This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 393: With Movie Producer Gary W. Goldstein.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #393 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing producer Gary W. Goldstein, who was the original producer on Pretty Woman and helped develop that writer and script. He’s gone on to do lots of other great films like Under Siege and The Mothman Prophecies. He’s a great networker, and in fact he’s networking with me by being on this podcast. We talk a lot about networking and specifically cold calling and how to build a network of industry contacts. He has years of experience in the industry in doing cold calling, so he’s got some really great knowledge for all of us screenwriters, just looking to build our network. 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 #393. 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. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing producer Gary W. Goldstein. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Gary to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Gary: Ashley. Good to be here with you.
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?
Gary: You know, I grew up in San Francisco. I was born in New York, but I really grew up in San Francisco, and I just kind of fell in love with story when I was a really young kid. Books were the thing for me early on, not films. That was like seven, eight years old when I sort of met my first larger than life romantic hero, which was the Scarlet Pimpernel. Anyway, I just, I have always had this unrequited, or not unrequited, full on love affair with language and storytelling and the storytellers. And for a time, I got into the music business, I produced all the concerts at UC Berkeley as an undergrad, Joni Mitchell, all the great poet laureates of the day. But I just, it didn’t feel like music was the right fit. The business of music wasn’t a right fit.
So I took a bit of a left turn. I became a criminal defense lawyer because to me being a romantic, the courtroom was great theater, and if you didn’t tell a really persuasive story, something bad would happen. So I worked in the ghetto of San Francisco representing the indigent adults and law of the public defender. And that was a great chapter of my life, but again not really actually a perfect fit for my temperament. I didn’t wanna live my life going into jails and whatnot. So I ran away to LA because I just had this sort of late blooming idea that I wanted to be in the film business. A lot of my heroes were from the publishing world. They were not only the authors, but the great editors, Max Perkins who discovered Faulkner Hemingway, Ring Lardner, Thomas Wolf.
And I thought if I could be like mini, micro Max, but working with writers and directors in LA in the film business, that would be a really cool thing. And that’s what I did. I packed up my Volkswagen, whatever fit came to LA with me. And within a year of getting here, I just, I didn’t really know anyone here. I didn’t know the business at all, but I just wherever I went, everybody was my five minute mentor. And I spent a year trying to puzzle together what this business was and what the job titles were. And I didn’t wanna be an attorney, but I knew how to represent people. And someone told me about management, so I started a lit management company in the relatively early ‘80s. It was… at the time, management was called, personal management was for actors only.
So no one had really heard of a lit manager back then, but I just did it. And if someone looked at me askance, I just said, “Oh, never mind, I’m their attorney.” And because I was green and new and pretty naïve, so were my clients. And I just had a lot of writers. If you said in a public space, “Oh interesting, you’re a writer. I represent people just like you,” you had three new clients on the spot. And over time, over the first several years, I really just took myself to school and read thousands of scripts, like multiple scripts every single day and set up… And as soon as I hung my shingle as a lit manager, it gave me an excuse to just call anybody and say, “Hey, you don’t know me, I don’t know you, but I have these gems, these beautiful, this is a boutique.
It’s got these amazing clients and we should meet for coffee. I’ll come to your office or we’ll have a meal.” Whatever it was. And I spent my first three years literally networking morning, noon, and night. And over time, I sort of upgraded my client list and I got a sense of what a story really should be on the page and what deal memos looked like and how to negotiate and who I needed to know and what there… So anyway, it took several years, but I figured it out.
Ashley: And so let me talk, let me dive into a couple of things you just said there. I have a lot of writers, not necessarily producers, but writers that have a career much like your legal career. And they might be in their early 30s or even older, 40s, 50s, and they might wanna take a right turn with their career and they wanna break into screenwriting. So what was sort of the emotional element of that? I mean, you obviously had gone to law school, that was an investment in time and money. Well, how did you get over that hurdle? And did you come down to LA and actually practice law? Was that sort of your day job to get into things or? Just describe some of the emotional stuff going through… I mean, you had to say something to your parents. They probably thought this was a little kooky to go to law school and then pack up and go to LA to be a producer.
Gary: Well, yeah. My parents and everybody I knew. All my friends thought I was completely stark, raving mad. So I had a respectable life. I had, I was respectable. I had a career as a… once I quit criminal law, I did about a year of litigation, civil litigation at this really interesting little firm up in San Francisco. And one day I just announced that it was, I was done. I was quitting. I went directly to my father’s place of business, I yanked him out. He was my hero and my best friend, and sat him down over tea or coffee or lunch or whatever. And I said, “Dad…” and I was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof. And I just said, “Dad, I’ve got to talk to you. I just quit my job, but what I wanna tell you is not that I quit a job, but I just quit a career. I have no desire ever again to be an attorney.”
