This is a transcript of: SYS Podcast Episode 041: An Interview With Screenwriters Alejandro Seri and Johnny T Silver.
Welcome to Episode 41 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyer, screen writer and blogger over at www.SellingYourScreenplay.com.
In this episode’s main segment, I’m interviewing Alejandro Seri and Johnny T. Silver. They recently sold their first spec script and it eventually got produced. They go into some great detail about how they got this script sold. It was a lot of hard work but they are very open about what they did and anyone can do what they did assuming they’re willing to do the work. 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 re-twitting the podcast on Twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast so they are very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mentioned in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode number 41.
If you want my free guide on how to sell your 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 5 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 logline and query 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.
So now let’s get in to the main segment. Today I’m talking with writers Alejandro Seri and Johnny T. Silver. Here is the interview:
Ashley: Welcome Johnny and Alejandro to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you guys coming on the show today.
Johnny: Thank you for having us.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you guys can give us a quick overview of your career and kinda how you got to where you are today. Johnny, why don’t you go ahead and start.
Johnny: Uhm… okay. Born and raised in Los Angeles. I’m always sort of a born-to-be-a-film-maker so to speak. Went to film school, did my undergrad at CSUN. I did some graduate studies at UCLA. I decided that I was spending more money on learning about film than making film so I started by working. There are couple of different companies, I worked in acquisitions and at that time I worked in development, I worked in post production. Just moving through the industry, trying to learn every aspect of film making. I winded up at Final Draft and at that time I was at Final Draft I was uh… filming a lot of shooting and doing a lot of writing and I hooked up with Alejandro there. When I left Final Draft I started my own company and we did a few projections.
We started up producing a low budget features and music videos and commercials… just anything that we can get our hands on. And then the next of that, my writing career really sort of took off. Alejandro, Steve Scarlata and I partnered up on creating a project called Final Girl which was shot starring Abigail Breslin and Wes Bentley. So that project… went on from that project to start working with David Milch on his television show for HBO. Worked with David for about a year… a little bit over a year. Wrote a ton of scripts for a ton of material. And then moved on to my own project … just focusing on my own projects. Marketing them, packaging them, attaching talent. Just using all aspects that I learned in my early career to bring me to where I am now. That took me about 35 seconds.
Ashley: Great, great! So, Alejandro, why don’t you give us a quick overview of your career.
Alejandro: Sure! I did most of my undergrad at UCLA. I wasn’t in the film department so when I realized that I wanted to be a film director, I basically left and started taking some film classes through UCLA extension. Ended up with one of their certificate degrees in both Entertainment Marketing and in Producing. So, I did kind of like a double major… double certificate there.
Got into writing because people said if you wanna direct you need to write fantastic low budget script and hold on to it until I could direct. So I started writing as a way to direct, funny enough and here I am years later certainly having written much more than I directed. I ended up ironically being hired to direct my first feature film, a small film called Placebo Effect. I did not write it, I’m just a hired gun so I kinda did everything the way you’re supposed to but my career kinda unfolded backwards. Since then I’ve written probably about 35 feature scripts by now… a ton of writing. Did a few years of entertainment, marketing, copy writer which landed me at Final Draft as the Marketing Director. I’m now the Director of Education there so I deal with gurus and teachers and film schools from around the world. Then I travelled the world to teach screen writing and to teach Final Draft; so that’s sort of the day job while still pursuing the screen writing treating which is very much alive and well for me.
And like Johnny said, the first project that we sold was the Final Girl which the two of us wrote with our other partners Stephen Scarlata who couldn’t make it today because he’s still doing some editing in a film that he directed. But that was a part that kind of put us on the map and gain this access to managers and agents that got us signed. And that’s where we are today. Over the last year, we started to transition into TV writing; especially after Johnny spent with David Milch. You know with a mentor like that, you’d be a fool not to go down that road. So, we’re going down that road. We still write features. But we certainly do a lot of TV writing and were both still active directors looking to get another future directing credit under both our belts, you know; over the next year or so.
Ashley: Perfect! So, let’s dig into Final Girl a little bit. This is not really a script marketing question, but I’ve written a lot of scripts with other people so I’m always curious how teams work. I’ve never been involved with a three-person-writing-team. So that seems a little bit, a definitely more people, more egos, more potential growth, places where people might have some friction. So this was just a spec script, maybe you can tell of us sort of the logistics. How do you guys write together as a team of three? Does one person take some scenes and write them and the other people edit them? How does that all work and come together into one succinct voice that is that final script.
Alejandro: I think we had a unique situation that landed us in this mina c’est toi and follow the rules of mina c’est toi… it’s like “watch where you reach and grab”. We kept our distances and as far ego… there were no ego issues at all. I mean the very short story of it was, that originally it’s something that Steve and I started writing, Johnny was gonna produce it, I was gonna direct it as my second feature film and we were gonna try to make it at a very very very low budget; a low budget under $200,000. And I’ll let Johnny tell the story of how we actually sold that script. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned there, but eventually; at one point we went from… ”ok you guys are gonna produce and direct… we wanna buy the script… we got an exciting director to get to come on board” and all the stuff that’s gonna happen if you guys are willing to step down. And we did. And I didn’t want to leave Johnny out in the cold. There was nothing on the table as far as the money between us. So we invited him to join us as a writer so he was still a part of the project and still has his name on it. You know, he was already a screen writer. He was serving as a producer initially but he was already a screen writer. And he just joined the circus with that.
