Ashley Meyers: Welcome to episode 101 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger, at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing screenwriters Alistair Legrand and Luke Harvis who recently wrote a horror film called Diabolical. We dig into their early careers and how they eventually got this film produced so stay tuned for that.
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So I have a little bit of follow-up today from episode 96 which was an interview I did with a writer and producer named Scott Morgan who is over in China, and the episode was all about finding opportunities for screenwriters in China. One of the things I mentioned when I published the episode was he gave some great advice for people who wanted to pursue these opportunities and the sort of the key to that advice was moving to China. After I had the interview I got to thinking I’m not in a position that I could just pick up and move to China. I have small children; have a wife and family here so that’s not something I can do. I was thinking gee, I wonder how I could actually get into these opportunities, and one of the screenwriters who listens to my podcast, Karen McKane, she was actually smart enough—I’m not sure why I didn’t think of this—but it was smart of her. She actually went and sent Scott an email basically asking that question. I’m just going to read her email and then Scott replied to her email so I’m going to read Scott’s reply because I think this is a very valid point. I think there are a lot of opportunities in China if you’re young, you don’t have a lot of family obligations, and you can probably pick up pretty easily and go to China and kind of explore some of these things. It would probably be an interesting adventure even if it didn’t materialize into some actual screenwriting opportunities. It would probably be something fun to do for six months or a year, but you definitely need to be unencumbered from family obligations. So Karen asked that very question. I’m going to read her email and then I’m going to read Scott’s response. I think it’s very, very interesting. So here’s what Karen’s email said:
Ashley said later that he forgot to ask what would you advise writers to do if they can’t move to China in terms of getting a script made. Ashley also mentioned in his 100th episode—so basically that is the question.
So then Scott responded. Hello, Karen and thank you for the cool email. Is that your photo in the film? Moving to China or any other Asian city does not much increase your odds first to get a film funded. The goal still takes a lot of effort. The advantage that you’re in a smaller area and are seen as more skilled due to being from Hollywood, this gets you more important meetings. The Chinese people are reluctant to forge ahead without a name attached as is the case in Hollywood. What he means is a name actor just like in China or just like in Hollywood, the stars are very important getting their starts attached is very, very important. Anyway, back to the email. You win them over with other skills and sacrifices, you cement your relationships. Then you get the offers for distribution or co-production. What to do here in your case is (1) Go to the Hong Kong Film Festival and Japan Film Festival coming up early in the year. Keep tabs on seminars here for Asia and film. Reach out to the Korean and Chinese cultural and financial special groups here in LA and meet with them. They might open doors for you. The other thing you might be able to do is some rewriting on screenplays they might have there in Beijing though it’s rough long distance. Most people have to resort to raising funds in the US first, then the Chinese match the funds, but you are once again in the situation of raising some funds here. You can also study the trade magazines and see which companies have deals with China and try to move with them and see if they go to pitch festivals. The final way is if you expand your production team is someone who has access to China like me or another manager and work through them. However, that usually again requires some expenses. A manager or producer would charge a fortune, I think at least 25, probably more like 50,000 or 100,000 dollars because it has to be worth their time, and they need to be signed on as a de facto producer. I don’t work that way. I work more as a consultant party relationship. So I think there are a couple of interesting parts to this. Scott is just basically giving some sort of commonsense advice which, you know, if I had thought about it, probably it is where I would have ended up. I mean, there are definitely companies here in the United States that are cutting deals with these Chinese companies and finding those companies, doing what he’s saying reading the trade mags, if you can go over for a visit and perhaps go to some of these Asian film festivals, these Asian film markets, there has got to be—I’ve talked about this on the podcast quite often, the American film market—there’s got to be something, an Asia seminar—I’m not sure what that is—but there’s got to be something like the American film market for the Asian markets as well going over to those types of things and just trying to picture projects and get to know those people. I think the key to sort of what Scott’s getting at here is it’s all about networking, and it can be easier in China because, as he says, if you are from the United States and you’re over there, there is this sort of idea that you’re more skilled because you’re from the United States, you’re a little more sophisticated as a writer so you have a little bit of a leg up. There’s just an aura about being an American in China that other Chinese writers whom you might be competing against simply don’t have. So that can be good. The bottom line really is just about building relationships; it’s about figuring out where these people are hanging out and then approaching them one way or another.
So Karen, thank you very much for sending this in. I think that does offer some good suggestions for people that potentially can’t move to China but still might want to pursue this a little bit.