And I was like braced, waiting for the lecture. Investment of time, money, et cetera. And he just smiled instantly and said, “Great.” And I was taken aback. He said, “Yeah listen, I just don’t think you’ve been happy, and I think should go out in the world and find what excites you and whatever that is, go after it.” That was my dad.
Ashley: What a great guy.
Gary: He was extraordinary. My dad was very special. So I did, and I literally… every guy on both sides of my family tree had been entrepreneurs. And they weren’t Bill Gates, but they did fine. They took care of their families, they had a good life. I just grew up sort of with this unconscious belief that everybody had a right to strike out on their own, and if you worked hard enough, that you would prevail, in time. And so when I came to LA, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t wanna be an attorney. I wasn’t looking for a job. Honestly, Ashley, I’m one of those guys who knew very early on that I was unemployable. I did not like team sport, I failed at a Cub Scouts. I just didn’t wanna climb someone’s ladder.
So when people would say, “Well, you could be an agent and you could represent people and you could climb the ladder,” it was very unappealing to me. I wanted to do my own thing. So I just rolled the dice. I didn’t have a lot in savings, but I was, I would say that I was stubborn and committed, whatever it took. And truth be told, so I’ll tell on myself. My first venture was, this is going back a long time before your time I suspect. But Francis Ford Coppola who, his early films, he was one of my many director here, he was writer-director. And he had toured the country, the US, with a film called Napoleon from the ‘20s. Color, beautiful film. He toured it across the great theaters of America, these grand theaters.
He did it, he screened it in triptych, three big screens with a live symphony, and he was the darling of not only the public, but the critics. He was like lauded for this. And not long after I decided to open a business, a guy approached me with the rights to a film called The New Babylon from the ‘20s. The last expressionist film before a stolen crack down. And it was a black and white film about the commune artists in Paris. It was a, like a moving painting. It was so gorgeous. And it featured a score by the then 21 year old Shostakovitch. So the music was insanely beautiful. And I thought, “Well, I can’t get…” this was pre-internet. And I knocked on American Zoetrope doors a thousand times, but no one would return my call.
So I decided I’m gonna option this thing. I’m gonna tour it in theaters and Coppola is gonna have to reach out to me. Long story short, I had to borrow $80,000. I didn’t have money. I borrowed $80,000 to support everything required to do this thing, get the rights and radio and TV trailers and all this stuff, and I lost that $80,000 in the opening weekend. The test city was Columbus, Ohio. The firm I’d hired did nothing. They didn’t sell a single ticket. I arrived really with a total misunderstanding of what was on the ground. So I had like a shock to the system that took me to my knees. Interestingly, my reaction to it, I mean, I came home. I had a pity party for several days. Then I realized, look, it is what it is. It’s gonna take me years to pay back 80,000.
Because back in the ‘80s, 80,000, might’ve been 800,000. And but it just made me decide, look, I’ve got a real choice to make here. I’m either gonna double down and work my butt off and make this work. I’m gonna crawl back to San Francisco and have to be a lawyer, whatever I don’t wanna do. And that’s not a choice. I’m gonna stay, I’m gonna stick this thing out. So people have bad things happen to them, and often you hear people in interviews say it was the best thing that ever happened to me. And you think, the best is a really powerful word, right? It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It made me very clear about what I wanted in life.
Ashley: Got you. I’m curious, I’ve heard this story from screenwriters a number of times, and I think we’re gonna get into some of this with your early clients, but how does a screenwriter find a young, hungry producer like you were 35 years ago? How does a screenwriter identify the guys, exactly what you said? You weren’t gonna quit. You were gonna stick it out. How does a screenwriter align themselves with a producer that has the wherewithal to stick it out for these number of decades?
Gary: Some of it’s done luck, but a lot of it’s not. It’s elbow grease. And the one thing that I wish more screenwriters and other creatives had, was the gumption to A, see their own value and know that they had a rightful seat at the table, and they shouldn’t be shy about announcing themselves as the artist, as the creator to the world, and not necessarily wait, hoping someday if only I have an agent, right? Or sending up blank query letters where you’re really hiding behind an impersonal letter, which is also hiding behind a script cover. Like this business turns on personal relationships, like so many. It’s your personality and your creative DNA and all that good stuff. It’s like the actor who goes into an audition and doesn’t get the job and is all upset because he misses the bigger picture.
Like your job is to go into the room, charm and share your energy and your personality with the casting associate, the casting director, the producer, whoever’s in the room. Your goal should be to be invited back, and if you get the gig, that’s frosting on the cake. If more screenwriters understood that it’s how really important and how much you can accelerate your career if you get to know, and I’m not talking about the name on the door, that’s intimidating. You’re not gonna call up Steven Spielberg or whatever. Even lesser names. But you can get on, everyone has a phone that gets answered. And it may be an assistant, it might be a creative executive, whoever it is, those people are trusted. If you win them over, you have access to that company.
