This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 381 With Writer/Director Nathaniel Nuon.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #381 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director, Nathaniel Nuon, who just did a horror thriller called Voices. He’s another writer-director living far from Los Angeles and still figuring out ways to get his movies made. So stay tuned for that interview. SYS’s Six-Figure Screenplay contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The regular deadline is May 31st, after that it goes up by $10, and then the final deadline is July 31st. So if your script is ready, definitely submit now, before the final deadline. We’re looking for low-budget shorts and features.
I’m defining low-budget as less than six figures. In other words, less than $1,000,000. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes. I had last year’s winner, Richard Pierce on the podcast in Episode #378. He won the contest and was introduced to one of our industry judges who took the script to MarVista entertainment and got the film produced. So check out that episode to learn more about last year’s winner. Again, that’s Episode #378 with Richard Pierce. This year we have a short film script category, 30 pages or less. So if you have a low budget, short script, by all means, submit that as well. I’ve got a number of industry judge producers who are looking for short scripts.
Once again, if this sounds like something you might like to learn more about or perhaps enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. 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’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 #381.
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 whole bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter, and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Quick few words about what I am working on. We are still meeting with distributors on The Rideshare Killer.
I wanna do really a full podcast episode about this process, just going through finding a sales agent, finding a distributor. So once we make a decision about what direction we are going to go, hopefully I can give a little more details. I’ve been talking with my buddy Bernie Rao, who you might remember was the cinematographer on my film, The Pinch. And he’s been experimenting with the Unreal Engine, which if you haven’t heard about it, it’s a video game engine, but allows you to create photo realistic 3D virtual worlds. So potentially you could shoot your actors on a green screen and then drop them into whatever sci-fi or fantasy world you wanted and do all this fairly easy and fairly cheaply to the technology and the computers and all getting much, much, much more powerful and much, much cheaper.
So we’ve been kicking around some ideas on that front. If you have any experience using the Unreal Engine, please do drop me a line. I’d love to see some of the stuff you guys have created and just learn more about it, learn what you guys have done, if anybody has done anything with the Unreal Engine. It just seems like there’s a lot of potential here for indie filmmakers, especially as a fan myself, you know, a real fan of sci-fi. And some of these big sci-fi, epic movies, this is sort of a window into that potentially where you don’t need to necessarily raise a hundred million dollars to make a sci-fi, you know, kind of an epic sci-fi film. So anyways, that’s the things I’ve been working on over the last week.
Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director, Nathaniel Nuon. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome to Nathaniel, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Nathaniel: Thanks for having me, man.
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?
Nathaniel: I actually was born in Cambodia. I grew up… I came here when I was about four, so yeah. And growing up, I was, we didn’t really have a lot. My dad brought home a TV, a broken TV, and he fixed it and it played… It was in black and white, but it only played the video portion of it. So growing up, I was just watching the TV with no sound and I’m just making up the dialogue, I guess on what I was watching and that I think that was my first experience to like putting something together imaginary on screen. So ever since then…
Ashley: Yeah. So then how did you start to actually turn that into a career? Did you go to film school? Did you just pick up a video camera, start shooting little videos? What were those first steps like?
Nathaniel: Yeah. Growing up and then, when… obviously during my teenage years, I shot a bunch of stuff with my friends, just random backyard videos. After I graduated high school four of our friends, four of us from high school went to a Full Sail in Orlando. We graduated from Full Sail and then kind of started like working in our career path to where we are now, so.
Ashley: Got you. Where are you located now? Are you still in Florida or you’re out here in LA?
Nathaniel: No, I’m actually in Mobile, Alabama.
Ashley: Mobile, Alabama. Okay. So and how did you end up there? And just as a sort of a… I get a lot of people asking, “Do I need to move to LA?” What is your take on that? Why are you in Alabama and why not move to LA?
Nathaniel: Well, my… That’s where I was raised. My parents moved to Alabama when I think I was maybe eight or nine. So I’ve been here. I mean I graduated high school here, so. We lived in Orlando for the film school portion of our… and then I moved to LA and lived in LA for about two years trying to make it out there as well. It was until Katrina hit the coast, my mom’s home was completely destroyed, so I had to kinda come back to take care of her. And that’s kind of what started the whole thing as far as filmmaking. I had started doing a, I did a short back in Alabama. It was about Cambodian Residue, which that won two Emmys. Then that’s where I kind of started. Like I said, well, I really don’t want to, I didn’t really need to go back to LA.
