This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 098: Screenwriter Dan Kay Talks About His Career And His Latest Film, Pay The Ghost (Nicolas Cage).
Selling Your Screenplay Podcast – #98
(Typewriter Keys Tapping)
Ashley: Welcome to episode #98 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screen writer and Blogger over here at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing screenwriter Dan Kay. Who recently wrote a horror thriller script called, “Pay the Ghost.” Which stars Nicholas Cage, so stay tuned for that.
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A quick few words about what I am working on. I got back the audio files for the TV teaser/trailer I’ve been putting together for my crime, action, thriller. I’ve been talking about this one for a couple of months. I’m getting ready to launch a Kick-Starter campaign in January. So, I’m putting together a teaser/trailer and a little intro-trailer for Kick-Starter. The video is basically edited, we’re just basically doing some audio work on it now. I have a guy who knows how to do all this audio stuff. He just sent the files today, I haven’t had a chance to drop them into the trailer to see how it all looks. But hopefully that’s all going to come together this week? And then I still got a little bit of editing on sort of the intro part on where I am actually talking to the camera. I’ve got to sink some sound, and do a bit of editing. But that shouldn’t be too difficult. But then I’ll basically be done. And I’ll be all ready for January. And then I got to start gearing up and doing all the prep-work. But they say it takes about a month to get ready for a Kick-Starter campaign. So, I’ve got basically November and December for to be real solid to hopefully get everything in order.
I’ve got some notes back on my spoof comedy feature film that I wrote a few weeks ago. I mentioned this one as well on the Podcast. Mainly the notes the producer’s gave me are to tone down some of the offensive comedy. Which is fine, probably a good note in this one. A pretty easy note to do and around to implement. And then they want to bump up sort of the physical comedy, less comedy, that’s realize on dialog, and more comedy that I wrote and realize the physical humor. And I think, they are thinking, I’ll have to talk to them. This sort of back and forth on Email. When I meet with them, I’ll probably ask them about this. My guess is, you know, they are, a lot of the distribution that they have, they are distributors and also producers. So they have a real good eye for what they want and be able to sell. So, my guess is with this last note more for physical comedy. They are thinking that’s going to play better internationally. Any time you have to translate dialog, potentially the humor will be lost in translation, it won’t translate. Physical comedy is much more easier to apply internationally. It’s only way to translate, but I think it just plays better. It’s sort of a more just general, it will just generally work better if you’re not trying to translate words, phrases and stuff that may or may not be fun in any language. So, those are the notes, pretty mild of raw, and shouldn’t be too hard to implement. Hopefully I’ll get there, and get those done this week. And then hopefully I’ll probably get another pass to that. Hopefully that will give them enough of a script to give them to get 95% there. And then they can really start to take me out to their contacts, and start getting into production, or at least that’s the hope. So that’s what I am working on.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing Dan Kay, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Dan, to the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Dan: Of course, I’m very happy to be here, thank you for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get started in the entertainment industry?
Dan: Well, ah, I was lucky in something. I always knew what I always wanted to do this. I had a, I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that had a TV station in the high school. It was a community cable access station. And they allowed us, the students from this area, if we wanted to, inviting the field of kids to put on our own show. So, throughout high school a bunch of friends and myself, we did a comedy sketch show. For many weeks we were writing for each act. And editing, and airing a show. And I loved it so much, I decided to continue doing that. And I knew then we were really, this is what I really wanted to do. This is my last show. So after, I went to college and after college I went straight to New York City, I’m from New York. I went to New York City. Then after school I came to work in the film business. And learn, and name while simultaneously, trying to get my own movie off the ground. So, I think for about three years, I worked out a bunch of different movie sets. Dealing, you know, jobs like production assistant, or assistant to the director. While simultaneously I was giving a script I had written. To a producer I had met.
And after about three years, I had found a producer who wanted to make this movie that I wrote. And I don’t know, about six months after meeting this producer. I was writing, I was on set directing my feature.
Ashley: Huh? Okay.
Dan: Then I was, the movie was called, “Way Off-Broadway,” it stars Melinda Baccarin, who, many people may know from shows like “Firefly” and “V” and she’s been Emmy nominated for “Homeland” when she played Brody’s wife on “Homeland.” And she’s on “Gotham” now, on Fox Shows. It was only supposed to be me and. Well, we did pretty well with it. I got to travel the world with it on the festival circuit. I general bought the movie. And that was sort of how I got started. And then I moved out to L.A. from New York. Around the time the movie got picked up and distribution. And I’ve been out here ever since.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect, perfect. Let me dig into a couple of things to get some specifics on some things you just said. So, just quickly, you talk about these jobs, that are a whole lot of screenwriters start out. A whole lot of working their way up. Maybe you can tell us, just briefly, how did you get some of those PA jobs? Were those through internships through college, just how did you get those jobs? I know other people listen to this and that’s the path for me. But how did you get started with that?
