This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 044: An Interview With Writer, Director, Producer John Suits.
Welcome to Episode 44 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 John Suits. John is a writer/director and producer. He’s doing low budget genre films and having a fair amount of success with them. We talk extensively about how he got his star and how he’s maintained a career. 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/podcasts and then just look for Episode number 44.
Also, 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 writer/director/producer John Suits. Here is the interview:
Ashley: Welcome John to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
John: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be on the show.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career and kinda how you got to being a producer and a director.
John: So I went kind of DIY model, I think, in a lot of ways where I started making movies when I was an undergrad. So I actually made 2 amazingly awesome movies features while an undergrad that you will never find anywhere; and learned a lot of lessons about how not to make a movie and some things went well some things didn’t.
They were great learning experiences and I think every failure is so I did those and then I was, at the time in school in Virginia, and I moved out here for grad school at a school called ‘Cal arts’ and I was going there for film directing. And then there I was in a program with another student named Gabriel Callen so we met and immediately hit off and found we had similar sensibilities and after our first year we’re looking at..; I was like ‘I want to make another movie’ and ended up making this film for basically you know, 20 grand called ‘Breathing room’ and the idea was, like ‘OK, well we know we should make something genre’ ‘cause we were told that’s what you can sell and we were like ‘OK, it’s gotta be one small case without costume changes and just trying to find a way to make it as simplistic as possible. And we shot it, I think, in 7 and a half days. So it was a pretty crazing shooting and from when I started writing screenplay to when the shooting was I think 4 weeks so it was a really interesting experience.
And that movie we end up selling worldwide and it came up domestically through Anchor Bay and then after that, in my thesis I made a film which was a drama, kind of a slight drama about a family and gave a documentary and everyone told us ‘You can’t make money on those’, and of course since I was a film student I knew better than all the professionals.
And anyway, I used mine, like bunch of loan student money and money I made for breathing room and so on, and so forth and the movie got distributed but it didn’t you know at all re-coop and similar with documentary and so I went back to the genre stuff. And Gabe directed this film called ‘Growth’ which we wrote when we just graduated and it was a Sci-Fi film and our goal with that was like ‘let’s make it look big budget.’ So let’s do everything we can to try to, you know, we had two visual effects shots, Ariel shots, underwater shots, and it went to No.1 on iTunes, ‘Rental in a Horse action’ when it went domestically. And that was a really good experience.
And then I also got hired to direct a film I wrote in school called ‘Second take’ which was a dramedy and again a great learning experience. And then I decided, I said ‘So now I’ve done a movie which is in $5000 range or a little under that. Now I want to make a movie like 5 million dollars movie. So in the next year I tried to make a 5 million dollars movie made.
And the whole time through the process thought ‘I’ve got it. I just need Louisiana, Texas, and that thing; and this guy is going to give us money, and that guy is going to give us money.’; And I was very confident that this was going to happen and basically I had a scene of an year on it and high sight looking back now I realize I was never close to getting a movie made. This was like I was trying to believe and trying to get to this point. I think that was a regular lesson because it’s also something else that I’ve learned; there’s a difference between someone saying ‘I’m going to give you money’ and someone giving you money.
And that was an extremely valuable lesson that I, since, time to time learned again and now when someone says ‘I’m going to give you money’ I go ‘OK, cool’ and I sort of learned that the act of taking money from one bank account and putting it to another bank account is a lot more difficult than saying you’re going to do that.
So after that film Gabe had an idea ‘why just don’t go to this low budget film making model where we know we can make the movies and we don’t have to wait.’ And that was what feeder that year and I was like ‘OK, so let’s do it’. So that’s when we started this model and it was about 3.5-4 years of trying to find really quality scripts or products that we respond positively to and fell like actors will respond to on festivals and really worked on them and get them in shape and then make those to price point where they’ll re-coop.
