This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 030: An Interview With Screenwriter Joe Gazzam.
Welcome to episode thirty of the SellingYourScreenplay podcast. I am Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over SellingYourScreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment, I’m gonna be talking with screenwriter Joe Gazzam. Joe has recently worked with several high profile studio projects including the Barbarella remake, the Cliffhanger reboot and 21 Jumpstreet. He’s also sold several studio level spec scripts and we are going to some of the real details how he did this. So stay tuned for that.
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A couple of quick notes – any websites or links that I mentioned in a podcast can be found on my blog in a show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you would rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast’s show notes at www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/podcasts. Also if you want my free guide “Have a sell screenplay in 5 weeks”, you can pick that up by going to www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/guide. It is completely free, you just put in your email address and I will send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screen play in that guide, how to write a professional log line occurring letter, how to find agent, manager or producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know about how to sell your screenplay. Just go to SellingYourScreenplay.com/guide.
A quick few word about what I am working on; I have had a couple of small developments with some of my small scripts, but nothing really that big. I’ve been talking with a producer about an idea he has – I did a quick treatment, he had kind of very rough treatment written out and I expended on that a little bit and gave it back to him and he is taking it to some of his investors. I’ve been talking about maybe rewriting something with a director I know. This is director who options something for a while back and we just kind of built up a friendship. So we’re kind of trying to figure out if there is not something we could do together. So just some little things – hopefully something will materialize from this. I’m trying to finish up my low budged Sci-Fi thriller script by the middle of august. Right now I am paced to do that – I sort of go back and forth on this one whether I like it or not. But we’ll see when it’s done. I’m doing a full read on my writer’s group on august 12 so hopefully I’ll get some good notes from that and then I’ll do a quick last path on it and then I’ll start sending it out.
So now let’s get into the main segment. This week I’m interviewing Joe Gazzam. Again he’s a screenwriter; he’s had a bunch of spec sales in the last few years and he’s done a bunch of studio level writing assignments, and he gets integrate detail in the interview in this. So here’s the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Joe to the SellingYourScreenplay podcast! I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Joe: Hey, thanks for having me, man!
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your carrier in the entertainment industry.
Joe: Yeah, You know I grew up in Florida, had no idea what I wanted to do. No one I knew was in an entertainment industry so I end up going to the college and just sort of wandering around and then I graduated and then just got into a series of just godawful jobs like you know, man store manager and not on a cool store, but at Ceaters, and then like claim suggestor. And really it just sort of came to me in a piffany, cause I was always the movie freak and always loved to write, just never done so many, but I remember the exact moment I wanted to become screenwriter cause I was in Ceaters and I was getting screen dumped by district manager from misaligning the underwear wrack and I was just sitting and thinking “Oh my God, what have I done with my life”. And I literary walked from there up to the applying to the sort of computer place, grabbed a laptop, grabbed a briefcase and then I went into my office and I faced my chair towards the door tiny little office, put my briefcase on my lap, put the laptop in my briefcase and open it up towards the doors so that if anyone came in it would look like I was digging around in my briefcase and just counted up my prescript.
Ashey: (Laughing) All that in the same day?
Joe: The same day I started. And then I just went out and bought a bunch of books, You know I did the whole thing, read a bunch of scripts. I had really just one script that I had, and it was total Tarantino and Coen brothers’ rip-off. But I just knew, I had so much fun doing it, I knew that’s what I wanted to do, so as a complete cliché I took that one script, hopped in the car, packed all my things and moved out to California. Didn’t know anyone and I’ve never even visit California, I was just possessed at that point.
It went really well and then came my first real spec which was called “Scared Straight”. That got me a manager who put me around to some agents and got me ICM at the time. And that actually went to a new line and I got into the blacklist and I got a little bit of heat and that got me to the assignment to write 21 Jumpstreet. Which did really well sort of went by all over the town so I get a little more heat. At that point I wrote another spec that went to new agency called Straight & Narrow and really it was just bunch of series of jobs at that point. It was Fox, animation thing, I did Barbarella. I just sort of was going from job to job and then probably by a year ago I had a second piffany which was that I just wasn’t elevating my carrier. I was just sort of in a trap of assignments, which is you get in and you get a quota. And then every single job you get after that, they just go “Ok, I’ll give you the same quota maybe I’ll give you a few dollars more”. So moneywise it’s not elevating and then because you are sort of invisible for the rest of the town, You only work with few people cause you are only doing couple of assignments per year maybe. So I was invisible for the rest of the town for a good four years maybe and two I was sort of subsisting and paying the bills and really I can’t complain but my carrier wasn’t going up, so I just dropped everything and decided to write another spec. And that was a spec I just sold called “Shadow Run”. And that just sort of span everything up again, so now like you know Nuem Rech was working with “Love Dead” and we had a great work together so he basically gave me cliffhanger. You know normally you got a million people you are up against and you gonna work out every bit of a story where it is a whole thing whereas because of the spec and the heat I was getting I was literary you know pretty much handed assignments. So it started like an upper climb again which is sort of the tension of it all. Yeah that’s sort of have I find myself now.
