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SYS 493 – Filmmaking For Change With Jon Fitzgerald (transcript)

This is a transcript of SYS 493 – Filmmaking For Change With Jon Fitzgerald .


Welcome to Episode 493 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing Jon Fitzgerald. He is the co-founder of the Slamdance Film Festival and runs filmmaking for change, resources for filmmakers to make films that transform the world. And he’s the founder of Cause cinema and Cause pictures where he’s produced a number of films. We talked through his career, Film Festival Slamdance, and how to infuse your own films with real meaning that can potentially change the world without being preachy. So, stay tuned for that interview.

SYS’s six-figure screenplay contest is open for submissions, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. Our final deadline is July 31st. We’re looking for low budget, shorts and features. I’m defining low budget as less than six figures. In other words, less than 1 million US dollars. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading the scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away 1000s in cash and prizes. I had the winner from 2020 – Richard Pierce on the podcast and episode 378, definitely check out that if you haven’t already. he won the contest that year, and was introduced to one of our industry judges, Ted Campbell, who took the script to Marvista entertainment, and got the film produced. So, check out that podcast episode to hear the experience in Richards own words. Again, that’s episode 378. And we’ve had a number of options and some writers getting paid writing assignments as well. And this is only our fourth year. So, getting a nice bit of traction with these scripts. We also do have a short film script category 30 pages or less. So, if you have a low budget short script, by all means, submit that as well. I do have a number of industry judge producers who are specifically interested in short scripts. If you want to submit to the contest or learn more about it, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest, and again this year we are running an in-person Film Festival in tandem with our screenplay contest. It is for low budget films produced for less than 1 million US dollars. We have a feature and shorts category for that as well. The festival is going to take place here in Los Angeles, California from October 6th to the 15th. If you produce a short film or know someone who has or have a low budget feature film, by all means, please do submit it, you can go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/festival and we are also on FilmFreeWay if you’d like to submit that there as well, both for the screenplay contest and for the film festival, again that www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/festival or www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest or just look up SYS six figure Film Festival and screenplay contest on FilmFreeWay. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leave 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 mentioned 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 493. 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 bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material, really 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 Jon Fitzgerald. Here is the interview.

Ashley 

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

Jon Fitzgerald 

Happy to be here.

Ashley 

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

Jon Fitzgerald 

Sure. I was born and raised in the south bay here in Los Angeles. And mother remarried, ended up in the valley and was always somewhat interested in what was happening with movies. I had a lot of friends I should say my parents had friends in the business. So, they were always giving me posters and telling me what was coming up for their studios. Fox and universal specifically had him all over the place. Never really thought of the film business as a place to work necessarily, but went to college at UCSB and took a little break, one semester and during the summer and went through some rather traumatic experiences to say the least. And I was telling a therapist about it and she said that sounds like a great movie. Have you ever read Syd Field screenplay book? And I said; No, of course, why I would. So, I started, of course, I read the book that this is a great little therapeutic exercise for the summer. And I wrote a screenplay. Really bad one. But what was interesting for me about that, just to put this into some context for your listeners, is that I wasn’t really thinking about film as a vocation necessarily, but I went back to college as a junior and took an introductory film course and realized; wow, this is amazing, this is a combination of all, the arts you know, writing cinematography designed, I just loved it. And yeah. So, I took that course and declared my major in film studies. And that’s kind of how it all started. I didn’t know if I was going to direct or, you know what role I was going to play.

