Ashley Meyers: Welcome to episode 109 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Thunder Levin, the writer of Shark of the Shark [inaudible 0:17.6] movies. He’s very candid and has a great story to share. He worked in and out of the industry for many, many years and finally was able to break in after more than a decade of trying. We talk about how he broke in. We talk about how he eventually got hired to write Shark [inaudible 0:32.2] and what he’s been working on sense that broke. So stay tuned for that.
If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in ITunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread the word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated.
A couple of quick notes, any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts and then just look for episode 109.
I continually build out the Sys Script Library. Lots of people have been sending in scripts. Thank you to all of those. This past week Ryan Philips sent in Train Wreck Forty-Eight hours, The Incredible Hulk, Harlem Nights, and Hall Pass. Thank you, Ryan, for sending those in so those are now available at the Sys Script Library. Thank you, Tim Teiss, for sending in Inside Out and the Diary of a Teenage Girl, and he also sent in Train Wreck too, coincidentally the same week that Ryan did so all those scripts are now available in the Sys Script Library.
If you have a screenplay that you do not see listed in the script library, please do email them to me. The Sys Script Library is a completely free service. There are thousands of scripts. They’re all in PDF format so you can read them on whatever device you want and they’re easy to download. You just go to the Sys Script Library. There’s a nice little index page where you can find the scripts alphabetized and click on them. You click on the link to the PDF and then it should pop up. Again, you should be able to go to this on your IPhone, your I pad, any of your mobile devices and then just click through and get the PDF. It should pop up and be fairly easy to read on any of these mobile devices. So check that out, and as I said, thank you, Ryan and thank you, Tim, for sending this in. The library builds—I mean, obviously I do get scripts myself, and I do add those to the library, but as a group effort it’s great because obviously there are probably lots of scripts that people have in their possession that maybe I don’t have for whatever reason. So if you have a script you see that’s not listed on the Sys Script Library, please do email them into me and we will post it for everybody to download.
If you want my free guide How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free. You just put in your email address, and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell a screenplay in that guide, how to write a professional log line inquiry letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers who are looking for material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
A quick few words about what I’m working on, obviously the big thing I’m working on right now is my kick-starter campaign. As you listen to this podcast episode, I’m probably a little more than halfway through the campaign. This episode is being published on February 1 and the campaign runs until 5:00 PM on February 16, so a little more than two weeks. I’ve been doing mini podcast episodes with kick-starter updates so look for that on either Wednesday or Thursday of this week. These are easier for me to do to publish quickly so I can give more of a real time update. As I mentioned before, I’m recording this almost a full week before it publishes. So if I were to give an update by the time you listen to it, it would already sort of be outdated because the kick-starter campaign is very dynamic. I’m changing things; people are giving donations. Certain rewards are being taken up. So these mini podcast episode kick-starter updates I think are working pretty well, and as I said, I can basically record a five or ten-minute update and I can publish it within fifteen minutes of recording it so they’re much more in real time. So keep an eye out for those, and we’ve been doing those on Wednesdays or Thursdays of each week. Overall I think the campaign is going pretty well. If you haven’t already check out my kick-starter page please do check it out even if it’s just to read the screenplay. The screenplay is available there with no contribution necessary. Anyone can just click it and download it, and as I mentioned before, I did shoot a nice little one-minute teaser trailer. You can watch that on the kick-starter page. So please do just check it out. If you like the page and you think it looks cool, please do pass it along to your friends and family. Share it via social media. If you see some of my tweets or see some of my Facebook published about the kick-starter campaign, please do like them. Just liking them on Facebook really does snowball, and every week I’ll do a post for the podcast or whatever I post to the Selling Your Screenplay Facebook page. If for whatever reason nobody likes that particular post that week, Facebook will tell you how many people have actually viewed it or was shown to. There are almost three thousand likes on the Selling Your Screenplay Facebook page, and if I just do a post and nobody likes it, I’ll get twenty-eight people will actually view the post. If I even get three likes, that number might shoot up to three, four, or five hundred people who will actually see that post. So these likes really are important to spread the word. Facebook uses that as part of their algorithm to continue to show it. If nobody likes a post, they just figure we’re not going to show this because nobody’s liking it. If people click that like button, it doesn’t take but a fraction of a second to just click that like button. So it does help. My point to all of that is it really does help, and I can definitely tell when people like it and get an even better comment on it. That sort of just keeps that ball rolling and it can snowball on Facebook. If you’re already doing that, I really do appreciate it. Thank you very much for those likes.