So, and then all of a sudden the boom of Atlanta and nuance film production started growing here. So we were getting a bunch of spills from New Orleans, the shows that were like wasn’t shooting in New Orleans, but one of the smaller town looking New Orleans. So it kinda moved into Mobile, so I was able to start working on a production set in my home state. So and then that’s kinda like where we built a little team together here, and so I was moving into in what I’m producing now.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Got you. I’m curious, again, I get a lot of emails from people outside of LA. How do you find these local opportunities? Like you’re talking about obviously Atlanta and Louisiana, we sort of hear there’s film incentives, so we know those things. But how do you pipe into that? How were you getting these jobs and what were you doing on them? Did you have some like production experience from college that you were able to sort of use to get some of these jobs? But number one, how do you find them, and then ultimately, how do you land those jobs?
Nathaniel: Well, I mean, like anything, you just kind of have to know somebody who’s already in it, and then once you get on a show it’s pretty easy. Either their producers or the line producer just kinda calls you back. When I first… my first big show here was, I was doing a DI work, so I was a DIT. I have a very strong post-production background when it comes to that kinda stuff and editing. So it was just an easy transition for me just to do it. So I was DI-ing for about two, three years before I decided to, I want to just stop doing it and actually start directing and producing myself, but yeah, I still get calls now, like, “Do you wanna DI for this show?” I’m like, “I’m moving into a different phase in my career.”
So yeah, I mean, it really is, it’s just networking. Just getting on there and trying to figure out what department you wanna do and work your way in it.
Ashley: Yeah, and how do you make that transition? You’re on set. Do you start telling people, “Hey, I wanna be a writer, I wanna be a producer or a director? Did you start writing scripts? Did you start promoting yourself? At this point you probably had a little reservoir of names that you could… people you had met in that little network. But what were those steps to actually going from DIT to producing and directing stuff, and how do you let the world know that you’re changing?
Nathaniel: Well, I mean, like when you’re on set on there, I try not to like oversell or sell myself, a lot of times, what are you… Everybody’s on set usually trying to move up the ladder. So you kinda did meet people and like, hey, the camera operator eventually wants to DP. So everybody’s always trying to move up somewhere. And then there’s an opportunity where you’re like, “Hey, let’s try and work together.” And some of the people I actually are working with and producing films with, when we were working on the show together, they were in different departments, and now they’re like the head production designer now for our show. So it’s just one of those things that you just have to kinda figure your way out.
You don’t wanna be that guy that, hey, pushing it on the producers and stuff, because that sometimes gets really annoying, and then you know… So you’re just gonna have to pick and choose your battles. For me, I was just, I was doing really well. I saved some up money and I was like, I just need to stop because I couldn’t keep DI-ing for the rest of my life. And it was a good gig, it’s just that my passion was to produce and write and direct. So I just said like, I basically helped a friend out saying the network things like, “Hey, look, I can train you to be a DI, so the next show that comes in and they call me, I’ll just recommend you.” And that’s what I did. So I just trained a good friend of mine and he started DI-ing. Then I just stepped away and started out writing and focusing on my own path.
Ashley: Got you. So let’s talk about that first short residue. Talk about that a little bit. How did you get that funded? Was it self-funded and then what did you do with it? Did you send it to festivals and then ultimately, how do you look back and feel like that helped your career?
Nathaniel: It was self-funded, man. This is super low budget. It was like a couple of thousand dollars, and then it’s just after we finished I did… we pretty much did everything. I did the majority of all the editing and all that stuff, and then we sent it out to a bunch of festivals. Honestly, I was just doing it as an experimental film. I didn’t really think that it was gonna do what it did. And when it hit the festivals, it was just I guess, the subject matter and the topic was so intriguing to everybody that it just started picking up awards and then we were able to get to the larger festivals. But when… it just taught me that I can definitely be able to go that route as far as like the festival route, but making shorts and winning festivals don’t really pay the bills in a sense.
So you had to kinda think commercially, like how do you make something and make a living doing it, but still like be able to produce art that you care about and have passion for? So that’s kinda like how I started restructuring some stuff in my life to make sure that I’m producing stuff that can be marketable and then sold.
