This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 398: With Filmmaker Brendan Steere.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #398 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer, director, producer, and even editor, Brendan Steere, who just did a really fun film called The VelociPastor, about a pastor who kills dinosaurs. Brendan talks us through his career, and in fact, The VelociPastor started out as a short film, and we talk through that a bit using a short film as a way to get to the feature film. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast. So they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #398. If you want my free guide- How To Sell Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons.
I’ll teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional going and query letter and how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material. Really is 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 filmmaker Brendan Steere. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Brendan to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Brendan: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: Sure, sure thing. 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?
Brendan: Sure. I’m originally from Montana, I’m from a place called Billings. I did a lot of my growing up though in Brodheadsville, which is a tiny town in Pennsylvania. It’s in the Poconos. That’s where I went to high school and all that kind of stuff. I went to college in New York City at a school called SVA, The School of Visual Arts. And I briefly lived in Paris, I briefly lived in Berlin, and now I am in Pasadena in Los Angeles. Yeah. I guess I was interested in the entertainment industry since I was… I was somebody that knew what I wanted to do very young. So I was like 13 or 14 and I was telling people I was gonna be a movie director. It’s always been that for me.
Ashley: And so what were some of the steps to actually turn this into a career? What were some of those initial first steps once you got out of school? What was your degree in school and how did that help you actually launch this career?
Brendan: Yeah, for sure. I have a bachelor’s in film, BFA, Bachelor of Fine Arts. And it’s a difficult question to answer whether it helped me or not. I don’t know. It’s been my experience that nobody looks at your degree as any sort of real judgment of your skill in film. At the most, it is helpful for… it is very genuinely helpful for connections. You know, if people went to your same school there’s a point of commonality in which to start a discussion, which is helpful. And of course the people I met in film school, I still work with them every day. They’re some of my best friends. I feel like that was the kind of education I got there that was more helpful in actually turning it into a career.
And also the other thing honestly, is that film school gives you a really, really, really good place to just make and make and make and quite honestly screw up a lot. Because it’s gonna be like every filmmaker, every artist has bad art inside of them.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Some of us more than others [laughs].
Brendan: Yeah. Yeah. But we all got it [laughs]. It’s definitely one of those things that being in film school was so… the two most useful things truly were the people I met and the amount of short films I made. Just for class assignments for myself or any number of things. By doing all of those shorts and trying out all those different, like tonal voices and stuff, that’s sort of how I figured out who I wanted to be in film and what I wanted to do and things like that. That I really wanted to be a director and all of that.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. You’re probably most known for VelociPastor and I noticed on IMDb in 2011, you did a trailer for VelociPastor. Maybe you can walk us through that a little bit. Did doing this trailer ultimately lead to doing the feature film? Just walk us through it. How did you get VelociPastor ultimately turned into a feature film? Just run us through that story real quick.
Brendan: Yeah, sure. So yeah, I made the short, it was a short film and a fake trailer as it were. It was 2011, Grindhouse was big, and like making a fake trailer was still really novel to me at the time. So I did it. I did it for a class assignment, and I just thought it was a fun idea and I thought it could fit four to five minutes and so I did it. It was the first thing I made that had any sort of genuine traction online. Like when the rest, of course, all of my shorts from film school I was uploading to like Vimeo or YouTube things like that as I was going along. And VelociPastor was the first one to actually like find an audience. Like when all the videos on my channel had like three to 10 views, VelociPastor all of a sudden, overnight had like 40,000, 50,000.
So it’s like for me at the time, that was like, “Oh my God, I’ve made it. I’ve really done it.” And so what I ended up trying to do was, I was a sophomore when VelociPastor happened. I tried to Kickstart it twice, both times failed, and I was just sort of like, “You know what, all right. I guess that’s it. I guess I’ll just move on and try other things.” So I moved on to Animosity and I made my first feature really, which was Animosity. Then after I had made that film and sold it and moved on again, I couldn’t stop thinking about VelociPasto [laughs]. Like I just kept coming up with new and more ideas for it. So at a certain point around 2015, I was just kind of like, “You know, it is more artistically true to myself at this point to make the damn VelociPastor movie [laughs].”
And so I did. Did the short help get the funding? No. In fact I tried again a third time to crowdfund it and it failed again. What ended up happening with that one, is I tried… I’m sorry. I happened… it’s a very strange story. The woman I was seeing at the time, her mom happened to be well connected in the Chinese art world, and there was a Chinese woman that wanted to invest in movies and she gave me 30,000 bucks and I made VelociPastor. Then I never heard from her again.
Brendan: I’m serious. She ghosted. She gave me like $35,000 and left. I seriously, I’m not even sure she speaks English. So that’s how I got that one funded. Animosity was a weird… there was a private investor that kicked in like five to 10 grand, my parents kicked in five to 10 grand and we did raise seven or eight on I believe it was Indiegogo. And that was the whole budget of the film.
