This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 387: With Writer/Producer Richard Finney .
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #387 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer and producer Richard Finney. He’s one of our industry judges for our contest and also a writer and producer. He’s written and produced a number of films. He comes on today to talk about his career and offers up some great insight into the writing process. 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’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 #387. 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, and again, it’s completely free, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. A quick few words about what I’m working on. So we’re still meeting with distributors on The Rideshare Killer. It hasn’t been hard to get meetings with distributors, but they all sound very similar, and not a single one has really instilled much confidence in us, that they can actually sell the film. But I think we’re gonna be making a decision here in the next week or two, so hopefully I’ll have some news on that shortly.
The other big thing I’ve been working on and talking about a lot on this podcast, is the course that we’re getting ready to launch, SYS’s From Concept to Completion Screenwriting Course. It will take you through every part of writing a screenplay. Coming up with a concept, outlining it, writing the opening pages, the first act, second act, third act, and then rewriting. And then there’s even a module at the end on marketing your screenplay once it’s polished and ready to be sent out. We’re offering the course in two versions. For $200, you get the course, but you also get three analyses from an SYS reader. You’ll get one analysis on your outline, and then you’ll get two on your final draft of your screenplay. This just our introductory price.
You’re getting three full analyses, which is actually the same price as our three-pack analysis bundle. So you’re essentially getting the course for free when you pay for the three analyses that come with it. And to be clear, you’re getting a full analysis with this package. It’s the same analysis that you would get if you bought the SYS script analysis package. The other version is just $50 and you just get the course, and then you’ll have to find some friends or colleagues who will do the feedback portion of the course with you. In fact, right now I’m actually letting SYS Select members do this version of the course at no extra charge. So if you’re a member of SYS Select, you actually already have access to this.
Hopefully you saw my email. I sent out an email a couple of weeks to the SYS Select members to kind of do an early launch with them. So if you’re a member of SYS Select, no need to purchase this. In fact that might be one way you could get this. If you wanna try out SYS Select and this course, you get right now, you get the course with SYS Select. A big piece of this course is accountability. Once you start the course, you’ll get an email every Sunday with that week’s assignment. If you don’t complete it, we’ll follow up with another email reminder the following week. It’s easy to pause the course if you need to take some time off, but as long as you’re enrolled and you’re continuing with the course, you’ll get these reminders and it’s gonna hopefully walk you through this process until each step is completed.
The objective of this course is to get you through it in six months so that you have a completed, polished, screenplay, ready to be sent out. This sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse. It’s all one word, all lowercase. I will of course link to this in the show notes and I will put in a link to the homepage as well. So that’s the main things that I’ve been working on here the last couple of weeks. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer and producer Richard Finney. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Richard to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Richard: Hey Ashley, it’s great to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
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?
Richard: I actually grew up in Simi Valley. So a rock throw away from where Charles Manson was. In that time actually, that’s where he was. And I guess my thing would be, is I probably got into the business because my father actually started in the business. He was working at Television City in CBS, in Hollywood, where they were shooting… the time that he was an executive there, they were shooting All in the Family and Mod and Good Times. And I think that that was… you know, I’ve always wanted to be a screenwriter, but I think that that was like one of the things that really started it off. For a couple reasons, I think for, we would get like Christmas gifts from Carol Burnett, and I would go there and I would see the shows being recorded and taped and videotaped and it demystified everything for me.
So I thought that that was a key thing. And then I think the other key thing was, that helped me get involved in wanting to do this too was, my father would bring home the scripts of the program that they were gonna shoot, or they were gonna air like in a couple of weeks. And I’m talking All in The Family, Mod, Good Times. And I would read them and they were good, but they weren’t really funny. I didn’t see them as funny. And then I would either go and see the show being recorded, or I would see it on air, where just like everybody else, and they were hilarious and they were fantastic. And so suddenly, the profound thing I learned was that, how much actors bring to it.
And I guess the bigger lesson too, is that this where I began was that if you were gonna get involved in screenwriting, you were playing a team sport. It wasn’t gonna be necessarily an author writing a book, so which I’ve now done, but at the same time, I was just simply interested in doing the screenwriting part because I could definitely see myself being a team player and writing stuff that would excite somebody enough that they would bring something to the table and you would go, “Oh, man, that’s amazing costume design,” or “That’s amazing, the way you read that.” So that’s what screenwriting for me is all about, and that’s what I took from it.
Ashley: And when did you start? Okay, so you’re growing up, you’re reading these scripts and you’re kind of seeing the industry. When did you actually take that first step, “Okay. I’m gonna start writing some scripts?” And then once you’d written some scripts, actually giving them to your dad or your dad’s friends, what was that evolution like? When did you start actually writing and then start sending them to people?
Richard: So you know, so always wanting to be a screenwriter was a blessing because I just always had that direction. So I went to Cal State Northridge and went through their film and television program. And while I was doing that, I was always writing screenplays. And then when I graduated, I had written and rewritten and rewritten and written. The story I would say is, is that at one point there was an opportunity for a producer to read my script through somebody else. And I sat there and I go, “Oh, here, take a look at this script.” And so like, this was like almost two years out of school, I had this one producer who had a very good track record of making indie films and stuff. He was definitely old school, but he optioned my script.
And so my very first script that I wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote, but it did get optioned. And I worked with him and it was trial by fire. I mean, he would literally read the lines out loud and like make fun of them, and you would sit there and you would start to realize very early on, okay well, I’m never gonna make that mistake again. Or I’m not gonna sound like that, or I’m not gonna do that. So I learned. He was a jerk, he was an asshole and everything, but he was a good guy as far as learning, teaching me about what was wrong with the stuff. Then I think that the next big break for me was…
Ashley: How did you meet that guy? Just sorry to cut you off. How did you meet that first guy and get that script optioned?
