This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 051: Independent Writer / Director Matt Creed Talks About His Feature Film Lily.
Ashley: Welcome to episode 51 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com.
In this episodes main segment I’m interviewing Matt Creed. Matt is an artist and film maker. He recently completed an independent film called Lily. In this interview we dig into his writing process, how he got the film made and how he found distribution for the film so stay tuned for that.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with writer, director Matt Creed. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Matt to the Selling Your Screen Play podcast I really appreciate you coming on the show.
MC: Cool. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: To start off I wonder if you could give us a quick overview of your career in the entertainment industry. How did you get your start? And take us all the way up to writing and directing your current film – Lily.
MC: Well I never kind of made it—I never kind of thought of actually being in the entertainment industry but I studied studio art and art history in school and started taking a lot of photographs – I’ve always been attracted to images and I’ve always loved cinema. I started making short films about seven years ago and then evolved into naturally progressing to making a featured film so that’s kind of how it really happened, not too glamorous.
Ashley: I think that’s a great start, it’s doing shots. I recommend that to a lot of writers as they’re start out – Is to write shots and kind of get your screen writes that way. Just over the course of these seven years, how many shots would you say you have done?
MC: I don’t even know but maybe seven. Something like that.
Ashley: Very good number. And what did you—when you were finished with these shots did you submit them to film festivals or was there any kind of marketing with them? Did you try and do something …?
MC: Honestly I had no idea how any of it worked. I came from a normal background so I didn’t really understand what film festivals were or to submit to them – what that meant. I would just make them, put them online and they were just studies really. For me I didn’t go to film school so I just kind of was trying to teach myself and that’s when I think I chose short films and being off-set.
Ashley And correct me if I’m wrong but there’s also sort of a natural progression where you meet people and then you use a lot of those same people and when you move up to the future you have kind of a network of people in various positions that you need.
MC: Yeah absolutely and that comes through when you start doing some video work, commercial work, things like that. I’ve worked with the same people probably since the beginning.
Ashley Through these shots did you get some like commercial work and stuff? Have you done commercials and industrials and that sort of stuff?
MC: Yeah I did. I worked a bit and then I stopped because I wasn’t into it, I wanted to be a narrative film maker. So I did, I got good amount of work for a bit also writing commercial spots and creating a [?] choriography and producing things kind of fall into that and I made bits in living. But then I stopped doing and just focused on writing feature scripts feature-like scripts and ultimately to direct. So I did that for two years and then I made Lily.
Ashley: And how many feature scripts did you write in the studio period?
Ashley: Okay. Did you try and get those produced or you knew, I mean, something Like Lily sounds—
MD: One of them I did, a couple of them will never ever see the light of day, I’ll probably delete them off my computer. One I tried to and I sort of used it and then ultimately ended up, through that, making Lily – which is good because a couple of producers that I met could QA something that can be made completely cheap. So I ended up doing that and I was—I kind of just look at it as a challenge. I ended up meeting Amy who is an was to be actress and co-writer of Lily and ended up writing that film.
Ashley What’s there been really and to—I’m not like an over really technical person when it comes to film production but I do often get some questions – especially a movie like this. People just asking technical questions and maybe we can just spend a minute of two answering some of those. For instance, what kind of camera do you guys use shooting this?
MC: We use a Sony F3 camera. I guess with a little step below like the red camera and it started in between the red and probably the Canon 7 and 5vs.
Ashley: Was it all natural light?
MC: No. I experienced maybe a few lights but for the most part of it it’s kind of almost there like in the last, there’s a lot of light up above like it was what? 360 to kind of be able to give the actors fredom to move around space and improvise. There was a lot of light, it wasn’t all natural light.
Ashley: How big was your crew?
MC: Maybe 10 to 12, sometimes less in certain scenes.
Ashley: I’m curious about; you got a lot of scenes outside on the streets and stuff. Was there any permit or anything or was it just guerilla style – shooting around.
MC: Fortunately in New York City it’s very easy to pull permits and also they have pretty loose laws about how you can shoot in streets. You could do hand held and you do not need a permit anywhere. But we pulled permits, it’s really easy. Did we necessarily shoot in those places that we pulled the permits? No. we could just move around, follow the light or find a better location around the corner from the one we had permits for. You never get hustled in there; I don’t think I’ve ever been hustled by a cop in New York shooting.
