This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 055: Screenwriter and NYFA Teacher Nunzio DeFilippis Talks about Transmedia.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode 55 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 Nunzio De Filippis. He’s a teacher at the Los Angeles Branch of the New York Film Academy. We had a detailed talk about transmedia which is something that Nunzio specializes in and teaches at the New York Film Academy. Before I did the interview I was a bit worried about talking about transmedia. When I hear people talk about it, it often is in terms that I don’t think are all that helpful to beginning screenwriters, but Nunzio has a great perspective on it. And I think there are great action items for screenwriters at virtually every level of their career. So stay tuned for that.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m talking with screenwriter and screenwriting teacher, Nunzio De Filippis. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Nunzio, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Nunzio: Thanks for having me. It’s fun to talk about writing because it’s such a solitary life.
Ashley: That’s true. So to start out, I wonder if you can just give us a quick overview of your career, kind of how you got into the entertainment industry and what you’ve done to get to the point where you’re at right now.
Nunzio: I have been a writer my whole life. I wrote a story when I was in the sixth grade about my dog having super powers and my parents decided that’s it; he’s a writer and despite their repeated attempts to steer me away from that to science, I kept coming back to it, but really, the decision–because I was a psych major in college with a minor in film—the decision was at grad school. I moved out here to Los Angeles and I sort of embraced the life of the screenwriter in Los Angeles when I got my master’s degree at USC. And my thesis script was optioned and then the company that optioned it kind of fell apart for a year and got restructured so I had a very quick crash course in how so much of what happens to you here is outside of our control. And I stuck it out, and once I knew I stuck it out past that, I knew I was going to stick it out forever. Did a couple of seasons on the HBO television show Arlis, did a few episodes of the Disney Series Kimpossible, have had numerous scripts optioned for sold story ideas and then go into development hell and disappear forever, but I got paid so that always counts. Everything that I’ve done I actually do with my writing partner who is my wife, Christina Weir. I am the more vocal of the two so when we pitch I do most of the pitching; that’s why I’m also doing the interviewing and most of the teaching. And that brings me to what I’ve done lately. The two of us have moved into comics as a way to create new story ideas and get them out there as intellectual properties. We’ve done superhero books for DC and Marvel, but we’ve also done independent comics with creator-owned material that has gone on and been optioned as a television series or optioned as feature films, a couple of which are still in development right now and the last few years I’ve been teaching at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles and just became chair of the screenwriting department on the Los Angeles campus. That’s who I am. I have sort of made a living writing or teaching writing with no other garbage screenwriter jobs that we have to take to survive since 1999. So I’ve been able to make a go of it.
Ashley: Great! So I wonder if we could just touch briefly. You mentioned the option to—I think you said Hollywood Pictures when you were in grad school at USC. Just quickly, how did you get that option? How did you get that script to them and how did you get it optioned?
Nunzio: Well, at the time USC had a Hollywood Pictures Fellowship where, at the start of your second year you would develop your idea for your thesis feature scripts and then execs from Hollywood Pictures would come in and listen to the students pitch the idea and they would give feedback and based on the pitch and the response to the feedback, they would pick two students to have their ideas optioned. Basically you would spend a year at the school developing the script, writing it, and then at the end of the year, you would submit the script to Hollywood Pictures and they would give a fellowship that would go towards your tuition or your spending money, however you chose to spend it in grad school. I did it towards tuition. But from the day you graduated they had a one-year option on your scripts. The principle of it was to get us our first chance out in the industry. In practice, what it meant was that the two of us who got the Hollywood fellowship had a bit more pressure on us to deliver a script that would make the school look good because once it was out there Hollywood Pictures would be looking at it and judging the caliber of scripts that the entire program that USC was delivering based on two students’ work. So it was a really great thing when it started. It was a pretty terrible thing when it was done, but the money was good and it was a chance to get out the door, and as I sort of mentioned at the beginning, Hollywood Pictures sort of restructured within weeks of my graduation, but the weeks before I graduated I was pulled aside by a teacher saying hey, your script’s not ready. And even though they felt it was better than some of my peers, not as good as some of the others, but better than some of my classmates, they didn’t know what to do because they didn’t want to send it out if it wasn’t ready. The only leverage they had was once you graduated it goes to them so we can prevent your graduation despite the fact that I was an A-minus kind of student. I suddenly was looking at wait; you’re going to keep me here until I get this script ready?
Ashley: Wow, Wow!