Richard: So, I think last week I was listening to the gentleman that you had, you were talking to. And he said something about like, when you first started out, if you could just stay very close to the industry on a regular job, that’s like the best, because you just never know, right? You’re just like maybe one removed, right? So that was like, that’s what I was kinda thinking, because I did not draw on my father’s things. Not that… because he was more on the technical side anyway, so it wasn’t like I was gonna be able to draw on him. But anyway, so I started writing for Fangoria magazine. So suddenly I was on like a movie set, and I ended up like these guys that… Darin Scott and people like that, they were doing the sequel to Stepfather.
So they were doing Stepfather II. That was the very first article that I wrote for Fangoria. Those guys ended up being lifelong friends, still friends. But they were the ones that actually sat there after the article was written and everything, I think they were the ones that said, “Hey, there’s this one producer guy, you should give them that one script you were talking about.” And I said, “Oh, okay.” So they were probably the ones that actually hooked it up. I’m kind of vague about how it actually happened and everything. But then what happened after that, after the guy optioned it was, then getting the agent was easy. Because then I was like, “Oh, you should go to so-and-so, you should go to so-and-so.”
So I went to this one Irene Robinson, was my very first agent. And my quick little story is that, when I was sitting down meeting her, she actually then said, “Oh, there’s my husband, he’s coming to pick me up.” And I turned around and there was Andrew Robinson, the psycho in Dirty Harry. And I was like, “Oh my God, that’s your husband.” And she’s like, “Yeah, yeah, you seen the movie.” “Oh yeah, of course I’ve seen the movie. Yeah.” So anyway. So she was my first agent and she was great. And she loved me because I was able to get my first script optioned, my second script optioned and my third script optioned very, very quickly and started working with people to get them made. But during that time, they still weren’t getting made and I wasn’t making a lot of money.
So I was still working some other jobs. So I would say the next big thing was, I was working at a television station in Oxnard and we were, I was assigned to produce a film festival, the Santa Barbara Film Festival, the television version of it. Like an hour and a half, 90 minute thing. So one of the things that I did as a producer was, I had to do a segment where I interviewed for the screenwriting work panel. So I interviewed all the different screenwriters and then put together about a nine minute package that was gonna be running into the overall show. And during that, I met Dan Petrie Jr. and interviewed him. And you know, so you have to prepare for these things. But obviously, I would say I was prepared my entire life because I love movies.
But he had done Beverly Hills Cop at that point and Big Easy and he was about to do Turner and Hooch. And he was there promoting, talking in this panel, Shoot To Kill movie. So anyway, I interviewed him and it went great. Then afterwards, he was like, “Hey dude, you know, those were great questions and you know a lot. You wanna be in the business, right?” And I was like, “Yeah, I wanna be a screenwriter.” So he read a script and he loved it and it was great. So he said, so then after that, he said, “Hey listen, I’ve got a deal at Disney and they are thinking about, they’re going to do this thing called Robert Heinlein’s, the Puppet Masters. And I think we should put you up for it.
And I would be producing and possibly directing, but they have a script, it’s terrible. And they want another writer, but they’re probably still gonna hang on to these other writers. So you wanna go for it?” I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” So the point of the story, is that I went in there and after reading the script and it was bad, and just saying, this is the thing that was wrong with the script, and here’s how I would fix it. And I mean, I spoke for 20, 30 minutes. And then said, “Let me just say, whatever you do, that’s of course up to you guys. But if you please, there’s so many… I heard you use the word trope. There’s so many tropes in this thing. You don’t want… If you don’t hire me, just hire somebody please, like me that knows everything that’s wrong with this thing.”
So here’s the point of the story, even though I’ve been going on and on. The point of the story being that, so the meeting went well, so they tell Dan, they say, “Hey, we like him. We love him. So let’s look at a writing sample.” So they looked at my writing sample that Dan had read, and they really liked it, called on Monday and said, “We really like this. Can we see one more thing?” And so I gave them one more thing. And the next week they called back on Monday and said, “We really like this, this really good. The guy’s really good. Can we make sure though, can we read one more thing?” So, we gave them one more thing and the next Monday I got the job. The thing about it is to say to you, because I know a lot of people ask these questions and everything.
But basically, I only got that job because I had three samples. Not just three writing samples, but three samples that I felt really good about. That were good, you know? And so the thing about it is you got to work. You got to write all the time because even when you do get that opportunity, you can’t just be like handing over one script and… Nobody’s gonna hire you to write something else based on just one script. So that’s a lesson I think, very early on. And so that started my screenwriting career. And even though I didn’t get credit on the Robert Heinlein’s, the Puppet Masters, it was a great process to go through, and there are things in there that we definitely worked on, and that was my first studio job.
Ashley: Got you. Got you. So then at this point though, were you writing horror? Were these three samples, you mentioned you had three scripts with your agent. Were these three samples all horror, like this potential Puppet Master script that they were gonna hire you for?
Richard: That’s a great question. You know what, they probably actually, I think two were horror and one was more of science fiction. So and that’s the thing. The thing was that I knew that, and I think that’s why Dan said, “Hey, let’s go for this,” is because he knew that I knew this arena really, really well. And frankly, one of the things too, was that the, my agent… and eventually I was with Irene for a while, then I got another agent. And that other agent was I think pretty smart about just simply saying, “Hey, look, I think you’re capable of writing other stuff, but right now, let’s just kind of ID you as, identify you as, to the industry, as somebody that’s gonna be writing, and not necessarily horror.” It was going to be kind of like science fiction, this kind of stuff.
