This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 360: With Filmmaker Tara Johnson-Medinger.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #360 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing Tara Johnson-Medinger, who just did an indie teen drama called My Summer As A Goth. She talks about the project and how it all came together for her. She started her career working in television here in Los Angeles, but then moved back to Oregon where she’s originally from and has been building her career there ever since. So we talk a little bit about the difference of maintaining a career in the entertainment business here in Los Angeles versus out in Oregon. She also helps run POW, Power of Women Film Festival, talks a little bit about that as well.
She’s got a lot going on, just keeps really busy and is a great communicator, so has a lot of great advice for all of us. 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 #360.
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 a quick few words about what I’m working on, I’m still working on The Rideshare Killer, obviously we’re trying to get that through post production.
This week I’ve been talking to a couple of designers about the poster. The trailer is getting made, I’m hoping today or early next week I’ll have a first draft of the trailer and that’s exciting. I’m in the process of hiring a motion graphics guy. There’s a little logo at the end, just it’s sort of like a mock commercial and I’m gonna have like a little animated logo created. So I’ve been talking with some motion graphics guys. The first pass of color correction is in, so I have to actually look at that and give a round of notes to our colorist on that. Some slight delays with our composer, had to do with the time code just not syncing up and she’s got it all under control and frankly she’s a lot more organized than Tony and I, so I think she’s keeping everything on track for us there.
So we’re definitely moving along and as we record this, I’m recording this still in early December. It probably won’t be published for a couple of weeks, but we’ll be real close. I don’t know if we’ll get finished by the end of December, but certainly in January we should be pretty well done and I think that’s pretty good timing, you know, have something done and complete and I can start sending it out. Once I have the trailer, I can start to actually send it to a couple of my distributor friends, just kind of start to get some feedback and kind of start to strategize about what our next step is once it is done. But slowly but surely we are bringing this thing together. So that’s obviously been the main thing I’ve been trying to keep going the last week or two.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Tara Johnson-Medinger. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Tara to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Tara: Thank you. Thank you for having me here today.
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?
Tara: Sure. Well, I pretty much grew up in a lot of different places. I’m originally from the Midwest, but I moved to Oregon in my teens and was in high school in Salem, Oregon, and that’s where I met my co-writer Brandon Lee Roberts. He and I are best friends from high school. I went to film school. I went to university of Oregon, I took a film degree and an art degree and found myself in television initially. So I worked at a local TV station and then was like wanted something new. So I went to Los Angeles for a number of years and ended up working on the network side of things. So I worked for Fox Broadcasting for a number of years in promotion and marketing, and through my time in Los Angeles, I got really curious about producing and that’s something that I, a place I wanted to take my career, but it was sort of challenging to find a way to slough off the network television side of myself and move into producing.
But I found myself working with a lot of my filmmaker friends and producing their films, and that gave me the foundation of understanding producing, and also the recognition that I had the skills for it. So that’s really where I wanted to take my career. My husband and I relocated to Oregon at the… kind of 2002. That was the time that I really took it on and I started producing, working with a lot of filmmakers here in Oregon. We live in Portland, and started producing shorts and feature documentaries and feature films and helping a lot of people deliver their projects. And then directing is actually new to me. This is my directorial debut, My Summer As A Goth. Brandon presented the first version of the script to me in 2009.
So it’s been a long process to get this thing completely out, to where we are today, where it’s out on digital platforms. Lots of twists and turns and development and hurdles, everything that you could think of that happens in independent filmmaking, it happened to happened to us.
Ashley: Yeah. We’ll dig into that in a second. Let me just touch on a couple of things you just mentioned. You mentioned you got a job in Oregon at a TV station out of college, what were you doing and how did you get that job? I get a lot of questions, people are always just, how do you get that sort of entry level job in the entertainment business? How did you actually get that job and what were you actually doing as that entry level?
Tara: Sure. Well, I started as an intern initially. I did several internships with TV stations and small production companies in Eugene, Oregon, that were doing commercial work and client-based work. So I learned a lot from kind of a one-person show production company that they would go out and shoot and edit and put together these projects and I’d go with them and essentially be a PA, a production assistant with them and learned a lot. Eventually I found myself at an internship with a TV station working in master control which was very different during those days. Nothing was digital at that time. Everything was still on individual tape at that station, and you’re behind the scenes making the commercial breaks happen essentially, and that turned into a job.
After my internship ended, they offered me a job and I think I was actually still in school at that point. I started working like maybe in my last year of college. Then once I graduated, another opportunity opened up and I became the manager of that department. It was a very small station, and through that switch… you know, it was a time when there was kind of like older networks. I know some of your audience may know like UPN and WB, the star [inaudible 00:08:02] networks, that was that timeframe. Ultimately the TV station I was working with transferred ownership and became part of the Fox station in Eugene. So I transferred over and was working with kind of a dual, it’s called an LMA, like partnership agreement.