A quick few notes about what I’m working on. Last week I got some notes back on the spoof I’m working on. I met with the producers. I actually went into the office and we had a nice meeting. One of the big notes I got from my writers group—and it was kind of a similar note from the producers—is that I think there are a lot of funny bits, but the main characters aren’t really somebody you care about just because they were portrayed as being kind of dumb. In a spoof you think well, this is actually probably okay. It just really kind of takes the heart out of it. There’s not any real stakes, and even in a spoof, a spoof that works, any movie that works, ultimately it has to have some real stakes that the audience cares about, and that’s kind of the big note I got from my writers group as well. A lot of people in the writers group thought it was funny, but that was kind of the one big knock was hey, the stakes are pretty low because you don’t really care about ultimately what these guys accomplish because they’re kind of dumb and there is nothing that’s really drawing you in. So that was kind of the producer’s note as well. So I’m going to go through and take another pass at this and basically really rewrite. There are three sorts of parallel story lines so these main characters is only one. There are really like four story lines, and these main characters are having one of those, one of the story lines so it is not as huge as it may sound. The actual structure is actually pretty good at the midpoint and the act breaks. Those are pretty much intact. It’s just a matter of new characters and by having new characters, obviously the dialog will change and the situations will change but the basic sort of core structure as far as the midpoint and the act breaks, I think that’s probably okay. But as I said, the situations will need to change. So it’s going to be quite a bit of work. Then the other big note that the producers got was integrating the other story lines. As I said, there are basically four story lines so we need them all to converge. Again, it’s a spoof so I was a little fast and loose on the logic. So by the third act I needed something that kind of draws these other story lines more into the central main story line just so it all kind of adds up at the end. Right now it’s kind of more coincidental. Everyone sort of shows up at the same point so they’re kind of involved but they’re not involved in terms of actually having stakes in how everything turns out. So again, that’s going to be a little bit of work. There are a bunch of little tweaks that they mentioned. They don’t like some of my gross-out humor which I thought was funny. They weren’t that high on that and that’s mainly from a distribution angle. As I said, these producers are also sales agents and distributors so that’s one of the interesting things and one of the reasons I’m doing this project is to learn sort of more about that world. It’s interesting hearing their comments. Again, it’s not like oh, this joke is pretty funny. However, I think this will really limit us in terms of how we can find distribution so that’s important, just little things to understand and know. It’s not something that I would really know from a writer’s standpoint. You’re writing a comedy so you just want to make it as funny as possible but then talking to them and hearing yeah, this actually is kind of funny but it’s just never going to fly. So there is a little bit of work on there. They want a draft back. I’m actually recording this the Monday before Thanksgiving. It will actually air after Thanksgiving, but I’m recording it the Monday before Thanksgiving. So they want a draft back the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve got basically three days here to really knock it out. I’ve done a little bit of some of the leg work over the weekend. I met with them Friday and have done a little bit of the leg work kind of trying to think through some of these things and then got to open up a script after I’m done with this podcast and really start working through it and give them another draft by end of day on Wednesday and then they can read it over the holiday and hopefully start getting it out. Anyway, so that’s what I’m working on.
Let’s now get into the main segment of the podcast today. I’m interviewing Alastair Legrand and Luke Harvis. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Alistair and Luke, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you guys coming on the show.
Alastair: Thanks for having us. This is awesome.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you guys can just give us a quick overview of your kind of careers in the entertainment industry, how you got started and eventually got to the point where you guys were writing this most recent film. Luke, why don’t you go ahead and start.
Luke: I went to film school in Savannah, Georgia, and then I moved out to LA the year after I graduated. I did some PA work on sets. I was like a tour coordinator for a group of actors at one point for about six months. Then I worked at Fox Sports for seven years, and during that time, Alistair and I were writing. I had like a day job just grinding out the day and then we’d work in the evenings. That is like my uneventful storm into the—
Ashley: Alistair, why don’t you go ahead and give us a quick overview of your background.
Alistair Legrand: Well, I went to film school in Canada at Vancouver Film School which is a great place, and then I couldn’t work there because I’m a US citizen so I moved down here and I worked in commercials for a really long time for really intense angry people. I would take that money as a PA in commercials and find bands on craigslist, not great bands but tiny little things and I would make music videos for them and produce them and doo all the set design myself. I was working with the same cinematographer the whole time and that’s how we really learned the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. Then eventually music videos and commercials kind of became my full-time job as I started to get more labels and bands, and that’s how I really prepared and learned for the feature film experience. Yeah, Luke and I would just work almost every night just trying to write those first five really bad screenplays, our first ten just to figure out how to structure scripts and figure out how to tell an interesting story in 98 pages.
Luke Harvis: I was intensely jealous of Alistair when he was doing commercials, and I was doing my day job. He sort of helped motivate me in a way also, seeing someone actually do it was nice.