And that’s what they don’t really realize, is they they’re terrified of calling strangers on their own behalf. And that’s a lot of what I talk about in my masterclass and other coaching and the stuff that I’ve done on the side. But it’s, without the writers, without their stories, and everyone’s always in pursuit of the next great voice, the next undiscovered great project. And their job and their own currency and value and growth potential, hinges on knowing talent in their projects.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So let’s into some of these projects and some of your first credits. Cannibal Women in The Avocado Jungle, J.F Lawton was writer- director of that project. Maybe you can talk about that. It sounds like you had your management firm going along. I assume at some point you folded him in as a client on that. But talk about that. How did you meet him and what was it about his writing that you liked, and then ultimately, how did you get this first project off the ground?
Gary: I met Jonathan in an unusual way. Somewhere, actually in the mid ‘80s, I bought one of the early Mac computers. It came in a refrigerator size box and you couldn’t use it until someone programmed it. So I knew a screenwriter who was writing scripts on it, and I asked her who programmed it, and she said, “Call this guy Jonathan, J.F Lawton. And I called him and he spent three weeks… he was very quiet, brilliant kid, and he was 23 at the time. He came in, he spent three weeks learning everything that I do and programming brilliantly for me. And toward the end of the three weeks, we were having a conversation. I was asking, I’m curious, so I’m asking questions. And he let drop some pearl in the conversation, and I asked him, “Are you a writer?”
He said, “Well, yes.” But he was very shy about that fact. And he said, “I dropped out of film school. I’ve written seven scripts, no one’s ever read one of them. They’re just sitting in a stack in my one room apartment.” And I said, “Well, I really like you, and let me read a script that you’ve written. If I like it, I’ll introduce you to an agent or something.” Long story short, I read not one but three, and each one got a little bit better. He was giving them to me in the order in which he’d written them and they kept getting better. And I said, “Yeah, these are really good. You know what, I think the idea of an agent’s maybe not the right idea. I think the right idea is that I work with you, but I do have a condition.
These are very quirky sort of college-y script stories. If you could write me a mature two hander, strong male, female lead. And it needs, I want it to be a romance. I don’t have a lot of conditions, but I want it to be a romance and not requiring necessarily an enormous budget, that’s it. And the reason I said that, is because he had just ended a… he didn’t end it. He had a five-year relationship that had just ended, and he was he was hurting. And he was a very sensitive guy, and most of his scripts featured these really complex, amazing women lead characters. And I thought, “Who’s gonna write a better romance than a guy who’s heartbroken?” ‘So he wrote me that script, came back a couple of months later with a first draft that was by far the best I’ve ever read as a first draft.
It was called 3000. It was like absolutely gobsmackingly good, and I knew this is how I’m gonna introduce him to the community. This script is gonna open doors. And it did. I got it accepted at the Sundance production lab, it started to create some buzz, et cetera. And we can talk about that more later, but that was how I met him. And I was represent… I agreed to represent him, and we were doing, having great success for an early early career. When the writers went on strike in 1988, it was gonna be, we knew it was gonna be a long strike. And I said to him, “Look, why don’t we pull out one of your college scripts, and why don’t we go out and make a film and take advantage of this? Because otherwise we’re gonna be bored.”
So he had told me he wanted to direct, I thought, “Well, I’ll produce. I’ll raise a little bit of capital.” And I got a couple of hundred thousand dollars and he that’s enough, but neither of us knew what we were doing. It’s like the blind leading the blind. So we said, okay, so we have four weeks, from the date I had money in my hand, we had four weeks till we were supposed to be in Utah for the Sundance production lab for 3000, the script that would become Pretty Woman. And I said, “Great, we’ll make it when we get back.” And he said, “No, let’s do it before. I don’t want it lingering over my head. Why don’t we make it before we go?” And I said, “Sure, why not? We got four weeks? And we did. We made this, it was a sort of feminist spoof comedy, countable women et cetera.
We literally handed it in the night before we got on a plane, and off we went to Sundance. So that was how we did the first one. We did another little film together after that. Same thing, sort of bootstrap. But Sundance is what really sort of opened a lot of doors for me as a company and for Jonathan as a career. And yeah, I mean, from there things just ratcheted up and the phone started ringing for the first time.
Ashley: What do you think… this is sort of aside, but what do you think of novice writers or beginning writers saying, “Hey, I wanna direct too,” and sort of attaching themselves as a director to a project? Just in general, what do you think about that? Because I do get a lot of that. Whether it’s an actor or a director, they want attach themselves to these projects.
