This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 035: An Interview With Writer Director David Jung.
Welcome to episode thirty-five 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 writer-director David Jung. He’s been working as a writer for years and recently just concluded writing and directing his first feature film ‘The Possession of Michael King’. He’s very open about everything and we will dig in into the details about how he broke into the business and got a chance to direct his first feature film. So stay tuned for that.
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 it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast. I’d like to thank all the folks over on Twitter who retweeted some of the recent episodes. Thanks Willen and Dione of Time, Pedro Vasquez , Pink Moose, Romano Robinson, Ludevic Williams, Rider and Mia Coff. I really appreciate it. If I did miss you- it’s not that easy to see exactly who’s retweeted you in the last week so I really do appreciate all the retweets and hopefully I didn’t miss anybody.
I got a bunch of nice comments over on youtube on episode 33. Thank you Thomas J. Ryan, SommervilleBob, Jillian Bullock, Phil Hay and Stanford Crane. And the SellingYourScreenplay facebook seems to have come alive in the last week or so. So check that out if you’re on facebook it’s facebook.com/sellingyourscreenplay. So thank you Thomas J. Ryan, Benjamin Lewis, Patrick Podd, Maurice Cabrero, Kyrre Malin, Frank Davis, Shelly Piano and Andrew Spear for commenting and liking the post over the last week. And a big thanks to Jack Sikowski who left me a very nice comment in iTunes. Thanks, Jack. Jack is actually a writer who I met in lavish group of field a few years ago. He’s actually auctioned a script using my email in fax blast service so I hope to have him on the show soon to talk about his career.
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. Just look for episode 35. Also if you want my free guide “How to sell screenplay in 5 weeks?”, you can pick that up by going to 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 screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line occurring letter, how to find agents, managers 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 few quick words about what I am working on. I’ve got a few things on. But the main thing this week for me is finishing up a limited location of sci-fi thriller script. I got notes last week from my writers’ group and have been trying to get them implemented this past week. I should be ready to start sending the script out, hopefully next week. I’m also meeting a producer-writer this week about writing a script based on one of his original ideas. There are some logistical things to work out, but I’m looking forward to hear what his idea is and if I’m a good fit for writing it.
So now let’s get into the main segment. This week I am talking with writer-director David Jung about his career as a screenwriter and his directorial debut ‘The Possession of Michael King’. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome David to the SellingYourScreenplay podcast! I really appreciate you coming on the show.
David: thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here today.
Ashley: So to start out I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career in the entertainment industry, kinda how you got to where you are today.
David: Well, I came out to Los Angeles in the late 90’s and I had gone to a film school in Itheka University, it’s a college. And didn’t really know how I was gonna get a job out here in L.A. and I was in Sta. Monica when I saw a truck pull over on the side of the road and guys were unloading giant fake trees from it, and fake shrubbery, and bushes and you know, I thought “Wow, gee that must be a movie set!” what this guys are walking on to.
So I got out of my prower and I stepped in line, this assembly line of guys carrying stuff and walked up to the truck and picked up a tree and found the groove on the set and I set it down and somebody walked over and said, “Hey, before you head back up to the truck can you adjust the barn doors and baby stand and put some quarter CTO, you know, over here, and you know, give me whole list of things”, and I’m nodding and said, “Yay!” and I walked over with some guy, and said, “Hey! What are c47’s and what’s quarter CTO and what are the barn doors and what’s the baby sands? And he’s like, “ Well, you know, the c47’s are basically the clips that hold the CTO which is an orange-ish gel, that form the light, the barn door is like, you know, director light, open and close.
And you know, that’s like… and I ended up working a 22-hr day at this movie, and at the end of the day, somebody walked up to me it was the producer or the director and said, “Look, you know, I don’t know who the hell you are or where you came from or how you got on here, but, you really did a great job today. Do you want a job in this movie?” and I said, “yeah, of of course. I want a job in this movie”
So it was Roger Corman’s Studios in Sta. Monica which is Concord New Horizons to which is no longer there. And I ended up making 6 movies with Roger Corman and it was a great experience. I mean, better than any film school experienced. I shot 2nd unit camera, I did a lot of quip work, and electrical work, I was the First AD. But after doing about six films there I felt that I was never going to be able rise up out of doing low-budget equipment electric work and movies like this.
So, I quit and I took a non-paid internship at Walt Disney Studios and Hot Wire Poductions. And I worked there, I forget what movie he was doing. He’s doing Matthew Mcconaughey movie that is based on a Christian book, and I forget which one it was. But I worked there for six months and when I got a job at Mandeville films, which is David Hoberman’s company, and I rose up to next there. First it’s Creative executive, and then, director of development and then I was the vice-president there. We did George of the Jungle, the negotiator and sixth sense and a whole string of movies. I left there to run the film department at Film Roman for awhile which does King of the Hill and The Simpsons. And then I was an Executive at Paramount for a while, where I actually written a script with a friend of mine which is more of a practice to learn as an Executive how better to work with writers. Because my job is solely as a Development Executive developing scripts with writers, so I felt I had to write something myself to learn more about the process. And the story that I wrote was based on an old short story from the 1920’s called Leiningen Versus the Ants which is a great story, which was made into a Radio show in the 40’s and then Charlton Heston did a movie in late 60’s called the Naked Jungle.
But a friend of mine Raul Lee who’s a big producer at Los Angeles now, called me and said, “Hey, I see you have a copyright on a script based on Leiningen Versus the Ants. I’m really interested in doing the movie. Can I read the script?” I said, “You know, I’m not really a writer, I just wrote this as practice and I’ve never shown it to anybody. So let me think about it.”