So I was one of the top people from the station that moved into this new ownership group. It was essentially just like kind of put in the right place at the right time to become one of the managers within that particular station. So I learned a lot very quickly at a very young age. So a lot of it was like an opportunity was placed in front of me and I went for it. I think internships are so valuable, and if you’re in any sort of film school or college environment, those things are, I wouldn’t say super easy, but like easier to get than if you are not volunteering, just kind of like getting your savvy in terms of what it’s like to be in the environment. Working in a TV station is very different than working on sets, so learning all those different components of how to work in the industry, I think is really valuable.
A lot of that can…you can find out information like watching blogs like this, or watching YouTube videos. There’s a lot more information out there for people that are interested in the industry to seek out than when I started. And I had really great supporters. The folks that I worked for were incredibly supportive of my career and what I was interested in doing at every step of the way. I had a lot of strong women that were working in positions above me that just were role models in terms of achieving a higher level in business and also throughout my life. My mom is a very strong role model in my life and it’s in my nature to just kind of go for things and seek those opportunities, and I did that a lot throughout my entire career, which has been pretty lengthy at this point.
Ashley: Yeah. So, great. That’s a great explanation. So let’s dig into your latest film- My Summer As A Goth. Maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Tara: Sure. So it’s a coming-of-age drama. Sometimes people call it a comedy, maybe it’s a dramedy, but it’s about Joey, who’s a 16-year-old girl whose father has just died and she is sent to live with her grandparents for the summer because her mom is headed off on a book tour. She thinks she’s gonna have a really crummy summer and is kind of sour about that. Lo and behold, she gets swept up in the life of the goth boy next door who transforms her, sort of her outward appearance and they have a romance and she gets put into this whole new world for the summer. It really ultimately is about self-discovery and Joey dealing with her grief of losing her father and also going through this metamorphosis and coming out the other side transformed.
I wouldn’t say that it’s this gigantic, huge shift, but it’s like it’s a nudge in a direction to where she’s gonna be moving in the next stages of her life.
Ashley: Yeah, so great. You mentioned a minute ago this was written originally by your friend Brandon. So were you… maybe just talk about sort of the genesis. How does your collaboration work? Did he come to you with this idea and you sort of gave him, so, “Oh, that sounds cool, I’d be interested in this”. Did he come to you with a completed script and then you guys did rewrites together? Maybe talk about that process a little bit. What did he actually have when you got involved?
Tara: Yeah, I mean, it was… the essence of the script, the essence of the story was certainly there. Joey goes to live with their grandparents, transformed, like all of that was in the initial script. Over the years, Brandon and I worked together to kind of like form that. W8e sought out lots of feedback in terms of people that have, you know, are writers in the industry, getting their feedback. At a couple of points we worked with a couple of different directors. Initially I was originally just going to produce the movie, but ultimately took on the director’s chair for this particular film. Brandon and I… I became a co-writer on the script later into the development phase as we were working together to finalize this script.
So we’ve gone through lots of twists and turns, many things that have, you know, we sort of went down a certain direction, pulled back, it wasn’t falling right. The initial script, and I tell this story occasionally, is that Joey was a boy in the original script of this film. So I found it the other day and I was sort of flipping through it and I was like, “Whoa, lots of things have changed.” And that certainly happens whether you are an independent film maker or doing a studio film, scripts change over the years. Not only in that development phase and you lock your script and you’re ready to go and you’re casting and you’re doing all those things, but your film transforms after that.
You got this idea in your head and what you’ve written on the page, and then you cast it and it transforms because these characters become alive. You have actors embodying these characters and they may shift a little bit in terms of what you originally had in your mind as a writer. Then you get to production, same thing happens. Just because there’s lots of, especially in independent filmmaking, tons of compromises that need to be made in terms of locations, whatever it is, you know? Then you get to your edit and sometimes you have to switch things around or nudge things, drop stuff. It’s all a process. So I always say that you’re like remaking your film many times throughout every phase of the filmmaking process.
Then of course then when you’re doing marketing and things like that, like what we’re in right now, you’re sort of remaking it in another way because you’re promoting it. So it’s a very interesting process as a… like to have been with this for so long and see how it transforms, but the essence is still there and vibrant and it’s a really interesting experience and it’s a huge testament in patience. Because things happen and it’s kind of… if you’re committed to it and sticking with it, that’s the best thing you can do.
Ashley: So you mentioned you originally came on as a producer trying to help this thing get produced and then at some point you made that switch, “Hey, I’ll direct as well.” What was that transition like? And the follow up question to that is, because I know for myself as someone that got into this as a screenwriter, I didn’t wanna be that guy that was directing and producing sort of leading the charge, whatever personalities and stuff, but at some point you kind of just make that leap, and a lot of it feels about confidence. Now, you made a comment, sometimes you just have a personality kind of just goes for it. But where do you get that confidence? What were sort of just the logistics of you suggesting, “Hey, maybe I could direct it?” What was involved in that decision? But where do you get the self-confidence to just go and do that?