Gary: Yeah. Listen, I love, I applaud hyperness, I love that ambition. I love working with writer- directors. And yet I would say, if your intention is to do a low budget film that you’re gonna finance, that you’re gonna go out and find friends and family, or otherwise, if you can raise the money and go out and make a film on your own, absolutely. If you’re going out to the marketplace, if you’re shopping a script to the indies and the majors, et cetera, streamers today, what have you, then I think, you might be doing yourself a favor if you didn’t attach yourself as a director to the very first or second necessarily. But start to get some momentum, get some recognition, create some relationships where people know, like, and trust you, have some working experience with you, and then you can sort of leap frog into wearing both hats.
Ashley: Got you. Got you. I’m curious. It sounds like meeting Jeff Lawton was a little bit kind of just a quirky situation where he’s working on your computer. Maybe you can talk through how you got some of your other clients. What is sort of a more general way? And this, I’m asking this sort of in a modern context. What should writers be doing to get in front of managers and agents?
Gary: Well, there’s a couple of things they do. There’s the… what I did was a little bit probably not the traditional path. But I at the time joined an outdoor health club that had… I love tennis, I love paddle tennis and I love swimming. So they had paddle tennis, tennis courts and a swimming pool. So I would go, and I figured everybody that’s out there in the middle of the week is a freelancer, and they’re probably in the entertainment business somehow some way. And sure enough, most of them were. And over the course of 12 months, I exaggerate not, it was probably more than 150, but I made a lot of… I did the same thing. Very vulnerable, very palms up, very honest. Like I’m new, I’m the turnip that just fell off the truck.
If you could spare five minutes, I have a couple of questions, it would mean the world to me. And people approached that way can be very generous, almost always. And so I ended up befriending, and through recidivist interaction, just befriended a lot of these folks who then became enduring relationships. I would say, so there’s the social, if you belong to a gym, talk to people, find out who they are, what do they do, at an environment where it’s not like they’re at their office, busy and the phone is ringing off the hook and here’s a new person they don’t know calling. That would be one thing. But the other is what I said before. Get to know the assistants and get to know other writers. Ask the assistants, “How does your company operate?” Make them your mentor.
Don’t just say, “Will you read my script?” Or, “Can I submit a script?” Because that’s what everybody is doing. Make it a human affair and call every writer you know and say, “What’s your experience, and do you have a great manager? What have you learned about working with a manager, finding a manager, finding an agent?” And then calling assistance to agents, same thing. If the assistant… I have had assistants, a bunch of assistants over time. What’s really interesting and consistent about them is they’re very well bedded, and that’s true across the tank. Because everybody wants in the business, that’s how they learn from the inside out. And if you understand that assistants are these ambitious, really smart people who have a life expectancy of probably 24 months max, at their given job, right, they’re moving on.
And not always in a linear way, it’s unpredictable But if you realize how valuable they are and what a conduit they can be, make friends with the assistants, ask every writer you know, call the assistant to their agent or their manager, and just make it a really humane experience and befriend them, and be palms up. Be completely transparent. So I’m not gonna say… I know everybody wants you to read their script. I’m not gonna do that. I have another agenda. I’m totally straight up with people.
Ashley: And I’m curious, because I’m someone that would dread doing cold calls. I’ve tried them in the past. I never felt like I had a good… you know, I’m not quick on my feet in terms of my ability to chat with people. Do you have any advice there just for writers that I think a lot of writers fall into this camp where we’re more introverted and kind of wanna be by ourselves. What are some tips for someone that is like that? How do you, how do they get the courage to just make these cold calls? The gift of gab being chatty, being able to just chat people up?
Gary: Yeah. The easiest and probably the most generous and most effective tip I could give you is to say, be other focused. Like when you call someone, don’t make it about you. I mean, you wanna introduce yourself, you give them your name and you say, “I’m a writer, I’m relatively new, and I’m not gonna submit a script. But I really, I’m calling because A, I wanna know you, and you obviously have beat out 50 or 100 people to get this job for God’s sakes, and it’s fascinating. So I’m not, I don’t wanna submit a script. I have a couple of questions, if you have three to five minutes it’ll be awesome if you could help. And I will ask them questions, like, where are you from? Where did you go to school? And by the way, you’re sitting on an agent seat, does that mean you wanna be an agent, or do you wanna go into production?
Do you wanna go into casting or whatever? Like start to make it about them and never… and literally, I would do this. After three minutes, I would say, “I’ve used up my time. Thank you. I’ve got another question, but I’ll call you in a week at the same time, one o’clock when your boss is probably at lunch. I’ll call you back, if you’ve got a few minutes, that would be awesome.” In other words, you’re building your follow-ups, so you’re not sitting there nervously thinking, how do I follow up? I get their last name so I can research today the heck out of them on Google, and I can find out a lot about that human being. So when I call them back the second time, I’ll say, “You may not remember, we spoke a week ago. But oh my God, I just researched, I didn’t realize you went to this school, you studied this, you blah, blah, blah.”