I gave the script to my good buddy who is working with Greg Hoffman, and I said, “Look, I don’t want to be some kind of asshole executive that suddenly turns into a writer with some scripts going around town that will make me look foolish. Will you just do me a favor and read this please? And tell me if I’m an idiot for letting anybody read this thing. Because I don’t want it get out there if im gonna look foolish.” So he came in the next day and he’s like,” I don’t think you should give this script to Roy. Two things. One, I wanna produce the script. I want you to give it to me. And two, I’m leaving Paramount to start a new company and we’re doing a Wesley Snipes movie and it needs a page one rewrite. I want you to quit your job here and I want you to rewrite the Wesley Snipes movie for me.
Ashley: Hmm. Wow.
David: So I left Paramount with my writing partner at the time, and we have written the script and we wrote the movie for them. And we went on and started writing movies. And we sold the movies to Lee Ryan Ryan Stone Company, Dimension and all over the place. And after a while we did that for.. I wrote the Dirty Harry videogame for Clint Eastwood, which is probably one of the greatest compliments I was ever given in my life. Clint Eastwood said to me, “ I was gonna make one more Dirty Harry film. Pleased to have your story.” He loved, he loved the story that I wrote.
The thing is,it was tough. We would sell a lot of scripts but they would sit at the studio and it wouldn’t get made. And it became very frustrating. My partner at the time is very.. such a perfectionist that we would end up rewriting and rewriting and rewriting the same thing over and over and over again instead of getting more material. And I would say in terms of advice for a screenwriter, your work is never done. It’s like a piece of art. A script is never finished, it’s just abandoned. So, you need to have material. You need to have a lot of material. Because all of the stuff that is your favorite stuff, is the stuff that nobody’s gonna give a shit about. That’s gonna be the script that you’re like, “Ahh! I write this stupid little script” and I had this idea, then you write it and then, boom, somebody wants. That’s the one.
So sure there’s a degree of you need to be a good writer, you need to be professional, you need to have a voice, you need to know how to structure things, you need to know how to tell a story, but at the same time, a lot of the people are looking for in Hollywood, you could have the most refined piece of material if nobody’s interested in that story it’s gonna sit somewhere forever. And you could have the most unrefined thing, which is a big idea that is horribly written and horribly executed that you will have five offers on. So, part of what I felt like we’ve gotten into the trap of spending way too much time on the same pieces of material instead of spreading our wings.
So we decided to kinda go our separate ways and we remained very good friends. The first thing that I wrote on my own which was really frightening, because I felt like he is much smarter than I am, I’ll cross the board, shut it, my partner’s a much better writer than I was. And that was… that I can depend him to fix the things and do the things and I used to carry that on my own. And first thing I wrote is a project called Capoiera which is a private shacek and it came up really really well. And I sold it to Showtime and David Ducatni attached to it. And the second thing that I wrote on my own was The Possession of Michael King. And that came out of a desire to.. this background of writing movies that didn’t get made. I wanna write a low-budget horror movie that I can direct. And that I can do in a small enough budget, that if nobody gives me money for it, I can shoot it in a crappy camera in my backyard with members of my family.
Ashley: Let me stop you right there. I’m sorry. Let me stop you right there and back up a little bit. We’re gonna get into The Possession of Michael King here in a minute. But let me just go back. So you’re going to film school and I’m curious did you take a lot of screenwriting classes? By the time you became a Development Executive did you have some sort of writing chops or at least development chops you understood story structure, where did you pick that stuff up?
David: I think to a degree, I look back throughout my life, I’ve always been interested in reading. I’ve always excelled at reading, I’ve always been excelling at school, I was an office student, you know, across the board in a lot of steps. I’ve only excelled with the things that I liked. I am an awful Math student, awful Science student but reading always came natural to me. It was a little bit easier to me. Because I like reading stories and I can get in to it. I find it enjoyable to sit back and read. So, I’d do a major in College which was Film and Literature, I did kind of like, I wasn’t specifically targeting writing or becoming a writer, I always have a love for reading, you know?
So I think I brought that to the table, and when I came to Los angeles and I didn’t really know what role I wanted to play in filmmaking, I think deep down inside I’ve really always wanted to direct movies. I was kinda scared to take that leap because if you wanna get married and have a family live in a normal life in a house and not on a street or somewhere, like being an artist, it’s scary. It’s not a 9-5 job that you get a paycheck every week. So I was a little afraid to just try take that leap.
I looked to a studio job as a more steady source of income, if I can get that job and work a studio, health insurance and 401-K and they’ll pay me every week and I’ll have an expensive car. I don’t know if I just kinda fell down that road but it was the road that felt a little more secured to me. In retrospect, I looked back and kind of wished, yeah, I wished I just went out and made a movie. But if I did that I wouldn’t have the years of reading. What was nice about being a studio executive was that my job was primarily reading scripts and analyzing scripts and writing coverage on scripts.
So I would, morning, noon, night every night I’d take 10 scripts home with me and the first thing the next morning I was expected to give, you know, sit down with the staff meeting and give a report about the scripts. Why is it a good movie? Why is it a bad movie? Why would this work? Why would it not work? What are the pros and cons? Who could we cast in it? How much money would it cost? Where would l we sell it? What’s the marketplace for it? And it started to make me think about the commercial aspect of the movie business and then, as an artist you will say stuff like, “ I don’t wanna make this uber commercial movie, I wanna make something that’s interesting.”