Ahsley: By hearing that story, I’m curious, I hear a lot of especially very establish screenwriters, they kind of poo-poo a lot of screenwriting books. You said you read some of those. Are there any screenwriting how to books that you would recommend that new writers read?
Joe: You know it’s funny I cannot even try besides some couple of basics I can’t even remember. I just went to a care and it was ten years ago or nine years ago o nothing on top of my head. Honestly some of it was just books where it was sort of success stories. Or it would be just stories interviewing screenwriters. And for some reason that always got me jazzed up and sort of inspirational so even more than the rules and this and that It was just hearing people that have made it. Thinking that when I was in Florida and Atlanta that the dream was possible you know? So that was really more than anything what the books did to me. It made me believe that it’s possible.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so what screenplays, you also said you read bunch of screenplays, are there some really good screenplays there that you would recommend new writers to read?
Joe: You know I can tell you like few of my favorites that really blew me away at the time. It was “American Beauty” which I think is pretty much perfect, “Seven” which I think is pretty much perfect in a lot of ways, “Sons of the Lands”, gosh, there is so many. You know I mean “Witness”, “Structure”, there is just a ton, ton of the good ones, but those are really good. And then of course I just for the flash of it and sort of creativity I went through my whole Tarantino phase, and Coen brothers which I was saying in the beginning. I sort of went through all their scripts. Well just bearing as many as I could.
Ashley: So let’s talk a bit of a “Scared Straight”. So you came out to Hollywood and then after a while you wrote the “Scared Straight”. What number of scripts was that? I mean how many scripts you’ve finished by that time you wrote “Scared Straight”?
Joe: That was my second. Cause I had that one I sort of came out with and then you know I had, yeah that was pretty much my second spec.
Ashley: And how good looking back at it now, what do you think of “Scared Straight”, do you still think it holds up and?
Joe: I do, well it’s funny because it’s pretty grounded and pretty structured. I think I put in a lot of good things, like there is other scripts I look back at and I’m like “Oh God, what was that”. Especially my first. My first was you know, practically unreadable. But “Scared Straight” I’ve always loved and I still sort of someone will make that cause it just sort of contain a lot. You know it was a pretty basic script and there was not a lot of ways to go wrong. It was sort of in all ways just “Get the guy out of prison” and take it over. So it still holds up really well I think.
Ashley: Ok. So you mentioned two that you had love movies and you’ve done some writing but not screenwriting? What type of writing did you do? Journalism? Or what kind of writing were you doing at this point, these early stages?
Joe: The funny thing is I would write a lot of short stories but they all involve characters that were my friends so basically I was just raging on them and putting in preprosperous scenarios. And spreading it all around to my friends. And I remember before that piffany one guy came at me and said “Hey dude you are just a frustrated writer, why don’t you do that?” And it never even occurred to me that I could make a living out of it. But yeah it was just really me having fun at expense of my friends to be honest with you.
Ashley: Aha. Ok so let’s talk about some of these assignments that you’ve got. You just mentioned that cliffhanger. That you feel very fortunate that you were able to get that without going through all the pitch sessions. Let’s talk about some of these pitch sessions and what those are like. And it seems like you’ve successfully won some of those pitching jobs. So maybe you can give us even some tips for writers that are in the early stages of their carriers where they are going in that sort of round, the pitching against other writers. Some tips you have? First let’s start with a process; maybe just explain what the process is like from your perspective.