Tara: Honestly, I was scared to death. I mean, this is brand new and I’ve been working for years as a producer. I’ve had the privilege of working with a ton of directors that I fully respect in delivering their films. So I had good role models to learn from in terms of directing, and watching them direct and seeing how they work their sets. I was also super committed to getting their film delivered as a producer. I have the skills, I have a lot of connections in Portland just throughout the film community that came forward to really support this film. So a lot of those relationships were there because of my producing experience and it was a time where Brandon and I were just like, “You know what, we need to do this on our own.”
I had mentioned we worked with a couple of different directors. Ultimately, it just wasn’t going in the right direction as far as what we wanted as the people behind this film. We’ve been in a very long-term friendship, we grew up together, there’s a lot of our life that’s in this movie. So there’s some personal stuff that’s in there that we’re protective of, and it was a time to say, “It’s time to take on the director’s chair,” and ultimately I am the person that can tell this story. It’s a female-driven piece, it’s very personal and I was super committed. So I just said, “All right, I’m gonna do it.” I never, never thought I would a direct, because I’d always said I only wanna produce, I wanna become a really great producer, and I love it.
I love producing and I’ll never give that up. But once I made that decision to just step into the director’s chair and already having that vision in mind of what I wanted, and also as a producer, your job is to get stuff done. So that’s what happened, is like I really pushed myself as a director with that producer kind of in the background, like anything that it would take to make it happen. There was plenty of times where I could have been like, “All right, well, we won’t move forward,” or whatever, but it’s, I think that because I had that producer mindset and understanding of the multiple frustrations that you’re gonna hit in making a movie and the commitment to this particular script and getting it done, I just took it on, and frankly, I quite liked it, and I want to direct more and I have other projects that I’m setting up.
So that was an interesting thing for me in terms of like moving to a different place in my career. That was a bit of a surprise, but again once I got there and sloughed off the nervousness about it, I felt like I thrived in that role. I also had a crew and people that really supported me through that and peers in the background that were basically whispering in my ear like, “Okay, you got it.” You know, just giving me that confidence that I needed to keep going.
Ashley: I’m curious were you and Brandon in this goth subculture? Was that part of your teenage years, so you have personal experience in it?
Tara: Yeah, very much. So we came of age in the eighties and we were part of the downtown crowd that hung out in Salem at the coffee shop and walk the mall. There’s a line in the film that is, “Us freaks got to stick together,” that Antonio delivers. And really, it was. It was all the misfits, the weirdos that came together in downtown Salem. All the wearers of black. We were this collection of people and Brandon and I were very much a part of that. So there’s this sort of nod to that coming-of-age time that we were going through in the ‘80s that we wanted to make sure that came through in this script with it being a coming-of-age film, but we also wanted to freshen it up a bit.
There’s some things that we wanted to make relevant for today’s youth, but also honor our experience. That all said, we sought out consultants in terms of making sure that we were being authentic to the goth subculture, so we had guidance there. And goth is very much alive. I always say if you hashtag goth on Instagram, it will open up a whole world of goths today. But there’s also a lot of really substantial elder goths out there that kind of came from that resurgence of the scene in the eighties that we want to honor in our film, and many of those were consultants on our film.
Ashley: Got you. You mentioned that the original script had a boy as the lead. What was the evolution of that, why did you ultimately end up with a girl? Was that partly because once you were gonna direct it you felt more comfortable directing a female lead? What was sort of involved in those decisions, turning it from a boy to a girl?
Tara: Sure. That actually happened maybe two years into the script, the original script. We were kind of refining it and it was going okay. I think we had a really solid script and people were responding really nicely with it. And Brandon said at one point, “What if Joey was a girl?” And looking at kind of what was happening in the landscape of film and the landscape of women empowerment and girl empowerment on screen, it was something that initially I was like, you know, it was just hard to make that switch in my brain. Then it was like, “But we’ve been doing this.” And it was… I sat with it for a while and I was like, okay, and I just worked through all the different situations, and I was like, if we switch gender roles what does that mean in terms of this scene and how it’s delivered and who has the dominance in the scene?
It was interesting to play with that really, that gender fluidity within the story structure that we had already had and flip it. Ultimately that changed things quite a bit obviously, with Joey, but also the dynamics with Victor becoming the sort of nemesis in the film, and originally that was Victoria. So switching that, and there was another character that we switched genders on too just because it wasn’t working quite right just like swapping Joey and Victor or Victoria at that time. It was like other things needed to adjust in order to really make it work. And to refine Joey’s arc as the protagonist in the story and what surrounded her, originally there was siblings that… like there were certain things that we had to let go of because when it came down to it, it’s Joey’s story, to focus on what drives Joey story forward was the important thing.