Ashley 

Yeah, so after college, so you get done college. And then what were some of your first forays into actually getting into the business professionally and making money?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Yeah, so interestingly, I did the thing, a lot of emerging film buffs do when you’re trying to get a job. I got a job in a training program at William Morris. At the time, it was called Triad, but they were absorbed by William Morris. So, it was an amazing experience for me, just to learn who’s who, and you know, you’re reading scripts and reading contracts, you’re learning everything you can. And after doing that for, I’m going to say six months to a year, I felt like I got as much as I was going to get out of that I worked for an assistant, I worked as an assistant for an agent. I started working in production. My first job was a PA on My Cousin Vinnie. Which was amazing. Fun to work on a movie that people know and most people enjoy. So fun story there. And they did another half a dozen or so. And every time I’d go and work on one of these projects, I sock away all the per diem and come home, claim unemployment, and start writing. And eventually, I got to make my first film, which is loosely based on the script that I started, you know, before declaring my major years ago. It’s called Self-Portrait. It’s about a young, a young student who’s trying to figure out what he wants to do his life and wants to be an artist. So, I made it more of a visual artist and a painter. And that film didn’t get in to Sundance. So, me and two other guys started Slamdance. So, I kind of fell into the festival director role, the two other guys left to do their own thing after the first year, I became the Executive Director and ran that for the next three years. And then I was invited to come and take over AFI fest. So, I became the vessel director at AFI.

Ashley 

So, let’s talk about slam dance just a little bit. One of my first experiences in LA, I went to it was back then it was the sunset five right there on Sunset. And Dan, you would know him better than me, he was there with, I think it was called Oak, Nebraska, the movie or Oklahoma the movie or something? Omaha. Omaha the movie. Yeah. So, he had and he was out there pitching his movie. And me and my buddies, were just watching the movie, he was out there saying; hey, we’re doing a screening. So, I sort of heard about it through that he was a real hustler. And this was probably right about the time 95-96. So, in any event, I sort of knew about Slamdance. And then when I went to Sundance, once I actually went and saw a screening, it was a great experience, a lot of fun. Just a great atmosphere. And I know for my own festival, I’ve always thought about that as trying to give that great experience. But can you tell us a little bit about that? Just what did you do for these three years? What does that look like how to films get into Slamdance. I mean, as the filmmaker you always hear that you need a sales rep and a producer’s rep and this and you need someone you need someone on the inside. Slamdance obviously was sort of in to revolt against that sort of Sundance, being on the inside things. But ultimately, Slamdance became popular too, and had to turn away a bunch of filmmakers. And that was some offshoot. I mean, there’s now there’s a bunch of these sort of second tier Sundance festivals going on as Sundance. But what can you talk about? What can you tell us about that? How do you get into a festival like Slamdance, and maybe even, you know, some of these other big festivals that you worked on like Santa Barbara?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Well, I think you know, one of the first points you made was just why that festival was created and what it was really all about, and I think what’s important is that it’s still to this day, I mean, it’s what I don’t know what it is 30 years ago now. Was 95 and started… filmmaker, you know by filmmakers for filmmakers, the programmers there are Peter Baxter still oversees everything. He became a co-founder when I left and he took over. And I think it’s great because ultimately you have festival alumni from Slamdance voting on the films that come in the following year. And so, I do think that they try and stay true to their roots and really help with emerging artists and discovery. A lot of festivals kind of struggling, frankly, for an identity that when we started Slamdance, there were less than 1000 festivals. And now there’s, you know, well over 5000, some would say 6000. So, I think what’s important is that, you know, these festivals have to have a mission, right? Are they going to be a destination festival? Are they going to be a community festival? Are they going to have screenplay competitions? Are they going to be juried? You know, our second year of Slamdance, we decided to start a screenplay competition and that’s still going today. So, in terms of your writer listeners, it can do wonders for your career. You can be discovered by producers and studio executives by winning top screenwriting competitions. So, film festivals can do a lot of things. And I think in terms of how you get in, I have a course that I do with Justin Giddings called Film Festival mastery, which over 300 filmmakers are taking right now. It’s amazing, because as you said, it’s really hard to get into some of the top festivals, and it sadly can become, you know, how do I get on the radar? Who do I know? Who can make a call? I definitely don’t think you need to have a producer’s rep or an agent to get into a festival. But the sad truth is that there are a lot of film students and film buffs that are kind of brought in by these festivals, you don’t have much money to essentially be that first line of defense, they’re the screening committee, if you will. And so sometimes it can help to have somebody make a call on your behalf. And we even have a whole module in our course called Getting on the Radar. What is that angle that just have that film, Sundance had 14,000 Plus submissions last year, and some of the smaller festivals have, you know, 4000 or 5000 submissions So how are you going to make sure you get a shot, you know, and it’s getting on the radar?

