This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 077: Screenwriter John Jarrell Gives Tough Love Screenwriting Advice.
Welcome to episode 77 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger, over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing John Jarrell. This is the third and final section of the interview with John. We get deep into his early career and some of the larger more philosophical issues that face screenwriters so stay tuned for that.
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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 77.
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.
Also, a quick plug for the new Sys Screenwriting Analysis Service. It’s a really economical way to get a high-quality professional evaluation of your screenplay. When you buy our three-pack you get evaluations at just 67 dollars per script for feature films and just 55 dollars for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests, and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website. You can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days, but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors: concept, characters, structure, marketability, tone, and overall craft which includes formatting, spelling, and grammar. Every script will get a grade of pass, consider, or recommend which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We provide analysis on feature and television scripts, and we also do proofreading so if you don’t want an analysis, but would like someone to proofread your script, we now offer that too. As a bonus if your script gets a recommend from a reader, you get a free email and fax blast to my industry contacts. This is the exact same blast service I use myself to promote my own scripts, and it’s the same service I sell on the website. It’s a great way to get your script into the hands of producers who are looking for material. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
A quick few words about what I’m working on. As mentioned last week I polished up my mob action thriller screenplay. In my writers group the biggest note I got was about my tone. There’s quite a bit of humor in this script. But most of the people who gave “no” seemed to think it was a bit out of tone for the rest of the script. I had one other writer—and I’d say it was the most enthusiastic person about the script overall—who really liked the tone and dug the quirky comedy mixed in with the action and thriller moments. So I’m going to stand firm on the tone, and we’ll see how people react to it. I might have to go back and revise it later, make it more of a straight-up thriller but for now I’m going to see if I can find someone who gets what I’m trying to do. As I said, the person who seemed the most enthusiastic about the script was the one person who got the tone, and I’m figuring I’m better off trying to find that one person who really loves the script than going and changing it, in my opinion, watering it down and then finding a bunch of people who are only lukewarm on it because that’s kind of I would say the range of the notes. The people who thought the tone was off, they seemed kind of lukewarm overall so I’m fearful if I basically rewrite it using a lot of their notes which is the main note of taking a lot of the quirky comedy out and making it more of a straight thriller, they’re not going to love the script. They might like it a little more but they’re not going to love it. And as I said, the one person who really seemed to like it the most was the one person who thought that I had taken some chances and dug the fact that I had some kind of quirky comedy mixed in with the thriller, an action element. So that’s kind of where I’m at with that. We will see. Anyway, I’m going to send it out using my email and fax blast service tomorrow.
Last Friday I spent a couple of hours sending it out to my list of contacts. These are people who have read something of mine in the past and liked it. I think I probably have around 30 people on this list and probably a third of them agree to read this new screenplay. It seems like a pretty decent average. It’s also a good way to just touch base with various producers who I haven’t been in contact with. I mean, for instance, I have optioned a script to a few of these people. I haven’t heard from them in months. So this is a good way just to touch base, hey, how’s it going with the current project? By the way I just finished a new script. Maybe you’d like to read it. Some of the people on this list of 30 people, I actually don’t contact. I can just tell from the conversations I’ve had with these people in the past that they’re not necessarily interested in this type of script, and that’s totally fine. So I don’t pitch everybody in this list of contacts, and most of these people I would say are people whom I’ve talked to on the phone. They’re not just someone who I sent the script to and they wrote back oh, I really liked it. Most of these people are people whom I’ve talked to on the phone. I’ve optioned something to them. I’ve maybe met them. Sometimes they’ll read something that they like and then we actually set up a meeting, just people that I would say are really genuine fans of my writing, and that’s what I have in the Google mail folder. In the G-mail interface I have an actual folder called People who genuinely like something I wrote. I put these people in there, and as I said, they’re more than just a sort of passing connection. They are people who really will remember me. As I said, I’ve met with them; I’ve talked to them on the phone or at least had numerous emails back and forth where I really get the sense it’s not just a sort of being pleasant. A lot of times you’ll get people writing back oh, I really liked it but it’s not for me, and you really can’t tell if they liked it or not. But the people on this list at least hopefully are people that actually really do like my stuff. The point of me telling you all that is that I genuinely think every writer should be creating a folder like that and really keeping up with these people. I’ve talked about this before on the podcast, really keeping up with the people who are real fans of what you’re doing.
I also uploaded a screenplay to Ink Tip last week so that’s up there and potentially working for me. And this week I will be uploading it to the blacklist. I’ll probably just pay for the two reviews and will kind of see how that goes. I feel like the Blacklist is a bit of a crap shoot, but we’ll see. I think there is some upside there so I’ll go ahead and get some notes from that. Mainly I’m just seeing if I can get some decent scores and then some potential downloads from their site. So that’s pretty much my marketing strategy for this new script.
As I also mentioned on my last podcast my next project is a micro budget sci-fi thriller script. It was a script I wrote last summer. I did send it out. Didn’t get a lot of interest from it but I always liked it. One of the other writers in my writers group liked it. He took a pass at the script and one of the big things he did was really strip down a lot of the elements that would make it a costly production. So I’m sitting there thinking this might be something we could do on a micro budget. He’s also a director. So that’s kind of where we’re at. I’m going to go back through the script and really rip it apart and try and make it much, much smaller in scope so that we could shoot it on a micro budget and then the two of us—this other writer/director and myself—will probably just self-finance that film, at least that’s the idea. I mean things could always go wrong. He might not like the rewrite I do. We’ll just have to see, but the bottom line, that’s my next project that I’m working on. We went and looked at a location out past Palmdale, kind of a desert woodsy kind of a thing at the base of the Los Angeles National Forest mountains up towards Palmdale. The location looked good so I’m going to rewrite it with that in mind and try and really, really just tighten this thing up and make it so that there are really minimal special effects, there were some makeup effects in the others. There was some sort of half animal half human creatures. I’m eliminating a lot of that, just making it much more of a straight-up sci-fi thriller, as I said, anything that I can remove, anything that’s costly I’m going to have to remove and just try and get creative to patch the story together without some of those costly effects and costly scenes. So that’s what I’m working on now.
So now let’s go ahead and get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing John Jarrell. This is the third and final segment of my interview with him. You can find the other two episodes on my website. They are episodes 67 and 69. I will link to those in the show notes. You should be fine to listen to this if you haven’t listened to the other episodes. I’ve tried to break up the interview into logical sections so there’s nothing that’s really carrying on from the previous episodes. If you like this episode, I’d definitely encourage you to go back and look at episode 67 and 69 but you definitely don’t need to listen to those before listening to this. Also we do reference John’s book which is coming out or is actually already out. It’s called “Tough Love Screenwriting.” And we talk about that a little bit at the end of this interview. I read it before this interview, and a lot of the questions were kind of derived from that to expand on some of the stuff that he talks about in the interview. So, again, if you have time—it’s not imperative that you read the book before listening to the interview—but I highly recommend the book and if you do have a chance to read the book, it will add a bit of context to the interview. Anyway, here’s the interview.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s move in—this is kind of a broad question I’d say even more philosophical in screenwriting—I talked about this with a few other people on the show—what’s your take on nature vs. nurture especially now you’re teaching a class or seeing a lot of newer writers. How much God-given talent does someone need vs. work ethic? Where’s that mix?
