This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 036: An Interview With Canadian Screenwriter Kraig Wenman.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode 36 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger, over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment, I’m going to be interviewing Kraig Wenman. Kraig is a Canadian writer who broke in many years ago while still living in Canada. He’s very candid about how he did everything and offers some great advice to screenwriters at all levels.
If you find this episode valuable, please help us out by giving us a review in ITunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking us on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast. The Selling Your Screenplay Facebook page seems to really be taking off so if you’re on Facebook, please like our page. It’s at facebook.com/sellingyourscreenplay. I want to thank Amir Gittens, John Brannon, Denise Laughlin, Kyree Mallon, Virginia Schein, Lou Agens, Gillian Block, and, of course, my lovely wife Lisa Meyers, for liking the posts and leaving comments on them. Thanks everyone for that.
And over on YouTube, I had some nice comments on Episode 34 from J. R. Beery, Amy Brown, Stanford Cranefield, John Rachel, Thomas J. Ryan, C. Philips, and Adam Strange. Thanks, everyone, for leaving those comments on YouTube. It is very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts. And then just look for episode 36.
Also, if you want my free guide How To Sell A Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free. You just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
A quick few words about what I’m working on. I’ve mentioned my sci-fi thriller a few times on the podcast. I have done a first draft. I got lots of great notes from my writers group and I’ve implemented most of those. I uploaded the script to the blacklist site last week and bought two reviews so we’ll see how that turns out. I’ve got my query letter meaning my log line and my query letter all ready to go off. I’m recording this podcast on Labor Day so I’m going to wait until next week to do the blast. I don’t think these holiday weeks are the best weeks to do query blasts so I’m going to wait until next week. There’s really no rush, but I am poised to get the blast out next week using my email and fax blast service. I had a meeting with the producer late last week. He likes one of my old scripts, a film noir detective story so I’m probably going to start working on rewriting that. The contract isn’t signed yet. Right now the contract is actually with my lawyer who usually takes a week or so to look these sorts of things over so the bottleneck is on my side, but it all looks good like it’s going to go through so I’ll have an update on that hopefully next week or the week after that.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with screenwriter Kraig Wenman. Here is the interview.
Welcome, Kraig, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Kraig: Thanks man.
Ashley: I wonder if to start out you could just give us a quick overview of your career and kind of how you got into being a screenwriter.
Kraig: Quick overview, I guess I have sold or optioned 43 scripts in the last eight years. I’ve had 16 features produced. I’ve produced three features. Right now I’m just working with Transformer and ExNet producer Tom DeSato doing a bit China trilogy called Gods which personally spending like 150 million bucks so that’s been a trip, and it’s a big learning curve. It’s kind of like a lower the rings type thing. And so it’s a little different from some of the stuff I do, but they kind of like bring me in to do like the banter and digs.
Ashley: So back us up to the very, very beginning. I mean, film school and what did you do after film school?
Kraig: I did lots of shitty jobs and starved and I met a girl who was good. It’s like being a musician; you need someone to support you just right after film school because film school doesn’t necessarily teach you how to get a job. They teach you the things once you have the job so it was just a big learning curve of just doing my own short films and then directing music videos and producing music videos. I did some corporate videos. I think that’s kind of like the standard you get out of film school and you tape a wedding and you get—you know—like two grand or something like oh damn, I’m good for a month; I can write.
Ashley: Just so everybody understands, you were in Vancouver, and it sounds like you have always been in Vancouver since you started your career. I take it you grew up there?
Kraig: Yes, I was born here in Vancouver and just commute back and forth when I need to take the big meets or if I’m writing something down or whatever.
Ashley: So these short films and these industrials and the weddings, those were all up in Vancouver. You basically started in production up in Vancouver.
Kraig: Yes because I wanted to build a resume here before I tried to go into LA—you know—just so I had something. You don’t want to go there empty-handed because most people do. Most people fail because of that.
Ashley: Okay. So you’re out of college; you’re working in production. When did you start to just write some spec scripts, and how did that—was that always your intention like in-built where you knew you wanted to be a writer as opposed to a producer or director, and how did you start to kind of find time to write?
Kraig: I definitely wanted to do the writer/director thing. That’s why I went to film school like we were saying in the pre-interview like Kevin Smithton and Hitchcock, you know, those two weird, something dark and something light at the same time; I was the yin-yang thing. I met a girl and she said you’re kind of not going anywhere really because you’re kind of doing everything. Focus on the one thing that you’re best at or the one thing that you love. Do it for a year and if you haven’t sold anything by the end of the year, then we’ll find something else for you to do basically. So you have that ticking thing, and as a writer you always just need that ticking time bomb of that deadline so I just wrote every day for one year six scripts—maybe eight—but I only went out with a few of them because your first scripts are always terrible, but you think it’s good at the time. Just put your first script away I would recommend. It’s not always the best calling card your first one you know. Usually you’re either (A) Rewriting your favorite movie or (B) Writing a movie on your life and your life’s not that—it might be, I don’t know—if you have an interest in that, then write about that for sure. That’s just usually what falls into—that was definitely my case I think. The first three scripts were just rewriting Fight Club. So I just wrote every day for the year or ten months and then kind of almost on the day I got my first option through Inktip, it was only a dollar just because I wanted to take a dollar option so I could use that as leverage to get an agent or to get people to take me a little more seriously. So I think I just did a dollar, but then the next week I optioned a script and it was for thousands of dollars and that was A Gold Circle. They had done—
Ashley: And so literally you had two tips. This is like month number ten of this year, and you literally had two good leads, two options within a week or two of each other.
