Ashley: Welcome to Episode 52 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at Sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment, I’m interviewing Saar Klein. Saar is an editor who has worked on some really big films at the Born Identity and Almost Famous and now he’s written and directed a feature film called After the Fall starring Wes Bentley. We talk in detail about how he was able to get this movie done so stay tuned for that.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review on ITunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast. I’d like to thank over on YouTube, there were a bunch of really nice comments. Thank you, Stanford Crane and Ginger Schein who left me some nice comments on episode 50, and Thank you, Rodney, Amy Brown, and Rick Harden who left me nice comments on episode 49. Thank you, guys, for those. I always look at these comments so if you have a question or comment about this episode, please don’t hesitate to leave it over on YouTube. YouTube has a nice commenting system. It’s easy for me to look at the comments and then respond to the ones that I haven’t responded to yet. So if you have questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to just give that a quick look.
A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts and then just look for episode 52.
Also, if you want my free guide “How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks”, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free. You just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
A quick few words about what I’m working on. I figured since we’re just about at the end of the year, I would give a quick recap of where my various projects are. So late last year I sold the film noir thriller script to a producer in Florida. I did mention this on the podcast so just go back and look in the November episode from last year. The producer was never quite happy with the script so it’s been languishing around for the last twelve months. I did a rewrite which he didn’t really like. I emailed him a couple of weeks ago and asked what was going on and he said he had just hired a new writer so I still have some hope that this might actually see the light of day. Obviously I’m skeptical that the writer will do a very good job but you never know. This is the one spec script that I sold that hasn’t been produced. With independent films, it’s very unusual to sell a script to a producer unless he’s sure he’s going to make it. If they’re not absolutely sure they’re going to make it, they just option it while they try and get the details worked out. For whatever reason he just bought it. I’m not very confident that this product will ever actually get made, but as long as he’s still working on it, it’s got a chance. So we’ll just see.
Also late last year, I completed a writing assignment for a producer. It’s sort of a mob action comedy script. They had a decent fairly detailed treatment, and I turned it into a full screenplay for them. The last I heard from the producer a few months ago, they were trying to get a director attached to it. I think they have the money to make this movie which is a huge thing. It’s just a matter if they can get elements that they liked attached to it. So I have my fingers crossed on that one.
I’ve mentioned my baseball comedy a few times on the podcast over the last year. It’s currently optioned by a producer in Delaware. He just had to re-option it from me and my writing partner for a little bit of money so I feel like he’s fairly well-invested in the project. He’s a really nice guy and very passionate about it so I have high hopes for this one. If it gets made I think my writing partner and I will be involved with it. He’s already talking about tweaking the script to fit the local minor league team that’s in the area and having us do that for him. I would say of all the projects I have out there, this one is probably the one I’m most excited about. I always really liked the script. It’s a very personal sort of story for me and my writing partner. So, as I said, I’m really excited about this one. I really like the producer and he’s excited about it. So we’ll see if that comes to fruition in the next year.
I haven’t talked a lot about my teen comedy which was originally optioned—actually, it was originally optioned before I even started the podcast so I’m not sure I’ve ever even mentioned it on the podcast, but it’s a team comedy I wrote many, many years ago and I wrote it with the same writing partner that I wrote the baseball comedy which I just mentioned. And it was optioned by a producer I think in June or July of 2013. In August of this year he re-optioned the script for another year. He had to pay a decent amount of money for this re-option and he actually had to pay a decent amount of money for the original option too. So he’s pretty well-invested in the project. He’s in Norway. He’s a Norwegian producer so I’ve actually never met him. In fact, I’ve never even talked with him on the phone. Everything has been done through email. He seems like a really nice guy so I’m hopeful that he can really get it going, but it’s really hard to gauge how serious he is or even what he’s really doing since obviously he’s in Norway and I’m not. When he first optioned this script, he didn’t have a lot of criticisms of the script so I think if he does make it; it will be pretty true to our script. But it’s a big sort of team comedy so it’s going to require quite a bit of budget so just not sure if that one’s going to go or not but we’ll certainly see.