Ashley: That’s it. I’m in LA and I would have thought New York would be really strict on those things because it’s very difficult and- a lot of films are being bolted – nobody even bothers pulling the permits and you do just kind of run and go and you do get kicked-off from places so that’s interesting.
MC: It’s funny because I’ve honestly never been harassed by a cop in New York and I went earlier to shot once and the first scene we were shooting, a cop came up and asked for a permit.
Ashley: That’s really difficult. I guess it’s just ways out here and they just know there’s money to be made.
MC: Yeah. But in New York again I even think you can just—I think I have like certain things like if you have lights and cables, you get to have a permit but if you’re going to hand-hold you don’t need a permit. You’ll need permission from certain places to use their lighting and stuff. It’s pretty laid back in New York.
Ashley: So let’s go ahead and talk about the screenplay. Maybe you can just tell us sort of where the idea came from and how you collaborated with Amy, just give us some background on that.
MC: The idea came from—
Ashley: Actually you know what? May be we should start out – you could give kind of a pitch on what the movie is about in case people haven’t seen the trailer yet.
MC: Lily is about a young woman who is finishing treatment for breast cancer and we kind of explore everything after her treatment. So it’s not a cancer cell and what the character is going through is not really cancer at this point in her life. It’s a brief window that we’re exploring – which is post treatment – or not necessarily post treatment but the moment in time where someone who has been going through treatment all of a sudden starts to go thinking about their life post treatment.
So it’s everything after the facts and it’s a pretty intimate portrait of a woman and which the story kind of about Amy Grantham, who is the actress and co-writer. It’s based on her life and experiences and the story was actually written at that moment in her treatment. It came about through a conversation with her at this moment in her treatment, which was the end, and she said, “Treatment is coming to an end” and I said, “Oh, you must be very happy.” She just very candidly looked at me and said, “No, I’m not.” I found that pretty interesting and started to ask her a bunch of questions related to that and learning that there’s this whole other experience of having a serious illness and being treated for it – which is everything after, you have to get back in the list. It was her life history at that moment and I think a relatable head space of anybody.
Ashley: Maybe you could tell us sort of what the process was like. Like literally what does that process look like? She is telling you stories, you’re writing them into final draft. How does it actually work from her real life experiences into a sort of coherent screen play?
MC: From having that idea, being like, “Okay, we’re going to like figure out what I want to write a story about” then kind of start writing down a bunch of scenes that could possibly turn into a story. So I met up with Amy and she would do the talk for hours and hours and write down norms that would befit that scene and kind of screen together and kind of write. We’d just write the scenes, put them together and eventually made up a whole screen play.
Ashley: And what does the script look like? Like right the day before you start shooting, how much of the script is complete? You mention like giving the actors room to improvise. How much is on the page and how much is what the actors are improvising?
MC: A lot is off the page but the core of the scene is on the page. So to give you an idea, it’s only that, we wrote this script and the first few drafts were like 90 pages something like that. A good friend of mine had read it and he said, “The next draft I want to see, I want it to be 50 pages.” And said, “You should always say everything that you could possibly need to say or express in those 50 pages.” I thought about it for like a day and was kind of bummed out and then woke up the next day and called Amy and said, “Okay, we got meet” and he said like, “Yeah. Yeah we got to meet.” We did, we got down to 53 pages.
Ashley: Was it cutting the actual story bits out or was it just like condensing the style of writing—
MC: Yeah, it was cutting like the files, getting rid of a lot of—you read screenplays it’s like, “Yeah”, you give the action, they walk into the room and like, “Hi” “Hi”, “How are you?” How are you?” for me, you don’t need that in the script, I think you can explain a lot in action, say, “He got into the room and said HI” then you can just dive in to what needs to be said.
So right there we stripped so much of fat off the script. So there was so a lot of that, a lot of taking out scenes and then ultimately when we got down to that we then kind of went back and added some things, and expended upon some things, and I actually finished it on like 58 pages.
That’s how I, when I write I know, my style as a director, when something on the page is like one sentence can end up being five minutes in that full of film? So I kind of have that in mind when writing. I know of a typical screen play which seems to be 90 to 120 pages but if I were to shot 120 page screen play then that would probably be like over four hours.