Dan: Well, a, the first, I a really didn’t have any connections to the business. My family was not in the movie business. And we didn’t know anybody in the movie business. My first paying job, if I remember correctly? I think my dad is somebody, who knew somebody, who knew somebody, and somebody? And I just called that somebody, and that somebody was just a line producer. And an independent movie trying to get off the ground. And she said, “Hey, if you want to come work on this movie? You know, we can’t pay you, but, a come aboard. And that’s what I did. I worked that, the first PA job I had. I worked for free, for about three months. Anyhow, from there that’s how you start meeting people. I met the producers of that. For me, I met the Assistant Directing Team. You know, you just meet people, and that just leads to other events and work after that. And that’s what I did for about, the better part of three years, yeah. Working out, working on these random independent movies. While simultaneously landing the pay for my project, trying to get mine, my movie made. And still, a long distance away. It’s true, I learned besides myself, I just learned a lot. I chose not to go to film school, and like film school. Just learning by being on set. Learning how movies get made. They are being made at a lower budget level. Which, at that time, as a run through, a way to direct, other movies. And so that was pretty a, educational, informative experience.
Ashley: So you mentioned you were on these sets as a PA, and you were basically pitching your script to people. It sounds like, I’ve had some other people on here, you know. I’ve tried that, and they got a little bit of blow-back, is that? Maybe you could just tell us, did you get blow-back on that? Was it upon, was it just do it in such way that it doesn’t come across as weird, pushy, maybe you could just give us?
Dan: A, yeah. I mean, it’s like, when you walk in the first day. I would show up on the first day of work and say, “Hey, I’m Russel, the writer /director, read my script. Nah, a I would wait often months with when I was working with somebody. Before I, in a sense where I would become friendly with member. Where it wasn’t too weird to just say, “Hey, would you just take a look at this thing I wrote? I’m trying to get this project off the ground.” But, no, yeah, I’m still very cautious and concerned about making a fool of myself, by over stepping my bounds. And by giving my script to people less than ready.
Dan: And one of the other things too, is by working on these movie sets, and just meeting people. Were also in time in New York City, where there were dozens of independent production companies. There are far fewer today. But, you know, I was becoming friendly with, like for example, a line producer on a movie. He knew I had writing/directing ambitions. He didn’t go, “Hey, you should meet my buddy, who’s looking for scripts.” So, he was all full of ideas, he was like, yeah, he could use you too. I was actually meeting someone who’s looking for techie. But there was incentive because of the general description because that’s what they want off, they want material.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure, that’s a good point. So that’s, tell them about Broadway, so if you could walk us through that exactly? The process, how did that script actually get sold? Tell us about that specific lead? Was that somebody that you met? A Line Producer? When you said, “My buddy’s a producer, he’s producing films over there. So maybe you just sort of clued us in on specifics about first sale?
Dan: Sure, so, “Way Off Broadway” like I said, I would, I had written scripts. I was working on these sets, I would give them to anyone that I thought would, that I thought I could or would be helpful. That was looking, I just wanted the producers than were looking for scripts to turn into movies. And I actually, though, I think it was the second job I had. I became friendly with the Assistant Director, who was starting his own production company. And we became very friendly, for a14+ hour day together. I gave him my script and he liked it, and he gave it to his partner, who was opening up the office. And I ended working with them for probably about a year and a half trying to get the movie made. Unfortunately, it did not work out with them. But in that time period I was meeting a lot of other people. And one of the people, I admit was fairly familiar with the comedy troop, “Broken Liver.”
Ashley: Yeah, sure, that did some of the, “Beta Super Troopers.”
Dan: They did, “Super Troopers.”
Ashley: One then.
Dan: Yeah. And they did a lot of comedy as well. But their producer, Rich Korrello, Ken. And he responded to my script. And he, he was the one who produced our movie. Insisted on getting it made. So, it wasn’t what like a script sale. In a sense where there, I sound like where I didn’t have an agent sending my script out. And we had a studio doing it for. It wasn’t like there wasn’t anything there? I know it wasn’t designed to be like that.
It was going to be half the budget and lead. And that’s most of us be. It wasn’t such a big splash. The key, a script sale, there was no sale. Which he said, “I think I can help you get this to sale.” In May, I said, “Fantastic.” A, a month later we were making a movie.