Ashley: I see, ok. So, yeah Johnny, why don’t you take us to the next step and kinda tell us how you guys marketed the script and eventually sold it.
Johnny: Well, first and foremost this is a collaborated art form, so the nos in that once you write something and you put it on page, it’s gonna stay that way. Nobody else will ever have an opinion or idea that will improve that product or sort of uh… it’s a front. And we went in on to creating Final Girl knowing that when Steve and Alejandro brought Final Girl to be; I saw a potential in it. And it’s serviced and marketed at the right place and at the right time, it was something we could make for the right budget. So we went about creating the packaging and the marketing materials for Final Girl.
But in looking into Final Girl, I had a lot of different ideas and suggestions and I would bring them up to Alejandro and to Steve, and eventually we got to a point, and they were like “hey, we’ll just take crack at it” for the writing perspective. And then, Alejandro and I worked on a technique “take a crack at it” from the marketing perspective. So as we were sort of creating the rewrite for Final Girl, we were also creating the marketing materials, which is we created a very thorough look book or marketing book.
We also had a pretty, vivid plan that included distribution, that included what the budget would or should be; and A, B and C scenarios. And also sort of did our due diligence knowing the type of places that will go to the type of places that will produce it. Would they be looking to make it or who they would be looking to attach to it. We went to a lot of different events and organizations and around town to print, that we knew. And we actually were showing them the marketing material before we even show them the script. And 9 times out of 9 people were responding to the marketing material saying “Hey this is something that most screen writers don’t do. This is something that most film makers failed to do. They always tell a scrap of their story and then they wanna drop the script on us and then they’d sit at home waiting for the big check to come. But you guys are showing us that’s how the business of your project could actually work.”
Well, we went around to a lot of different, really big managers in their company, who were our friends, who saw the potential in the material; made calls and moving around. Part of our regimen of this creating projects and getting projects and getting some feedback is development no longer discussed at the studio level unless you’re an A-lister; is to utilize a lot screen writing contest; a lot of producing contest or festival things of that sort.
So we were submitting another project that I produced, I was attached as a producer, that Alejandro wrote; that we were gonna do also on the same pane of Final Girl but of different project. A drama to the Sundance producing lab. And we got a callback from the producing lab… from one of the producer at the producing lab was that… you know… uh… “absolutely love this package, absolutely love this project. I can tell you we’re not gonna break it into Sundance but if there’s anything else that you guys have… you know… I’m looking for… contain thrillers or horror if you have anything like that.”
Well we have Final Girl and at that point we had just finished the Final Girl rewrite. So, I submitted Final Girl and this wasn’t something I must’ve done, like the email. I literally got a call in the middle of the night from the producer who had read the project right after I sent it. And said, “I want this… I wanna make this… I have some friends in town… let’s get this going.” So, there was a really big executive producer that had just left a fishy position at a studio. It’s one of the studios that had made a lot of film that Alejandro, Stephen and I love who was sort of moving into the independent universe. And this is one the projects that he wanted to do so we did a short form option with him. And they started putting the wheels to get us a push this Final Girl this long.
And at that point Alejandro was still attached to direct, I was still attached as one of the producers. We all have writing credits because I did it to past on Final Girl too. And then from there those guys… the options sort of ran out and when the option ran out the producer will keep us from Sundance but we winded up at another company that had just won an Academy Award as the Head of Development. And he said, “this is the first film that I wanna make… I have a producer, a director attached.” He has access to talent and we also have investors looking at this project. So we did another option which basically turned into a sale. Which eventually winded up being packaged by agencies, ICM. And from there, they insist trying to roll in the monks.
So, it was a mix of being at the right place at the right time but also having the right marketing plan. Because it seems that from the time that we created Final Girl to the time that we literally got the check for Final Girl… all the companies that we went to… all the people that we went to were still using our original marketing and distribution plan and strategy. And even to this day that people refer back to it. It was so good that it was just weird because at one point they did to participate as producers… I said, “look I’m gonna reduce your strategy anyways you guys finally spoke to producers.” But to not mock up the deal, they asked us. Which we were fine, go on. All in the name of the project.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Let’s pack up a little bit. There’s a bunch.. I mean there’s a lot of great lessons in that so I’m just kinda… trying to dig in to some of the things you said. First of, one thing that occurs me. Since this is a movie that’s already been made… I wonder if you guys would be willing to send me like the PDF of all this marketing materials? And I can post them online for people to look at. Is that something that you could share with the listeners?
Johnny: Okay. So we will send you some of the marketing materials and the reason why I wouldn’t send you… I couldn’t send you all is because I actually have a side business where I create this marketing material for film makers. And it’s based off on the lessons that we have learned and scaling down our approach to what works. So I’m more than happy to share with you and your listeners all that I can.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Anything… anything is better than nothing. So, yeah that’d be good. We’ll talk about that after the interview and we’ll get that arranged. A couple of questions. What you said, you created a look book. Let’s just define for the audience what is a look book for a feature film?