John: I mean, we’re talking talent vs. work ethic, I think I would opt for work ethic every time because really, with the experience, how many people do you know that say they’ve written a script or they’re writing a script, but they never really finished it or never really quite gets there. Work ethic, you just can’t underestimate the value of work ethic. In fact, it helps—I was going to say inferior writers—let’s just say less talented writers to reach ridiculous heights. I’m not going to name drop. Believe me we’d spend a half an hour doing that, but sometimes just getting it done is more than half the battle. So there are a lot of people—I think Ranion Chandler had a line at one point about every day we slaughter our finest impulses. And it’s true, it’s like the smart guy can blow his own feet off by overthinking. There’s something to be said for hey, man, let’s just put our head down and go to work and get this thing done. So I think talent’s awesome, and I really do believe you need a certain modicum of talent, but I don’t think not being in screenwriting, I don’t think not being the most talented guy doesn’t mean you can’t be very, very successful. Sometimes par is good enough to win, and I think screenwriting is a good example of that. Too much talent, no work ethic means anything. It’s interesting too because people have asked me this, and I really feel like at a certain level you either have a talent for something or you don’t. In other words Michael Jordan had a certain God-given talent. Now he had to bust his ass, play basketball a million hours, get kicked off the JV team, so there’s a pattern there. But either the Malcolm Gladwell ten thousand hour rule times ten more, there is a certain God-given talent. If I could have spent the same amount of time with basketball that Michael Jordan did, I’m not going to be [inaudible 0:12:34.1] trust me on that. So I really do think some people have a natural aptitude for writing, and some people just don’t. Is that a good thing, a bad thing? I don’t know. On the one hand, I think if you have even the slightest bit of talent and interest for it, go for it. On the other hand-and I mention this in the book—I do see a lot of people where it’s five years later, it’s ten years later, and you feel like maybe you’re just going down the wrong road. Not to discourage any writer out there, I know you can kind of like there are some people that just don’t get it. It’s not natural to them; it’s not instinctive, and through the learning process they haven’t improved. I would never discourage anyone from trying to chase their dream exactly like I did. I will say that there is a point which we need to ask ourselves am I any good at this? Am I making progress? It’s much easier to point to actors. Is there anything sadder than a 40-year-old woman getting a head shot with a Hello Kitty shirt on? It gets sad. I do worry about some writers like you’ve been doing this so long. [Inaudible 0:13:43.7] had the perfect quote for this. It’s really harsh, but Bukowski said, “Dedication without talent is useless.” I think to a certain degree, if you’re not getting it, it’s okay to move on. I mean, really this is the weird thing about screenwriting which is if we don’t sell something, if we don’t get a movie made, we feel like we’ve failed. And Hollywood is a town that loves to make you feel like you’ve failed. It’s a place where it’s competitive and snarky, and no one’s really got your back, maybe representation, maybe your girlfriend, wife or husband, your parents maybe, but it’s kind of a solo shot, and so I think there is a point where everyone needs to gut-check themselves and just ask objectively am I any good at this? Is there a real chance? How hard is that? It takes so much energy and blind faith for us to chase our dreams because we know nobody’s got our back, and we know nobody’s really going to be sympathetic especially actors. I’ve got friends that are actors. Some are very successful, some less successful, some not. It’s a little sad isn’t it when someone tells you they’re an actor. I know when I’m meeting women who are in their late 30’s, 40’s, they tell me they’re an actress, I’m a little worried, not to slime actresses, you can say the same thing about screenwriters. You want to hear a 45-year-old guy tell me he’s working on a new script and somewhat super pumped about it, this and that, I feel like maybe you’re just past it. Again, this is very, very subjective. I would never discourage anyone, but there is something to be said about—I know some people, their writing is okay, but they would be a much better producer or they have other skills but I think there’s something about writing in the American consciousness, but I still haven’t cracked this myself. Some people just want to be writers largely it seems because they like the writer costume. They like the leather satchel and the expensive frames and going to the coffee ship or going to Earth Café. I’m the guy who wrote the Kitty Carwash. It’s really not that exciting, and it’s not that sexy and it’s not that glamorous. It’s really hard work. So I guess what I’m saying is examine why you want to be a writer. We were talking earlier, it does provide some highs that nothing else provides. It feels great to be able to share your creativity with a massive global audience, that’s awesome. Not many businesses give you that. I guess what you were saying about hour-for-hour, dollar-for-dollar, is it worth it? It’s an excellent question. Sometimes if you had spent those thousands of hours on something else, you might have had a much happier life. I guess the key thing is you’ve got to keep asking this question. If you don’t feel it it’s okay to walk away. I’m a guy early in the 90’s; things were really rocky especially in the 90’s the big thing was I’m going to sell something and move to San Francisco; that was the biggest plan. San Francisco was so much cooler. Well now with the tech thing they’ve become as Hollywood as Hollywood, and this is even cool. The point is there was that. I don’t know if I really want to do this, and you know what, that’s when it’s gut-check time. Do you want to do it? You’re going to take a beating if you keep doing it but really feel good about it. If someone could have told me anything, I wish somebody had said you know, man, you’re not a failure if you don’t succeed at this particular thing. There are a million things you could be doing. I hope that makes sense.
Ashley: The thing I get these sorts of questions run in my blog and one of the things I always emphasize is that it’s a kind of cliché life is a journey not a destination, and I still feel like if you’re spending time writing and you’re enjoying the process, I recommend to people that they go out and do short films because it’s like in this day and age for a hundred bucks, you can do a great short film. Forget about if you ever make money in Hollywood or anywhere else, you’re writing something; you’re shooting something, and if you’re enjoying that process, I don’t see any reason to stop. I mean, my dad is into autocross. He spends thousands of dollars on this little race car. There are other hobbies, but he gets enjoyment out of it. So it’s if you like writing and you like the process of seeing your things filmed, you’ve hit on a great thing.
