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SYS Podcast Episode 418 – Casting Actress Cybill Shepherd (transcript)

This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 418 – Casting Actress Cybill Shepherd .

Welcome to Episode 418, the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyer, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Actor- Writer-Director Kent Moran. He’s doing a big online acting event, which I think might be interesting to screenwriter. So, we talked a little bit about that. He’s also written a directed a number of screenplays. So, we talked about that as well and how he got those films produced. And he’s also an industry judge for SYS’s six-figure screenplay contest, 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 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 mentioned 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 418.

If you want my free guide How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to 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 teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline inquiry 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 sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing Actor-Writer-Director, Kant Moran, here is the interview.

Ashley: Welcome Kent to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.

Kent: I really appreciate being here. Thanks for having me.

Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business?

Kent: I grew up in New York and then Greenwich, Connecticut, went to the movies probably since I was six months years old. My parents were taking me in the stroller, I just love movies, and went to school for business out of college. I decided, you know what, I don’t want to do this. I want to do acting. So, I moved into New York City and just started from there just became an actor. And yeah, and then from there, it’s sort of been project.

Ashley: Yeah, perfect. So, let’s talk about that. You know, I think the plight of a struggling actor as similar to a writer, so maybe you can give us a couple tips, like so you get to New York City, what were some of the things that you did to establish yourself getting an agent? Did you get a job in the industry? Maybe talk through that. So how did you get those first couple acting gigs?

Kent: Yeah, it’s a great question. So, I didn’t know anything about it really like until I started taking classes, which everyone should do as an actor at least. And then when I was getting out there, I started with extra work and just sort of like getting on projects and seeing what it was all about. And that first year, I was lucky enough to like, get into some good classes, meet some casting directors, book some work. And sort of from there, I got an agent. And then there was step-by-step kind of thing. But yeah, that’s sort of why I started the acting school that we run as well, just because we want to teach people how to sort of sidestep a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes you make when you first don’t know what you’re doing. But yeah, it’s just sort of like I learned by doing, you know.

Ashley: Yes. So, you’ve written and directed a number of projects. Maybe we can talk about your first one. You wrote a script, a feature film Listen to your heart, starring Sybil Shepard. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit to start, what is the logline for that? What’s that story all about?

Kent: That’s about a struggling singer songwriter who falls in love with a deaf girl, can’t hear the songs that she’s inspiring him to write. And the struggles that they face, because the mother is trying to break them up the whole time, basically, very controlling mother.

Ashley: And so how did you ultimately get that produce? Maybe you can talk us through that? Did you have an acting agent at that point? You could get it to him who could get it to some literary agents, but just kind of give us what was the lowdown to actually getting that script produced?

Kent: So yeah, so the first step was, you know, once I have a script and screenplay, the first step was casting an actor that would help us get it made. So, we got a little bit of seed money through family and friends. And we use that money to cast Sybil. Once we had Sybil on board, the rest of the money was much easier to raise. And I feel like that’s sort of a strategy I hit on early on without realizing how valuable that was. But that’s sort of like how I now do everything. You know, I sort of get that name attachment as soon as I can. And then it helps me get the rest of the funds.

Ashley: Gotcha. So, talk about that a little bit. How did you get Sybil attached? One of the things that I think it’s a little bit of a myth that writers fall into this trap where because you do hear of this happening every once in a while where you get the script to an A list actor and they love it. So, they sign a letter of intent, you know, for no, it’s not a pay or play. They just sign it and really help the writer champion that project. What I find when you really talk to filmmakers, 9 times out of 10 It’s not a letter of intent. It’s really a pay or play offer that you make. And I’m just curious, what did this actually look like? What are those to getting someone like Sybil Shepard signed on to your project? What does that actually look like?

Kent: Yeah, that’s a great question for that one, it was not a pay or play, we were able to do it without that, I think it was the fact that, you know, the script was sort of an emotional like script that just happened to be up her alley of what she does and was going showcase her well, she was like, you know, a good leading role in that. And, yeah, I don’t know, maybe it was luck, or whatever. But what we did is we got a casting director on board that had a lot of good relationships, he had castings, like, I remember correctly, like Minority Report and stuff. So, he believed in the script, I think it’s about finding champions for the project. So, I was sending the script out to a bunch of casting directors, bunch of producers, etc. And then, you know, a lot of people didn’t gravitate with it, some people did. And those people I used to champion and try and build the package. So, he had a relationship, got it out to her, and then she signed on.