So the other big thing I’m working on and mentioned this a little bit is my TV pilot. It takes place in the Southern California music scene in the early 60’s. I started actually writing pages last week so I think I just sort of broke onto the sixth page as I ended on Friday. As I said, I’m recording this on a Monday so as I ended on Friday, I got to around page six. It’s a half hour show so it will probably be twenty-five to thirty pages. So I don’t think I’ll get a draft done this week, but probably next week I’ll have a draft done. Maybe I’ll do ten pages. That would get me about there. I already have six pages so I’ll do ten pages this week and ten pages next week. That will get me to twenty-six pages, and that’s probably about where I’ll be. So hopefully by the end of next week I’ll have a draft of that done. As I said, I’m working on that with another producer/writer, and so he may take a pass at this script too but this will be kind of the first rough draft. Hopefully we can get that going quickly. So that’s what I’m working on screenwriting-wise. Now let’s get into the main segment.
Today I’m interviewing Thunder Levin. Again, he is the writer of all the Shark Nado scripts so here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Thunder, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Thunder Levin: Thanks for having me, Ashley.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe we can just take you all the way back to the beginning and kind of give us some insight into how you got started in your career and even before that how you became interested in film and being a screenwriter and filmmaker?
Thunder: For me it probably goes all the way back to when I was a little kid growing up watching the original Star Trek. I’ve told this story before, but when I was very little I was like five maybe, Star Trek was my favourite TV show, and it was the one show my mother would let me stay up late to watch. I wanted to be Mr. Spock or Captain Kirk, but I was just old enough to understand that this wasn’t real, and I couldn’t really fly around and have adventures on the Enterprise. At the same time on the news, the Apollo moon landing was going on. I saw how primitive real space travel was, and that didn’t appeal to me. So I went back to what I wanted to be when I was two or three which was the guy who drove the back of the hook-and-ladder fire truck. Then somebody, a friend of my parents gave me a book called “The Making of Star Trek”. It was a very dry behind-the-scenes book written for adults. So the first thing I did as a little five-year-old or whatever was to turn to the photo section. The very first picture in the making of Star Trek is a shot of the studio technicians in their 1960’s work clothes standing on the bridge of the Enterprise. I think something clicked in my little child brain that said there is a way I can work on the Enterprise. I think that’s where it all started. Then in high school I took a TV production class and I worked in theatre a lot. I went to see Star Wars one day, and everything kind of changed. Movies up until then had been very serious. It was the time of Scorsese and Capola and everybody had a statement and didn’t particularly appeal to the teenage me. Then I saw Star Wars and I realized you could have fun at the movies.
Ashley: Okay, so you’re interested in filmmaking; you love movies. What were the first steps to actually fulfilling that dream?
Thunder: Like I said, I took a TV production class in high school and then a couple of friends and I did an independent study where we created an hour-long Star Trek spoof, and we did it on our own after class but it was a real honest-to-God TV production, very primitive black-and-white reel-to-reel videotape which we could hardly edit, and that gave me a taste for it. That was a great experience. It was called Star Wreck, the videotape, and in addition to helping production, writing and directing—I didn’t write and direct it. I helped contribute to that as sort of a group effort, but I also played Mr. Crock. So that was kind of my childhood dream-come-true. I got to be Spock. That was a great teaser to it sort of, and then I did a lot of theatre in high school and college, musical theatre. Then it was time to go to college, and what am I going to major in? The obvious thing was film, and so I went to film school at NYU. I made a student film, and I took it to Hollywood and said “Mr. Spielberg, here I am.” I never actually got to Mr. Spielberg. I didn’t even get to the receptionist because you walk into [inaudible 0:12:13.7] and a security guard intercepts you before you can even talk to the receptionist.