Yeah, well, you need to make a movie that people are going to see so that it makes enough money that you can finalize the movie, so you can have another movie. So if you don’t have that commercial aspect then you’re not gonna succeed. And even really artistic movies, there is a commercial aspect to them. Whether it’s the character, or the person or the style or you’re doing something different that is attracting a lot of attention. I think in a weird way it helped me learn about that and also helped me learn about, I remember one of the first ideas I have, for movies, and first ideas I had while I was working at Disney. For this superhero story it’s like go black. And I look at the treatment for what I thought was a treatment while I still look and I say, “Okay. It was wildly creative and there’s a lot of interesting things.”
And now I realized why my friend who is working well, who is a more senior executive at the time, sat me down and gave me feedback and it hurt a little bit. And I was like, “God did he just not understand the story?” and it’s like, “no, they actually have a reallly big sense of story structure that I haven’t developed yet, and that I needed to develop.” And working, being in a production company in a studio environment for a number of years and reading as much analyzing, I think it really really helped in terms of naturally building kind of the story structure, and learning how to write the way that I write now.
Ashley: I think it’s interesting. You said your first screenplay, at this point you are a thoroughly seasoned executive, but you were not able to read it yourself and tell whether it was good or not.
David: Yeah. So it becomes so close to the material. You become so passionate about what it is that you’re doing. It’s like I grew up with this story and my friend who co-wrote it with me grew up with the story as well and it’s a different kind of story to get of off grants. Period piece. South America. It’s about a plantation owner whose plantation is overwhelmed with man-eating army ants. It’s about one of the toughest movies to get out. So it’s like period horror film, like uber expensive period drama-horror. I was like, okay. Who was gonna make that movie? Unless at the time you have Harrison Ford starring in it.
Remember, this was like 15 years ago, when you have Spielberg directing it. It’s like how are you gonna raise the finances for that movie? So maybe it was great, but we both love the character and the story and we both write that script based on it. And it became a really great winning script. So I still look back at that script, If I step away from it and go back to like, I still really like the script it’s a great movie. I think ive grown measurable as a writer since then.
Ashley: so let’s talk about this first asssigntment. So, you showed the specs group to this friend, he really likes and then he hires you, you do this rewrite. Just give us some sort of like, a chronology of like, okay so you get hired to do this thing. At this point you’re pretty well connected. Did you get an agent? Did you get a manager? And then how did you start to get some of these writing assignments and sell some of these spec scripts?
David: So, at this point, he offered us this job and to rewrite this movie and it was intense because they wanted to go into production, they had the financing lined up, it was a thirty million dollar movie. A motorcycle movie and I think the more you put on motorcycles. So Wesley Snipes and his motorcycle gang going to three different states and facing up a different motorcycle gangs in the way. Lots of the action, lots of high-speed chases. The problem was they needed to rewrite in 2 weeks. It was a page 1 rewrite. So basically throw the script out completely reinvent it, completely redo it. They need it delivered in 2 weeks.
Ashley: did they have some ideas about what they wanted you, like, some, I mean it’s a page one rewrite, did they have some ideas what you should.. the direction should go?
David: Very very loosely, we have sit down and come up with the whole story and all the set pieces, all the characters, we do the whole thing. And it was, you know, you couldn’t get thrown into the fire anymore, than I was thrown into the fire for this assignment. Going from having written one screenplay over the course of probably months and months, probably a year of refining this one script that we just worked on and worked on and worked on to, okay you guys need to come up with a whole new take on this and write it in two weeks and deliver it and it’s gotta be ready to shoot. So the stress level was very high and we were, I was living in a tiny one bedroom apartment. Underneath this crazy hissivic film, was like 15 kids it revolved me that were above me like 5 hours of the night and day, stomping on the floor with clogs in their feet or something. And I think the Blues brothers, in our department, the Blues Brothers it has the train goes past it, like every 15 seconds. It happens so often that you forget about after a minute. That’s where I was living and my partner, Steve, moved in on the couch for the two weeks that we have to do this. We have a coffee pot working 24/7, and we were like, we were writing back to back, day and night, we were like tag team every once in a while. One of us would to have to go get a couple of hours of sleep and then show back up and the other one would get the couple hours of sleep, and it was. We reached a point, I don’t know how we did it. I have written that script in so long, I have no idea if it makes sense or not, I have no idea what happened. We delivered it, we made it happen, we ruled it to happen somehow. It’s a testament to the fact that you hear some of this crazy legends of guys that like, oh yeah, Quentin Tarantino wrote from dusk til dawn on a cocaine fueled weekend back and whenever. And it’s like, yeah, maybe he did! Maybe it is possible , I don’t know. We wrote this thing in two weeks that I never thought was gonna be possible. It was really trying and it was really difficult, and we were definitely wanting to kill each other at the time.
Ashley: So if they had finally answers, what happened to the movie once they have the script done?
David: well, what happens to a lot of movies, we delivered the script. Everybody signed off on the script, it was ready to go. Wesley Snipes was decided that instead of making a 30 million dollar action movie, which what he was given 30 million dollars for, he wanted to make a 30 million road documentary with just him and his buddies in the road on motorcycles driving around.
Ashley: Okay, easy rider type of thing.
David: Well, like an easy rider type of thing. Yeah. And then like, Wesley, we’re not gonna give you 30 million dollars to do that movie. You were on board doing this, you’ve been onboard every step of the process. We wrote this great action movie, which is why we have the financing for this. It doesn’t work that way. So they ended up.. Wesley Snipes is incredibly talented as an actor I think he’s made some poor choices in his career that he really suffered for. But sadly this movie, never off the bag.
