This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 053: Writer / Director Greg Francis Talks About His Feature Film, Poker Night.
Ashley: Welcome to episode 53 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 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 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 Greg Francis. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Greg, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Greg: I really appreciate it. Glad to be here.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career, kind of how you got started in the entertainment industry, eventually got to the point where you wrote and direct “Poker Night”.
Greg: Yeah. It’s a long, long road to get there. Back when I was a child I went to film school, a little school in Virginia for my master’s and sort of fell into film through theatre in college and started making some shorts and really enjoyed it. So went to film school and made a film that did pretty well. This was a long time ago when there weren’t a million films being made. So we won 13 or 14 contests all around the world and placed in the Film Academy.
Ashley: And what kind of film was it? Was it a documentary, a feature film, a fictional film? What kind of film was it?
Greg: It was a film noir, kind of airplaneish in a certain sense. It was like a broad film noir parity. So it was a comedy that had a little bit of serious stuff but I was in Virginia and nobody cared really. So the next two years I gripped for a year on shoots and then I started art directing for commercials. And finally two years out—and I was just a kid like 23—there was a guy who saw my film and said I got a project. It has to be done this weekend. We’re making a tape for can and we have this really horrible sitcom and we need you to cut down a hundred hours to a ten-minute piece to sell it. And so I came in and did that and then the next project was I need you to direct this 35-millimeter presentation piece that’s 15 minutes long and has as much money as you want. And every project it would be I really like you but if you screw this up, I can’t hire you again.
Ashley: And are you still in Virginia at this point?
Greg: Still in Virginia and so he gave me my start and after about a year of doing commercials and things with him, Discovery Channel called me and wanted me to start producing a series for them. This was way back when there was only one discovery channel. So I was 24 and I produced two series but I kept saying I was a director. And they didn’t want me to direct. They liked me producing so I quit and then they hired me to direct. About the next 12-14 years that’s what I did. I sort of caught the—shows how old I am—we did the very first crime show which was called “New Detectives” right around OJ case time and it sort of became this wave of crime shows at least on Discovery. It was already happening with cop shows, but “New Detectives” was the show that the creator of CSI was watching and going boy, this would make a great drama series. Of course, none of us made any money off of it but he was driving a cab then and saw that show and then created CSI. So I did crime for a long time—eight, ten, twelve different series, a couple hundred hours of that. It was all the bad re-enactments that you see on the Discovery channel. I was responsible for a lot of those. Eventually I got to a point where I was like I wanted to make movies. That’s how I started just like everybody and being in Virginia I was working way more than my friends in LA but just didn’t have the opportunities. So finally I just said let me write this script based on a lot of my experiences in the crime world. I thought I’d raise the money myself. So we went about raising the money and that sort of started this road ten years ago.
Ashley: That was Poker Night?
Greg: That was Poker Night.
Ashley: Okay. Wow! Well, we’ll get into the specifics of that. So that’s a great story. I’m curious. This is really just an aside, nothing to do with screenwriting, why are those re-enactments so campy? Is it just because you’re using non-SAG actors, you’re shooting them so quickly?
Greg: Yeah, you know every show’s a little bit different. In the old days like on Discovery, our budgets were a lot bigger than they are now because most of these shows are on Discovery ID and it’s probably at least half the budget of what they used to be so you’ve got even less to do more which is pretty much a standard across the business right now. But you’re getting a lot of look-alikes so you’re cast more because you look like the guy that killed his wife than you are because you’re a great actor. You usually end up with like it’s the second cop with no dialog or the woman that runs the hotel that they interview for one scene, they’re amazing but your leads are all sort of fumbly. There’s a lot of great talent and then the problem is once you use them you can’t use them again on that show so you send up sort of working people through. You know, people are all trying hard. I don’t think anyone is—
Greg: There are a few of them that are definitely supposed to be campy. The rest of them really aren’t and maybe that’s part of their charm.
Ashley: I watch “I Almost Got Away with It” which I actually think their re-enactments are actually pretty good but you just mentioned they get people who look similar and sometimes the people look so similar, you’re almost like gee, is that the actual person.
Greg: That’s it.
Ashley: So they do a good job on that. Okay, so let’s talk about “Poker Night”. Had you written some other scripts? So you started this process ten years ago but were you writing feature scripts all throughout this period of doing commercials and working for Discovery?