And that’s kind of our objective so we continue to have the best scripts coming back to us and it’s been..; now Gabe and I have done 18 movies together and we do about 4 or 5 a year, and they sort of range all in different genres from drama to dramedies, sometimes documentaries but I think some sort of our main focus within that context is more genre specific films, you know, things that are…; just because they have a better sort of build in re-coopment model and that they are more superficiality responsible to make.
Ashley: Let’s hit couple of those points briefly. You mentioned ‘Breathing room’ was your first film in school, that you re-cooped your money on. And what did you do, again just briefly, what did you do to get that movie out there, to find a distributor? I mean, I’m a film maker myself and I found so many distributors that promise the world and I hear so many horror stories ‘ Yeah, you know what –we’re going to make your money back no problem.’ You never see a dime. So what did you do find a distributor that actually did pay you some money?
John: So, what we did on that one, and the experience was the same with my thesis film, for the drama where I was like ‘oh, we’re going to make money’ and you know there’s always someone in the red and that’s kind of a traditional thing to occur I guess.
But, on that one, what we basically did, we made a movie and then we sent it out to, this was kind of, now we would just sent to Video Lengths, but at the time we were sending letters and this was in 2007 and DVDs. So we looked up like what all the best sales wraps were. Or we had a book ‘here’s sales wrap company for genre films’.
So we send letters to 30 of them. It was kind of form letter where we put ‘ Hi! ______. We’d really love you to consider our film ‘Breathing Room’. We’re a really big fan of the work your company does. We enjoyed the films ______ and _______ – whatever film we could find that had most activity on IPB.
Ashley: And most of them you have not seen or haven’t heard off, much less haven’t seen.
John: Yes. I think all of them I have not seen, and most of them I have not seen. So it was a little bit of stretching the truth I guess. So we sent out a bunch of letters and got some bites and company eventually went up going to which we done 5 movies with over the years and we really like this company called ‘Imagination worldwide’ and at the time it was being run by a guy called Peter David and he had worked a lot with Roger Coreman and Gabe actually is a close friend with Coreman’s and he was talking to him and he’d been like and I can’t remember what his job was, it was something high in the Coreman company, and he said to Gabe ‘ just ask him about me, ask him about me’.
And Gabe did – yes, he is a trustworthy great guy and his also, this guy Larry Goldbum is currently running it and he kind of had someone we knew that could vouch for them and I think that was a big asset and that’s kind of something even now, whenever we’re working with a sales wrap distribution company, we’ll look at other films they’re distributed and we’ll call the film makers and say ‘hey did you see over, what were their promise, were you played, did you make your money back’ and kind of just did research ‘cause that’s really the only asset you have. And it’s very important to do ‘cause the majority of the companies put there kind of go through the process that you’re describing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Good advice. So let’s talk about, just briefly so people can have some context; you mentioned doing these genre movies, doing them at price point where you can successfully re-coop. Just roughly speaking, what are we talking about in terms of budget ranges for most of this genre movies?
John: You know, I’d say keeping them under a million as a good place to be. You know, we’ve done a couple of films over that. But as a rule of thumb, with how the market is and it changed pretty dramatically from 2007 to 2008 with the colony crashing in, more so with the DVD crashing and blockbusters disappearing in Hollywood, you know videos and all that stuff;
Once that happened the value of the film kind of decreased a little bit so you have to find other ways to bring value to your films which a means getting a lot of good actors and you know having more high concept things and making sure you’re kind of checking the right boxes because if we made ‘Breathing room’ today and try to distributed it I think if we were lucky we would have made as half as much as we did in 2007.
Just because there’s also, which is amazing, it is so much easier to make a film now. IT’s much more accessible but it also means there’s a lot more competition out there so you have to find the way to distinguish yourself from the noise and a lot of times that is, one way to do that is to be able to get actors in that that are of certain quality and name recognition ‘cause that also tells the distributor you didn’t make it for $20.000. And that’s kind of something they’re looking for ‘cause they always want to know how much you paid in terms of they know how much they can pay. They’re always fishing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So one of the things, it’s always funny that these independent genre films are actually probably the least talked about films in sort of the film industry. And when people say independent films they always think art house films, Sundance films, but really these genre films there are tons of them being made in comparison to studio films and Sundance films and they actually are finding market and making money and I actually think for screenwriters it’s their best opportunity.