And I think that was the right move. That was a smart move, because then from there, I think that, so my big trajectory after getting there and doing this, was there was two things that happen again with Dan. I was still having to work at Fox Television as a videotape editor because I had a family to support. And I was working there and I always considered it the second best job in the world, because it was a really, you were editing for the news, and I was also producing segments and it was great. But it was the second best job, because I wanted to be a screenwriter and I wanted to be a filmmaker. But then one day, Dan called up and he said, “Listen, I’ve gotten this assignment and I’ve fallen behind and I’d love that you come in and write it with me.
And I said, “Oh, that’s great. We can work on the weekends. This the time that I have off.” And he was like, “Oh no, you don’t understand. You got to leave your job and come over and do this because if they like it, if we do a good job, then we’re gonna do a production rewrite, and then maybe even something more during the line.” So I was like, “Oh man, I can’t do that.” So we literally went through, “Well, how much do you make?” And then he basically said, “Look, we’ll pay you. I’ll pay you, the studio will pay you this amount of money for one month’s work, and that was what you would make in three years being there.” So I said, and I quit that night [laughs].
So that was what started, and that ended up being a John Claude Van Damme movie for Sony, Maximum Risk. And again, did not get credit, but at the same time, we did… the script was they were gonna not do it or do it, and our script got them to do it. Then we did a production rewrite and we did a polish. And the reality is, is that the first writer got credit, but everything that is pretty much that film is like that’s what we did. So now I was working as a studio assistant, and then the next big thing happened. Then I started going into different places and pitched him my projects. So I would, because I had some really cool ideas I thought, and when I would tell my agent about these ideas, he would go crazy and he would say, “Oh, you got to go out with this stuff.”
So the big one, so what ended up happening, was I ended up selling three pitches within a six month period at the studios for a lot of money, each one. But the one that actually was really the big breakthrough was, I had set it up with Steven Spielberg. So that story, if you don’t mind me telling…
Ashley: No, no, yeah. This is fascinating. Yeah, let’s hear it.
Richard: [laughs] So that story was pretty funny, because what we did… and this sort of gives you a glimpse of what used to be. What the industry used to be like. Because it’s, I don’t know. I don’t think it is very much like this anymore, but at the time the goal was, I had hooked, the agent hooked me up with this one producer who’s great, Robert Lawrence, and we sat there and the game plan was you go out in two days and you sit there and you hit all the different studios, and you sit there and you pitch and you hope that one, that would be great, but two or three go for it, and then you get into some kind of bidding war, right? So on the very first day we went out, at the end of the day, we already knew that that Disney was making, had made an offer.
They were making an offer, and that… but we had pitched it also to a DreamWorks, which they were at that time a new company. We pitched to executive Jason Hoffs and he loved it, and he wanted Spielberg to hear it, and so he briefly told Spielberg about it. And then he got back to us, our agent, and said, “Steven wants to hear this tomorrow morning.” So which was like, “Oh, wow. Okay, that’s fantastic.” When we heard this news, we had just walked out of our very last pitch meeting that day, and we heard that Disney had already made an offer, and now Spielberg was wanting to hear this. But all I heard about, all I heard was Spielberg, we’re gonna be pitching to Spielberg, and I mean, I was just so petrified and everything, because I was the one that was doing the pitching.
Robert was there and he would do the setup, and then I was doing the pitching. Suddenly I’m like, “What? I’m gonna be pitching to Spielberg.” I was just like, I was totally, I was just like… And Robert saw that. And he, so then we made a plan, let’s not close the deal with Disney. Let’s at least pitch to Spielberg. And then he said, “Richard, don’t worry about it. I’ll pitch it to Spielberg.” And I was like, “Oh, thank you, Robert. Thank you, thank you so much. Thank you.” All right. So I went to sleep knowing, “Hey, look, worst case scenario, Disney. We got this thing sold. And then now we got Spielberg, but you’re off the pitch. So we’re walking up to see… we’re at, we’re going to his house, but then we’re walking up into the area to do the pitch.
And at that point, that’s when Robert turns to me and says, “Hey, so by the way, Richard, you are gonna pitch this.” And I said, “What? What are you talking about?” And he said, “I just told you that so you get a good night’s sleep. Richard, you’ve got to pitch this, come on now.” And so I pitched it. And I would just say to you, there’ve been times when I’ve been performing or just pitching or anything like that. And like when you’re pitching, you’re supposed to read the room. You’re supposed to actually see people and see their reaction so that you can change things. You can speed things up, lose things if you don’t see they’re reacting. Because you always want them to be thinking, “So what happens next? What happens next?”
And so you read the room. Well, in this case, I did what I would do sometimes, is just blur out the audience. So I started up and Spielberg’s there. He was just a blur. And then I finished and then he just said, “I love this. I wanna do this.” And so we ended up going with DreamWorks and Spielberg, and it was, we had made a big splash. So suddenly, I was not… everything else was great, but now all of a sudden I’m like working with Spielberg in studios. I had also sold a pitch to the Mel Gibson’s company. They were very hot at the time too, they are still, whatever. So I was all of a sudden, that was my whole career got started, really.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So how did this end up with Spielberg? I think you mentioned that it got eventually turned into a video game or something?
Richard: Well, you what they did? It was like, it was really a weird thing, because it… first of all, it was great. We were able to work and develop the thing and everything. I would just say in one sentence, all of a sudden, you get something and it’s fantastic, but then you get this thing where every direction that we would go creatively, was like, “Oh, we can’t do that. Steven’s already done that. He’s already done that. He’s already done that.” It’s Alien Zoo. So, he already has been there on the alien thing. So we were definitely, you know, really trying to be innovative and regional, but then you have that extra burden of not doing something that Spielberg had done. So it was tough, right? So anyway, it wound up, I would just definitely say in development hell but it was never dead.