Ashley 

Do you have any tips for screenwriters, especially in the context of like a screenplay contest like Slamdance was running? Are there some particular tips that you would say for writers that have particular types of scripts, particular genres? Just any tips for screenwriters who are entering these contests?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Well, I think the first thing I would suggest is to do your homework. Unfortunately, there are so many, it’s a kind way of saying this, scams, I guess for lack of a better word, where a film festival or an organization or some entrepreneur decides, I can charge a fee and call it a screenplay competition, and give away some prizes and earn entry fees. But if those screenplay competitions aren’t legitimate, and aren’t reputable, then it’s not going to do any good anyway, right? Because most screenwriters, and in some cases, filmmakers are applying to these festivals or these competitions, because they want to win some awards, or they want to establish some credibility. And just like I tell filmmakers all the time, don’t send your film to a bunch of film festivals that nobody’s ever heard of, that probably doesn’t have a hospitality program. Who knows if anybody’s going to show up to your screenings, sometimes they’re only virtual now. Make sure they’re legitimate. Right? Make sure it’s worth your time. And if you want to leverage the participation these events, as a calling card to reach out to studio executives or producers or other crafts people in the film world, it helps to be participating in festivals that have some credibility, right? So, you get these filmmakers that play in, you know, 20, 30, 40 festivals and you look at all the laurels and you haven’t heard of any of these festivals, because they’re not really on the radar and they don’t have a ton of credibility. So, I think the first thing is do your homework and make sure there’s a handful of screenplay competitions that can really help you. And it’s not hard to find out who they are by just doing the search and reading the, I know the Nicholas fellowship, Slamdance Austin, you know, there’s a few others but there’s probably 20 or 30 other ones that can’t really do you any good. So, I think you want to make sure you’re putting your eggs in the right basket.

Ashley 

So, if a filmmaker gets accepted to a film festival, or I know like Austin has, if your script wins an award, they have a little banquet. So, a lot of screenwriters go to that just… can you talk a little bit about if you’re a screenwriter, you have a script maybe you got to know Honorable mention at this festival, how can you go to that festival and make the most out of it? How can you get the most value? I mean, a lot of screeners got to travel by plane tickets, hotels, there is kind of a real concrete cost of this. So, what are just some quick tips for screenwriters that want to go to a festival and try and do some networking? Do you have anything for them?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Well, I think I think the couple of things that are most important about participating in these events, and the first is to be active, be proactive, right? There are so many filmmakers and screenwriters and other press people that go to film festivals. And maybe they’re going because there’s a specific panel they want to see or a specific movie, they want to see, if they’re a filmmaker has a film in the festival, maybe they’re kind of quiet, and they and they don’t necessarily want to go out and mix it up. So, they just wait till they’re screening. And I always tell filmmakers to participate, go to the happy hours, go to the receptions, meet as many people as you can, because you never know who you’re going to meet. I tell the story all the time. I was on a panel at a festival years ago, and I ended up talking about an upcoming project and I ended up getting an investor somebody from the audience. Right. So, it’s just participating in these functions of panels to happy hours. So, I think it’s important to participate. That’s the most important thing. Second most important thing is be prepared to talk about what you have. Right? If it’s a short screenplay, if it’s a feature screenplay, is it something that you have already done a scheduling a budget for and you’re trying to raise funding for you’re going to do it yourself? Is it something you’re trying to set up at one of the studios? I don’t know, you know, depending on your goals and where you land. It’s just important to be able to talk about something. I’ve made introductions to countless filmmakers over the years. And they go in front of an agent. And the agent says, I love your work. That’s a great film, what’s next? And they’re like; I don’t know, I’ve got a few ideas. But you can’t really advance your career if you’re not really ready to talk about the next thing that you’re working on. So, I think it’s really important to have something you know, you’re not to walk into a party with a screenplay under your arm. But be prepared to talk about it, collect information, be prepared to send a deck or a script or a treatment, be prepared to send something so that you can take advantage of that introduction.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah. So, that’s great advice, for sure. So, let’s dig into some of your current projects. To start out, let’s just talk about Cause cinema. What is this project all about?

