This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 399: With Ramin Niami.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #399 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am 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 of course how he got this new thriller produced. 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 #399. 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, how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really, it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.Quick few words about what I’m working on. So today is the day that we made our announcement for SYS’s Six Figure Screenplay Contest for all the screenplays that made it into the second round. Congratulations to all of those writers whose screenplays were chosen. Big congratulations to them. It’s always tough telling some writers that they didn’t make it. That’s the hard part of running the contest and the part that I really don’t look forward to.
But hopefully all the writers who entered at least learned something, and we’ve hopefully provided at least some value to everybody that entered. I hope people look at my contest test and really, I hope people look at all screenplay contests and even more broadly, all screenwriting services as just one small litmus test where your material, so you can learn where your material lands in the marketplace. Certainly one failed contest entry isn’t enough to give up on your project. So I encourage everyone to get other opinions, and of course, if you still really believe in your project and you do a little bit of a rewrite on the script, there’s always next year, you can enter the contest again. And of course there’s other contests as well.
And of course with a low budget screenplay that hopefully you have, since this is a low budget screenplay contest, there’s always the possibility of you producing it yourself. So always keep that out. Again, if you really believe in the project, definitely don’t give up on it. Anyway, so I’ve been reading screenplays and getting them out to the industry judges and we’ll be making our quarter final announcement in a couple of weeks. So stay tuned for that. So that’s been the main thing I’ve been working on here the last couple of weeks. So let’s get into our main segment. Today I am interviewing writer directed director Ramin Niami. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Ramin, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Ramin: Thank you very much.
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?
Ramin: Well, I was brought up in Iran, but I always wanted to be a film maker. So after high school, I went to England, and I studied first photography for a year and then I went to film school, and I’ve been doing that ever since [laughs]. I was lucky enough that when I finished film school, I ended up being assistant to my teacher. So that was the start. My background was really starting in documentary filmmaking, which was great introduction to actual filmmaking, because you have to tell stories with images. And then I became interested in fiction, so I started, always watched a lot of movies. So I started basically writing scripts and moving also to fiction.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So let’s talk about some of those steps. I know for my listeners, there’s a lot of adults that have careers. Obviously going from documentary filmmaker to narrative fiction filmmaker, is not a huge leap. But maybe you can talk about some of those steps. When you were doing these documentaries. Did you start to show some of your connections in the industry, some of your fictional screenplays? Did you start to pitch yourself as a writer-director? How did you make that at leap from documentary filmmaker to narrative fiction filmmaker?
Ramin: Well, it was… First I wanted to have the confidence that I’m good enough, you know? Because everybody writes script and is like, “Is my script good enough?” So, one thing that was very useful was, I got involved with some workshop that was directors and actors and writers, and we were working with actors. And so that was giving me a good workshop experience, and I started directing some off of Broadway phase. So I wanted to get more experience with acting. And that helped me in terms of writing dialogue, like what is good dialogue is to know how people express themselves. And then I wrote a script that is good, and I produced it and I directed it and it was like everything else trying to find investors.
But one thing I would say that the reason that the film got made, was because I had some very interesting, colorful characters in it, and that attracted some name actors. And bringing those actors into your project, obviously helping getting finance. So as you know having the cast is very important for investors and presales and everything else.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, no, that’s good advice. I’m curious. I get a good number of emails from writers that are in Iran. And it sounds like the political situation is such that they don’t feel like they can get their material out there. And I always wonder, what is your advice to people living back in Iran or any country where the government is maybe a little repressive and doesn’t let people kind of create artistic works? What are those people, what do you recommend for those types of folks that are stuck in a situation like that?
Ramin: The thing is, there is a big difference between filmmaking in Iran and here. I mean, I can tell you the good thing and the bad thing. I mean, obviously there are political restrictions and you have problems in making certain movies. But one thing Iran has that we don’t have here, is that’s how a lot of the art house films are made, they are in fact with government subsidies. Most films that you know, Iranian art house films, they got some kind of a government subsidies, which we don’t have. So what they don’t realize is that they think that if they come to US, people, they just write check and they make their movie. Because here, I find it incredibly hard as you know, to find investment for your movie.
So each system has its own advantage and disadvantage. But in terms of their structure, well, scripts are not stuck. I mean, you can always send it to production companies or agencies or producers. So if they really think that their script is good, they can always send it to people. I believe that if the script is good, there are people who will be interested in noticing it. The problem is sometimes it’s not just a good script, is it marketable, as you know. You may have a good script, but who wants to see the film? Filmmaking is very expensive, and we are in a commercial world. So I find that the problem with some of these scripts, is that they are very, how can I say? Personal and local.
And it doesn’t, I mean, one thing about American film is that you are making that film for US market, you’re making for the whole world. So these stories, can that story travel? So this is the reality of it. Find something that people, investors have to get their money back, you know? So my advice to everybody is that, is not just think that’s good. It’s like people come to me and they have project that say, “It’s a great film.” I say, “What’s the budget?” They say, “Twenty million dollars.” And think, but who wants to spend that money in this market, and how are you going to get that money back? Well, I’m just a writer. Well, you can’t just be a writer, you know?