Ashley: Got you. So it looks like Animosity was made in 2013. Did you get a release at that point? Because we were getting in touch because it sounds like you’re re-releasing it or it’s being released.
Ashley: That’s the film we’re gonna talk about today. So talk about that a little bit. Did you have a distributor and then that contract ran out, so now you’re with a new distributor? Just talk through that. Why was this movie made in 2013 and now getting released in 2021?
Brendan: Well, the story of Animosity is a strange one. So the thing was, as I told you, I was still in film school when the two Kickstarters to the VelociPastor trailer didn’t go through. So at SVA they give you your entire fourth year to do your thesis film, and they strongly discourage you from going against a feature. So naturally I did it [laughs]. I was just sort of like, “If you’re gonna give me an entire year, I just wanna see if I can do it. I wanna see if I can make a feature.” Hypothetically, this was not the first one I did. I made three in high school, but they’re like high school features. They’re not good, they just happened to be feature-like [laughs]. So I had made the last one of those the summer before film school and I thought it would be appropriate to finish film school with a feature as well.
Honestly I didn’t expect to do anything with it. I just wanted to make it, to like get it out of myself, prove to myself that, “Hey, I could make a feature film and it could be good.” What ended up happening, and that’s what I did, I spent my thesis here shooting Animosity on and off. It was a nightmare of a production. We ran out of money a couple of times and started shooting on like weekends and things like that. It was horrible. But at the end of the year, I did in fact have a feature film. I was the only student that year to do so. So I sent it into a couple of festivals, it got picked up. Our biggest claim to fame was that we played in Fantasia in Montreal, next to Guardians of the Galaxy and Boyhood, and a whole bunch of other very impressive films.
And that was very cool. I sold it at the first festival, which was not Fantasia. It was called Buffalo Dreams International Film Festival in Buffalo, New York. It was just to a small distributor. I didn’t expect to sell it, period. Like it was a student film, you know? So I just didn’t think it, I didn’t think that was the way it was gonna go. So I sold it essentially to the first person that offered because I was like, “Oh my God. Yeah, sure.” And they were… it just was fine. They did what they did with it. And this was in an awkward period where streaming wasn’t really where it was at these days and I was nobody. Like I… The problem with Animosity, is that it’s a very difficult film to pitch.
It sort of like the logline is truly like, you know, a couple moves to a house in the woods and things happen. Trust me, it’s good. And that’s like a very hard sell. When it stars effectively nobody you’ve ever heard of, it’s not made by anybody you’ve ever heard of. It’s a micro, micro, micro budget student film. Like everything is going against it. Especially before screening was a thing. It just got sort of dumped to DVD and forgotten, except by people who had happened to see it at Fantasia or Buffalo. Those people bought it and liked it, but there’s only so far it can go. Part of the reason I wanna rerelease it now, and I’m very excited to rerelease it now, is because, hey, the trust me part might actually hold up now [laughs].
Because VelociPastor’s happened and people are actually excited to see more things I’ve done. Especially now that screening, I’m sorry, streaming, will make it so available to everybody. I think that when you’re no longer asking somebody to immediately pay 15 to $20 on like a chance that it might be good, and they can just sort of click it on Amazon Prime or click it on Tubi or whatever, I think it will find its audience a lot more. So I’m actually very excited to rerelease it. It feels like the right time.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. So maybe we can talk about your writing process just a little bit. And we can talk about it in terms of VelociPastor or Animosity. But I’d just like to kind of get a feel for how you write, how you outline. Where do you typically write, when do you typically write? Do you go to the coffee shop, do you have a home office? Do you write in the morning, noon night? What does your writing schedule look like?
Brendan: Well, it’s evolved over the years. What I do now is essentially I definitely journal every morning. I do, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of morning pages, those kinds of things.
Ashley: Mm-hmm, sure.
Brendan: I do those religiously. I do 30 minutes of writing every morning, just sort of personal journaling. A writing teacher in film school taught me how to do that. Her name was Ella [inaudible 00:13:35], and she really advocated essentially sort of free writing. Just sort of getting your brain accustomed with a pen and paper to expressing itself in the written word. It was during the first time that she introduced that to me that I actually wrote Animosity. So it really did unlock something inside of me. And it’s something I use to this day. I haven’t been consistent about it over the last decade or so, but I’d say for the last two or three years, yep, every morning.
Ashley: So the, yeah, how does that turn into a screenplay? Are you actually waking up and thinking about the screenplay or is it more sort of self-reflective, personal things?
