This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 086: Director Claudio Fah Talks About His New Film Northmen – A Viking Saga.
(Typewriter Keys Tapping)
Ashley: Welcome to Episode 86 of “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger, over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Claudia Fa. He’s originally from Switzerland and is now living and working in Hollywood California. We talked through his entire career. Which really started as a young child doing short films. And then we dig into his latest film, “Northman, A Viking Saga.” Which is exactly what it sounds like. Like a wild think Viking adventure movie. 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 on the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you would rather read the show, or look up something later on? You can find all the Podcast show notes on
www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/Podcast. And then just look for episode #86.
A couple of quick notes. I continue to build out the SYS Script Library. Last week I added the way, way back, “The Night Crawler in Nebraska.” “Philomena,” “Education Game” “Big Eyes” and “Enough Said,” the steller “Frozen Pond Girl.” To the SYS Script Library. These were sent in by Jerry Frost, so a big thank you to Jerry for sending these scripts into me. If you have any screenplay you do not see listed in the SYS Script Library? Please do Email it to me. The SYS Library is completely free, we do have over 1000 scripts in there right now. Many hit movies and award winners and top television shows. All the scripts are in PDF format. So you can download and read them on whatever device you use. Just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/library.
In the last week I’ve had some questions about the best way to break in as a screenwriter? A month or so ago I wrote a blog article about this exact topic. What I did was, I went back and looked at all the Podcast episodes that I had done. And I created a table, which shows exactly how each screenwriter broke into the industry. Pretty much every Podcast episode I asked a screenwriter, “hey, how did you break in?” And then a, they will basically tell me. Sort of their beginning of their careers. So I just basically wanted to put this into a chart. Then you can see, and quickly sort of figure out what are exactly the best methods for breaking in. So, hopefully you can read that and look at it and come up with your own marketing plan? Something that is suited to you of your own skills and talents, and interests. The URL is built a bit unwieldy, but I will link to it in the show notes. So if you want to check that blog post out, please do so. Check out the show notes and click on over to it.
So now let’s get into the main segment, today I’m going to Claudia Fa, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Claudia to this “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on with me today.
Claudia: Thank you very much for having me.
Ashely: So, to start out I want to hear if you could just tell us a little bit about your background, how you got into the entertainment industry, and eventually worked your way up to directing this latest feature film.
Claudia: Well, of course it’s a long story actually, short but to the point. I started at like age 12, with my cousin. Our chores came in, we used our toy features play mobile, which we had plenty of. I had mostly a western set. And we had some mid-evil knights and of course the usual police set things and other misc. stuff. So, we started filming them rather than playing with them, with our video camera and stuff. I, it was sort of like turning on a light, and I thought, wait. We can capture child’s play and reproduce it and show it to my friends and my parents. And involve them on that range. And so, that put me on the path to want to do this for the rest of my life. I don’t really think it’s that similar? That, after that many short films and some movies later. It would be like, “Northman” was not that dissimilar from some of the fantasies I had as a little boy, of what we should have.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, take us through, I notice in INDB your first credits are writing and directing, so are short films.
Ashley: If you could talk about those a little bit? And those as stepping stones and just what they kind of did for you? Did you send them to festivals? Kinda how you worked into it? Your professional career as a director? Because I think that’s where all the people start is just doing shorts. I assume these play mobile shorts were probably not entered into film festivals?
Claudia: No, none of them made it. But they were quickly followed up by short films we used our friends, you know, we put them in as behind the camera, and in front of the camera as well. They were of course entered into it as well. Student Film Festivals in Switzerland as well. The first regular lead as well. I took part in these festivals frequently. That sort of thing, one thing lead to the next. I mean, the short films got more professional, we started watching movies, watching some of them. Until, you know, learning by watching. Self-made film school really. I can recommend that path to anyone, anyone who wants to become a film maker. I think it can be taught really. Movies, I think you can just, you know, teach yourself, and find out. Make a lot of mistakes and tests and experiments, and realize what works and what doesn’t. What doesn’t work for you? And develop your own way of going south. And I think that was the way the path toward what eventually became professional film making. And I think the attitude that we, my cousin and I had that still stands today. Some tricks that I learned back then that I very much use on a daily basis.