Greg: No I wasn’t. I had been writing all my life. I was always a really avid reader as a kid. I’d go through—I would pick books by how long they were because I read really fast and I was very voracious all my life. I grew up overseas and so we didn’t have TV. It was also a long time ago. I had TV but everything was in Chinese so it wasn’t like I would just sit and watch TV. And this was before the VCR when I was a kid so I would just read six or seven books a week, and then I was writing all the time, a lot of creative writing and I really enjoyed it. But as I got older, writing was hard. When I fell into theatre I really liked that and realized I shouldn’t be an actor and started directing. I was always looking for something to do as a film and I did really well in writing classes and enjoyed it. I also got married really young and had kids so I was always trying to feed my family. So I wrote probably three or four scripts, never did anything with them, never sent them out, never tried to go anywhere. Poker Night was the first one that when I finished it, I was like I could shoot this, always like it’s a good B movie that’s doable and it was written for me to direct. And so I thought if I could get the money, this would be the one to really push for.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s dig into Poker Night a little bit. Maybe you can start out by just giving us a log-line. I will link to the trailer in the show notes so people can check that out, but maybe just give us a quick pitch so we kind of have some idea of what this is about for the people who haven’t seen it.
Greg: Sure. Poker Night is the story of a young detective in a small town. He’s a very young cop and he solved a big case and so he gets promoted to detective mostly just by his infamy. When you get promoted in that town you go and play poker that night with a bunch of old retired detectives who sort of give you stories about their time on the force to sort of give you a leg up with maybe some wisdom. The young detective leaves that night. He ends up getting a call and gets captured by this guy and locked in a basement and the movie sort of flashes all around between him re-hearing those stories at the poker night and then using those stories to find a way to break out and beat this guy that’s captured him.
Ashley: Maybe you can talk a little bit about where did sort of the original genesis of this story idea come from?
Greg: It was very true to me. I had no crime background. When I signed up for Discovery, I had no interest in documentaries or any understanding of what documentaries were and then that became my whole life. The first two series I did were an archeology series and a paleontology series so I was thrown in on the deep end of some very science-heavy and shows that we would go out in the field and figure out the story while we were there, very pure documentary. By the time we got to crime, we knew the case and we would interview the people involved and then go back and re-create it with actors. So I was 23 going out and hanging out with these homicide detectives that had been doing this for 20 years and at that time there weren’t really any positive shows on TV about cops in the documentary format. These guys had only dealt with news anchors and news people so pretty much they just treated me and the show like we were idiots. I mean, I was a punk kid with crazy hair. I don’t have any hair anymore. So walking into that world I had nightmares that first year. I’d get a lot of these really gruesome crime scene photos and couldn’t get them out of my head. I felt a lot like what eventually this character, Jeeter, feels like, but as the years went by, I became so fascinated and so much a part of that world and you finish your day interviewing the guy that’s been doing homicides for 20 years and you go out for a drink, and he tells you all the things he’s ever told anybody or cases that are crazy or all these things behind the scenes of the case you just dealt with once it’s off the record, I felt like I was being mentored by these old guys sort of in coming up through crime. There were a couple points during that run where I would be in some small town in Tennessee and they’d tell me about a case. I just did a case in Florida two months ago where they did something similar. Have you ever heard of this technique and you start connecting cops across the country and it was a really unique position. So I learned a lot and those stories always stood with me, not necessarily the ones that make the press but the ones that just the way they were smart or clever or they figured a way around it and it was a great experience. That was all what fed into Poker Night.
Ashley: Yes. Now I can definitely see how that led to that. That’s a great story. So I wonder if you can just talk to sort of the esthetics of the film or even the story of the film. Were there any other films that influenced it? I mean, it sort of felt like a sort of a seven vibe, the non-linear way you were telling the story. People always talk about Pulp Fiction is telling the story in a non-linear way. What were sort of some of your influences when coming up with this?