John: You just hit on a huge thing which is what’s fascinating is I have some students that–first of all you’re right. Psychologically when I first started getting into the business, you had to pay for film, the processing, all this creative shit, you know with DVD, you can make great looking shit cheap and fast; that’s awesome. I think the key question is are they enjoying it? Are you digging it? Obviously it’s a lot of hard work but do you really love it? The first question I ask my new students is if I told you you could never make a dollar writing screenplays ever, would you still do it? Half the class said yes; half the class said no. So it’s important that we’re all in this. Is this a vehicle to start your career and make money in a business that you enjoy or would you do it purely for pleasure? Everyone’s going to answer differently, but it’s an important question because the people out there making the shorts, I can guarantee they’re having more fun than me in an average year locked into writing something commercial or something I’m hoping to sell. It’s really liberating. As a writer you are almost completely divorced from filmmaking. They are two entirely different things. One is although the skeleton that other people can build a movie upon hopefully to help pay my rent, the other is I’m going to go out there and make a fucking movie. If I could point to one thing, it would be that in terms of enjoying the filmmaking was left behind to pursue this, this is not filmmaking. This is screenwriting. I have nothing but respect for you that are out there. Whether anyone sees their movie or not, I miss blowing stuff through the gate. I miss being wholly creative like that. It wasn’t meant to be for me personally, but you get on a huge thing which is there is something to be said for actually just making the movie you want to make. One thing I’ll say many students have asked me, let’s say you’re going to shoot a short, and it’s like a 40-minute or maybe an hour short—it’s a long short. My advice go full eighty-five. If you have enough material to get an hour out of it, make it a feature that you can then sell. Even as a low budget, even if you sell it for 15 grand to the Sundance channel, great! That 30 to 45 range, you can find some place, a festival to show it, but if you think you can stretch it to a feature to do it, then go for it because then you’re actually on the big board. So don’t just stop at an hour, we’re almost there. Let’s make this a feature.
Ashley: That’s excellent advice. Another thing, you mentioned the 38-year-old actress, and you get a little worried, the other thing that I get a lot of—and this is like the other end of the spectrum of that 38-year-old actress, I get a lot of people who are 65 or 70 who have worked another career. They were successful in the other career, but they always wished that they had done screenwriting, and now they are trying to go back; they’ve retired, and I find that somewhat sad too because those people for the most part are never going to quite know that they had the mettle. If they had given that a go, what could have been. So it’s a double-edged sword.
John: What’s the best case—because I’ve gotten emails from people like we’re talking about, people who have already had a full life, a full career, kids maybe who are already out of college, I think the best case scenario is that their writing is actually good and they actually find their way through the maze and sell something or get something made and it happens. What’s the sad part of it?
Ashley: I realize that a lot of these people will never make it because of their advanced age. (1) When someone gets to that age, one big thing that I think a 65-year-old I can see that this is a big thing—you just don’t have the salt and vinegar that you had when you were 25, and I can hear in these people’s emails when they’re 65, it’s like okay great! But you’re not going to write one script and then just sell it. It’s going to take—those seven years you spent, I know that these 65-year-olds—for the most part I know that they never will make it, not because they’re not talented, they don’t have the gumption. Most of them are well-off.
John: It’s an excellent point. I think really for that person, for the 65-year-old newbie screenwriter—I love the idea that they’ve already lived a full life and made money and they’re comfortable. I think the bottom line is this—they’re going to have to outperform with their writing. They’re going to have to write something. Remember, when someone gets your script, they don’t know how old you are. They see your name; they start reading. The down side in terms of networking and taking general stuff like that, their age is just going to be a massive disadvantage. I mean, I’ve already experienced it; I’m in my 40’s. If people got aged out before, after the Internet age, they’re aged out even faster. Forty is the millennial 60. They look at anyone that age as just this, and because of this huge technological advance you make, they’re trying to compress everything and make you feel older faster. Now again, great writing. You write Sixth Sense you’re going to sell that fucking thing no matter how old you are. So I think really the focus thing would be more about the writing, less about the business. You’ll have to find representation and stuff, but in terms of networking, going to mixers or taking generals and stuff, no 25-year-old student alive wants to see a 60-year-old man or woman across from them, and maybe you’ll get a bunch of emails saying John Jarrell’s full of shit; I love 60-year-old writers. But it’s really going to come down to the writing in its purest sense. It’s a very different world. Now you take meetings with people who don’t even know certain film references which is a little mid-boggling—we all have a short-term memory—but again, the ten years of the Internet revolution has compressed that too. So, for example, I had a class of twelve students when asked how many of them had seen Blue Velvet, and three of them had seen Blue Velvet. Now to me that’s just a no-brainer. You need to see Blue Velvet. I asked about Chinatown—this was a night class—there was one.
Ashley: That person had not seen it?
John: No, had seen it.
Ashley: Had seen it?
John: Yes. What’s weird is we assume—if you’re in your 40’s, you assume that the same Hallmark movies that influenced—whatever the film is—but you personally, how would a 20-year-old kid today turn on to Chinatown if their parents didn’t turn them on to it or they didn’t take a film class or go to film school. Somewhere someone’s got to make a point of saying you need to see this. How would they know to see a 40-year-old movie? They’re not. So it’s really you that’s out of sync with the times and expecting that no matter how big a landmark it is, to expect that a 20-year-old kid has seen Chinatown is probably absurd. That’s why you take time to make a list and take time to see these movies. What really stunned me was I figured Chinatown, Blue Velvet, all right. Maybe I’m pushing it. I’m an older guy. So I said all right, Boogie Nights. That’s only like eighteen years now—that’s scary. It feels like ten years ago—only half the class had seen it. I just assumed everyone had seen Boogie Nights. We’re in a juncture now where what was accepted as the pillars of modern Hollywood cinema often is not known by the people who are controlling the means of production for current Hollywood cinema. You could take exactly who does not known Chinatown.
Ashley: If you hadn’t seen Chinatown, you also had a [inaudible 0:26:20.4] screenplay. So I would start to seriously question their motivation how seriously [inaudible :26:30.0] You know what’s crazy, I’m thinking today’s marketplace is more about the event movie, the blockbuster, the transformers, [inaudible :26.39.6] so how does Chinatown help you with Transformer six? It doesn’t really. What would be more important for that executive Michael Bay’s person films which is another scary thought we don’t really want to get into. The point is you can’t expect people to understand the milestones you’re referencing so make sure that you’re a little more contemporary. Instead of using Chinatown, reference LA Confidential. Your odds just double. It’s kind of the same movie. They’re both brilliant; they both went Oscar, but when you’re dating back, I remember when I was in a meeting. This was years ago. I was at a meeting one version of MGM, and the executive was the executive VP, this new film guy who was awesome. During the pitch I mentioned the Parallax View, and the junior exec said “What’s the Parallax View?” I didn’t say anything, but the VP turned to him and said, “It’s an MGM movie. You might want to check it out.” So it was really nice that someone else could—but don’t take it for granted. I mean, the Internet, the millennial generation is very, very different than anything before it. So try to keep yourself feeling contemporary. I noticed even writing you can carbon date yourself with references. I had a script years ago and one line was, “He’s on her like Tyson on Gibbons.” Well, there’s not a millennial alive who knows Robin Gibbons and Mike Tyson were married. You’ve got to go in there and take that out. I really pay attention that these references you use to color your script in the editorial passages. They need to feel contemporary enough so you don’t lose the person in the room. So just be aware of that. It’s not right; it’s not wrong. It’s probably okay. You start pushing it back it bites you. You can’t blame them. You hope at some point you stumble upon it.