Ashley: Now, I get a lot of screenwriters coming to me that want to direct, as well as write. And I often, you know, I am reluctant to recommend, as a pop. Than the person is approached as producers. You kind of sound like you did. Just because I feel like a lot of times people are left. I do feel like the script is good. If you’ve never directed anything? It’s going to make it even harder to get that movie made. Did you do that at all? And were you at all different as you were pitching it to producers? Did you say, “Here’s the script, and by the way I’m only going to sell this if I am attached as the director.” How did you handle that?
Dan: Well, essentially, it was probably a good year at this time. And the New York Independent movie scene was still thriving at the time I was trying to do this. It was very, very time full for a first time director at that time. To write a script and get you to direct it. I believe they were shooting the movie for half a million dollars left. And honestly, today, consider is far, far less what they’ve made them. A ball and now they’re linear. Shot my movie wasn’t a video, it was shot on film. I think it would, look back on? It depends on what your script is on? And what your mission is, right? Because you’re, you are, if you are writing a script that you can shoot in three locations. And you just was to raise whatever? $60,000.00? And you’re going to work with your good friends or good actors. Than you should be absolutely directing it, your movie. If you are doing a movie like, “San Andreas” with which is a big Hollywood action packed spectacle. No one’s going to want you to direct that movie. So, the familiarity, it’s just a product of that. If you are watching direct, my place to start would have to be really small. That it’s not going to cost you much at all that you can direct. Being in your scale, you fine tallies, or your something you can shoot on your street somewhere where you live. There’s fours, something that’s not going to require a significant sized production or staff.
Dan: Does that make sense?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. That’s very accurate. So let’s move on, just tell us kind of just briefly. And then we’re going to have to get into your most recent film, “Pay the Ghost.” But just tell me briefly, I know some IMD you have, another credit, Timber Falls. Make, if you can just kinda tell us, after this first movie, “Off Broadway” was done. How did your career progress? And how did you move onto your next projects? Did you get an agent at that point in time? Did you go to film festivals? Kind of what happened at that first film that lead to these other films?
Dan: So what happened after “Off Broadway” played stuff all over the world. Which they had it off, while I was traveling. For about two years after the movie, and during that two years. I was taken for a lot of trips to L.A. where I would meet with agents and managers, executives, producers really, whenever I could, really. Just to get exposure for the movie. And by, from that process I got a couple of managers to see the movie. And I signed with their manager. And, that was my first taste of representation. And that turned out, got the ball rolling. I often tell, when people ask me, how do I get representation? I sought an agent, what’s the best way to get an agent? I say, don’t get an agent, get a manager. Because a manager is someone who is going to manage you, your career managers. Someone who’s going to take the time to make sure whatever time or scripts currently hoping to sell. That it is as good as it can possibly be. And the manager might work six months to a year, just doing rough draft with you. Gain that great shape souly that a professional shape is a lot easier to get into. And that manager should have connections that, that manager should be able to put that material in front of an agent so then will hopefully sign it. So, I live, I was lucky enough, that, that was my experience. That I got a manager. Who, then introduced me to my first agent in the business. And it all came about, because I had written and directed this movie. That people got a chance to see. I’m not saying it was the best movie in the world. But I guess it was common enough that the people managed success who were looking at it, were willing to take a flier on me. And in addition was still writing on these scripts I had several other scripts that I was trying to get off the ground. And having that first manager then got me my first agents that was help sort of began me, and get started here in L.A. That’s right are you asking specific about, “Timber Falls?”
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, man. Just curious how they got that writing assignment? Was that a spec. script?
Dan: So, my agent, the first draft I got when I moved to L.A. It was writing, I was a first writer on “Tinkerbell 2.” It was this series of DVD “Tinkerbell” movies. So, I wasn’t a huge “Tinkerbell” fan, a huge cartoon fan, I wasn’t really, I wasn’t like that. But, I was offered this assignment. And it wasn’t like I jumped to do it? So I was waiting for six months to a year, however long the beta process was? And this sort of little fairyland, I was Tinkerbell the fairy friend. I think I just needed a completely different creative experience coming after that. And coming right out of that I wrote “Timber Falls.” I had never written a horror movie before. I always wanted to but I never. I just a, like I said, I think needed normalcy. I needed to purge my Tinkerbell soul. So, I did that by writing this pretty hard horror movie called, “Timber Falls.” And that movie sold, and made it a very short period of time. Which is very lucky, and almost unheard of, I almost expect that to never happen again. And then all of a sudden, I was, because I had a horror movie, sold and gotten paid. People started coming to me with horror ideas, or short stories. Or an article they thought could be turned into a horror movie. And then all of a sudden people look at you as a horror writer. Now, up until that time I’d never done that before.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. So, are you still there?