Greg: All of those films—I mean, I’m old and I’ve been doing TV for a long time and so you feel like when you finally get a shot, you really want to do your best. It was two years ago we shot that. I feel like I’m a much better director now that I even was then. But we devoured seven over and over and over again. In fact, all the [not understood 0:14:00.0] films. I don’t know if you necessarily see the influences other than it’s stark. Definitely any good crime movie—I’m a big fan. Actually it’s funny. Someone described it once a seven meets [not understood 0:14:14.5] because I do feel like there’s a lot of these Jean-Pierre Genet references where you’ll go off on a tangent and tell somebody’s story in a minute montage in the middle of a film. Magnolia was a huge influence, early Paul Thomas Anderson films. This film pales in so much comparison to those, but those are the guys that I love and that we tried to emulate in a B movie format.
Ashley: So I was a little confused at first when you had the young detective kind of in the memories of these older detectives as they’re telling this. The first one I was a little confused. By the second one I got that, but where did that idea come from to sort of infuse him in there? I thought it was an interesting thing and I can’t honestly think of any time where I had seen that.
Greg: Yes. I mean, the movie plays fast and loose with a lot of different things like that where I would say stylistically we do some cheats. One of those I love the idea because as you’re listening to a story, if you really want to learn from it, you might picture yourself in that position. And then also I just thought especially when I first wrote it, I was like we’re going to be lucky to get any cool actors to be sitting at that poker table and if we do we probably won’t be able to have them for very long. And so this would be a great device to have them start telling the story and then we can have the young actor take over and I don’t have as many days with them. That was a big part of it as a budget constraint.
Greg: We were like man, if I could just—like I was going if we could get old TV cops like Colombo or Magnum PI or guys like James Garner, that was like my dream at first because if they’re just sitting around and not doing anything, maybe we can get those guys. And those guys would have all been amazing. The guys we got ended up were really great too. But it is a device that takes a second. That was probably the other fascination I have is mystery box films and Memento’s one of my all-time favorites. I have probably too much of a fetish for being confused when I watch a film, I love that feeling of trying to catch up maybe too much. There are some things that are confusing, but I like the audience having to figure it out. And I do feel like after the first one you sort of get the device.
Ashley: Totally. There were some really good twists too that I liked in the film and I’m curious to kind of hear your thoughts on that. I don’t necessarily want to spoil the specific twist. As I was thinking about our interview it’s like I was torn. Should we talk about the specific twists, but let’s not necessarily talk about the specific ones but maybe you can just talk about your process on how you come up with it. I mean, I have written some of these scripts too where you have twists and for me it’s just literally a banging your head against the wall. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of moment of inspiration, but how did you come up with the twists? Did you just kind of get to a point and then there’s a lightning bolt? Just what is your process for coming up with these interesting twists?
Greg: Probably all of us wish that there were something that we could turn on or off. I have a bad habit of not—it works really well when it works and when it doesn’t you end up with a lot of things that don’t work of not outlining and planning what I’m going to do. So the first 30 pages of Poker Night were written fast like in three days and then it sat there for three months. You start working on it again and a little bit more and a little bit more but I never knew where it was going other than I kind of knew if I had three stories told at the table and three times he tries to escape, that gave me a little bit of a structure. But when I got to the end, I still was like I don’t know. And so each time something would happen or I would see something else—and then, of course, I had ten years to sit with it, I would just come up with something else and go back and rewrite it and try and integrate it in. It was no bolt of lightning—I guess there was a bolt of lightning when it would happen, but it was just a lot of beating my head against the wall.
Ashley: Yes. So unfortunately I think that’s just what the process is. So let’s take a step back and just talk about how you got this film made. I get a lot of people emailing me saying you know I’ve written this script and I want to make it myself. I want to get it and I want to produce it myself so let’s just talk about that process. So we’re ten years ago you’ve written this script and really some of the specifics, what did you start to do to make this actually happen?
Greg: As I said before, I’m a pretty voracious reader. At that time the heroes of independent film in the early 90’s like Spike Lee, Kevin Smith, a lot of these guys that I sort of worshipped, I read every single article in the Indi film magazine, the premiere magazine at that time, all the old stuff so I had an encyclopedic knowledge of everybody’s story and how it got there. I just didn’t know how to do it for myself. What I did know was you need money. So when we finished it, my buddy and me who at this point we were doing a bunch of stuff for Discovery did a bunch of stuff in China. We’d been doing commercials. We were like let’s just see if we can do this. I had a friend who knew some rich people that said why don’t you come talk. I’ll set it up at my restaurant. I had never pitched anybody and I’m a pretty straightforward guy. So we started sitting with these rich people and by rich people I mean a lot of millions. And I would say here’s the script to this film. I don’t think you’ll probably like it. I don’t even know if your kids will like it but there is a group out there that I do think will like it, and it’s not a lot of money. We have a lot of experience, but if we screw it up, you can always put the DVD in and show your friends how you lost all your money. And we met with a lot of people and eventually we got a million bucks which was crazy. So I thought we were going to make this movie.