Joe: Yeah, you know, a lot of times, like producers say there is this little nugget, we’ve written up one page which we think might be and you know we want to hear a bunch of takes. That might be just sort of off by scratch. There is other times it’s kind of rewrite, and normally if you are getting sense to rewrite at least at level I was at the time, it will probably be a page one kind of disaster. So in my case you are almost always starting from scratch. At least I was. So it is really.. A lot of times you’re just burnt out over what the project is about, so one thing I learnt; almost never tell them how to fix what they have. Like I’ve tried that a couple of times and they just don’t want to hear it. They want you to completely reenergize them. They want you to have a whole new spin on it, something to get them going again, so that’s one thing I learnt in an early stage. Another is – keep it short. I keep all my pitches around 15 minutes, in fact I’ve sort of worked it out to number count, I can’t remember now what it is, I’ve written it down somewhere. But you know I write it out, I memorized it, that way you know I’m not floating in the roam, not reading off anything. By the time I get in there, I have the whole pitch sort of memorize and that way if they do fill me a curve ball, that I can win, but I can also always go back in chronology to the story I’m trying to tell.
Ashley: Maybe you can describe that pitch you memorize? That 15 minutes pitch. Is it the story beats, the act breaks, the character develops? What sort of is in there? Maybe some tips how to develop that 15 minutes pitch?
Joe: Yeah the first things are you know the person that’s going to ultimate say yes to a pitch or even a spec for that matter is almost never gonna read your spec. He is almost never gonna be in the room when you’re pitching. So the first thing is to have a hook. It’s almost like you need a log line for your pitch. Which seems preposterous cause you’ve already pitching over the project that should have a log line but you want to sort of give them something that they can walk into the bosses office and say “Here’s what it is”, mechanical spider on Mars or whatever it is. Something that they can spit out. So that’s number one, and after that it’s just really keeping the macro point. From my point of view it’s the basics. Turning points, mid points, climax, getting into the character and that sort of a macro stuff. Because that’s really what they care about at this point. If you are giving them super detailed, they just don’t have time for that. Because it is all they do all day long, meeting, meeting, meeting, pitch meeting in general. When I go to one of these things, I’m exhausted. I can imagine doing that all day so their attention spans gonna be tested. So get in there, creatively punch them in the face and dive out of window as quickly as you can. That’s been my motto.
Ashley: Did somebody, did your agent helped you to develop this strategy of being 15 minutes or did some other writers tell it to you or it’s just your own finding out what’s working.
Joe: It’s trial. I’ve talked with some screenwriters, and that sort of trains, but you can also tell when your audience, your pitch audience is drifting. And it always seems to be right around that 15, 20 minutes mark, it is what I found. You know maybe I’m not nearly as engaging as I think I am. You know, people drift, but that’s I’ve sort of found works for me.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk about these some of kind of existing franchise. I won’t even say existing franchise, but like “21 Jumpstreet”, “Barbarella”. These are kind of remakes and re-imaginings. How do you kind of prepare for something like that? I mean I vaguely remember “21 Jumpstreet” as a TV show. I guess I have heard of “Barbarella” but these are not things I’m familiar with and I assume you probably were not either. Did you rent them, or did you have a new angle of modern take? How do you prepare for something like that?
Joe: So for Jumpstreet they sent me all DVD so I caught up, although I remember seeing re-runs as a kid. I mean I was sort of into that at the time. But they were looking for sort of modern take. They did have an existing script by emm, he just wrote the last “Mission Impossible”. But yeah, really good writers. Well one of the best scripts I’ve ever been sent to rewrite. They just came out with alias, so it was sort of really alias-ish. And they were set around like a super computers and stuff that for me didn’t make that much sense now as it would involve in high school. My sort of thing was to go in for the drugs and take a different path which ended up rewriting most if not all of the script so that was sort of what I pitched them. And they sort of dugged it. I was on my way. And then in Barbarella I met with Dino De Laurentiis which was pretty cool but he called me in. First it was like we just want to meet you and we have “Barbarella” and they were looking for a dialog posh. So I went in the and they gave me the script and told that here’s the script go upstairs and read it. I’m like “Alright..” So I walked and I read it and I came back down and they asked what I think and I as politely as I could said that I didn’t find there much that would be usable. And he was like “What would you do?” And I sort of told them what I would do and something luckily came to me, and they said me to come back after two days and give more expended version. So two days came by and they call me up and then I pitched them a little more, expended a little bit more. And we went through all this process for couple of weeks and then I was like “If you like it give me a job” and he was “Ok”.