Nunzio: Then when I asked them what was wrong with it, their response was well; it’s just not good enough. There was no feedback at all so I went into a panic in my last six weeks of college—actually it was my last three weeks of grad school is when it really fell on me. I delivered it and they said oh, this is great. You can send it. I sent it and then Hollywood Pictures closed their doors. So this wonderful option turned into a nightmare for the last few weeks of my grad school and then didn’t yield anything because the execs involved were let go during the restructuring and the new execs didn’t want to do—because I went in a year later and said hey, you’ve restructured. You had an option but your doors were closed. I’m happy to extend the option for a year just figuring it would get some traction that way. They were like no, that was the old administration’s business, sorry.
Ashley: I’m curious. It sounds like a great program. I actually went to CSUN and they didn’t have anything like that. I got a master’s degree there in screenwriting and they didn’t have anything like that. But ’it sounds like a great program getting the students out there. Did any of the scripts that you know of actually get optioned and actually get made over the course of however many years this program was around?
Nunzio: To my knowledge I don’t think any film was made by Hollywood Pictures based on the fellowship, and I don’t think actually right after the restructuring I think the Hollywood Pictures Fellowship went away. I don’t know that you would see has a replacement for that at this time. It was a great opportunity though. In an ideal world getting made would be the gravy, in the sense getting in the door and meeting people and discussing your idea and learning how development works. That’s probably the more valuable experience. That’s what I wound up being denied because of the restructuring. If it hadn’t been made, it hadn’t been made. I’ve been now out in the industry for 20 years since that happened. I’ve learned enough to know that we have the dream that we’re going to sell right away and that’s unrealistic. If every script brings you a fan, a contact, then it takes you one step closer to your sale, and I think that was what was ideal about that program. It gave us a chance to make fans in the industry, then sit down and hear what the process of development would be like so that we would be better armed. With those fans liking our work and our understanding of how to work with development execs, we would have been better equipped for that.
Ashley: You mentioned that you got recently into writing comic books. Let’s just talk about that and that transition. How did you get into comics? Did you meet someone; you pitched them stories? I know there are going to be screenwriters who are definitely interested in pursuing something like that. How did you get into from being a screenwriter to a comic book writer?
Nunzio: I personally was a comic book fan my whole life, superhero comics and non-superhero comics, so a little bit I knew about as a kid but mostly I knew about superhero comics. But my best friend and college roommate, Greg Roca, is a novelist and a big name in the comic industry and he started in the comic industry a few years before I did and he got in at DC and then he was part of a Batman team writing Batman and there was an event called Officer Down and they needed someone to fill in on an issue of Officer Down and he got me in the door on that. I had just started writing my then roommate and we might have been dating at the time. We just started writing together, but she had no interest in comics so I took this one on myself and thought of it as a sort of one-off, no big deal. Whenever an opportunity in comics arose I would follow it. I pitched for some other things that didn’t really pan out and then Christina and I started writing another feature about a serial killer who wears the skins of his victims and becomes them and our friend read the idea, the treatment for it and said this would make a great horror comic miniseries and he was working with a small publisher called Olney Press and he introduced us to them. They published that and have published something from us pretty much for the last ten to fifteen years consistently. We’ve worked with a couple of other publishers and then through that I got back at DC at this time with Christina as a partner and marvel and wrote Ex Men and Adventures of Superman and one four-page short for Wonder Woman and Arc of Batman Confidential so we’ve written some of the bigger names and we’ve sort of circulated around the superhero world, but for the most part, we’ve tended to use the comic industry as a place to tell our non-superhero stories and then draw attention to them here but really just to write the story, to get the story told.
Ashley: Just a couple follow-up questions on that. So I mean, I had a few comics as a kid but I’m not really a big comic book fan so maybe these are very new-type questions. When you say like a mini-series, what exactly does that mean like you write a mini-series comic is that about eight issues?
Nunzio: A comic itself is anything in that form of sequential art which is pictures told in sequence to tell a story usually illustrated though some people do it with photographs but for the most part usually illustrated. That’s a comic, but a comic book is what you see in comic stories that you used to see on newsstands when I was younger and occasionally see on the spin-a-racks in bookstores, 22 pages of stories that of superhero books are now down to 20 pages of story put out monthly. So that’s a comic book. The graphic novel is the larger thicker 150 pages, 100 pages, 250 pages, all told in one book. But a comic book is an individual issue and that can be an ongoing series like a Superman or Archie or The Walking Dead where every month a new issue comes out and it advances the story except in the case of Archie where it tells stand-along stories that might build a larger depending on which book within the Archie line you’re talking about. A mini-series is meant to be done after a certain number of issues. There was a term called a maxi-series for a long one like eight issues or ten issues and people don’t tend to use that term anymore. So at this point a mini-series is anything that’s intended to be done. Usually it’s four to seven issues. It can get up to eight or twelve issues and then they are often collected in a trade paperback that you see in the bookstore like the Watchman which everybody assumes is a graphic novel is actually a 12-issue maxi-series. It has been since 1985 since the Watchman I believe. So no one’s ever seen it in an issue form so everyone just assumes its natural form is that collection. But that was a mini-series. It was released monthly. As a storytelling form it had similarities to TV in that you have to at the end of the issue give people a reason to come back and buy the next issue, the same way on a show you have to get them to come back and watch the next episode.