Ashley: So now just to clarify, so you met with this one rich couple. You continue to meet with other wealthy people over the course of several years and how did you get some of those additional meetings set up?
Greg: We actually met with everybody probably in a two to three-month span and all of a sudden had a million bucks.
Ashley: How did you get those means? You just kept talking to your friends? Do you know anybody that would want to invest in a movie?
Greg: It was that and it was in a small town and so word spread that we were these weird kids from Virginia trying to make a movie.
Ashley: You’re still in Virginia while you were doing this.
Greg: We lived in Virginia but we were meeting with people in the Midwest and then once we got a million buck because part of our pitch too was we were going to film the movie here in this town, this little tiny town of three thousand people. So once we had a million bucks I thought we’re probably going to make it; we’re halfway there so we moved there and then I realized that I needed to get some LA money so we came out and started to meet people here. We met with every bottom-feeder, every shady—I mean, if you really don’t care about your investors and you just want to screw them over, there are a lot of people here willing to take that money and screw them over. But because we had some money we could at least get meetings. Through that I met a guy who was an amazing producer. At the time he was just starting to break as a line producer, and he had done the whole ten yards with Bruce Willis and he was getting ready to do The World’s Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins. He had me come out and work on that a couple weeks and was going into The Wild with Sean Penn. So he read the script in the middle of the night on location. It was like I love it. I want to put this together. I was like great. Am I still doing it right?
Ashley: No, this is great! This is fascinating stuff and I think this is the kind of—these sorts of intricate details I think help people just get a sense of the scope and effort that it takes to make an independent film. So this is interesting stuff. Don’t hesitate at all.
Greg: Now at this time I’d left all of my work to go do this. So we’re about eight months in and because we already had a million, I thought we were pretty well set but I have two kids and a wife so we’re getting down to zero. So we went to Puerto Rico for the summer to help the US government to put satellite dishes in on top of schools, every school in Puerto Rico. So I don’t know what I make in a day but it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. My little director hands were all calloused. It was hard, hard work. So I’m in Puerto Rico and this producer calls me and he goes hey, guess what, Sam Jackson just read your script and he wants to do the movie. I was like what? And he goes yeah; I’m on a set with the guy. He was filming a movie in somewhere in Wales and he goes the second unit director did all the Star Wars movies. He was the swordsman and he got it to Sam and Sam loves it and wants to do it. I was like that’s amazing. Then he goes Sam wants his buddy to direct it. I was like tell Sam screw you. And I was like this is kind of cool and also horrible. And then a week after he called me and he said Hayden Christianson wants to do it and they’re both on set in London right now for reshoots on Star Wars quoting the movie. I was like what? But they both want their buddy to direct it. So after a long time of soul-searching, I was like well, it’s the first one. I could be on as a producer and still be a writer. So I said okay, let’s do it. And the movie got green-lit and it moved from two different companies to finally ending up at Icon, Mel Gibson’s company, and budget went up to ten million bucks. We had a start date. I gave my money back to my investors and we started this waiting game of their schedules to open up. And that was about a year. So I think we were set for August 2006 t start shooting. All the money was in the bank. They already presold it at Cannes and in June—I think it was June of 2006, we got a call and they both were offered Jumper by that Doug Liven movie. It was horrible but it was a 120-million-dollar movie and they both were making more money than our entire budget and they left the project. I think I was given three names by Icon that I could get. I don’t remember any of them except for Ryan Reynolds at the time. I was done. I actually got called by Proactive Acne medicine and I went to China for two years and did commercials for them in China. During that time Hayden was really attached to the project and optioned it twice over that time, and after I was done in China, they moved us to San Francisco and I started directing all the domestic Proactive commercials. So I worked with the celebrities like Katie Perry and Justin Bieber and those guys. So it was good training and fun and the best money I ever made. And the movie just kind of kept going. At a certain point I finally said I’m not optioning it to anyone anymore unless I’m going to direct it. So that took us to December 2011. So we finished the script in 2004. It was going to go in 2006. In 2011 at the very end of the year, I got a call from a guy out here who’s been bugging me over the years about the script. He’s always really liked it. But I just wasn’t sure about him. Along the path there were three or four people that were willing to meet with me as director but very dicey people too. And so I kind of came to a point where I was like it doesn’t really matter I guess what my opinion is about our financiers; just get it done because it’s at a round trip. Like I said, there was plenty of interest. In fact, I was still getting meetings off the script. I had way more meetings as a writer. When it first blew up, it was really big. I had a lot, probably forty meetings all over town and did a lot of takes on different material. But I realized it was way harder to make it as a writer than a director. And I still need to pay bills. But anyway, finally this guy who owns a post house here in LA said we’re going to make it this year with you directing. And I was like sure we are. I didn’t really believe it. We didn’t sign anything. He just kept going nope, it’s going to happen. In September of 2012 he was working on another film up in Canada and he flew me up and I was on set and John Stockwell was directing that. I was like oh, it’s legitimate. They’ve got a few actors up here; there are trailers, equipment, a crew. So I finally was like maybe this will happen. And then sure enough about a month later we flew up there and we shot the film. But it took I guess it was eight years then. It will be ten years now.
