This is a transcript of SYS 444 – Making An Anthony Hopkins Movie Remotely With Rick Dugdale.
Welcome to Episode 444 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing producer and director Rick Dugdale. He’s been producing for years including films like an Ordinary Man starring Ben Kingsley. But he’s turned his talents to directing and he recently directed a feature film called Zero Contact starring Anthony Hopkins, both as a producer and director. He’s got a lot of great advice for screenwriters. And we talked through this recent film Zero Contact and how he was able to get that film 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 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. can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for episode number 444. 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 producer and director Rick Dugdale. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Rick to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Rick: Great. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background where you grow up, and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Rick: I grew up in small town, Canada, moved to Vancouver, very young right out of high school, basically, and got my start on X Files in the mid-90s, climbed the ranks in physical production. And realized maybe early on that producing would be my path and then moved to Los Angeles about 20 years ago, partnered up with Dan Petrie Jr. officially in 2003. And we’ve been producing movies since 2006-2007.
Ashley: Okay, and so let’s talk about that relationship a little bit with Dan Petrie, Jr. How did you meet him, and how did you impress him enough to, you know, become his partner? At this point, he was pretty well established in the business. So, how did you kind of get on his radar, get that job and become good enough acquaintances that you guys would work on multiple projects?
Rick: Yeah. So, he was the one of the producers and writers of a film called the Sixth Day with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And that was shooting in Vancouver, 99. And I was one of the location managers. And so, we just kind of hit it off and, and he said; Hey, you know, you got to make it to LA at some point, maybe we team up and I thought, you know, he wasn’t being completely serious. But I would go back and forth to LA, maybe once a month, and kind of learn the aspects of development and script acquisition and optioning and stuff that I didn’t really know much about at that point. You don’t do a lot of Canada. And so, in 2003, he called me up, I was finishing up everything Cat Woman at the time. And he said; Hey, can you be in New Mexico tomorrow? Got this film that I’m directing and I’m going to be scouting? I said; Yeah, actually, I can, I can be in New Mexico. So, I hopped on a plane flew to New Mexico. And then that film actually didn’t end up going. But he said, you’re here now why don’t we work together? And so that was the day I pretty much moved to LA.
Ashley: Yeah. Did you always in the back of your mind had this idea that you eventually wanted to direct something? Like, what was that sort of initial passion that got you into the business?
Rick: I grew up as a child actor, actually. And you know, very young, I realized that were my talent slide. And it probably wasn’t in front of the camera. And so then, you know, early on in high school, in the film school, I was directing stuff, but that’s more students, short films and whatnot. So, I always knew there was an interest there at some point, but also going through years of being a producer. There’s the odd script that you would read or the kind of business concept that would stick out to me in a different way more of a creative sense of, you know, a real vision for something doesn’t happen to me that often I read a lot of scripts, but I knew the day would come where I’d direct once you had more confidence and experience behind it.
Ashley: Gotcha. I’m curious. You just sort of made a comment. You know, that you felt that you were not going to succeed being in front of the camera as an actor. Talk about that, if you can a little bit what are those realizations like? I mean, how do you ever really know you know, for sure, like how do you ever really know that you’re not going to make it as a writer or a director or as an actor? Or any of these fields? Like, what was it that sort of gave you the clues to say; well, maybe producing is where I’m going to find my path. How do you have that realization? Because it’s very difficult for a lot of us to sort of accept the fact that maybe this isn’t the path for us.