Alistair: I should say the Luke and I have been friends since we were twelve years old, so we’ve known each other for quite some time and have always wanted to make movies. Once we moved out to LA, it was just kind of perfect to have him as my writing partner.
Ashley: So you grew up together and then both were in Georgia and then you happened to go to college in Canada and then you guys both moved to LA independently or you guys did reconnect?
Alistair: It’s a little bit more complex. We grew up in Philadelphia right outside of it. I grew up in a town called Bryn Mawr and Luke grew up in a town called Penn Valley and we ended up splitting roads and he went to college in Savannah and I went to Canada and then we just met up years later and started writing screenplays.
Luke: We just sort of both found our way out here.
Ashley: So let me dig in, Alistair, just to a couple of things you said. I really admire people who kind of just take the bull by the horns and go out there and basically grab a career for themselves. So let’s dig in a little bit to these music videos. You’re saying you’re getting people off of craigslist. I’m assuming in those early days most of those people have next to no money to pay you so you’re just kind of doing these things for the experience. Are you making a little bit of money? Are you losing money? What’s the logistics of that?
Alistair: I’m just losing money. I would just take my paycheck so it would be like a thousand dollars for the week as a production assistant on set and so I would put that all into the video itself and paying for studio time and equipment and the lenses and we would beg, borrow, and steal just to be able to afford the ability to make a music video in one day. That’s I think a great way to learn how to do it. A lot of people do short films, but I just really enjoyed coming through filmmaking through music videos because you really do still have to tell a story within three minutes. It really helped my foundation.
Ashley: Maybe you can just give us some quick tips so you said you found these bands on craigslist. What are they doing on craigslist? Are they advertising hey we have a show this weekend? Just give our listeners kind of an idea if they wanted to repeat this model exactly what would they do and what is your email pitch look like to them?
Alistair: I don’t know how it is now. It’s probably a lot more crowded, the landscape, but you could go on and sometimes bands will just put out like we need a music video for no money and you can apply to that and meet interesting people and try to make music videos for them. Occasionally I would just find a smaller band just through, back then it was MySpace, and I would reach out to them. Now you can do it through Facebook, and if you’re a fan and you can do it politely, just try to say I’d love to make a music video for you. I’d love to try to do this. If you show them references and kind of give them the confidence in you that they need, then you could probably make a music video for them. It’s just about finding the right people and really having the go-getter attitude to try to convince people that you should make something that’s not going to totally suck.
Ashley: And so how many over the course of these years you’re doing this, how many would you estimate of these music videos you did for basically no money?
Alistair: The smaller ones I must have done between 20 and 30, but that’s still a lot because they end up taking months of editing and working out. I did enough so that I was able to build a real so that when I actually joined a music video company they were able to see that I had a bit of a vision.
Ashley: And then you also talked about commercials. Were you doing basically spec commercials as well or was that more when you started to actually get professional gigs?
Alistair: Yeah, spec commercials for sure and I did smaller commercials for web-only for companies like Sony and this other company called Direct Marketing. It just worked out. The commercials still had smaller budgets, but they definitely helped me learn how to kind of encounter that world and learn how to talk to commercial producers and labels themselves.
Ashley: And how did you find those gigs and find those jobs?
Alistair: Just through after doing the music videos for smaller bands, I joined a company called The Masses which is in Los Angeles. They started to represent me as a music video director and we would get projects to pitch on through that.
Ashley: Again, just to give us some scope, so you did 20 to 30 of these basically free music videos. Over how many years did that take to build up that many?
Alistair: I’d say about two to three years trying to make something, but also at the same time I was holding onto a regular job. It’s really hard to function in this town without some sort of income. So you really just need to keep working and never feel depressed about just being a PA on a set or being a coordinator. Just kind of keep your feet on the ground and just know that you’re supporting yourself to follow your dream.
Ashley: I really appreciate you sharing that because that’s such great information for people to hear that. Sometimes it takes two or three years of no-pay work on the weekends. That’s what it takes to build your resume.
Alistair: Oh, much longer. I graduated film school in 2006, that’s ten years ago. It’s been that long of a road to just get to our first movie.
Ashley: Let’s dive into your first movie, Diabolical. Maybe to start out, you can give us a log line or kind of a pitch of the movie for people that haven’t seen it or haven’t seen the trailer yet.
Luke: Without spoiling it, it’s a family in peril trapped in a house being visited nightly or daily by supernatural occurrences except that things aren’t what they seem, and as the story unfolds the waters that are troubling these people is revealed. Because [inaudible 0:20:59.5] it’s always been a little harder to describe I think than this is the spirit or grudge or whatever.