Ashley: So let’s just talk about sort of – and you can sort of apply it to a Lily but in general terms – it’s a very subtle film, there’s a lot of new lines to it. I’ve read enough scripts and I’ve been to enough films to fasten what I see, I’ve seen a lot of these art films to know that a lot of these films don’t work and they just brought me to tears. I really feel like you pulled it off.
The litmus test for me watching a movie now, it’s like I have two young kids and by the time I get to bet I am absolutely exhausted and if I can watch a movie in one sitting, it’s a major accomplishment and it only happens maybe four times a year and I watch this in one sitting. So even though it’s very subtle and new rounds, it kept my interest and I’m really curious to hear just some tips. This is what a lot of screen writers want to write – these sort of interesting subtle characters, studies and I wonder if you have some sort of tips about pulling out those interesting moments and what your thoughts are on structuring a movie like this is.
MC: This is a really good question but I’m afraid I’m not going to build like—I’m going to try and answer it—
Ashley: Maybe I can—
MC: I’m not such a very articulate person because in a sense that’s how the best way for me to answer this, it all goes back—it’s music for me and I’m really interested in, I really like psychedelic music, really moody psychedelic music. Some of the songs are super melodic and we don’t really have to pay attention to what’s being said so much but the vocal melody is in line with musical melodies and the harmonies – everything kind of blends together. But it kind of draws you in so I make films that kind of approach it from that perspective in the sense it’s also like classical music. It’s like that where you can be moved without anyone having to sing anything.
So dialogue immediately takes a back seat for me and I try to kind of express the emotion through circumstances as much as possible. So when writing, I never write in a three art structure and I kind of allow the character’s emotions to kind of propel the story and so I think—I wish I had a better answer but—
Ashley: Let me just push you a little bit on some of these because one of the things that I noticed and one of the things that for me made the movie work, you just mentioned that you don’t necessarily think in the terms of three art structure. I have an example, the thing about her father, it has a three art structure and when I say three art structure all I mean is a beginning, middle and end. The father thing clearly had a beginning where the doctor said, “You need to tell your dad”, there’s a middle she is wrestling with the decision about telling her dad and then there is the end where she goes and actually tries to tell her dad.
So there is a clear dominating structure and I think that you did that in quite a few things. The relationship with her boyfriend, you had some closure on that by her looking at the apartment. And what’s interesting, I read another interview that you did and you said there were some things that were in Amy’s life and there was some things that were changed. And these are two examples of things that you changed for the movies, is that in real life Amy did not break up with this older man or boyfriend and she did not go and try and tell her dad.
So I think it’s interesting that you made those changes because to me those changes actually give it that sort of narrative focus and narrative momentum that make it sort of cohesive. Maybe you could walk us through that process of making those decisions. How did you decide to change Amy’s real life for the movie? Why did you make those decisions?
MC: Well I did make those decisions in formed a narrative, so you are correct in that when we we’re writing I was using things from Amy’s life—more sense to make those decisions was very opposite from what Amy’s life was, that was more about acting because I knew Amy was going to play this character really early on so it was important to me that some things do not be too close to her life. So it was a decision very towards the end. It was really about does she leave him or does she stay with him.
On film we imply it but there’s no resolution to it but when writing and when we’re acting it was like, I had told Amy that she’s living it, that she should have that in her head. So how could we tell that in the script without having to actually see it – which is showing her looking at the apartment? I guess those are things that I like to do, they are like clues, it’s like I don’t have to say she’s leaving him but I can imply it.
I can just show it by putting in this factor, she’s just going to go look at the apartment and maybe people get it maybe they don’t – like some people don’t get it and some people do. The most important thing for me is trying to write without having to say anything and those are the kind of films that I really love. More recently it’s a film like Ida, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see that?
Ashley: I’ve not.
MC: The writer there has pulled it, I think it’s brilliant. It’s in a sense a lot like Lily but it’s – I’m not saying Lily’s brilliant but I’m saying that there’re just these clues as to what’s happened. They give you just enough to kind of fill in the back story but then also tell you what goes on and that’s something I’m really interest in stories and narrative and writing scripts is that how can you put scenes that’s telling a story mostly through circumstance. Does that make sense to you?