Rick: I think it’s better said that it’s just another path, you can still have that path available to you. It’s kind of how I looked at it. I know the process, I was trained enough, I had already done, you know, hundreds of auditions, and I’ve done some, you know, enough of the work to say I could come back to that. But I think, you know, I always knew it was maybe more leadership driven. And I knew that that was maybe something more for me. You know, I used to be the guy that would jokingly take the short film and want to make a feature, you know, there’s always a passionate drive to train forward. And it just seemed like a natural fit to me. And in Canada, when you work as a PA, you’re in the Directors Guild of Canada, that’s the union. In the US, they are like Teamsters, I believe. And so, but you had a fork in the road after 30 days or 180 days later on. And that is do you want to be an AD or do you want to be a location department, right? 99% would go the AD path because that was their ticket, they thought to directing, and or let’s call that the glamour path. But I feel the smart ones would realize that the ticket to producing and longer job security. And so, I was 21-22 years old, and I’d have $5 or $6 million in my department to manage as a location manager. Now, in today’s world, you can make three movies for that price, right? And the reality is, you’re on four months before production started because you’re scouting that then they agree to shoot in Vancouver or wherever. And then they have the production manager and the line producer, right? Then you shoot for six or seven months. Again, back when you had long schedules. And then you see, you’d be on it longer. So, the smarter move was go that path. But that’s where I realized like, wait a second, this is that much closer to producing. And you’re being hired by the studio in LA. So, you know, I knew that would be the path I would take at that point.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, gotcha. I understand. So, let’s dig into your latest feature film zero context, starring Anthony Hopkins. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or logline. What is this film all about?
Rick: Yeah, this is a film about five people coming together on Zoom to solve basically a riddle as to how to shut down this time machine that Finley Hart – Anthony Hopkin’s character has developed in the past. And whether it’s good for mankind or not, that’s what we’re about to find out.
Ashley: Huh. And how did you get involved with this screenplay? How did the screenplay come across your table? And how did you get on as a director?
Rick: So, this is a film you know, we’re at week one into the pandemic. And you know, we shoot movies all over the world. And we brought an international think tank together of our friends and colleagues from around the world. And we said; Alright, for all filmmakers, how do we make a film if we can’t be in the same room together? And so, we started kind of coming up with some ideas and so then we got off the phone and zoom I guess, Cam Cannon who works with us, we’re very writer-centric company. Dan Petrie Jr is my business partner, we have Todd Ireland, Cam Ken and these are produced screenwriters who work for us in house and with us as team members. So, Ken and I came up with this idea. And you know, what, if five world leaders were assassinated at the same time around the world, that was kind of the genesis of where this would go, which is not this film, of course. But Cam is an incredible writer, and ran with this idea. And 10 days later, we had a script, 10 days. And we looked at the script and said; Wait a second, this not only is a good story, this is logistically possible. And so, from there, you know, Cam, and I also produced it. And, you know, I reached out to our colleagues all around the world, really, with the pitch as to how we’re going to shoot this movie remotely. And, you know, we had to convince them that it wouldn’t be a waste of their time. So, then you get Japan, you get Germany and you get Serbia and France and Stockholm, all these countries kind of, okay, I mean, I’m in. And then it was more of a I would run it from the War Room in Los Angeles, you have monitors all over the place, which is what I was envisioning, because you would do a company move from Japan to Germany, middle of night, biggest company move ever. But it was my producer colleague, Peter Tomasi, who said; So, who’s going to direct it? I said; Well, I think I’m going to direct it. And it was based on like, running the War Room, not fully thinking of like, we really need official director because this is a weird, experimental film, but then you realize that, well, someone’s got to talk to the actors. Someone has got to have the story in their head. Someone has got to drive this thing forward. And so, then I and also knowing the concept where we’re going to go with it for the sequels. It just made sense that I would direct it. And so, my day came, and I guess today’s the day I direct a movie.
Ashley: Okay, yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about the development of this script. It sounds like you were in place early on with developing the idea. What did that look like working with the writer? How did you guys actually work? Were you guys ever in the same room was all about remote? You give him notes? He would write a scene? And then do you wait for a full draft? Maybe just talk through that development process a little bit.