Ashley: Did you actually try to walk in there and meet him?
Thunder: Yeah. Actually I was a PA on a shoot on the Universal lot, and on my lunch break I walked into [inaudible 0:12:27.6] but I did get the name. They didn’t really let me get anywhere. Maybe I got three steps past the door. But I did get the name of the Director of Development and so I sent her my student film. She sent me back a nice letter saying good for you; keep it up, but basically go away. Then I did sort of make the rounds. I worked for Roger Cormans on several movies, and I just started knocking on doors and sending my student film to anybody who would look at it. Anybody who was anywhere in the business, I’d ask them for advice. The most common thing was well, if you want to direct, write a script that somebody wants to produce and attach yourself. So I started writing.
Ashley: Up until this point, though, you were not necessarily interested in being a writer; you were more interested in being a director?
Thunder: I was and am a director first and foremost. Writing is still a job for me. I enjoy it. It’s probably the only thing besides directing that I could do to make a living that wouldn’t drive me insane, but my first passion is directing. Now best of all is writing and directing because then you really are the creator of that movie or that TV show.
Ashley: So let’s dig into your Roger Corman experience. I get a lot of people sending me emails just asking like hey, how can I break in? How can I get that first job? Maybe you can just describe just exactly how you got on even those first production assistant jobs because I think that might be helpful for people just to hear just exactly what happened.
Thunder: The very first PA job I had was actually in New York before I moved to LA. That was through school. Things were posted on the bulletin board in the film school when low—budget films needed PA’s and stuff needed help, and so if you’re in film school there are usually resources you can take advantage of to get entry-level work. When I came out here, I had a friend who knew some people, and I called some of my professors from NYU and asked them if they could put me in touch with people. I mean, networking was really—you know you hear this all the time—but networking is the most important thing, and you never know who’s going to know somebody. So really ask everybody because even your plumber might have a cousin whose friend works for somebody who is an assistant to somebody and maybe you can get a phone number or a name and make a call. Then it’s up to you to make an impression but it’s that first foot in the door. The way it worked for me at Corman’s was that a friend of mine who I knew from film school and was a year ahead of me had been out here and somehow his student film had been seen by somebody at Corman. They called him in for a meeting and had him pitch something. That sort of reminded me that Roger Corman existed, and so he told me the name of the person that he had met with. He wasn’t in any position to refer me, but he told me who the guy’s name was. So then I called up and asked to speak with him. Maybe I sent them my student film and they were looking for somebody to be a runner for the office to just run errands and stuff. So I took that job, and then my girlfriend at the time—I’d been on the job like a week or two, and they were looking for a new receptionist. So I recommended my girlfriend. She got that job, and then I left that job because I got a PA job through another school connection. When that was over, my girlfriend was now production supervisor at Corman’s studio and so she got her boss to hire me as a still photographer and that’s how I started getting on staff. Still photography, if you’re any good at it, is the best job on a film to learn how a film crew functions because your sole job is to watch films. So I was on I think three or four films for them as still photographer. It was a great education. I learned more about how movies are physically actually made doing that than in most of my classes in film school. So during that time, of course, I was trying to meet people, and I was in the office and so I’d get to know the Director of Development and said hey, can I pitch you a story or can you watch my student film? He said sure, pitch me a story, and I pitched him a story. He said okay, write it up, and so I wrote up a detailed outline. He said well, that’s pretty cool. Why don’t you write the script, not that he was going to pay me for it. I wasn’t guild so he could tell me if you want to submit a spec script, all right. So I wrote a spec script, and I submitted it to them and they didn’t buy it. But now I had a script in my hands. So I was able to start sending that out. So then one day I made a cold call. Die Hard had just come out and I thought this was a great movie. I remembered Predator being a great movie, and so I was really impressed by John [inaudible 0:198:59.6] who directed them. So I just cold called his office, said I’m a graduate of the NYU Film School. I’m trying to break into the business. I’d love if you would talk to me or meet with me or watch my student film. So I got as far as his assistant. I never actually spoke to John McKiernan, but his assistant said sure, send me your student film. So I sent it, and she liked it. We met and we ended up becoming sort of friends and we talked. She was like well, this script that you’ve written is not bad but it’s not quite for McKiernan. One of the guys who produced his early movies might be interested so she put me in touch with him. He called me in for a meeting, and he liked what he saw but not enough to make it but he said he’d keep me in mind. Then a year later a friend of mine had written a script, and I submitted that to him and he said yeah, we can do this. So I was hired to direct it. Then that whole thing blew up, but it was step by step these little things, just knocking on doors, making cold calls, networking, taking advantage of every little opportunity that sort of got me in the business.