Ashley: So—and this is kind of a follow-up question to the nature vs. nurture. You talk about Snyder back in the day, have there been some writers over the years whom you met and read through their scripts, that guy’s just super talented, what a great script, but their careers never quite took off. Have you met those guys that just—
John: That’s a really interesting question because first of all, writers are—there is no place I’d rather be than not being in a roomful of writers. You heard the old joke which is a roomful of accountants is the most boring room in the world. I think a roomful of screenwriters can rival that in terms of just sheer agony. The reality is writers don’t have a lot to talk about amongst themselves. There’s which version of a final draft are you using? Did you hear about White House down being sold for a ridiculous amount of money. There are things like that, but in terms of craft, what can we really share with each other? Unless we’re really intimate and know each other as friends, it’s what do you do? Today I highlighted one thing; I cut it, and then I pasted it below that. It’s a ton better. There’s not a lot of conversation about the process to have. Conversations don’t really tend to come to writing but tangentially. In terms of great writers and their careers, if any time Walker had a ten-year run where I could not get my hands on whatever he was writing fast enough, after Seven which was his first script which just makes you want to chop your fingers off, this his first script? I mean, he wrote so much good stuff. Eight millimeter was a spec that it was Seven Dark. It was as dark as Seven. Unfortunately it ended up in the hands of Joel Schumacher. It’s almost like Show Girls in a way. It’s just laughably bad, but the script was like a modern version of Paul Schrader’s Hard Core. It’s fantastic to read. That was a real crime that it turned out the way it did because it was so good on the page. There are guys like that that you take an interest in. I want to read what this guy is doing. This stuff is awesome. No one knows career-wise why some people make it to the top of the summit and some don’t. At a certain point it’s not about talent or even quality. The film gods kind of—a very successful actor I know said to me once, the thing about Hollywood is so much luck attends it all. There’s like there’s learning your craft, hard work, positioning yourself, being in the right place at the right time with the right material, but then there’s the other 40 percent which is the film gods. Why a yes or a no is the answer is so completely capricious. Why one movie start decides to do that movie instead of your movie—I wrote Hard Will II for John Wood. So I wrote a couple movies for John and [inaudible :31:51.7] his partner. He did Hard Will II, super pumped about it, the company that was financed—everyone’s super pumped and that was great. I was super pumped. I spent a lot of time working on it. So they had a [inaudible 0:32:04.0] offer, and that’s five million dollars for a month’s worth. His quote at that time was one million dollars. We’re going to pay you five times your quote because it’s hard-boiled. It’s like making Die Hard without Bruce Willis. It took us years, we got the script together. We got the financing together. They pay for a play offer for five million dollars. I don’t know if people watch this [inaudible 0:32:43.1] play is, but that means if you sign, they give you the five million dollars whether they make the movie or not. They’re on the hook now. He literally had a five-million-dollar offer for a month’s work, sitting on his agent. It sat there unsigned for three months.
Ashley: Just to be clear for the audience, the reason you do that is because then you can take that and you get financing for the movie. So producers need those to get—
John: If you need a commitment from an actor especially in today’s marketplace, so you know you’ve got John Woo producing; here’s the script, and we’ve got [inaudible :33:21.9] we have Bruce Willis to do a Die Hard, right? So it remained unsigned, and this is what I’m talking about, the 40 percent where the film gods intervened. Like I said, they’re capricious, and sometimes they’re very cruel. So in this particular instance, we’re all ready to go; we’re super pumped, and she was with Chow’s wife who was also his manager and somewhat of a co-producer wanting to become a full producer on the project, Terence and John not being super high on that. While they had been sitting there—now let’s just think about that from a real life perspective—if either you or I have a pay or play—that means sign, money guaranteed, a pay or play offer, five million dollars for a month’s work, we’re signing it right now. It’s not hey, I’ll get it on for it, it’s now. We’re signing it in real life, just sitting there five times his quote. She got into it; the discussions continued. She wanted to be made a producer. John and Terence weren’t into it. While all that’s happening—also remember as a writer you’ve written a draft. I felt very confident about it, but it’s been verified by the company, this is the movie they want to make. In other words, the suits have told you yes, you wrote a script we want to make. It’s not just you going it’s pretty good. This is good. We want to put money into it. That’s the ultimate verification. This is awesome to me. To be working with John ten years later on Hard Will II for a screenwriter it was a dream-come-true. So while this all was happening, they’re dragging their feet, the company went to Berlin, and later it caught on to start working and preselling the movie figuring Chow was imminent. And what happened is they found that Chow was so cold at that point because he had done a number of movies like Bulletproof Monk that had not performed well, and nowadays the business is numbers-oriented. Chow was suddenly very cold to the point at which several companies now—back in the day you said we’re doing Hard Will II with [inaudible 0:35:28.7] and they gave you money. Now these guys want to read the scripts. So now the foreign sales guys read the scripts. They gave the draft to buyers, and the buyers said to a man said, you know what, this is a really great idea for a sequel to Hard Will. We love it. Can we do it without Chow Phat? He was so cold by that point, that he was hurting the movie. That was a mind-blower. What happened was the company came back and realized we can’t pay him five million dollars. If he had signed it, they would have had to pay him anyway. My movie would have been made. I think it would have done pretty well. They dragged their feet. They went to Berlin. Chow’s name wasn’t worth what it used to be, and they pulled the offer and the movie didn’t get made. I did my part as a screenwriter. I knocked myself out making Hard-Boiled II, a kick-ass movie that across the board like we loved it. Chow read it, loved it. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Ashley: Everybody liked it up and down.
John: Everybody loved it plus—
Ashley: Up and down, but it still didn’t get made.
John: Plus you’re thinking 1991 I sat at the New Art Theatre, and I saw John Woo introduce the killer in Hard-Boiled and talked about it. As a young screenwriting pup, you’re thinking wow! Who would believe you’re actually working with the guy on the sequel. It’s all like a dream come true. At the end of the day the nuts and bolts, the film got part of it killed it. So I’m happy I had the experience in general. I’d have been happier if they’d made Hard-Boiled Part II, but there’s a part of it that the screenwriter just can’t control. And that’s where a lot of hearts get broken. Really the line for me is welcome to the NFL. If have half the problems where we’ve all been that close didn’t make it. You don’t make it to the NBA finals. You don’t make it to the Super Bowl every year even though that seems dumb. If you’re lucky you get closer and closer. You get into the big game, sometimes it just comes out nothing. It would have been just so much fun, but by the end of the day, I guess really the last thing here is at the end of the day do your part, make sure that 60 percent is locked. So the film gods are going to do what they’re going to do. Just make sure you’ve met up to your part of it which will allow that to happen. I think it’s really hard for writers to understand how the littlest thing can throw your movie—for any movie, it’s at the point where people don’t even say to you it is a great movie. Too bad we’re not going to make it. For a writer it’s hard to take that. The reality is politics, budgeting concerns, marketplaces, all these real life money stuff has started playing a huge part in our business.