Ashley: I’m curious. As a writer do you get hired to write one episode of—you know, you said one episode of Batman—what does one episode pay, and again you don’t have to tell me exactly but just ballpark what are we talking about?
Nunzio: I don’t know what the numbers would be at this point at DC Marvel. Christina and I haven’t worked for them in five years or so but the way that the math works is at page rate. You get paid per page on the book and it used to be 22 pages per issue. Now it’s 20 pages per issue. Let’s say your page rate is 100 dollars a page which is a reasonable page rate at the time that we were working there, not incredibly high, not incredibly low. So that would be for one issue that month. That would be now that there are 20 pages per issue, it’s two thousand dollars.
Ashley: Okay. And what is the script like? As a writer how do you script something like that? Is it very much in screenplay format and then you take that to the artist and they start to actually turn it into pictures?
Nunzio: Unlike screenplay format where there is kind of one format, down to fonts and margins, comic scripts can be any number of formats. There are probably as many comic script formats as there are writers writing comics. However, there are sort of categories of comic scripts. There is what they call loose scripts, and loose scripts sort of tell the artist what’s happening in the issue and turns over control over what page it happens on or how many panels are on a page to the artists. And so a screenplay would be a perfectly viable loose script format to write your comic. And you write a screenplay and you give it to the artist and then the artist then lays out the page. But then there is what’s called a tight script or a full script where you are writing page one and then you list panel one and you describe what’s being seen in each panel and what lines of dialog are being lettered in each panel. And you have complete control. I think, depending on how closely you work with your artists, how much you trust your artists; you may vary from job to job how much control you have. But Christine and I tend to lean towards the full script and one of the reasons is we get to be the director as well as the writer in that case. We get to decide how everything is paced and what angle we’re going to be viewing things from though a lot of this is left to the artist. You can dive into that. So it gives you a greater understanding of the visual aspect of storytelling which then feeds back when you are a screenwriter so you have a better understanding of what other people will be bringing to the table as a director or as a cinematographer or as an actor.
Ashley: Perfect. Let’s kind of move on. One of the things we talked about via email before the podcast was the thesis workshop that your students go through that simulates the development process, I get email from new writers all the time asking questions like how can I make sure that I get final say over how the movie turns out? And I think a lot of people—you’re laughing—
Nunzio: The answer is make the movie out of your own pocket.
Ashley: These people are very serious. I think a lot of people don’t understand just how subservient screenwriters really are to directors and producers so perhaps you can tell us a little bit about the development process and what screenwriters can expect from it.
Nunzio: I think that what happens in the development process is that other people bring money and talent to the table. For that they want to have some measure of control and obviously if bringing talent to the table gave you control, then screenwriters would be the most powerful people in Hollywood. So there are sort of tiers of talent and those tiers are based on who would bring money to the theater. Very few writers command a name that would bring an audience. Aaron Sorkin brings an audience. On television Shanda Rimes brings an audience but for the most part nobody says I’ve got to go see that new movie written by other than screenwriters or people in the industry directors, actors, they understand the process; they understand storytelling. They go oh, if this person wrote it, if this woman wrote it, if this guy wrote it, this is a worthwhile movie. For the most part it’s I need to go see the new movie starring these people so actors bring talent. They also bring money and recognition and then directors to a lesser extent but pretty well can bring an audience. You go see a David Fincher movie. You certainly go see a Steven Spielberg movie or a Francis Ford-Copola movie or Woody Allen movie.
Ashley: Even on the director front though there are only a handful of those guys around that really command that kind of—as you said, you just named probably half of them.