Ashley: When you went in and read the script were you familiar with the movie kind of so you could get the insight from the script maybe?
Joe: You know, no. I’ve never even seen the movie. I’ve seen posters and some parts but I literary never seen the movie, but the good thing was the script they gave me sort of showed the direction where you could go. So that set my mind spinning in probably right direction. Because it was sort of the way they wanted to go, just wasn’t the way they wanted to do it so I literary approached it like Sci-Fi female secret agent and I went to the direction they wanted. But yeah it was completely winging. But it was not much you’ve would have seen of the movie – it’s sort of 16th crazy, there is not a lot of plot. So I’m not sure how much could you take from it anyway.
Ashley: So I’m curious always on some sort of statistics, I would like to talk about some of these successes that were getting these writing assignments. How many times you have gone there in this pitching and not get the job? What sort of ration would you are at on this?
Joe: You know I’m probably 50%. Which is really good but there had also been stretches. Like one year I came in second three times in a row, which probably represented seven month of my life working all the story out, going all the pitches, getting narrowed down. So there was seven month just completely wasted, where I was doing no writing. And that really got me off the assignment list a little bit. And it is also frustrating if you’re a writer and you are never able to write, you are just breaking stories. Like that’s the hard part. So all you’re doing is the hard calculus part and you’re not doing any of the fun part. That was a brutal seven of months. But there is a big difference when somebody is coming to you and saying “We want you for this job”. When that happened I got the job 100% of the time. Because other times they just like reading your name of the hat just to sort of buffer up the numbers just to sort of making it all good. I think 90% of the times they know who they want to hire.
Ashley: So let’s talk about some of your spec scripts. You know it sounds like you have a really good ratio of being able to write a spec script and then actually sell a spec script. I wonder if you could possibly give us some tips on how you come up with your concepts. And maybe in the start we can just talk about the “Scared Straight”, “Straight Narrow” and “Shadow Run” and you can just give us like a pitch on those. And maybe then we can talk a little bit about how you specifically came up with these concepts. And then maybe some ideas in general how you come up with concepts. So let’s start with “Scared Straight”. What sort of the concept was it and how did you came up with it?
Joe: Well that one I was just, hmm, in term of specs the good news is that I’ve been able to go sort of by for five. Which sounds good but there’ve been ungooddly amount of thoughts that went into each of them and each of them have taken long time to do. And what I end up doing is sort of and I will go quickly in “Scared Straight” I just am brutal with logline creation. So probably to come up with “Scared Straight” I went to 50 ideas and it’s coming up with loglines and ideas, and worlds and all that sort of stuff but basically the hook in the logline and then I go to a giant filtering process. I pitch it to the bunch of friends, I pitch it to producers I know, and I will pitch to anyone that will listen basically. And you can tell when something catches. But normally at least for me, I’m not just a pure idea generator, so it’s a lot of work for me. It’s going to 50 and getting one good one. And even for “Straight Narrow”, I think I went through 90 different ideas before… And also I have an agent and manager…
Ashley: And you are saying you have like completely different ideas you have for pitch and then you narrow down? And say this one actually has some legs and I’ll go with that.
Joe: Right. And a lot of times because I have a manager and an agent I’ll pitch it to both of them and so with “Straight Narrow” I went through 80. And I had a two agents and managers, so two of them would like something and one of them wouldn’t. And one of them would like something the other two wouldn’t like. I went through that and finally when I got to 81 they all liked it and were like “That’s it!”. That’s sort of the brutal process that I go through.
Ashley: And let’s talk about how long of a period is that, like how long does it take you to come up with 80 loglines. Is it over a month, two months, three months?