But just to get into just the hunger of experimenting and trying to tell a story. You know, try to see whatever movie you like and imitate those. And not to say, steeling it? That’s hyper, I think, we, in the era we grew-up. In the Grupin in Switzerland, we had a small rule. A rural town where I definitely the only one where we were the only ones making films. We got a lot of notoriety. And attention that helped the community in that respect. Great, and then, it probably would have been harder growing up in Los Angles, because everybody’s making movies. But if you’re out there and you don’t have access to Hollywood from the get go? It might be a hell of a tough thing?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure, so I want to give you, if you could tell us how many short films were there. I think there were an IMDB 3 or 4 was there? Films that didn’t get onto the IMDB page, and just how many short films? And over how long then, a lot of people, they expect things to happen and quickly. And I think when you talk to real film makers, sometimes it takes 10 years of doing these shorts to before you actually start to get paid for something. So maybe you could just elaborate on that a little bit? How many shorts were there over the course of how many years was it?
Claudia: I really don’t know, or have any idea how many of them there were? But it was too many to count? And I also quickly, and making these video projects were friends who had it, a company that would pick up a job. Anything I could turn into some art, or visual material. I would take on. And tried to do it, and sometimes I got paid a little bit. But, most of the things I started signing was worthy, the thing, the stories we dealt with, really, I had no idea how many of them there were? Some of them in the beginning, it took us literally a Wednesday afternoon to come up with a story, to film it, edit it, to put sound on it, and to be done with it. Because I had to be home at 7:00p.m. for dinner.
Claudia: It was the best part. And some of them were funnier than heck. And some were terrible to look at that, it just didn’t work out at all, it was a lot of trial and error, and mostly error. But that was included in this, I, you know me? By the age of 12, I think I, we put my friends and I signed up for a festival a couple of years after that we our first movie we felt, “Yes! This is GREAT! This is Fantastic! And we won awards and all. And it was very regular. And every year we were, we would shoot many short films. All of which would be felt strongly about. Only that we would send in. And I think, all the way, we would send in, rejected twice. We got to the first chance at making my first feature. It was a very gradual process and I think every step of the way that it is rare somebody tells you, “You can’t even write well. You direct the movie for me.” You have to do that on your own. You have to self-reside yourself to be a director. And just try to trust your instincts and trust your abilities to commandeer whatever career it is. Like if it’s just a bunch of your friends or whatever, it’s a hundred people by a group of professionals. It takes a lot of guts again. They say I know the way, follow me and it’ll be great.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, so did you then basically self-fund your first feature? Was that how you made actually started to do a bunch of films? What was your first feature film? And how did you get that going?
Claudia: Oh, geez, let me. First after finishing general studies in literature in Switzerland. Where I didn’t want to go to film school because I wasn’t offered the kind of movies that I wanted to make. I always felt I couldn’t, be who I wanted to be in Hollywood, you know? For better or for worse. Then after those things I went to UCLA extinguish, which is a fabulous new program. Which allows you to be sitting somewhere, like film school without paying these huge tuitions that end you in great debt at the end. But still that’s a four year stay in America, you get Student Visa, you can stick around and study, take classes, you can make connections. And during that time, I was extremely fortunate, because one of my short films. A Swiss investor called me up and said he wanted to fund my first feature film, the seed from this first feature film. It was an unbelievable stroke of luck that he was there. Called me up and reached out to me and he eventually started a series of meetings. I didn’t see him until after we came up with the concept that he liked. He felt it was a great script. That way I was able to get with some, I was able to finance of course the movie that was, “Coronado.” That was almost 15 years ago. We put that money together a lot from like, maintained and a lot of luck. The lead to that movie being created.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And what was his interest as an investor, what was his interest in financing? He was just, he thought it would be cool too finance a movie? Or he was hoping it would be a great business decision? What was his interest?