Ashley: My next question is going to kind of segue on top of that. You mentioned about ten minutes ago you write the Sixth Sense, he’ll sell that script, and I wonder where–and you talk about the story you just had where you felt like you’ve written a really good script, but it didn’t actually get into production—where did those things cross? Hard-Boiled II, do you not think it was as good as Sixth Sense?
John: That’s an apples and oranges thread. The key difference is can you come up with a sequel to this? Sixth Sense is a wide open spec. So this is already contingent on certain factors, the Chow Phat, John Woo. It already has certain values which also push it closer to completion, but it’s not clear and free. Sixth Sense is a script that–I can’t remember if it was between three and four million dollars a day—it’s an undeniable slam-dunk home run. That script went out and within 24 hours everybody in Hollywood and their mother was bidding on that script. It doesn’t really matter what you think about him or what you think about the movie now years later, it’s the highest grossing thriller in the history of mankind, and when I got it sent down to me and I’m reading it, my girlfriend walked in, total civilian schoolteacher, she says what are you reading? This script just sold like four million bucks. So she took it out to her apartment, and I went back to work. An hour passes; we went out to dinner. I go to her apartment to get her. She’s sitting in her apartment crying. The script has made her cry. I’m like oh dude, he’s on to something. You get civilians crying reading your movie? You hit a nerve, and sure enough that movie was just perfect. The problem is a lot of people think writers have a sixth sense but they don’t have a sixth sense. That movie is immaculate. It’s astonishingly good. Most people haven’t reached that level yet. The question was essentially—
Ashley: Hard-Boiled II was as good as Sixth Sense. Do you think that could have propelled it into production?
John: No. No, because it was already part of the business. This is something you could take; it was virgin. You could make it your own, and the marketplace fan movie is much, much bigger. You could get everyone to go see that movie. With Hard-Boiled II you’re going to get Die Hard action fans. Maybe they’d drag their dates along, but Sixth Sense could strike a chord with everyone. It was a universal home run and still is a joy to read. It’s just fast and it’s everything good that a screenplay should look like.
Ashley: This kind of goes to the next question. I think you’ve kind of answered this, but I’d be curious to kind of get your specific take on it. I mean ultimately do you think it is the screenwriting gods that separate yourself from Quentin Terantino. There seems to me that there’s like a whole group of people who are really exceptionally talented. I put Quentin Terantino in this thing. There is this sort of very high tier of people that there is something. It’s more than the screenwriting. It’s more than happenstance that Quentin Terantino has had a career. You watch some of his movies. There are just not that many scripts that are this compelling. He can consistently do that.
John: I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that whether you like him or not, that he is a very unique writer, and he has his own voice. You think about music, having your own voice on an instrument, you know when [inaudible 0:42:02.4] is playing guitar. You know when John Coltrane is playing the sax. You know their tone. You can distinguish that sound from a million other people who play the same instruments. Screenwriters are like that too. You know a Quentin Terantino script. That’s probably the hardest thing for writers to develop their own voice. Like I said, in any discipline, it’s all about tone, and it’s all about the voice. He definitely has that voice.
Ashley: The next follow-up question is what separates? Do you think maybe you just haven’t had the screenwriting gods shine on you quite right?
John: First of all, I think some people are destined to be the Quentin Terantinos. I don’t mean like they can sit on their ass. When they do the work that they do, it will be discovered because it’s that good. In that sense it is somewhat of a meritocracy. When I was at NYU, Larry Marcus, the guy who write The Stunt Man was talking to a class, and he said you know what, if you have a truly great script–I don’t mean good, I mean great—someone will find it. It could take a week; it could take a month, a year or ten years, someone will find it. I remember asking what are you thinking. Hey, Larry’s a cool guy. This is bullshit. How do you know? Some guy could be in his room writing the best script ever. He’s totally right. It’s very simple, supply and demand. There are so few great scripts that they stick out a mile away. It’s not like even close. So with a Quentin Terantino, how do you not read Reservoir. The reason you can’t even read it is because he got the movie made, not sold but yet he made Reservoir [inaudible 0:43:45.9] He had some help from the film gods, but he was creating the material. So it’s partially fate, the movie gods, timing, luck, but the lion’s share of it is you’d better have the goods. There are very famed screenwriters who–myself and other working screenwriters will tell you just aren’t very good, and we can back it up with a million drafts. You know what people slip through the cracks. Every once in awhile one of the guys who is not so great makes it on hype or connections. That’s just the way it is. The reality is the best guys have the goods. Now in terms of me compared to another writer, I don’t ever think of it like the light didn’t shine on me. I think about it like you get out of it what you put into it. This is the NFL. You’re going to get hit. You’re going to get hit hard, and the best thing you can do is have an A-level game and go for it. After that all bets are off. Also when you’re younger, I think there’s more about this writer or that writer. I’m very pleased with my own writing. I know what I’m good at, but I also find I like other great screenwriters more than ever because I’ve been doing this twenty years. With someone like Tony Gilroy, read Born Identity, he’s good in a good way. It’s like Tony Gilroy is just rocking this shit. It’s that stuff that really gets you high. There are always going to be a ton of bad scripts, but I look to the best writers for inspiration to keep getting better myself. And I hope most mature writers do that because there is so much to learn. How can you not get pumped? I don’t know the last script you read that you just got pumped about.
Ashley: People have been recommending that. It’s much better than the movie.
John: Something about the movie just didn’t quite get there. It was okay.
Ashley: It was okay, but it wasn’t great but the script I thought was really good.
John: When you refer to those scripts, it reminds you why you wanted to do this shit in the first place. If I’m ever lacking in inspiration, I’ll revisit certain scripts and just go yeah. I mean, Seven is a script. You read it and you just go that’s it. That’s why I’ve done this for two decades. That’s why I take the beatings that I take. That’s why I remain positive and passionate about doing this because it’s still possible to do that. I think really what makes writers bitter and turns them into haters is when people who aren’t necessarily very good are rewarded disproportionately for their average work. How can you not feel bad when you’ve read this stuff and you’re like really, three million dollars for this? It’s not like just the script, it’s relationships. This writer already had a gig with that studio. They were looking for precisely this kind of project. The agent has a relationship with the VP. It’s not just that script. It hurts; it stings. How are they rewarding mediocrity? Every writer feels that at some point. To those people like myself I would say yeah, but you can always find the Bird Man out there that puts [inaudible 0:47:07.4] Are you writing Bird Man, if not, shut up. Go back to your cave and write a great script. Let’s face it as writers, these are hard questions. Do you want to ask yourself every day, am I writing the very best shit? It’s a tough question because it’s hard. I guess what I’m saying is look at the glass as half full and not half empty. It makes it a little bit easier. I guess that’s what I’m saying. There’s no denying a great script is just on its own, there’s no question. You feel it. You know like any great movie, you start reading, and you know you’re in good hands from page one. You’re not putting this script down. That’s the standard we’re being held to.