Ashley: Yeah. This is all fascinating stuff. I think it’s interesting just hearing your decision making process because, as I said, I think that there were some interesting decisions made and maybe it was more intuitive than it was necessarily conscious. I would be curious to hear some of your thoughts on—another thing that I thought this movie did well was—and again you kind of mentioned some of the other interviews that I saw published that you did.
You pepper in these details of surviving cancer and there’re details that, unless you’ve actually gone through it, they kind of are surprising. There must have been a bunch of things that Amy told you that you deemed not as interesting and maybe not include them. So I’d be curious to walk through sort of this process of how you decided what details made it into the movies and what didn’t.
A great example is at the end of the movie she’s got the magic marker on her blouse and she washes it off. It would be very difficult like as a writer to think that up if you hadn’t actually gone through that process and it surprises us but it’s surprise is in a way that kind of makes sense. So I’m just curious to hear some of your thoughts on the screening process and how you decided the details to use and how you decided what things are interesting and what things weren’t interesting.
MC: It was hard because there’s a lot that Amy most likely wanted included into the film but obviously we only have 90 minutes. The hardest part of film making is trying to tell that completed story in that amount of time. So when you’re cutting and even analyzing thought process, you kind of be able to make those decision, you’ll be like, “Well, I’m going to—we don’t need this because it’s addressed in other areas of the film.” So you cut those scenes out.
I think specifically that marker scene that you’re talking about, there were all these little things that she would tell me, like even the aloe, like she’s putting on the aloe, the marker, showing the radiation burn. These things are never seen in a film – in a cancer film. So I was just interested in those and trying to get them in there but also when you want to put something into a film you have to think about it like the big picture so it’s like they’re out of this scene, like the overall tone and does it relate to the tone of which I’m trying to express in the film. A lot of stuff, I think we got like 17 scenes, ended up on the editing room floor.
But it was definitely a challenge but it’s just trying to find that tone and make sure everything links to that tone and that overall idea of what you’re trying to explore. It was always about trying to just tap into the psychology of this character at this moment and some things didn’t pertain to that and I had to make some pretty difficult decisions.
Ashley: Absolutely. So let’s just talk in broad strokes. When doing a movie like this, what are you trying to accomplish as an artist, as a film maker? Are you looking to do bigger budget films? You look at this project as beauty is just an excuse for being? What do you look to do with something like this?
MC: Going forward as an artist trying to explore and play with the narratives medium and kind of trying to tap into that tone that Lily has and kind of having it on a grander scale and trying to figure out ways to tell stories – conventional stories unconventionally – and trying to—I don’t know 100% but I know I’m trying to do something. I don’t know what it is I’m trying to do and I’ve been writing a script for the past two years and it’s kind of like the same decisions. I want to try and achieve the same things I achieved with Lily and that’s hard. Like you said it is not easy to do when your last film, it has more to do with that kind of tone in the atmosphere. Those are my thoughts. So—
Ashley: So let’s talk about some of the—sorry go ahead.
MC: So going forward it’s just about trying to do that. Yeah I know I would like to, in my nest film, use a much thinner budget and I would like to try and—I do personally feel that this should be kept down as much as possible, to make a film with the least kind of money you could possibly do them for but also try and incorporate—like I would like to work with some celebrity actors and venture into that world a little more.
Ashley: Can you take us through the – you are finished with the film and now you start trying to find an audience for it. Can you take us through some of that stuff? How did you get into some of the first roles you got into and what was your experience like?
MC: It’s tough, I think it’s only getting tougher but the easiest part for me is making the film and a lot of people will always be like, “Oh you know, once you finish it you’re like, ‘Wow the hard part is out of the way’” and I cannot just figure it out any more. I think the hardest part is finding an audience and it’s finding—its only a few people that control the flow of independent cinema, so its five film festivals. If you can get into any of those five you have like a much better chance of the world seeing your film and if you don’t, you still could get it out there, it’s just that it’s a lot harder. It’s a tough process—
Ashley: Take us through that process.
MC: Yeah. I got rejected from a lot of film festivals and then finally Tribeca loved the film and it found a home there and and I’m so grateful for that and I’m so grateful for the festival.
Ashley: What is the submission process to Tribeca? Did you know anybody there? Did you hire like a producers rep to help you facilitate that just was a confirmation?