Jon Fitzgerald 

So, Cause Cinema was created to initially be a recommendation engine, the whole idea around what I call social impact movies, I had the opportunity, some years ago, I kind of put a pin in my festival directing career decided to move back into filmmaking. And I made a documentary called the Back Nine, which led to a few other documentaries ended up making half a dozen documentaries. Most of them was some social relevancy. So, I ended up writing a book called Filmmaking for Change, which I assume we’ll talk about at some point. But the point is, is the idea of Cause Cinema is that I see this almost as a sub-genre, right? It’s a exploding genre in terms of just people wanting to see something that has something to say, thing films, thing series, Docu- series, you know, it doesn’t have to be an inconvenient truth or the cove. It can be something else, you know, about a person and what happened in their lives. And I just think that people, the time is precious. And I think people, if they’re going to sit down on the front of the TV and watch something, they want to see something a lot of times, they want to see something that has some value or social relevancy. So, Cause Cinema is first and foremost, a recommendation engine, it’s going to help people figure out what to watch and where to find it. And talk about different themes we did we celebrated Education Month last month, I’m going to do a memorial showcase today talking about 25 films that are great celebration of Memorial Day. So, the idea is to help people find quality content where you can see them, so that’s what Cause Cinema is now it of eventually will likely become a fast channel of its own, instead of sending you somewhere else will actually post it.

Ashley 

Gotcha. Now, I’m curious, just sort of philosophically, why are you so into the social impact movies? You know, I think I turned on Extraction Two on Netflix the other day, and you know, there’s definitely a market for that sort of stuff as well. It’s fun, you can relax. It’s just sort of a fun moment. But maybe you can talk to that a little bit. Why socially important films, why do movies that have a social impact?