Alistair: We kind of just say it’s a family haunted by what they think are ghosts but it’s much more.
Ashley: Okay, okay. Perfect. So maybe you can tell us sort of the very beginning. What’s the genesis of this film? Where did this idea come from? Just take us back to the very beginnings of this idea.
Alistair: I just wanted to–Luke and I are just such huge fans of the genre and also of science fiction that we’re always trying to figure out new ways to tell a story to try to reinvent the wheel for different subjects, especially movies we admire and you just have to try to all the stories have been told, and you just have to kind of figure out a way to combine them in kind of an interesting stew and try to figure out a way to excite an audience again in a genre that is kind of inundated by so much of the same story. So we’re such a huge fan of poltergeist films and ghost films that we wanted to figure out a new way to tell that story and to try to figure out a new way of making it exciting. I feel like one day I was just sitting there watching a really bad paranormal re-enactment show that I’m unfortunately addicted to like on Discovery Channel. It just hit me that it would be a really fun idea that came from let’s try to figure out a new way for [inaudible 0:22:31.6] and rooms to get cold and objects to levitate. What’s happening there and what if we explain that in more of a science fiction way?
Ashley: Okay. About how many years ago did you guys start on this project?
Luke: It was the summer of 2013, is that right?
Alistair: Our process is we text each other dumb ideas that we’re thinking of at 11:00 at night and then we just start thinking those are actually kind of cool and then we’re start outlining it. It was about two years ago when we started outlining it through Google Documents and figuring out ways to tell it. At first it’s just a fun thing to discuss because we just love coming up with concepts, but this one actually became a reality.
Luke: We have a pretty open policy with sending each other stupid ideas.
Alistair: Those become good ideas.
Ashley: Again, just to kind of get a sense of the scope of what you guys are doing, how many ideas are going back and forth before you find one you guys feel is good enough to flesh out into an outline?
Luke: We’re actually because we’re sort of ahead of the game as far as what we’re working on so as we’re wrapping something up, we’ve always been talking about the next thing as we’re working on it. So we usually have about three or four ideas that we land on, maybe cauled down from about six or seven that we funnel into growing enthusiasm the more we talk about it. I think we both sort of just gravitate towards what we feel most excited about. That’s kind of what we end up working on next.
Alistair: We just could be driving in a car and listening to the radio and there’s a news report on and we’ll come up with—I’ll mention something that would be interesting if we told a story like this. As long as Luke agrees then we’re on the same page and both as excited about it, then we figure out the way to write that script.
Ashley: So how many scripts have you guys written together and independently at this point?
Alistair: Oh boy! How many good scripts?
Ashley: Just total, good and bad. I think that’s interesting to hear.
Alistair: Good and bad, I’d say about twelve at this point. We’ve been at it for about four years full-time now just hell-bent on making good screenplays and two pilots.
Ashley: You’ve always written together. You guys haven’t written anything separately, just always together.
Alistair: We’ve written separately. I come from music videos where as a director, you’re writing your own projects yourself. You’re just basically writing short films every time, and then I think we both attempted to write screenplays on our own and at that point we were trading them back and forth. It was just easier for us to sit in the same room together and work on the same one.
Ashley: So take us through—you mentioned Google Docs. Take us through sort of the actual physical process. The nice thing about Google Docs is that you can collaborate in different locations. Are you guys typically when you start doing that outline you’re in different rooms, and then just take us through the process of then once you have the outline actually writing the script, are you guys in different rooms, different locations, the same room?
Alistair: Sure. Luke, do you want to describe the Google Doc situation?
Luke: We’re actually generally in the same room which I guess you really wouldn’t have to be with Google Docs but we started writing in the same room I think because either we didn’t know any better or how other people do it. That was just sort of in the process. We’re not talking the entire time certainly, but generally speaking yeah, we’re in the same office.
Alistair: It really helps with procrastination because you have another person staring you down forcing you to finish whatever you’re writing. If we’re actually in script mode, I’ll write ten pages and then Luke will read the last ten pages which are fantastic because you’re getting instant feedback. Then he’ll do his own. You just write as many pages as you can at the time, and then I’ll go off with my headphones and Luke will be working on a different outline. In that way we get a lot done a little bit faster than that. It really is great for reviewing what you just wrote. The reason why we love Google Docs is because it’s a collaborable writer thing and we still wish Final Draft would work out a way to do that. It’s just really nice for us to both stare at the same thing that’s coming across, and we’re big outliners right now so we love to sort of feed the story as it unfolds through an outline.
Ashley: And so you have two computers open in the same room. Luke has his computer; Alistair, you have yours so you can see what the other one’s typing but there are two computers not one.