I mean, the producer are much more willing to read a script from someone whose unrepresented and take a chance on somebody. So let’s dig in sort of these genre films. You produced a bunch of them. So maybe we can just talk about them for a minute.
To start out, where did these films typically end showing up? I mean, Eric Roberts is like a prime example. Go to Eric Roberts’ IMDb page and he’s literary done like 50 films just this year but you won’t see any of them. So where did these films show up so that they are actually re-cooping money?
John: That’s a great point. It’s a funny thing if you go to the market; so basically with your strategy you’re either trying to sell on film markets or get into a festival, sell through festival and then subsequently through film markets. And a lot of those movies are described like AFM titles, like American Film Record and it’s a funny thing you know, that what happens down in Santa Monica in November every year and you go around there and there’s all of these sales wraps and distribution companies and they kind of slater posters and films on the wall.
And you’ll see like the same poster with Eric Roberts in every doorway. You know, so it’s like ‘he’s the guy that’ll make money’ and sort of actually I think that he’s a very talented actor but there are certain actors that have that stigma and that also have some value where they are like sort of AFM names that you just see their face on every door and walls and whatever.
So, but for our films, initially we were looking more straight to the DVD type of stuff when we were first making movies. The last few years what we’ve been doing are kind of the day end date of theatrical models. In that model, it comes out in certain number of markets. That’s kind of big thing too. If you’re a first time feature-maker, I would suggest to make a film for the lowest amount you possibly can, like $20,000. Because it’s so important to re-coop so that when you’re going to make your next feature you can say, ‘My first feature made 150% of its budget’ whereas if you say, ‘I made it for $200,000 and it made $20,000’, that’s not as appealing for your second feature. So, as a set up, I would strongly suggest for film makers out there that are doing their first film not to wait for that big budget thing, or even for that $200,000 movie.
If you’re a writer, I guess making genre films or writing genre films is a very good idea. I think there’s danger where people see the big hits on Sundance like ‘Fruitvale Station’ or the ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ and think, ‘Oh I should write one of those and be the next Fruitvale Station and that’s gonna give me a big break’. But for every one of those movies, there’s honestly about 5,000 I would guess that don’t become the next ‘Fruitvale Station’. So, we’re just talking pure statistically, the odds are not in your favor of that happening. But we like to try and have high rods in success.
But with our films now, honestly all independent films now that that are in the white dash release where the focus on re-coopment is VOD. So, the Vigilante, Man in Space is very healthy right now. Often you will have a limited theatrical and let’s say you make $40,000 and people go like, ‘Whoa! They really tanked’. But you might think that $40,000 and the video on demand made 2M$. It’s that big of a discrepancy and more so, because the mall is geared towards the theatrical improving your video on the mad numbers by giving you more reviews and getting it out there.
Ashley: So back to my question where these films are shown. So if you’re visiting Spain next Christmas and you’re in a hotel room, you might see The Scribbler on video on demand?
John: Right. Some of those markets have a limited theatrical component as well and some of them will just be on your TV or broadcast on some network in the hotel room or on their version of iTunes. And it seems like because of what’s happened to the DVD market, also obviously like The Scribbler will be in Walmart and Best Buy and on blue ray and that’s a chunk of it. And I think there’s more more so with films. The focus I think for distributors has been a lot more VOD-centric.
Ashley: When people ask me like how much does a screenwriter make on these types of films, I usually quote them 2 to 3% of the budget and there’s always minus contingency cost and bond costs so a million dollar budget might only be $700,000. Is that roughly what you would give… same sort of numbers?
John: Yes, I think that’s about right and it’s also varies based on experience a lot of times. Because ultimately, independent films is a tough space in terms of if you’re trying to be a writer and director to make a full time, it takes a little bit of work. For example, we make one of your movies, you’re gonna make less than if Universal makes one of your movies. But the odds of the movie being made, our model is ‘whatever the option make’. And that’s I think unique to us.