Brendan: It’s a hard question to answer because it’s mostly personal things. Mostly, you know, you’re sitting there and you’re writing, and… this morning I was writing about how annoyed I was with my cat for waking me up. Like it’s 90 percent stuff like that, 95 percent. It’s very important to me when I’m doing that to actually separate it from work. To sort of be like almost the work writing is a separate thing. This is almost a personal development thing. But there is invariably they bleed together, where some of the best lines I’ve ever written for movies or songs, or what have you, or poems, they come out in the morning pages. They just sort of emerge. It’s almost like…
I think, excuse me, I think what’s effective about it, is by doing it again and again and again, and essentially telling yourself that it doesn’t matter, it’s not work, no one will ever read it, by giving yourself that much rope to sort of do whatever you want, you do start getting creative. You start stumbling into great terms of phrase and great, interesting imagery. And that sticks with you throughout the rest of the day, throughout the rest of the month or whatever. So normally when it starts popping up in those morning pages again and again, if an idea sticks around long enough, I tend to think it’s worthy exploring as a screenplay. So it’s kind of just like a process of seeing what survives. Because there will be ideas that I’ll be very excited about for a week and then a month later it’s just like, “Eh, it’s not that interesting, whatever.”
But there will be those ideas that just stick with you and keep popping back up and you can see the scenes and you can hear the dialogue, and those are the ones worth pursuing, in my opinion.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. So then what is that next step? So you’re just kind of creatively coming up with ideas. Do you then at some point open up Word and start putting down an outline, at some point you’re gonna open up final draft, start writing script pages? How does that process sort of move along for you?
Brendan: It depends to a certain extent on what the screenplay is. What genre it is, what it wants to be? In terms of like if it’s a, if it’s like a taught mystery, like if I’m trying to write a Knives Out or something, yeah, a hundred percent I’m gonna outline it. Animosity in specific, I did outline. I ran that through the whole hero’s journey. I workshopped it over the course of probably three months before I started writing. It has evolved somewhat since then. I’m not that stringent with outlines anymore. I didn’t outline VelociPastor whatsoever, I just went for it. I just sat down and started writing. And that’s honestly what I like to do more now. The way I tend to think about it is, my process, as it sits now goes something like this.
I sit down, I start writing. Pretty much, I’ll make it through the first act like 20 to 35 pages, and that’s when I start being like, “Okay, what is this? Is this something that I’m interested in? Is it something worth pursuing? Is it something that I think is good?” Because that’s not always the case. Sometimes you get to the end of those pages, you let it sit for a while and you’re like, “Yeah, it’s not actually all that good or something I really wanna pursue.” If it passes that initial sort of litmus test, I do a very loose outline. I like to think of them… what I do not find helpful, is to sort of Save the Cat level of exacting. Like act two needs to start on page X or like you better have your inciting incident by page X. That stuff I disagree with vehemently, or at the very least it does not work for me.
I like to think of the outline more as guideposts. It’s almost like you’re hiking and you have to sort, you see the blazes on the trail, that’s what the outline is, where it’s sort of leading you in the direction. And you can take whatever route you need to, to get to the next blaze on the trail, but do not… sometimes the best route between them is not a straight line. And sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s literally just being like, “Okay, then that has to happen, cool, cool, cool.” But if I do not have the leeway to kind of explore and experiment, I get very stifled and I stop writing. It just becomes less fun. I stop being interested in it. It feels stale. So I do some sort of a weird hybrid, I think.
Ashley: So you must have tons of like 20 pages of scripts where you kind of began this process and then said, “Eh, this wasn’t really good.”
Brendan: Oh God, yeah.
Ashley: I got you. I got you. And that’s where you… Yeah. And then, and I’ve always found for myself at least, doing a really, really dense outline helps me with the rewriting. And the people that Interview typically that are less on the rewriting or less on the outlining, tend to spend a lot more time on the rewriting. Because they’re still finding their story and in that part of the process.
Brendan: A hundred percent, yes. For me that is exactly what it is. It’s sort of like the outlining it’s important. I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that I don’t do it. I do, but what is with way more important to me is drafting. Drafting it out, and sort of being like being willing to take 115 pages of screenplay and throw it in the trash and start in page one. I’ve done that, God, I don’t know, truly probably 30, 40 times. It’s like you just, I just have to trust that the writing is part of the process and that that is good work. Even if it’s work that not all of it’s gonna show up on screen, even if it’s work that is like a tough pill to swallow or if it’s frustrating, it always makes it better.
And honestly, the other good thing about drafting is you can always copy paste. Seriously, it’s the kind of thing that you’re like, “Oh, you know, this exchange that I had in the previous draft, would actually work a lot better here,” copy, paste and edit. It’s only by doing that I’ve ever completed a screenplay really.
Ashley: Got you. Now on the press release that came across my desk on Animosity, it mentioned that you were also working on VelociPastor 2. Can you talk about that a little bit? How did you ultimately get that set up? Are you going with the same distributor? How did you get the financing? Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. How you were able to take VelociPastor, the original one and turn it into a sequel?