Jon Fitzgerald 

I think there’s two different primary buckets, if you will, I think one is, is it a film that has a specific call to action, which I like. I like to believe that that film and media is probably the most powerful form of communication we have, right? It’s super impactful, you see something and inspires you and engages you. And I think that we have an obligation as an industry to leverage this power of film to actually move the needle, right? Take movies like Food Inc, that movie really changed the diet for millions of people across the country that didn’t know anything about it. Right, you could take it to the same level with Forks Over Knives, you know, there’s a lot of just to stay in the food category. There’s a lot that’s been done there. And there’s a lot on the environmental side. Racing Extinction, did amazing things and inconvenient truth. So, I think having these movies share something about what’s going on in the world, or what’s going on with our health or what have you. I think that it can improve lives, and it can improve what’s going on the planet. And I think if you do it, right, we call it education for change and entertainment for good, right? You can do these things without it being you know, beating people over the head with education, you can do them in an entertaining way. You look at a movie like The Cove. I mean, that was the movie that felt like a thriller. But it was a documentary, you know about slaughter of dolphins in Japan. So, you can take movies, and that was one of the driving forces behind Filmmaking for Change was the book was the idea that you can take the idea of something and create more of a narrative structure around the movie, and make it engaging and entertaining with the beginning, middle and end instead of it being talking heads and just boring.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, I first came in contact with you through your Substack, your Cause Cinema Substack. And maybe you can just explain that. I know, there’s a lot of writers on this podcast, obviously I’ve heard of Substack, I see Matt Taibbi, a lot of these big journalists are getting into Substack. But I don’t really understand it. Why are you on Substack? How does it work? Is this an opportunity for other writers to create their own little universe? How is it monetized? Just give us sort of a rundown on Substack. How do you use it? Why do you use it? And could it be something for writers to make money?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Well, I think it’s fun. It’s funny to ask because I was writing for years on a platform called Medium. I don’t know how many of you writers understand Medium, but it was essentially a blogging platform. But with Medium, you had to be discovered in their search engine. And you had to have people follow you and find you to read the pieces. And it just the formula and the algorithms, I just never thought that it worked. It works for some people. Some people earn a good living there, but it’s a tiny percentage. And one of the things I didn’t like about Medium was you didn’t control your audiences. You didn’t control your fans. You didn’t control the people that read your work. With Substack, it is essentially a writing or blogging podcast platform, where you’re creating content, and it’s going out to your people, your fans, but you control everything. So, my last company, I had 1000s of followers, Cause Cinema had 1000s of followers, people looking for these recommendations, I would do a podcast every Friday telling people what to watch, saving them time now is my goal. So by kind of transferring all this over to Substack, I was able to take all those emails, export them, or I guess you’d say import them into my new Substack for Cause Cinema, now when I write something, it’s emailed to all those people. You don’t have to go to Medium to find it. And if somebody wants to follow me, or subscribe, that’s now an email that I get, right? That’s an email of a potential client, reader, fan, whatever you want to call them. And so, I like that you have a sense of control. And if you create something, you know who you’re sending it to, and if those people don’t want your information, they can unsubscribe. Right? And most of the platform is anchored on free. So, most people are writing for free, but you can have paid levels. So, for example, there’s certain elements of Cause Cinema, where I’m just doing a podcast recommending films and series. There’s others where I’m doing a deeper dive into what’s happening in the industry, or I’m doing a deeper dive into filmmaking for change and I’m breaking down case studies, I’m spending a lot of time there. So, for those, you have to be paid subscriber. So, you can have like for $5 a month or $50 a year, you can subscribe and you get access to a lot more information. So, it’s up to you how you play it. But I like that you have a sense of control and their business models. Look at the Ankler, it’s basically created by two journalists. They’re making money hand over fist, because they’ve got a following. They got people that liked their writing. And they’re paying to subscribe their 1000s of paid subscribers.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah. So, that’s perfect. I think it does give us a nice overview. As I said, I’ve never really dealt with it other than just reading some people’s Substacks. So, let’s talk about Filmmaking for Change. It’s a book a website and online course, maybe you can kind of tell us about that. What is Filmmaking for Change all about?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Yeah, it’s funny, I knew you’re going to bring it up. So, I have got it up here so I can just show you. Well, it was funny, quick two-minute story on Filmmaking for Change. So, I’m on a panel at a film festival in New Mexico. And on that panel with me as Michael Wiese, the MWP that a lot of your writers have probably seen, they did save the cat. And I said to Michael, why don’t you have a book on social impact filmmaking? And he says, Well, nobody’s pitched it. So, I can help you with that maybe, tell me how it works. So anyway, long story short, walking back to the hotel, and I got the whole rundown on how you get a book published to them. So, I wrote an outline. I wrote the first chapter. And it was basically development, production, distribution. And I broke down with case studies, because at that time, I’d already made two or three documentaries. So, I had plenty of my own case studies. And then I went to other people from the industry, entertainment lawyers, other filmmakers, distributors, I got words of wisdom from all of them. I put exercises at the back of each chapter. And I just thought this is a great opportunity to help writers that are trying to write something, again, with some social impact at their core. And it doesn’t have to be a lot of them were documentaries, but there was also a whole narrative structure. But the other thing that was really important to me, and again, two other great books, from MWP. Myth and the movies and the writers journey, both of these books, really focused on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, the 12 stages of the journey, I became a huge believer in that. I watched a few videos about George Lucas, and how we use that philosophy for Star Wars. So, it’s not just, you know, the social impact stuff. It’s big movies, it’s medium sized movies. So, I wanted people to be able to find ideas, and convert them into entertaining movies for change. So, that’s where Filmmaking for Change came from.