Ashley: Yeah. So just quickly, and we’ll get into Voices here in a second. What I think you… What you just said, I think is so interesting, is, how do you navigate those rough waters of commercial versus artistic? Obviously on a low-budget film like this, there has to be a commercial aspect to it in order to try and make your money back, give yourself the best chance of making your money back. But just talk about that a little bit going into this, and maybe we can even get into Voices. What were some of those determining factors on settling on this type of a movie?
Nathaniel: So when we were looking at our production, because we did one that was super low budget, around 10 grand, just for like, it was a feature and actually is getting picked up now too. So it’s one of those things that I was looking at like, what can I do for what I have, and also to my disposal around me to make it the big production values, one of the things that as long as it looks good, story’s pretty solid, you’re gonna get some sort of distribution pickup. It’s like, so when you look at it from that aspect, for me I was just trying to like, hey, I just wanna make a film and then make sure that I can recoup what I’m putting into it, and also like make a living out of it. And when you write the genres that we had to kind of like stay in the lane, obviously it’s either some sort of horror or something that’s easily kind of a seasonal thing.
So it was just that’s why it was just picking up Voices. I’m a big sci-fi fan and I didn’t have any horror ideas except for Voices. So it was just the logical thing to do.
Ashley: Got you. So let’s dig into Voices a little bit more. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline, what is this film all about?
Nathaniel: A visually impaired woman that, she hears dead people. So she’s trying to figure out why they’re talking to her and without ruining a lot of the plot, but she’s pregnant and she’s kind of the gateway for them to come back to the world of living.
Ashley: Got you. Where did this idea come from? What was the sort of the genesis of this story of a woman who can hear dead people’s voices?
Nathaniel: Well, it’s actually based off my mom’s dream. When I came back, moved back to Alabama, her and I were having lunch one day and we were just talking and somehow the topic of dreams came. And she was just telling me about this reoccurring dream that she had about a little girl knocking on our door and asking to stay with us. She kept on telling her, “No, no, no.” She said it happened for weeks, and then she finally agreed and let the little girl in. She told the dream to my grandma and my grandma was just like, “Well, you’re pregnant and you’re gonna have a baby girl.” Then nine months my sister was born. So I thought that was an interesting idea, and then the more research I did, I found out that it’s heavily rooted in our Southeast Asian culture that a pregnant woman developed some sort of like super hyper sixth sense in a sense.
So I thought that was interesting. And then they’re like souls that are trapped or tormented has the ability to come back if the woman allows them to take the possession of the baby. So, and they can come back and live the karma out and move on to the next life after.
Ashley: Got you. Yeah. That’s fascinating, and it’s a really high concept premise. It reminds me a little bit of Sixth Sense the way you’re… except instead of I see dead people, you hear dead people. A similar, yeah, similar high concept. So let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write and when do you typically write? Do you have a home office? It looks like we’re looking at your home office. Do you go to Starbucks? And do you need that ambient noise? Do you write in the morning, the afternoon, the evening? What does sort of your writing schedule look like?
Nathaniel: I actually just do a lot of it here. I have my board here, actually, this is the notes for the structure for Voices. I have a writing partner, Daniel Hathcock, and him and I kinda like do what we do here either on Zoom or we’re just spit balling ideas. We get an outline, we structure it first and then try to figure out the beats for each of the stories. And just really fleshing out the characters once we have an idea and I try to find the theme of what I’m trying to portray in the story and then find something that I like about the screenplay, about what I’m about to write, and make sure that I have it in there so that when I go to make it, it’s something that I’m passionate about, not just something that like, oh yeah. So just trying to find that key thing.
Ashley: How much time do you spend writing once you do get writing? Are you one of these 16 hours a day? Do you typically blast out a draft quickly? Does it take you several months? Then the follow-up question to that is how much time do you spend outlining your script? Then how much time do you spend actually in final draft writing lines of dialogue and action?
Nathaniel: It depends on the script and also depending on the idea that how much of it is already set in my head. I tend to write, well, I tend to write the last scene first because I have this philosophy or this theory that like, if I know where I’m gonna be, where I end, it’s easy to begin to recreate the journey to get there. So I don’t write from the beginning into, I actually just write the ending first. So like, I know what I want to see at the end, and then from there I take the characters backwards and then reverse the journey. Then I can, during the structure I can figure out where the conflict needs to fall.