Kraig: I remember I put one up on Friday, and it was optioned by Saturday or Saturday afternoon I had the option I had the option contract and the negotiations started. So that’s how I got my agent is I just had this second one that had some actual money because no agent wants to negotiate a dollar option for their ten cents or whatever. So once I had a decent option with some money that I used as leverage to get an agent because you’re literally just giving them free money just to come in and now you’re my agent.
Ashley: So what did you physically do? So you have this second option for a few thousand dollars. How did you go about approaching agents? Cold-calling them? Emailing them?
Kraig: I’ve gone through a few agents. You’ll go through a few agents in your career. Actually my first agent had called me up to yell at me about not paying her actor on a short film, and so that’s how I made that connection. I turned it around and got her to represent me in that phone call, but then after that you part ways and so I did start cold calling. You start smaller. You don’t go to the big buy right away because they’re not going to take your call unless you know someone. But I didn’t know anyone. I was just an outsider punk kid from Vancouver, from White Rock. So I started cold calling for agents. I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing that now Usually what’s good about Inktip, my second agent just found me on Inktip.
Ashley: Okay. So you’ve got those first two options, and you said you had written six or eight scripts, but you only took them out. Aside from Inktip, what else were you doing to “take them out?” What other opportunities were you finding?
Kraig: Just did everything. I went to every online board that there was. I don’t know what they are now because they probably have changed. But there was—like—it was just like answering classified ads like mandy.com had it for a while. Moviebytes at the time had it—you know—we’re looking for this type of screenplay—and Inktip was still pretty new then relatively like six months old or something. And I found out you could just browse, that a person can get exactly what they’re looking for.
Ashley: Are there any other services that you have used recently once you’ve kind of gotten your career going? How would you kind of continue to keep selling scripts?
Kraig: I still have scripts to this day on Inktip, but now I have an agent at APA and managers who are really good. I had never had a manager before, and a manager will sit there and give you notes whereas an agent will just say I won’t respond to it. A manager will tell you why they didn’t respond to it. So they get it out but even though you have an agent, you still have to hustle. You’ve got to be a shameless self-promoter. You’ve got to be your own kind of whore and pimp at the same time so you get out there and your network. You know, you get your business card out there just the old-fashioned way, you know, just be nice to people. People want to work with people that they know aren’t going to be high drama and that they can have a coffee or a beer with and a laugh with so you just go out and find common ground. When you go to meet someone, find the one thing that you guys have in common and just talk on that, whether it’s a favorite movie or it’s the lake or something like that. And that’s what people remember because if you’re at a party, no one wants to read your script or no one really wants to hear your pitch, and you never actually want to be forthcoming like “Oh, I have this idea.” You just talk to them like normal people would at a party, and it’s only when they ask you what are you working on, that’s when you can say “Jaws in Space” or whatever.
Ashley: So you said there was a number like 42 scripts you’ve optioned or sold in the last eight years. How many of those would you say have come directly from Inktip?
Kraig: I’d say most of them because even this one that I had, Transformers, this one we’re developing, it came from a producer on Inktip had optioned like a one-million-dollar horror I’d written years ago, and we were getting close to shooting it and stuff like that. And it just doesn’t work out as it always doesn’t more times than not. I just kept in touch with him over the years. He said sorry, we’re so close but I’ll keep you in mind for future projects. I’d always drop him an email, saying how are you doing? How are your kids doing because I have kids. It’s just that common ground. Again, I just kept in touch with him over—I don’t know when that was—maybe 2006. Now we just started working on the writing of this like four months ago. So it’s just maintaining those relationships is the key. You don’t hound people with a whole bunch of emails. Keep your emails simple.
Ashley: Let’s dig into that a little bit. What do these emails look like? So you met him in 2006, that’s a span now of seven or eight years. How often did you contact him and what did you say? When you finish a new script, would you pitch him a new script? Would you literally just email him and say “hey, how are your kids doing?”
Kraig: Yeah. I’d just say how are you doing? Hope you’re well. If there was a common movie or common—you know—music’s a big thing for me—so I’m like what do you think of that new album and then you just keep the dialog going, but maybe every month-and-a-half or two months but just too many emails—I get it now because I produce. I just get these constant long-winded emails, and you just kind of start to dread if you’re getting three or four hundred emails a day, if you’re going to go to the ones that you can just see on your phone really quick that say just two sentences. The other thing is you can ask them if you’ve got any new projects going and that keeps that dialog open.