I’m sure there’s other companies doing it but it’s not the traditional model. Usually we win option thirty things and see what sticks and make three. But we more so spend the times to find scripts that we feel great passionately about so that’s kind of the big sales point we have for writers. It’s true, Universal options your movie you might make $100,000 or more than that and financially it would mean a lot more to you. But on the flip side, the odds of that movie made are extremely astronomically low. Whereas if you option your movie, I I’m telling you we will make your movie.
The funny thing in that is a lot of people have gotten a lot of offers from different production companies and like, ‘Oh yeah that company says they’re gonna make my movie too’, and you’ll realize that ‘yeah that’s what they said too’ and it’s a sort of hard in telling. If you have optioned a script you’re gonna tell the writer your plans to make the movie because why else would you option a script. So it’s been tricky to try and navigate and sort of tell and figure out a way to tell them that ‘I mean it’.
Ashley: I’m curious what percentage. Now that you guys have a model, are you pretty much able to break it even or re-coop pretty consistently with your films?
John: Yes. That’s been how we’ve been able to sustain our model and keep making movies, is by that. Because we have a good track record. It’s sort of a little known secret about the independent films face is that most, I mean it’s widely now known, but most movies that made the space lose money. I don’t what the percentage is but it’s a very high percentage of films that lose money and it’s because it’s often first time film makers are investors that have a false assumption of value. Thinking ‘because I spent $2M the movie is worth $2M’ and that’s just not the reality. I know movies that were made for $20M and made less than a million dollar.
It’s very important to be cautious. Honestly, how we approach in all other ways is we think about: obviously every movie you make you want to be great, you want to be special and we do our best to make it that, but sometimes even if you have all the perfect elements and the best director, the best actor, the best writer, the best script, the best everything, sometimes there’s not that magic spark when you shoot it and it just turn out right. And so the way that we sort of look at it is to think ‘if we make those movie and it doesn’t turn out the way we were hoping and expecting, what’s its value?’ and that’s kinda how we work backwards. Rather than say ‘we’re gonna make this movie, it’s gonna be in Sundance, it’s gonna be the next Paranormal Activity whatever it is’ which often more so the approach that we run into. Our film makers plan that way and that’s where it’s very dangerous because if it doesn’t happen you have angry investors or you spent your family’s money.
So it’s just important to be realistic and pragmatic and not expect that it’s gonna have a huge premier or huge festival. That’s why I think for first time film makers make it for as little as possible because then the risk is less and you get to have a trial run through everything through the whole process and go, ‘oh so this is how it works’, and the next time you’re better suited.
Just like what I’m saying, I think I’ve directed 6 movies and 2 of those were total disaster when I was an undergrad and I hoped that each one has gotten better than the last. It’s the same thing as writing the screenplay. I’m sure your listener can all relate to, when writing a screenplay you think it’s great but when you write your next screenplay you look at the last that you wrote and you think it’s crap. So, it’s the same thing with making a film. Some people will make their first film and was amazed in it, it becomes the next success story but you’re probably gonna make a lot of mistakes that you hopefully learned from so it’s best not to have a high risk when you’re making those mistakes.
Ashley: Sure. So let’s talk about some of the films you’ve done. Let’s start with the general question, where do you typically find screenplays for these 4 films that you’re producing per year?
John: It’s all different places. It’s sort of like there’s a time in the year like a couple of month period where I go and keep an eye to just read for 2 or 3 months to find a story for the year. And it comes from all places. Sometimes, it’s from agencies. Sometimes they will send package projects from agencies or managers. Sometimes put up Mandy post and Craigslist post, we don’t do much Craigslist posts anymore. It’s Mandy post where you get 300 submissions and read all the log lines.
That’s something I typically do when I read scripts. Don’t think that whoever is reading it has the time of day to read it. If the initial email we get is long I honestly don’t have the time to read it. I just wanna know what’s it about and I wanna read say the first 5 pages. Having your first 10 page kicks serious asses more important than anything because it’s often the case that you don’t give by the first 10 pages. Just being honest.