Dan: Yeah, I’m here.
Ashely: So, maybe let’s move into, “Pay the Ghost” you’re most recent film starring Nicholas Cage. Maybe you can start out with that one. You can give us just a quick line or pitch of the movie, in case people haven’t seen it, the trailer yet?
Dan: Sure, so, “Ghost” with Nicholas Cage, plays this dad. Who’s been bucking for tenure professor at NYU. And because he’s bucking for tenure, he’s working his butt off. And he’s a little delinquent with his father and husband duties. He’s working late nights. And trying to get a little informed, and he slips up Halloween. He’s supposed to go trick or treating with his wife and kid. Gets the house away because he’s working, and he’s in the dog house. So, later that night, when the wife and kid come back from trick or treating. He says, “Let me take him, let me take the kid to the Halloween parade just for a half hour, I’ll bring him right back.” Because he feels really bad, he wanted to go trick or treating with his friend. And he knew he disappointed his son. And he thought maybe I can make it up to him by taking him to a parade. So, he takes his son to a parade. And at the parade his boy vanishes, and just disappears into thin air. And he got devastated, his wife is now devastated, and now obviously blames him. Because it was on his watch the kid disappeared. And there he stands, gone, without a trace, no clues. Then we pick up a year later, his wife has kicked him out of the house. He’s basically a shell of a man that he was. And he is just obsessed to figure out what happened to his son. And then, as we get really close to Halloween, now a year later. He starts to experience these strange phenomenon, where he thinks he’s hearing his son, it seems? The flashes of his son, briefly on a city bus. He’s not quite sure if he’s loosing his mind, or what’s going on? He’s beginning to think that his son is reaching out to him. And then, for the rest of the movie, he and his ex-wife are go on this journey to try and find the truth about what happened? Their son is figuring out how it’s all possible they can get him back?
Ashley: Okay, now tell me, this was a writing assignment, I assume? Since it’s an invitation to a novel correct?
Dan: No, a no. It was not a writing assignment. A, the, one of the producers Earl Leavy, a guy I worked with, on a different project. He gave me this short story that he wouldn’t write in class. And like, this is a really cool story. I don’t know if there is anything to do with it? But I just thought you should take a run at it. You know, read it, see if you take to it, if there is any take away for you? So I read the story, I really, really liked the story a lot. There wasn’t much in the story that’s the movie. There’s not obvious movie there, if you read the story. But there were a couple of things that were responded to you. One was the love of the title gave it “The Ghost” I thought that was a really cool title. And there’s also a beat in the short story where a father is chosen, which is his daughter. It’s been a while since I’ve read this. But I believe in the story of it, or store where ever they are? The daughter says, to the father, out of the blue. “Dad, please pay the ghost.” And then later that day, I believe, the daughter vanishes, not in the moment to where it is in the night, or whatever. But later that night, she vanishes. And the dad keeps thinking about that weird thing she sees, it turns to dust. So I loved that, I thought that was really creepy and eerie, it just inspired me to keep create the, this story. This movie, these characters, in a sense everything, all the inspirations came from that title. In sort of the beat in that short story in that. I just created a world in that characters from that.
Ashley: So did you opt, did this producer that what you said the other day. Then did the producer opt the rights to the short story? And how did you to write, or did you write it on spec. and did you option it to write?
Dan: Yeah, the producer optioned the option to the short story, and where then I wrote it on spec.
Ashley: I see, I see.
Ashley: And then, um, I’m always curious, did, so people just kind of understand sort of the full scope of this. You know, people on the outside, they see the movies. They get made, and they don’t realize that there is generally a lot of movies that are broke. And then curious, you’re talking about like, after you did your movie in 2007. The horror movie, then people are coming to you with other projects. Was there a bunch of other projects that you wrote to completion that they never got made? Or was this the only one in particular that didn’t get made? I’m just kinda curious about this? Just the scope of what else you were working on? Maybe hasn’t gotten made yet, or maybe is not ever going to get made?