That exactly what happens to a lot of writers, what happened to me, which made me eventually decide I wanted to direct a movie was that this was the beginning of the long road of things that as a writer, with my partner, we were constantly on the one of the outline. We constantly had a movie, had a thing, it’s like about to go, and then an outside force would come in and tear it to pieces. Like the studio clashed, the person that start in that would leave and go someplace else, or the financing would disappear or the actor would drop out or you know, something would shift and you put it all of this hard work and you bend over backwards to make it happen.
And for reasons completely out of your control and completely of control whether or not the project is a good project or not. And you start to realize the sad reality that people outside of Hollywood they were sayin, “How come makes Hollywood so many bad movies? How come there’s so much crap comes out? How come they just can’t make a good movie? There’s all this good scripts out there, how come they don’t get made?” It’s like, outside circumstance man. It’s like they dictate why things get made, why they don’t get made and it’s never the choice of the writer. The writers are those guys in the totem pole. What script should be made and what shouldn’t be made and what choices you chose to make.
I could tell you stories I could get another movie. We’re doing the Solomon Kane with, based on the Robert E. Howard character. Robert E. Howard who wrote Conan, all these great characters. My favorite is Solomon Kane and we tracked down this guys, the Brunett brothers in Europe that have the rights to the Robert E. Howard estate and we set the project up with Don Murphy at New Line Studios. Don Murphy and Samuel Hadida ended up giving in five which has a French company and ended up taking over the project. We had written the movie to take place in a colonial North America, and made it American-Indians and a lot of mythology behind all of that. Getting into the supernatural elements of that, with this periods and character that you are traveling down through the colonies.
So we’re, the script is done, were a few months away from getting into the production, we had lunch with Samuel Hadida at Shudders here in Sta. Monica. And he said, “what if we just change the location, from North America to Africa? So instead of lighthouse in America it’s lighthouse in Africa. And instead of a colony in America it’s colony in Africa.” And I’m like, there were no lighthouses in Africa, there were no colonies like this in Africa, there were no periods like this in Africa. We could write a movie based on Africa with this character, but the mythology that we had was, they’re going to a mini which is off across Florida which is where the fountain of youth was supposed to be and it had a really cool twist. And what the fountain of youth was and why it was there and we’re like, all of thing leads into a lot of things, backgrounds that were coined from actual mythology that take place in the colonies. We cant just, it wont make any sense. And he looked at me and said, “You don’t wanna write it. Fuck You! I have other writers to write it.”
And I look at my friend and I was like, “Did that just happen? Is lunch over then? Are you still paying for lunch? I mean what happens now? Will we suck it up and write shit and put our names on it and like, you go make this movie to get a movie made? And it wont make any sense? And people say like, yeah, David Jung this guy has no idea how to make a story work because the story doesn’t make sense at all, man. It takes place at a lighthouse in Africa, with like native America-Indian running around, with the quest for the fountain of youth. Didn’t this guy read anything?” And I’d be like, “Ahh. I read everything. Literature’s my life. It’s not what we were supposed to place, this is not the story I want to tell because I know it doesn’t make any sense. Fuck you!”
Ashley: Let’s go to, so you had your first writing assignment, just give us some steps sort of what happened after that. How did you get an agent and then how did that start to blossom into all the other spec sales and writing assignments, from that first writing assignment, cause it sound like that took place so quick there was no time to get an agent-manager. What did you do after that?
David: You’ve got to remember I was kinda in a unique situation. Because I was an executive, I was a studio executive for a number of years. So I knew all these agents, they were friends of mine. And I have a really good friend of mine who really loved my writing and really believed in it, and he just got behind it and sent that first script that I wrote to a handful of different agents, and I knew them all. It was the kinda thing, that the, the only hurdle that I have was I didn’t feel comfortable sending my own work to people that I knew and worked with as, “Hey you guys should help me! I was a writer, I know we’re friends!”
But I have a friend of mine that really believed in my writing, he was also an executive. It was very easy for us because we know everybody. So he said, you know what, you didn’t know this but DJ, which was my nickname, DJ wrote a script and it’s amazing and you need to read it. And he’s now writing a Wesley Snipes movie and I had 5 different meetings with 5 different agents and 5 different agencies, same thing with managers. It was really just about picking and choosing. So, I had a very unique scenario.
Ashley: And then they were able to get you out to production companies and start getting you assignments from there basically.
David: yes. I mean basically, the first thing that happens with an agent or a manager, you have, the managers are more about shaping your career. What’s important to you? Where do you want to be in 5 years? What types of things do you wanna be writing and doing? Let’s figure out how to make you as happy and as successful as possible. Your agent is much more, “Give me something ASAP, Give me something ASAP. And so and so and so. Give me more material, more material, more material. So what you’re basically giving is you come in and you have a piece of material and they send that the material on productions companies all over town and we have a new writer you should familiarize yourself with them because he’s very talented and blah blah. And they’ll take meetings in all these places and a lot of times it just a waste of time. You will meet somebody and you will sit there and then what are you writing and what are you guys doing here, nothing comes from it.
Sometimes, if they really really like you as a writer, they may have a project that they’re doing that they will need a writer on so he can offer you something. And in that case you have to spend a month of your time for free coming up with a take of the project and you have to go in and pitch them 25-minute version of their movie, from beginning to the end, and they’ll have notes on it and then you have to go back home and you’ll have to adjust all those notes, and then you go back in, if they’ll like it you’ll pitch them and their boss and then you go back home and do more stuff and then you’ll pitch them and their boss and the studio and it becomes a long process. It’s called chasing projects.