Ashley: Did you have other scripts like you wrote this one script for Roger Corman; they didn’t buy it and you started to pitch it to other people. At this point did you say well maybe I could write some other scripts?
Thunder: When that didn’t sell and when the one that sold that I was directing went sideways, that’s where the producer and I didn’t get along and he ended up taking over the production. In my naiveté I was pretty young. In my naiveté I thought the producer was there to help realize my vision. It turned out he was there for himself and I actually ended up leaving that production. After that I started writing new scripts and submitting them everywhere, and, of course, I’d still go back to Roger Corman, and he had another company that he sometimes co-produced with and so I sent things to them. So people started to get to know me. I wasn’t actually selling a script. The key to my success is that I was a failure for twenty years. I mean that’s what it really boils down to, but I never gave up. If you really want to know the key to being the writer of Shark Nado was—and of course, who is to say if that’s actually the kind of success or not—but the main key to the whole thing was simply that I never gave up.
Ashley: I wonder if I can touch on something. It seems like cold calling has been a big part of your career. You got that first PA job with Roger Corman through cold calling, and then you just cold called John McKiernan’s office. Maybe you could give us a couple of tips because I know I’ve heard from writers that cold calling really does work, but most of us—and I include myself in this—as a writer I’m sort of timid and not that outgoing and I don’t feel like I’d be very good at cold calling. So maybe you can just give us a couple of quick tips on how you get the courage to do that and what you actually say.
Thunder: That’s a really good question because, like you, I am incredibly uncomfortable doing things like that. Networking to me is the very worst part of this business. Going to an industry party makes me want to slit my wrist, but it’s a matter of forcing yourself and I guess being desperate enough. In the beginning the cold calling, I would basically look at what movies I liked or what movies were being made in a genre that I thought I might be able to work, and I’d find out what company was behind it. I’d look up their phone number. There were production directories and stuff and you can find out who’s the director of development and if you can’t I would just call the office. I’d say hi, can you tell me the name of your director of development and half the time they’d just connect me to that office and half the time they’d give me the name. The other half of the time they’d say why? Then I’d stammer and stumble. When you’re young it’s a bit easier because you can go in with this sort of golly gee, I just graduated from film school and I’d like to have so-and-so take a look at my student film. Or I’ve just graduated from film school and I’d like to have so-and-so read my script. It’s surprising how often they’ll just say okay, send it over.
Ashley: And when you say surprising what kinds of statistics could you say like when you do a cold call what kind of success rate would you have, 20 percent?