Joe: Yeah, probably three months. And it is dedicated. Because it’s such a completely different skill set than writing. And in most cases I find that if you talk with all my writer friends, twenty of them would say and you put the best idea generators and the best writers, it’s almost inverse. Like the best ideas generators are normally in a scale would be the worst writers and the best writers would be the worse ideas generators. So it’s almost completely different skill at least from what I’ve seen. So for me, I’m not the best idea generator. It’s a brutal, sort of sitting in a room, just pounding the wall and pulling the hair out and just going through the internet and trying to find touch downs. Like for me for “Scared Straight” it was the “Scared Straight” program. I’ve seen the re-run of that documentary, the 70-ties documentary and it scared a crap out of me when I was a kid. So that nugget was always in my brain of that “Scared Straight” program. And I knew it was a sort of touch down of that thing that it could be a basis of something. So that one is I originally thought that they cannot make them stop committing crimes and put them in a really horrible jail for a day and have like in made scream at them tell what they do while they are in jail and blablabla. And at the time of 70-ties that had like 85% success rate with these kids be scared to death and never do the crime again. But anyway my natural thought was not “Scared Straight”, it was just sort of idea I’m going to have. You know, guy in jail and canticle visit, and it’s about getting his wife out. But then that “Scared Straight” nugget hit in my head and I thought well what if the “Scared Straight” program was going on and that prison was overtaken and it was about the prisoner teaming up with one of the kids to get loose. So not only about getting the kid out but also about a bigger bad guy plan. It sort took off. I would sort of marry the nugget I was holding in my head with a logline I had about the prison thing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk about “Straight Narrow”. What’s the logline on that?
Joe: That one it’s been a while. It’s basically about an ex con that’s getting out and trying to go straight and meets a female pro officer. And her father never wants them to get married, hates the idea of ex con, and blablabla, until he gets into the trouble and the only guy he can turn to is the ex con. So he needs the ex con and his bad skills to solve something. So it’s sort of a circle where the father, the guy is helping the father while trying to keep the wife or the finance from not finding out, because he’s promised he will go straight. And it’s sort of action, romantic comedy basically.
Ashley: And where do you think that idea sort of came from?
Joe: You know that was again I went at least to 80 and I don’t even know there wasn’t any eureka moment, I think it was just a sitting down and coming with a bit of pieces, and somehow it flew out of my brain. I don’t really have a great back story for it. Well I sort of wanted to do something a little bit comedic at the time cause “Scared Straight” was sort of dog genre I think. And I don’t know how exactly I came up with it, but that one I sort of pitched it, and I think “The mr and ms Smiths” just came out and it was sort of mind set and I don’t know but everybody sort of liked it, so I wrote it.
Ashley: Do you ever feel like, or do you ever get in an idea like it’s just a process of coming up with a dozen of loglines. Then you start to develop some material. Do you ever get to the point where maybe you have like an outline and you realize it’s not working and you abandon it and go back to a drawing board or by the time you feel like you’ve decided on a logline that’s solid, you know you can get it all the way through script stage.
Joe: No, I mean it has happened to me couple of times, and there’ve been a lot of abandoned things actually where I just couldn’t crack it and sort of up tales to “Shadow Run”, cause I had an idea about a prisoner exchange, and I knew there was something there and I tried to crack it a bunch of times where sort of my idea was two guys on a prisoner exchange one from one country, one from another. And as they’ve being exchanged, you know they both wrote about their lives. So they then had to work together to go figure out what’s going on and blablabla, like it never make that work and I was just sitting with a with a buddy of mine who ended up becoming a producer of a film guy named Andy Parla, and he sort of put it in a different perspective, where the idea was actually getting them to the prison exchange. That’s not the turning point, that’s the finale or that’s the goal. And for some reason it completely jared my out of road that I was stuck on creatively. And gosh, I think just in that copy session we beat out the majority of the beats. Like I was delusive after that, it just completely flew from me that I was able sort of twist it.
Ashley: One thing I just wanted to touch on here. And I’ve talked about this on podcast before but I want to hear that from you and I’m really playing devil’s advocate here. But a lot of writers that I get especially the new writers, they are so afraid that somebody is going to steal their idea, and you are just out there saying “Oh I came up with all the loglines and I’ll pitch them to anybody who will listen”. Just give us your take on that, you’re not afraid that people are going to steal these brilliant ideas you are coming up with I take it.
Joe: No, I mean unless… You know firstly the truly brilliant, once in a life time ideas rarely come along. 90% it will be at least little execution dependant. So if I come up with kind of genius thing maybe I will censor it a little bit more, but even that like the chances of somebody will just run off and write a script… It’s not like you can just sell a logline. If there’s that, I would be much more terrified but yeah the idea that somebody is actually able to write the script. Well it’s not something you can go off and do. So I’m less worried about it. And also you know maybe I’m trusting in my writer friends they know I would kill them in their sleep if they ever did that. Yeah, I don’t worry about it; I don’t worry about showing people my stuff even when it’s rough. You know I’ve always thought that the script part is like a broken car, broken car if that makes sense?