Ashley: So, the seed money that you raised, where was that seed money spent, was that spent on the casting director?

Kent: No, that was really, the casting director did it for basically free to be honest, like, it was insane. But that was really spent on the offer itself. And again, it wasn’t a pay or play. But it was like, once we raise the money for the film, this is what it would be. And at the time, it was just an ultra-low budget film. I didn’t know anything about filmmaking yet, and I didn’t realize that was going to become that wouldn’t be enough to do what we were trying to do. So, it would have become like a modified low budget by the end.

Ashley: Gotcha. And I’m curious at this point in your career, was that one alley you were trying to basically produce it yourself? Or did you send it out to like agents, script out to agent, managers and producers? Did you try and sort of go the more traditional writer route, where you get the script out there and just try and sell the script?

Kent: It’s a good question. This was in 2008, when the writer strike was going on. So, I felt like I didn’t have a choice and just wanted to make it myself. And it did feel good like I had, couldn’t more control over it. And just the ability to try and get a made. And it was not easy. Like I know it’s I’m making it sound easy. It was not, I was probably spent eight months, you know, trying to knock on doors and get this thing going. I do think like, you can’t do it yourself, getting other people to help you attaching the right people to help you can definitely make a difference in getting made.

Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. So, where did this idea come from? What was sort of the genesis of this story?

Kent: Well, my uncle is deaf. And there’s other things in the movie that I don’t want to give away that come in sort of the second act that are also very personal to me. So, I actually dreamt the idea one night, and I woke up in middle night, wrote down notes, etc. And that’s sort of how I get a lot of my scripts and then what happened was, I did that for about two weeks, I just wrote notes after notes. And then I just banged out the script in like two days when I actually wrote it. And, again, I was a new writer, had a lot to learn about it, rewrote it a bunch of times before the final but that’s sort of how it came to me.

Ashley: Gotcha. And I’m curious at this point, how much experience did you have producing, writing and directing? I noticed on IMDb, you’ve done a number of shorts as well. How much had you done prior to this in terms of producing and writing and directing? And how much did that help?

Kent: Yeah, so I did nothing before.

Ashley: You just had acted?

Kent: I had just acted, I had acted in a bunch of things, but nothing, writing and producing and I wasn’t going to have my hand in directing it. I was just going to write it and act in it. And the way it ended up working out, I sort of directed with my brother, the second half of that project. So yeah, and it was it was really my film school, you know, it was how I learnt everything.

Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. Okay, let’s talk about your next feature film, The Challenger, which you wrote and directed as well. Maybe same thing you can give us kind of a quick logline or pitch, what does that film all about?

Kent: But that’s about a struggling boxer in the Bronx, who basically has to fight to give his mother a second chance, she has a heart attack, he has to give her a second chance at life. And he gets this big title fight opportunity. And it becomes this reality show. And it’s called The Challenger. And that’s how he tries to fight to win for her surgery.

Ashley: Got it, And I wonder, in that when you have Michael Clarke Duncan, and along with a number of other great cast members, how did you get those folks involved?

Kent: So, similar sort of story, just like, you know, I don’t think, usually there’s not a wasted time to reach out to people that are big celebrity actors. But I do think there’s also a point where, you know, you can’t waste your time too much. So, I think he was the person that from the beginning I wanted to get and I happened to be in an agent meeting with his agent, and just to represent me as an actor, and the meeting went well and whatever. But before the end of it, I was like, you know, you guys represent Michael Clark Duncan, I would love to have him play the trainer in this movie I’m making, we sent the script over, sent him an offer, and he came on board.

Ashley: Gotcha. And did you find the same thing once you have him in place that made raising the money the rest of the money easier?

Kent: Yes, absolutely. See, after the first one. I had a batch of investors. Those investors ended up rolling over into some seed money for this, which was a larger amount of seed money so I could spend more money on a large name actor. And once I had Michael on board, interesting story, how I got Justin Hartley. I was working out in the gym and he went to the same gym as me. So, I saw him in the gym that day. And he was like the person I wanted to play the other boxer. And I was going to make an offer to him. But saw him in the gym was like, so weird to go up to him in a gym, you know, and like, introduce myself. So, I said, you know what, I’ll come back tomorrow. He’s still here. It’s meant to be I’m going to do it. I came back tomorrow, same time he was there. So, I just went up to him, told him about the project. He was super nice. And we had lunch the next day, and he came on.