Ashley: And just in terms of your outlining stage, how much time would you spend typically before you get into an actual script?
Nathaniel: I would say probably a couple of days, just… because my outline is not really… Some people’s outline is super detailed, mine’s just like… because I write in a way as like, as an editor, because I spend a lot of time editing in post. So a lot of times I just write, like I outline structurally scenes, like this scene happens here. So I’m already looking, thinking of how the film would cut together. So the way with Daniel and I, Daniel, he’s not… he’s more of a creative writer, so he has all the descriptions that he wants to narrow, but when I draw up my outline, it’s pretty straightforward. It’s just like, okay. It almost seems like an editor’s outline chart.
Ashley: Yeah. What does your development process look like? Especially a script like this, that it sounds like you kinda knew you guys wanted to shoot this from the start. What does your development process look like? You have your co-writer, do you have some actor friends, are there some other producers that you get it to? Then how do you interpret those notes and then actually go back and try and get them into the script, or not?
Nathaniel: Oh yeah. So I do a lot of table reads. So I have one of our producers, he’s an actor as well. And we have a lot of in theater and then we have a lot of stage actors and theater friends who love doing table reads, but that’s so, I’ve got that advantage of just being able to, “Hey, what are you guys do this weekend?” They love table reads. And then I get a lot of feedback from people just reading it and then telling me like, “Hey, this doesn’t seem right or it doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t come off the tongue really…” So it’s like that’s, once I get a draft that I feel like I like when people… for people to read it, that we start doing table reads and we flush it out and start beginning the revisions for the project.
But yeah, as far as notes I get like two pages of notes and I’ll look at them and just kinda see which one makes sense, which one doesn’t, which one works and which one doesn’t.
Ashley: Got you. I’m curious just about genre requirements, screenplay structure, as you’re going into this. Just like I just mentioned your pitch with sort of a pivot on something like Sixth Sense. How do you approach that? There’s certainly a long history of these sort of horror films, were there some films you looked at, there’s the old adage given the same, but different, people trying to use some of the tropes of these movies, but also circumvent and come up with sort of original ways of using some of these tropes. Maybe just talk about that. How did you go into this script and were there some things you were trying to accomplish that sort of played on past horror movies?
Nathaniel: I guess I wouldn’t… When I was developing Voices, it was more of a supernatural thriller. It had horror elements, but I knew that I, because it was a story about my mom and I just wanted to focus heavily on more of the dramatic side, but we… it’s like the way… I look at Voices is more of a, like I said, a suspense thriller with a lot of drama, and I wanted to make it interesting like a different type of horror, I guess. Because you could go that way, and I knew that it was gonna be marketed as a horror, but I wanted to try the style that I would figure I can create as a filmmaker in terms of when somebody watches it they’re like, “Oh wow! I didn’t expect that,” kind of deal.
So yeah, I think that you just got to… that’s what I’ve found. Like I was talking about finding something unique about the script, yeah, that’s something I personally wanted to do and was drawn to.
Ashley: Okay. So once you’ve finished the script, what were the next steps to actually getting it into production? Did you have some people ready to watch it? But what was sort of the next steps? You’re also a producer, so I’m just curious what those next steps that you sort of take off your writing hat and then start to try and get this thing into production. What were those first steps like?
Nathaniel: So I knew we had to raise the funds and in order to convince anybody to give you money to do anything you kinda have like, whether… I tend to just go out because I have access to my own equipment and stuff. So I actually did a proof of concept. So I shot a full on trailer, brought in some local actors to play all the roles and we shot a full on scene and everything. So I had the tone and look of the film, kind of, like I said, pitch trailer. So I took that and then showed it to a couple of investors and then kind of passed it along to some distributors that I was, or sales agent that I was actually talking to. They were like, “Yeah, you finish the movie and bring it back and we’ll definitely take a look at it. It looks interesting.”
So that’s a step, then you take that and go you talk to your money guys and say, “Hey, look, I got some interest in this thing. Here’s what it looks like.” Begin to package and process. I’ll put the structure and the budget together and figure like the shoot dates and we’ll break it, we’ll… One of my producers he’s also a line producer, so he’s able to break down the schedulings and stuff for us. So then I’ll have what I actually need to make the film. So yeah, that’s the producing side, I guess.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And then what are some of those steps actually getting the money? It sounds like you’re getting all sort of the logistical stuff set up, but do you have any tips for raising money for something like this?