Ashley 

Gotcha. And it’s also you’ve turned it into this online course as well, which is on the website?

Jon Fitzgerald 

A few years ago. I feel like it was right around COVID. there started to be kind of an emerging opportunity to create courses online. And obviously masterclass, has done wonders with that. And so, somebody convinced me that I should create a course around filmmaking for change. I taught a course at a local high school. And I just felt like it made sense. So, Filmmakingforchange.com, was kind of converted into this course where you could take the course you could get the book. And then a few years ago, I think it was 2017. I did a second addition to filmmaking for change, which added a section for activation, and how to take these impact movies and actually put them into action more than just, you know, getting them on a screen somewhere. So, I tried to expand the universe a bit around filmmaking for change, and do that course. And then I also have a distribution course, distribution revolution, as I said before Film Festival mastery. So, I think there’s a lot of opportunities to learn from engaging videos and conversations and resources a lot more than just picking up a book, right? You take one of these online courses, you’ve got video modules; can be three minutes, could be 40-minutes. So, you’ve got these four modules that break down all these categories with examples and slideshows and lists. It’s just super comprehensive.

Ashley 

Yeah. So, let’s dig in a little bit to the story part of this. You break it down idea of structure audience, you’ve mentioned the hero’s journey. Syd Field, obviously, was that sort of original three act structure template. What is your approach to structure, maybe you can give us some tips. I think Blake Snyder’s a little bit newer but very similar to Syd Field in terms of the sort of guideposts in your screenwriting, but just talk about that a little bit. What is your approach to screenwriting structure? How do you teach it in your course?

Jon Fitzgerald 

Well, I’m a big fan again and of the hero’s journey. So, I think that if you took the three-act structure, you know, the act one, act two, act three, act one, you know, I think Syd Field called them plot points. You know, and I think with the hero’s journey, it’s crossing the threshold. So, there are these different opportunities. And I’m a big fan of, yes, things change when you start shooting, especially with documentary. But I’m a big fan of whiteboarding the exercises, right. So, if you know, there’s certain things that you want to happen in your movie, and you whiteboard them out, does it fit into Act One? Is that Act Two? Is that Act Three? Are you telling it in a nonlinear fashion, but I think if you think about, you know what your goals are the call to adventure, right? The first, the first big call that you get, that becomes the goal. And then your meeting, you know, I think they call it meeting with the mentor meeting with the allies. So, you know, you have to leave this ordinary world, right to move into another world, metaphorically, sometimes right to where you learn new things that are going to impact you as a character or your other characters. And so, I think laying all those pieces out on a whiteboard can be extremely helpful. Because you can see the arcs of your characters, you can see the arcs of the story, you can see the plot points. And to be honest, if there are 12 stages of the journey that fit into three acts, it just gives you guideposts to help you structure, you know, whether using three by five cards, or four by six cards or a whiteboard, I mean, you’re ultimately, I’m not a fan of just having an idea and starting to write, I think it helps to structure it out.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. How is your changing thinking over the years? Obviously, your sounds like you started your career in the 90s. How are things changed? What are some of the differences you see today with screenwriting, versus 20-30 years ago?