Nunzio: Yes and I think that the other part is we deal in a world of sort of imagination as writers. We conceptualize a story and what serves the story is always what dictates what we put on the page if we’re doing it right. Character, story, those are the two things that we’re concerned with. A director has the practical considerations of production and that is why I think the director is given a bit more say than the writers because when a director says I want to do this, the studio can say how? How are you going to do this? The writer doesn’t have to make that consideration. It’s like this is what the story requires, not this is how I’m going to get that hot-air balloon for the big sequence at the end. I think that people have to recognize that there is an interest beyond telling stories that exists in Hollywood as a business. Now that having been said, most people go into this business do it because they like story. So certainly if you’re going to get notes from a director, a director may be taking into account practical considerations of how they’re going to produce the scripts, but they are as much a slave to story as we are. They see story; they see the world in story. They see the world in character. The biggest problem you’ll get getting notes from actors is that their character may be more important in their head than yours. They can’t see beyond their own perspective and that’s good. That’s their training. They see the story through the eyes of the character that they are playing. But at the same time they give you notes that get deeper into character than you yourself may have gone. So it’s easy to see how getting notes from an actor or director can still help a story. I think that what writers sometimes get scared of is everyone else in the process—producers, development execs, studio execs, they think that the only consideration those people have are the ones that I started with which are: How much is this going to cost and what decision can I make to bring more money in? You’d be foolish to not acknowledge that that’s part of their process, but if they wanted to make money, Wall Street is a much better place for them than film. The people who run the studios are certainly making tons of money, but the executives that you’re dealing with, they’re not making so much money that money is the whole thing. Fear of losing their job which sometimes means fear of doing their job certainly motivates them more than making money. But when they do it right, they’re thinking story as much as you are. They are asking questions of why is this happening this way. How can we make it better? So what we try to do is teach people to work within the development process because your job as a writer isn’t to write a script that nobody changes because if that’s the case, just buy yourself a camera and make a movie for yourself and just entertain your friends with it and that’s great. That’s a creative outlet but if you want to make a living as a screenwriter, you’re going to put your work out there somewhere. If you’re an independent filmmaker who writes and directs and stars in everything you do, you’re going to have to line up financing. You’re going to have to secure distribution. You’re going to have to take it to film festivals and get people to agree to screen it. At some point you’re going to have to pitch your idea. At some point you’re going to have to listen to people tell you why it’s not working and what can make it better. So what we try to teach is how do you sift through that process? How do you separate out the notes that are not creatively driven from the notes that are creatively driven? How do you take the notes that are not creatively driven and own them, make them a creative note? There are times that somebody will tell you we need to do this for a reason that’s got nothing to do with story and that frustrates you as a storyteller and causes you to change your story where you don’t want to. But at the same time if you can get past why it happened and find a way to make it work in your story, it may take you in a direction you hadn’t intended to go and then you get the thrill of discovering a new take on your story. So at the school we try to do in their thesis process, we give them a thesis adviser and readers and then the department chair reads every script and so they get a set of notes from a group of faculty. And these notes might sometimes take them where they don’t want to go. Now we don’t take financial considerations and we don’t read a script and say I’m sorry. You need to change your female lead to a male lead because no one’s going to put money behind a female-driven action movie. We don’t do that. But what we might say is just know that when you get out into the world, people might want to change that. The commercial marketing decisions we don’t tend to hit the students with as these are things you have to do. We tend to red-flag it. We tend to say okay, you’re trying to write a 300-million-dollar science fiction movie, but you have to understand that for it to be a 300-million-dollar science fiction movie, big money has to come to the table and big money coming to the table means you have to make certain decisions based on what is commercially viable.
Ashley: So let’s go ahead and move into Transmedia. That’s something I know that you’re big on there at the New York Film Academy. I think to start out, it’s a term that I hear thrown around quite a lot. Maybe to start you can define what Transmedia is so that at least people have some idea of what we’re talking about.