Ashley: Okay. So my next question, I once saw an interview with a bunch of very seasoned US senators and congressmen, and the reporter asked them now that you’re in Washington, what surprises you about being a congressman. And the response they gave was they were just absolutely bowled over by how much time they had to spend fundraising. It was like three out of five days fundraising, and I’m wondering—and I’ll throw that to you—as someone who’s moving to Hollywood twenty years ago, stars in their eyes, screenwriting is going to be awesome. Are there some things that surprise you now that you’ve actually had a successful career?
John: Things that surprise me, that’s a really interesting question. I don’t know if it’s so much surprise at this point—and you know a lot of the surprises are in the book so that people can understand what surprises they’re going to have—I think really for me, if you’re lucky enough to build a career in this business and stay in it, when I first got into the WGA in the early 90’s, I got a form letter from them. Basically I don’t know if they still send this out, but basically what the letter said was congrats on joining the Screenwriters Guild. Just know that only one out of ten thousand people ever sell off shoot anything. Basically it was kind of saying thanks, good stuff but we don’t count on see you this time next year. I remember reading and saying what is this? Sadly I didn’t save the letter, but what you realize later is that they’re just telling you the truth. Not everyone’s going to make it for the long haul. So I think having made it even to my own surprise this far along, I think it’s more of an inner journey now at this point where you don’t really get shocked by tales of silliness or excess or the cartoon directors. That just becomes part of the operating system. I think what I’m surprised by is what a challenge it is, not only to keep writing well but to keep relevant to the material and the jobs that are out there because so much stuff has changed. I mean, if you think about movies, even the technology—I was watching Fight Club for the millionth time, and they go on this thing where they have to do random acts of violence, there’s an Apple computer store window. They didn’t have the Apple store then; it was a computer store, and the monitors were all like 90’s CRT monitors, and it was it was only yesterday. That was like ’99 or 2000, it’s getting technology and the perspective, the world view that comes with today’s technology into your work so it doesn’t feel dated, so you’re not drawing an old trove from back in the day. You have to deal with shit now.
Ashley: Cell phones and—
John: It’s like well, why can’t they call the cops? They’ve got a cell phone or a staff phone right inside. So in a way it’s made it harder to compartmentalize if Hot Box owns your script, but also there’s a reference—I’m trying to think of a good example for you—but people are tech savvy. Even the least tech-savvy person is tech savvy. So blowing stuff by people you might have gotten away with before, not so much anymore. You really have to think things through, and you really have to think through what the common zeitgeist is for perceiving stuff in terms of movies and what’s considered the story nub and the structure nub. I see a lot of movies where it doesn’t seem to be a concern on the story front, but then you realize the movie is what it is, what they were shooting for. Not every movie’s going to be American Beauty. It’s just not going to happen. So really the thing I noticed more is wow, it’s really a challenge to stay in a game in what’s essentially now a different era. Before you could go twenty years, and there were no seismic shifts. We just happened to go through the most tense period of technological change in the history of mankind over that decade. That’s no small thing, and you see it in the scripts. And a lot of the stuff you see now I think there is an overreliance on tech. Everything’s on a computer feed. If there’s one thing I hate to see, it’s a movie where they’re looking at computer screens. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. On A House of Cards, the way they do text messages was really smart. They made them look like an IPhone when it pops up on the screen, but how do we write movies that are essentially taking place on computers but not have them take place on computers? This is the kind of stuff you have to add to your bag of tricks so that you make another movie. I guess that’s what really surprises me is like wow, so much stuff changes so unexpectedly. How do we make this feel right and contemporary and use the right tech? Snap chat may be cool today; it may be gone tomorrow in the same way that MySpace was cool. Things are just moving so quickly for the writer. I think you’ve really got to keep up with—even if you don’t dig it, even if you’re not into whatever the millennials are into—you’ve got to have a working knowledge of it. So you need to know what Snap chat is and why it works the way it works. You need to know that Kim Kardashian has a huge butt or that Connie is an idiot. You need to know these things so that you can reference things that are contemporary in your characters, in your descriptions. This wasn’t important before. The number one thing I noticed with students is regurgitation—and I’m not exempt from this—we’ve had so many thousands of hours of movies and television drummed into us over our life span that we unconsciously regurgitate a lot of stock stuff. There is a whole section in the book about stock. There are certain clichés that have been beaten into the earth. One reason they’ve been beaten to the earth because they kind of work. Lesser movies will keep using it. Our job then is to freshen, sweeten, flip that stuff at every opportunity so it doesn’t feel stock but it’s hard. Even veteran writers, it’s hard not to just go with the obvious answer. I saw something on line. They said the most—I’m sure they’ll tell you what isn’t the most scientific—but it was the most said line in the history of Hollywood cinema? What line has been said more times than any other line?
Ashley: I think you had it in your book, and I don’t remember now.
John: We got to get outta here. But when you think about it, sometimes there’s no other way to say it. We got to get outta here. It’s this push/pull between what’s going to just work and trying to be fresh at every turn. I think a lot of writers lose sight of that. But try to freshen it up; make it feel fresh.
Ashley: This is a question I get a lot. You’re someone who moved from another location to Los Angeles so I just get your quick take on this. If someone is going to–the first question is do you think it’s valuable that someone moves to Los Angeles if they want to be a screenwriter. I get a lot of people who have families, they’ve got kids and are like you know, suppose I would live in Arizona. Is that close enough? What is your take on this?
John: What do you think? What is your take on this?
Ashley: I tell them everything is a percentage. Everything is increasing your odds, and by living in Wisconsin you’re making your odds already incredibly small to begin with. You’re making them even smaller. There is always going to be your ability to succeed in these outside areas, but if you want to be serious about it, just moving to Los Angeles, just things like this. I live closer; you get together. The quality of those writers in the writers group is so high. You’re not even going to find a dozen decent writers in the middle of Wisconsin. Actors come in and they read the scripts. You’re not going to find a dozen decent actors in the middle of Wisconsin. So there are all these sorts of very subtle advantages.