I have a one-location female protagonist screenplay which was optioned early last year. I think I have mentioned this one a bunch of times on the podcast. The option is set to expire on December 31 of this year so just in a couple of weeks. I emailed with the producer last week and she was pretty non-committal about whether or not she was going to re-option it so I’d say at best it’s a coin flip whether or not she’s going to be re-optioning it. One thing that’s interesting to note about this option, so often you get the advice from people just write a great script and the rest will take care of itself. What I find sort of interesting about this one, this producer doesn’t really seem to have a lot of issues with this script. She likes it so it’s really not a matter of writing a better script, she’s just really busy with a bunch of other projects so this one’s sort of on the back burner for her. But there’s not really a lot I can do in terms of tweaking the script right. She doesn’t really have a lot of notes. She’s kind of mentioned maybe the ending and stuff but I don’t think the script is really the problem. I think it’s just a matter of her legitimately being busy on other stuff. So we’ll see what happens with that one. I think I mentioned this on the podcast before. It’s literally a one-location script so like 95 percent of the action or maybe 98 percent of the action takes place at like a remote sort of a run-down hotel so a pretty inexpensive simple location to get. And when I sent it out, I did have a few other—they were what I’d say loose, but I did have a few other producers interested in this. So I’ve saved those emails and I will send them out if the option does not get picked back up. I will start to pursue some of those other producers. So whether those come through, who knows but I do at least have a little bit of interest if this does not pan out with this one producer that I’m working at.
Late last year I optioned a Sci-Fi thriller script to a producer here in Los Angeles. Again, I think I mentioned this one on the podcast. He worked hard on it for about nine months but ultimately couldn’t get it going so that option has fallen through, and I have the rights back on that.
I also optioned to this same producer my single-location horror thriller script. It’s another script I mentioned. I completed that one maybe February or March, sometime in there, and I mentioned that one on the podcast as well. He liked it; I did option it to him. He basically had an actor and a director interested in the project. They read it and they liked it. And they were kind of just seeing if they could collaborate on it, but that basically evaporated and he hasn’t really done much with the script since then which is fine. I mean, that was basically sort of the understanding. He said I’ve got this one lead and he’ll pursue it and he did pursue it. It did not pan out so I expect that option expires in just a few days, and I don’t expect that he will renew it. So I’ll be sending that one out again as well.
A few months ago I talked about a producer who optioned my noir thriller, kind of a noir crime thriller and how I was having some issues with the rewrite with him. I haven’t heard anything out of him in the last month or so. We had a nice talk the last time we talked just about some sort of future projects and really exactly what he wanted to do so that’s all good. He’s got the script locked up I think for another fourteen or so months so that’s about all of 2015, he’ll have the script. I don’t think he ever really had a version of the script that he was really happy with so I’m not sure he’s going to do a lot with it, but then we’ll see. I should probably send him an email here and just kind of see what he’s doing and see what he’s up to.
I think that’s pretty much all the projects I currently have in active development. Hopefully some of these things will start to click in the New Year. In the meantime, I’ll hopefully get a bunch more scripts into the mix as some of these fall out. As I said, I’ve got a bunch more scripts that are already written. I can start to send those out, and I’m always writing new stuff as well so I’ll be sending out, hopefully completing writing, finishing new stuff and sending that stuff out and just hopefully get more balls in the air. As you can see, it takes a lot of options. I’ve got to have a lot of things going for one of these things to actually hit so that’s what I really recommend to everybody. If you get something optioned, you get one or two scripts optioned, that’s great and it’s exciting and it’s a great feeling. But there’s a high probability that those options won’t go through so you’ve got to just keep writing new stuff, keep marketing your scripts and keep getting more options.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with writer/director Saar Klein. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Saar, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Saar: Thanks a lot. It’s good to be on it.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career and kind of how you got into the entertainment industry and eventually got to the point where you’re writing and directing feature films.