Nunzio: I think if you get ten Transmedia experts in a room discussing transmedia you’ll get about fifty opinions about what transmedia is or isn’t. I think that there are a lot of things tied up in it but the shortest way that I can think to describe it is taking story and content and spreading it out over multiple mediums where each medium has a unique contribution to the world or the story that is being created. So the biggest example that you can think of is Star Wars. The movies tell one story but video games; they’ve got The Knights of the Old Republic which takes place thousands of years earlier. The comics initially were simply multimedia. They were just retelling the story of the movie but eventually original stories were being told. Novels filled in the gaps between the two trilogies or took us past the trilogy and now have been made non-cannon because they’re doing more movies. People will look at transmedia and say toys. Is that transmedia and I would say maybe. I don’t think that it makes that unique a contribution to the story but at the same time I saw Star Wars when I was seven years old which tells you how old I am. There are a bunch of characters whose names I only know because I bought the action figures. There are a whole lot of creatures in that cantina scene who are just hey, that’s the guy who has the hammerhead and that’s the wolf man creature. They have names and the only way you’re going to get it is by buying some of the merchandise. So even in its own small way, that is contributing to our understanding of the story. Because of things like merchandising transmedia can get a very bad reputation because it’s just ways to monetize your story or your world across multiple revenue streams. But the fact of the matter is while that will be a reason that people who spend money to make money like studios, will get involved with a transmedia idea. It’s not why a writer should. A writer should because you can do something fascinating in transmedia. You can tell one part of the story over here that is its own story with a beginning, middle, and end in a screenplay form and then over here on a web series you can fill in the back story of a minor character in your film or TV show or in your comic book you can tell us what happened three hundred years ago to this family. It doesn’t have to be these sweeping things. You can get your small family drama and then do a web content that is the blog of one of your characters that gives us insight into why the mother or the father or the sibling is behaving this way during your small family gets together film. So the transmedia possibilities exist across big and small storytelling despite the fact that I think most people would steer it towards large. We try to not because it’s film school. There are always going to be a handful of students who very rightfully say I don’t want any part of this big commercial thing. How is transmedia any use to me? We then point them towards web series that are small in nature like Dyer as an Awkward Black Woman or Lizzie Bennett, things that are character-driven web content. I think we try to teach lots of the smaller forms that form transmedia so we give them a little bit of web series; we give them a little bit of comic book. We even give them a little bit of video game and then we have them build what’s called a franchise which is kind of separate of transmedia but part of it which is building a world that can contain all of these within one. Franchise-building is where I think it scares people because they think they have to build Star Wars or Star Trek or something like that.
Ashley: And that kind of leads me to my next question, just sort of the nuts and bolts and the practicality. So someone has this great idea that they think will work as a video game and a movie franchise and a comic book, what is it they should actually do? What are the nuts and bolts of putting something like that together? Obviously it’s a full seminar or whole master class but just in broad strokes, what do they need to do to kind of flesh that out into these different mediums?
Nunzio: I think that film school is such a gamble. It’s such a shot in the dark. I’m going to acquire skills that better equip me for a career that sometimes can seem like buying a lottery ticket. I can write a great script and ten things can go wrong and no one will buy it and it’s got nothing to do with the quality of the script or how well I pitched it anything to do with me. You can be an overnight success after ten years of struggle and you wait and you wait and you wait and sometimes you make it work with small option payments your whole life and never go further than that but you make a good living. Sometimes you make nothing and you have to wait tables your whole life and then somebody buys your script for $650,000 and you’re on your way. So I think it’s such a gamble. What transmedia does is it answers your question a lot more easily because it’s a lot more self-starter oriented. It is much easier to get a web series up and going than it is to get a movie made or a TV show started. Those money people I talked about earlier, they don’t give up their money easily and so they quite often wait for you to be established so you need credits to get the opportunities that you have to get in order to get credits. It’s this sort of cycle of keeping you out. But anyone with a camera and actor friends and some time can put together a web series and obviously there’s money involved but the money is much lower and you can kick-start it or you can self-finance it and not kill yourself the same way you would if you wanted to make a short movie or particularly a feature film on your own. So I think that comic books, what we try to do in the class is get you comfortable with the form, get you writing a script and then get you a proposal that you can take elsewhere, but again, comic books at this point you can do a web comic and put up a page every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the barrier to entry is getting an artist to illustrate it for you which is not easy but it is much more doable than getting a film off the ground.
Ashley: What would an artist charge for something like that doing a page? I’ve done a lot of outsourcing in various businesses. Can you go over to India and find someone who will do it for five dollars a page?
Nunzio: Yes. You can do a web comic and the beauty of the Internet is that connections are made across these art forms that span continents, that span oceans, that span the globe and so you can turn around and you can hire an artist from the Philippines or from India and you can hire someone from a country whose standard of living is such that what would be a shameful thing to pay an artist here. There’s good money there.