Ashley: Gotcha. So, these original investors from your first film, how did you get those folks? You have Sybil Shepard, who are these people? How did you actually interface with them? And how did you get in touch with them originally?

Kent: Really, like it’s about to me, I find the best. When you’re talking about like equity investors, the best way to get them for me has been friend of a friend or connection have a connection like that one step removed, where they didn’t grow up with me, they don’t know me. So, they know me only as the professional, so it helps me already sort of shape that idea of what that is that I’m a filmmaker that here’s my filmmaking. See, I found that some of my friends who have the money to invest in film, you know, they’re never interested because they know me as the friend, right. But if you know the person, so I end up getting a lot of meetings that way. I tell everybody, I know that I’m working on a project, I put it out there into the universe. And those people tell other people, and before you know what they’re like, oh, you should meet this person, you should meet that person. And I’m also, you know, I tried the whole, like, call dentist and call that, that never worked for me. So, I found that reaching out to my base of people that might know somebody, you know, as I’m talking about the project, that’s been the most successful for me.

Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. So, let’s talk about just your writing process in general. Where do you typically write, and when do you typically write? Do you have a home office? Do you need to go to Starbucks with that ambient noise? What does your writing process look like?

Kent: Yeah, you know, I love getting out of the house and going somewhere new and isolated, like, actually, I’m writing my next script right now. And I was at a hotel, I booked myself a hotel just stayed in the room. And I wrote for like, 10 hours, like straight. And that’s when … before doing that I like to sort of write the outline, get my ideas, kind of like I did with Listen to your Heart for a few weeks, so I know what I want. Then I sort of structured in an outline, and then I just let myself go. And I like to just take it from there. This way, I feel like it cuts down on the rewriting process where I sort of have shaped my idea already, so that by the time I’m actually like writing the script, hopefully it comes out closer to the final draft.

Ashley: What is your development process look like? Do you have sort of a network of trusted writer, actor, director friends that you give it out? And how does that work? How do you determine which notes you take? And which notes you don’t take?

Kent: And that is a great, great question. Because that just doesn’t just apply to screenplays, that applies to the movie to like, when you’re doing test screenings and stuff and who to listen to, and whatever. So yes, I have a group of trusted friends. My brother is also a filmmaker. So, he’s someone I always run it by. And then a few of filmmakers that I’ve worked with in the past, that I trust their work, I like to run it by them. But other than that, I found that, you know, you start sending it to people outside the industry, and you just never know what you’re going to get. So yeah, I would stick if I’m, you know, recommendation I would stick to people that you trust their judgement.

Ashley: And just what do you do if you get someone that you trust gives you a note that you don’t necessarily agree with? How do you handle that?

Kent: I sort of look at it like this is an expression that I ultimately wanted to bring to the world. So, I let myself be the final say in it. But I do always listen to what the feedback is because and I will say you want to send it to multiple people, because that’s what you do on a test screening where you do see like a lot of things come up you wouldn’t have thought about. And then you can decide ultimately what to do with it. But at least you know that it’s there, you sort of get a vibe for what the opinion will be about the movie before you make it, which is really easy.

Ashley: So, let’s talk about your actor summit is coming up on May 20, I think to the 22nd. What’s that all about?

Kent: Yeah, so this is a really exciting event. You know, my wife and I, we own an acting studio called Acting and Voice Studios. And we’re presenting this Actor Summit, which is going to be first of its kind, it’s going to be 150 plus industry professionals, and it’s largely for actors, but there’s also really great opportunity for writers I believe. So, we got agents, managers, casting directors, show runners, filmmakers, influencers and celebrities. And what you’re going to have is three stages at once, where there’s going to be Q&A sessions, where they’re going to be sharing and each stage, each session or event will be about a specific topic. So, you know, the filmmakers might talk about the writing process and a topic or the showrunners might talk about how to get a show on television during that topic. And these are people that are at the top of the industry you know, we got the Walt Disney Animation Studios casting director we got Jurassic Park casting director, and just a lot of, I can’t announce those, some of the people we’ve announced so far, can’t announce people we haven’t announced yet but we’re very excited about it. It’s going to be eight hours a day for three days, and we’ll see how it goes is the first time we’re doing it.

Ashley: Gotcha. So, give me just like sort of walk us through. If you’re a writer thinking about this, what do you recommend. Are there’s some specific talks that you can say, okay, writers should definitely get in this. But you know, and what’s appropriate at these events or even allowed at these events? Can you actually interface with these people? Can you pitch them your ideas? Are these people going to be receptive to hearing a pitch?