And to illustrate that it was never dead, at some point, I think it wound up at DreamWorks animation. So now they were thinking about doing it as an animation project. So I was there for some of that. Then at some point, it just kind of like… And then, so now we’re jumping forward to like 2018, 2019, and now it is this big thing that is, it’s this VR attraction that opened up in Century City in 2019, 2020. They had expanded to I think four different locations, and then the pandemic stopped everything. But so something that I had set up as a, created and then worked with them and just never got made as a movie, Spielberg in interviews with him and Walter Parkes, they talked about where did this idea for this VR attraction come from?
And they definitely admit, oh, it was this project that we had at a movie studio that we didn’t get made into a movie, but we thought this would be really great. So they’re going to keep on expanding, and so this something that frankly wasn’t even in my contract originally. VR, nobody knew about this kind of stuff. So that’s how crazy the whole business can be, is like you’re working on something that, it finally does see the light of day, but it’s in a kind of a form that of course I had no idea at that time when I created it.
Ashley: And if the VR attraction takes off, no doubt that might actually put a little heat behind the script at some point, you know. These things can…
Richard: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. That’s the way things work. Yeah, right [laughs]?
Ashley: So, it sounds like you were producing these segments up in Oxnard, sort of news segments. But at what point did you start to segue into producing as a screenwriter- producer?
Richard: So yeah. The thing about it was, I was… so I was working a lot, but I call… at that point, I’m working on Alien Zoo, I’m working on a project with Mel Gibson’s company, I’m working on all these different projects. But I considered it, eventually I considered it a velvet coffin, because you know, nothing was getting made. And so it was very frustrating for me. And again, it’s like one of those, yeah, good problems. So, I mean, I don’t wanna like, oh, feel sorry for him. But that was really how I felt. I really wanted to make movies. I didn’t wanna just keep on writing screenplays. And frankly writing screenplays, you wanna collaborate first of all, but you also want people to see the stories. So that wasn’t happening.
So basically what I did was, I made a conscious effort. I sat there and there was a guy, his name is Terry Michael. And a lot of times we’d run into each other. He was a straight ahead independent producer, and he would be at these production companies or at these studios in the lobby area waiting for his meeting as I was going to my meetings. So we got talking and everything. And pretty soon what basically happened, I made a conscious effort to say, I wanna produce some stuff that at first I said, that has nothing to do with my screenwriting. I felt that that was the smart way to go, because then I would learn the whole producing thing, but and the best thing, is that not to have one of your own children, like you know… So I went into it and you know what? I again was very, very fortunate.
We found some really good stuff, some good material, and in like about a two and a half year period, three-year period, we made five films. And one of the films was, our first film that we did together was 100 Girls. And that was like, when we were talking earlier, you and I, I was just saying to you that that’s an example of a film that we made, $3,000,000 budget, and it had a really good cast, up and coming people. Jonathan Tucker and Katherine Heigl, and Larysa Oleynik, Jamie Pressly. So we had a really good cast and it was $3, 000, 000. And the film still to this day is really high ranked in IMDb. But it’s an example of something that is just almost impossible now to make in the same way we made it.
So, I’m sure we’ll get to that, but the reality was, that was my first film, and I realized how fortunate I was to do that. But we made like five films in two and a half years. We did a TV movie as well, and a bestselling book. And it was, and boom, I had a producing career. And it was fantastic because the thing that I think that most people, the highlight of their career will be if they are fortunate enough to make movies, is to be on a set and to be working with the different department heads and to be working with actors and to be working… And then to go to a screening audience, seeing your movie and rating it. And doing that whole process is not only the highlight of everything that I’ve done, just going through it and being on a set, and feeling like you’re a king. You control everything that’s happening in the budget and you’re responsible for it, but it’s wonderful.
And you do all of that and it’s almost impossible not to see where you go, “Oh, I got to get back into production.” That’s why everybody wants to be in production, because it’s fantastic. It’s a great process and everything. And for me, it was a fantastic process to finally get something made, then screen it for an audience and see them laugh at the spots that you want them to laugh and everything. And then I would just say as a screenwriter, it was fantastic because you’ve seen actors again, breathe life into your things, seeing lines that you thought would work, not work. Lines that you thought, “Oh, if I did this, I do that, or do this, or the way it’s edited now adds punch to it.” All of that made me a better writer, being a producer as well.
Ashley: I’m curious, you just mentioned that you thought this was impossible to do. The current times, these three and four million dollar films. Why is it impossible now, do you think?
Richard: I think it’s really, really hard. So, the really quick version of how basically it used to be done was, you would sit there and you would find really great material. You would sit there and you would put out the pay-or-play offers for the actors. You would get an obviously great director that was good for the material, and then you would sit there. And a lot of times you would take that package and you would sit there and you would pre-sell foreign territories. And then you would also then kind of like get some interest maybe from on a domestic side, maybe just for the DVD rights. Okay? And then you would take all of that to a bank. Comerica at the time was a bank that was doing these kind of things. And then you would take all of these commitments in the foreign market, maybe the DVD thing.
And then they would sit there and give you the money. And they would like sit there and they would give you like 80 percent of what was promised. And then there was what they so-called gap. And then you would bring in some maybe… maybe it was pro-investors, but sometimes it was what we always referred to as the 20 dentists from Anaheim who were like private investors, wanted to be in the movies as blah, blah, blah. And they would fill that gap of like so you had your budget, and you would go make your movie. And that’s how we made the movie more or less. That’s how we made a lot of movies. And what has now the… where we are is like whatever. It’s like the Charles Dickens line, the best of times, the worst of times.