Nunzio: The thing is you want to bring an artist who cares about your project so you want to pay them and as much as you think well, I’m broke, I can’t afford to pay them, you have to understand that writing a comic book script, Christina and I can write a 22-page non-superhero comic. It would take a week to plot it and then like two days to write it if we plotted it in intense detail. Otherwise it would take a lot longer to write it. But still, you can write multiple comic scripts a month which goes back to that Marvel or DC. If you’re making two thousand dollars a month writing a DC book, if you get three books, that’s six thousand dollars a month and suddenly you’re going hey, that’s not terrible. I don’t have to have another job. You can’t as an artist take three jobs at the same time, not if you’re meeting the deadlines of a monthly comic book. Well, a web comic lowers that barrier. If I’m writing a comic book that comes out once a month, that’s 20, pages of art my artist must produce every month. If you’re doing a Monday, Wednesday, Friday web comic that posts a page every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, that’s three pages a week, that’s twelve to fourteen at the most pages per month. So suddenly they are being asked to do a little bit less. So what you would do is you would find out what they charge per page and it can be high and it can be cheap if you outsource. But you then get your comic book up and get it noticed. The other thing is that the comic industry is very much like the film industry. There are publishers who are like the studios where the producers or the production companies that you would go to and you would go with your proposal and some proof that you know how to write a comic, that web comic becomes very good for that. And then they do it and then they pay the artist and they pay you. You don’t work as much on spec in comics unless you’re going to self-publish. Publishers don’t say hey; let me see the first five issues written out of your comic. They’ll look at a proposal and they mostly just want to know if you know how to write. They don’t have an interest in reading five issues of your comic. They might want to read one or two scenes so they know you understand the format. But it’s even better for them if you can say I understand the format. Take a look at my web comic that ran for two months. Look how good it is and then they say okay you can write, and I like this idea. So comics tend to move forward more on a pitch or treatment basis to put it into screenwriting terms than on a spec screenplay which specs come and go as to whether or not its specs or treatments that sell these days. But that’s a lot of work, whereas, a comic, a proposal, you get an idea and you get possessed with that idea, you know how it is like you don’t need a comic treatment to map out every page of every issue. You just have to know what’s going to happen in that mini-series or that graphic novel or what the constant engine of stories is for that ongoing comic. So it becomes easier on that level to generate ideas and get them in front of people. It’s the same networking; it’s the same. They have to know you to want to see it, but by being a smaller industry, it’s much easier to get into.
Ashley: So I think that gives us a good overview in terms of the comic books. I wonder if you could give us a short snippet of what a video game proposal looks like and how one might create one of those. Is that the same thing? You might try and outsource the actual video game production and—
Nunzio: We don’t have our students produce the video game itself. Instead, what we have them do is they take a class in sort of game design which is game theory. How does storytelling in games differ from storytelling in more narrative traditional narrative forms because traditional narrative, whether it be the web series or the comic or the far more traditional and film school film or TV is character, plot-driven? Games don’t have to be that. I mean plants vs. zombies, what’s the plot there? That funny-looking farmer who talks nonsensical sounds and guides you through the game, I guess he’s a character but it’s not much. It’s about goals and rewards for achieving goals. And those goals are sometimes character in the game-based but sometimes they are purely player goals. It requires a fundamentally different approach. World still matters in games like what is the world that this game is taking place in? So they spend a lot of time examining games whether it be board games, card games, live-action role playing games—anything to understand what drives people to games, what people look for in games, and what you as a creator of stories can bring to the table to create a game or a new idea. It is part of the transmedia class so that they bring their franchise to it and say okay, in my web series or comic I’ve created this world in which this occurs. What within that world is explorable from game? Sometimes it’s pure narrative; sometimes it’s an RPG that has narrative or a shooter that has narrative. But those are big games and ambitious games for someone in film school to try and put together a proposal for. Better that they come up with an app, a little something that you could grow together if you found the right person. But basically what they then do is they put together a proposal. This is the game. This is the type of game that it is. This is how the mechanics would work, but they don’t have to put together a full game design document where they talk about what are the resources being brought to bear? Where am I generating the artwork? You don’t need all of that but they need to conceive of the game in a way to say well, this is a game for an I Pad. It is a time-management game and it fits into this universe in this way and I anticipate that the way that the time management aspect of it would work is this way. And we’ve had students that actually generated graphics and say they’ve built an idea for a Candy Crunch kind of game and they’ve actually made the logos for the icons for the things that move around. They don’t have to do that. So it depends on how into it they get, but they really need to do is conceive of the game that would fit in and then we would point them in the right direction in terms of your next step would be to get that idea in front of someone who is more of a game producer who could then help you put together a game design document. The teachers for these classes are game producers so they can do that too.