Claudia: He liked the movie, and I told him from the get go, that it, the risk of losing it, the money he puts into it, any movie at any time is huge. And he was fully aware of that. Marketing I would have to pay him back, nobody got rich from that first movie.
Ashley: Let’s dig into your latest film about, “The Viking Saga.” Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch of the film. This for people to kind of have, who have seen or haven’t seen the trailer. I always link to the trailer in the show notes. But maybe just pitch and tell us a little bit of what it’s about? So we can kind of understand what the story is?
Claudia: Well, “Northman, A Viking Saga.” Is an epic adventure movie that concerns a bunch of a group of Vikings, who are stranded in Scotland behind enemy lines. After their attempted raid and as far as everything goes wrong. And they wash up on shore, way North than what they thought. And quickly find out that they are not wanted there. They lost their weapons and pretty much in their ship there, and everything else. But they had somehow made their way back into friendly territory, which is further down South. And they do that by, running into some characters that will help or hinder them in their pride. And it’s a big sort of journey of these Vikings trying to survive against the odds and against some mighty foes.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Perfect, yeah that sums it up very nicely. So, maybe, as a director you could tell us how you got involved with this project? How did you find the script? Or how did you ultimately come to direct it?
Claudia: Well, it was another one of those lucky sort of circumstances. Going back to my first movie, “Coronado.” I became friends with the Swiss distributor and producer, “Ralph Dietrich.” Who I was in touch with for a number of years.
And then at some point, this would be about four years ago, so? We always met up at the American Market. And he asked me, look, I always wanted to do an international viable action movie. And I was thinking that Viking genre was something that, you know, is interesting to me. Would you be interested in directing a Viking movie?
Claudia: And I go, that was like, you had me on a rope. (Laughing) That’s not an easy thing to answer? Of course! Anything, of course, bring it on! So I said, “Yeah.” That was a natural thing for me to say “Yes” to. And it’s really to a large reprove to ourselves tenacity. And a very well put together financing. Such a movie, yee, who start this project. You start developing a story. And then this script on this second or third drafting sent to me. And then we kept working on it together with the two writers. I’m still a little bit, I say, awe-struck. Just thinking about it, because it’s a bit unusual, it’s such a chance to direct. I say it was really a dream come true.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, it sounds like he brought you in before he had a script? Or before he had funding? It sounds like he had this vague notion of doing a Viking script. That’s, yeah, okay?
Claudia: He has a real one of the best producers because he’s also a buyer, contributor, it’s almost like being with a major studio in Switzerland. So he knows what the marketplace holds, what is desired, what people will buy because he himself is a buyer. So, is very much tuned in, clued in to what is sells. And eventually it did. It comes down to that. You know, you can have the great idea, but if nobody buys it? You can’t turn it into a movie. So it was really a blessing to have him at the beginning and throughout this movie really. He was a great booster.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. One of the questions I had, and I hadn’t seen some of your other films. But, you know one of the things that struck me about this is? There are a lot of action scenes, there are sword play, gun, it’s obviously in the Viking times. Did you have experience directing that kind of action? Was that a worry really, for you going into this production? Being able to direct something like that something? Because that’s not something that we even have a lot of experience. We don’t even see it a lot in movies, certainly something that has not ever been done in real life?
Claudia: No, that’s a greater point because I had never indeed been. I had done lots of action scenes before. Most of them had been cut and done in these ultimately very cinematic and by comparison in these. It hasn’t been an easy thing, because you have to have to believe in cause and effect, you know? You have these elements, the scenery receive a real guy shoots a real guy. He falls, they’re separate, so he mostly often these shoot separately and have great control over what’s going on. And still people understand by virtue of cutting room, and sometimes pan you can put these together. It’s somewhat easy, it’s like challenging and where it gets more tricky? As if you have sword fight, it puts your actor close together. And you have to perform it. And you have to, really be able to perform these fights on their own safe way. You want it to be tangible and believable and gritty and real. And that just takes a lot of preparation and a lot of money, which we didn’t have.