Ashley: That’s a great story in perseverance. I want to just touch on one thing you mentioned as you were going through this process. So you raised a million dollars from wealthy people in this small town and then you made the comment, I needed LA money. Why didn’t you think ten years ago didn’t you think you could just shoot this thing for a million dollars and call it a day?
Greg: That’s a great question. Once we sort of tapped out the resources of the people in that area, at first I said why don’t you guys just all double your investment and start shooting? They were like no way.
Ashley: The bottom line was your budget at that point was set at two million dollars and you had a million.
Greg: Granted, this is 2006 so think about we’re just barely like the best digital camera at this time was the Vericam. There was no red; there was no digital revolution. The only way it could still be made was on film. I did actually go back and pitch like you know, I’ve redone the budget at 1.2 and we could shoot it on Vericam which is a new format and it will have a different look but it could really work. And I think they really felt look, we’re giving you the base to go out and get that extra money so there’s some legitimacy to it. So go get that money.
Ashley: The investors wanted a higher production value film is kind of the bottom line.
Greg: Besides people doing it on their credit cards, there weren’t a lot of low-budget movies being made. I mean, it’s not like today where everybody can make a film for a couple hundred grand. Back then there weren’t people really doing that unless it was a credit card movie, a talking movie, and when you see Poker Night, part of the problem is there are 254 scenes and it’s like 126 pages. It was way long and the physical production was very difficult. So it wasn’t something that was really simple to go out and do. So we felt pretty good about that number. I think that if it was done today it would be a much smaller film or a much cheaper film.
Ashley: Okay. So I’m curious too, and I think just from talking to you, I think maybe some of the answer has kind of already come out but I’d just be curious to hear your take on this. I get a lot of writers coming to my site and when they’re pitching their sort of idea and their script, it’s very clearly like an independent Sundance Art House film and I always tell them despite the huge once-a-year hit that comes out of Sundance, there is not really a market for these types of films. Poker Night is obviously a genre film and I’m wondering, it sounds like you just like this type of film. But I’m wondering how conscious you were of that when you were writing it and trying to raise money that this is a film—and you even sort of said it to the investors—you may not like it; your kids may not like it, but I think there’s a genre just how conscious you are of the potential market for a film when you started writing this script.
Greg: Somewhat conscious. I know that there are a lot of writers out there who really hedge their bets and look at certain things or try to follow trends. It wasn’t anything like that. I knew the crime world. I knew the stories in that world and I also knew that it was pretty popular. Most people like crime, different than a Sundance film. And at this time—this is still in the days of Blockbuster—you go I can walk every aisle of Blockbuster and see crappy thrillers everywhere or really bad crime shows. I remember—this will show you how long ago it was because we have a million bucks that we thought we were getting ready to shoot, and I started seeing the trailers for Saw. And I was like oh my gosh, another movie with a guy trapped in a basement. This is going to be horrible and that spawned this whole long genre which is hilarious now that someone will say they’re trying to be like Saw when it was written even before Saw. If it would have come out then it would have been a little bit closer to when that stuff was hot. I mean, I only knew genre films, horror, crime, thriller. There is always an audience and people like that. You don’t always want to turn on a Sundance movie but it seems like there is always an audience for these kinds of films. And so I was very conscious of that. I thought at least on DVD we probably could make our money back.