You can chase a project like that, which we did that on a lot of things. We chased a lot of projects and we’re on a one yard line where it would come down to us and another writer. Sometimes you get the job, more often you don’t get the job. And then when you don’t get the job, you start to realize, “Wow I just spent collectively there months of time working on this job that I didn’t get. That I have been better served spending three months in writing a brand new script, by doing something that I control.” So you’d be writing stuff and then your agent-manager would get together and first decide if they like it or not. And if they liked it, they would just figure out how they were gonna present it to the movie community at large. Pick a time and go out with it and then send it to the people they think will like it. And hope that we found the right producer and that the right producer picked the right studio, and the right producer has a connection with the right actor or filmmaker to put the package together to make the movie.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay so let’s go ahead and dive in the The Possession of Michael King. Maybe you can kinda give us some detail about where did that idea come from and then how did you get film financed and made?
David: So idea probably came from a lot of different places. Spending all the way back to the fact that I have always loved horror films since I was a kid . also, more specifically, I wanted to make a movie in this day, in this genre if you would, because I knew I could do it less expensively. I knew that If I was gonna direct this myself, it had to be something, someone would take the shot for me to direct. And this specific idea, I have an idea for a movie kind of like a horror version of The Mental.
Where you have the opening of the film was this guy who’s in an alleyway and he’s covered in blood and it’s not his own blood and he has no idea who he is and how he got there. And as the story unfolds, you realize that this guy is possessed by some kind of demonic entity. And as he starts to realize who he is and what happened, he finds out this is something that he did to himself. He was looking to this wall, this happened to himself. The minute he finds out that the demon forced him to kill his own family and all of those around him, the same thing happens to him all over again.
The people that he’s gotten close to through the course of the story, he ends up massacreing. The end of the movie he’s once again left in the same spot, covered in blood the demon’s right in his memory with no idea who he is or how he got there again. He realized there’s this eternal chain of this guy who’s been on again and again and again. So I came up with the whole story for that and I pitched it to a buddy of mine and he said it’s really crazy, but the thing that I’m really interested in is how this guy did this to himself, I think that’s really cool. How did he possessed himself in the first place. What was it that he was doing or looking for?
And I started to think about that and led me down the road of thinking about, if I do this as a documentary filmmaker I can shoot this doc style as a first time director, it might be easier for me. I could shoot it cheaper, on crappier cameras, it doesn’t have to look so pretty, I can make mistakes, and the mistakes will look right in this kind of movie and it’s more forgiving. And then I realized in the character of this guy, I always loved The Shining. And I thought that it would be really cool to do The Shining in the point of view of Jack Torrance, the Jack Nicholson character. What would be like if you are the guy that’s becoming possessed. Nobody’s done that before in a possession movie, from the point of view of the guy that is happening to. He sits there and scientifically be telling us what’s happening with him.
So I dove into that down that half and I’m very research intense. So I did a lot of research, I found a lot of manuscripts, I found things overseas that are translated. I wanted the rituals, the spells that this guy was getting into, the big things that we haven’t really seen before. I wanted them to be as authentic as possible with a slight modern twist, like what would be a modern equivalent of some of these things from thousands of ten thousands of years ago. So I wrote the script and..
Ashley: At this point, as you’re writing it you’re writing it as a found footage film?
David: I’m writing it as a found footage film. Found footage was very hot at the time and writing it as a found footage film. I finished the script, we go out with the script there’s a ton of interest but nobody bites on it. Nobody wants to give money for it.
Ashley: And at this point, have you attached yourself as the director so you’re sending the script out and saying it’s a package and you have to have me as a director or are you just sending the script out?
David: Yeah. Sending the script out, with me attached as a director. And then getting to the point and my agent Ned was like, “Look, if somebody wants to make it and they wont give you the shot, will you just sell the script?” I really wanna direct this movie, but I do need to feed my family. So, I suppose if that’s an opportunity let’s not completely ignore it, but I really wanna make this happen as time passes of course and nothing’s happening, you become more interested in that perspective.
But what happened is this company Content Films he’d just done this movie in the past which was at Sundance. It may hit the half lane but he did really well for them. Then, a producer friend of mine walked this project around. They loved it and they’re like, “you know what, we love it but we wanna do it as a movie, movie. We don’t wanna do it as a found footage film. So if you’re interested in rewriting it as a film and see what that looks like, then maybe we’ll roll forward and make this movie and let you direct it.”
So I rewrote the whole script as a movie. And of course in the process of doing that, got really excited about doing this movie, as a movie. No longer I am trapped in the confines of everything has to be motivated by a character, and a camera, it’s like you finally wanted to express emotion, I could zoom in and could pop in and something for close up and doesn’t have to be motivating and do this really cool shots and I can find interesting ways of shooting it and getting into the character and kind of give out sides that are new. So I really started getting that and I wrote the script and gave it to these guys and they loved and we brought a line producer, Ryan and he’s like, “God it’s gonna be tough to do this movie for half a million dollars. It’s would never be easy.”
The one thing about The Possession of Michael Kane is you never set a lot of low-budget horror films. There’s a reason they always take place in the haunted house, the haunted house, the farm house, the asylum, the place, you have one location. One spot. You cruise there, you get all your stuff there, you setup everything and you stay there for as many days as you should. And it saves you so much money. With this story, by the nature of it, this guy is travelling all over to all of this different people and different places. I have 16 or 17 locations and so it was difficult.