Whatever it is, again, make it about them, find some commonality. Anything. And again, you just wanna be on the phone for three, four minutes. It’s not a big deal. By the third, and my… well, let me back up, actually. My whole thesis is, the first time you call someone, you’re a stranger. The second time they may remember you, and if they do, you’re familiar, but they don’t really know you. But some tripwire happens the third time you talk to someone. After you talk to someone three times, there’s a trick that happens in our brain, and it’s like, “Oh, it’s Ashley.” And if you’re always pleasant and you always, you’re not asking big favors, asking… when they hang up the phone, you want there to be no work for them to do. You wanna be the one who’s not asking work of them.
By the third time, then you can say, “Hey, I still feel a little bit shy about sending you my work, my script, but here’s the thing. I have a pitch deck, or I have a treatment, or I have something really, really small. It would mean the world to me. Do you have five… if I send it to you, would you have five minutes to look at it and give me your thoughts?” And that’s how I just sort of, it’s like a courtship. You think of it as courtship, right? And you honor the other person for, you’re… Look, 99 percent of people who call anybody, any office, they’re in a rush to brush right past the assistant, get the boss on the phone or whatever. These people are overworked and they’re not terribly, they’re not the recipient of a lot of respect or empathy.
I mean, I had one guy, years ago, I called up a guy on behalf of a chef. I have a friend in LA who was a very well renowned chef. And he had created this proposal for a book. It’s not a typical cookbook. It was very innovative. And he said, “Can you help me get it published?” I said, “I know people in publishing, but not in this area. I’m an idiot. I don’t know what to do.” He said, “Well, just could you help?” And I said, “Okay, fine.” So I called a bunch of people, and I said, who in the publishing world could be in this vertical? And there was one name that came up across five different conversations. They all mentioned this guy amongst others. So I called this guy, his name was Simon. He’s in New York, on Madison Avenue, at this respected company.
And I called this guy, Simon, and I leave a message. He calls me back and he says, “Yeah, this is Simon.” And I said, “Hi, it’s Gary Goldstein. It’s very kind of you to call me back. Listen, I’m calling not on my behalf, but on behalf of a friend of mine who’s a very respected, celebrated chef. He’s got a book idea, and I don’t know anything about your business. I’m not in that business.” He said, “Wait a minute, you’re Gary Goldstein?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You’re in LA?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “You’re a film producer?” I said, “Yes.” So you don’t remember me? And I was like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. What’s… Simon, oh, Simon Green. Oh my.” He said, “Do you remember Ian Greenstein?” I shouldn’t say these names on the podcast. Anyway. He said, “Do you remember Ian?”
I said, “Oh my God.” It was like a light went off. And I went, “Ian, I loved him. You’re that Simon, you were his assistant? That was so many years ago.” He said, “Yeah, but I’ve never forgotten you, and I’ll tell you why. You’re the only person in Hollywood who called me and actually cared about me and ask questions about me and my aspirations and how I was feeling. You always took a couple of minutes before you asked for my boss. Whatever you’re gonna ask me, the answer is, yes. Now tell me what you need.” And I will tell you that that is, to me, that is the simple, God’s honest DNA truth of the dividends that you get from treating the entry-level people well. When I say entry level, this could be assistants to directors or development and creative exec. Whatever they call it, all those titles.
Ashley: I’m curious, just quickly. So what do you take as like a rejection rate or people just hanging up on you? Like, what can people expect if they take this, and you’re obviously very personable and experienced at doing this. How many times are the assistants gonna say, “No, thanks,” and just hang up on you?
Gary: You know what? That’s gonna happen. You’re gonna find people who are in a bad mood. They’re having a bad day. Their phone’s ringing off the hook and the boss is yelling at them. There’s the million reasons why it could be an inopportune moment. But if you do it 10 times and you get three to four people, that’s a huge win. And if only one of those four becomes a recidivist conversation, that’s a huge win. So imagine if you made two outgoing calls a day, that’s it. And your research who are your targets? Who do you wanna know? What companies and whatever, across all the verticals, not just production and agents, but everybody. I called cinematographers. I called casting directors. I called people that I had no need of in the moment, but I thought they know so many people, I’m gonna play human billiards.
Here’s my experience Ashley, with a lot of people who as you say, aren’t necessarily, their gift of gab is not their strong suit. They are a little bit isolated. They’re a little bit introverted perhaps, what have you. But they’re smart and they know that. And the ones who actually dare to be courageous or bold enough to actually start calling these folks, it’s gonna be horrifyingly awkward the first few times. The second few times, the calls, one through five are gonna be a hot mess and calls six through 10 are gonna be a mildly less hot mess, maybe a warm mess. But the thing is, within a couple of weeks you’re gonna start to go, “Oh, this is… oh, not only is it easier than I thought, but wow. I’m surprised at the number of people who actually are welcoming, in the sense of they’re available and they say hello and they like… oh, they’re just civil energy, a receptive energy.