Johnny: Okay, so, if you’re familiar with the marketing world or if you’re not familiar with the marketing world, all products before they go into the final phase of mass production are usually clipped into a look book. Which means it’s a book… a magazine style layout which shows your product and associates it with the lifestyle that it would be. So say for instance if it were jeans, you would be a book full of beautiful people wearing jeans, riding horses, walking down the beach yadah yadah yadah.
Well this concept also applies to films. Lot of the times, we don’t have the means to create the assets to show our ideas. So sometimes you have to create things that are very similar that are in the fame of the idea. So a look book encompasses your idea of the world of your film, but it also tell a story about your product… it should tell a story about you as a film maker… it should a story about your characters… it should be able to communicate to producers to investors to distributor and to a lay person what your film will be… what it’ll feel like… what it’ll taste… what it taste like… what it look like and if you’re smart you’ll actually include business information that’ll give investors an idea of what they can look to get back off in their investment.
Ashley: Uhm.hm. So do you literally create images? You get actors, you get a still photographer and you shoot like little snapshots from the movie or do you grab images from other films that are of similar tone?
Johnny: Sometimes it takes the hybrid. The only problem with hybrid or grabbing images from other films is you’re setting yourself up to live by the expectation of those films. Like, so if I’m creating a gangster film and I grabbed scenes from the Godfather. Well, the Godfather is one of the most iconic gangster films in the history of cinema. So, everything less than the Godfather is just… you’re lying to your investors, you’re lying to the producers. So at times we’ll actually create the images from scratch which is we use our own actors, our own set ups things like that. But at other times we’ll grab films that are in the vain but we’ll put it on disclaimers like this is not in the vain… this is not what we’ve done we don’t have anybody on our crew that shot the Godfather but this is the look that we’re going after or this is the feel that we’re going after.
Johnny: So it’s sort of a mismatch. It depends on the project. With Final Girl, we used a lot of original imagery. We relied a lot on sort of mall marketing experience, Alejandro’s marketing experience… etc. Earlier, he worked for a trailer company and I had cut trailers before so we were sort of used to creating this very short form visual representations of what a film should look like or what the film should look like. So we used that editing knowledge to create a look book.
So to answer your question, sorry if I’m long winding, but to answer your question it just depends on what the project is, it depends on what assets you have available to you. It depends on who you’re working with. If you’re trying to sell a horror film for instance, there’s a lot of things that you can use that are in the news, that are in the public domain because they are not selling a look book, that’s just a marketing material. The things that you can use that can sort of tell your story and give you the look and the style that you want without infringing on somebody else’s franchise. I wouldn’t take the image from Saw but there’s a lot of great photography in newspapers, there’s a lot of things that you can use that will give you that same visual representation.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So then let’s define just a little bit what is an… and I guess what you’re saying is… you were ultimately getting to is… you have like a distribution plan and a marketing plan and you wrapped that into the look book, is that correct?
Johnny: Yes, but please make note that your look book is different than your business plan and your business strategy. I learned a lot of this from Alejandro and I learned a lot of this from working for marketing companies… I’m of the mindset that everything that we do should be visual and should express creativity and individuality and have some artistic flare.
So I could create lot of different documents that are still very visually stimulating. Simply, your business plan is going to lawyers, to business managers and to bankers and to investors and people who only care about numbers. But they’ve spent their entire lives looking at black numbers on white pages or looking at computer screen. So I suggest to add a little bit more flare to the business plan. Your look book should just be essentially a visual telling of the style and the feel of your story. That’s what your look book should be. Your look book is a document you should be open to sharing with a lot of people but your business plan you should share with nobody, only investors.
Ashley: I see. So what goes in to like a distribution plan and this marketing plan that you guys came up with?
Johnny: Okay. So, in the distribution plan and a marketing plan, you have to have your business strategies. The business plan is similar to business plans for starting up any other business which talks about sort of what you need, what you want and where it’s gonna go. But in the distribution strategy, you have to seriously isolate who your audience is, how you’re going to communicate your product to your audience, your film to your audience, your story to your audience. And how you’re going to utilize a lot of the companies that would do business with your type of product to get them to do the same.
So in our distribution plan we seriously isolated the types of companies that would be distributing our film. We knew that we had a thriller that was a female-driven thriller that has all the female protagonist and female antagonist. It was dark, it was moving it was shocking. There’s no way that certain companies are going to sell this type of film. They’re not in the business of doing that. That came from us doing research. So doing that research, we looked at sort of what would the film set, the company set, would distribute this type of film? What were they releasing? What were they releasing that year…? Was it a release a year before that or what they released the year after that sort of what are the looks that they are requiring…? We looked at all this material and we sort of cartel our material to that material. Just to give us a closer estimation of what business would look like.