John: I think you’re spot on. I think really the key thing is for me I need to be able to get in my car and get in a room on an hour’s notice at any time. I got the job for [inaudible 0:56:15.8] with the wonder, hot, pink lettering on the line sheet that everyone’s going to love. I had to be able to drive to Universal, meet the guys and sell them on it. So if you’re trying to get work—again, this assumes that you’ve advanced to the point you’re actually on the hunt—but you’ve got to be able to get in the room whether you are an unknown or a working writer, you’ve got to be able to meet someone on the occasion, that face-to-face—and by the way, face-to-face is less and less. Back in the day you always went into the room to meet people. It’s less and less, but you’ve got to be able to do that. Along the lines of what you were saying, the high quality people, when I was in New York City there was an op ed page in the New York Times, and I don’t even remember what it was about but there was one killer line. It said, “New York is the city of finalists.” And I thought about that and in the context of what we’re talking, LA is the city of finalists. The people who are serious and want to be in the big show come here. They don’t toe dip, they commit, and so you can say well, you know what, I’m shooting some writer who lives in Alberta, Canada who’s making a good movie. I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m saying it’s more than just physically moving. It’s not a geographical thing. It’s you
Re committing to being in an environment where other people are striving for excellence, where other people have knowledge that can be extremely useful for you, where you can get turned on to people, projects, executives you can’t meet unless you’re here where you can drive and be in a room in 60 minutes’ time and procure a job or meet an agent or actually talk to a manager. Email is really impersonal. Anyone can send an email saying hey, I’m the next best writer in the world, please represent me. The difference is when you go into a room—I want you to think about this—when you go into a room, it all lives or dies whether it’s a pitch meeting or looking for representation, you have to sell yourself in that room. They don’t get a great sense of who you are in that room. You can’t do that on Skype. Yeah, they see your face. It’s the energy in that room so if you’re unable to get in the room, like I said, whether it’s a new manager, job, or whatever, you’re probably knock your odds down eighty percent. I’m just saying that roughly because at the end of the day it’s people. It’s artists; it’s writers, commercial artists, executives, they need to see you and get a feed on who is this guy? Every lone gunman in cyberspace. Of course, they’ve written the next Citizen Kane. Come in this room; prove it. Show it. That’s what moving to LA does. It forces you to commit and you’ll be rewarded by committing because now you have access to all these elements that no matter how fast the Internet is, you don’t have access to. You can’t walk into a mixer and meet a guy who turns out to be the perfect writing partner for you. I stumbled into a manager who was looking for the writer that you happened to be. That stuff doesn’t happen through email.
Ashley: And all these things you were talking about earlier in your career, meeting that director, meeting that guy, all of those sorts of things aren’t going to happen with email.
John: You had to go all in. We all love the idea that you can live somewhere that’s not LA. You can live somewhere where there’s not traffic and rags everywhere, those you just want to punch out when they’re in front of you at the restaurant, there’s all that. The reality is you want to go to the big show, you’ve got to go to the big show. One thing I will say because I haven’t even thought about the way you put it, if I had a wife and kids, I definitely wouldn’t uproot my family. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I mean, if you’re younger, single, even newly married, okay yeah. Once you have a family and kids, that’s a big move because you’ve got to take care of those kids. God knows, I would not have wanted any responsibility. During my time the idea of me living in a 400-square-foot bungalow with two kids, I probably would have killed myself. It’s a lot of pressure. Do it when you’re young. It’s the Orson Welles line, the confidence of ignorance. They ask how did you direct Citizen Kane at the age of twenty-five? The confidence of ignorance. That can really help you get on the board. It really can. But there’s a point at which it’s probably not good for a family to be uprooted so Daddy can try to write Transformers.
Ashley: So the follow-up question or the next piece of that is when I moved to LA, I actually got—and it was a great piece of advice—as we were moving out here, a friend of the family told us Studio City is a great place. The rent is cheaper. You talk about moving to Venice, when we first got out here, maybe you could just give some people advice where do you think is a good place for them if they’re thinking of moving? Where’s a good place for them to live?
John: It’s changed so much. When I moved out here and moved into Venice in the early 90’s, nobody would want to live there. It’s very rough, a lot of gang activity. It seems bizarre now, but It’s like beachfront real estate but no one wanted to live in it because it was too dangerous. I moved here from Brooklyn so it was a cake walk for me. Nowadays there are these areas in LA. I think Culver City which is also blow up, but I think there is still some margin there to find an affordable place to live. I’ve had some friends do that. I think the Valley is always an opportunity. There is this thing about living in the Valley somehow. You moved to the Valley; it worked out really well for you. But the housing is better and more affordable in the Valley. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that. There’s no centralized area anymore to go. I think the key thing for me would be now that I think about it, centrally located because of the driving can be big. There’s a lot of driving. You know, and I know if you don’t live in LA, you don’t know this. There’s a lot of driving. It can be emotionally exhausting to say the least. I would say find some place that you can tolerate living in that’s pretty centrally located, that’s inexpensive. Don’t sink a ton of cash into a place until you know this is the right place. I mean, I don’t know what you feel, I’d say minimum one year just to know if you can live here or not. I don’t think you can tell sooner than that. That’s the minimum. You don’t know what it’s like. Some people just can’t live here. They hate it. I’m a person who am a fan for probably all the wrong reasons, but to come out here, you’re going to need a year just to get your legs under you. So I would push do it as cheaply and efficiently as possible to keep your eyes on the prize. That’s it.
Ashley: We’re going to go ahead and start to wrap up. You’ve talked numerous times about your book Tough Love Screenwriting. Maybe you could just hold it up and just show the audience what that looks like. Maybe you can tell us where you can actually buy it. Where is it for sale? What’s the easiest way?
John: The best ways to get it is on Amazon, and you can get the Kindle version. You can get the paperback. A lot of people are reading the paperback. A lot of people still like to have books in their hands. I’m one of them, but it’s kind of awesome to see how many paperbacks are moving because people still like to have it in their hands. You can go to the writers store and get the PDF, maybe in Epub. It’s on all the major places, Barnes and Noble, ITunes or IBook’s. But Amazon’s a great place.
Ashley: And do you want to pitch it. We talked briefly about it. It’s definitely not a mechanical type of a Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Maybe you can pitch it a little.
John: Let me see what I wrote on the back. A brass knuckles, boots-on-the-ground guide to becoming a paid professional. I think that’s it. There are certainly craft elements in here, and definitely the chapter on training days probably worth the price of admission. I think it’s inspirational in the sense that it shows you that it can be done. It’s daunting. You are going to take a hell of a beat down, but it can be done. It’s really a question of who wants it more. Are you ready to really go for it as opposed to just assuming that if you have something good everything’s going to be okay. I really think this helps fill in some of the blanks about what the climb’s going to be like. There are some beautiful things that come out of it. I mean, I wouldn’t trade—I mean, I sold my first script, and two weeks later I was on a private jet flying back to New York City like the conquering hero. I left in rags and then a year later I sold a script at a whopping price of $25,000 which was more money that I’d ever seen, and I’m flying back to New York City on a G3. There are not a lot of businesses where you have those kinds of perks. It’s awesome. The rewards are sweet and fantastic and I think ultimately worth the climb. There’s no guarantee you’ll get there, but I think if you’re informed and you’re legitimately doing your very best work and you’re open to growing, you’ll get where you’re going. With all my friends whom I grew up with, they’ve all to one degree—some of them have become extremely successful and powerful. The people who put in the work and really went after it and acted like professionals eventually got it done. Sooner or later they got it done. So I’m very positive about it.
Ashley: Okay, so you mentioned in the book you teach a class, how can people learn more about that?
John: It’s all on the website. You can just go to toughlovescreenwriting.com and there’s a page on the class. I limit it to twelve students a session. It’s twelve week. We meet three hours every Sunday for twelve weeks, and simply you come in with your idea and you pitch the note cards. By the end of the class you’ve presented your first act thirty pages. So essentially you come in, you pitch it, you workshop the cards, make sure they’re solid. You go off to write it. There are lectures too, but then you come in; you present your pages to the class.