Every time you do a company move, to pack up everything, everybody’s on the clock, you’re paying everybody and it’s chewing up half of your day just to move from one location to another location without even shooting anything. As a director you’re like ripping your hair out it’s like, “How the hell am I gonna make this happen?” So it was really gonna be tight. I was figuring out, god, is there any way I can make this happen? When the movie The Devil Inside came out, I don’t know if you remember this found footage horror movie, The Devil Inside. Whatever you think about the movie, it’s not a good movie, by any means but it did incredibly in the box-office.
And suddenly everybody in Hollywood was narrow-sided as they always have been and immediately wanted the found footage possession film. And for the first time in my career, I happen to be in the right place at the right time. And within that week I had 5 studio offers to do the movie as the original, as a found footage film. And we’d do the movie, with triple the budget as the budget the Content Film wanted to shoot this movie as an actual movie. So, it was tough cause I’ve gone dying the world, and okay, now I can shoot this movie cinematically and I can make it look different. Im gonna go back, im gonna go backwards as a filmmaker and im losing a lot of the stuff that I realized along the way. We go back to this earlier version of the script, but it was a much better opportunity to make a better movie overall.
Ashley: So what do you think, just put on your executive hat. Cause I get a lot these type of questions what do you think of found footage films right now? Are they still something people are looking for or has it kinda faded?
David: I’m not a found footage fan, it’s weird to hear that from the guy who made a found footage movie thinking, “Oh, this guy loves this stuff.” I love horror films, it would have been the first choice of film from my specific reasons of getting a movie out for grab, it was the right thing for me to do. I wanted to have a very specific game plan on this movie. I didn’t want to make a movie that looked like Paranormal Activity or something with a shaky camera that’s all over the place and nauseating people like coming out and disappearing. That kinda stuff with you watching it, you’re like AHH! This is so annoying that this movie, they’ve gone out of their way to make it look so crappy. It’s like, clean up a little bit.
So I can’t stand watching it, I said to everyone involved, “Look you guys, I want to make this movie as cinematic as possible.” I think we should take a note from Chronicle, which have 15 times the budget of our movie. They made that movie look like a movie, and while they actually dropped the dark style, but halfway through the course of the movie, while they were doing the beginning, the shots were still pretty. They colored correctly, the made it look cinematic and it became the kind of movie that you can go back and watch it again and kind of get lost in this idea of I’m watching a movie and not trapped in the compounds of I’m watching this documentary.
And so I pretty much wanted to do that. I wanted.. which is why I found Phil Parmet who shot the movie who’s wonderful and has shot a lot of big movies, but he comes from a documentary background. I said, “Phil I want this movie, I want you to light it. And I want it to look as nice and as beautiful as we can make it look while in the compounds of we have one camera in this room and then we have to stick with this camera and its gonna be a wideshot because I can’t move the camera for the whole movie, and I needed you to capture everything that I need in this camera. So you need to light this room, and hide your lights somehow, but let’s go into this with that in mind and try to do something that people can go back and look at this movie and not be frustrated by the poor quality of it, and still be able to point your finger back and say, “Wow, I kinda forgot I was watching a documentary about halfway through here cause I got caught up in the character and caught in the story and I felt like I was watching a movie.” But, if you go back and technically pull the movie apart, every single shot is motivated by the main character.
Ashley: Let’s just jump back to.. so you now have these offer, these four offers and just to do some quick math, you talk about slightly less than 2 million budget, they basically allow you to shoot this movie. And then they are okay with you being a director. That’s the direction you ended up going?
David: well, they were all very different. I have one offer from Sony Screen jobs, wanted to do the movie. And they were gonna bump the movie up to 15-20 million dollar movie.
Ashley: And still you as the director?
David: In all of these projects, no one would make unless, at least in my experience, unless you are a real director or director of ten movies or you’re Tim Burton or it’s like they come on board with, okay we’re gonna buy the screenplay and we’re going to go down the road with you as a director, but we are not going to make this contract contingent upon you directing in case there’s a problem or in case you prove to us that you can’t handle this we want to have the ability to reject you from the movie and still own the movie. What I had done with Michael King, what I didn’t mention to you yet, was that I had a buddy in mind who’d also got financing for his movie at the same time a little bit friends actually.. And he had a whole crew together, and his cameraman from study camp school and wanted to put some time in a camera.
So I said, “Why don’t you let me shoot a scene for my movie so I have something to show people that I can actually direct this movie?” So we went over to his house and I shot, there’s a scene in the movie where Michael King is confronting himself with his television. And he’s like losing his mind and he’s sitting there and wondering, “Have I gone completely mad or is something happening to me?” And he ends up interviewing himself in the television set. He ends up having this conversation back and forth. It’s much longer version of it in the screenplay than what he’s ended up being in the finished film.
We shot that scene it did a lot of things for me. One, a lot of people that write that scene would admit, “ This a really twisted, fucked up scene and that’s really cool. But how the are you gonna shoot it? I don’t know how it’s gonna work.“ It showed that. And also, it was really creepy and scary and original and effective and we had a great actor. And I believed if we’re shooting like that scene and that kind of short which really, I put that out on a website for the movie. It helped secure my position as the director. If I have something that can point at, you know this guy can handle the movie. He can cut a scene together and we can go and make it work.
But that’s the original question, nobody would give me the keys to the kingdom and say you’re locked in as the director and with different budget ranges everywhere, there’s so many screens in this deal. They put a timeclock at it. It was a good deal for me, they wanted to make a big movie, a big distribution behind it. And something felt weird to me about the deal, I’ve never met these guys, I didn’t know what thoughts they have on the script or about the movie. It was one o’clock in the morning and I have my whole team on the phone and they have to make the decision that night do we deal a contingent upon a creative meeting with these guys. So, I won’t negotiate against them and I may consider offers and we’ll only negotiate them in good faith and we have this creative meeting.