Because what you’re looking for is, ‘has the writer earned your trust?’ So first, you need a log line that go ‘this can be cool’ then you read the synopsis and you either go ‘oh never mind’ or ‘oh this could be cool’ then you start reading the script and again you might read the first half of the page and go ‘no this is not the writer that I feel confident in’. I use the service Blacklist.com, it’s pretty neat it’s kind of like Netflix for screenplays. I’m sure you guys are aware. And being on the other side of it, I haven’t used as much lately that I felt a little bit overwhelmed but I’ve had times where I’ll go on and that like for a couple of weeks. And just read the covers and scripts that I can read and see what the ratings are I’ll sort of make a folder and try to get through to me any way they can.
I’ll also look at old list of things that I’ve won competition whether it’s like the Nicholls or been in the semi finals. Also last December, I went through the entire blog list, it’s some sort the genre version of the Blacklist. I’ve also gone script shadow and see what’s gotten positive coverage. So it’s really, I just try to dive in and go different routes. I don’t read blind submissions as much anymore. I did when we were newer as a company but every day I get a few scripts and sometimes we’ll read but I would say it’s a low percentage.
So that’s kind of our process. I read so many scripts that I liked and ‘oh that was good’ but I’m trying to find the one that I think ‘this could be great’. And that’s kind of about the way we’ve gone about it.
Ashley: Maybe you can give our listeners some tips for writing these types of movies, practical considerations for locations and casts. What specific genres are actually the best genres to write in budget levels. So let’s start out with budget levels. What should writers understand about these movies?
John: I would say two things. First of ‘what’s their intent’? Are they trying to have a big specs studio sale or are they trying to get a movie made? Because based on that, it’s a very of different approach. If you’re trying to make a big studio sale, try to write an Avengers or something that’s a big action or whatever. But more so than anything is having a really solid book. Like I wanna go ‘oh that’s cool. I wanna check that out’. That is how I read the script, see that the hook is there. Having that super strong amazing log line seems so hard and also the scripts that have a more vague log line that don’t appeal. Usually that’s a symptom of a larger problem in the script. So, start with an amazing concept that’s like ‘oh my gosh I have to see that’. It’s very important.
In terms of budget level, the second thing I was gonna say is that I think there’s a low assumption on what you can do low budget. Like for example when we go to a studio and and sale and like ‘oh most of our movies are for a hundred million dollars’, they just go ‘oh you just make 5 footage of this’ and it’s like, ‘no we don’t’. We make things that look, trying to make them very polished and sleek and well-put-together and you can do that now with technology. To think it has to be one location and that’s when you’re doing under $100,000 movie I would say. Really focus on a theme very economical. But when you get to the under a million range, I think be very surprised by what you can get. That being said, don’t write a movie and 2257 and the world is like as future world of cars and things and think you’re gonna do it for $100,000. I’d say it’s a little bit of tricky territory.
In terms of genre, the thing that is sort of hot at the moment or seems to have a greater value than the others is sort of straight up horror a little bit is, it’s stuff you can sell but it has a sort of ceiling that’s lower than if you’re going for sci-fi thing. Or obviously action movie it has higher sales point but then again you have to make it from more. But if you have a smart sci-fi, a little fire or low fires everywhere, sort of elevated well-put-together concept or hook, there’s just a greater value to sci-fi than horror just because everybody’s making their low budget horror movie. Yours will stand out a little bit. And also on top of that, you want to have something that has strong characters and strong arks. That’s kind of way that we’re looking for sci-fi films for us specifically. I’m looking often for films where the arks and the drama and all stuff functioning and see it as a genre sort of back draw. I’m not looking for a Saw movie or Freddy vs Jason type of things, it’s much more so films that are genres so that they’re sellable but then also who would function completely just as a drama in a lot ways.