Ashley: I see. Perfect. I’m glad that some of this was clarified but before the interview one of the questions I wrote down was how realistic is this because when I was thinking transmedia it was more of what you were saying, the video game, the comic book, and I can see how this would be very powerful, the creating the web series or the shorts and putting those on line, there is no barrier to entry and just exactly what you’re saying, the comic books where they basically self-publish a comic on line could be a very powerful thing. I want to just toss this out at you and kind of get your reaction. One of the things I get, I get a lot of people emailing me. They’re a novelist or they’ve written a comic or a graphic novel, and they want to get it turned into a screenplay. I always feel like what’s happened is they’ve written a novel, oftentimes self-publish it, gotten zero traction with it and what they are finding is that it’s very difficult to market their book and so what they’re doing is really just getting involved with another very difficult process which is creating a screenplay and then trying to market the screenplay, get the movie made, and I feel like they’re ultimately just diluting their efforts. Instead of doing one thing that’s very hard, now they’re doing two things that are very hard and there’s some dilution. If they want to be a novelist, make that novel a success, learn how to market a novel, learn how to build that up as opposed to constantly saying well, I’ll create a video game and I’ll create a comic book. Where do you stop and is there some worry that that might just creep into the artist’s—
Nunzio: Absolutely. The aspect of the transmedia track at the New York Film Academy that I tend to teach with my writing partner and wife is the comic side so I’ll put it in that term, but I think this applies to all forms—novels, games, web series—if you don’t love it in the form you have it in, it’s going to stink. If you are writing a comic because it is a way to sell your screenplay idea, you’re going to write a terrible comic, and when you write a terrible comic, no publisher’s going to be interested in it; or if you self-publish on the web your terrible comic, no one will go to the website and so you will do your screenplay no favors. The same thing also holds true for a novelist who turns around and goes and says I want to create a screenplay of my novel because I haven’t been able to make it work as a novel and all I’m trying to do is get people interested in my novel by writing a screenplay. That’s probably going to be a terrible screenplay. So I think that what we try to teach them is to love each form for itself, to tell a story that may be part of a franchise but that is in and of itself suited for the form it’s in, takes advantage of the form it’s in and is fun and interesting as that form and you as a writer are interested in doing it in that form. So I try to teach them a love of comics. You can’t take a screenwriting student and say here’s a class on comic books or web series or video games. This is just another way to create an IP that will then sell your screenplay. People see through that, in particular, people in the individual industries, the audience in the case of the web series will respond badly to the web series that just looks like it’s an advertisement for something else, but the publishers in comics are not going to respond well to it. So you view this thing that is my life, my passion, as just a vehicle for your screenplay.
Ashley: And that’s one of the things that occurred to me as you were talking about video games. I don’t play a lot of video games. As I mentioned, I’m not really into comic books so for me to try and create a video game, I’m sitting here thinking I’m sure there are a ton of subtleties that I just know nothing about and I wouldn’t have the first idea about how to do that because I don’t play video games.
Nunzio: One of the first steps in these classes when we teach them is we send them off to read a comic book or play some video games or watch some web series, and we encourage them to find the ones that they love because in all of these mediums there are a wide range of story types, a wide range of genres, and so I think that it’s never quite as narrow as everyone believes. They go into comic books and usually they think they either presume it is superhero stories or that it’s Japanese manga and those are the two places where they sort of see it and they forget that Road to Perdition was a comic book before it was a film or Ghost Worlds or History of Violence. These were all in comic form though Road to Perdition and History of Violence I think were also graphic novels, but still, the three hundred, I think more people know about that. Sin City, can’t escape it, but the types of stories that are out there for you are so varied in comics and the types of video games. There are the casual games; there are the role-playing games. There are the shooting games. There are dress-up games like all you do is you bring a little avatar around and you do activities to unlock more clothes for your character. It can appeal to so many types of demographics that there is probably something I would say for you in the video game space. There’s probably something for you in the comic space, but I would say if I were encouraging you to explore those spaces, I would encourage you first to read the comics, go to a comic store and say these are the types of movies and these are the types of novels and the type of TV shows that I like. What’s there for me and then read it and say oh, now I get it. And the more you read it in all of these forms, there’s a language, and the same way a screenwriting student learns, there’s a language to film. You can’t be a good screenwriter unless you watch a lot of movies. I’m not a fan of the theory you can’t be a screenwriter unless you watch–name a movie, put it in there—there’s no movie that’s so good that not seeing it bars you from being a writer. But there is a sense that if you don’t watch a lot of movies, why would you write movies? We see it actually in some of our students who, when they get to the thesis, they get a choice between creating a film or a TV show idea where they write the pilot or the series and they write a proposal for the series, a sort of bible that they can start to build for their series. We see students who say well, TV is the place for writers to be now so I’m doing that. And we say do you actually watch TV, and they say no, I don’t. Well, you’re not going to write good TV.
Ashley: For sure.
Nunzio: And so I think extends out to these other forms.
Ashley: So let’s talk a bit about the New York Film Academy, Los Angeles chapter that you’re a part of. What programs do you guys offer and who are the ideal students for your academy?