Thunder: This was back then, remember in the late 80’s. I think it’s probably changed a lot because now everybody wants to be a filmmaker or at least it seems that way to me. When I was in film school it was still kind of an unusual thing for a human being to do. I mean, it was unheard of ten years before. I don’t think the average high school kid would ever consider filmmaking as a career until Star Wars, until all the behind-the-scene publicity from Star Wars. You know, Lukas was much the star of the Star Wars phenomena as Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher. So I think that started opening people’s eyes that filmmaking was actually a real career and not just this magical thing off in Hollywood. But even when I went to film school it was still an unusual choice. Now I think people must get bombarded with people like that and so maybe it’s harder than it was. My recollection is that my success rate of having somebody willing to look at a student’s film is well over 50 percent. Mind you, I was self-selecting. I mean I was so timid and I was so afraid of making these calls that I would be very limited in the number of places I actually called and I would limit them to places that I knew were making the kinds of movies I wanted to make and I’d do my research and try and find out who I needed to talk to and frequently one of the tricks I found was that on the first call when you call up and say Hi, who is your director of development, it was just fact-finding. I wouldn’t even ask them to put me through. I’d wait a couple of days and then I’d call back. Then when I’d call back I’d have the person’s name. Then I could just very casually say hi, Joe Smith please. That would often get you past the first gatekeeper, the receptionist because it is their job to send you off sort of. But if you can call up and sound like you know who you’re asking for, that can sometimes get you through. Once I actually got through to the executive, I found that more often than not it was probably easier to say sure, send it over rather than having to let me down easy or tell me no and be an asshole. Nobody really wants to be an asshole. So it was probably easier, and I don’t know how many times the actual executive would watch the film. Probably they had some assistant do it. Maybe the assistant liked it and said hey, check this out.
Ashley: So the idea was you would get a meeting and you were hoping that they would hire you as a director at this point?
Thunder: Yeah. That was the idea. It was probably a far-fetched idea but that was the idea. I’d get these meetings, and I’d try and go in and make a good impression and sound like I knew what I was talking about. Sometimes they would turn into a PA job and sometimes it would turn into a well, if you’ve got a script someday when they read it, and sometimes it would be well, let’s keep talking and sometimes it would be thanks for coming in, kid. Then it would be a matter of following up. Every couple of months I would call them back and just sort of remind them I was alive and I had something new, a film to look at. I’d ask them to take a look at that. Eventually I started once I had scripts then these were the people that I could send those scripts to. I got just enough encouragement, just enough positive response to keep going, to not give up but never actually sold a script. This went on for years and years and what I had always promised myself was that at a certain point if I hadn’t been hired as a director or sold a script, that I would make my own film. So eventually I decided that it’s not happening this way so I’m going to raise money and make my own future.
Ashley: That was Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood.
Ashley: So let’s dig into that a little bit. Was this a script that you had had around and were circulating to these various contacts or was it something you just wrote?
Thunder: It was actually kind of an interesting story behind that. One of the people that I ended up networking to—and this was a connection through a connection through a connection, was a guy named Roger Saunders who was a filmmaker up in the Bay Area in San Francisco. He was an older guy, and I don’t know that he’s actually ever done anything but he was not so much an artist or a writer/director—I mean he was that too, but he was a wheeler-dealer. He was the guy who wanted to make the deal and make things happen. We were talking and I had sent him some scripts and he liked them. He said look, I’m putting together this financing package for a whole slate of films. We might even be buying his old warehouse in San Francisco or Oakland I guess it was. We are going to turn it into a sound stage. So he had those grand plans and he was talking to these investors and he was like yeah, it was going to happen any day now. Finally it was like yeah, we’ve settled on the deal. We just have to have the contracts written up. Why don’t you write me a script for a low budget urban horror film and that will be the first thing we do. So okay, the collaborator that I’d worked with on something else, we sat down and we said we have to write this low budget urban horror film. What are we going to do? How can we make it really cheap to shoot and make it exciting and make it something that this guy will want to produce? So we sat down and in two weeks we wrote this zombie film that started out in a warehouse. The original idea of the whole thing would take place in the warehouse and would be really cheap to shoot. As we developed it only the first quarter of it took place in the warehouse. Then we went out onto the streets of LA up the Hood as it were. So I sent them off to Roger Saunders and he said I like it. As soon as the deal is done, as soon as the contracts are signed, this will be the first film we’ll get. So I was very excited, and I was going to direct it. I waited to hear from him, and I checked in and he said we’re still working on the paperwork. Then a few more weeks went by and I emailed him and didn’t hear back. I emailed again; I didn’t hear back. I called. I got an answering machine. I left a message, called again, left another message, and at this point I was starting to think he had just flaked out on us or the deal had fallen through and he didn’t want to admit it. Then I called one more time because I just didn’t want to give up. His wife answered the phone. I asked if he was there, and she sadly informed me that he had had a heart attack and died.