So in our distribution plan instead of saying “we’re gonna wind up going to Sundance and at Sundance we’re gonna have the highest acquisition in the history of Sundance, we’re gonna sell this movie for 10 million dollars and it’s gonna make a hundred million dollars at opening weekend and we’re all gonna have Ferraris and Tyrannosaurus Rexs…” we say… Lions Gate is a type of company that would distribute this film… Magnet is a type of company that would distribute this film… These are the acquisitions that they had this year and this is about the level that we are going for so this is what the distribution strategy will be… will be to attack these types of companies… these are the places where those companies would do business so you’re distribution plan will say, okay we definitely are gonna be at the Cannes film market… we’re definitely gonna be at the AFM film market… We’re definitely gonna be at the Guadalajara film market. And having that, it gave us more of an opportunity to do business with these people as opposed to not doing business with these people. And it was all in the book. Everything was in the book.
Ashley: Yeah. So the distribution plan, you don’t’ approach any distributors at this point. It’s just to document, basically what you’re gonna do once the film is finished.
Johnny: No. Not really correct. Once again, I know your listeners are very professional. I know some of them are producers and some of them already have distribution relationships. So, I’m gonna have a kit of getting all the information, doing all your due diligence before going out into the marketplace. I just don’t like to have egg on my face. So if you have those relationships, you reach out to those relationships and you say, “this is the film that I wanna make, this is the type of place that I would like it played, what would I need to do business with your company, what are the actors that I would need to do business with your company…” You get the information from the distribution company if you can.
If you don’t have access to distribution companies, if you don’t have access to individuals who have relationships who have sold and actually fulfilled their obligations to distribution companies then that’s when you have to seek out partnerships. And those partnerships are the people that you have to attract so those partners also happen that they require the type of material that you’re looking for the places that they do business. In our package we did a lot of due diligence very very early on… we did a lot of our research early on… we may have to call, some sent out emails… we went to the marketplaces, we shook the hands we kissed the baby we sat down with the distributors… so we had a very in depth understanding of where our film will go the worst case scenario, where our film will go the best case scenario… based on the market from the business side of it. We don’t wanna overshoot the market. Like if we had a home run that would be awesome. But we don’t live for home runs, we live for page runs.
Alejandro: Yeah, you gotta play it very conservatively. An amateur business plan is the guy that quotes Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch. That is a once in a lifetime scenario. Lightning rarely strikes twice in that kind of way. So we don’t play that kit. I now, since the whole Final Girl thing, I’ve optioned two scripts to a producer who is actually one of our mentors and she has background in Presales and Distribution. So she took my scripts, they were both low budget thrillers and she would take them to big distribution companies international companies and say please read this. That’s where the relationship comes in, they would read it and she would say, you tell me how much this movie is worth and who I need in it to sell it for how much and where. And then she gets those numbers and then you start to work backwards from that. And you work very conservatively. You have to be physically responsible and those numbers really low. And worst case scenario, you’re gonna meet expectation. Best case scenario you might be that Blair Witch home run. But if not, no one’s gonna lose their butts on it.
Johnny: And I can tell you from experience… this year looked at maybe a hundred business plans and 90 percent of them quote Saw and Blair Witch and… like… it’s just remarkable… and a lot of these are created by lawyers who make a lot more money than I do and who do business plans for other types of businesses but when it comes to the movie industry, there’s some sort of magic and mystique that people wanna sell without… for lacking a better word, a lot of people bullshit in their business plans.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I’m curious… I mean… I’ve been in the industry for years… I’ve certainly heard of Canne and AFM and I’ve never heard of the Guadalajara film market. How did you guys get the background to know about that stuff?
Johnny: As being people…? [laughs]
Alejandro: And we both happen to be Latino film makers. We don’t specifically and only write Latino-themed projects, whatever that means, but in the case of Final Girl, initially there was a Latina protagonist in it. Obviously, that was a smart place to start to look. And we hit on through a few fellowships, that were diversity fellowships, where some of these relationships were tied in to those world. Like Johnny said, just finding out information. And it’s really… looking at your project and thinking about what can this be… can this be the hottest Latino thriller that comes out? In the last few years let’s explore that world… or is it gonna be a strayed out thriller… white American protagonist, in that case, what do you need and what are you gonna do?
So it’s kinda like looking over under every rock. And seeing what the potential is. And being flexible because you know what, if the business dictates it, somebody’s gonna tell you to change something along the line so if you can beat them to it and creatively leave it in organically so it doesn’t feel like well you just changed that name just because that was the easy sell for you there. But to make it organic, it makes a whole lot of difference. And as a writer with a producer head-on that’s the smart move.
Ashley: Yeah. So, in building this distribution plan, where can someone just do the researches? Is IMDB Pro enough? Where can someone research these companies?
Johnny: Once again, this is what I would suggest. And if you live in Los Angeles and if you live near California, I would suggest every year or at least one time go to the AFM market. It happens in November. Passes are a little bit expensive, combinations are a little bit expensive. But get to the market… walk around the market… walk around on the 12th floor… talk to as many small distributors as you can… try to talk to as many big distributors as you can… introduce yourself… Go and educate yourself on how and where films make money.