No, it’s just the worst of times right now, because basically what you have is since the pandemic, but even before then, you have the DVD market got it. And that was like, the studios were surviving. They were break even with marketing a movie for theatrical marketplace. They were breaking even at best usually, and then they would make their money off of the DVD market and the cable sales and all that kind of stuff. So when you lost the DVD market, which we have lost the DVD market around the 2008, 2009 recession area, that was the DVD market got gutted. And so there was a huge money source for everybody that just went away. Then basically, while this was all happening, in the foreign markets, the theatrical releases were getting really… we’re being supported for the most part by foreign money.
At first, it was 60- 40 domestic. You would make your money back, 40 percent foreign. Then it started to switch over the years and then pretty soon, I would say by 2010, it was definitely 60- 40. The studios were making their money in foreign markets and everything like that. So if the studios were doing it and you were trying to do something at the three, four million dollar mark or two million mark even, you would sit there and you would be doing this whole foreign market thing. Well, that has fallen apart as well, more recently because of the pandemic. But at the same time, it has fallen apart. Now why? Why did it fall apart? Well, there’s several reasons. Some of them really good for movies and audiences who enjoy things, part of it was that the, that every country in the last 10 years has gotten so much better with their home native filmmaking.
So they were making products that they’re, the people or the population wanted to see before they wanted to necessarily see an independent film or even a studio film from America. So as that was rising, so there was less call, less demand for those kinds of things and they were rising. And that’s a good thing. That’s, so now we’ve seen some movie from New Zealand, or we’re seeing some… then there was the Netherlands. All of a sudden you would, Finland and Scotland, and all these films were, they were having viable marketplaces. So that was happening. And so that was hurting the budgetary, trying to get some money for your movies. Then television got really, really huge creatively to the point where there was less of a market in the foreign market for independent films and for even studio films.
Because now it had kind of gone, geared toward more and more like for television stuff, you know, TV series. And then Netflix and Amazon and the whole streaming thing happened, and then everything really did just change overnight. And so now, where do you go? And that was, that’s the big problem. I have said to you that I don’t really know what I would do if I had come across a project like tomorrow, and say, oh, they’re gonna make this for three million dollars. I mean, I get people coming to me and I’m glad. Here’s this project, we need this kind of money, but I cannot jump in there with some of the investors who want to, “Richard, you have something we’d love.” I cannot make figures work.
I can’t sit there and say to them, if we make this for XYZ amount of money, it’s gonna go out there and it’s gonna do this, this, and this. This probably where it’s gonna end up. How are we gonna get our money back? I don’t know. I don’t have that. I can’t feel confident about that anymore. And I’m not talking about now three, two million dollar movies. I’m talking about even at under a million dollars. I say to you that if you don’t have certain things happening, even at the 1,000,000 or 500,000 dollar level, if you don’t have certain things happening, I feel it’s tough to look at a master in the face and say, and I won’t do it, and say, “Hey, yeah, yeah, I’m confident we’re gonna get our money back.” I won’t do that.
Ashley: And you say certain things. You may say certain things in place. What are those certain things you’re talking about? Like an MG with a distributor?
Richard: I think that, I think a distributor is kind of… I think a distributor is kind of important. I think that what… I think that that’s… listen, I would say the only safest bet right now is to say to somebody, we’re good because Netflix and Amazon is doing the entire budget in a movie. Okay. Now, you don’t have that, I think that some of the creative elements are really becoming so important, director. So there are people that will absolutely, in informal markets, they’ll sit there and will say, “Hey, we love that director,” and they’ll give you money. Or they’ll give you money even after the film is done, because they know that it’s gonna be a certain thing. So director, but then actors, so certain actors, and then the subject matter. Okay?
And sometimes the subject matter, it can be very niche and you will get people interested in a way that if it’s more just straight ahead genre kind of film, it’s not gonna make any difference, because those kinds of films are getting made all the time and losing money. And then even the actors thing, I mean, nowadays it’s like, I was saying to you, you almost have to have like an Ethan Hawke for a one million dollar film. I mean, now that’s where we’re at. I mean, you used to be able to go like, let’s just say Ethan Hawke, 10 years ago, or let’s say seven years ago, and have a five million dollar, 10 million dollar maybe with other elements and you would get finance. You would get the financing from all these different things.
Nowadays, and it’s nothing about Ethan Hawke. I’m just saying, that’s the demand and that’s the competition on the marketplace to get your money back, is that it’s just… So in other words, your other actors that are lower than the Ethan Hawke in the scale of things, you know, nobody’s lowering them, but in the scale of things.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. The value. The sales value.
Richard: Yeah, the value. It’s like, I mean, you’re almost like better off to saying, “Hey, look, if you’re just casting that person to just have that person, let’s not do that. Let’s get the right person.” Or let’s get somebody that’s really hot, and maybe they’re gonna be huge in six months or a year or two years. That’s a better way to go almost. Because the same actors in the same kind of genre stuff, they just, they don’t mean as much. And they used to be able to bank on it. They used to have, if you have that actor, they have to be in this percentage of the film. That was how they were trying to work around, but not anymore. Now it’s just like, “Oh, I don’t care if he’s in every frame of the film, or she’s in every frame of the film.”
It’s like… But again, these are like, this is what is the huge problem with right now, but there’s good things. I mean, the good things there are, is that I think it’s a lot of movies that would not get made are getting made because Amazon and Netflix are making them and other places like that, and Hulu. And I think that’s great, but if you’re an independent filmmaker, I think it’s really tough now to make those kind of things.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So let’s talk about the cottage industry that has sprung up around screenwriters and helping get screenwriters. And I’m definitely a part of this. You’re one of my industry judges for the screenplay contest that I’m running right now. So let’s talk about that a little bit. The first question is, why did you wanna be an industry judge? Or not really want, but why did you agree to be an industry judge? I’m always a little bit curious about that. Because when I was formulating the contest, I knew I could reach out to people, but I was wondering, would anybody actually respond to my emails and wanna actually do this. So what is your interest in being an industry judge I guess to start?