Ashley: And what’s kind of next? Have you gotten a sense now that this movie is done, has it gotten you some meetings? Do you feel like this is going to sort of propel your career to the next level? What’s sort of next in your mind? Are you writing some new scripts?
Greg: We are. We’re working on a couple new scripts. I’m still working in crime TV. I’m on my third series this year already and there are opportunities that are coming as a result of it. It’s been a nice push here this last few weeks because it was relatively quiet up until now but truthfully, probably as anyone in this business, I just feel really lucky and blessed to have even gotten this far and now that I’ve made a film and see TV is so much more straightforward than film in a certain sense. It’s just a long, long hard road. It’s amazing. I’m just very lucky and would love to be lucky again and get another shot at it but very thankful for what we’ve been able to do.
Ashley: For sure. So maybe you can tell us how people can see Poker Night, sort of the release dates. Is it going to get a theatrical release, maybe Video on Demand, maybe some of those dates and stuff so people can catch it if they want to check it out.
Greg: Sure. It’s up on Video on Demand starting today, December 5 I think except on Time-Warner. It’s on Direct I know. It hits ITunes next week, the week of the 12th and in New York there’s a free screening on the 15th from Fangorum Magazine that they’re hosting there in New York City. It opens in LA on 20th. Then I’m sure it’s coming to DVD after that.
Ashley: For sure. For sure. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you if they just want to follow along with what you’re doing or potentially contact you? Maybe if you have a Twitter handle you can mention that, a blog, a Facebook page, anything like that.
Greg: Greg Francis on Facebook. I’ve got a picture there by my name. I’m mrgregfrancis on Twitter. You can plug me anywhere.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. I’ll put all that in the show notes. Well, you’ve been very generous with your time. This has been a great interview. As I said, I think there’s a lot of good information and I think people will get a lot of value out of this. So thank you very much for coming on.
Greg: Cool! Just one last thing. I’m sure because you get all kinds of stories from all different people, but ten years is not crazy. There are so many people with independent films and it takes that long unless you are independently wealthy or just brilliant—and I was neither—but it takes a lot of perseverance and so just be encouraged. There is so much stuff to wade through and there are so many things that have to happen. And I wish that I could say on one hand it’s because I’m more talented than other people or I was a better writer than other people. The sad reality of our business is it’s not based on much of that. I think it’s based on the right thing at the right time with the right people getting involved and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best thing. So just because you’re a really great writer, I know so many people who are better writers than me. I just happened to get really lucky to lock into something that got people’s attention at the right time. So don’t give up and don’t stop writing and don’t get down when you feel like this is really good. I don’t know why it didn’t go. I feel like the other side of being—the great thing about being a director is I see hundreds of actors and it’s not usually the best audition in the room. But I tell you I always remember the best audition. And you might have the best script right now and people pass and they don’t do anything. But they’re going to remember you and they’re going to remember what you wrote. And so if you keep going the next project might be it or they have something they need a rewrite on. I know it can be discouraging and it’s easy to get down, but I would really encourage you don’t give up if you really feel like this is what you want to do. Really keep going because the longer you’re in the business, the more people fall away and the more opportunities will be there.
Ashley: I mean that’s just great advice and I think people who are new to the business, they don’t understand how true what you just said really is. People always think oh, I’m the super talent and it will be a meteorical rise to the top and after you’ve been in it for a while, you know that it’s not quite that simple. It’s a very complex equation. I have a film that I wrote in 1999, and it took the guy ten years. I optioned it in 1999 and it literally took him ten years to get it made so those stories are not uncommon. One common thread—and I think you’re definitely a part of that—that I do see on a lot of these podcasts is a lot of people in your sort of situation, they started out by going out and making that first independent film. And that’s the other thing I always tell people. It’s like one of the single biggest things that separates people is just taking action and not sitting around. You went out and made an independent film. Now it’s probably twenty years ago but it didn’t really “go anywhere”. It wasn’t the big hit but it got things rolling. People don’t realize too how subtle, you just start taking action and no, it’s not going to be the next Memento or the next Brothers McMullen or the next Clerks but that doesn’t mean it’s a failure. It gets the ball rolling in very small subtle ways. So I definitely appreciate what you’re saying.