The reason why IMDb pro isn’t enough and the reason why other sites aren’t enough box office mojo… You need somebody that actually has the experience of delivering a project to a distributor and has good relationships. And if you don’t have that, your goals would be to partner up with that individual. You simply have to ask yourself, where do independent films or where do films make money…? How do they make money? By asking yourself that question, you’ll start to create a lot of answers for yourself. So, you can do a lot of the research… you can have the information… but that doesn’t necessarily make you capable of doing your own comps because there’s a lot information that’s not presented there. Like people know for certain what are the turn keys… what was just… a force upon a company so another company can continue doing business with the company but that they didn’t really like. And you can put that as one of your comps and you’ve already ostracized a distribution partner or a potential distribution partner. Your goals would be to attract bigger fish.
And that’s what we did with Final Girl. Alejandro and I are capable of shooting and delivering a great product to the marketplace. I believe so. But, is it better for us to have attracted bigger fish that we have and have them take it to the bigger company that he is working for… and have the will if you put it on that way? Absolutely! And move fast, everybody calls us a lightning in a bottle. So, the goal should be to attract people that had a lot more experience and bigger contacts and access than you. You’re gonna partner up with those people and create packages that acts beholds.
See, the term “package” people throw around a lot. And it’s this one of old Hollywood myths. People would like “what is packaging?” Was there an entire department, agencies and management companies and production companies that deal with packaging? It is creative partnerships and strategic partnerships that will move the needle further than going get along. So we did the same thing with Final Girl, we just did it on a micro scale. We sort of knew what we would need. We put the tight dress on and a lipstick and a perfume and a high-heels and we all knew what we’re trying to attract. We knew what type of individuals we needed to help us push on for the next level.
So, to answer your question, I would say that you can start by having the professional tools to allow yourself access to the information. You can read the trade, you can get trades doing at the market, doing at the Cannes Film Festival, doing to Berlin market, doing the American film market… You can get the trade at that time and sort of read and see what’s being required… how much is being required… where the needles are moving yet… But to create a material for yourself, I would always say, first and foremost, try to seek a professional partnership. If you don’t have access to a professional partnership, listen to blogs like this one. Get the information… listen to the people that are talking… do your research… try to reach on Facebook… try to reach out on Instagram… The beautiful thing about this world is that we’re all sort of connected now. So, the soft approach is at times more advantageous than just “hey, here, be my partner, buy my script, make the movie, I’m great”. That really doesn’t work anymore. Always invest in the tools and use them to attract bigger better fish. And hopefully that fish can attract bigger better people.
Alejandro: I’ll give you the short answer to that, too. If you’re diagnosed with a tumor and you’re about to get divorced, you’re not gonna go and start studying law and that is to cure yourself or help yourself. You’re gonna go to a professional. For the amount of money that, let’s say an East Coast screenwriter would spend to go to one of these conferences like story expo or script expo, whatever… The amount of money you would spend to travel, stay in a hotel, feed yourself, take a few people out to drink etc, you could’ve spent that money paying somebody like Johnny to do this business plan for you and like you said, and get yourself to that next level. So, it’s not a terrible amount of money. It certainly way less than you would spend on that dream that you may have of shooting a trailer or teaser for your project. And it would be money well spent. And you should spend. You should be willing to invest. If this isn’t a hobby then you should be willing to invest some money to get it to the next level. Certainly, you wanna educate yourself, to get up on your feet and all those things that Johnny suggested but you don’t want to tap all these on your own. I mean, we sold Final Girl because of our business plan. Regardless of how great or bad the script may have been, it’s the business plan that got us in the room. And it was being in the room got us the deal.
Ashley: That’s an excellent point. I mean, for the amount of money that you’re gonna spend going to one of these so called screen-writing conference, you could just buy a plane ticket to Santa Monica and go to AFM in November and… Probably a better investment, actually talking to real producers than talking to budget gurus at a screen-writing conference.
Let’s move on. I just wanna hit one other thing about Final Girl, that you guys were talking about. It seems that screen-writing labs… Sundance labs… those have opened some doors for you guys and it’s always interesting to hear too, it’s not like you guys were just the blockbuster winner of Sundance lab but it was enough to kind of make some good contacts. How many of these different screen-writing labs did you enter over the course of your careers? I always ask this kind of question just so people understand the scope. It’s not like you entered one contest and you’re off to the races. People need to understand that it generally takes entering many of these things and getting rejected many times and not getting anything out of them to actually get to that one point where you do get something out of that.
Johnny: We still enter them. To be a hundred percent honest with you, we still enter them. It’s sort of part of our regimen. We don’t enter into them thinking that we’re gonna win and that’s gonna be the golden ticket that’s gonna take us to the next level. We enter them because that process of entering… of pain of your product being rejected; it builds you up as a screen writer and as a business person; but it also exposes other individuals to your product. So when people respond favorably to that product – to that script or to that treatment, or whatever you’re submitting; that’s a positive for you. One that Alejandro and I do is we sort of always make the rounds of these festivals, of these contests; we limit them down to the ones that really do matter. The ones that matters to the upper excellent producers and agents and companies and things of that sort. After making the rounds, we have no expectations of those projects, sort of send them out and forget about them. If anything comes back that’s a “yey” for us; that’s another feather in our hat; that’s another tool for us to mark ourselves. But it’s very important to investing yourself like what Alejandro said to invest in your product. For every script that you write like if you’re not going to create a business plan for yourself; you should plan on investing between 500 and 1500 dollars in just that process. In just sort of developing it on your own; of getting notes back from certain organizations or certain companies being to that nature. Not that it’s gonna make you write the best script ever, but that process of investing in your product and getting feedback and taking that feedback in, that it makes you grow as a better person. It’s you taking your career seriously…
Ashley: I wonder if you guys could just quickly list because I always get this question. What are the labs in the contest that you guys still enter that you think actually carry some weight within the industry. Maybe just quickly list them so that people can know which ones they might spend their money on.