Richard: You know, I have to say that part of it was definitely I wanted to see what the writing was like. What was happening with the writing, you know? When I first started, first of all, I would just say, to undercut everything I’m about to say, is to say that if I had to show people the scripts that I had sold and developed and all this kind of stuff, my writing when I first started out, I would be, oh, please, I’d be so embarrassed. It was like horrible. That’s how far I think everything has moved. Creatively, everything just keeps on getting better and better. It’s like Mark Spitz would not be able to qualify for the swimming team today, and my scripts would not be anything good compared to the writing that is available and you see on television or in the movies.
So it’s not that. What it is though, is for me to just sit there and try to like say, “Hey, so what’s going on? What is the writing and everything?” I do feel that it’s hard for me to sit there and see somebody going through a process of like, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that and I’m gonna do this. And if this happens, then everything… and sitting there saying they’re writing, because my experience has always been kind of like, as a producer, you would just, you would come across these scripts, or you’d come across this writer, and they just, they had it. There was maybe problems or something like that. You would work with them, and I was like, but they were just like, they were solid. And they were solid from like, almost like day one, you were working with them. And they were young, you know what I mean?
I mean, the guy that I, one of the guys I’ll never forget, he’s a big show runner right now. But the first time we ran into his first script that… I mean, we wanted it and we didn’t get it, and he ended up making it as a movie. He was great. And you just knew there was something there. So the thing about it is, I’m always curious to see exactly what kind of talent is out there and what, as a cottage industry, or as a producer, or as a screenwriter, what can you do to help that? How can you bring that up? Or how can you get that to a level where they have a career or they’re doing this? So that’s probably why I definitely wanted to get in the thing. But also what you were talking about too was, and I think it’s something you should be really proud of, is that before I got involved around that time, I sat there and I said, “Look, I’ll be honest with you…”
I just, I’m not really… my big deal is, what I see, is a lot of people taking advantage of people that wanna be writers and people that wanna be screenwriters. And there’s just so much where people are making a lot of money doing this. It’s like this the, rather than making movies and filmmaking, they’re doing this and they’re making a lot of money and they’re off… because are these people really ever going to have a career? Or are they ever going to get this movie made? And I was skeptical, but I was seeing a lot of people being taken advantage of. And so, I was sitting there saying, you know, I was holding your feet to fire. I was saying, “Hey, so what are you doing? Why is this going to make a difference than anything else?
And frankly, when you went through it all, and we had a long conversation and we did this and we did that, and you showed me this and showed me that, I was just like, I was blown away. And I was like sitting there going, “This great. This is fantastic, and this what everything should be about.” And I was really proud to be part of it. And I would also throw in that what I was really, really proud about was, that you were doing it for all the right reasons, knowing that ultimately the industry has changed so much the way we’ve been talking about. That for a lot of people, this is the only avenue. That if you get noticed in a contest, then suddenly you have access to somebody that you would not necessarily have access to. It’s just, everybody’s changed since I broke in, that you would not… this is possibly the only avenue a lot of people have.
So now I’m just saying that’s what’s so great about if you do have a really good contest like yours, if you do come across it, then it’s fantastic because it might be the only way somebody can break in and everything. And then obviously you had really good success. The first year that I was a judge, the person that won that thing got a movie made. That’s, I can’t even, I can’t even fathom that. That’s amazing. That’s awesome.
Ashley: And to your point about doing all the pre-sales and stuff, the company that he ended up getting the script to and producing it, is a company MarVista Entertainment, and they’re very much in that flow where they have a pipeline set up, whether it be Hallmark or those kinds of things, is they’re kind of like a mini studio just pumping these things out.
Ashley: So it’s pretty safe. I think they know how to make these movies on the budget. Whatever they’re spending probably are well less than a million dollars, but they kind of have their game plan figured out.
Richard: Sure. Definitely. And also because a lot of those places like Hallmark and everything, their stuff will also run with commercials, so there’s another avenue coming in and all this kind of stuff. But yeah, the Hallmark thing is absolutely an example of a really great… they’re making a ton of money over there because they have a formula and they know what they’re doing and they have their budgets and their audiences know what to expect and everything. So, as I said, there’s a lot of good things that are happening. It’s just for beginning filmmakers, it’s tough. Yeah.
Ashley: And so let’s talk about, you said, you mentioned to me you were doing a seminar I guess at the end of the month. Maybe we can talk about that real quick. Just tell us what it’s about and how people can learn more about it.
Richard: It’s a Utah [inaudible 00:46:30] Film Festival, and I’m doing a workshop. I don’t even do workshops, but I wanted to do this one because of the people, the couple that are behind this film festival are really cool. And basically what I proposed to them, I said, “Hey, so let me do like five things that you should be doing in your screenplay writing to elevate it.” And I guess basically as a producer, I definitely see things that will turn me off, but I’m not approaching it from that direction. I’m really kind of approaching it more from the direction of as a screenwriter right now. I’m sitting there saying to myself, “Look things are changing.” And as a writer you… if you’ve been doing this for a few years, if you’ve been doing this for 20 years, there are things that you got to do to kind of change.