Alistair: And the other reason we love doing it in Google is because if I’m out at the grocery store or something and an idea hits me that we should add to the screenplay, I can just add it instantly and Luke will see it.
Luke: I can say the nice thing about so I write something, and Alistair reads it over, the policy is that we can make whatever changes he wants to what I just wrote and vice versa. We’re two separate people; we have similar voices, but because we’re two separate people, I think it really kind of synthesizes the script into one. It’s like it sounds like one person because if he doesn’t like a certain turn of phrase or I don’t like a certain turn of phrase, we each get our own input into the work.
Alistair: That’s right. Luke is always using old-time English; I’m always deleting it.
Ashley: So then once you get into the screenplay writing stage, did you do that in Google Docs as well and then just somehow convert it into Final Draft to format it at the end?
Alistair: No, I’m a little embarrassed at our system. I don’t know if it’s good. We just do it in Final Draft and email each other the drafts when across the room and will label the draft with the exact time we finished writing so we never make a mistake and are accidentally correcting. So it will say like “The Diabolical 2:48 PM Alistair.” Then Luke will open that and know I was the last person to write it. It’s a very archaic system but it works for us.
Ashley: Writer Duet, I’ve heard good things about, and they have collaborative software. Actually there’s a free version that you can get into so I’ll recommend that to all the readers. I’ve been in many writing partnerships. What happens when you guys have just a fundamental disagreement or just some real strong disagreement, do you sleep on it? Do you flip a coin? How do you get over those hurdles?
Luke: If it’s been like a forty-five-minute conversation and we’re not making any headway, usually five, six, seven hours after that once cooler heads prevail it becomes easier with a little bit of distance.
Alistair: Our disagreements are always about the most idiosyncratic tiny little things. It’s never about once we outline together, we’re totally comfortable with the way the story is structured so it’s never about the major beef. That really gets a lot of your arguments away. As long as you are both comfortable about the outline or treatment, then writing the script itself will generally go smoothly, but we’ll argue about should the mom character teach her daughter about evolution in the dinosaurs because we both come from science backgrounds and should we make her like that? Luke is very steadfast on that aspect and we’ll argue just about dumb nerdy stuff.
Luke: There was—
Alistair: If I had a daughter, I would let her play with horses and dinosaurs at the same time but Luke wouldn’t.
Ashley: I think we’re hitting a nerve here so we’ll go ahead and move on, but that is interesting to hear. So now you’re done with this script. You’ve finished the script and what was your next step after that just to start to get it out there and raise money for this thing?
Luke: Well it was a little different than Alistair [inaudible 0:31:04.8]
Alistair: Well, the first screenplay that we were actually really proud of, that got the attention of managers and our agents was a script called Toe which is more of a little bit of the Steven Spielberg jewel range. It’s like a desert very intense R-rated bloody thriller, and that got the attention of various companies so I went on Generals—which I’m sure your listeners know what those are—it’s when you go to meetings with companies that are interested in something you wrote but don’t necessarily want to make it but they really like your writing style. I went to a company called Preferred (now known as Campfire) and they really liked this one script that Luke and I wrote. They wanted to know if I had anything out literally about haunted houses, and it was perfect. It was like yeah, I have this idea which was a Diabolical and they loved it. They loved my pitch which I just did in the room not expecting to do it that day. I called Luke immediately after the meeting and we got a treatment together within weeks and we were off to the races.
Ashley: And why was it, Luke, as your writing partner, why wasn’t Luke in the meeting? They wanted to meet you as a director?
Alistair: Correct. They really liked this music video I did for an artist named Mark Lanigan which also features a haunted house. They really liked that.
Ashley: Okay, so take us through the process of backing up the script for Toe. How did you get that script out there in order to get interest from these agents and managers?
Luke: We have a friend who works in post-production, and she was someone in development. So we passed it to her and then she passed it to her friend. I guess her friend in development actually just ended up sending it to people who they thought would like it.
Alistair: Yeah, a little bit of luck, a little bit of a whim and a prayer. I mean, we just happened to write a script that a friend of ours really, really liked and thought was good enough to send to her friend at Fox Searchlight. They really, really liked it. It just wasn’t what they were looking for at that current time. They ended up sending it around town, and that will just happen. It’s really just about whether you’re hitting the right nerve in the people who are reading it. Our first script that we were happy with people really liked it. It helped us get places very quickly.
Ashley: Did you have some scripts before that that you sent out and just didn’t get a good reception or was this the first script that you guys felt confident enough to actually start sending out?
Alistair: It’s the confidence thing really. We had scripts before that we sent to a few places, but we kind of knew in our minds that they weren’t perfect yet.