And it’s like, “Who are you, how can I help you?” Once you start doing that, if you’re willing to be uncomfortable, which I think is one of the key indicators of success in the world, if you’re willing to be uncomfortable for a little bit, and by the way, every screenwriter is uncomfortable writing a script. It’s horrible. It’s a terrible experience, right? Sometimes if you’re willing to be a little bit uncomfortable with other people in the business for a little bit, you’re gonna find that within a few weeks max, you grow a little bit of muscle. It’s just like going to the gym, same thing. And you don’t have to be great at it. Sometimes, what I tell people is, if you are shy, if you are introverted and awkward, and if this is terrifying to you, then here’s what you’re gonna do.
You’re gonna get on the phone, you’re gonna call the assistant, or you’re gonna call that number and the assistant’s gonna pick up the phone. And you’re gonna say, “Look, my name’s Gary Goldstein, Ashley. And I got to tell you right out of the gate, I’m a writer, I’m new. And there’s a reason why I’m calling you, but I have to first say, I am absolutely nervous as crap about calling you. I just feel so awkward. So forgive me if I stutter a little bit.” Guess what? You just took it off the table. And I’ve done that. I’ve done that plenty of times earlier on. I don’t really do it now, because I actually enjoy it. But yeah, it’s sport, but it wasn’t always because I came to a town where I didn’t know a soul, I didn’t know the… and I had this need. It was like this anxiety about, how do I find my way in?
I’m a Charlotte and I don’t know anything, right? So I was like everybody else at the beginning. Well, I would tell them that. It’s like, I’m brand new. I don’t know what I’m doing. And I’m this is like I’m out of my depth, but I need… it’d be such a huge help if you would spend a couple of minutes on the phone with me.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. I’m curious if you’re, so you’re just getting, throwing out numbers. So you sort of suggested, well, if you make two phone calls per day, how pragmatic were you with your cold calling? Did you religiously do two calls per day? Did you create a spreadsheet? Was it more intuitive where you just tried to legitimately get to know them and remember people, but was there a spreadsheet and sort of some pragmatism or something like that?
Gary: Very simple. I’m not a good spreadsheet guy, so it was a very simple spreadsheet. And I would put Ashley’s Scott Myers, and I’d put your title- assistant to produce or whatever, and the name of the company and the phone number. I would put the date that we first spoke. So then I knew a week from then I was gonna call you back, because I always said that, “I’m gonna call you a week from today.” It was just so I could be like a minor bird. I didn’t even have to think. I’ll call you a week from today, I’d look at the calendar, put it down. Because then I could also later track, oh, and on the third call, I send him a treatment. Or on the fourth call I send the screenplay. And I kept a history, and it just gradually grew and grew and grew.
But the list, the spread who went on the spreadsheet. So that was my homework. That was my research. Like it wasn’t just seat of your pants. It was like, oh, I’d wake up one day and go, “Who am I gonna call today?” No. It was like, what are the films that I’ve seen in the last six months where I went, “Oh my God.” And then I would look it up because we have all those websites, right. And I would say, “Who, not just the producers, but the writer, the editor, the cinematographer, the casting director.” I just go right on down the line. Anyone that I could find that was associated with that film, and I’d ask them about the experience and like, oh my God, so that film is one of the reasons I’m in this business, right?
And I would start a conversation and I would let them know where I was, my trajectory, but then I was a babe in the woods, and I had a couple of… I always made it about asking questions. About making it… because the subtext of that is, I’m giving you a promotion. I’m honoring you for your wisdom and I’m making you my mentor. I would, sometimes I’d actually use the word mentor. But I was very intentional in the sense of, I would sit at night, in the quiet of the night and say, “What other places, what films…” and I’d use films as the lens through which I would decide who my targets were. And it could be TV series as well, by the way. I don’t wanna be a film snob. It was both.
So what piece of content was so awesome that I wanna know anybody associated with it that I can reach out to? And they weren’t always just the people who could read my, produce my script or represent me. Because I think 99.9 percent of writers think about, who can represent me and who could produce me. And they forget about everybody else, but those other people aren’t being called upon to the same extent at all. So they’re available and they love getting called. Successful people love to talk about what they do.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I’m curious, even after decades of being in the business, do you still do some cold calls and some outreach as part of your sort of daily routine?
Ashley: You still do it, huh?
Gary: Yeah. I do it across the board. I actually have some other ventures outside of film, and I do it across the board. Like I’m always calling people I don’t know. I’ve gotten to the point where I realized that’s where the gold is. So I’m very selective and I do my research and I say, hey, look, it might have to do with buying a piece of property. It might have to do with some entrepreneurial venture or I’ve been part of startups. And it doesn’t matter what it is. I just wanna know people who are smarter than me in that area who can really hopefully be generous and I can hopefully reciprocate, but we can have a little fun with it along the way. So yeah, to me it’s like calling people, and you get to the place where once you do it enough, it’s less arduous.