Rick: Yeah. Yeah, well, the very first thing we realized is that we were not in the same room, because we want to stay true to this idea as well. So, everyone is completely remote all around the world. And it was in the very beginning of pandemic, when, you know, I guess we’re really supposed to abide by the rules at that point. But if you’re going to shoot a film during the pandemic, we knew that we weren’t the only ones thinking this. But if you had to gamble, 90% of the people are going to say; Alright, let’s do a horror movie, or slasher movie. And that was kind of the concept that we wanted to avoid at that point. And so, we said, it’s got to be international, with multiple dialects and different languages. And it can’t be about the pandemic. And so that was kind of, as Ken was writing it, and Ken was sending a draft and I’d say; Hey, the character of Randy, let’s make that Riku. And let’s make him Japanese, because TJ, my colleague in Japan, is a great actor, and eventually he can play the part. Okay, great. And then we were kind of working on countries that we know and working with colleagues in these countries that would maybe come on board. And then we were adapting the script, all through that process as people were coming on to the project. Because you know, shooting like this, and we say, it’s like a podcast. And that is you need to find production value. And really, in every music queue in a podcast here, similar thing, we only have so many resources. But if you don’t make it the production value and scope and scale something interesting, then it’s not going to be a film for the masses to see, because we’re tired of watching the film over Zoom. That’s one thing through the script processes that we wanted to make it feel anything but a film that ever used Zoom as a device. So, when you cut outside to the drone shots, and that opens the film up, and we have a lot of aerial shots of all these different countries that opens the film up. So, at every turn in the script development process, we were looking for ways to increase production value with limited resources.
Ashley: Now that as a writer myself, that sounds like very, you’re giving him very practical suggestions. It’s not like, well, I don’t buy this story or this kind of things, talk about that a little bit as a producer, and maybe you can even talk about some of these other projects you’ve worked on? How do you see your role as a producer in helping develop these writers and these projects? What is your role? And what do you ultimately want to get out of this as the producer, leading the writer down a certain path? Suppose they’re not going a direction, maybe you think they should. How do you sort of finesse that situation?
Rick: Well, I think with this film, I mean, we also knew not that early on, but we wanted to make something that would allow for it to go elsewhere. Like allow for other possibilities, you know, our plan was to get this thing completed and out in the during the pandemic, so that we could maybe there’s a sequel, or you know, part two and part three, now, it’s changed when the film got completed, which took us a lot longer, because in post-production, all the VFX guys said; Wait a second, we need more time, because this actually worked. And then we obviously just finished the film, you know, six months ago. But in terms of script development, usually, I mean, I’m heavily involved in, whether it be book adaptations, or the stuff that we’re developing. A lot of is driven by what we know the market to be. So, whether you’re adjusting a character, you know, I always say when you’re a lot of writers will write something but don’t put as much thought into the actual characters and the character arcs, they put the focus on the storyline. If you focus on the characters, and the dialogue that you’re writing for those characters, you stand a better chance of casting the right actors that you’re going to need to play those parts to get your distribution that’s getting financing. So personally, that’s the stuff that I focused on, we have a whole development team that’s actually led by cam cannon. But I think, you know, just my insights as a producer is that you got to make sure that you write stuff that you’re going to get the actors that you need. And I think a lot of times, you’re seeing that overload quite a bit.
Ashley: Yeah. And you mentioned you made another comment just a minute ago that when you were coming up with this script, you realize as a producer that it was very doable. I think that’s great advice that you just give to writers to really try and write great characters that actors want to play. But what was it also about this script that you felt made it doable? And are there any, I’m really just looking for some maybe some counterintuitive things from a production standpoint that are you get a lot of bang for your Dollar, they’re easy to do they look great, but they don’t cost a lot. And then maybe the opposite direction. I mean, we all know stadiums and crowds, those are going to be expensive. So, I’m something well, budget got avoid that. But there’s some other production things that maybe you could give us as tips as writers.
