and start to get feedback even in the very early stages?
David: Yeah. So we finished The Cured and literally we were on the plane. We were like, so we got The Cured into Toronto and then we were on the plane back from Toronto, I sent them the treatment for Dating Amber. I sent them the 10 page treatment for the film. I was beginning to write it as a script, but I gave it to them first for them to produce it and everything, and that’s where we began the relationship. I always think this is a stage to begin with, if you have somebody you trust as a producer, I think it’s good to start the relationship early and start that process earlier, because then they start… again Ireland we’re fortunate that we can get developments for them to write the scripts from Screen Ireland and start that process early.
And once you kind of are in with those development bodies, you’re more likely to get production going on and that’s always gonna be the cornerstone of your financing for a feature film. So yeah, I like to [inaudible 00:17:08] and that relationship early.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious, The Cured sort of a zombie horror genre film, obviously Dating Amber is more of an art-house indie. Was there any pushback going from The Cured to Dating Amber, just in terms of genre from your producer, from your distributors, from your financiers, just because it was such a different film than The Cured?
David: Not from my producers, but certainly… or my agents or anything, but certainly I think when you make a horror film, you get sent a lot of horror material then to direct. I think it’s very hard for people to watch The Cured and say, “This guy could do a comedy.” So I understand that I wasn’t necessarily gonna be the first person that people would consider for this. So yeah, it was, you know, I think the trick was not in writing, but in directing. It’s proving that I was able to deliver and with this funny film. Because I haven’t… I have done it in short films, but I haven’t done it in a feature film. So yeah, I think that’s where it got tricky, because you have people saying that this is a good script, but David isn’t a comedy director, or that he’s a horror director or whatever.
So that sort of got tricky, but certainly I always had the support of my producer, which is always great. She’s always been amazing with me. So it was just the [inaudible 00:18:25] to be wrong. People are very quick to put you in a box as a filmmaker.
Ashley: I’m curious though, because that’s sort of just conventional wisdom in screenwriting is you can be put in a box. As you do one movie people will expect you to do something somewhat similar. Did you make this as an artist? Was this a conscious choice, I don’t wanna be in that box, or was it just more a choice of this is the project I’m interested in doing?
David: Yeah, it was more this is the project I’m interested in doing. I think I started writing Dating Amber before I made The Cured. At the time I thought I want it to be my first feature, but just things happen differently and I financing happened differently. But you know, I have such a wide taste in film and genre and literature that yeah. I just… I never fathomed the idea of just being a horror director or just being a comedy director. I think it’s… I always wanted [inaudible 00:19:14], and I think, like I’ve just written a Sci-Fi, I have a few period drama in development. I kind of want to make sure that I can go from one to the other. I think that’s how you keep it fresh and exciting for yourself as a writer. And so yeah, I’m just not that interested in repeating myself and that’s pretty tricky because people want you to repeat yourself.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So now you’re done with the script. You went through this development process, you got notes from these contacts. What were those next steps? Once you had a script that was ready to go, what were those next steps? Did you try and bring on cast, did your producer go out and try and raise money? What did that look going from having a polished script to getting it into production? How did you guys get the money?
David: So we got into the development screen on it, and then at the very first step we made was we sent it to Sharon. I wrote the roles for Sharon Horgan, because she’s an incredible talent. And so I sent the draft to her agent and she responded, and a week later I was having coffee with Sharon said she’d get to do it. So the very first step was casting, it was casting those parent roles and getting kind of some talent there that would be attractive to wider financiers. And then yeah, we started doing the rest of the casting, the kids and stuff, and submitting it to funding rings and going to certain agencies in the UK and financiers, and you just slowly get it together over time.
It’s kind of, I don’t think you can take it one step at a time, I think you have to be doing a few things at once with this. So yeah, casting and financing kind of happened at the same time and it’s not that people don’t want a financier to be in cast, so you have to go with both.
Ashley: I’m curious just in terms of the financing, what are some of your takeaways? Now, you’ve been through this process getting an indie horror film financed versus getting an art-house, coming of age gay comedy financed. What are some of your takeaways? Is one more difficult, is one easier? Is there different things you have to do to position yourself to get that financing?
David: I mean, I think the big lesson with filmmaking in general, is just you have to be really creative. You have to really persevere, because you’re gonna get a lot of no’s. And certainly, I mean the first film was really hard to finance, because definitely on paper, making a horror film is more financeable than making a queer comedy. Dating Amber was relatively easy to finance because it was my second feature and you’ve kind of proven some metal, but I think some of the things we got from certain financiers who didn’t end up being involved in the film, we used to get people saying things like, “It’s not sad enough to be a queer film. It’s too funny to be a queer film.” I think very often people have very vast expectations to what these types of films should be.
And I think you have to be very careful that you stick to your goals, and you stick to the film you wanna make, because it’s very easy to start changing it to satisfy somebody. But before you know it, you end up not having the film you wanted to make. And I was the jerk, I’m really proud to be the jerk, but I’m sure that there’re points where I was younger, more desperate and I probably made changes I didn’t want to make, and in hindsight I kind of regret those. So with Dating Amber, I was really daggered in the sort of film I wanted to make and you know, these are why, this is the reason I wanna make it, we don’t have enough queer comedies.
We’re so used to seeing a dark version of the story, and I wanted to make the film I wanted to see when I was younger. So I think you have to keep in mind why you wanna tell this film, because it’s not just about making a film, it’s about saying something and I think the financing process can really chip away into you and you can end up not having the film you want to make being made and that’s horrible. So yeah, it’s such a gamble, it’s such a lottery anyway, but you have to know why it is you want to make that particular film and stick to that.
Ashley: Yeah for sure, that’s great advice. How can people see Dating Amber? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
David: Yeah. So it’s out in the United States and Canada on the 10th of November. It will be available all digital platforms and whatnot. Yeah, you can see it, it’s really good. And yeah, I did some virtual cinemas, but damn COVID 19 ruined that. So yeah, you can rent them in iTunes and [inaudible 00:24:07] and all of that stuff.
Ashley: All right. Perfect. 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.
David: Yeah. I have a Twitter handle and that can always… where I just rant and yeah that’s probably the best.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Yeah, I’ll grab that as I said for the show notes. Well, David I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future projects as well.
David: Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
David: Thank you so much for your time Ashley. Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you. Bye.
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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 Sean C. Stephens, who just did a low budget Sci-Fi thriller called Expulsion. We talk through that film and how he got to this point in his career writing and directing a feature film. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.