Ashley: Oh my gosh, that’s terrible.
Thunder: He was a big, strong, healthy man. I mean, he might have been 50, but he was in prime shape. He looked like an athlete when you met him in person. I was just kind of stunned, and apparently he had an undiagnosed heart defect one day and just dropped dead. So I called up my writing partner, George, and I said we should make this film ourselves because we could die. He looked at me and he said you’re absolutely right and we started that day. We wrote up a business plan and we started soliciting investors and we called and wrote to everybody we knew literally. I hit up a lot of my father’s business associates and little by little we raised $150,000. We made a movie, and it was that movie and it was that movie that I was then able to send to my friend, David [inaudible 0:33:17.7] who was a partner at a company called The Asylum, who had never taken me seriously as a filmmaker. I was always just that friend of his friend who wanted to direct, but when I [inaudible 0:33:34.3] we’re not looking for anybody; we’re just making films ourselves. He was just shining me on, and I think it was just that there was no proof that I could do what I said I did. Yeah, I had made a student film fifteen years earlier, but what else had I done? So finally I had to film in hand that I showed him, and it proved that I could make a feature film. He saw that and he said okay. I’ll give your name to our Director of Development and when we’re looking for directors or we’re looking for scripts, he’ll contact you. Six months later, whatever it was, their director of development finally emailed me and said hey, we’re looking for story pitches on this idea. I put together a few story pitches for that idea and sent them off and none of them quite hit. But they weren’t so outer limits that they weren’t bad, they fulfilled the objective and so the next time they needed ideas, he contacted me again and this time it was something that was really in my wheelhouse. It was car racing. They wanted a knock-off of Fast and Furious Five, whatever was about to come out in six months. They wanted a knock-off of it. I’m a car guy, and so I wrote them an illegal street racing script.
Ashley: Was this something they paid you to do or—
Thunder: First I had to pitch my story idea. They had like a one-line or one-sentence log line and they said pitch us a story idea that fulfils this. So I pitched them two, three, or four story ideas, and they picked one, just a one paragraph pitch. They picked one and said okay, give us a one-page version of this. Flesh it out a bit. So I did, and they liked that. So then they hired me to write an outline. So based on my one-page synopsis they hired me to write a three to four-page outline, and they were going to pay me five hundred dollars for that. So I wrote that, and they were like okay this is good. We’re going to hire you to write the script.
Ashley: Can I just go back on a couple things with the Mutant Vampire project. I want to ask so it was good enough that got you this work at the Asylum, and that’s great. But were you able to make back the money for your investors that you entered into film festivals? Did you get some distribution on it?
Thunder: We entered into film festivals; we never won anywhere. We got distribution from very small companies so the film was available on DVD. You could order it on Amazon. It was—and still is—available on streaming services. It was available on Netflix for a few years, but that whole side of the business is quite the scam. The distributors are always allowed to deduct their expenses before they pay you anything. Then once they deduct their expenses they still get their twenty percent distribution fee. By the time they deduct their expenses and their twenty percent distribution fee, there’s basically nothing left. So I would get from our streaming distributor, we would occasionally get checks for ten or twenty dollars quarterly or eighty dollars. In the beginning in the first couple years, we were getting checks for two or three thousand when we had our Netflix deal, and it was on some VOD services with cable providers, the film made a few thousand dollars in the first year or two. That died off to a trickle, but we’ve never seen a dime from any of our DVD distribution, and I think we made six thousand dollars selling the rights for distribution in the UK; that’s about it.
Ashley: I think it is interesting, and the reason I ask is I think it is interesting why aspiring writers, aspiring filmmakers to kind of understand what they’re up against. Even though the movie wasn’t a financial success, it did get your career going so it has a bunch of value. People really need to understand this, and Mutant Vampires and Zombies from the Hood, it’s not a movie that blew up but it did propel your career kind of one step up. A lot of people are looking to do that [inaudible 0:38:52.9] I always try and tell them listen, even if it’s not going to develop like that, it still can have a lot of value in the overall scheme. Obviously it’s not good for the investors, and the investors do need to be informed that it’s a risky venture. To you as a filmmaker it definitely can play out. I’m curious with $150,000, how did you get C. Thomas Howell attached to the script?