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So as you move along in your carrier, is there anything that surprises you. You know that guy working at the Ceaters, fantasizing about being a professional screenwriter. Is there anything that kind of surprises you now that you are a professional screenwriter.
Joe: You know, a lot of stuff you’ve heard, or I’ve heard about Hollywood is actually true. There is a very much a I have buddy of mine that calls it “bullshit heat”. Which is something happens in your carrier where you are hot. It’s a spec sale, it’s a… something happens and it really does have a tangible effect on everyone on town. In a weird, weird way like those will say yes to stuff, they wouldn’t have said yes before, they would trust you when they wouldn’t trust you again, they would get involved with you… It’s a weird, that part of it is very, very true. Which I figure, oh people are not going to care about that. About the democracy, and it’s not always that way, it really is sort of the popular games at the times. If you have a great script, it will always find its way I think but there’s a lot of other political stuff, all the kind of stuff you hear about, a lot of it is strangely true.
Ashley: Is there any frustration about your part on working on a lot of projects and not actually seeing them getting to production.
Joe: Yes, it’s the pain of my existence. I’ve had stuff I’ve made that I think I’ve made credit on and that’s sort of brutal and that’s literary all my focus now. I won’t write anything now that’s a big world building, two hundred million dollar movie which I wrote a lot of those I won’t do that anymore, because they make them two of them a year half of them will be for Marvel. You know there is just no way to get these movies made. The things I’m concentrating on now, cause there is just two subjective things in my view, they can sort of hurt you or sort of block your road which is humor and anything heightened. That’s just all my opinion and the way I’m viewing my carrier. Which is I don’t want to write anything that involves humor again because that’s so subjective and I’ve had things stall or running the road blocks because person reading it didn’t get it, didn’t get the humor. So I don’t want to do any of that anymore. And the other thing that any sort of heightened concept is something people can poke a lot of holes in and they can also stall you too. So what I’m concentrating on is grounded stuff and the action thriller genre and something out of a reasonable budged, something that 60 to 80 million dollar range where if you get a good start if you get a lease with whoever it is, Mark Wahlberg or what, chances are going to be really good that you’ll get it made. So I’m trying to hit that sweet spot, for the reason that if I’m living in a mansion in a Hollywood hills 20 years from now I’ve never had a movie made… So I think I would do that as a failure.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So the “Shadow Run” is kind of big budged and the way you’re describing it sounds like “Scared Straight” is exactly the kind of movie you’re trying to write again.
Joe: Yeah, although “Shadow Run” was you’ll probably be surprised, it’s in that safe path budged range. It definitely can be done, I think that’s one, you get the right director, you get a good cast on it, and it has a good chance to get made. But that’s sort of where I’m focused now in that area.
Ashley: Let’s talk about a bit about your novel. I know you just completed a novel. Maybe you can kind of give us a pitch on that and maybe give us a bit of background why you decided to write a novel.
Joe: Yeah, well that’s easy because what I did was ended up turning “Scared Straight” into a novel. And again I always sort of loved that story and I was able to get the rights back so and also I always wanted to write a novel so I’ve figured that I pretty much got the main story worked out so it would be just about boiling it up a bit. And I also thought that the book might return the interest back to the script too so I sort of calculated in that way. But I re-titled, it’s called “Uncaged”. It’s on Amazon, yeah I just really wanted to write a novel and I’ve always loved that story so I thought what if I write just something that would be a burning page turn, something you know I wasn’t trying to write more, just something that was a pure entertainment and thriller also.
Ashley: Is it self-published?
Joe: No, it’s through a publisher called Zova and it’s weird, they were the first publisher I met and I sort of fell in love with a editor who was this woman that I don’t know I just really clicked with her so it’s a small publisher . They have a different business model, they are trying to get involved with screenwriters so what you do is I split profits with them 50/50 but I got no advance they get 20% of the deal if I set it up as a project. So they are sort of betting on back end, and they are sort of betting on me basically. You know I’m betting on myself that hopefully I can sell some copies and otherwise I don’t get paid, but again I thought it was just sort of I don’t know I really loved the editor, I thought it’s a cool business model, you know and just dug it.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So you mentioned at the top of the podcast stage that you are reading some of these books and you are getting sort of nuggets from working screenwriters and inspiration. I wonder if there is anything you can say as some inspirational words and encouragement to the screenwriters that maybe are listening to this podcast.