MC: I was working with Alex Gartenfeld and Urther Gray and these wrote a lot of great films and they knew all people but they’d had a lot of experience submitting fims and when Tribeca came about they emailed me out of the blue and said they’d heard about the film through someone. We were actually just about to submit to them so it was kind of crazy in a sense. I sent them the film and they loved it and they loved it enough to put it in competition which was great.
Ashley: And you have no idea how they heard about it originally?
MC: No, no idea. None. I don’t know, they don’t like to reveal all their sources. But they had heard about it and that’s it I got in. once you get into a festival, like I was in one of the bigger festivals and once they release the line up, I was getting emails like from all sorts of festivals to submit. Then we went in and took care of it, the Canes festival in France, which is like such a surreal experience.
But then once you get in, I don’t come to the film festivals, I didn’t know what to expect or what to do and I didn’t realize that you had to have someone to sell your film and I went through the submission process and I couldn’t find anyone to sell the film. So I get into this film festival, I get into competition, I feel I’m obviously kind of high about that and then all of a sudden I’m like, “Oh I got rejected from all these.” I don’t know how to sell because all these sale agents or whatever—
Ashley: Sales agents yeah.
MC: None of them wanted it. So now I was like, “Oh great.”You kind of get back to square one again, that vulnerability, that stuff and then I had try that again, nothing happened and again it wasn’t that helpful, nit much happened. So it’s tough men, it’s really tough, it’s really a bureaucratic industry and there’s no other reasons. Like these films you see and you’re like, “How on earth did these get into the list” and your film didn’t. So there’s a lot of ego getting involved.
Ashley: So maybe we could wrap up and you could tell us when Lily is going to be released and how people can actually find it.
MC: Lily will be released December, 9th via iTunes, Google, Amazon, and [sp]Twoo, and Demio and then direct from the website which is thefilmlily.com. So it will be released December, 9th and—
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. What’s the best way of people to just keep up with you and kind of follow along with what you’re doing? Do you have a blog or maybe you can mention a Twitter handle or something like that.
MC: I don’t have too much social media and it’s something I haven’t really come around too yet but I have a website, you go to mattcreed.com and then there is a tumbler down there that I post stuff to. Lily has a Twitter but I don’t know what the Twitter handle is—
Ashley: I’ll find that and I’ll put it in this show notes.
MC: Yeah. But it’s a good film and I’m really proud of it and I hope people will discover it and I don’t care if it’s on December, 9th or in 10 years but luckily it’s going to be out to the world – that’s all that matters.
Ashley: Yeah for sure. Well you made a great film and you’re doing a good work so just keep doing what you’re doing. I really do appreciate your coming on the show today Matt and I must say it was enlightening talking with you.
MC: Great. Thanks for inviting me.
Ashley: If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of your screen play by industry professional, I work with several consultants. Check out SellingYoursSreenplay.com/consultants. All the consultants listed on that page have years of experience actually working in the entertainment industry. Right now we have two real working screen writers as well as a working producer who will give you notes on your screen play.
These guys are real pros not gurus or professional consultants – they are people who actually work in the business. So if you’re looking for some high quality notes on your screenplay, check out SellingYourScreenplay.com/consultants. In the next episode of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast we’re going to be interviewing Sarah Clyde. Sarah is a writer and director of an indie film that is coming out in the next couple of weeks called After the Fall – Stars Wes Bently. Sarah got his started his entry as an editor and eventually was able to transition to writing and directing. We talk in detail about how he was able to put this film together so keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap thing up I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Matt. As I mentioned in the interview Lily is a really good little art house film. So if this is the sort of film you would want to write I highly recommend you check this out and really try and dissect what this film did well and how you can apply those same things to your own script. So often these sorts of films fall flat and they usually feel really, really meandrous. They just don’t have a central focus, they kind of just wonder about around you often wonder where they’re going but this one really had a solid story and had a lot of momentum.
I think Matt did a great job keeping some solid story threads going but still he kept it a very much a character study at the same time. So it’s a really interesting film just to look at how he did that. I’ll be keeping an eye on this film to see how it ultimately does. I think this is a really good film but I worry that it may have trouble finding an audience but hopefully I’m helping spread word about it. Do check it out if you do get a chance. Anyway that’s the show. Thank you for listening.