We worked with a… there’s a huge cast in this thing. I pretty much broke every independent filmmaking rule there is. Huge cast, lots of locations, hair and makeup was ridiculous, wardrobe, it was all over the place, but we pulled it off with like a pretty tiny crew and… But again, everyone was super committed to that.
Ashley: So once you guys had the script you guys were ready. What were those next steps to actually raising the money?
Tara: We did a development campaign, like a fundraising for development specifically. Because again, initially we weren’t sure if we were gonna be directing this and we wanted to take it to LA and see if there could be opportunity to add more money and to refine the script, get lawyers… All these things that are important to do as you’re protecting your property. So we raised I think, gosh, like $24,000 on Kickstarter initially, and we used some of that money to do these things. We also shot a proof-of-concept scene, we went to LA, we talked with a bunch of different investors, some more promising than others. We went down that road of potentially working with a studio and then… But listening to… eventually it just didn’t go anywhere.
[inaudible 00:25:50] that happens, and it’s nice to think, “Oh wow. We could have millions of dollars to work with.” Frankly, it was like this film needed to be smaller, and it gave me the opportunity to really exercise my producing jobs to make it happen and to call upon favors, to negotiate deals, to make sure the crew was taken care of financially, but like not going overboard, and being very transparent about that. I’m always upfront about the difficulties that we faced and financially, that was a big one. So when we were filming we ran another campaign to complete the production, and then when we moved into post-production, I did another fundraising campaign.
So a lot of the funding behind the film was crowdsourced through Kickstarter and we did a Seed&Spark. And then Brandon and I both financially committed to this project. So we don’t have investors per se, other than our own time and energy and money that hopefully we’ll be able to recoup that, but we kept the spend very low considering what you see on screen. That again is a testament to all those relationships, to working with top-notch people, getting really amazing gear and people to run that gear, the cinematography, all of it. Like color, audio… audio was a huge, huge effort in in this film. And so, I don’t think a lot of indies in particular really focus on that, but like, I mean, it all starts in production audio, but once you get to post-production audio, there is so much to do and I spent a lot of time there and I loved it. It’s really fascinating and it makes your movie.
Ashley: Yeah. So just a couple of takeaways, it sounds like you did a couple of these crowdsourcing things. Number one, why did you choose Seed&Spark versus Kickstarter or Indiegogo?
Tara: So we went with Kickstarter initially, and it was in the more early days of Kickstarter, so we made that money quickly. Kickstarter’s become very saturated, all of those platforms are all very saturated. And you have to do your work behind the scenes to make those things successful. You can’t just turn it on and expect people to donate, you really have to do your work. So we initially chose Kickstarter because it was more of a brand name. I guess at that time, brand recognition. You know, the whole idea of crowdsourcing was still pretty new when we started. We ultimately did the second one on Kickstarter because we had already had a group of folks that supported us, so we committed to doing Kickstarter again.
The last one I did was on Seed&Spark and it was, I committed to them because in a way, Seed&Spark really matches my value system in terms of supporting independent filmmakers. Another thing I do that we haven’t really talked about, is I’m the executive director of the Portland Women’s Film Fest, POW Film Fest and the POWGirls education program. We focus on women and non-binary directors through our film festival, so we’re building up to year 14. I’ve been working in this world for a long time in terms of supporting women into the director’s chair in particular, so not only supporting my own journey, but many others. But Seed&Spark has a really great way of supporting independent filmmakers and they actually make you work and think about what you’re putting out there in terms of your project.
You have to have an equity statement, you need to make sure that you really dial in your narrative when you are launching a campaign. I think that those are things that are very important for people to think about as far as where they’re going with in a film. Like if your plan is to premiere at Sundance, or you just wanna throw it up on YouTube, those are both valuable and legitimate trajectories, but you have to set both of those up very differently. So Seed&Spark makes you as a filmmaker, to kind of like think about those, and so I appreciate that. Again, I’ve done lots of crowdsourcing campaigns for my own projects and for other people’s projects and they just take a lot of work and thought if you’re gonna do it, and stamina.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So I wanna go back to something you mentioned at the start of the interview. You were in LA working and you moved back to Oregon. I get tons of emails from people saying, “Hey, do you have to move to LA? Do you recommend I move” You know, everyone wants to move to LA. What was your decision? I mean, maybe there’s some personal decisions in moving back to Oregon, but was there some professional decisions? And how do you see that now with some hindsight? Do you recommend it, living outside of LA as a filmmaker?
Tara: Sure. I always poo-pooed the idea of moving to LA. Initially I was like, “I’m never gonna do that, I don’t need LA.” But as I was in my earlier career at the TV station, I just felt like I was sort of hitting a ceiling in a way that I wanted to move through and I needed to… and because of my work at the TV station I was working with a lot of people in LA over the phone and doing deals and syndicators and all these things. So I was just getting a very different experience than some people may have. I had kind of a toe into the LA world a little bit through television. And I was young, I really needed a change. I was like I needed to get out of Eugene, I needed to try something different, and I went to LA.