Luke: We took a meeting on one I think before Toe but nothing concrete.
Alistair: [Inaudible 0:34:05.1] one where we really sent it to friends, family members, trusted people to read, and we did so many drafts of it and really polished it and made sure that every single word was perfect. It was a labor of love that we really knew that we wanted to go out of the gates with.
Ashley: So again, just to kind of get a sense of the scope of what you guys were doing, you sent it to this one friend in post-production who passed it on to her friend in development, were there other people whom you sent it out to who maybe liked it but didn’t do anything with it, maybe even didn’t like it. I just wouldn’t mind hearing about those. Someone’s hearing about the one success which makes it sound it like you sent it to one person and then it just took off. There were probably other people that you sent it to that maybe didn’t necessarily help.
Alistair: Oh yeah for sure. Once it was starting to kind of make the rounds and people were emailing it to each other, people would say that it was just too intense. That was the main thing. It’s really hard to write hard R-rated violent thrillers these days because people aren’t really into that so much. That was our main feedback that it was just a little bit too gross for people who is totally fine but Luke and I really like writing great character stories with kind of intense drama on the side. So we wouldn’t take the feedback; we didn’t get anything really abysmal that made us depressed about Toe. It wasn’t for some people, and other people really liked it.
Ashley: Then let’s move on to the Diabolical. So then this one company you had the meeting and then you pitched them the idea. Did they then pay you to write the script or did you write the script on spec and then send it in to them once you had it done?
Luke: They wanted a treatment so we put together like a 20 or 25-page treatment and then they optioned the treatment after that.
Ashley: I see.
Alistair: Then once they decided to option the treatment, that’s when we went through the process of getting lawyers and all the fun shenanigans.
Ashley: And so then they did pay you to write the actual script. That was all part of the deal.
Alistair: They were very easy to work with in development.
Ashley: And this whole time, Alistair, were you sitting saying yes and I’m going to direct it and they were okay with that. Maybe kind of tell us how that all went down as a first-time feature film director.
Luke: I’d say only because I think one of the first meetings I was in with them they asked him if he was going to direct. Very confidently he said yeah, and I was smiling and nodding but I was like oh man, just screwed yourself. I didn’t know if they were going to go for it.
Alistair: It was tough at first. Even if it’s a small amount of money for a budgeted film, it’s still a lot to a company and they don’t want to take a gamble on a person who’s never made a feature before. I really had to provide a visual blueprint for the film itself and I made a fake trailer for it. I showed them all my music videos, and I made a demo reel of my videos, and it was a lot of convincing that I can work. Eventually we got to the point where they gave me the projects. They let me direct it because they realized that I told them music videos cost nothing these days. You get 500 dollars, and you have to make it look like ten thousand dollars and because of that I would have a really good place to work in in lower budget horror and science fiction because I could do a lot with a little and that really helped out a lot.
Ashley: So now the movie’s been made, tell us just about the distribution on this. Did you guys go to some film festivals? How did you get into some film festivals, that kind of thing?
Alistair: We shot in February 2014, and post-production was pretty long because we have a lot of special effects in our film and we finished it in October 2014 and had a distributor screening which is where you screen your movie. You invite a lot of potential buyers to your film to hopefully purchase it and then release it. That went pretty well. We had some interest, and then we ended up submitting to South by Southwest and getting in and that’s where our premiere was in March this year.
Ashley: Did the production company who produced this have some in with South by Southwest or was it just a cold submission?
Alistair: It was generally a cold submission. I mean you’re still competing with thousands of other films and everyone has to watch your screener. I’m sure it helped to have the backing of content media, but it’s a paid thing once you get to that. People need to like your movie first and foremost otherwise they get embarrassed because they’re showing something terrible.
Ashley: So tell me about this screening you had for distributors to come and get—again, that was through the production company? I mean, most people have a screening for their film and they invite people. No one’s going to show up. So how do you actually get distributors to come to something like that?
Alistair: Our producer, Ross Dinnerstein, is very good at his job and very good at convincing people to watch his films. So we’re very lucky to have Ross on board shepherding our project. You couldn’t ask for a better teammate to try to get people to watch your film and potentially buy it.
Ashley: He works at this production company who originally [inaudible 0:40:00.0]
Alistair: He has a company called Campfire who made the film.
Ashley: Perfect! So maybe you could just give us some release dates. How can people see The Diabolical?