Often the thing that I also ran into a lot of times is that’s part of the first total sign that I’ll read the script of that something that I’m not gonna enjoy, that I stopped because it’s dialogue is insane. If it’s overly expositional or feels a little bit on the nose. So that’s kind of what I read first when I go through a script. I’ll skip the action and just read some of the dialogue and then I’ll go, ‘Okay now I wanna read more of the script or not’, based on that. Sort of a good red flag in looking at things. I think that’s kind of how we look or approach the thing about it.
Ashley: Okay, so let’s go ahead and dig in to The Scribbler. You directed that one. I guess it’s gonna be coming out here in the next couple of weeks. I watched it last weekend, very interesting stylized movie. You definitely kept it in the one location, in the hotel, the building, but it definitely had a bigger feel on me. You moved around within that one location and got outside of that. Well done.
John: Thank you.
Ashley: This was from a graphic novel and it felt like that. You captured that kind of sin city vibe. So, I’m curious, how did you get involve with this project? How did you find this screenplay?
John: It was an interesting process for us. Actually we found the script from like a writing samplers before we even knew about the graphic novel. It’s kinda moving backwards of what’s traditionally done. The start of the whole process was a submission from a Mandy post that eventually led me to finding the script that was written by Dan who wrote the graphic novel. But it did all start, it wasn’t Dan that’s been in the Mandy post but it did start with a Mandy post that led me finding The Scribbler.
It’s one of those things that immediately, it just felt different and unique and cool and Dan I thought is an incredibly gifted writer. He’s got a lot of very cool screenplays and he has a very sort of unique voice and I think that you could feel that right away and that’s what got me excited about it and read the graphic novel.
It was a really cool to have that piece depend on you. When you were talking about the visual, the style. The goal was to kinda make it feel like it’s in the graphic novel really consistently with the world that Dan had built. And we’re kinda giving the film war vibe in some ways. It obviously has some large toner shifts and that was kind of interesting line to toe, truer to graphic novel and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. There’s a lot of different challenges and things that I’ve never dealt with before, seen before and that’s what kinda made it more exciting.
Ashley: One of the things that’s interesting in what you just said, I get a lot of writers coming with the screenplay and they feel like, ‘gee! Maybe I should turn my screenplay into a graphic novel and that will get some heat on my screenplay’. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong but the graphic novel didn’t really impact your liking in this. In fact, you didn’t even know that it was a graphic novel when you got interested in the script.
John: Yeah, that’s true. It was like, I saw something that said ‘based on a graphic novel’ but I didn’t know about it. I read it and I was really into it, I just got obsessed studying them and studying them. I will say that having a graphic novel component like The Scribbler was one like, you know, it was released to image, critically well-received. So, having something of that nature, that definitely helps. Because you’re trying to figure out, again it’s all about that quote in you trying to figure out how you could sell it to distributors or something like that. How in the graphic novel having a sort of built-in fan-based at some degree. I would definitely say it helped but if it hadn’t been a graphic novel I think it would still would’ve made it and just really enjoy the script.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious about that, how successful the graphic… I don’t read graphic novels so I’m not really in that world. ‘Cause that’s what you always hear, the built-in audience, but I wonder, the way you’re talking though, it sounds like you would’ve made this movie regardless. I mean you’re making 4 movies a year, you like the script, so I’m just wondering how much that really helped.
I guess my point is, I get a lot of screenwriters and I feel like they just wanna spend a lot of time writing a graphic novel and hoping that, that is successful and I’m not sure it’s the best use of their time. I think writing more screenplays would be a better use of their time.
John: I think that’s a great plan of attack. I think investing too much time in one, count me on this comment but I think it’s important to get your screenplay shaped and make sure it’s functional otherwise no one’s gonna enjoy it. But I think spending 10 years on one script is way less productive than spending 10 years in writing a hundred scripts. Because ultimately if you’re fishing, the more lines you cast out the better chance of catching a fish. Rather than putting all your eggs in one basket it’s very important to sort of reach your tentacles out in every direction and that just increases the odds of something sticking of ultimately something happening in your career that way. It’s very hard to, with one project, if you have that just one thing to show.