I had like 500 bucks, I had a place to live, I had a good car. That’s what I had. But I wasn’t… at that time I wasn’t attached. It’s like I was just me. So I had a list of people, I did tons of interviews, I did some temp work and worked in some very different places that were industry-specific and ultimately landed a job at Fox. A lot of it was through people I knew. Just tons of cold calls, “Hey, can I have an informational interview?” I really hit the pavement. It took me about three months to find a job. Then again, I was very fortunate in the job that I got at Fox that I went up the ranks pretty quickly and found myself under contract. So in terms of moving back here, I knew that network television wasn’t the end all for me.
I have many friends that are still with the network, have really excelled there, but I knew that I needed to jump out. At the time, I met my boyfriend at the time, my now husband, and I met and we were dating and he’s from Oregon. He was in grad school at the time. We were.. after he finished up grad school, we were like… I was really ready to figure out something different. We were on the path of getting married and it was like, it made sense to say, “Hey,” when it was like, the idea was proposed why don’t we move back to Portland, it just made sense and it felt right. And within a year we were here and we call it the year of extreme living. Like we got married, we got a house, we got pregnant. Like we set up our life here.
All within sort of figuring out the next steps in my career, I took some time off initially just to get settled and have our first child. But here in terms of the industry, it was really great for me to take all that knowledge that I gained in LA and bring it with me into my working life here, and to infuse that savvy. I still travel to LA once or twice a year, sometimes for work, sometimes for just seeing friends and stuff and very much, you know, it’s easy for me to navigate that town now and know where everything is because I lived there. So in terms of having my home base in Portland is very much a quality of life decision where we wanna raise our children, we have lots of family here.
It’s a two-hour flight to LA if I need to be down there for a meeting or for work. It’s super convenient for where I live. Now that my kids are, they’re teens and if I need to work outside of Portland, that’s possible for me. So for me it worked out. I think that I always encourage people to take a shot and go to LA if they have the ability to relocate down there, the gumption to really hit the pavement and see what may happen. Sometimes you’re just gonna have to get an assistant job and work yourself up, but that’s super valuable just to learn like the, just how the industry works, whether you’re in TV or advertising or film. They’re all kind of very divided, but…
Ashley: Yeah, and how does producing compare, producing something, especially like an indie project in LA versus producing a project in Portland?
Tara: Well, Portland is certainly a smaller community. An then we have a pretty amazing crew base here because the film commission has worked really hard over the years to make sure that we have a steady stream of TV shows that are being shot here and movies. So we have I would say, three deep level of really professional top-notch crews available and they’re working all the time. COVID certainly has put everything in a tailspin, but the commission has worked really hard to make that happen. But they support that along with supporting all the independent filmmakers too, because there is this, a huge, vibrant, independent film community here that are working on projects that are sort of feature length-based short films, digital content, you name it, it’s all happening.
And a lot of people make their living doing that. I would think that the union certainly, you know, all the unions certainly have a presence here, but not as much as in Los Angeles. Every state has different legal rules in terms of working mandates, in terms of unionized things and non-union work. Like, there’s a lot of things to navigate in terms of a producer, and understanding that whether something is backed by a network or a studio versus independently done and you’re working with independent investors and things like that, union, non-union, there’s tons of stuff happening in LA all the time. I mean, if you’re down there, you drive through the town, you see all the tracks and everything’s vibrant and immersed in the industry.
That’s not the same here, but I mean, if I catch wind of something and I see them, and it’s like very apparent that they’re shooting right on a street or something, and I think it’s fun, people are curious about it. In LA it’s sort of like, “Oh yeah, here they… Oh, they’re blocking my…”
Ashley: Yeah, they’re in the way, yeah.
Tara: Whatever, but it’s… but I think for me, my experience here because I went independent and I worked for myself and… you know, that’s not necessarily everybody’s journey, and I would say that I know plenty of filmmakers that hold nine to five jobs, and then they do their creative stuff on off hours. But there is a real commitment to doing that here. And some people are able to break through to make it their full-time thing, but others work in a different industry to support that.
Ashley: Sure, sure. So I’m curious if just being in Oregon, are there some organizations, and I wanna talk about your film festival in a minute. So we can talk about that, but are there some organizations in Portland that could be helpful to screenwriters coming up, some filmmaking organizations just that you could just quickly recommend to people?
Tara: Absolutely, plenty of them actually. So there’s the Oregon Film Office, which is just www.oregonfilm.org, which is the state film commission. They’re a really good portal in terms of like if you’re not in Oregon to kind of navigate what’s happening in the state. There’s the Oregon Media Production Association that is based here in Portland. It’s a trade organization for folks working within the industry, so producers, directors, crew folks, people who are screenwriters. It’s a really great connector tool to meet other people within the industry. There’s a great Women in Film group, there’s a Femme Fatales group here that are very women director focused.