Ashley: Okay. So how many people would you say at this stage in your career you have in your rolodex like this guy who you follow up, would you send him an email once every month or two? How many people are like that, that you’re following up with?
Kraig: I don’t know. I would say maybe 60 producers.
Ashley: And most of these are guys you’ve met through Inktip or just through somebody type of thing that you’ve worked with them in the past?
Kraig: It was an introduction to an introduction. I met one of my agents through Inktip so he introduced me to all these producers so it’s all kinds of pretty much every project that is kind of connected to Inktip in some way or another by degrees of separation.
Ashley: So how routine is this? Is this like one day every two months that you sit there and write out these 60 emails
Kraig: No, no.
Ashley: What is sort of your routine of this?
Kraig: It’s usually when I get pretty poor; you know, the option money runs out or the sale money runs out or the first draft delivery you already spent it all on whatever you spend your money on, and then it’s just well, I wonder what that person’s doing. It’s not like I sit down. I don’t sit down with a list and go through, and I don’t send them all at the same time. It’s just usually when I’ll see if they have a movie come out or something, say “I Saw It Was Red”. You know, I want to do something like that someday. So you just keep watching the trades and always just checking the credits and stuff because you’re going to find common ground there too as well.
Ashley: Yes, that’s a good tip.
Kraig: I would just say be honest. Don’t call up and say I saw this movie and you didn’t see it or you saw and it was terrible. Be honest and don’t lie about it because people can see that stuff and know you miles away.
Ashley: No. But by the same token, there have been producers that I met with and I’ve purposely gone to see their movie or get their movie on ITunes or Netflix, watch it specifically so I can send them an email saying hey, I saw your movie, nice job. You can be somewhat proactive in that. So you got your agent through Inktip you said. How did you get your current manager?
Kraig: Through Inktip again. He was working as a producer with his own company, and we just kept in touch because he had found me through Inktip years ago like 2004 or 2005 when I first started. He’s like we’ll just keep in touch with me because I like your writing and I think it will get there one day to where it’s something that he can really get excited about. And then he ended up joining into a management—he had a production company or management company or something. So I just kept in touch with him over the years and finally I sent him this script that I just optioned and he’s like “Yeah, I want to develop this. Let’s go and do it so then they gave me a series of notes. We do like three drafts and then we sent it out and there was a big industry response at every studio. We just went out and did all the big studio meetings with Warner Brothers, Lion’s Gate, and Relativity and all those fun guys.
Ashley: So the 42 options or sales that you’ve had, I’m curious there has to have been some really bad relationships where things just went south. How do you handle that situation in terms of following up? Are there some people you have just written off?
Kraig: Never. I mean, if you can really identify once, you’ll always get rewritten; the director will always rewrite or the producer will always rewrite you before shooting anyway, but I got fired from one project. And it was a fun project and I was heartbroken. But what I didn’t do was say you know, because I’m not allowed to swear. I didn’t send off the world’s biggest raging email. I said I think you for giving me the opportunity and hopefully there is something we can get together on in the future. Let’s keep in touch. You’re going to get rejections every single day of your career in every way. You’re going to get notes every single day; it’s a collaborative process. If you just want to do a one-man art, go do a painting because this is not the business for you if you can’t handle notes. You know it’s all about having a thick skin. Your job is to be a professional problem-solver. So if you get an email saying it’s not working out like that, even if your mad and raging and it’s unfair or whatever, don’t respond right away. Put it away for a day or a half a day. Go for a walk and don’t give knee jerk responses because how you get fired is how you get hired. I still have connections with that person. That person came back and hired me on another project because it’s cool working with you. Let’s take this out and he took out a project to Fox for me, just cool stuff like that. No one wants to work with a hothead or someone that’s going to be high maintenance.
Ashley: Just really good advice. So I wonder, you know, I get a lot of emails; people find my blog and they’re writing and saying should I move to LA and some of the people will even be in a position where they have a decent job, maybe a family and stuff, and so it’s always good to talk to writers that have made it. But you know, what would you say to people? Should they move to LA, and if not, what should they be doing at home to maybe prepare themselves for a successful career?