Saar: I went to Vassar College back on the East Coast and studied psychology but had a passion for film. My freshman year there I started watching Italian films and learning cinema history and just knew that I wanted to be a part of that world, but I didn’t know how. So when I graduated I started working in Poughkeepsie for a guy that used to give out the cameras at the film school at Vassar checking in equipment with him and checking out equipment with him. When I graduated he gave me a job just being his boom guy and editor doing little news stories and industrials about local businesses, sort of low end kinds of stuff, but that kind of got me going and from that I realized at a certain point I had to make my way to Los Angeles and get some work because at the time New York was kind of dead and worked my way up the ladder kind of at first doing some TA work and eventually got in an editing room through a friend of my mom’s, believe it or not, who said that she knew—her friend’s son was a big editor and, of course, I took that with a grain of salt. It turned out to be one of the three big editors and with Joe Hutchings and he worked for [inaudible 0:12:19.2] and he was cutting The Doors at the time. That was the end of the dare and so I just started working as sort of a coffee boy apprentice, worked my way up the ladder until at a certain point I became an editor. It took a while and for awhile, I actually kind of stopped because the process was so long and I started writing a little bit. But then the digital revolution really kind of helped me get ahead pretty quickly and get into an editor position. And I did that for years, worked as an assistant for Elva Stone and eventually worked for him as an editor on U-Turn, the co-editor on U-turn and worked my way from there and met [inaudible 0:`13:05.2] worked for him and then Cammon Crowe, Doug Lyman, and things just sort of kept moving from that. I always had an aspiration to write and an aspiration to direct which took a very long time to actually get it done, to get serious and focused about it and to get the thing off the ground.
Ashley: So let’s talk about that transition then. I was just curious just looking at your IMDB resume. Let’s talk about the transition from an editor to a writer/director. How did that happen? Just what was sort of the logistics of getting yourself in that position where someone said okay, we’re going to let you write and direct this movie.
Saar: Well, this is the thing about it. Nobody’s going to let you do anything so I just sort of did it. I started writing. I was just working a script and working for a very, very long time and then went around and tried to find produces. The process took a very long time. It took over five years including a lot of rewrites and along the way I sort of learned—I think I learned some things—I think the thing about it was a certain commitment after a couple of years where I said I just wasn’t going to back down regardless of what happens because you hear about these films, like Little Miss Sunshine or whatever that took seven or eight years in the making. You always think about the ones you don’t hear about where the director’s still working on it fifteen years later, but it’s always a fear. For me because I had a certain history, a reputation in the industry. I’ve succeeded at least on the editorial front, I hit a certain point where I talked about it so much and told everybody I’m making a film and it’s going to happen and all that. I kind of came to the point of no return. I think I would have been so humiliated to back out of this thing, but it was a real struggle to just convince people that give you money basically. This was something I did on my own and pushed myself.
Ashley: And so let’s talk about that for a minute because I think it would be interesting to a lot of screenwriters so you’re literally a guy. You’ve got a script and obviously as a professional editor you’ve got a contact so when you meet a producer, you’re just like hey, I’ve got a script. Would you read it? How did that sort of go down and maybe you can just talk about that process for the years you were doing it?
Saar: It was a very interesting process because I worked on the Born Identity and some studio films. I wasn’t terribly well-connected because the relationship you have between producers and some studio executives is very tight. You build a strong kind of relationship with these people because they’re controlling with high-pressure situations on films because there’s a lot riding the line. I sent them the script and there goes the break. Yeah, sure, I’ll read it, but what I learned a couple of years later from a funny story with an agent who called me up. I thought oh, finally, he’s interested in my work. I had to stop calling you because my fiancée just did a film and the editing is not great. Would you take a look at it? He was actually not calling me about my project because there was no agency at the time. I said listen, sure, I’ll help you but scratch my back a little bit. Tell me what’s going on here? What am I doing wrong? Basically what he told me was that I’m taking scripts for a relatively small film to each producer. It’s just never going to happen with them. They’re never going to touch a tiny little film with a small budget. It’s not their strength first of all and they’re not really interested in making small films. You’re wasting your time, and basically this agent gave me a list of a handful of people of producers who are willing, that I knew, and that we had in common who are interested in making films in the rage of a million to three million dollars. That was a huge thing because you can have incredible connections and you can ask for help but they can’t necessarily help you because they don’t know that world. First of all, they’re not interested in that world, but they won’t necessarily say no because there’s no point in saying no. It’s free just to say to somebody yes, I’ll take a look at your script and I’ll try to help you out with it. If anything happens jump on board. I think that’s a major thing to think about what kind of film they’re making and go to the right people. Don’t necessarily go to the biggest producer in the world that’s got thirty projects and eventually going to sit there and collect dust. I think that was very, very useful. When I heard that I kind of went to the few people who I knew that worked on a smaller scale and one of them was a producer, the producer, Tennis Malik, where we had a relationship and she read the script and jumped on board.
