This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 364: With Filmmaker/Commercial Director John Suits.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #364 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing John Suits. He has been on the podcast twice before in Episode #44 with his film The Scribbler, and also Episode #309 with a sci-fi film called 3022. Now he is back on the show to talk about his latest film called Breach, which is a sci-fi film starring Bruce Willis. John also directed the new Die Hard battery commercial, where Bruce Willis reprised his role from the iconic eighties Die Hard film. We talk about that, how he got into getting that commercial gig and ultimately how he got this feature film. 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 re-tweeting 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 are 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 look for Episode Number #364. If you want my free guide, How to Sell a Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter, and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to your screenplay, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Quick few words about what I’m working on. The main thing I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks in addition to still working on my film, the Rideshare Killer, is getting the SYS’s Six Figure Screenplay Contest ready to launch. We’re opening for submissions on February 1st.
So if you have a low budget script, definitely check it out when we open. The early bird deadline will begin obviously February 1st and it will run through the end of March, but definitely don’t wait if your script is ready. We’re offering notes from our readers as an add on. If you’d like to see what our first round readers thought of your screenplay, we’ve got a ton of producers lined up just like last year as industry judges, so there’s a good possibility of getting some industry exposure for your script. We’ve created a short film category too, so if you have a short, low budget short script, that’s definitely eligible this year. To learn more about the contest, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing filmmaker John Suits, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome John to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
John: Thanks so much for having me.
Ashley: So you’ve been on the podcast now twice, so I’ll point people to those episodes. If you haven’t already listened to them, check out Episode #44 where we talked about your film, the Scribbler, and then Episode #309 where we talked about your film 3022. In Episode #44 we talked a lot about your origin, how you got into the business. So I definitely will direct people back to that episode if they want to kind of learn more about your background. But today we’re going to talk about your latest film, Breach, starring Bruce Willis. So maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this new film all about?
John: Yeah, so it’s basically about where a plague is ravaging earth. So there’s an arc, there’s an interstellar spaceship that is going to a new earth, and on the ship, there is an alien aboard that starts infecting the crew.
Ashley: Got you. So how did you get involved with this project? How did you get attached as director? Was the script already developed and the people brought it to you? Maybe talk about that process a little bit.
John: Yeah. So it actually is quite different than how I usually would get involved with movies. So with 3022 or the Scribbler for example, like those would be projects that I searched out the scripts and then develop them and did the casting was producing on them as well. So this was much more… I have since been focused more on doing commercials and directing commercials. And then I did 3022 and then this project, because it was a movie I’d always wanted to make before I started commercials. And then this project actually, while I was in post in 3022 I was approached by Danny Roth, who’s is the producer on it that was a producer on a movie called Pandemic.
He’s like, “Hey, I’ve got this into the world space ship movie.” And I’m sitting there thinking, “I’m just working on one of those.” But then he was like, “And it’s got Bruce Willis in it.” So that… I grew up loving Bruce Willis movies and that seemed like a really cool, exciting opportunity. So we spoke about it, and Corey Large was a producer and writer on it. He’s a really great collaborator and great to work with and… But yeah, I was brought into the process much later than I’m used to, and then also in a way that is different than I’m used to, where when you’re also producing you have a lot more control, but you also have a lot more responsibility.
So in a situation like this, where you’re brought in, there was a lot of nice things about just sort of being like a hired director versus having to deal with all the other parts as well.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So what was the… you mentioned another name, Cory Large. Was there another producer you mentioned right before that?
John: Oh yes. So Danny Roth as the other producer, and that’s the one that I worked with on the movie Pandemic, and who gave me the project.
Ashley: Got you. Okay, perfect. Okay. So just talk about this process. So then they pitch you on the idea. Obviously they have Bruce Willis attached, that’s obviously a great asset to have on any project. You read the script, talk about that process a little bit. You read the script, do you have any notes for it? How did you work with the writers? Were there some rewrites on the script? What was that process like?
John: Yeah, there was definitely some rewriting and stuff like that, and sort of trying to find a happy medium for everybody and also trying to make it something that we could shoot. The shoot was 15 days, so it’s obviously very aggressive and having to figure out how to make it so that we can make the most of that time. So I think… I mean, it was fun for me too, in that I just had done again 3022, but that’s a much more of a sort of somber introspective, depressing film, whereas this one takes a similar concept but you have a lot more fun with it. So definitely, that was a new challenge. And yeah, so we just kind of we’re trying to figure out how to kind of construct in a way everybody felt good about it and we could also accomplish it.
Ashley: Yeah. Was there some particular projects that these guys, they thought you would be a good director for this project? You mentioned Pandemic, 3022, they were similar enough sort of sci-fi enough that they thought you would be a good fit for this. Just have you reached a point in your career where your name is getting sort of thrown around in these types of pools and people are pitching you these types of projects?
John: I think once you’ve kind of done one of these movies that there’s, you’re kind of getting into this world, and then there’s a bunch of movies that are in this kind of budget range and with sort of cool stars like a Bruce Willis. So there’s definitely once you’ve done that you get in those conversations and people do approach you with projects like that. And then, so for me it’s I, since having kids, like I say, mostly I’ve been more focused on commercials. So then when these come up, it’s sort of figuring out when the timing is right and when I’ve got the energy again to kind of do it. So that’s always the struggle.