So I discussed those five things, but I wanted to kind of mention maybe a couple of things for anybody that’s listening and everything. Yeah. So, first of all, on a just general note, I would definitely say the biggest note is that television right now I think is creatively the place to be. And I think that also the odds are better, that I would totally recommend anybody that is writing right now, or anybody that’s about to get started writing or anything, really gear toward television. Because frankly, the whole creative process about television, is that you have several hours to tell a story now, and that story is going to inevitably, if it’s done right, if everything is, if it’s done right, is going to be deeper, and you’re gonna be able to get a hold of an audience in a way that makes it…
Like people are doing fist fights about Game of Thrones climax, as opposed to if you did Game of Thrones in a two hour movie. And you’re just not gonna have that kind of emotional and storytelling impact. And the key to storytelling for me also, has always been like the twist and turns, the underlying things that are happening that you can, they take time to build on. And as a screenwriter, working in a 90 minute to 120 format, it’s difficult. The three-act format is much better if you’re doing that on a single episode, and then you’re building on it in another episode. I think that the only thing that would even come close to matching the creativity that has been in television for the last 10 years is, would be the Marvel movies where they are doing the two hour movie, but then they’re building on the two hour movie that was before that.
And the two hour movie that is gonna come after that, and the one after that and the one after that. So that the audience like a television series, sits down in their seats, and there’s already this backstory that they know about, so that the things that they play out work on a deeper level than if you’re just learning about all these characters for the very, very first time in a two hour format. So that’s my quick note is to say, I would start to work on what works in a television script, do the pilot, do the whole, write like a television series, and the odds are you’re gonna get more, you’re gonna get work if you’re good, because they have to fill out, on a TV series, they have to fill out a staff of writers. So they need more writers per se than they would on the feature side. So that’s the thing.
Well, there’s a couple of things that I would say would be that the things that I think that like writers could really use, and I try for everything I do, is to try to integrate what I call undertone, and also the undertone, meaning that you want to build something so that just your regular scenes have all of the stuff happening underneath the surface. And what I see a lot of writers not doing is that. In other words, they don’t sit there and work out the certain machinations of the plot and the characters and who knows… Because it’s just so much more powerful if one character knows something, but the other character doesn’t know that that character knows that, and then go. And then the scene is taking place, and there’s these dynamics that are happening because usually you got to go for that.
And that’s why the good writers, when you really enjoy a TV series or something like that, I was just watching the Mare thing that was on HBO. And they spent an hour just introducing all these characters and you’re gonna tolerate it, because it was fine and it was good, but you’re tolerating it because you know that they’re setting up all these dynamics that are gonna be paid off later. So that’s the thing. It’s not just about just telling the story, it’s about telling all of these things and having all these threads. The other thing I would say too, is try to have something that is, that you just, the audience needs to know the answer to at the end of the film. They just need to know the answer to it. And it may be part of the A plot, it may be part of the B plot, but it’s something that really pulls the audience through, and it adds a lot of energy to…
There’s like, I mean, I have seen so many people will sit there and they’ll go, “I mean, the film was all right. I had to know the answer to that thing.” So I would just say that a lot of times when you can add that to your story, it really makes a huge difference. And it can be something as minor as, what happened during this thing. How did you get that name? So you see that a lot of times. And so you want something bigger, but if that’s all you have, I swear to God, you should do it. Okay? And then it can be something much bigger, like what happened years ago that put this character on this path to finally doing all these things, and you only reveal it at the end because that’s where it should go, but really, people want to know.
And it adds an energy that I think that that I don’t see enough. I think that when I see something that I really love, I see that kind of energy. The last thing I would mention to you that I think is the real game changer in the last 15, 20 years, and if you’re not doing this, you got to start doing it. Because it’s the thing that when I see it being done well, and it’s always pretty much done well nowadays, is it’s where you know you got, you’re in the hands of pros. Where you’re in the hands of really good storytellers. And that’s the nonlinear storytelling where you are no longer faced with the burden of telling a three-act story and staying with, oh, you know the first act, setting up the story, setting up the characters, doing some exposition, doing this kind of stuff, you know.
You are rejiggering everything and you’re, and television series now are profoundly more creative, simply because they utilize nonlinear storytelling so much. Sometimes on every episode, that it is like one of these things where it gets you a lot. A lot of times you’re stuck with, oh, I got to set up the story, and so not a lot happens as I’m setting up the story. So, first of all, I would question whether you should be doing that story. But then second of all though, if you did a nonlinear storytelling, you can immediately start off with a bang and start all this stuff. Something that’s happened two days later or something that’s happened three months later. And then you’re working your storyline toward that, and maybe you keep kind of coming back to it.
So it solves that problem where you don’t have that. What do I do with this thing? I wanna grab the audience at the very beginning. And then a lot of times people, the pros will, they’ll sit there and they’ll grab that, and they’ll say that. And then they’ll do an extra level where they’ll say, “Oh, and you remember that thing that we started with? Now that we’re are here, guess what? You’re not seeing it the way you saw it the first time, right? Now you see it in a totally different way.” And then they’re doing the nonlinear storytelling where it used to be traditionally called flashbacks, where somebody would go, “Oh, I remember when…” But not anymore. Now it’s just very slickly done where all of a sudden, it’ll be the beginning of an episode where you’re going to be kind of telling this story, but you’re gonna be focusing maybe on one character.
And then, so now you’re gonna dovetail back and forth between what’s happening in the present and what happened in the past. So now for like, maybe the show has been on for like several episodes, but you don’t really know about, you just heard about their backstory, but you don’t know anything about it. But guess what? You know that the good guys, they’re gonna come back to it and they’re gonna devote an episode. And then suddenly you’re gonna see what everybody’s been talking about, and you’re gonna see how it all plays out and how it dovetails into the present. So, nonlinear storytelling is the bomb, and it is the thing that is the huge game changer, as far as I’m concerned for modern storytelling.