Sometimes when I read a script for example and go ‘I really like this writer but the script is not quite right for me’, so then I email the writer. If I read it on the Blacklist site or wherever and I would go like, ‘hey, have you got anything else’? And he’s like, ‘no, that’s it’. Whereas, ‘here are all the scripts I’ve written’, and I would go like, ‘oh awesome!’ As an example, we’re making another one of dance movies and you’ve written a ton of screenplay. I really enjoy all of them but some them might not be what we’re looking for the moment because of the sort of specific, whether it’s the genre or… Well, there’s very specific on what we’re looking from anyone given a time so there’s been some, all these people are I think they are amazing but I go, ‘you know what, this isn’t right for us at the moment’, but then I wanna find what else that writer’s done.
So it’s good to have the next 5 ready to throw. Here, our goal is different log lines. There’s this writer that we worked, Ryan Monaco, who is extremely talented. I actually found him through the Blacklist website just reading scripts from there. What’s cool with him too is that he not only he’s insanely talented but he also was extremely diligent and has like 15 screenplay ideas. Tons of screenplays he’s written and he has a whole another thing of treatments… he just works his ass off. And has built up this large sort of library of content and I think that, one helps you prove as a screenwriter and two, helps if something hits.
Ashley: I just wanna touch on something you’ve said. And you’ve said in a couple of times, you read something and it’s not quite right for what you guys are trying to do. I wonder if you can just elaborate on that. What is right? What is the kind of stuff that you see as being fitting in to what is right for your company?
John: It’s a funny thing because it’s like if you ask me right now it’s a different answer to if you ask me 6 months from now ‘cause it really does change a lot. Right now what we’re looking for are sort of elevated sci-fi.
Ashley: What does that mean, ‘elevated sci-fi’?
John: It’s similar to not a Saw type of movie but something that’s more of We Are What We Are in the genre space or something. For example, we trusted this movie for days, we shot with Brandon Routh and Dane Cook and Kitty Sullivan and Doug Cavanaugh and Craig Buller and we shot and we built a whole spaceship set and everything… it’s kind of like these 4 aspiring astronauts who went on a mission, a simulated mission, to test the psychological effect of deep-space travel, and this is actually happening in real life for the planned mission on Mars which would be like 500 days that you went there and back. It’s kinda something like that and then as it goes it’s kind of like that, there’s so many turns and mystery and great characters and arks and it’s very compelling in all other ways. So that’s more interesting than transmorphers or Transformers or something like that.
Again, find something that has a cool hook or unique element or something that makes it feel special. And it’s harder to find that but it’s one of those things that when you see it you know it.
Ashley: So if someone wants to watch The Scribbler, what’s the best way for them to find it? Maybe you can just tell us the release date and where it’s gonna be playing?
John: Sure. It comes out in theaters and on September 19th, so a week from tomorrow. And it’s playing New York and LA on first weekend and extends a little bit. And then in terms of, it will be on all Timewire cable, Comcast and Direct TV and iTunes and it will also, I think a month afterwards it comes out on Blue Ray and again it will be in Walmarts and Best Buys. It sort of so on and so forth. It kind of will be all over the place. But if you don’t live in New York and the first weekend I would say, rent it or buy it on VOD somewhere.
Ashley: Perfect. So, what’s the best way for people to keep up with you? Do you have a blog or Twitter or a website for your company?
John: New Artists Alliance, Gabe actually runs it, I think he’ll be more savvy with us. I have Facebook but I think it’s… that handles NAA films or @naafilms… if Gabe was here he could tell you exactly…
Ashley: Okay, I’ll get that from you later and I’ll put it in the show notes so we have the exact thing
John: Yeah, he’s very active on that and that’s a good way. And then we have a website that’s naafilms.com and they all kind of have updates. I do think Twitter is a good way… I personally am not totally up to date with it.
Ashley: I understand, there’s so many channels out there, you can’t keep up with them all. John, you’ve been very generous with your time. This has been a lot of great information. I really appreciate you coming on the show, it’s been very informative.
John: Well thank you very much for having me. I appreciate you having me on and rather hope that some information is helpful.