And this is also, it’s just a very different medium in a lot of ways going between the two, because I think I was talking earlier by actually shortly after I got to direct the commercial with Bruce Willis for Die Hard batteries. And that we had four days to make another two minutes long. So that’s a different approach to when you got 15 days and it’s like 90 minutes long. So it’s kind of… but I always, whenever I’m away from movies for too long I miss it and I need to exercise that muscle again.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s just talk about that. I think most people listening to this podcast, like you were doing these independent movies, and then you sort of transitioned into doing more commercials. Now you’re coming back into the features, but I think most people would intuitively think you go from commercials to features and you never looked back to commercials. What is the hook for you to go and shoot commercials?
John: Yeah. I mean, when I first was doing features, I was like, I never thought I would do commercials to be honest. But I, for me personally, the major factor was kids. After my second kid was born, which is she’s five and a half now, that’s when I sort got burned out on movies and I was trying to figure out something that was better for work-life balance. You know what I mean. Commercials… like with Breach, I had to go to Georgia for two months and that’s tough, where the commercial is a much more contained shoot schedule, where it’s one to five days max. So I think that was really appealing. Just because, it just is a thing where obviously having kids kind of changes you in that way, but then I do just always end up missing movies and then, I talked my wife into letting me do it.
And then, I don’t miss them again for a bit and I’m sort burnt out again, and I’m like, “Okay, now I got to do another one.” So sort of finding that balance where… and I’m always very appreciative for the opportunity when I get to work on a movie and… But yeah, it takes a lot of energy, emotional, physical, mental. You have to be very focused on it for that period of time. And that sort of means that there’s other parts of your life where you can’t disconnect in the same way you can when you’re doing a commercial. I think that’s kind of what attracted me to it. I know it’s kind of backwards, but for now it’s worked well because our kids are young.
Ashley: I’m curious. So you were directing these independent films. Did you have an agent, a manager? How do you divert your career into commercials? How did you start to get those gigs? Did you just go to your agent say, “Listen…” basically gave him the same spiel you just gave us, “I’m having kids, I want a little more work-life balance.” And then they start sending you out on these commercial shoots and getting you with the agencies and stuff? How does that process work?
John: Well, yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, honestly I… somehow I’ve sort of never had an agent or manager. I just kind of like, I’ve always just kind of done it on my own. It’s not for… I guess I just haven’t put the effort into it ever. And I think a lot of times when you’re sort of doing independent films and you’re in that space, as long as you can make them at a certain level, it may not be the thing where the agent could help you as much as they can if you’re trying to make an independent films or trying to do studio films. So I haven’t ever really functioned that way. And it was more so I guess it was four and a half years ago or so, I got a job. Like I was totally done with movies and got like a full-time job working as an agency producer.
So like working producing commercials. And then that, I started directing commercials. And then now I started my own company, Natural Selection directing commercials, but it was kind of like a total reset. It was someone having taken a risk on me because I had no experience in that field. It’s sort of a funny thing where all you’ve done your whole life is movies. It doesn’t prepare you for very much outside of that space. So it was kind of a whole weird, random way that I got into it. But that’s sort of… so for like the last four years I’ve been doing that, but I also did 3022 and then now Breach, because I took a couple of years off and then I realized I miss movies.
So but now it’s just fine. Whereas before I think when I was doing independent films I was doing three or four a year, mostly producing. Now if I’m doing one every year or two, I think that’s a better balance for everyone.
Ashley: Yep. I totally hear you. So let’s talk about working with Bruce Willis a little bit. You just mentioned the Die Hard commercial. Maybe talk about that a little bit. Was the Die Hard commercial before Breach or was Breach after it? And how much did that relationship play into you being the right director for one versus, once you had a relationship with Bruce Willis and he likes you as a director, it must make it easier to then get on the feature or the commercial, depending on which came first.
John: Yeah. So the feature, we shot last October, November. And then the commercial, it’s sort of a funny thing where I think it was similar to how I ended up getting two spaceship movies in a year. The agency, they randomly had this commercial with Bruce Willis. And I was like, “I just worked with him.” So I had to bid on it and I definitely think it probably helped that I’d worked with them recently and we got along well and everything. So I think that definitely helped me in the bidding process. But we shot that in the middle of the pandemic. I’m trying to remember when, I think it might have been July or August, maybe August. I should remember that or September or something like that, but it wasn’t that long ago.
But we were in the middle of all that and trying to shoot an action commercial like that, where you can’t have anybody close to each other and he had to shoot all his scenes, like whenever he’s in the car, we had to shoot him alone on a green screen and then add in the occupied agile. We had to compliment with visual effects and all that stuff, making the visual effects. And we had to actually build an advanced auto parts store rather than shooting a real one for COVID safety. So, it was my first time doing something in the COVID era and it’s very different. It requires a lot more planning and thinking through things.