Alejandro: I can give you a few of those actually. You were specifically asking numbers and times and I have a couple of really interesting notes about that, that maybe will help others. The Sundance Lab. I had the theme of projects that we submitted to the Producers Lab. I had submitted to the Writers Lab. It made the semifinal three years in a row. But it took that one time where we just side-stepped it, went to the Producers lab instead. We still didn’t get in, like Johnny said, but that’s how we met the producer that ended up as Executive Producer; that ended up being our cheer leader and got our film made. So, you don’t enter to win, you enter to get exposed, you enter to get feedback and to become better and know more people. One of the other programs that we had a lot of stuff to do is NALIP which is a Latino independent producers organization. Their conferences throughout had infected a number of executives from Hollywood and we went through there with the Producers Lab, the Final Girl, went to their Producers lab with Johnny. That same drama from the Sundance Lab went through their Latino media market. And then Final Girl also went through their Latino media market. Basically, they pitched that as very handfully picked project.
One of the producing mentors in the Producers Lab ended up being the woman who optioned to my script in this past year. So, I think every single yield, everything we’ve done, every serious meeting has some way or another has come out of these labs a fellowship. Sundance there is close to the top. I went through a nasty television writing fellowship. Unfortunately, they lost their fundings. I know that Johnny went to the Cosby Fellowship and that’s a very prestigious program…
Johnny: I would say if you have to do four or aim at five from a writing perspective there’s always the nickels. There’s the Sundance Writing Lab, there’s IFT Independent; there’s the screen writing program, and there’s also the producing program. You have Final Draft Screenwriting contest, it’s a script contest. Blue Cat will be the fifth one.
So, if you just have five, I would also say that if you’re looking at doing more than five, look at the ones that give you maximum exposure and that will put you in a place where you can sort of meet these producers that we’re talking about. So, there’s often, there’s always a bunch of them associated with Toronto, the Toronto International Film Festival. Usually all of the big film festivals have sort of screenplay producing off shoot. You just have to search for information and make sure you’re dead on with its aim. For television, the Diversity labs, every major network has a Diversity lab. For women and minorities, the Diversity lab is there. For non-women and non-minorities is almost as guarantee as you sort of getting a representation that you’re seeking and it’s a huge feather in that.
Just look at the ones that give you maximum exposure and you’ll see those contests, they’re usually the ones that cost the most and they’re the ones doing the most marketing. But regional too, sometimes being a big fish in a small pond is worst a lot. So if you live in a place like Kentucky, or places like Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Mexico… any of the places that have a lot of taxes in it and that producers are coming to the shoot. Winning that regional screenplay or producing concept for that small film festival will give you a talking point where those people do come to town and you’re marketing yourself. You might meet them in a bar… you might meet them at a hotel… and say, yeah this one is best in a spark of a conversation. Plus it looks good on your resumé.
Alejandro: And I would also say, feedback, anyone who gives your coverage pack and decent coverage… you will pay more for coverage than some of these concept comps to enter. Sometimes, Johnny and I, we believe in a very fast development process. The way we do that is we get a lot of feedback right away from a lot of trusted people and put it on our rewrite and get it ready for market. One very affordable, if you don’t have those kinds of friends that are knowledgeable enough and willing to read for free, some of these contests will cost you less to enter and give you back feedback than it’ll cost you to just pay any old reader out of film school. Looking at that… I had feedback from great feeds, I had gotten great coverage for them in that year. Johnny, you have a few favorites when it comes to that, don’t you?
Johnny: Yeah, yeah.
Ashley: I think we should schedule a 2-hour call because I can talk to you, guys, for hours about these stuff. You guys just have a wealthy of information. I really wanna get in to your current project ‘cause I think you guys are doing some, again, some really interesting things on the marketing front with that. So let’s quickly talk about that. Talk about Driven and what your marketing plan looks like for that and how you’re going about executing that?
Johnny: It’s funny that you said that. ‘Cause I literally have to deliver the look book for Driven today. Driven is a project that I wrote after my mentoring-from-David notes based on Los Angeles-based limousine company and a limo driver that moonlights for the mob to pay off a debt. By day he drives for league, by night he’s a get-away driver the mob and in the meantime he’s got to solve a bunch of personal problems that he has. One of the things that I did not wanna do because television is sort of taking this new direction that’s very similar to independent film, but it’s not. It’s little bit more of regiment. ‘Cause I don’t wanna sit around and wait 10 years in a development pool with Driven. My agent and my manager are both… were currently working out with it but what I wanted to do is apply some of these lessons that we have been talking about from the marketing perspective to Driven.