There’s also some great community television stations that are doing some amazing work out there. So there’s Open Signal as well as MetroEast Community Media where people can go and check out really top notch gear to create their work, they can take classes. Portland State University has a really strong thriving film program if you’re interested in taking either like a bachelor’s degree or a certificate or something, there is opportunity through there as well as the community colleges, Portland Community College and Mount Hood Community College and Clackamas. There’s just a lot of places that have digital media sort of inserted into it, and then all of those institutions are again, sort of funneled through OMPA.
There’s lots of Facebook groups that are folks just trying to make it happen. So lots of organizations just support folks working in media up here in Oregon.
Ashley: Got you. So I’m curious about film festivals for My Summer As A Goth. Did you guys enter a bunch of festivals? And even the sort of the follow-up question there is, I’m almost finished with my film, it’s a low budget horror film, and I’m just… I’m starting to figure, with COVID is, I don’t know that there’s really an ROI for these online festivals. And I’m curious, what’s your experience as a filmmaker and then what’s your experience as someone who runs a film festival?
Tara: Sure. So I’ve been in the film festival business for almost 15 years now as the executive director of POW. For us, our goal is to get women-directed films and non-binary-directed films on screen and it’s an international festival. So we seek films throughout the world and present them in Portland. In normal times we work with an independent theater here called The Hollywood Theater, and we have a four-day festival and workshops and a lot of in-person opportunities. We were to have our festival in March and a couple of weeks prior had to make that decision to shut down, but we ended up doing an online festival this year, which went okay. I mean, it’s not the same of course.
We did it in October and I hosted it from here in my dining room and it was a smaller festival by decision anyway, so it was easier to handle in terms of doing an online presentation. And people enjoyed it, people watched it and they bought tickets. We did it as a fundraiser for another independent theater here, The Clinton Street, because all these places had to shutter their doors, all the ticket sales went to them and it was real good, we got it done, we honored the filmmakers. We’re gearing up for year 14, it’s our intention to have it in person. It would be at the tail end of March, but we’re just making that decision at the beginning of the year. If we need to push it to an online platform, we’ll do that.
I think that, I mean, my experience on the film festival circuit, I was out there in 2019, so I was able to complete a full year of festivals. I think we were in like 16, 17 festivals, something like that. I went to a lot of them, so I got to travel all of 2019 too and be present, some of the cast would be able to come with me and it was awesome. It’s great to see your film on a big screen with an audience and have that interaction. I think those things are super important. You have that opportunity to really dive in on the process and answer people’s questions. It’s really that like preliminary marketing of your film and ultimately it’s a gauge on whether there’s interest from distributors.
You know, I took my film to the American Film Market and connected with potential distributors and sales agents there and made the decision to go with our current distributor, and we signed in February of this year. So I really took my time. I wasn’t gonna jump on something, I wasn’t gonna jump on the first offer. I had a handful of offers to really evaluate. It took me a long time to make this movie and I wanted to make sure it was gonna be put out properly and in the way I wanted it to go. So I connected with a distributor that honored that. I think the festival circuit’s so valuable. It is really tricky right now from the festival perspective to run a festival and make it vibrant and valuable because as a culture right now we are inundated with Zoom.
It’s like the Zoom fatigue thing is real and, I’m on Zoom calls all the time and tons of virtual events that I can participate in and it’s exhausting. So now you’re not only like… as a film festival, we’ve been around for 14 years, there’s a lot of film festivals actually in the city of Portland and we have our sort of take on women directors, non-binary directors, but there’s lots of different opportunities in boutique film festivals, and it’s just sort of, and plus it’s a very vibrant, independent film theater town. So there’s just a… we’re fortunate in being able to get a lot of stuff that may play outside of like Regal or AMC, like big theaters. So we compete a lot in terms of just getting our audience in, and now when you’re in a virtual platform, you’re competing for that audience on a national level. So it’s tricky.
I know a lot of my peers, my film filmmaker friends that were a little bit behind me in terms of their distribution. Like they were just starting their festival run and things shut down and it’s been more challenging. Because festivals that they may have, were scheduled for shut down, or weren’t able to figure out the virtual thing, or now they are doing the virtual thing and it’s not as grand. I think that everybody’s still trying to work out the technical stuff behind presenting an online festival because things happen, and [inaudible 00:47:08] lose connection or whatever, and it’s frustrating. So there is like this steep learning curve that, even what we had to do in order to pull off POW, which was relatively small, it was only one night that we were able to do it, but we were pretty successful, but we had some technical things that came up.