And it is not something that could have arrived any earlier because audiences, you only do stuff like this when audiences are ready for it. And now we have the most sophisticated audiences watching media, you know.
Ashley: What’s a good example you could point to from a recent TV show that uses this nonlinear storytelling effectively?
Richard: Yeah. The… well, I’m trying to think of one of the, I would say that to a certain extent, the, what’s the Marvel thing that just came on was…
Ashley: Born a Soldier.
Richard: Yeah, it was the one before that, Wanda. Yeah, WandaVision. Okay. So WandaVision does some of this nonlinear storytelling. But, and I’m trying to think now, like I think I would just… this totally dates me, but I really believe that it started up with J.J. Abrams when he was like, kind of like doing Alias and programs like that. Because what they would do was, they would sit there and they would start with the action, and then a lot of times they would sit there and then all of a sudden they would get you there in the halfway part of the show. Then suddenly you were there at that one thing. And then, we’re not coincidentally, when he had a chance to do one of the Mission Impossible movies, they actually started with the whole sequence with the villain.
And another reason to do it is, sometimes the villain and the hero don’t meet for a while. But when you do nonlinear you could have them meet in the very first scene. That kind of thing. So he did it in his Mission Impossible movie. And so you got me as far as like, I’m trying to think, because I think right now, the most recent show that I love, Gomorrah, they do it to a certain extent. They’ll sit there and they will do the nonlinear storytelling, but there are… I’m just like totally blanking, but there are television series that I’m not even sure they even know how to tell a very straight ahead linear story. It would strike them as so wrong DNA wise, that they wouldn’t even do it. But it really takes a sophisticated audience to sit there and do it.
And then as a filmmaker, you have to be really sophisticated about it too. Sometimes it’ll be the story that you’re telling is so complicated that there is a whole thing built in now that like, you have to identify a certain, what they look like when you’re in the past so you don’t confuse the audience continuity wise, are we in the past, are we in the present and everything, you know? And so, those are the kinds of things that totally you have to get done perfect, or you confuse the audience. And they don’t know… But I don’t really see that happening, because everybody just kind of got their… they know exactly what they’re doing when they’re doing it. But I just kind of highlighted some of the things that it gets you.
But what it boils down to is this, that certain scenes at certain points in the storyline, if it was done in a chronological way, you wouldn’t get the emotional payback that you do when you mess with the chronology, so that that scene is put further back and you bring up certain things that have happened with the characters, character or characters, all these things that have happened in the past, leading up to that moment. Stuff that might’ve happened 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 10 days ago, 10 hours ago. And that by the time chronologically in the telling of your story, you get to that scene, it’s so much deeper in a way that you just cannot do. It’s the solution to, like why people love novels, is that they’ll read 300, 400 pages, and when they get to a certain something, it has a payoff because they’ve endured 300, 400 pages of that character’s thing.
Whereas in a television show or in a movie, especially in a movie, frankly. In a movie, if you told the straight chronological story, how are you going to really have that emotional payoff that would be similar. The only way is to sit there and show what has led up to this relationship. Whether it’s how long it’s taken that person to find that other person over years, and years, and years, and everything that they struck. If you are gonna try to tell that story in a two hour movie, non-linear storytelling is a must. And I think that that’s just like one of the biggest reasons, is the emotional payoff that you get. So anyway, I would just basically say, it’s tough. It’s a very tough thing to do, but, I’m struggling to try to tell a certain story a certain way that way, and it’s tough. But if you can get it, the pay off is really wonderful.
Ashley: Yeah. Yes, for sure. Excellent advice. So what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing or contact you, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything that you use or are comfortable sharing I will roundup for the show notes?
Richard: Oh yeah. Okay, cool. I have a blog. I have been able to… I have not been able to write on it for a while because I’ve been so busy, but I am going to take it back up. But that’s Pit and Pen. So P-I-T-A-N-D P-E-N .com, www.pitandpen.com . And so I, whether I’m writing on it or not, but I’m going to, but there’s a whole mess of stuff about all the different projects that I have. And frankly, different things that I’ve experienced as a screenwriter, that’s what I was, I guess why, I’ve like been in a room where, so I have a director and I’ll say, “Hey, you know what?” And they’re like, “Hey, look, I’m gonna get this project. We’re gonna do this, but we got to lick this and I didn’t do it.” And I was a huge director. And I think about that all the time, like oh, I wasn’t able to be… In this room with this guy, and I’m really smart, why couldn’t I figure it out with him and everything?
And we couldn’t and he passed on the project. And I mean, so that’s the kind of story that is on there that even if I’m not keeping up, my experiences are there and you can I think learn something from them, I’m hoping.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Perfect. Perfect. Yeah, definitely, I’ll round that up and I’ll put it in the show notes. Well, Richard, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. This has been fantastic. Lots of great information. I know people will get a lot out of this.
Richard: I appreciate this. I really appreciate the opportunity. I’m glad and I would basically say, I really was honored to come on the show because I think what you’re doing is really fantastic and everything. So thank you for having me.
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Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this a great way to do it. We will also write you a logline and synopsis for you. You can add this logline and synopsis writing service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product.
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This is a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material, so again, this 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 Del Weston. Del is the founder of Action on Film, which is a film festival that I actually took my film The Pinch to, a few years ago, and I’ll be taking my latest film, The Rideshare Killer too this year as well. It is in late July, so if you’re in Las Vegas, definitely try and attend. Del really knows how to throw a good event.
It’s a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of filmmakers from all over the world, certainly all over this country. You really can see a lot of different types of films and interact with a lot of different types of filmmakers at this film festival. But he’s also a screenwriter with a number of produced credits. So we’re gonna talk next week about how he was able to get those projects produced. So keep an eye out for that episode. That’s the show, thank you for listening.