So I sat down with them to have this creative meeting and it was the most bizarre thing in the world, they’re like, “Yeah. So what we’re thinking that Michael King’s wife was killed by a possessed serial killer. She’s like a detective which on its way of this possessed serial killer but the possessed serial killer was killed and he’s trying to raise that possessed serial killer again. And it’s kinda Rosemary’s baby and all of these different people that he’s, going to these different criminilogies and stuff, they are really in on it and he doesn’t know that but what they’re really trying to do is that raise the possessed serial killer in him.” And I’m sitting there and I’m like,I feel like..
Ashley: Check please.
David: I don’t understand. One, that’s the most ridiculous dumb idea I’ve heard in my life. Two, I’m happy to write that idea for you if you’re gonna pay me to write that. Three, there was nothing to do with the script that I wrote. Like, why do you need my script for that thing? And I am so happy that I didn’t just take this deal. Cause it’s like, sure, you wanna make a big studio 15-20 million dollar movie but it’s never gonna get off the ground. And then you’re gonna own my project, my little movie that I wanted to direct is just gonna sit somewhere and I’m back to square one.
So with each of these, I was lucky that I was in the position where I’d have a lot of places that wanted to make this movie. There were pros and cons to all of them and it’s always the shifting target. You’ll never, things are out of your hands, you’ll never know how it’s gonna turn out. The second you sign a deal, things always change. And you should know that going into it. Oh yes, this movie is financed and we have the money and it’s a sure thing, as you signed the paper. And the next day, oh yeah, the financing disappeared and whatever change and the studio did this, but it always happens. So, you have to deliver good material again and again and again, and there’s truth with what I’m saying that you gotta be in the right place at the right time. You gotta stay in the game long enough to get yourself in the right place at the right time. I think part of it was, I felt like I was so overdue for a break that I had been at the one yard line, again and again and again and just could not get a movie-
Ashley: Okay. I’m sorry. Keep going.
David: No, that’s what I was gonna say.
Ashley: Okay. I wanna go back at something as we start to wrap up here. You mentioned a superhero, when you wrote for a superhero script. One of the things that I always find so interesting is, a lot of people think the studio executive positions are all about the networking and that’s certainly a big component. But whenever you talk to people that have worked in development they do have a real good sense about why stuff gets made and I think that’s something that so many people that are not, people who say shall move to Hollywood misses.
Just being in Hollywood you get some of that stuff, and I wonder if you can speak to that a little bit about the subtleties of what makes a concept marketable and I get so many e-mails from people that are outside of LA and they’ve got these heartfelt stories, ideas and I read them and I think, it’s never gonna be a movie. It might be the greatest script ever written, but it’s never gonna be a movie. And I wonder if you could just speak to that. What are some problems and maybe just tell us about some of the things that you see that makes a concept a winning concept?
I mean, I think Michael King is a prime example, one of the things, when I was watching it is just, there is some original concept. This idea of you writing, I’ve never seen a horror movie where from the angle of the thing. Getting that hook is just such an important part of any successful script. Anyways, just speak to that a little bit. What makes a good concept?
David: it’s a really great, it’s a really good question. It’s one of those things that I feel like that anybody, it’s like a hard lesson that you learn. And it was a hard lesson for me to learn. Coming from my own world of love, where I really love this story and I wanna make this movie and I really love this story and I wanna make this movie, to someone saying to me, “Who’s gonna see that movie? Who is gonna garner you spending how much money in this movie? If it’s a hundred million dollar movie, then you have to make three hundred million dollars to make your money back. So that means that everybody has to go see this movie. It has to be a tremendous blockbuster. And to be a blockbuster, you need men, women and children.
So, you can’t do a Hard R movie that costs that much money. Or you can’t do a movie that doesn’t have the strong female support in character, because where’s the female audience, or there’s no love story. Where’s the love story that’s gonna draw in. You know, all of these things that become like the traditional studio exact question, “Who’s the girl? Where’s the action? Where’s the money shot?” You know, all these things you realize that, sure, there is kind of a formula to how things are put together. Who is your audience is such an important question. And who is your audience is gonna bind the budget for this movie. And if it’s a crime movie, you’re looking at this kind of a budget, with this lead. Who is the lead character? How many guys out there in Hollywood right now that are big enough names that they are gonna get this movie finalized? Oh, there’s three? Okay, so, are you gonna spend all your time on this movie, that you will have three chances, if you don’t get one of these three guys you’re movie’s not getting made, because the numbers don’t add up.
It becomes a really different way of looking at filmmaking. It’s like, you don’t make really expensive movies that have really limited audiences unless you have a passion project, and you run the studio. But it’s like, that’s what’s gonna get the decision. If Spielberg wants to make a movie about this child with an imaginary friend, he’s gonna make that movie. But that’s the one person that can make that movie.
Ashley: I even saw an interview with him about getting weak in finance and how he got. So everybody on the planet struggles to make their movies made there’s no easy, I mean, making a movie is incredibly difficult no matter who you are.
David: Let me tell you, one of the things I’ve been facing and it’s such just a double absurd. You know, I wrote this movie and there’s still criticism that this movie, found footage movie, possession movie, I can’t hide it and do something different. Even though I feel like I’ve put a very different spin on this movie, in this type of movie, and you get that backlash.