You have to think about, I mean in this movie, Eye Without a face, obviously I thought that kind of thriller horror is a particular genre that has audience. But you have to have the budget. No, I mean one director that I worked with him and I produced his first film, brought me a very good script, but I said to him, “This film will be at least 10 to 15 million dollars, and it’s going to be very hard to find 10 to 15 million for a horror film in this market.”
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s dig into your new film, Eye Without a Face. Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is the logline for Eye Without a Face?
Ramin: Well, it’s really, it’s a modern, Rear Window. It’s about a hacker who hacks six apartments of young women, and then he believes that in one of them, something is going on and these guys arrive in the apartment, but they never leave. So that’s the story, basically. It’s inspired by those classic like rear window and Peeping Tom and Repulsion.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office? Do you need ambient noise, you go to Starbucks? And when do you typically write? Do you write in the morning, do you write late into the evening? What does your sort of writing schedule and look like?
Ramin: Well, yes. I have to see the film in my mind before I write it. I don’t, I mean, I know some people who start and they make a lot of notes and then they start writing. I have to see it. So I have to dream. So I think about the film a lot, and when I see I start seeing a movie, that’s when I start writing. So I usually write in the morning because I didn’t sleep the whole night thinking about it. Now my starting point is really, it’s not so much the plot, it’s the character. And when I have an interesting character, then I put them in the situation that I think is exciting. And then in a way, it’s like what is this character going to do in that situation? So sometimes I’m planning a film, but as I’m going along, it changes because I’m saying this is not what he would do.
So I find the characters are very, very important. Now my problem with a lot of scripts that people are sending me, is that they concentrate so much on the main character and they forget about the others. So I just think everybody has to have an interesting character and background that you have to know who they are. So that is my thing, is that finding a plot line that I like and develop the characters. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and then I go along. And it comes… that process, obviously the first draft is the hardest one. And but I do a lot of rewrites. I rewrite, I rewrite, I rewrite. And again, one problem I have with some of the scripts I read, they looks like first draft or second draft.
But the script in order to get to actually shooting, it needs to go through a lot of rewrites. And I’m very, I am very experienced, but also I am very welcoming other people coming. So I do give it to other people that I trust, and I give them, they give me notes. And I look at those notes very carefully and say, why did they say that? So if something is not clear in people are saying that, that’s when I know I have to change that.
Ashley: So you mentioned as you were talking about some of the scripts you’ve seen and people need 10 or 15 million for a horror movie would be difficult. Take us through some of your thinking with Eye Without a Face. Like, what is sort of your thinking? Did you talk to some distributors? So you knew that if you kept this at a certain budget, there would be a market for it? What does your sort of vetting process look like? How do you know that this movie did have an audience? How do you at least take an educated guess that a movie like this could find an audience?
Ramin: I’ve been working in this industry for a while and I’m watching and I’m, and I do talk to distributors. I do, while I do talk to people who have streaming services. I dot rack films. When you talk to them and they say things like comedy or romantic comedy is you have to have names. And dramas, it has to be something that goes to film festivals, and you need to have good reviews. But genre films and like thrillers, horror, you don’t really need to have names. You need to have a film that works. And because people who watch this kind of thrillers or horrors, they don’t necessarily are seeking big names in it. You know, it’s very hard to get people to watch a comedy if the people are not known. So I was very aware of that.
So I’m working on a genre that I know there is an audience for it, but has to be good. And you have to have high production value and you have to do whatever you can to attract the talent. I mean, if you want to get a great composer, we had Charlie Clouser who did all the Saw movies. Why would he score in a low budget like this? Because he liked the film. So that is, and getting the cast to getting production people, it has to be a good script. People have to be moved by it to work for less than their salaries. And also other people have to be excited to give you their equipment or services that you need. So it comes to, it has to be very good script. And when, and look, we all, I mean, my advice to every writer is that we all fall in love with our script.
It’s we are living with our script, but how good is it? We have to accept criticism. And as I said, I do give it to people who… Now, if I give it to five people and four of them likes, and one of them they didn’t, you know that’s four people like it, so it’s good. You can’t satisfy everybody. But if five people say, “Well, it’s not working,” then it’s not working. I can’t just say, “Well, you don’t understand,” you know? So my advice is that, work on it and work on workshops. Have reading with your script with actors. Hear the lines, is it working? Is it easy for actors? I mean, I always do a quick read at least with all my actors and I listen to them, and I listen to the comments that my actors are making about those lines.
If they are not comfortable or they ask me question, “Why am I saying this,” I don’t try to defend myself. I try to understand what is in their mind? Why are they saying that? And you know, because the collaboration. Filmmaking is collaboration.
Ashley: Yeah. Very sound advice for sure. Okay, so you’re also one of the producers, so I assume you were involved in the raising of the money. Maybe you can talk through that process a little bit. Once you had a screenplay that you were happy with, how did you then take that from screenplay to produced movie?