, and we go over them. In twelve weeks you have a completed first act, and you’ve obviously started working on the building blocks for your second act which I do for some students in another class. That timeline may seem quick, but I see a lot of classes where you can spend—UCLA extension they let you go to five classes over a year at four times the cost of my class which is essentially gratis—and you still don’t have shit to show for it. Mine is hey, man, let’s do it. Let’s get into it, and for writers motivation is key. You’ve got to get pumped.
Ashley: And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Are you on Twitter, Facebook?
John: I’m on Twitter. I’m on Facebook.
Ashley: I’m going to link to all this in the show notes.
John: My Twitter page is tlscreenwriter. I just got that set up with the help of a friend, by the way. I’m learning about it. It’s a good tool. But there are plenty of ways to reach me. I always take emails from people all over the country which is awesome. A lot of them ask me questions they can’t find the answer to. I’m very accessible. The whole heat of this is that at the end of the day, I’m no different than any other writer out there. I may have had a movie produced. I may have made more money; you didn’t. Writers are writers, and my class is about people as peers not master-slave. Wide open, very accessible, and really just like helping other writers.
Ashley: Well, John, this has been a great interview. I really appreciate this. You’ve been very generous with your time. This has gone way over, but I really appreciate it. I’ve learned a lot so I know other people will learn a lot.
John: Right on! I appreciate that. Thank you.
A quick plug for my email and fax blast service I’m running a special right now where you can purchase one-third of the blast for a little more than fifty dollars. The total list is around 6,000 contacts. So this first one-third is about 2,000 contacts. So it’s still a pretty good sized list of producers. I’ve done this just to lower the barrier to entry so that people can check out the blast service without having to invest a whole lot of money up front. The one thing that hasn’t changed, I still require that you join the Sys Select which at this time is $24.99 per month. The reason I require this as part of the process is that I’m going to personally look at your log line inquiry letter and help you make them as good as possible. This is really for everyone’s benefit. It’s going to help you because you’re going to get a better response from your query letter, and it’s going to help the producers because I’m not going to let half—baked query letters go through my system. So the producers on the receiving end of this will hopefully be more impressed with what they’re getting. So the one-third of the blast plus one month of Sys Select is just $78.00 and that’s a blast to more than two thousand industry producers. So it’s really never going to get any cheaper than that. So if you’ve ever wanted to try this service out, now is the time. Go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/blast to learn more about it.
In the next episode of the podcast I’m going to be interviewing Corey Mandell. I did an interview with him before. It’s episode 49, and this episode coming up, I dig deeper into a lot of the things that we talked about in the original episode. So if you have a moment, definitely go back and check out episode 49. It will give you a lot of context to what we’re discussing because a lot of the questions are things after I interviewed him in episode 49, I had a lot of follow-up questions. I got follow-up questions from other listeners, and then I went back and I really dug into a lot of the things from episode 49, really expanded on a lot of the things he said. So I do think if you have time, go back, check out episode 49, and then next week keep an eye out because that episode is going to be coming out.
To wrap things up, I just want to touch on one point from today’s interview. Today’s interview was very long. There was lots of great stuff in it. I mean, John made a ton of great points, a lot of very interesting stuff from John. But I wanted to touch on one point. As I went back and edited this podcast and listened to it again, I want to be real clear what I was talking about with the 65-plus crowd. As a group this is the smartest group of listeners I have. So I certainly don’t want to alienate them or offend those folks in any way. I just want to be clear on sort of what my thought process was in saying that their chances are very slim. There’s all the stuff that John talked about in his early career, and a lot of it was talked about in the first interview that I did with him, episode 67. Those seven years of struggle John had, most people that get to the point where they’ve been successful at another career and they’re 65 years old, they have grandkids; they have a life. They play golf. They go and do any number of other hobbies and things that they enjoy. That sort of fire in the belly that you need to succeed at this, no matter who you are it’s going to be really, really difficult and is going to require a monumental effort to succeed. And that’s what I find the 65-plus crowd is typically missing. They are successful; they’ve already had another career. They are usually very smart, and that’s sort of part of the whole issue is that they don’t necessarily want to spend the grueling hours of getting better and learning the craft. And it’s not going to be something that takes just a year or two. It’s going to take many, many years no matter how old you are. No matter when you start it’s going to take you a few years, and it’s going to take a lot of work. That’s what I just generally find the 65-year-old crowd has a whole other life. I put my parents in this. I look at my parents, they have a great life. There are no complaints. They go on cruises; they drink wine. They go on wine tours. They just have a really fun life at this point, and the last thing they want to do is embark on a whole new career. When you start something new—if you start any career, when you start over and begin something new, there’s just like a lot of grunt work, there’s a lot of just putting in a lot of grueling hours and just doing all these things no matter what age you are, whether you’re in your 20’s or 30’s and just starting out, there is a lot of time that needs to be spent getting up to speed and getting your skill set to the point where it’s at a professional level. Really it’s hard for any group, but a lot of these people who are 65 and older who I talked to that are retired, they’ve always wanted to be writers, and I can tell talking to them that these are really smart successful people. It’s not a talent issue. It’s not an issue of do you have the writing talent? Do you have the intelligence to do it. Most of these people probably do or a lot of these people probably do. When you talk to people in their 20’s, it’s a coin flip. You talk to some real people who you know they’re never going to make it, and it’s not because they’re not going to put in the hard work. For them it’s an issue a lot of times with the talent. A lot of times I can just tell that the people just don’t get it. They don’t have sort of the raw material to ever be a successful writer but not so with the 65-plus crowd. Definitely these are smart intelligent people, but I just question whether you really have the fire in your belly to do what it takes to be successful at this. It’s going to be hard no matter who you are, and do you want to spend your retirement years pursuing something that may or may not ever pan out.
And that’s kind of also why I mentioned to John about doing short films. I talked about that a lot on the podcast so go back and look at some of the other episodes. It’s a great way to see the entire filmmaking process—writing a script, seeing it produced, and seeing the finished product is doing a short. And I talk about this again in other podcast episodes. There are a lot of places including Ink-tip and including Craig’s List where you can find up-and-coming producers and directors looking for material. If you start to write some shorts, you can get those out there. If you’re halfway decent, you’ll find someone who wants to do those. Again, you have to be diligent; you have to keep working on your craft. You have to write something that’s halfway decent, but if you’re diligent and persistent on this, you’ll find someone who’s willing to produce these shorts. It will be a low budget. You’re not going to make any money at it, but you’ll see the entire filmmaking process. I think that’s so important to getting started, just getting a win, getting those small wins where you feel like I really can do this, and maybe that little short film will win some kind of an award at a film festival or just get into a film festival. All those little subtle things, they may not be huge wins, but they’re little wins that can kind of help you get on your way.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.