Greg: And especially now with the ease of—you can do everything yourself for s little and it still looks so good. This is the greatest time in the world. That’s why Sundance has 13,000 films for a hundred slots each year. But you’ve got an opportunity that no one else—I mean, we never had it because you had to pay for film, pay for a camera and it was so cost-prohibitive and now you can go out with your friends and shoot something very simply. Clerks could have been done for a couple hundred bucks now with the right writer and so do that! You’re absolutely right. Take control of your career now by yourself. You don’t need all these other people, and even if it doesn’t get out or get the attention, you’re so far ahead of the game.
Ashley: Great conversation and I really do appreciate you and I really enjoyed your film. So I hope it’s a big success and I hope other people will check it out.
Greg: Really appreciate it. Thanks so much for bugging me.
Ashley: Thank you, man, we’ll talk to you later.
Greg: All right, man. We’ll talk soon, Ashley. Bye.
Ashley: Just a quick plug for my email and fax blast query service. All the options and the sales and the writing assignments that I’ve had in the last eighteen months were all a direct result of my own email and fax blast service, and I offer this service to members of sys select. Here’s how it works. First you join Sys Select. Then you post your log line inquiry letter in the Sys Select form. I review your log line inquiry letter and help you make them as good as it possibly 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 replies go back directly to you. You can exclude companies if there are specific companies you don’t want to send to for whatever reason. To learn more about this just check out www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
In the next episode of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Tanya Badichara. Tanya is a television writer. We talk about how she broke into the business and how she’s been able to maintain a successful career over the years. So if you’re interested in writing for TV, you’re not going to want to miss this episode next week.
To wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Greg. I think the main take-away for me is just the determination and perseverance that it took Greg to get this movie made. So often we hear these great stories where someone seems to come out of nowhere and sell their script and almost overnight they’re the talk of Hollywood. Those are great stories and it’s fantastic if it happens to you. I certainly hope it does, but most of the time that’s just not how things happen. So whatever you do, don’t give up. Y9ou might have to persevere for ten years or more. There’s that old saying the overnight success took ten years and I really think there’s a lot of truth in that.
I’m also reminded of a story. I think I even mentioned this on a podcast before and I’m not sure where I originally heard it. I think it was actually from Tim Ferris who’s famous for the book “The Four-Hour Work Week”. The idea is that when you’re trying to learn something, looking at the people who are at the absolute top of the profession may not be the most helpful way to actually get better at that skill. For instance, if you’re trying to improve your golf game, watching Tiger Wood may not actually make you a better golfer. He can physically do things with his body that most people simply can’t do and that most people probably includes you as well. So trying to learn golf from him isn’t the best way to become a better golfer but looking at the guy who’s ranked maybe a hundred in the world, who’s not just gloriously gifted is actually a better way to learn a skill. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from these types of working professionals because their talent level is probably a lot closer to your own and one of the things that’s made them successful is just being hardworking.
Bringing this back to film, there are guys like Quentin Terantino and Christopher N0oland who are just gloriously gifted and I’m not sure those are really the guys most of us should be trying to emulate. Looking at someone like that might not be nearly as beneficial to getting better as looking at someone closer to your own talent level but who is actually having some success.
I had a conversation a few months ago with a fellow screenwriter who is trying to produce his own independent feature film. He was looking at My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a sort of a template. And honestly I’m not sure you can really learn a lot from that film. It was a good film and obviously was super successful but at the end of the day I think it just needed an enormous amount of luck to do what it did and luck isn’t something you can really engineer. And I hope that some of what I’m doing with this podcast, Greg just chipped away at getting his movie made for years and years and eventually he got it made. I really think you’re better off looking at films like the ones that we talk about on this podcast where they might not be super big hits but they are recouping their costs. That’s actually a business model that you can make work and it doesn’t require being uber-talented or super lucky which are both things you can’t ultimately control. It does obviously require a lot of hard work. That is the only down side so on that note, that is our show.
I really do appreciate everyone who listens to the podcasts. Thank you everyone. This is the last podcast of the year. I really hope you found some value out of it and hope it’s helped you improve your writing career at least a little bit. So please be safe and have a great New Year. Once again, thank you for listening.