So going about doing this, was a tricky proposition. And first since I reached out through a good friend of mine, John Hymies, who I have the utmost admiration for. He’s admiration for, known forever and he certainly knows how to direct action. So I asked him a little bit about it. How he goes about putting an action sequence together. And that was some good pieces of advice that he gave me. On the way to actually shooting the movie.
Ashley: And it sounds like, as you mentioned, Ralph, is the guys that are the producer and also is a film buyer. So, he surely has keen insight into what people are buying in the marketplace? I get a lot of people that come to me as they said, “Selling Your Screenplay.com” a lot of people come up to me and give me screenplays and they have a civil war epic. Or they have some sort of period piece. And I generally will recommend, general pat answer is? These are probably not going to be all that sellable, because they are usually expensive to do with very limited markets. And I’m curious, did you get it, a sense like, why did something? Why did Ralph feel something like this would actually land in the marketplace?
Claudia: Yes, I did. Why he would buy a Viking movie? A few years back I didn’t really care for it that much. And when he realized it sold massively well.
Claudia: And I told them that. There’s probably an even better place for a Viking movie to take place at an even half way decent good. Just like a sub-genre within period pieces. With the way the Vikings is something that interests people. There’s the whole, in years where we start this is probably tailored towards like, a heavy metal? Viking hell and heavy metal fans, there’s this specific branch of that heavy metal. Which is Viking metal, or who you probably have to flash it? And we lead with Johan Hague and Alana North. He’s the neat seaman of them all. And Alana North who is the most recognized, and famous Viking of that scene. We’re talking about, this is probably true target audience. But along the way, I felt, and we all felt, that I suppose we could open it up and get a bit more widely were nobody else had tried it. Tap into the people who are watching “Thrones” or “Friends.” And that’s what widens it out a little bit. But Vikings, today is a good sub-genre that hasn’t been nuked to death yet.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I guess like that ninja movie, or that samurai movies that have been milked to death. Yeah, I can definitely see the, that you made it clear that the distinction, The Game of Thrones.” You made a clear choice in this that there is no magic, no omens in this. This script is pretty straight there. Now is that something in there that was discussed? Would it make it more marketable to include some magical elements?
Claudia: Yeah, I think it was discussed and, I don’t know, it was purely marketing strategy that we stayed away from that? Or whether it was instinct? What I felt, well I certainly welcomed the desire to not have any dragons and or whatnot in there? From my honest background, I felt this movie, to me was closer to the, “Spaghetti Western.” I think it was always meant to be grounded in the realistic, or realistic looking or in the real world. Let’s put it that way. “Spaghetti Westerns” aren’t necessarily realistic? It’s also stylized pretty lazy in the real world.
Where people do things that physically is pretty possible within the magical realm of magic in there. And I felt there was an appropriate because I didn’t want to make the same blue screen movie. I didn’t want to, you know, rely on CG and visual effects because that’s where you’re really up against the bigger budget movies. I think people are really sad about seeing where those extras fall short. And I decided to really go for, you know, full locations and go there, and put our actors there and put them through it. Rather than having them react to a dragon that will hopefully look acceptable later on in post. Then doesn’t and then everybody looks like?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Okay, interesting, so you mentioned just briefly, just a moment ago? And you met someone at AFM and you attended the AFM. I had a screenwriter on here that he had actually made a lot of contacts at AFM basically. He was just barreling in with whatever the password was? Tried barreling into production companies and just networked in there. I wonder, if you could talk about what do you do at AFM? And maybe give us some sort of tips in the lay of the land there for writers?