Ramin: As I said, nowadays it’s not… I mean, unless you are with some producer who has access to money, usually what happens is you have to have, you have to attract a package that’s interesting, which means that you have to have a cast, you have to have other elements that you think is attractive. So you put those things together and then you talk to see, to get some feedback from who are the potential distributor, and then you go up to money people. Now, if you’re just a writer and you don’t want to produce it, you, then you have to find a producer who will do that for you, who will make it exciting. Because it’s very rare that people say they write a check and then you go around and you make an offer to actors.
So it’s complicated because getting actors you need money, and to find money you need actors. So it’s like you have to find… and also you have to think about why would an actor want to do your movie? You know? Especially if there are some kind of a name or something. And as I said, horror film is different because you don’t necessarily need to have name access. But…
Ashley: So what did your package look like? So you had the script and what was your package? When you started approaching investors, what did you have in place? Obviously, you were the writer, the director- producer. You have a track record. Did you have some talent, and if so, what was the talent you had attached, and what other attachments did you have in place when you started approaching financiers and production companies?
Ramin: Yeah. Well, this was different because, because we were… I got some really great creative people who said they loved the project, they helped me. And that is from production designer who’s very experienced, the sound people. I mean, the guys who did in fact sound in my movie, you said about Iranian is day he’s working. He did sound in both of the 500 movies that won Academy Award so I had some really experienced creative, because, and then what have my daughter shot the movie. And then, so I suddenly realized that I have a lot of the elements. I mean, why, when we say money, why do we need money for? The fact is, I realized that I have a lot of the budget through the services and people, and this was unusual, but maybe it’s not for global the thing.
So what I did was basically, I made a lot of these people partners. So my actors and the cast and crew has real profit participation in the movie. So that’s brought our cash budget a lot lower than normal. We really brought it down a lot. And that is include also places that did our color correction, all kinds of things. So when I brought that down, I realized that I don’t need a lot. And I had produced two films for other people. So I put a lot of my own money in it, and then a couple of friends also put money. So everything I saw is coming together because I realized that that’s like this, I have much more control over the distribution. I didn’t want… basically let me say that, I didn’t want an investor gives me that money and takes everything because these people are going to work for me for very little money.
It’s not their salary. And the person thinking that is paying them little and owns the film, I thought is unfair. Either you pay people what they get, or you come with this kind of arrangement. So but I must say to you, as I said, people work on it like their project, and it, that was the things that you even, when you wanted to do color correction or things like that, going to top places and they said, I said to them we are very little money, but this is really good. So I looked at the film and they said, okay, we do it. I mean, this has happened to me in the past. I mean, I did the film before this and I did all my color correction at Warner Brothers. So even at studios, they do find if they like your project, they give you a lot of break, you know?
So for independent producers, if you have something that you believe, and then they actually think it’s good, they can, they want to give breaks to people if they like the project.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. How can people see Eye Without a Face? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Ramin: Yes. On August 10, it’s going to be in US, Canada, and it’s going to be in, it’s going to be in lots of cables, like direction, more spectrum, lots of these things. And then it’s going to be in iTunes, Amazon, Red Box streaming. It’s going to be in Fandango, Voodoo. It’s going to be Google Play, it’s going to be in a lot of them. So if anybody wants to know where it is, www.eyewithoutaface.com, they can see it where it’s going to be released. Also, it’s going to be at UK in 23rd, August 23rd. And right now it’s playing on HBO Central, which is Eastern Europe.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. Well, Ramin, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.
Ramin: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Ashley: Thank you. Yep. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
Ramin: Thank you. Bye.
Ashley: A quick plug for the SYS Screenwriting Analysis Service. It’s a really economical way to get a high-quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack, you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors- concept, character, structure and marketability, tone and overall craft, which includes formatting, spelling and grammar.
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.
As a bonus, if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program. Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis, so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service.
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.So next week is the 400th episode of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. Been doing this podcast for quite a while now, huh? It sometimes surprises me. So next week I’m gonna do something a little different, kind of mix things up for our 400th episode. I’m gonna have Richard Finney on next week. He is a writer and also a producer, and he’s also one of our industry judges for SYS Six Figure Screenplay Contest.
I had him on a couple of months ago in Episode #387. So check that episode out if you haven’t already. We talk a little bit more about sort of his story, how he got into the industry, sort of broke in and became a professional screenwriter. Richard and I had a number of great conversations. He was actually curious to see my film, The Rideshare Killer, so I actually sent him a cut of that. And then he and I had a number of great conversations about my movie and that conversation sort of bled over, over into talking about other films and sort of how they were working together, the mechanics of those films, the premise, the structure. And I thought this would make a great topic for an episode. So next week that’s what we’re gonna do.
We’re gonna, he’s gonna come on and really kind of give us his sort of take on premises and sort of the mechanics of how these screenplays work. We’ll be digging into some great films, Back to the Future, Star Wars, Speed, a whole bunch of other great films. Some TV shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter. So hopefully it’ll be a real interesting episode, but definitely it’ll be a little bit different than what you’re used to here at Selling Your Screenplay. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thanks for listening.