Nunzio: Well, I think we offer short-term programs and the ideal students for that are either—like if you’re talking about the short-term programs that are the eight-week programs—they’re fairly new to writing and they learn about it through us and we sort of give them the basic building blocks. The longer term programs or even the evening programs—the evening programs are for people I think who have jobs and lives but want to write and need a place to get feedback, both from industry working professionals and fellow classmates, other aspiring writers or struggling writers or beginning writers. Those are what our evening classes are for. But in our long-term we offer a BFA (bachelor of fine arts) and an MFA or an associate’s degree in screenwriting or we do a one-year screenwriting program. All of those long-term programs are designed to allow people who’ve never done it before to learn it but are also built to go way deeper than someone who’s already been writing has gone like a deeper exploration of genre, what does it mean if you’re going to write a horror movie? What is it that the audience comes to expect, an examination of great screenplays and how the writers approach them and how they were a product of their time. So there’s an academic element to it that then informs the very practical hands-on which I think really drives our program. They get production elements. Even the screenwriting students shoot a scene or a short in their first year and then their second year they shoot a web series pilot if they’re in the BFA or the MFA. So we make it very hands-on and then as we were talking about earlier in the second year, they pick a thesis where they write either a TV pilot or a feature film and with the pilot comes a presentation of what the series would be over time. And they get the development process. They get advisers, readers, who help steer them, help them understand when you get out into the world, other people are going to have an opinion on what you’re trying to do and how do you use those opinions to make your stories better and not resent them? Yet how do you stay true to who you are as a writer and not completely change what you’re writing or how you write to satisfy them because that can be done and so that’s what the process is designed to teach. So I think to answer your question, what we mostly pursue, the first year is sort of an exploration is this for you? If you go into the longer programs, the BFA, the MFA or the AFA, people who are committing to the craft of telling stories probably through film and TV, possibly through these other transmedia which we’re trying to open their minds and show them that story is story.
Ashley: Perfect. So what’s the best way for people to keep up with you and potentially contact you if they want to learn more?
Nunzio: Weir-De Filippis (Christina’s last name is Weir, mine is De Filippis, weirdefilippis.com? Are we .net or .com, Christina?
Ashley: You know what? You can email that to me and I’ll put it in the show notes and if anybody wants to do that, I’ll put it in the show notes they can click over to.
Nunzio: And we’re on Tumbler as well. We have a Facebook fan page, and then the New York Film Academy has a web presence which you can use as a portal to sort of explore our programs, both in the New York campus which is where it started and the LA campus which is where the long-term classes tend to be in this thesis development that I was talking about and the transmedia is all on the LA side.
Ashley: I’ll get all that stuff linked in the show notes so we’ll touch base via email. You’ve been very generous with your time. This has been a great conversation. I know I’ve learned a lot so I really appreciate you coming on.
Nunzio: Thank you very much for having me.
Ashley: Just a quick plug for my email and fax blast query service, just in the last eighteen months I’ve optioned a script, sold one script and got one decent paid writing assignment and all of this came from using my own email and fax blast query service. Here’s how it works. First you join sysselect, then you post your log line inquiry letter in the sysselect form. I review your log line inquiry letter and help you make them as good as they can be. Then you purchase the blast. I send it out for you. The emails are sent as if they’re from your email address so all replies go directly back to you. You can exclude companies if there are specific companies you don’t want to send to. Just check out www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
Now to wrap things up today, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Nunzio. I’ve talked about doing short films before. Check out episode 4 of the podcast for a detailed discussion on that. I think what Nunzio is talking about here really has some possibilities especially for new writers. Writing a short film and then having a feature film script behind it is just a great way to potentially leverage any success that the short film has, but even if it doesn’t, even if the short film doesn’t take off or go viral on the Internet, creating a short film like this can really help you hone your feature script and start to give you the confidence to just go out and shoot a feature film script on your own. Hopefully the main take-away from this episode (and honestly every episode of the podcast) is that you’ve got to take action. You’ve got to do stuff and get it out into the world. If that means writing short scripts and submitting them to ASM, Craig’s list, do it. If that means writing a ton of feature film scripts and marketing them through my email and fax blast service or putting them on inktip or putting them on black list, do it. If that means shooting a short film yourself, just go out and do it. Good things can happen when you’re putting stuff out into the world. Nothing can happen if you’re not, and I hope that this episode just kind of gives you an idea of what the possibilities are. I mean, there are a lot of angles you can play. He mentions blogs; he mentions comics. He mentions short films. There are just a lot of ways you can potentially go out there and get your film and get your story seen.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.