Claudia: A yeah. What I do anything is? I try to stay awake. (Laughing). Yeah, because I find it tricky thing to navigate? It’s awesome completely overwhelming. With companies that move region projects, actually there is so many of them? It makes you, usually it’s so different? It’s heartening. It’s, you know, just such a huge market. But I find it, obviously a lot of businesses own these markets. And I think most important, is to team up with a good solid and reliable foreign sales company. Who, that’s their daily business, it’s like their daily bread, to sell movies at these markets. Which is all by myself, I get completely lost. I just go there, and I would never go there on a spec. Just trying to? And also at AFM, everybody has their agendas. And everyone runs around crazy. I’m not sure that’s the right moment to sell a pitch? Yeah, but.
Ashley: Yeah. What’s that?
Claudia: In between markets, according to the foreign sales companies with specs. Courtesy? And I think that’s the time, at opening that somebody will buy it. And try and set something up, these markets.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So you have a specific company, but that you’re kind of attached to? And you hang-out in their booth and just try and meet people that way?
Claudia: No, not even that way. I think it’s always project related. The projects come together and then A. Foreign Sales Company, gets attached. And then they go around and sell the movie. And then sometimes someone will be asked to come in and meet with buyers. And talk to them about the movie or show it, a teaser trailer, or a Mach-up so production paintings or something like that? I’m not, as a director, I rarely meet, I’m rarely a part of those types of sales. I try to stay away from that as much as possible.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So maybe you could tell me, tell us about the release schedule for “Northmen.” How can people see it? Or get at the actual release date? And when will it show up on “Video on Demand?”
Claudia: It is out this Friday, July 31st on ITunes. It’s playing at one theater in LA that I know of, at the Arena in Hollywood.
But it is widely available on ITunes on Friday. And then a week after that, or a couple of weeks. I think you could ask on the 11th I believe? It will be available On Demand. And it’s distributed through Stars Anchor Bay. For a fantastic job in selling it. It already had its theatrical run in most of the rest of the world, through mostly Europe, also Russia, some parts of Asia, The Middle East, and actually the U.S. comes last. Last, everyone else goes before you. A little bit unusual, but.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Claudia: Yeah, happy to have it, way in my home town too.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. So, I always like to end the interview just by asking people about how people could potentially contact you? Or keep up with what you are doing? If you have a Twitter account you can mention your handle or Facebook, or blog. Anything you feel comfortable sharing? Just, a, rattle it off and I’ll track it down and I’ll put it in the show notes too. So people can just click on over to it.
Claudia: Yeah, here’s the thing. I’m kinda old fashioned but I keep Facebook completely private.
Ashley: No, no. So do I, I’m like that.
Claudia: Of course I encourage them to follow – “Northmen” the movie on Facebook.
Ashley: Perfect. I’ll link to that.
Claudia: Yeah, exactly.
Ashley: Perfect. Okay, thank you for the call, this has been a great interview. I really appreciate it. I enjoyed the movie and watched it a couple of nights ago, I enjoyed it. So, a very well done and thanks for coming on and talking to me.
Claudia: Thank you very much Ashley, I really appreciate it. I hope I’ll be back with the next one?
Ashley: Yeah, bud absolutely, look forward to it. Thank you, take it easy, bye.
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In the next episode of the Podcast I’m going to be interviewing Bob Schultz. Who is one of the founders of the great American Pitch Fest. I get a lot of questions about “Pitch Fest.” And Bob is very opened through all these questions that I throw at him. So if you ever wondered about, “Pitch Fest.” I would highly recommend you check out next week’s episode.
To wrap things up I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Claudia. I talked about this numerous times on the Podcast before. So I’m not going to spend too much time on it now. But I really think Claudia is a great example of how short films can help you gradually work your way into it, a solid film making career. I talk about this in great detail in episode number 4 of the Podcast. So go back and check that out, if you haven’t already.