Nathaniel: Really just have a strong financial package together. I mean, a lot of the stuff is as filmmakers look at places… Like in Alabama they give tax credits back for like 35, 25 to 35. So one of the things that I looked at was okay, what would the investors want back and how do you protect the investments when they give you the funds? We were able to capitalize it using a tax credit and also the new laws for investors, like they was a section one for the tax laws. So they are able to write off as a loss for I think three years or something like that. I have to double check, but you add that to your package and say this is… and then on top of that, we were able to get a rebate back for like up to 35 percent.
So they’re already seeing a return as soon as the movie’s finished an audit. So when you have that in place, and then you have a strong package of like, okay, we’ve got a good distributer who’s gonna pick this up for distributions, it’s easy to convince somebody and once you have a strategy or a business plan in place.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. And who did you guys typically pitch? Were they just contacts that you guys had picked up in the film industry, were they film industry type people, were they people outside the film industry? Who are these people that you actually take this package to?
Nathaniel: Everybody. I mean, I’ll just talk to everybody and anybody. Anybody who’s willing to listen. Especially we had a bunch of different people that were interested and it ended up being a good friend and actually where he owned the building that we were, our offices, and we just talked to him and he looked at the package and he was like, “Yeah, I’m in.” So, I mean, you never know who you’re gonna run into. It’s just one of those things that you could run into somebody who is just looking to spend or do a film. And also just depending on what kinda film it is too. So I talked to different people, like, “Oh, we’re not interested in that kinda project, but if you have something different, let us know.”
Then there’s people who like, investors who are like it just, it really… it just depends on the person. So I have a pitch package for each type of investors.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Smart, for sure. So I just like to wrap up the interviews by asking the guests what they’ve seen recently that they thought was really great. Is there anything on Netflix, HBO Hulu, anything out over the last couple months that you’ve seen that maybe went a little under the radar that screenwriters could check out and benefit from?
Nathaniel: Man, honestly I’ve been so wrapped up, I haven’t even turned on the TV to look at anything. I’ve been working on a, I’m actually working on another script right now. So yeah.
Ashley: So let’s go that direction. What is next for you? Maybe you can talk a little bit about what else you’re working on.
Nathaniel: I’m doing the genre I’m comfortable with now. I’m actually doing the sci-fi thriller. So it’s a little mixture of, I guess you could say a little bit of aliens meet John Carpenter’s The Thing. So, but yeah we’re, I’m using LED technology like the Mandalorian to film it, to give a bigger scale of the world.
Ashley: And how do you do that in Alabama? Do they have like one of these stages?
Nathaniel: Oh, I actually… Well, my background is in virtual reality. So I have a virtual reality company that I started with my partners to sustain our lifestyle here so we can make movies. We were contracted by the military and then now we’re doing virtual reality simulations for Abbott Medical. So I have, yes, I have a VR background. So it’s just I’m a virtual reality developer who makes movies, I guess.
Ashley: Yeah. That’s interesting. How can people see Voices? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Nathaniel: It’s already out. It was out like two weeks ago, I think. And then it’s on Video On Demand and all the platforms like iTunes, Amazon, and I think YouTube. So yeah, they can definitely check it out.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, website, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will round up and put in the show notes.
Nathaniel: I mean, Instagram is probably gonna be the easiest for me because, and I’m hardly on Facebook. I’m not really a big social media person, so… I don’t know, I should be.
Ashley: What’s your handle over on Instagram? We’ll grab that.
Nathaniel: Nathaniel. My name @nathanielnuon. Yeah.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Perfect. Well, Nathaniel, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and of course, good luck with all your future films as well.
Nathaniel: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Ashley: So, hey, thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
Nathaniel: All right. Bye.
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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 podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director, Simon Barrett. He is a screenwriter living here in Los Angeles. He was a writer on the Blair Witch sequel that came out in 2016. He was also one of the writers on the found footage, horror film, V/H/S, really cool horror found footage, horror film that came out around 2012. Now he’s on the podcast to talk about his latest film, Seance. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.