The movies that are coming from my agency now for me to direct that are being offered to me are the most mundane horror films. It’s like, okay, we’re in the morgue and it’s a zombie in the morgue that comes out and shows up. Or we’re in the house and there’s a serial killer, and I’m like, God, these are all terrible. And then you write something, that’s tragically original and you put it out there and you’re like, God, I’m really excited about this idea. This is so bad-ass! And it’s such a great twist and it’s like The Matrix, and nobody gets it. They’re like, what movie is it like? But the whole point is, it’s not like all these other movies.
That’s the problem, cause I have no idea how to gauge it. Who’s gonna see it? Where can I compare it to? I can’t compare it to any other movie that I have no idea, like how am I gonna be successful or not? And sadly that’s what happens in Hollywood. It comes incredibly difficult to get an original concept past the ground because people don’t understand originality. They only understand, okay, well, like my example with The Devil Inside. The Devil Inside came out, terrible movie, did really well at the box-office. I got five offers for my movie which for the year before that, I didn’t get one offer. People are like, they looked at my movie and they’re like, “Yeah. I don’t know, this found footage, this guy is going possessed. I don’t know if it’s work.” And then somebody does something kind of similar, and then works really well and everybody wants my movie. And after you make the movie and it’s kinda like that and I’m like, AHHH! I know. I know.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So let’s talk about what is your goals for the future. What do you wanna kinda keep doing and how are you gonna kinda get that goals or achieve that goals?
David: so, I have a movie that I am working on right now. It’s called Roam. Rider of another mortal. R-O-A-M. Which is an original concept, it’s like a dark sci-fi thriller. And I’m about to shoot a short film based on the script. I just put out a website, kinda similar with what I did with Michael King. I build a website, I did like, fake trailer for a shot of a little piece of it. I’m doing the same thing with this.
The website is called roammovie.com. R-O-A-M movie.com. and what I’m gonna do with it, it’s in the very beginning stages now but I’m going to be posting everything, from like suit to nets from concepts to completion. I’m gonna start story boarding and I really have to start to putting the storyboards up. Anybody that’s interested in really watching the process of where the script starts, how things change as we go along. some of the first shots that we did, coming up, I’m gonna pull all that stuff online so you can really watch the process from beginning to end as I make that film.
Ashley: Yeah. I’ll put that in the show notes too, so if anybody is in their car or something, they can find the show notes and I’ll link directly to that website.
David: Cool, yeah. Thanks. And then the other project that I’m doing is called The King of Spain, and it’s based on a book which you can check out on Amazon it’s really cool story. It’s kinda like Catch Me If You Can type of story. A story of this guy Craig Gracier, who wrote the book as well. And I’m in the middle of negotiating that deal. What’s great about that is that I wouldn’t want to just jump into another horror film. I’d love to do another horror film, but I don’t wanna just be the horror film guy, so this will give me an opportunity to do something very different from that, so that hopefully I’d be able to have a choice, and not just getting sent a horror script for the first time.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Sure. So what’s the best way, I think that we’re recording this August 25th and I think the release of The Possession of Michael King is this week. What’s the best way for people to catch that movie if they wanna watch it? Is it gonna be available theatrically and obviously the damn words?
David: Yes. So it hits theater on Friday. In the theaters now, it’s a limited one, though. It’s not in a lot of theaters, you can look up if it’s around you somewhere. And then it comes out on VOD, I think.. What’s the date today?
Ashley: Today is the 25th, so..
David: I think it comes out tomorrow, VOD. So it will be in some theaters today, and it will be also hitting VOD tomorrow and I then think the DVD comes out probably shortly after that. So, look for VOD starting tomorrow.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, things will be released probably next Monday, so, by the time this is released it should be available online. So, perfect. So what’s the best way for people to keep up with you? Obviously we will link to roammovie.com but are you on Twitter or do you have any another blog or anything?
David: Yeah. My Twitter is @davifujung. And I’ve been tweeting a little bit, so you can follow updates and stuff that I’m doing right now.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. I’ll link to your Twitter account as well so people can find that. Well, David this has been a great interview, lots of good information, and I really enjoyed it and have learned a lot. So, thank you very much for coming on and talking with me.
David: thanks so much. I really appreciate being here, taking your time and for your insightful questions and comments and for checking the movie out. It’s fun to talk about it, so, thanks a lot.
Ashley. Thank you.
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In the next episode of sellingyourscreenplay podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Craig Weinmann. Craig is a Canadian writer, who broke into the business while still living in Canada. He’s got some great insight into the business and talks very eloquently about how he broke in and continues to work as a screenwriter. So stay tuned for that episode next week.
In this weeks, writing world section. I wanna touch on David’s career and how he got started. I actually think that working in the business, specifically in development, and then working your way up, is probably the single best strategy that you can have if you wanna be a screenwriter. If I would have guest, this is probably the single best way that people break in for the business. You heard what he said, once he had a little bit of heat in his career, it was pretty easy for him to get an agent and manager because he already knew tons of people in the business. This isn’t a substitute of course for writing a marketable screenplay. As we talked about in the interview working in development for years is a great way to really understand what is marketable. You really can’t fully understand this unless you’ve been in the business for a while and talked with producers and really have seen for yourself what gets made and why it gets made. So if you’re in a position that you can take a low-paying job that requires tons of hours, I would highly recommend that you do. It’s brutal work, but it’s a great way to land the business. Notice too how he broke in his original first day. He literally just walked on to the set and started working. There’s no nepotism or favoritism there, it’s something we could all do.
Anyway, that’s our show. Thanks for listening.