Ashley: Okay. And then she’s the one who went out and actually raised the money for it?
Saar: Yes. Collectively we went. We met people. She raised the money. She had connections and producers, especially the independent features. A huge part of her job is to actually find people who are willing to invest in the risky endeavor of making independent films.
Ashley: Okay, so let’s talk specifically about After the Fall and the script for that. When you start pitching a script, I’m always curious to ask this. How many scripts had you written when you started actually sending out After the Fall and trying to get it made?
Saar: You know, I’ve written a lot of the bunch of scripts like four or five I sort of abandoned them at some point either out of frustration or life just having an editorial job, some sort of professional engagement which had been a hindrance to me. When you’re writing and you’re stuck and it’s kind of painful, this is the only thing that you have and you break through. In my situation I could always say okay I’m going to take a job editing a film and kind of forget about it for a while. That way I took my foot off the gas. In this situation, I mean, I wrote and got notes and learned about the process of rewriting and how important it was, then showed it to some potential investors who had notes. Some liked it. The process just sort of went on for a while and then when we thought we were going to do it, the financial crisis hit and suddenly this money dried up. You start second guessing yourself as if the script is bad. Maybe that’s what’s happened. Maybe I need to change that and you start making some weird decisions. Hopefully before you start shooting, you kind of come to your senses and return to some of the core ideas that you had that were important to you.
Ashley: So where did this story sort of come from? I noticed on IMDB it’s listed as being co-written with Joe Conway. Where did the original kernel of story come from? What was your relationship with him?
Saar: The original story came from conversations I had with Terrence Malick when I was working with A New World. We just had some philosophical conversations about morality, basically about Raskolnikov, Crime and Punishment, the Dostoyevsky book, about his whole concept of committing crimes and getting away with them or living with the pain or scarring of what you’ve done in the past. The conversations were initially very, very general and philosophical and then kind of discussed the idea of a robbery of that kind of situation and that sort of developed into a script. I got together with Joe Conway and we just started brainstorming and writing some ideas down. We started the writing process and we just sort of bounced back and forth. We didn’t sit in a room together. We outlined together and after that, he would do a pass and send it back and I would do a pass and we just sort of hot potatoed it for a while until we got to a certain point where we were happy with it and then after that, a lot more time passed. I sort of continued to work on it because the situation changed. I realized what was working and what was not working and that led to a major rewrite. Then I was in a certain place. I had another tabled lead with a great actress where I thought it was kind of working and then one interesting thing for any writer to know about, what really created the last but very important rewrite for me was when I had a situation where we had the script. We felt pretty good about it but the money wasn’t there yet. And my co-producer said why don’t you just go out and start location scouting because we’re kind of stuck right now and find out where you want to shoot this thing. You’re basically limited as is any filmmaker; even a bigger filmmaker is shooting in places with some sort of tax rebate. The idea was to fly to New Mexico, drive around, fly to New York, from there go to North Carolina and then Louisiana. And when I went to New Mexico and drove around, it just resonated with me. The whole story kind of made sense, and I started seeing locations and getting involved in situations where what it did was inspire me to go back in and then change the script according to the locations where I felt in New Mexico, in Albuquerque. And that became actually I think in a strange way, the most important rewrite that I did because instead of inventing situations I could just create what was real and just kind of explore what was around me for my final rewrite.
Ashley: So I’m curious. What is your next project? What are you starting to do now? Is this one completed or do you have another script you’re out there trying to get made?