Because if you have suddenly, imagine if you make that many calls, two calls a day, which is not a lot. You make a couple of calls a day, it takes 15 minutes and you’re done. That’s, you got the whole rest of the day. You make two calls a day and you fail 90 percent of the time. You’re like, “You’re a terrible, you’re terrible.” You just won big time, because of out of the 10 calls you made this week, you’ve got, if you did that and you’ve got four new people that you have, I won’t call it friendship or even relationship. I’ll say rapport. If you have rapport with four new people a month, how many writers would cut up this arm, to think in a year I could have a few dozen people inside the business who can open doors, who can talk to me, who can help in that short timeframe?
Like it’s mind boggling. Right? So, and here’s what happens, and it’s happened to me enough. I know it happens, is these people matriculate, and when they do, something, the same thing always happens. I find out, “Oh, well, that’s great. You’re moving on, you got this amazing gig? Congratulations, that’s so cool.” Well, I go with them. But what also happens is, I always say, and they often offer, but I always ask, “By the way, before you go, you’re gonna train your replacement? Would you… I’d really appreciate it if you introduce me to your replacement.” Bam, my Rolodex doubles. And I just keep doing that. And sometimes I’ll just call someone that I’ve developed rapport with and say, “Hey I keep the… I like reaching out to new people.
I love meeting people in this business and hearing their story. Who have you met recently? Who’s like young and…” This is a question I’ve asked a thousand times. “Who have you come across lately? I don’t care if they’re an agent, a manager, an attorney, a producer. It doesn’t matter. Who’s impressed you? Who’s smart and got a really positive outlook and who’s really like putting in the elbow grease, that you enjoy? Who would that be? Would you introduce me? And I do the same in turn. Like I will say to them, “Oh, so I’ve learned about you, that you wanna go into orange, not blue. Okay, you wanna be in production, not in casting,” or whatever it is. “I just met this guy in development over here who is really cool, really smart. Would you like me to introduce you?
I mean, I was really impressed with him. I’m happy to introduce you.” And I would start reciprocating, like making it… it’s an easy way to ingratiate yourself and actually do something good. That you feel good about, that they appreciate, and it just cements that relationship further. And now your karma points go up.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. Taking another stance, and that’s all great advice. I really hope people are listening to that, because I think that’s a really succinct all about cold calling. Some fantastic advice for writers. So another thing that I encounter quite often, is writers come to me and they’re starting to do some producing, for instance, raising money or trying to get some talent attached. How much of that does that affect as a producer? If someone comes to you with some money attached and things, how much of a benefit would that be in terms of you as a producer, experienced producer looking at that project, if it has some recognizable name talent, or some substantial money attached to it?
Gary: Oh, it makes a huge difference. I mean, obviously with the understanding that first things first, you’ve got to read and really love the project. Because when you commit to being a producer on a project, we know you’re gonna invest a lot of elbow grease and a lot of time before it becomes a reality. And so you’ve got to just really love both the project and the writer or writer- director, or writer- producer, I’m sorry, in the case of your example. You’ve got to really enjoy your chemistry, and you’ve got to love the project. But if those things are true and you’ve got two of those like situations, and one has a significant name, the kind of name that will help motor, or be the engine, earn some money, and or some money attached either, that’s a huge incentive for two reasons. One money is helpful, big talent is helpful, but it also tells you a lot about who you’re partnering with. They’re gonna… they’re doers, they’re not talkers. They’re gonna get shit done.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. What are some things, and this is again, sort of more of a general question. But what are some things you see in screenplays as you read them, that you think maybe writers could do more of? Just some basic writing tips, maybe some, again, sort of your perspective as a producer. What are some things you see in scripts that really, things, wow, this is something I think writers should do more often, and is a great thing for writers.
Gary: Gosh, that’s a tough question. I would say right off the top, surprise me right out of the gate. Now, give me an opening that just I wasn’t expecting. I don’t know if there’s one tip that I would say across the board, but I think a strong… hook me into your story, give me dialogue that makes me sort of sit up straight, pay attention. Like it’s the opposite of the old adage or my old adage, I guess. I never, ever, ever wanna see and hear the same thing. I don’t want, Humphrey Bogart is not gonna lean over to Lauren Bacall and light her cigarette and say, “Let me let your cigarette.” It’s just like, don’t do that, right? So, be really like… I guess what I would… if I could reverse engineer it, I would say whatever you write, say it aloud.
Do a table read. Do something. Figure out, is this, does this feel like real life unexpected, a character we haven’t met yet? I don’t know.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. What’s next for you? What kind of projects are you working on?