Alistair: October 16, we came out on Friday in America, video on demand everywhere so that’s ITunes, Amazon, Comcast, Cox, and Direct TV. The ITunes version looks gorgeous. You could watch it that way. We’re playing at the Arena Cinema in Los Angeles. It’s already been released worldwide in Asia and in the UK it comes out this Friday.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I always like to wrap up the interviews. Maybe you guys can just kind of tell us how people can keep up with what you’re doing, a Twitter handle, a blog, and a Facebook page, anything you feel comfortable sharing. Just spout it out. I’ll round it all up, put it in the show notes, but if people want to just touch base and kind of keep up with what you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Luke: The movie does have a Facebook page. Should I look up the address real quick?
Ashley: I’ll find it and I’ll put it in the show notes.
Alistair: It’s the one with Ali Larder in it. It should be pretty easy to find, but I’m on Twitter @alistairlegrand and you can find me on Facebook and I also have a Tumbler.
Ashley: Okay perfect.
Luke: [Inaudible 0:41:24.7] Twitter at some point and I’ve never done it.
Alistair: Luke is terrible at social media.
Luke: Not great.
Ashley: I’ll find your Instagram, Luke, and I’ll link to that in the show notes.
Well, guys, this has been a great interview. I enjoyed talking to you. I’m sure lots of value here, lots of people can learn from it. I wish you guys luck with this movie, and next time you have a movie definitely let me know and I’ll have you back on.
Alistair: Oh that would be amazing. Thanks so much.
Ashley: Perfect. Thanks guys. We’ll talk to you later.
I just want to mention two things I’m doing here at Selling Your Screenplay to help screenwriters find producers who are looking for material. First, I’ve created a monthly newsletter that would be sent directly to producers. Every member of Sys Select can submit one log line per newsletter. I went and emailed my large database of producers and asked them if they would like to receive this monthly newsletter of pitches. So far we have about 170 producers who have signed up to receive it. These producers are hungry for material and happy to read scripts from new writers. So if you want to participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers, sign up at sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
Secondarily, we’ve partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads sites so we can syndicate their leads to Sys Select members. There are a lot of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve been getting about ten to twelve high-quality leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material or are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you sign up for Sys Select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. These leads run the gamut from production companies looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas. We have shorts, features, producers looking for TV and web series pilots. It’s a huge array of different types of projects, and these leads are exclusive to our partner and to Sys Select members so you’re not going to find them anywhere else. To sign up go to sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. Again, that’s sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
I recently set up a success stories page for people who have had success through the various Sys services so if you want to check out what some other people who have tried the Sys Select Service are saying about it, go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Again, that’s sellingyourscreenplay.com/success and there are a whole bunch of quotes from people who are using our services and have success with them.
Also, I always throw this out. If you have used one of the Sys Select Services and have had some success please do let me know. I find these stories very inspirational. I like to try and maybe get you on the podcast to kind of talk about how your success went down. So please do email me if you’ve used one of the Sys Select services and have some success. A lot of times I don’t necessarily hear from the people whether it’s one of my email and fax blast services or it’s one of these leads, the screenwriter actually negotiates with the producer. I’m not involved with that. So a lot of times I don’t hear about those things until months or even years later. I’m like gee, you should have told me because it’s good to just hear about these stories. I like to know actually what stuff is actually working and where people are having success. So please do let me know if you’re having success with these services.
So to wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Alistair and Luke. If you listen to this podcast regularly, I think you’ll probably have some idea about what I’m going to kind of pick out of the interview as being important. I think it’s so important to Alistair’s story about going on craigslist and hustling work and even just saying he was working during the week, he would get his paycheck and he would spend his paycheck actually producing these music videos for these bands. I think that’s just so important to understand hustling and getting out there and actually making things happen for yourself. If you’re just a screenwriter—he’s obviously a director and a writer—so I think music videos are potentially a real good fit for that. If you’re just a writer you don’t necessarily want to aspire to be a director, I think doing shorts might be a better option for you, but the basic idea is the same. Maybe if you can’t find a director and producer to produce your short, maybe you just go spent some of your own money and produce it yourself. Getting into producing and being a producer is a great skill to have. It’s not only a great skill as a writer because you start to understand sort of the practical realities of writing, but it’s great to put in your resume that you’re also a producer. You can really start to be in control of your own destiny. If you can write something and then you can produce it yourself, you don’t have to worry about sending out these email and fax blasts and just crossing your fingers and hoping that somebody will like it. If you have the skills to do the production, you’re in control of your own destiny, and the way you’re going to get that, as I said, is by doing short films. I’ve talked a lot about this on the podcast. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that now. Craigslist even to this day is a great place to find people who are looking for shorts so if you don’t want to necessarily do a lot of producing, you can go on craigslist. You look in the writing gigs section, do a query search for screenplay or screenwriter, something like that, and almost every week you’ll see at least a handful of these leads. I look in the Los Angeles area occasionally and in the New York area. Go in there in the New York area or the Los Angeles Area or in your local area. If you’re in a big city, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, something like that, you might be able to even find some local opportunities on craigslist. Really listen to what Alistair is saying. He just spent his own money directing, writing, and producing music videos for the band. He wasn’t charging the band to do these. He was doing them for himself and getting value out of that. So really think about this. I see a lot of times on craigslist people getting really annoyed. A lot of times producers will post ads and there will be no pay for the writer. Then I see these very snarky replies where people are pissed and say stuff like well, writers should be paid for their work. The thing you have to remember is these short films—and even low-budget micro budget feature films, for the most part the producer’s not going to be making any money. So I think doing something for free when you’re getting started is not a bad way to go. Listen again to what Alistair said. He was doing these things. He graduated from college in 2006 so it’s been almost ten years. So he was doing these free music videos for many, many years while working at a full-time job. Not only was he doing them for free, he was actually losing money. So understand that sometimes that’s what it’s going to take, just hustling and getting stuff done. You’re much better off spending a hundred dollars, spending a thousand dollars, and producing a short than just constantly sending your stuff out and hoping somebody else produces it. You want to get these credits and you want to get these experiences as a screenwriter. You can start to build up your resume, then start to network. That’s where you’re going to meet people. You’re going to meet actors. Actors are going to know other producers and directors. You’re going to meet potentially, if you’re producing and writing, you might meet a director. You might form a collaborative relationship with them. Just getting out there and doing these things is just so important.
I was listening to a podcast yesterday. I listen to a lot of these entrepreneurial podcasts and this was really an online marketing podcast. The host was interviewing a guy who helps musicians market themselves online. One of the things they discussed was how so many musicians kind of feel like they shouldn’t have to do marketing. They want to be artists, and the music should speak for itself and this and that and how wrong-headed in this day and age that is. I feel like again, going back to some of these snarky replies I see on craigslist, I feel like there are a whole bunch of screenwriters out there—I doubt at this point they’re listening to this podcast or have made it this far into the podcast—but I do think that there’s a lot of screenwriters out there who have the same sort of attitude that oh, just write a great script and the rest will take care of itself. I’m a writer; I don’t want to do marketing. I don’t want to do producing. I just want to write. In this day and age I just think that that’s the wrong attitude. Again, I talked about this a lot in the 100th episode. If you’re just supremely super talented, that might work out for you, but if you’re just moderately talented and pretty smart, I think it’s going to take more. If you look at the people at the top of the profession, most of them have some experience doing producing and writing certainly in the TV world. The top TV people are the show writers. They are the producers. They are the ones managing the shows. So it’s more than just I want to be creative; I want to be the artist. Certainly in the TV industry you have to have a business sense about you, not just business sense, people skills. You have to be able to deal with other people, the network, the higher-ups, the TV executives, and you have to be able to actually run a company which is producing this TV show or this weekly. So really keep that in mind. I think it’s so important going back and getting some of these early credits whether they are shorts of micro budget features, getting those credits and building a resume and building a long career and not being too concerned. When Alistair says it basically took him ten years from the time he started reeling music videos to doing his first feature film, it took him ten years and understanding that that’s okay and that might be the trajectory. It might not be a one year or two-year or three-year trajectory. It might be ten years. The longest journey starts with the first step.
Notice too—and I think this is another really interesting thing from this interview—notice too, Alistair talks about that meeting he got with his first script, and they met with him because they liked a music video that he had done about a haunted house. So him getting this first movie made that he wrote and directed, it wasn’t just about doing a bunch of music videos and that got the thing made, it was a combination of the two. He had the experience shooting the music videos so he built a body of work. Then he also wrote this script with Luke and was able to get an agent in that. So it was really a combination of two things. He was working in the industry as a production assistant making connections. That’s how he got the original script that they wrote. That’s how they got that out there. They had connections in the industry because they were working in the industry so they got their script out. Not only that, once somebody read the script and liked it, then they could take notice of this body of work that Alistair had. It’s Hollywood so you never know, but if he hadn’t done all of these music videos, it’s highly unlikely that they would have let him direct it. They might have liked the script. They might have hired him and Luke to write the script from their treatment, but it’s unlikely that they would have let him direct it. So again it’s really a combination of multiple things and pursuing multiple angles and getting some synergy, doing these free shorts or free music videos, actually losing money doing them, build a body of work. Then on the other point you’re writing great scripts. You’re working in the industry so you’re making connections. So once you’ve written the script, then you can actually get it out to some people, again, just show some initiative on both fronts and the synergy that you have between all of these different angles that you’re pursuing.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.