Rick: Well, one of the things I’d say is what people over the word they overuse is “Contained Thriller”, it is two words. But when people pitch me a Contained Thriller, you got to think so now we’re getting off track a bit here. But what I’m saying is that when you pitch a Contained Thriller, writer, think of what the marketing materials are going to look like. If that key art and that trailer looks like every other teams in an RV, teams in the cabin, teams in the woods horror movie, Friday the 13th. Don’t write it, because a marketing team and a distributor is going to have the same issues like how do we make this look like something different. So, that is something I talk a lot about is that they Contained Thriller. So, think of like Ex Machina and high concept stuff that still can be done for the right price with two or three actors. But just think more high-concept than contain thriller, is something that I would always say for writer’s advice, in terms of this is that the thing that we had to do is or a contact is that you had to make sure that the actors do you couldn’t overwhelm them, because we knew they’re going to be by themselves. So, their characters, we also need them to kind of produce it and run the camera, if you make their character arc so complex or if you obviously have done over a short period of time in our storyline. But we couldn’t overthink what they were going to have to provide for us because they’re playing multiple roles. And so, you know, you wanted to make sure like, whether it be like Christopher shoes performance, when he’s having flashbacks, and he’s just needs to be on camera. And we could put a lot of stuff in post-production, couldn’t rely on them you didn’t want it shouldn’t say couldn’t rely. We didn’t want them to have to think through too much of it. Otherwise, it wasn’t going to work. So, you know, work with again, the resources that you had and don’t overcomplicate things is the key.
Ashley: Yeah, yes. Sound advice. I’m curious, just in general, how do scripts generally come across your desk? As I said, you’ve got you know, dozens of producing credits, how do you typically find scripts? Do stuff come through agents, do stuff come through friend of friends, personal referrals, maybe talk about that screenwriters that are out there that want to get scripts into your office into offices like yours? What is your approach? And what do you advise on that?
Rick: Yeah, well, first off, yes, we see a lot from agents and managers, but at the same time, again, we’re a very writer-centric company. And I know people need their break, and they need their shot. If you’re trying to break in and you’re trying to get your sci-fi epic, that clearly is $100 million plus, you’re trying to get to Steven Spielberg’s hands, chances of you launching your career at that script is going to be pretty tough. But the key is, is if you’re trying to break in these writers, you write the high concept, international thriller. I was talking about don’t write the Idaho dairy farming script, or as Dan will say; write what you know. And I say, write what you know people will pay for, and right now people are paying for stuff that is international, it’s got to work in 14-15 territories for global streamer to think it’s going to work for them. So, I always say like, you can open a movie up, it should be the Idaho dairy farming, you know, young couple out of high school. And instead of running the farm, they go to Italy, but they get caught up in an Albanian drug cartel, and now you’re crossing borders, but they escaped and make it back to Idaho. Right? So, you’ve opened your film up, you give your more your film, your script more roads to victory to get made. The other thing I’ll say is, the Austin screenwriting conference is the biggest and best in the world. We have been there were sponsor there now for 10 years, we’ve been there 17 years officially, that is ground 0 for all screenwriters, you should submit your scripts there. Anybody that goes there, we read the scripts that come from there, and we sponsor the interview entertainment category. And so, there’s a division for our company. And we’ve hired writers from there numerous times, that are in houses as well now to and have gone on to other things. So, that is ground zero for any screenwriter out there. We highly recommend that. Any of your listeners that do come there, please come say hello to Dan and myself. We’ll be there every year.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect, that’s fantastic. That’s great advice, and I hope people do follow up with that. So how can people see Zero Contact? Do you know what the release schedule is going to be like and where it’s going to be available?
Rick: is coming out this Friday, May 27th. I know it’s limited theatrical around the country VOD, Apple TV, Amazon, I believe are the two key places to find it but we will be out there counter programming to Top Gun, so please check it out.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing if they want to follow your career? Twitter, Facebook, a blog anything comfortable sharing I’ll round up for show notes.
Rick: Yes. You can find me Rick Dugdale on Instagram, on Twitter, and on Facebook, there’s a fan page on Facebook and NDRB Entertainment is on Facebook. If you have any questions, please ask us there. We try to open it up to filmmakers as much as possible.
Ashley: It’s perfect. Perfect. Well, Rick, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me. Good luck with this project and all your future projects. It sounded like this one too you have some concepts for a sequel and an additional sequel. So, we’ll be seeing more of these movies in the future?
Rick: We are in production on part two and three, which are conventional, yet unconventional. We’re shooting all over the world in crazy locations. So, you’ll be hearing about that too.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Perfect. We look forward to hearing about that in the future as well. Well, again, thank you for coming on now. Great talk and good luck with this film.
Rick: Sounds good. Thanks so much.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
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