Joe: Yeah, I mean the good news is and I actually talked to Aaron Serkon one time and he said you know it was a group of us and he said “The good news is there is” it’s going to sound horrible but “The good news is that there is a ton of horrible writers out there. And they are sort of mocking up the process; there is the mass of them. But if you have a good screen play people gonna spoke to it so heavily so it’s gonna find its way always.”. So if you write a really good script, I think you’re in really good shape. Even today I know specs are harder, but I found that if you have a good general idea and a good screen play, people freak out over it. They’re desperate for that. So I think in that respect you can still break in with a good script pretty easy.
Ashley: So what’s the best ways for people to keep up with you and potentially contact you? Do you have a Twitter or you can maybe mention your website?
Joe: Yeah, I mean I have a joegazzam.com and then just search the Amazon for the book (http://www.amazon.com/Uncaged-Joe-Gazzam-ebook/dp/B00G1YDC9U/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406401122&sr=1-1&keywords=joe+gazzam+uncaged)and then I’m not doing any Twitter, I’m not doing a lot of social media so just those two things.
Ashley: Ok, perfect, I will link you website and the book on Amazon in a show notes, so when they listen to this they can find the show notes and click on it. Joe you have been very generous with your time, I really appreciate you coming on this. This has been a great interview, a lot of good nuggets of information.
Joe: I appreciate, thanks for having me!
Ashley: Just a quick plug for my email and facts blast query service, just in the last year I have optioned four scripts. Sold one script and got one paid writing assignment. All of these came from using my own email and facts blast service.
Here is how it works, first you join sys select and then you post your blog on the query letter on sys select form. I review your blog line and query letter and help you make them as good as they can be. Then you purchase the blast and I send it out for you. The emails are all sent from your email address, all replies go directly back to you. You can exclude companies if there are specific companies that you don’t want to send to.
Check out www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com to learn more.
Once again, I want to thank Screen craft for sponsoring this episode. They are currently accepting submissions for their comedy screenplay contest. They have a great lineup of judges, some of the best comedy producers in the business. The deadline for entry is August first. Check out screencraft.org if you have a comedy screen play that you would like to enter.
If you are listening to this after August first deadline, don’t worry. They run different genre contests all the time and they will be doing another comedy contest next year. So do check out the site to see what’s their latest offering are.
On the next episode of sellingyourscreenplay.com podcast I’m going to be interviewing Joey Tuccio. He’s the founder of Happy Writers which was recently bought by Stage 32. They offer a variety of services to screenwriters including online pitch session, to executives so he’s got some great tips about how to pitch your screenplay. So keep an eye out for that episode next week.
In this week’s writing words section, I want to talk a bit more about what Joe just mentioned in terms of how he develops ideas. The first sys select class that I did which was recorded and is actually still available to sys select members, was about choosing a marketable concept. Really listen to what Joe jus said, he thinks that in lot of cases the person who decides to but the spec script or not probably even hasn’t read the script. And so what is that person using to decide if he should buy the script or not? They are really looking at the concept. It’s the development executive who most likely has read the script, pitching to them. So the concept has to be rock solid. So the development executive can pitch it to the person who actually makes the decision.
I’m really impressed too with what Joe said. The way he comes up with 80 or 90 concepts or loglines before he lands on one he likes. That’s a lot work, but that’s the kind of work a professional screenwriter must do. As I mentioned I’m finishing up my most recent spec script and starting to come up with loglines for the next script that I write. I’m building a library of loglines so hopefully I’ll have some good ones when I head to a hundred. I’m just really inspired by what Joe said and get a really try and push harder, at least from myself in this direction spending a lot more time on trying to come up with marketable concepts. One thing I’ve noticed, I’ve been trying to come up with one logline per day and when you put that sort of pressure on yourself everything you see or read about you start to frame it on a context of what the logline would look like. So it seems to get easier after really doing it for a few days. I definitely feel like you can get better on this. I’ve never really felt like I was good at coming up with high concept premises, but I do feel like I’m getting better by pushing myself.
I also really like his tip – taking something exciting and contained like a prison riot and then combine it with something that we’ve all heard about like “Scared Straight” to come up with a really fresh high concept idea. I’ve been trying to utilize that with all these loglines I’ve been coming up to., so that’s a great tip that I’ve got and hopefully you guys will find it useful too.
Anyways, that’s our show, thanks for listening!