Brendan: Sure. We wrote a sequel for it. That was originally called Outback Dracula. The idea was that it was going to be sort of an anthology series. Sort of like it would have nothing to do with the first one. It was essentially each one was just gonna be another weird exploitation film kind of deal. And we sent that script around, me and my co-writer, and what we consistently heard was, “This is great. This is one of the best screenplays we’ve ever read. Where’s the dinosaur?”
Brendan: So what we ended up doing, I was terrified of trying to write number two because of trying to write a true VelociPastor sequel, because comedy sequels are hard. Like quick think of all rate comedy sequels. Yep. There’s just like three [laughs]. And it’s very, I was really terrified of it. And honestly, I didn’t really have a story for it. Like, yeah, I had heard a million and a half pitches, some of which were funny, some of which were not, on when I was doing interviews, when I was in conventions and things like that. And none of them hit me right. Like none of them felt like, “Oh, that’s it. That’s the one we’re gonna do.” So after Outback Dracula kept getting turned down, I did the thing again where I was like, “Okay, okay, okay. Toss it in the trash.
What if we… what would it be now?” And this was probably post I think that I finally committed to doing it this February. So in about a month I had, it was around February that I finally cracked it and it finally made sense in my head, how I would wanna do a sequel. How I would even wanna approach writing a sequel. So it was pretty fast after that. It took probably a month or so to completely get a first draft. First draft was March 20th. And yeah, we are currently sending it around for funding. Actually we completed the look book, we got all that stuff together and we are just tossing it around to anybody that turned down Outback Dracula and said, “Where is the dinosaur?” [laughs]. So I am supremely confident we will get funding though. I am very confident.
Ashley: Perfect. Then I hope to have you back on here once you complete that film. I always like to wrap up these interviews just by asking the guest if they’ve seen anything recently they thought was really great, maybe a little under the radar, Netflix, Hulu, HBO. Is there anything recently that you’ve seen that you thought screenwriters could benefit from seeing?
Brendan: That screenwriters could benefit from seeing? Yeah. You know, it’s a weird one actually, but I think is terrifically deceptively well written, is the television show Schitt’s Creek. I’ve been watching that on Netflix slowly, and it’s ended now. I think it’s like four or five seasons. I just started watching it I think last December, and it is shocking how truly well written it is. I was not expecting that at all. I had just heard it recommended as funny, but the funny thing about it is, or the interesting balancing act I think it does is that it manages to start you off with a team of characters who are all explicitly unlikable. And very slowly but surely, without betraying what’s interesting and central about their characters, does make them into better people.
Like their choices never feel forced, their choices never feel like a cheat. It never feels like the screenwriter is stepping in to be like, “We should have, or do this.” It’s like, it never feels that way. It always feels true to who these people would actually be. And it never… The whole set up to the show is that they’re a filthy-rich family that loses everything and has to move to a small town. The screenwriting manages to poke fun both at the super rich and the super poor, but while still being respectful of both classes. It’s like really interesting and really well done. Like I said, deceptively well-written. So I would absolutely recommend that people watch at least the first season of Schitt’s Creek and see if they like it.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Well, yeah, that’s a good recommendation. So thank you for that. How can people see Animosity? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like, and how they can potentially check it out?
Brendan: I do. Yeah. We come out on July 20th on Amazon Prime, is probably the one most people have. It’s also on I believe Voodoo, Fandango, Xbox. Apparently Xbox as a movie store, so we’re there, but Amazon Prime is the one that I think most people would have access to. And I would recommend people check it out there on July 20th. I’m probably going to be doing a live tweet event for it. So if people wanna follow along, they can follow me @brendansteere on Twitter.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. And that’s always my last question is, how can people keep up with what you’re doing? So I’ll definitely round up that Twitter link so people can click over. Do you use any other social media, Instagram, Facebook? I can round those links up as well if you are comfortable sharing that.
Brendan: My Instagram is the only one. I do have a Facebook as well, but that’s mostly just for my mom [laughs]. So Instagram is definitely the other one I’m active on professionally. So Twitter and Instagram, it is both just @brendansteere.
Ashley: Sounds good. I’ll round that up for the show notes. Brendan, I really appreciate you coming on and talking to me today and good luck with VelociPastor too. As I said, hopefully we can have you on once you get that one all finished.
Brendan: Yeah. Thank you so much. Looking forward to it.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre, and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of this service, you can find out about all the SYS Select successes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also on SYS Podcast Episode #222, I talk with Steve Deering who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. These services include the newsletter, the monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads, we have partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads services, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner, recently we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots, all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also, you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS Select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join.
The classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept to outlining, to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing writer, director, Ramin Niami, who just did a contained thriller feature called Eye Without a Face. We talk about his career, some of his early projects, and then of course about this new contained thriller that he just did. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.