Jon Fitzgerald 

You know, there’s more opportunity now than ever before. I think that it’s a bit again, of a double-edged sword. I mean, you look at the mean, here we are in the middle of a writer’s strike. You know, it’s a certain percentage of writers that are sucks, considered successful, earning a really good living. And then there’s another percentage of writers that are working or were working before the strike, that then are still saying that they’re struggling to earn a good wage based on the hours that they’re putting in. So, I think, institutionally, it’s still a challenge to be a writer, because there’s only a small percentage that are really thriving. But I think that there’s more opportunity than ever before, if you have some entrepreneurial spirit, or you bring on a producer that has the entrepreneurial spirit, and you just stick to the creative, I do think there are more opportunities now to get movies made. And to get movie seen than ever before, right, because we’ve got more tools than ever, you can write an entire movie that takes place in front of a green screen. Or you can write entire movies that take place in one or two or three locations. And you can buy the equipment. I think I do an exercise in Filmmaking for Change, where I say, look for $5,000 you can buy everything you could possibly need to make to make a movie, you can buy the camera, you can buy the final draft, you can buy a final cut, you can buy some gear and buy the software, you can do what you need to do for very little money. And you can get actors, great actors, some of them sag, some of them non sag. I mean, depending on whether you’re doing sag film or not. There are millions of actors that are just trying to break out, right. So, you can anybody can just do a casting call, there are a handful of casting apps out there. Now you don’t have to go and spend a bunch of money and be on the breakdown service. You can get actors, and you can get tons of film students, there’s more film schools than ever before you can get film students to work for the experience. So, I think if you if you have the drive to actually just make it happen, where or hire somebody again to help you with some of the business stuff. I think you can pull an all-star team together and make it happen yourself what you couldn’t have done as easily 20 or 30 years ago, and I’ll say this too. I’ve focused a lot just now on how to get the movie made. Distribution. I mean, the gates are open wide. There’s over 2000 streaming channels now. Forget about Netflix and HBO and Hulu and Amazon. I mean, yes, there’s the big boys. But even if you don’t end up on one of those channels, there are hundreds, if not 1000s of other ones. And there are niche programming, right? There’s sci fi, there’s gay and lesbian, there’s cars, there’s a whole bunch of different niches, and there’s bands in each of those categories. So, I think as long as you can find a creative way to tell the story, and you get good at actors, I would say one of the things I learned the hard way, is, don’t skimp on the actors, and hire all your friends. Get good actors, because one of the hardest things as a festival programmer, I can say wearing that hat, is you get 1000s of movies submitted to you. And more than half of them have horrible performances. And that’s the first thing. Screenplay, sure got to have a good screenplay. I’m going to assume that your writers are doing a … Yeah, to work on that craft. But you know, writing is rewriting, get feedback, make sure it’s working, make sure your goals you know, you’re too close to it, get readers to give you feedback, do surveys, do we need to do, but once you get to the point where you’re actually going to get the movie made, hire some actors, that will work for next to nothing, just to have a chance to get some footage, you know, build up their reels. Don’t hire friends and family that are going to make your movie suck.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah. So sound advice. So, if a filmmaker or even a screenwriter, if they have one of these projects, that’s a cause, you know, some sort of social impact type of a cause? Do you have any recommendations for how they can reach out and contact some of the not for profits, or even just the companies that are in that space? And I asked this in sort of the context, I’ve done a couple of Kickstarters. And one of the things I always notice is, you see a lot of those types of movies go through Kickstarters, where they try and tap into this sort of social cause. That may be already in sort of the cultural zeitgeist. And you know, but how do you contact that person on Twitter that’s a thought leader in this space? How do you contact that not for profit and say; hey, do you want to help? What can you expect as a response? What is the appropriate you know, way to contact them? And to get them involved? And what can you expect from these types of organization?

Jon Fitzgerald 

As I said, there’s a few places to go where there’s endless resources. One is Doc society. They have a ton of case studies, and a ton of resources.

Ashley 

And can you spell that out?