Kraig: You have to have connections before you go down or you’re just going to be very heartbroken and sad because you know Hollywood is a party you’re not invited to yet. Do all your work at home first. Get producers interested in your work first before you go down. Put it on Inktip. Even before you put it on Inktip, work shop it over at somewhere like a free—you can go on there and just meet other kind of newbie writers and there are people with produced credits on there too. You could put up your script and they give you feedback and then you give them feedback so it’s just kind of a nice place definitely to start out and especially how to get notes that are completely rational because everyone gets irrational notes. Like I had a note the other day that said, this is not a revenge thriller and then in the next line it said this is where his revenge plan has to start. So you’re going to get contrasting notes because you’re working with so many cooks. So one producer takes all their notes and puts it together, and sometimes they don’t all make sense. There is a common note between five different reviewers. It’s you; it’s not them. It’s like breaking up with a girlfriend ; it’s not you, it’s me. No. It’s you. If it’s the same note from every single person, then that’s a note to take heed of so I’d say workshop it there, get every single typo out of that script, specifically the first ten pages. I read scripts all the time and they’ll be a typo in the first sentence. If there’s a typo in the first sentence, I’m not reading it anymore. If you can’t just figure it out even for just one sentence or one page, it’s almost disrespectful to that producer to—they’re taking time out of their day to read your stuff. You take the time to get those typos out and get those glaring grammatical–because scripts aren’t necessarily grammatical, but just make it make sense and just really sell that first page. And then I would say once you’ve got it and had other people read it—and by other people I don’t mean your mom who’s going to tell you it’s really good. Producers are going to say some really mean things too like this is crap or this is cliché or this is that. You just have to have a thick skin or you don’t survive.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s talk about your current situation in terms of where you go and do you have a place in LA? You said you sort of split your time. How much time at this point in your career do you say you spend in Los Angeles?
Kraig: Last year I did about five months.
Ashley: Did you rent a place?
Kraig: It depends. I usually try to get them to rent me a place. I kind of just hold out and then I can do my other projects when I’m there with someone else paying for it which is always nice. Ashley: Sure.
Kraig: You just rent; you just go to a B&B.com and you can get a cheap place and it’s cheaper than a hotel. You get a decent little guest house just right off Hollywood Boulevard in the Highland area. You get like eighty bucks a night, whereas if you walk across the street to the hotel, it’s like two hundred and something a night. So going to B&B is the good thing for that and it doesn’t get too pricey. If you can do that, if you can make it down to LA three or four times a year, here from Vancouver, the tickets are only 299 bucks so it’s not that expensive. You just go down and you put all your meetings into a ten-day period or a seven-day period or whatever until you can get—you know—where you can afford it. I can’t afford that, the prices of the hills right now, but I usually stay right in Hollywood right in the hills.
Ashley: Are you in the WGA now?
Ashley: Now I’m often wondering about writers and what they do. Certainly some of these projects you’re getting through these producers, they’re not really WG projects. How do you deal with that being in the WGA and taking on projects that may or may not be guild projects?
Kraig: Well, originally I was in the WGC (Writers Guild of Canada) and in Canada there’s just not a lot of money for development. Though everything’s shot here, all the development is still done in Los Angeles. So I left the Writers Guild of Canada to do the low budget projects. Now that I’m in the WGA, there’s definitely stuff that they just say you can’t work with this person, but WGA are also flexible in a way. It’s that because the producer has to be a signatory to the guild to work with them and so they’ll say well, we can get this producer to sign on for a one-time thing so he doesn’t have to—you know—a one-time signatory. So hopefully that will work. I haven’t gotten any million-dollar projects yet but we’ll see how that goes. I’ll keep you posted.
Ashley: So I think there’s kind of a comment. You kind of alluded to this a bit earlier. This is a kind of a common misconception that once you get an agent and a manager, it’s just smooth sailing for a screenwriter. I wonder if you can speak to that a little bit about what your experience has been when you’ve had agents or when you’ve had managers vs. when you don’t, and how much the agents have actually been able to do for you in terms of marketing your stuff.
Kraig: It’s pretty much the same. I don’t really actually change anything from when I didn’t have an agent to when I do have an agent. You have to agent your agents. You know your agent has other clients; you’re not the only person so you have to go out and you make those connections. The agent will send you connections, and your manager is like your publicist so they’ll give you even more connections than your agent will, but you just got to keep getting out there and networking and even when you meet someone at a party in LA and you’re like I met this guy last night and he’s really cool. Do you know him? And in LA if your agent’s been around, you can say yeah, of course I know him, and our sons go to school together and stuff like that. So then I would give that contact to him, and then it comes up in a lunch conversation oh yeah, you met my client, Kraig the other night and heard you guys were doing Tequila shots or something like that. So you’ve just got to keep it going, and you kind of just have to be your own—you have an agent; you have a manager, but you still have to do both jobs. The agent negotiates the deal for you, and the manager kind of introduces you.
Ashley: I wonder if we could just talk briefly about some of these sorts of TV movies, the specific credits that you have. It’s funny. Skid Marks is actually a movie. I did a movie in 2008, and it got some distribution through a video and DVD distributor, and I was talking to myself. What’s an example of a successful movie because we weren’t having a lot of DVD sales, and he actually mentioned Skid Marks, and I went and looked it up on—The funny thing is he said you know, you guys should have put a half-naked pretty girl on your cover even if she’s not in the movie, and you’ll sell some DVD’s because of it and Skid Marks was one of the movies that he will reference as actually being successful.