Kent: That’s all great questions. And yeah, so we’ve built this event to have all those things involved. So, we’ve separated it into what we call themes. So, there’s nine different themes. And some of the themes that as mentioned to you are the themes like acting, to casting directors, managers, but then you also have filmmakers is a whole theme. So, under the filmmaker theme, or the showrunner, theme, or that kind of thing, you can build your own schedule of what you want to see on what stage and when you buy a regular ticket, which is the cheaper option, of course, you get to do one on one networking with all the attendees in this other segment, right? And then if you buy a VIP ticket, you actually get to network one on one with video chats now on in the event itself, with the industry professionals that want to do that. So, there could be some filmmakers there, there could be there are going to be filmmakers or showrunners there that you could actually pitch your idea to, in that one-on-one video chat.

Ashley: Gotcha. And is your acting studio in New York?

Kent: So, it was in New York, but during the pandemic, we decided to actually close our physical location. And now we’re just worldwide online. So, everything’s online. So, we have all the major people from New York and LA, but also Atlanta, we focus on and we even have some people overseas.

Ashley: Perfect. And how can people learn more about that you can rattle up the URL now and people can … I’ll grab that for the show notes as well.

Kent: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s just www.actorssummit.com. And that should have all the info there. And you can always email us at info@actorsummit.com with any questions. But I would say that, you know, tickets are pretty low right now. And they’re going to be going up as we get closer to the event.

Ashley: Gotcha. Gotcha. I always like to end the interviews just by asking the guests. Is there anything they’ve seen recently, HBO, Netflix, that you think would be really great for writers to check out?

Kent: Oh, man, I want to take more time to think about that question. That’s great.

Ashley: What have you been watching recently?

Kent: Well, I actually just saw this one short film I just did, I just got a screener for it. And I was just blown away by it. So, it’s hard for me to think about anything else but that but I do want you guys to keep an eye on Mark and Courtney’s Pasado. They just got into Cinequest with this film. It’s going to be great film. Now let me think. What am I seeing like lately, honestly, having a two year old prevents me to watch as much as I want right now. I guess, I got to catch up. It’s a good reminder.

Ashley: Yeah, no, I’ve been through that, too. I was catching up on all my Disney movies for a few years.

Kent: That’s really it right now.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so, in addition to the Actor Summit website, how else can people keep up with you Twitter, Facebook, any they’re comfortable sharing again, I’ll round all this stuff up for the show notes. And people can click right over to it.

Kent: Yeah, absolutely. So, you can follow me at Kent Moran at pretty much all the, you know, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. And what else YouTube? Spotify?

Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. I’ll get all that stuff for the show notes. Kent, I really appreciate you coming on talking to me today. Lots of great information.

Kent: Yeah, I really appreciate it too. And I want to say you do a great service for writers. And I love the scripts that I’m reading with you guys. So.

Ashley: Okay, yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. And I will mention that to you. If you’ve been one of our industry judges, the last couple years for our screenplay contest as well.

Kent: Yeah, I love to, you know, what I love about what you’re doing is these are actual scripts that can be made on a lower budget that someone like myself can put into productions, but it’s really helpful for us producers to have this database and script like this is great.

Ashley: Yep. Perfect. Well, I appreciate that. So, well Kent good luck with the Actor Summit. We’ll definitely be in touch.

Kent: Thanks. Yeah, I appreciate it.

Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.

Kent: Bye-bye.

SYS is from concept to completion. screenwriting course is now available, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse, it will take you through every part of writing a screenplay, coming up with a concept, outlining, writing the opening pages, the first act, second act, third act and then rewriting and then there’s even a module at the end on marketing your screenplay once it’s polished and ready to be sent out. We’re offering this course in two different versions, the first version, you get the course, plus, you get three analyses from an SYS reader. You’ll get one analysis on your outline, and then you’ll get two analyses on your first draft of your screenplay. This is just our introductory price, you’re getting three full analyses, which is actually the same price as our three-pack analysis bundle. So, you’re essentially getting the course for free when you buy the three analyses that come with it. And to be clear, you’re getting our full analysis with this package. The other version doesn’t have the analysis, so you’ll have to find some friends or colleagues who will do the feedback portion of the course with you. I’m letting SYS select members do this version of the course for free. So, if you’re a member of SYS select, you already have access to it. You also might consider that as an option. If you join us SYS Select, you will get the course as part of that membership to a big piece of this course is accountability. Once you start the course, you’ll get an email every Sunday with that week’s assignment. And if you don’t complete it, we’ll follow up with another reminder the next week, it’s easy to pause the course if you need to take some time off. But as long as you’re enrolled, you’ll continue to get reminders for each section until it’s completed. The objective of the course is to get you through it in six months so that you have a completed power screenplay ready to be sent out. So, if you have an idea for a screenplay, and you’re having a hard time getting it done, this course might be exactly what you need. If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse. It’s all one word, all lowercase. I will of course link to the course in the show notes and I will put a link to the course on the homepage up in the right-hand sidebar.