Gary: I’ve got a number of projects that I’m developing and interestingly, one of them is based on a novel. It’s something I’ve never… It’s funny. I keep finding myself attracted to things that I would never have expected. So one of them is a novel that is what I would call fantasy adventure… a historical fantasy adventure set in Ireland. And it was just so alluring, there’s almost one track that’s a little bit mystical realism, and the other that really explorers the culture and the characters of the time. And I just thought, “Oh my God, this is so not me. I’ve never been to Ireland, but I love this. I love what it’s saying about the Irish and about us as humans. I think I wanna do this project.” So I’m developing that with the writers. That’s in the scripting stage.
Another one is based on the life rights true life story, of the woman who invented the first ever home pregnancy test back in the ‘60s, when women in the workplace where… and she wasn’t a woman of science or medicine, she was a designer, product designer. And she was kind of a lefty artist who did a lot of political art. And she just saw this and the things that were, of course it was a different time. So much was illegal. Like you couldn’t get a prescription for birth control unless you had a doctor’s prescription and you were married. It wasn’t available. I mean, forget abortion. Forget… like it was a very different time, and she was she was viewed as beyond scandalous. Like literally single-handedly ripping apart shredding the moral fabric of America.
And so they took advantage and they stole the patent and they buried it and they this and that. But eventually of course, today it’s a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s all her fault. Disintermediating the white coat, where you were three weeks to get your results, and you had no determination over your [inaudible 00:45:11]. And some women didn’t qualify to even get the test. So anyway, she said this is not right. It’s an amazing story on a societal level, on not just about women’s rights and over their body. And I just thought there’s so much meat on this bone, it’s not an easy, it wasn’t easy to architect the story as a three-act plotted feature, but we cracked it. And it is, it’s got a lot of social meat on the bone and it’s exciting as hell to me.
So I’ve got a number of, I’ve got a couple of others that are in different stages, someone that’s totally nascent, and then a couple of projects I’m just talking about with people. There’s always that period of, let’s talk about this a lot and see if we really, if it stays with me and I really get more excited, not less excited.
Ashley: Is there anything you’ve seen recently that you thought maybe screenwriters could learn something from? Anything on Netflix, HBO, Hulu? What are some things you’ve seen recently that you would recommend?
Gary: Yeah, I mean, I like everybody, because of COVID, got in the habit of watching a lot more than I’m used to. That includes series. God, honestly Ashley, if I had known, if I had a crystal ball and you showed me in the ‘80s what was gonna happen on the small screen, and because back then there was this big wall of snobbery that separated film and TV. That’s gone. But if you had suggested to me there’s gonna be this new golden age of television, I would have definitely wanted to be a TV writer, a show runner, because you have now all this runway to flesh out your characters and your stories, five years, my God. It’s great. I’m not really good at remembering titles to be honest. I don’t know, I just, I love that there’s this big opening.
See, back in the ‘80s, there were 30 great independent companies, the Vestrons, the Hemdales, et cetera, et cetera. And they were putting out everything from Dirty Dancing to Platoon and El Salvador and like more films than the studios combined. It was great. To me the streamers have to feed a very broad appetite from limited docu series, to series TV, to alternative content, to features. And yes, there’s some big features out there, but it’s amazing the percentage of stuff that’s coming online through the various streamers, not just Netflix, there’s 23 big streamers right now. And how many of those are really considered low to moderate budget films? And I think that’s sort of like such a breath of fresh air.
It’s like, where did our independent cinema go? Well, it’s kind of back. You got to be a self-starter. It’s not like you can walk in the door and someone’s gonna fund development. Those days are gone, but there are places where you can find distribution, and all you have to do is tell a great story and find decent performers and dare to be a self-starter. So I watch a lot of interesting little stuff. I just watched Jonathan Fuhrman was one of the producers, a lot of producers, but one of the producers on Greenland. I thought that was fabulous. Just like I’m in the good every man of audience. Like I’m rooting for every film I tend to enjoy. They have to be really missing a lot for me not to enjoy it. So yeah, I mean, I there’s a lot of genres that I like, so there’s never the glass is more than half full all the time.
Ashley: What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I will round up for the show notes.
Gary: You know, all my handles are the same. It’s @ Gary W. Goldstein, that’s Twitter, Instagram, and Clubhouse. It’s pretty much everything. And then there’s a website, I do have a Masterclass. I do some coaching. So people, if they’re interested, they can go take a look at, it’s www.creativeedge.com. Very simple. So those are the two things. My social handles, the website. Ashley that’s it, and I really appreciate that. Thank you. Yeah.
Ashley: Hey. Yeah. Thank you. Well, Gary, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking to me today. This was a fascinating interview, and you’re always welcome back if you wanna talk about something else.
Gary: Yes. I’d love it. I love what you do, and so right back at you. I’d love to have a continuing conversation over time.
Ashley: Perfect. Sounds good, Gary. I really appreciate it.
Gary: Fantastic. Happy 4th of July.
Ashley: Yeah. Happy 4th of July to you too. Will talk to you later.
Gary: Okay. Bye-bye.
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