Kraig: Never successful and the name of that movie together but—
Ashley: Well, it sold more DVD’s than we were able to sell.
Kraig: When they had the premiere, it was like a really hard rated R, and it was great. Oh, this is so cool. It’s like those Kevin Smith movies that I liked when I went into filming school and stuff like that, and then they just started taking audience polls on notes and stuff like that just from a general audience and all of these test screenings which they do. It’s part of the thing, and then it just got watered down and down and down until it was like PG 13 movie. It’s called Skid Marks. It’s an hour-and-a-half of dick jokes and I was brought into script. It had already been read; I was just kind of brought in to just kind of do more one-liners and stuff like that and make it a little edgier, and then they kind of cut down the edge which is too bad because there was one guy in there—well, they were all talented—but there was one guy that was putting out these great types of performances like just as funny as anything you see in Second City—you know—the ground links or anything like that. His stuff was a lot of stuff that got cut. It’s just part of the thing but I was just brought on for dick joes and just a little bit of structure.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s talk about some of these TV movies that you’ve done. Where have those TV movies mostly aired? What’s the market for those? I mean, another man’s wife, the stepson, play date, broken trust, where do those movies end up getting shelved?
Kraig: Some of them now end up in Red Box because there’s not really a home video market anymore, but they’ll play up here in a showcase and we have our movie central and they’ll be on super channel. They have Pay Per View up here but just for the states, it’s all just lifetime because Lifetime’s the only one who’s really doing kind of these low-budget one million things where you can—you know—it’s a Lifetime movie so there are definite things the network says you have to do this, and this, and this. So they’ll start out on Lifetime or they’ll start out on Pay Per View and Lifetime with a second run on it. And then there are different edited versions for Germany and Spain so in Spain it will go out to a horror market or a thriller market on their TV or on their Pay Per View. It’s just mostly through TV, just Lifetime.
Ashley: How many of these scripts air on Lifetime like are they all Lifetime movies?
Kraig: Yes, they all are, they all start that.
Ashley: And they’re all independently like with different producers. I mean, it seems like Lifetime has—like the Seventeen and Missing, it seems like I recollect that they have like a Seventeen and Something series on Lifetime.
Kraig: That started that series. I think there was Seventeen and Missing. Now I’m working with another producer. We’re just like midway through one of those, and he did Missing at Seventeen so mine was Seventeen and Missing and his was Missing at Seventeen because with Lifetime specifically they try to get the quadrants of the mother and the daughter at the same time and then hopefully you can put in like a bunch of cool lines. What’s cool about it is you only have 700,000 dollars to a million dollars and you usually pay your leads like half the budget or up there. So you have to kind of be creative in that really only have two [inaudible 0:3`1:36.9] so you’re kind of rewriting like specifically because I really like the movie Misery. I’ve been just kind of writing different versions of Misery and Rear Window. You know, it’s just like either the new neighbor moving in or the neighbors moving in, and they’re always crazy so we’ve done a lot of those movies, the crazy neighbor next door movies. It’s a form like everything has a form. A sonnet’s fourteen lines. A Lifetime movie in that budget is a crazy neighbor next door.
Ashley: And so I talked to several writers over the course of the podcasts and even off the podcast that get into these Lifetime movies. Again, you just independently have met these producers? Have you met the higher-ups at Lifetime that are making these decisions and talked to them? Do they give you this sort of feedback so that you know what this sort of template is?
Kraig: You see, with the producers, all these producers, while there are different producers on every project, it’s a pretty small community so they’ll ask their buddy who they started out at this company, and now they branched off and done the “who’d you like working with?” Who’s easy to work with? Who can turn around a script in a week, and then Lifetime also has approval of—they have a short list of writers; we’ll work with this writer and this writer. They also have a blacklist of we won’t work with these people. And they have the same for producers as well. The blacklist is a lot. I’m always on the good list so once or twice a year I’ll get up and do a crazy neighbor next door movie.
Ashley: So the budgets are 700,000 to a million dollars. What kind of money can a writer expect for one of these types of movies?
Kraig: It depends, and I can’t really say.
Ashley: Well, just give us a ballpark figure.
Kraig: They would say well, we heard you on that podcast; you said you make this.
Ashley: You get about 500,000 of the 700,000?
Kraig: I know writers that I think when they bring in like a brand-new writer, like I came in, when I came in it was okay like they hadn’t started cutting the budgets as much so I had a decent fee, but now they’re bringing in writers to start they will pay you a thousand on delivery, and they’ll pay you 500 for a rewrite.
Ashley: Oh my God! Really? For a million-dollar even a 700,000-dollar movie on Lifetime? Wow!
Kraig: But then they give you a bonus on first day of photography if it gets made. It’s not that bad for writers. I lucked out because I started at a certain wage and so they know I’m not going to take less than that so I’ve been just going up and getting a little bit more each time. I do okay if I just do two of them a year.