On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing MJ Palo and Andrew Agarello. They run the Reno Tahoe Film Festival, but also our filmmakers themselves. They’re producing the winning shorts from this contest, and they will produce a short pitch of the winning feature script. MJ Palo was also an accomplished screenwriter. So, we talked about her career and how she sold her first feature film screenplay. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.

So, to wrap things up, I just wanted to do a quick review of a new sci-fi Netflix film called The Colony. So again, I’m doing these Tik Toks, where I do one-minute reviews of films I try and make one important screenwriting lesson in each video. If you’re on Tik Tok, please give me a follow @AshleyScottMeyers over there any feedback you have on these, please do email me I’m always curious to hear what feedback. So again, the film I’ve been looking for, or looking at over the last week is a new sci-fi network Netflix film called The Colony. So, the film opens with some astronauts returning to Earth after the elites of humanity fled two generations ago, because the Earth became almost uninhabitable. And now they’re sending back some astronauts because no one on the new planet that they fled to, can have children. So, they want to go back to Earth and see if there are any children on Earth. So, the astronaut space capsule crashes into the ocean, and water starts to fill into the capsule. This is right out of the gate, the first thing that happens in the movie, and then one of the astronauts, of course, gets stuck in the capsule, as water is filling in. And another astronaut is they’re trying to get that astronaut free. And I’m thinking, wow, how are they going to get out of this? It’s super dramatic, and really hooked me right off the bat. But then they didn’t really get out of this danger. There was no clever twist or anything, it just sort of cuts. And the next thing we know the two astronauts are okay. So, it was sort of a filmmaking trick where the director made us think there was grave danger for these characters. But apparently there really wasn’t. Audiences are really smart. And when you start to do this, the stakes of the story start to really evaporate. Because then the next time something dangerous happens, we know that no matter how dangerous, it appears, the director can just cut without explanation, and everything will be okay. And I felt like this actually did happen throughout this film. And I’ll give another example. In the very next scene, the main astronaut gets thrown down a pit. I mean, it looks like this pit is maybe 25 feet deep. And remarkably, she’s totally fine just getting thrown down this thing. The more the director does this, the more we stopped believing in the actual danger, it no longer feels real.

One of the thing that struck me about this film is that as a screenwriter, it’s an incredibly high concept premise, and again, which is it’s these elites that have fled earth two generations ago, and now they’re sending astronauts back to this almost uninhabitable Earth. One thing I hear often from producers is that they are always looking for grounded sci-fi films. And by grounded, I mean films that aren’t sci-fi epics like Star Wars that require all sorts of expensive sci fi sets, spaceships and elaborate costumes. These films play really well worldwide, unlike things like comedies and dramas, which don’t always translate from culture to culture. This is sort of a brilliant premise sci-fi; you get that sort of sci-fi aspect. But essentially, you’re filming in more normal locations here on Earth, since its people coming back to Earth in the fairly near future. Obviously, there is some big sets, the whole movie sort of takes place in sort of these abandoned ships, but that’s not going to be hugely difficult to find. So overall, it’s just I found the premise to be brilliant as a screenwriter, because, again, you get this sci-fi aspect without having to spend a lot of money on spaceships and building all sorts of other worldly sets, like something like Avatar where you really have to spend a lot of time and a lot of time, sort of creating these sets, you get that sci-fi aspect without having to spend the money. And I don’t want to give the impression from my first note where I was sort of criticizing sort of the drama and the release it takes, I don’t want to give the impression that didn’t like this film, I actually really did like it, as a screenwriter, you know, I can literally criticize any film. That’s just, you know, sort of the critical mind that goes along with studying and being a writer. So, if you’re into grounded sci fi films, definitely check this out. This one had kind of a cool indie vibe to it. I mean, it’s Netflix. So, it’s not really an independent film, but you’re definitely sort of little heady and sort of grounded sci fi, so definitely check it out if you’re into those types of films. Anyways, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.