Saar: The truth of it is I’m looking for material. On this project I kind of did everything myself. I wrote it; I helped raise the money in a way. I edited it as well since I was an editor and directed it and so I just felt that it was such an overwhelming job that I wouldn’t want to do again. I think I just want to direct or develop a project with a writer. I have an agent who’s been looking for material for me. I’m trying to read a lot of books. I’m still in the process. The film comes out December 12 so there’s a whole huge process of marketing and selling and traveling with the film to different festivals. That’s engaged so much of my time and at the same time I should be working. So as an editor, it’s just taken up so much of my time but I’m really excited to get to a new thing that I’d love to do in a different way. I’d love to find scripts that I’d love to work with writers who have good material but not start at zero but start at 50. I think that writing a script is such a difficult and monumental task and directing is the same thing, but I don’t feel like I need to do all those things, the directing part and working with writers to develop a script. So I’m developing some things with writers, reading a lot and I’m looking for stuff so I’m in the research phase of the process if I decided to do another one.
Ashley: Sure. Do you get a sense—I mean, it sounds like you have an agent as a director—do you get a sense that this film did kind of level your career and now more opportunities are presenting themselves as a director since you’ve got one under your belt.
Saar: I’m not really sure about that yet. They tell you it’s an easier sell once you’ve done a feature. That’s to be seen you know. I’m not that once you have something there’s proof. There’s reality. In my mind there’s some sort of appeal in Hollywood especially for the unknown, for the guy that came out of nowhere and did his first thing. Once you have what you call in politics a voting history or something, that maybe limits the types of things that you can do but I hope that what everybody says, the first one is the hardest and then it’s easier to do the second one. I hope that that’s true, but I don’t know the answer to that one yet.
Ashley: So let’s just quickly recap. How can people see After the Fall? Maybe tell us about the release date. Is it going to be in theaters, video on demand? What’s the best way for people to see it if they want to check it out?
Saar: After the Fall which stars Wes Bentley and Jason Isaacs and Vanessa Shaw and Haley Bennett, a great cast, it’s going to be released in a theater in New York which is called The Village Cinema on 12th street starting December 12, but the same day it will go on VOD. It will go on ITunes, Cable on December 12, and Amazon probably as well so whichever way you buy your content online, it will be available December 12. On December 19 if you live in LA, it will be opening at the Arena Theater which is in Hollywood for a week only starting on the 19th.
Ashley: Maybe you can just tell us how people can maybe follow what you’re doing if you have a Twitter handle, tell us that. If you have an email address or a blog, maybe you could mention that.
Saar: I don’t have anything like that. I mean, there is a Facebook page for the film.
Ashley: I’ll get that. I’ll track that down and I’ll link to it in the show notes.
Saar: Otherwise I’m not savvy when it comes to social medial to be honest with you but the editors are. I’d love for you to look at the film and see what you think of the writing and the execution.
Ashley: Perfect. I will link to the trailer and I’ll link to the Facebook page in the show notes so people can find that. Saar, you’ve been very generous with your time. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Saar: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: Just a quick plug for my email and fax blast query service, all the options, the sale, and the writing assignment that I mentioned earlier in the podcast were a direct result of my own email and fax blast service, and I offer this service to members of Sysselect. Here’s how it works. First you join sysselect, then you post your log-on inquiry letter on the sysselect forum. I will personally review your log-on inquiry letter and help you make them as good as they can be. Then you purchase the blast and I send it out for you. The emails are sent as if they’re from your email address so all the replies go directly back to you. You can exclude companies if there are some specific companies you don’t want to send to. That’s easy, you just give me their email addresses and we can exclude those from the sending. To learn more about this, just check out www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. Again that’s sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
In the next episode of Selling Your Screenplay podcast which will actually be the final episode of the year, I’m going to be interviewing filmmaker Greg Francis. Greg is a writer and director and recently completed a cool thriller script called Poker Night. It took him nearly ten years to get this movie made and it’s a real testament to perseverance and we go into some real details about how he persevered and finally got this movie made. So keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up, I just wanted to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Saar. I think the main thing that stood out to me was that he had to take initiative and make things happen for himself. I really think it’s interesting. I mean, here’s a guy who has a ton of connections in the industry but he still struggled and still had to hustle to get his movie made. That really just speaks volumes, and I really can’t emphasize this enough. No one is going to be your champion more than you. I think that’s why so many newer writers think that the answer is getting an agent like once they have an agent, they won’t have to worry about the marketing of their screenplays anymore. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work like that. Ultimately it’s really up to you and you alone to advance your career.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.