Ashley: The number I always quote people when they ask me is usually between two and three percent of the budget so my guess is the writers are mostly getting between 20,000 and 30,000 for a Lifetime movie. You can either confirm or deny that, but that would be my guess.
Kraig: Two-and-a-half and three doesn’t really exist. It does for some writers for the Lifetime movies because two-and-a-half percent, that’s a WGA rule. All these ones are non-union so rules don’t apply to anything. So they can pay you 500 bucks.
Ashley: Okay so let’s just wrap it up here a little bit. What’s been sort of the high point of your career? I always like to kind of ask that of people. What’s been the high point of your screenwriting career so far?
Kraig: I always go through stages. The first stage your high point will be the first time someone downloads your script or reads your script and says oh I like that and that’s confirmation like okay I’m kind of doing the right thing maybe and then you’ll option. So that’s the highlight and then you sell and that’s the highlight. Then you get something made and then that’s the highlight so it will go in stages like that. Right now the highlight is just right now I’m working on this big trilogy. I did some extra writing for the Ex-Men reshoots for the last one. They were shooting a trailer and they just needed some extra lines for their reshoots, and that was fun. I’m developing a series with Morgan Krieg right now. That’s really cool, a supernatural thriller series called the Darkroom so we’ll take that to cable and then Netflix, and then if they don’t like it, then we’ll go to normal network TV with it. So that’s really cool and that’s working with a producer of Batman and she said up Orange is the New Black at Lion’s Gate, the Pilot for House. She did the X Files so that’s cool. So I’m doing TV supernatural dark twisted stuff over there and then doing popcorn with an edge, just kind of Transformers Meets ExMen kind of thing. Both of them are really good. I’m excited equally so right now it’s the highlight of my career.
Ashley: It’s all downhill from here. So let’s talk about this TV show just for a second. How does something like that work? You meet a producer. They have the idea or you have the idea. Have you written like the first 12 episodes and do they option it? What is sort of the arrangement, and then if it doesn’t get picked up, who owns that material?
Kraig: Well, that’s a tough thing. How I met Morgan Krieg is a script that went out free fall last season and got some hype and some fire and stuff like that. I just went there to meet them about that, and essentially they didn’t pick it up because it was too big. It was a 150-million-dollar film and they were looking for something a little bit smaller than 150 million. But you want to write a big 150-million-dollar movie. You want to have that as a spec because even if you write the world’s best one-location, they could say well, this guy’s a talented writer but can he do it big? You need to have the big sample, and you need to have the small sample. Have the show-off kind of the two-location, look how smart I am and also have the big spectacle because they won’t hire anyone who doesn’t, who they can’t literally see on the page especially if you’re an outsider like myself even though I’ve got all these one-million-dollar movies. We’re not going to hire him for something big because he doesn’t have a sample of anything big.
Ashley: So I’m talking about the TV show. How did it sort of get developed? Did the producer come with the idea? Did you come with the idea?
Kraig: I got into Morgan Krieg just through that Beecher script and they really liked it. I had just sent an email to the producer that I met with like maybe six months later. Okay, that producer is no longer here because there is huge turnover at every studio and production house. I would say last year of the—I went with 15 producers, only one of them is still at the company that I met which is good because if they like you, now they’ve gone so people already like you at that company; now they have gone on to a new company, and they’re getting people to like you there. What happens is they say well, this person doesn’t work here anymore. They forwarded my email to the new person, and they decide we’re just kind of looking to do a series right now. Do you have any ideas? I said yes. Let me check my files which means I don’t have any ideas. So I just went on for a week and just came up with there’s a log line, we’ll go for it. I did maybe 15 log lines in that week. It’s always the one that you least expect and he said let’s do this. Tell us more about this idea. That’s one I hadn’t thought of. It was just a cool log line, that’s the one that basically starts all of a sudden developing pictures of people before they’re going to die so he has to go out wherever he is in the world and find these people to see if he can save them before they die-type thing so you have to use all the forensic clues that you would find within the frame of the picture. That’s just the basic and then there’s more of a back story of why he’s seeing this. They’ll be a new case each week but there’s going to be like the running history of why me, why now, all that stuff like that.
Ashley: Is there development money for this? Do you basically write this series on spec and then hope that they can get the thing set up somewhere?
Kraig: That’s why I’m a producer. So when you’re a producer, you get jack. There’s development money out there. I just haven’t seen it yet as a producer per se. So we developed this one; we developed like a 15-page outline and just wrote the pilot. You don’t want to do anything more than that because you don’t want to waste your time running thirteen other episodes or six episodes of whatever if they don’t like (A) The Basic concept or (B) The pilot script that sets up the entire series so never write more than a pilot for your series. This suggests where the episodes go in your outline like your pitch document.