Ashley: Sure. So I noticed with Breach, Corey Large and Edward Drake were the writers and they have both done numerous movies with Bruce Willis. I’m just curious how much that plays into it as well, that relationship. They’re continuously doing it. Did they sign Bruce Willis to some sort of multi picture deal? They just have a good working relationship, so they’re able to just keep rolling him over from one project to another?
John: Yeah, I’m not totally sure exactly, but I know they have a good relationship with him. And I know, Corey’s known him for many years and they’re friends, and they work a lot together. So I think that’s probably a big part of it. But yeah, I’m not totally sure exactly how that, how it all functions, but I know that’s definitely a big piece of it.
Ashley: Yeah, got you. So again, just looking at the movies that these guys are doing with Bruce Willis, including your own Breach, they’re always sci-fi films. Why is that? Why are you putting Bruce Willis in a sci-fi film?
John: It’s a great question. I think probably part of that, I think there’s some science fiction films in the past that he’s known for that people love. I know for me it’s Fifth Element I love and Looper, and films like that come to mind. So I think there’s… for me, it’s like I’d love to see Bruce in another science fiction movie. I’m sure that’s part of it is just that sort of desire. I feel like a lot of people probably want to see him doing that again. There’s just a lot of nostalgia around him, where again for me it’s like, yeah, it’s he’s an icon, and that is a big piece of I think why people are still intrigued by him. Yeah.
Ashley: Why not put them in like an action movie, certainly he’s known for Die Hard, or even like a drama and comedy. I mean, certainly Bruce Willis, when he was doing Moonlighting, there was a lot of tongue in cheek comedy. He’s done a number of comedies, so has some comedy chops. Why not put Bruce Willis in a comedy in this day and age or why not put him in a drama or even an action film for that matter?
John: It’s a great question. I know he’s doing a lot of action films as well. But yeah, I’m not totally sure. I think it’s depends on what people are interested in and what they gravitate towards, mixed within what the market’s asking for. There’s all… I think there’s a bunch of different factors, but I honestly am not, I can’t speak from a place of expertise. I don’t really know exactly why. But I know for me personally, like when I was approached for the project, it was a science fiction movie with Bruce Willis. It’s like, that sounds like a fun opportunity. Yeah. Again, I always just have in my head those movies he did that I grew up on and that I loved.
Ashley: I always like to just end the interview by asking my guests what they’ve seen recently that they thought was really, really good. Is there anything on Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Max, anything you’ve seen recently that you thought would, maybe a little under the radar that should get some notice?
John: Oh man, that’s a great question. Gosh, I’ve been watching a lot of stuff, so I should have the answer ready for this. Something I just finished watching, I don’t think it’s under the radar, but Gangs of London, I enjoyed a lot. I think that director’s so talented. Did The Raid movie with Gareth Evans. I think the way he shoots action sequences are sort of second to none. So I thought that was a cool show. And then I… gosh, I’m probably just watching what everybody else is watching these days. Like watching the Mandalorian and watching stuff like that, that I’ve been enjoying. But yeah, I’m trying to think of it, something outside the box, but I don’t know if I have anything new.
Ashley: No, that’s good. I think the… yeah, what did you say was… something about London? What was the name of that?
John: Oh, Gangs of London.
Ashley: Gangs in London. Yeah, I haven’t heard of that one. So that’s a good tip. Yeah. I think our users can check that out.
John: Yeah, I think it’s on AMC Plus, I believe.
Ashley: Okay, perfect.
John: Oh, and one other actually smaller… sorry, I just have one smaller budget movie I watched, which I enjoyed, was Prospect, which is a sci-fi movie with Pedro Pascal. Which I think is on Netflix. It’s a cool sci-fi movie.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Yeah, a good tip. How can people see Breach? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
John: Well, December 18th, I know it’s in theaters and then VOD and digital. So I think that’s kinda where you can see it everywhere. And I know obviously with the pandemic, all things around theaters are confusing. So I don’t totally know, where and how it’s playing in that capacity, but I know it will be. But yeah, so December 18th is the day.
Ashley: Got you. 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’ll round up for the show notes.
John: Yeah. So someone asked me that earlier today. I have my commercial production company website is www.natural-selection.tv. That’s where I put commercial stuff. And then I have a personal site, is www.johnsuitsfilms.com. And then I was saying that I just got on Instagram. I don’t know how to use it yet, but as Natural Selection, like for that. I’m on Instagram now and some people I work with are helping me manage it, but I am still learning it to be honest.
Ashley: Got you. Yeah, no worries at all. Well John, good luck with this film and all your future films. It’s a pleasure talking with you again.
John: Yeah, always great to talk to you and thanks so much for taking the time.
Ashley: Thank you. Will talk to you later. Bye.
John: Have a good one. Thanks.
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 to be interviewing Bob Tzudiker, who is a television writer and also an actor. He comes on the show to talk about his career, how we got into the business, how he got his start. And really he was doing stuff outside of Hollywood as an actor and then eventually started writing and selling spec scripts. His first script was a script he co-wrote with his wife called Newsies, and then he went on to write many big Disney films, including Anastasia and Tarzan. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.