I think in terms of being a filmmaker, you just need to really evaluate that as far as like if you need the festival circuit to make it… Because again, you look at it as a marketing opportunity to get some preliminary interviews and reviews, or if it’s something like horror, there are like a ton of distributors out there that are looking for horror content, and maybe you skip over that festival. As a festival director, I don’t want people to do that, but as a filmmaker, sometimes that might be the best route. And if you find a distributor that’s like, “Hey, I can get this out for you and on digital platforms,” and you’re ready for that, ultimately isn’t that where you wanna be anyway?
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. One of the challenges I’ve had as a filmmaker, when you go into FilmFreeway or any… it’s very difficult to tell whether the festival is worth submitting to. You know, you can go to the website and you can, really, I think ultimately you have to track down filmmakers that have gone, which is just in my opinion, way too time consuming. It’s almost the $40 you’re gonna spend entering the festival is not worth the hours it takes to actually vet it. There’s some disconnect there. Again, as a filmmaker and someone who runs a festival, are there any clues that you see? I mean, I know in FilmFreeway it lists like how many years the festival has been around, that seems like a clue.
Certainly one that’s been around for 14, 15 years is a lot more likely to be well run than one that’s only been around for a year or two. But there’s some other little clues that you can hone in on when you’re submitting to festivals.
Tara: Sure. I mean, as a filmmaker and also as a film festival director, I [inaudible 00:49:21] the caution. Like there are a lot of fake film festivals out there that are never gonna show your film. They’re gonna take your money, they’re gonna give you some sort of accolade, like a laurel thing, and that’s basically what you paid for. Some people do that and it’s cool, but like, if you are a true cinephile and you’re wanting your film up on screen, and you’re wanting that festival to do the work in terms of publicity, you do need to do your due diligence and your work and seek out those filmmakers that have played in those festivals and find out what their experience is.
I would also say that when you get to auditioning distributors to do the same thing, reach out to those, you know, get IMDb pro, find those filmmakers, ask them what their experience was, because if you’re getting offered a deal, you wanna make sure it’s cool. They might say, “Definitely go with them, they worked really hard.” I would say that of my distributor, they’ve done a ton of work to make sure that our film is getting a really good press behind it and they’re uplifting me and the actors. So those things are super important. If they’re just gonna like toss it up on digital platforms for you and not put any marketing dollars behind it, it may be more challenging for you as a filmmaker, and you’re sort of left with doing all of that stuff.
But I would say that in terms of film festivals, transparency is incredibly important. So if you’re going to their websites, make sure that they’re telling you who’s running this film festival. Like who’s their staff? Like find out and look at press pictures. Are they actually doing live events? Are they connecting with their community? What are they doing for filmmakers that are sort of propelling them forward and making sure that you’re not just lost in the hundred other films that are being shown. There’s a lot of really large city film festivals that go for multiple weeks that have hundreds of films that do work for all of them, and make sure that each individual filmmaker is taken care of, that their film is give the proper attention that it needs. It’s important to participate.
If you have the ability to travel and be with your film, that’s really helpful for a film festival to promote. I think that I would just recommend doing your homework on the festival. Again, yeah, 10 plus years is a good sign that they’ve been going along for a while. Finding out who is actually running it, looking at their catalog and seeing if it’s a good match for your genre and what they do for filmmakers. Again, everything is sort of in this weird upside down because of COVID that a lot of these smaller film festivals, and POW is a small film festival, we’re struggling to figure it all out. I do not have a large staff. There is a lot of folks that are donating time to make this happen, but it’s like the technical parts and making sure that we’re putting up a really good presentation is important for us.
But we don’t necessarily have the bandwidth to pull it all off so it’s taking more time. So from our perspective, we’re just being patient with it and seeing what we can do, but there’s a lot of film festivals that are struggling, because they couldn’t do ticket sales, or they have a lot of like… like the South by Southwest and Tribeca’s of the world, there’s a lot of advertising dollars that go into pulling those things off and that supports a lot of staff members and getting stuff done, and if those advertisers are pulling out and then you have to cut staff, it’s a real challenge for a lot of [inaudible 00:53:33]. For us, we kind of slid under the radar in terms of having to close down because we just don’t have a lot of overhead with our organization.
Ashley: Yeah. So how do people see My Summer As A Goth? What is the release schedule gonna be like?
Tara: So it’s out now on digital platforms. We initially were gonna do at theatrical release in the summer, but here we are, you know, COVID is sort of like making things challenging, but I’m just rolling with it. Again, I had that opportunity to be on the festival circuit to see my film on the big screen. So the distributor and I made the decision to just go for digital platforms. So it’s out now on Amazon Prime, Voodoo, Google Play, Microsoft Store, Fandango now, iTunes, On Demand. It’s kind of like on everything and yeah. So… and then depending on how that all goes, it’ll stay up there for longer. You can buy it or rent it right now, and then we maybe do Blu-rays at some point. At this point we’re staying digital, it just depends on interest level from the consumers.
Ashley: True. Got you. What’s your 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.