The other thing that struck me, is the business behind this movie. I usually tell people to avoid period pieces, this would certainly be a period piece. Has a lot of Viking costumes, the use of weapons, the whole world is a very much a set piece and of itself. And I usually tell people no, not to do these types of films. Because they are so typically hard to sell. But the way Claudia had described it, it was the distributor who produced this movie. And he knew, at least he felt like this Viking movie would be something he could sell. You know, you would never know this information unless you were a distributor or a at least talking to distributors. So that was one real big take away from this episode with him is? And at some point maybe I’ll go back and track down a lead distributor on this film. I would love to have him on the Podcast and talk to him just about this film specifically and even more generally. What kind of stuff he was looking for. But, you’re never just going to be able to guess at that. Like, you know, write a movie up about some very subject and have it actually rank. And it would be very, very, difficult, you might get lucky. But, very difficult to write something this specific, and like this niche. And actually sell it on unless you already knew a distributor or producer who knew this kind of film.
That there was a market for this kind of film. I mentioned this a little bit to Claudia, he didn’t seem he didn’t have a whole lot of experience to go into AFM and pitch it. But I did do an episode with a screen writer named Andrew Cole, who went to AFM and really. AFM is the American Film Market, it’s filled with foreign distributors. Actually foreign film buyers go to AFM and there’s the distributors, international distributors presenting their films like, this film. This Viking film with, would certainly be an AFM movie. So, you can get a pass and you can go down there. You can just walk into the building. And introduce yourself and start to network. And I interviewed a school minor who had successfully done this. And his name is Andrew Cole. And I will link to that in the show notes as well. This is episode #21, so you can go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast. Then look for episode #21. I will leave a link in the show notes. But Andrew started this whole process of buying a ticket. This was maybe a couple of years ago. I think it was $300.00 – $400.00, you can buy like a weekend pass. And you can get into everything. And like I said, you can go into these booths and you can start to talk to people. And Andrew goes into some more detail about what he said, how he pitched it. And the results he had. Up until the results he had. And this would be a great way to gain some very valuable insight into what distributors are specifically looking for? Can you imagine going to AFM and looking at the posters and being in the seat? I think it would give you some idea of, about that if you never done it? The goodness of going to AFM, I think you’re going to be amazed. If you’ve never been to AFM. Go, what’s going to happen? And what will really strike you is? You’re going to see a ton of movie posters. For just sort of low budget action thriller movies. These and there’s gonna be a lot of action, a lot of thrillers, but maybe some horror. But, there’s going to be tons of these actions thrillers. And they’re going to have people in them that you’ve heard of. There’s going to be the actors you’ve heard of in them. Gee, I never heard of this film, I wonder what’s going on? Why didn’t that make it? It’s got some pretty big stars in it? And you’d be surprised these million dollar, two million dollar and maybe up to five million dollar movies. They find distribution wide, they’re not released theatrically. But there’s a lot of these movies getting made. There’s hundreds of these movies getting made every year or so. You know, purely statistically, speaking the chances of seeing and selling one of these scripts. Is pretty good compared to selling a studio project. You know, there’s only like 80 studio projects made per year. So, you have a good chance of selling these movies, but you have to understand these markets they are looking for. They are not looking for, you know, dramas. They are not looking for academy award type dramatic pieces. They are really looking for genre pieces, actor action thriller pieces, maybe a little bit of horror. Not a lot of comedy, not a lot of dramas. There are things that can play action play Romeo. Odd comedies not so much. The comedy doesn’t necessarily translate. So,
Anyway, I would highly recommend checking out episode #21 as I said in the beginning. But I think, go back and listen to it. This one clip about making himself. He talks about producer/distributor he must have really had a good grasp on this market. And of this movie that saw, so that’s kind of a genius. And how he set up this project. And that’s the smart way to write scripts. Have a market in mind, as just writing blindly. You’re going to spend a lot of time writing projects that are not and have no chance of actually making it into production. You just won’t know these things until, unless you actually interface with them, distributors and producers.
Anyway, that is the show thank you for listening.