Dan: Oh, sure, I mean, you know, I have also optioned more writers, who could have made a really good living. And never get anything made. Its totally in the fields a miracle to be one who actually gets made. And I feel very, very fortunate that a, that I had a movie that just left actually, for Staten Island, but there’ll be much force. Some of more force usually. A lot of that stuff is just luck. Because I have a whole lot of scripts that there were set-up at fixed studios. For example: Ian gave me that script, “Ghost” we met because we were working on a movie at Paramount called, “Details” which was a horror movie, that Paramount had bought. That was a Steller footstep he bought for me. For a while it looked like we were going to get it made. And it just sort of lost momentum, then in sort of a studio. In that studio development health, and just nothing happened to it. And I have several others like that project, either written, or set-up, and then never got made. And then got written and never sold. I guess it just depends? Certainly the majority of them, the majority of the scripts I have written have not been made.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And I think that’s just overt, thank you for sharing that. I think it’s good for people to hear that. Because as far as the reality of Hollywood, is that there is a whole lot more writing than there is producing. So?
Dan: Well, that’s right, that’s part of it. And I didn’t know that, I really didn’t understand that. Really into business I didn’t understand anything? That, that it is just part of the job. You don’t, you honestly hope, and hoping and crossing your fingers that everything is right. You don’t get made, but the reality is? That it won’t. So you just do what you have to. It sort of has to have the right mentality so that when something falls apart it actually won’t break your heart, okay, that’s just the business. The greatest screenwriters in the world whether it’s: William Goldberg, Scott Frank, or whoever? That most creators of this stuff haven’t got it made.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Dan: It’s just the business, it’s just the way it is.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, how many people pay to go see “Ghost?” Do you have the release schedule when’s it going to be in theaters? When it’s going to be on ONDEMAND?
Dan: Yes, really when it opens on Friday September 25th and simultaneously it’s also it’s also what’s called, “Day in date.” Really released in theaters, but you can also get it on: ONDEMAND, you can get it on ITunes, or Google Play, Amazon, any of those video streaming devices.
Ashley: Perfect. So what is the best way for people to keep up with you, or potentially contact you? Are you on Twitter, Facebook, do you have a blog? Anything you feel comfortable sharing, I could round up and put in the show notes.
Dan: You know, honestly? I’m not on Twitter. I’m rarely on Facebook, I have probably not used social media in the way that I should. To attract more eyeballs to my projects. And I should probably change that. So at the moment, it’s a little challenging to reach me, right? I wish that wasn’t the case, but, it is, at the moment anyway.
Ashley: No problem. I’m sure go to see, “Pay the Ghost” will probably have a Twitter account for that. And a Facebook account for that, so I will round those up and put them in the show notes.
Dan: I’m sure you ran, in the past have tried to reach me? Actually reached me through the, “Writers Guild.”
Ashley: Oh, okay.
Dan: I’ve gotten letters and notices from people who have reached out to the Guild. Through them forwards on whatever of the note or message. Which they have created, this day and age.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Well alright, perfect Dan. I appreciate you coming on the show, this has been a great interview. I enjoyed the movie, so, well done on that. I really wish you luck with it.
Dan: Thank you very much it was a pleasure being here, thanks, again.
Ashley: Thanks, we’ll talk to ya later.
Dan: Okay, take care, bye.
Ashley: A quick plug for the SYS Screenwriting Analysis Service. It’s a really economical way to get a high quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three-pack, you get evaluations at just $69.00 per script for feature films and just $55.00 for tele-plays. 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, and you can pick the one that you think is the best fit for you and your script. Turn-around-time is usually just a few days, but can rarely take up to a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors.
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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 features and television scripts. We also do proof reading without any analysis. We will also look at the treatment or outline and get the same analysis of it. So, if you’re looking to vet some of your projects? This is a great way to do it. We will also write a log-on and synapsis for you. You can add this service to the analysis, or you can simply purchase it as a stand alone product. As a bonus, if you script gets a recommend from a reader. You get a free Email and Fax Blast to my list of Email industry contacts. This is the exact same Blast service I use myself to promote my own scripts. And it’s the same service as you see on the website. It’s a great way for you to get your scripts into the hands of producers who are looking for new material. So, you want professional evaluation of your screenplay, at a very reasonable cost. Check out – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
In the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Allister Ron and Luke Harvest. They just wrote and Allister actually directed, they’re latest film. It’s a horror film called, “Diabolical.” I will be interviewing them and talking to them about this film and how it was made? How their careers started? So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
Just another quick reminder about the upcoming 100th episode. I thought it might be interesting to use the 100th episode to answer some listener questions. So, if you have any screenwriter questions? Send them into me, I’m happy to answer them all on the air. Put something in the subject line, like 100th Episode question. I wanted to do something a little different for the 100th episode, I thought this might be a fun way to do it. No question’s too tough, anything screenwriting related, that I would be happy to answer. I can give you my two-cents on it. You can Email me at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.