So, the first that I did is when I had the idea and I wrote the script and I was confident with the script, that was about 9 rewrites in… I started reaching out to a lot of my friends that I developed in years, managers, agents and actors. And I had them read the project. I can tell them I wanted anything from them, I just wanted their feedback. And they started responding back to the project, actors approached me and said, “I really wanna do this”. One of them was a friend of mine who is doing a lot of television, who is up for a lot of awards even this year… they’re totting his film was having an Oscar night. He heard about the project, he called me and said, “I don’t what my agent says…”, his with a big agency, “I don’t care what my manager says, this project is for me”. So I said, “jump with the pool with me, I wanna do bunch of marketing stuff, I wanna do a bunch of shoots and small video stuff and eventually put together a mini-upfront. If you wanna do this project, put your money where the mouth is and get down with it”. So he agreed to it and together, we’ve started going out to a lot of show runners and directors who we have been tracking… who we knew sort of favorable to different television networks who worked next to have their show. They responded right away to the material.
But while we were going off to them, we were shooting combo material, him and I. I used all of the film making skills I had all editing skills and all the favors that I have to shot a lot of promotional material and put together a package. So when we sit down and go in these meetings, I’ll hand people this package. And they’re like, “is this project already done?” and I was like “no, this is the project I wanna do… this project we wanna do and this is some sort of what we feel about it”. It’s an art project that comes along with the project. People responded right away. Like, this manager, and he’s a really big manager… really big agent, they saw the material they went nuts. They literally turned down other television shows and said “we wanna focus on this” because this is exactly what we have in our mind for our clients. We approached a TV director who’s also a TV producer… who has done a bunch of pilot work plays… worked with every network under the sun. He sat down and saw the material, he came off of his vacation and said “I wanna work with it”. So, it’s fast forwarding to about two weeks ago, we put together a mini upfront where we’re gonna showcase both the art project that I had been shooting and along with the actor and do a table read simultaneously but in a very sleek and sexy way that encompasses both the world and my style that can give the actors and the producers and all individuals that we invited there, just comfortable feeling, to kick back and read the script. So, we did that was a success and we got a lot of interest all throughout our presentation.
The visual representation of the project is magnificent and we hired a really big casting director to cast named actors, not just great actors, but named actors. People that had their own draw to participate in this. We got a lot of nos… we got a lot of big yeses. The agency came out… the production company came out… the networks came out. So it was a radical strategy but the entire time people had been telling us, “TV is not sold this way…” TV is very regimented. You have to go through your agent, your managers and they have to submit to the right production companies who has a deal… x, y and z… But when we presented the material, when we told people what we were doing, they responded as “I would love to go to this” as opposed to having to read a ton of scripts and provide feedback. And said if you guys is successful, you guys changed the way TV is sold.
Ashley: Yeah. And that’s kind of the obvious question is, how do you approach or get a list of producers to approach? What do you do? Do you email them? Does your agent email them? Do you cold call them?
Johnny: Everybody has to work. All of the above, that’s the short answer. We were meticulous about our list, first and foremost. We looked at… okay… this can never be on ABC… it couldn’t be on certain networks… but we still wanna make sure that we have the buzz. So we leaned on a lot of our friendships. Once the agencies, both Ken Winningham who’s my other producing partner and Mall McCray, they’re both really big agents. Ken is a huge television director. Once his people get a hold of a project, they make calls. Most of the agents and managers make calls. My agent and manager make calls. And we called our friends. Then we specifically sent out the project, the script and the package prior to sending out the invite so that people will have it and they will sort of forget about it. And then when we sent out the invite, people were like “hey, what is this”? It forces them to pick up the script and read through it. We went after corporate partnerships… we went after branding partnerships… because it’s a show and all of television and all entertainment is about selling and we figure why not start early. And once we got a lot of those partnerships, Alejandro helped out a lot with that, it really solidified the project being real and tangible and people wanted to be a part of it. We made it fun and sexy and sophisticated and people love that. It gave them a break up from their Monday.
Ashley: What’s the end game with the table read like this? Essentially, you’ve brought in agents, managers, people from the studios… you’re hoping that after the table read one of them will basically say “hey we wanna buy this project and we wanna go ahead and produce it?”
Johnny: Absolutely. That is the end game. That is the ultimate end game and I’m very transparent in that. This is a feel stage. It was a feel stage and it was a successful felt stage because we are getting the comment so now it’s some sort of strategizing where the business goes from there. But for me it was also about seeing if I can do something that I had in my end that I knew nobody else is doing. Like, I had no competition for this. The only time an upfront is done is for a project that’s already been shot and the marketing material has been professionally produced and it’s being presented for the network. That’s the next stage. This was radical because none of that had been done. The only that had been done was essentially a half-year work of an art project where I got actors and photographers and videographers and cinematographers shoot being that were in my mind being derivative of the world. So, I just wanted to test my own metal and see if I can get it done, and I got it done. But I also wanted to see sort of what would happen if you went this way as opposed to going the traditional way.
I do have projects, Alejandro and I have other projects… television projects… feature film… that are being marketed the traditional way. Since we are agents submitting them… us getting feedback… get in the room, you pitch… you wait on the feedback from there… you go back… I have projects like that. Because Driven is so close to me and I love this project so much… I literally… I wanna do it more than anything… I just wanted to take a different approach to it. And everybody told me not to, and I’m just a rebel.