Ashley: Okay so we talked about the high point. I wonder—you know—it’s a tough business. I wonder if you’d talk about maybe some of your low points in your career.
Kraig: Every day I get up to write is a really good day; that’s always exciting to me. Low points always just come if you go out and try to get a job and you don’t get it. Find something that you really want because some of the stuff—they’ll be projects that you want to do more than other , projects, and when you don’t get one of the ones, when you don’t get a passion one, one that you just like “oh, I could nail this. This is so easy. I know these characters. I am these characters, and you don’t get that, that’s always a low point. Firing’s always the low point, but I think I’ve only gotten that once that I know of. You get rewritten all the time, but in the business that’s not getting fired. Getting fired is like not getting credit or starting over. That’s low, but you know, without the lows and the highs, without the roller coaster, the ride wouldn’t be so fun so you’ve just got to take every rejection and use it as fuel to (a) Maintain contact with that person and just use it as—we can never get too high on yourself, you go and you make a big sale. The low points remind you of the high points so it’s always just keeping that balance which is tough you know because I think everyone goes out there. There’s always a level of insecurity because you’re getting beaten down all the time, and it’s just about finding a way to turn it around. You’ve just got to stay positive. Pessimistic people aren’t always the best people to succeed in this business. You’ve just got to stay up in this, and that’s what I like about the business because you literally can turn around hour to hour of going from your worst day to your best day. You know you get fired, but then someone says oh, I read that script; let’s do that now. No one wants to get fired.
Ashley: So you just mentioned about getting up every day and looking forward to writing. Maybe you could just give us what is your writing routine like every day? Do you have Monday through Fridays? Do you write on the weekends? How many hours? When do you start? When do you stop? What do your breaks look like?
Kraig: If there’s a party on the weekend, I won’t work on the weekend, but I just want to keep like my head space and work Monday to Friday like you’ve got to treat it like a normal job. It’s a fun job but it’s still a job. I get up every day and write right away while I’m still kind of in that sleep state.
Ashley: And what time is this when you get up?
Kraig: I’ll start work about 9:00-9:30, sometimes 9:45 but definitely I’ll just write from 9:45 to 1:00 and get my twenty pages done. You know you set a goal each day and when you start out your goal is small. Okay, let’s get two pages today. It’s like when you lift weights, if you’re lifting every day you’re going to get a little bit stronger and stronger. So now I start my 20 pages. I need to get 20 pages done today in this short span. They don’t have to be great pages. You know, the first draft doesn’t have to be treat; all it has to be is done because you can see that’s where I screwed up there. You can put it out on the floor and say oh, that’s the scene that sucks or your final draft will tell you wow, this scene is seven pages more. Okay, well, I can cut four pages from that, say it’s simpler and better. So I’ve just kind of worked those three hours in there each day, and if I have two projects at the same time, I will write one in the morning and then one at night. If they’re different genres, I write comedy in the morning and I write the thriller or the horror or suspense at night because you’re alone, it’s scary. So the darker stuff always comes out at night and the happier stuff comes out in the morning.
Ashley: And so what’s from 1:00 in the afternoon until 6:00 at night?
Kraig: Dead time. Really that’s when I try to schedule all my meetings. Even we’re having this meeting at 6:00 so it didn’t cut into either my night writing or my morning writing. So I try to do all of my lunches in Hollywood. Lunches are 1:00 to 2:00 so you have your Hollywood lunch there, and then you do your emails and your marketing and stuff like that in the afternoon. I find producers in general are more receptive to stuff that happens in the afternoon as far as responding because you get there at the beginning of the day, you’re putting out as a producer you’re putting up buyers all day. Just like a writer you’re a problem-solver for the story, you’re a problem-solver for the entire production so all of their stuff comes at them first in the morning between kind of like in that 2:30 range. The best response time is usually Thursday around 2:30. Everyone’s kind of thinking about their weekend; they are not really doing any heavy thinking. They’re already kind of signed out a little bit. I find just with any marketing online it’s always good for Facebook on Thursday around that time too.
Ashley: If you’re starting a new project, you do some outlining and then once you’ve done your outlining, you can literally pump out 20 pages in those three hours.
Kraig: You just have to spend more time outlining those key plot points. I know my exact story before I go. I know what my page story is. Everyone always knows what their introduction is but always know your ending because your ending resolves whatever your log line is for your page thirty turning point. Just map out those points; map out your page one, your page 17, your page 30, page 45, your page 60, and then your low point at page 90 and your final showdown is done somewhere. The more you do an outline just for me, sometimes I’ll go and I’ll write like ten pages of characters talking and stuff like that because sometimes that informs who the characters become in the scripts. I always like to just start off free form with the cards, keep it so simple with the little cue cards and put it on the floor and just look at it so you can see. The things that you write on the cards, they don’t have to be like brilliant. Introduce main character here, and you have your ending, main character succeeds or he doesn’t succeed, but he learns this. So you already have it. Okay so now you have your beginning, your middle, and your end. Okay what’s my log line? You’ll already know that your turning point is because it’s in your log line. You know your main character, what they have to accomplish, what’s at stake if they don’t accomplish it. You have your log line; your movie’s already written because that’s your page 30. That’s the problem they have to solve. Do they solve it at the end? Simple. So now you have beginning, you have your end, and you have that turning point. You just figure out your page 60 which is a reversal of whatever that page 30 thing is. It’s just like if he does get back to the future, it won’t be the same or whatever. I always like to do a complete reversal of whatever happens on page 30, and I just find people really respond to that because it just really gets the momentum going to “Holy Shit! How’s the guy going to accomplish this now?” Page 60 says there is no way to accomplish this goal. He needs to start a new goal. Okay, that’s kind of cool.