Tara: Sure. I am on Facebook and on Instagram primarily as @littlemissanomaly. That’s the name of my production company. Pretty much Instagram is probably the best place because that’s a public profile of mine. Then the film is @mysummerasagoth and that is on Instagram and Facebook, Tumblr, sometimes Twitter. It’s all the same handle. I’m kind of not a big Twitter person so everything’s just out there, but I’m not on there a lot to retweet. Then we have a website, www.mysummerasagoth.com where you can find all the info about when and where, but I’m the person behind Instagram and answer all the questions and try to keep up on all that stuff. We put up a lot of pictures of behind the scenes of the film.
Ashley: Well, perfect. I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with your future films as well.
Tara: Thank you very much.
Ashley: So thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
Tara: Okay, bye.
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 Shawn Linden who did a horror, thriller film called Hunter Hunter. This episode today that you’re listening to is actually the last episode of the year, so the episode with Shawn will be published on January 4th, first episode of 2021. So keep an eye out for that episode. I make an effort to not date my podcast by talking about very topical things, but since it’s the last episode of the year, I thought I would just say a few words about 2020.
Definitely a very unique year and probably not in a good way for most of us. I know there’s a lot of people who have been hit a lot harder than myself by COVID, whether that’s losing a loved one or losing a job and facing some real economic hardships. So my heart goes out to everyone who’s really having a tough time this year. I don’t think many people really thought 2020 was a very good year. So for myself, some of the lessons, it just makes me take stock in what I’m doing. Not just professionally, obviously other things too. Today, obviously I’m gonna talk more about professionally since this is a screenwriting podcast. On the professional front, it just puts things into perspective for me and just it gives me a sense that things really can change very, very quickly.
We all have to live our lives and kind of make decisions. I know for myself, I’m just really inspired to try and get out there and get more movies made. I feel an incredible sense of accomplishment just writing a script and getting it produced and seeing it finished. So I think that’s really sort of the direction that I’m gonna keep going in. As I said, I just feel like things can really change and we really do need to live every day like it’s our last. But I’m so glad I did The Rideshare Killer. I mean, I didn’t have to, I could have not done it and it would have been a lot easier, it would’ve been work that it didn’t have to do, and who knows if it will really lead anywhere. But at the end of the year, I never get to these moments at the end of the year and say, “Man, I wish I had watched more NBA games this year.”
Not that work-life balance isn’t important, and I certainly watched a lot of the NBA games this year in the bubble, but I’m really glad I made the effort to do RSK and I wanna keep that momentum going and do another movie next year. In terms of screenwriting and COVID, I periodically will just ask my actor friends, writer friends, producer friends about how things are going for them, what kind of work they’re finding. And it’s a mixed bag. I mean, some of the people I talk to have been able to scratch out some productions and get some gigs here and there, but mostly it’s just very, very slow. There’s just not as much going on, it’s very difficult for everybody in the entertainment industry.
I think most people have just been down in terms of sort of the quantity of work. But I also do feel like there’s a lot of optimism and feeling that things are going to turn around, they are gonna get back to normal sooner, hopefully sooner than later. Once the vaccine becomes widely available, I think production will really take off again. Certainly the demand for entertainment hasn’t subsided at all. I mean, if anything, it’s probably gone up. So there’s gonna be this sort of shortage of projects in the pipeline where production has been way down now for almost a year, but the consumption has not been down. So there’s gonna be this sort of this pent up desire or need or demand for finished productions and scripts.
I talked to a lot of producers this year during the contest and not many of them are shooting anything right now, but they’re all reading material, they’re all gearing up for when things really get going again. I mean, they… good producers, good aggressive, successful producers, they know, yeah, this is a downtime, but that just means get everything locked and loaded, get ready to go. As soon as the vaccine comes, we’re gonna be back up to full speed, probably even a little ahead of full speed. So I think this is a great time right now, as we sit here at the end of 2020 to polish up your scripts and start sending them out to producers and everything. Producers, directors, actors, anybody, just get the material out there, really be aggressive marketing the stuff.
Because again, I know people are reading stuff and people are trying to get that pipeline filled for when production takes off again. Incidentally, I asked a few of these producers, and this was really more in context of the contest. I asked a few of these producers about all these pandemic slash COVID type movies that are coming out and I’ve seen a number of them. Michael Bay has sort of a high end one coming, but there’s a number of these that I’ve seen come across my desk sort of lower budget versions. The producers were a little bit skeptical, and their logic is that being as that people just spent the last nine months cooped up in their houses, do they really wanna sit in their houses and watch a movie about a pandemic?
At this point I’m not sure, but just in terms of screenwriting in general, as I said, I know these producers that I’ve been talking to are definitely not producing a ton of stuff right now, but they are looking and they are kind of trying to get ready for when things do open up. So definitely take advantage of that and be aggressive and keep getting your stuff out there. So, adios 2020, hopefully 2021 will be better for all of us. Anyways that’s the show. Thanks for listening.