Ashley: Yeah, outside the box thinking. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. It’s just getting out there and doing stuff and if nobody else is doing it, as you say, that actually adds to the sort of the luster of it.
Alejandro: Folks now know his name and anything else… we do have other projects though, even if somebody ends up picking up Driven, they’ll remember his name. When our next bible goes out, they’re gonna be like “oh yeah this is the guy that know how the feel is next to the party… I will repeat it. ‘Cause last time I gave him a chance, he impressed me”. So, even if you don’t like the concept, even if you don’t get a direct win, you still win.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. Well, you guys have both been generous of your time. This has been a great interview as I said, I think we can go on for hours. What’s the best way for people to contact you and maybe if you wanna give an email, give an email or your Twitter account or blog… anything you wanna do. Johnny, why don’t you go first and just tell us how people can keep up with what you’re doing and potentially ask you a question if they have any?
Johnny: Absolutely. I’m on Facebook… I’m on Instagram… @johnny_silver. On Facebook it’s Johnny T. Silver or Johnny the Director… you can look up any of those things… I’ll leave my email address with you so if anybody wants to contact me or ask me a question, I’m open to all questions… yeah, that’s the best way to contact me.
Ashley: Perfect! Alejandro, how about yourself?
Alejandro: And for me, I think the best way is through my work email, that’s something I’m on all day long every day which is my last name [email protected]. And if you wanna ask technical question I’ll try to answer that too.
Ashley: Perfect! I’ll link all these stuff on the show notes. Just so people won’t have to write it down, they can just click on the show notes. And I’ll link to your Facebook page, Instagram page, Johnny. I’ll put your email address in there, Alejandro.
So once again, guys, you’ve been really generous. This has been a very enlightening episode. I mean, it’s got me thinking about some potentially marketing materials that I should be doing for my own scripts. So, I really appreciate you guys coming on the show.
Johnny: Let me know when you’re ready to create films.
Ashley: You know, I wrote down, while we were talking, I wrote down the question… what does, if you don’t mind sharing that, how much is the cost to create the marketing materials for a feature script? Just give us a ballpark range… just a ballpark range would probably be helpful.
Johnny: It depends… it depends on the project, it depends on what assets have to be created. But I say budget to spend between $2,500 and $5,000. But $5,000 is more on if you start and wanted to get other things like business plans and giving the script rolled down and scheduled and things like that… it will be a little bit more expensive. If you’re looking at just creating marketing material to attract big fish that will do that stuff anyway, it’s not as expensive… I take it on a case by case basis. A turned a lot of work down but I could take a lot of work but I could do a lot of charities as well. I can facilitate you, I can direct you to individuals who can facilitate you.
Ashley: Do you have a website where your business is? Maybe we can go to that.
Johnny: It’s in process… I’ve been busy writing.
Ashley: Perfect. So when you get that, email that to me so I can put into show notes for people that listened to this podcast, you know months down the road.
Once again guys, this has been very informal, but I really appreciate you guys coming on the show.
Alejandro: Thank you, Ashley.
[end of interview]
I’m gonna be running another online class called Before You Begin To Write Your Screenplay. I’m gonna be discussing the very steps that you should be taking before you began to actually write your screenplay. I’ll be showing you the exact process that I use. I see too many screenwriters who begin writing before they’re ready is what happens is they end up with a screenplay chalkful of problems. And once that first draft is ready, it becomes very difficult to fix problems that could’ve been easily fixed in the outlining stage. This class is the second one in the series of classes that I’m doing that will guide you through your entire screenwriting process. From coming up to a marketable concept to outlining and writing your screenplay to marketing your screenplay to agents and producers.
If you missed the first class, that’s not a problem. I record it and have put it to the SYS Select forum for you to listen to at your leisure. This class is gonna be on Saturday, October 18th, at 10AM Pacific Time. If you like to learn more about this class, go to www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/classes. If you’re listening to this after October 18th, that’s not a problem. I will record this class as well and I will put it in the SYS Select Library. To learn how you can get all those classes, just go to www.SellingYourScreenplaySelect.com.
In the next episode of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Danny Bramson, who was a producer on the recent film Jimi: All Is by My Side. So keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up, I just wanna touch on the few things from today’s interview with Alejandro and Johnny. Obviously, there’s a ton of valuable information in this interview. If you didn’t get some value out of it, you’re just listening to the wrong podcast.
The main thing that stands out to me, and forget about all the logistics and specifics of what they’re doing; that’s all great stuff and you should definitely listen to that. But the main thing that stands out to me is just how hard these guys are working. These guys are super smart, they’re working incredibly hard and they’re hungry. And I believe that this is the sort of effort that it takes to succeed in this business. Really listen to what’s going on with these guys and understand that’s the sort of effort and dedication it takes. You’re competing with guys like this for the precious few screenwriting jobs that are out there. So, if you’re not willing put forward this sort of effort, what chance do you really have?
Anyway, that’s the show. Thanks for listening.
[end of audio]