Ashley: So, you know, you’ve been very generous with your time. This has been a great conversation. We’ve covered a lot of ground. I really do appreciate it. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you and potentially contact you if they’re ever interested? Do you have a Twitter account or a blog?
Kraig: Just Kraig Wenman. K R A I G W E N M A N Kraig Wenman. I got on there a little bit, not too much. It’s a bit of a time-waster for me, but if you follow I think you can actually message me there. You’ll probably find me on linkedin too somewhere.
Ashley: Perfect. I will link to those in the show notes so people can find them. Once again, Kraig, this has been really informative. We’ve covered a lot of ground so I really appreciate your taking the time, and as you say, it’s after 6:00 so I know I have kids and definitely want to get back and spend time with the family so I do appreciate your taking time this late.
Kraig: No problem. Any time let me know and if you ever need any follow-up or you have any questions, just shoot me a line.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you much.
Kraig: All right. We’ll see you later.
Ashley: I’m embarking on my most ambitious project here at Selling Your Screenplay. It’s going to be a one-year intensive screenwriting course. I’m going to take on a few students and try and really guide them through the entire screenwriting process. I’m going to help them develop a concept; write an outline, and then I’m going to help them write the actual screenplay. And then once the screenplay is finished, I’m going to help them market that screenplay too. What I’ve found with the email and fax blast service that I offer is that it works very well if you have some experience and you have a script that is up to industry standard. So my goal here is very clear, to try and get a few writers the experience they need and get them a polished professional screenplay that is market-ready. And then, of course, I’ll use my experience to help them option or sell their scripts or obtain professional writing assignments. Obviously space is very limited. I only anticipate taking on three or four students at the very most. This isn’t going to be a cheap service. . Obviously it’s going to take a lot of time on my side to actually read and give them notes on all the scripts and consult with the writers. And then I’m going to have to send multiple email and fax blasts to get the scripts out there. And that will all be included in the price of this course. So I’m going to try and offer the course at various price levels. There’s basically the free version which obviously anyone can take, and basically there you’ll just follow along with the curriculum which I posted on line. You’ll just have to be self-motivated and keep up with everything on your own. I’m going to be teaching the classes online so you can take the class a la carte if you’d like too, and if course you can buy the email and fax blasts a la carte as well. So that should be a pretty inexpensive way to participate just without getting the notes from me. If this works well, I’m thinking this is probably how I’ll sell the email and fax blasts in the future. As I said, I really feel like the service I offer is excellent. If—and it’s a big if—you have a screenplay that is up to industry standards, I feel like this is the best way to help people get their screenplays up to industry standard. So if you’re looking to jump start your screenwriting career, this might be a great way to do it. Anyway, if you like to learn more about this one-year online intensive screenwriting course, check out sellingyourscreenplay.com/gold. All the details are posted there.
In this week’s writing words section, I want to touch briefly on something that Kraig mentioned. First, I would highly advise you to take a look at his credits on my MDB so you have some context. Kraig has some solid credits and is having a great career. I’ll link to him in IMDB’s show notes. The biggest lesson for me is when he said that he’s never burned a contact even on the job he was fired from. He stayed in touch with the producer and eventually worked with him again. I really can’t emphasize how important this is enough. It’s absolutely critical to having a screenwriting career. And honestly, it’s something that I struggle with. My two biggest credits in terms of the film’s stars and the budgets. Our movie’s called Rush Lights and Dish Dogs. In both cases I would say I burned my bridges with the producers and I can’t see the producers ever being willing to work with me again. I’ll spare you the details here about what went on, but after talking with Kraig, I knew this was something I really needed to work on. Real producers who are working in this business and actually making movies are very, very rare so once you’re working with one and building a relationship with them, you’ve got to do everything in your power to make that relationship succeed and grow no matter how ridiculous it may seem, and trust me, you’re going to work with some producers who ask for some ridiculous things. But you’ve just got to make it work.
One thing to really consider in all of this is that this sounds really distasteful to you, I would say there’s a good chance that screenwriting isn’t a good fit for you, and trust me, it sounds distasteful to me so I sometimes wonder if I’m cut out for this.