Jon Fitzgerald 

I think it’s DOC. Docsociety.org. I believe it’s based; I’m going to say UK. Doc society is amazing. Another one is SIE society, which stands for Social Impact entertainment society. Robert and his group there, I mean, they’ve pulled together a terrific stable of resources, from fundraising resources to cast and crew to partnership opportunities. Yeah, that’s a great organization to check out. And then I would just say, you know, I’m one of those people that’s very accessible. I have few companies, I’m very busy person, but I’m also constantly talking to emerging writers and filmmakers. So, reach out to, you know, [email protected]. And I’ll respond. And I have a few filmmaker clients that had screenplays and treatments, but they weren’t really sure where to turn. So, I sat with them. I said, look, tell me your five ideas. And I said, okay, these two are probably the ones that are going to give you the best chance of getting made. And then in one case, you know, she’s over here, we’re working on a whiteboard exercise. So, she, you know, was to the point where she was ready to start writing and we helped structure it. So, I think, a lot of screenwriters have many ideas, right? And the trick is to find those ideas. I’m not a big fan of writing for what is more commercial, like you read an article in the LA Times about some script that just option to you know, Bruckheimer or whatever, I don’t think you should write what’s trendy, you should write what you know. But you may know or be interested in a handful of ideas. It can help to have somebody in the industry that understands what kind of companies might be interested in those ideas. What else might be in development at a certain company or studio. So, I just think getting support is helpful.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, I always like to wrap up the interviews just by asking the guest, if there’s anything they’ve seen recently that I thought was great. Obviously, you’re doing recommendations, so maybe you can tell us some of your recommendations from Cause Cinema over the last couple of weeks, just something you think screenwriters get some value from.

Jon Fitzgerald 

Yeah, well, I think, one of the things that I noticed is writing because that’s where it all starts. And I mean, it’s pretty high profile. So, it’s not going to be surprising, but I do think the writing on succession is brilliant.

Ashley 

Okay, and what’s funny is I’m having so many people, I think someone on the last podcast recommended that too. I haven’t checked it out. So, it’s definitely going to go on my queue.

Jon Fitzgerald 

Yeah, it’s really strong. I mean, it’s brutal at times. I mean, these are some messed up people. But the writing is so good. And then it’s a little lighter but marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I think the writing is great on that. Fleabag I think is a few years old now. But I remember thinking that was brilliant writing. I haven’t seen a whole lot of movie movies lately. Although I did see Air, which I thought was pretty well done. I would imagine that will be around come award season.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. For sure. So those are all great recommendations. Yeah. Thank you for those. So, what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? You can mention your websites here. But Twitter, Facebook, anything you’re comfortable sharing, we will round up for the show notes.

Jon Fitzgerald 

Perfect. Yeah, I’ll send you some links on the socials. I’m not really good at the social media thing, I’ll say. But I do think that it’s helpful for people to go to Substack and search Cause Cinema. Because I think that’s really where most of my business is going to be focused. I would also say that if you go to www.causecinema.com, there’s a sign up there that brings you right into the Substack. World. And if you have you know, ideas or projects, and you’re looking for some feedback or support, I mean, www.causepictures.com, there’s a contact information there. So, any of those ways is way another idea that I was thinking earlier, and I got off on some tangent forgot about that I think is helpful for writers are trying to reach somebody, of course, you can use IMDb Pro, because you can get to almost anybody there. But getting to anybody there usually means getting to their agent or their lawyer or their manager, you can go to LinkedIn a lot of times. I mean, you’re not going to get you know, Matt Damon on the phone, but you can get to people at production companies that are making the kinds of projects you’re interested in, or studios or networks. But look at the production companies that are listed. Look at the names that are listed on the projects that are interesting to you as a writer and track them down via LinkedIn, you’d be surprised a lot of those people you send a nice note, say love to connect. I love your work. And, you know, I would say 7 out of 10 times, they’re going to connect with you. And then once you’re connected, you get the email and the contact.

Ashley 

Yeah, yeah. So, that’s perfect. That’s a great tip. Yeah, yeah, for sure. I’ve always used IMDb Pro a lot, but I’ve never done much with LinkedIn. So yeah, again, thank you for that. Well, Jon, I really appreciate you coming on the show today and talking with me. Good luck with your projects and hope to have you back on soon.

Jon Fitzgerald 

That sounds great. It’s great to be here and keep up all the great work you’re doing the support writers.

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