[end of interview]
I’m gonna be running another online class called How To Make The Opening Pages of Your Screenplay Awesome. This is probably my favorite class to teach. I actually learned a lot by preparing to these classes and reading various scripts we’re going to cover in them so, hopefully you’ll learn a lot too.
It goes without saying how important the opening pages are for your screenplay. If you’re opening pages don’t hook the reader, there’s very little chance that the reader will continue to read the scripts so it doesn’t matter how great the rest of the script.
I’m gonna be breaking down the opening pages of a bunch of great screenplays including Natural Born Killer, Shawshank Redemption, Legally Blonde and a few others as well. This is the third class in the series which is going to guide you through the entire screenwriting process. From coming up with a marketable concept to outlining your script to actually writing your script and then to eventually marketing your script. If you missed the first two classes, no problem, I record them and put them in the SYS Select forum for you to listen to at your leisure.
This class is gonna be on Saturday, November 15th at 10AM Pacific Time. If you like to learn more about this class, go to www.SellingYourScreenplay.com/classes. Also, if you’re listening to this after the class has taken place again, no problem, I will record this class and put in the SYS Select forum as well. In fact, all the classes that has been taught are recorded there in the forum for SYS members to listen to. There’s more than a dozen classes in there now, so to learn more about SYS Select, just go to www.SellingYourScreenplaySelect.com.
In the next episode of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Julian Gilbey. Julian is a British writer and director. In the interview, Julian gives a detailed account of how he broke in to the industry and then we also talked about his latest film called Plastic.
Just to kind of recap today’s episode, I think this is another great example of someone who just went out there and made things happen for himself. I mean, John tells a story of him making a film in film making school and then getting out of film school and going back that low budget genre film and making another film and slowly going from there.
Also, it’s worth noting, you can tell how practical John is. He’s not looking to make art films, he’s looking to make a living from film making and that means making genre films that have a market. I find a lot of new writers are really unrealistic about the sorts of career they can actually have. A lot of people look at someone like Woody Allen and thinks that’s a realistic career path. Go check out John at IMDb so you can get a sense of the full scope of how many films he’s done. He’s building a solid career for himself. He’s already done a bunch of films and I’m quite sure he’s gonna do a bunch of more films.
Anyway, I talked about this in the podcast before. These lower budget genre films like what John and his partner are making are a great way to break in to the industry and get some real produced credits. This is essentially where all my credits in screenwriting have come from. Producers like John just want to find good scripts that they think they can turn to a successful movie so they’re open to new writers. They don’t care where the script come from, they just want something that they can produce out of budget and that they feel is marketable.
I’ve mentioned this in my screenwriting classes a few times so maybe some of you have heard this, but, check out Eric Roberts at IMDb Pro. It’s Julia Roberts’ actor brother Eric Roberts. He’s a famous and accomplished actor in his own right. Go take a look at him on IMDb Pro or just regular IMDb if you’re not a member of IMDb pro. You’ll notice he’s got literally dozens of film credits in this year alone. And really, think about what I just said. Eric Roberts has done dozens of films ‘just in this year’. And they’re exactly the source of films that John was talking about in the interview today: lower budget genre film, less than a million dollar budget most likely for most of these films. So, look at Eric Roberts’ credits and then drill down on some of these credits and you’ll start to find producers who are making these sorts of genre films. Many of these producers have contact information listed to their IMDb Pro. So find some of these companies, drill down, collect their contact information and try and start contacting some of these producers.
Also, there’s the American Film Market which is starting this week. It’s in Santa Monica, happens every year around this time a year. That’s where these independent genre films are sold to the world so, many of these producers will be there. I did an episode with a writer named Andrew Cole who went AFM and networked with these types of producers and found some success through it. And he gives out some tips about how to successfully navigate AFM so have a look at that, it’s in Episode number 21. Again, this is a real practical tip on how you can actually get out there and start to meet producers exactly like John who are making these sorts of less than a million genre films.
So, that’s our episode. That’s the show. Thanks for listening.