Thunder: Well, I hired a casting director. I knew a casting director from a previous project that I had tried to get going with another producer, and she had introduced me to this guy and we became friends. He was an experienced casting director and he knew everybody; he knew all the agents in town. There are a lot of actors who’ve had some success and had some visibility at some point but who aren’t working constantly at any given moment. Maybe somebody just bought a new house and they need to make the down payment or they want to buy a new car. So for an actor who is going to commit ten, twelve, or fifteen days to one of these low-budget films, he can make twenty grand in that amount of time. He’s not doing anything else, why wouldn’t he? What’s he got to lose? It’s not like it’s hard to get the up-and-comers because they don’t want to do anything that might look bad on their RIO, but someone like C. Thomas Howell who’s already had a career, what does he care of he works for two weeks for us and makes some money to make his mortgage payment for the next two months.
Ashley: So let’s go back to the Asylum and just kind of go through it. So you had this movie Two Hundred Miles per Hour, and did things continue to progress like that? They would basically come to you with a log line and say we want something like this and then you pitch them ideas?
Thunder: The think about Two Hundred Miles per Hour is that I went into it thinking I was going to direct it. There was a miscommunication. To this day I’m not quite sure how it happened because David [Inaudible 0:41:18.2] the partner who knew me as a director, when I was talking to the Director of Development during the pitch process, he knew I was a director, and so I had actually gotten to the outline stage. I came in to meet with them when they were going to tell me okay go write the script. I started talking to him about how we were going to shoot this and when and where and how long I’d have. All of a sudden, they all started looking at each other with these sorts of awkward glances. They said I think there’s been a misunderstanding. We already have a director for this film. We sort of stared at each other for a very awkward moment, and then the conversation continued. Basically out of they said well look, the next one you’ll direct seeing we like the script you write. After Two Hundred Miles per Hour and they were happy with the script and they made the film. The chief partner’s girlfriend at the time said it was her favourite film that that company had ever made. That probably stood me in good stead. Then they came back to me and said the next one you’ll write and direct. As they needed story ideas they came back to me. It wasn’t much after that that they said we need a movie that could be called Battleship because Universal’s coming out with this big battleship movie based on the game. So we need a mock buster of that. I don’t know if they actually call them mock busters. It’s not a satyr; they just want a movie like that. They want to ride the marketing coat tails basically, but from an internal standpoint, you’re not trying to do a knock-off of someone else’s movie. You’re just making the best movie you can on a very tiny budget, on one-tenth of one percent of what the studios doing the same story, the same concept. So they said all right, give us some pitches for a movie that could be Battleship and so I came up with some pitches. Again, this was right in my wheelhouse because I’m a sailor from way back. So I know nautical terminology and I know the sea and I know ships. I have friends in the Navy. I’ve been a big fan of Navy movies and stuff like that. So it all sort of came together. It was another good choice for me. Actually during the development process of that movie, I got the best note ever. Normally you hear these stories about people getting just bizarre script notes during the development process. We were going back and forth on the treatment for that. Originally the bad guys were North Koreans, and then they didn’t want it to be North Koreans. They said make it sort of a nonspecific threat like it’s some terrorist organization or it’s a James Bond type villain. Don’t make it a specific country. I didn’t really like that idea much. It seemed kind of cartoonish, unbelievable that somebody like that could be a real threat to the US Navy, but I went along with it. We were working on the story and then finally I said you know what, make the bad guys aliens. I was just writing a naval warfare movie, and all of a sudden they said make the bad guys aliens. It was just so funny and so ridiculous that I had to laugh at the absurdity of it. Then when I started thinking about it, it actually made sense because what power on earth could really challenge the United States Navy? So it actually worked that it was aliens but we thought it was North Korea and China to begin with because the aliens were trying to start a world war so that they didn’t have to wipe us out; we would wipe ourselves out and then they could come in and take over our planet. So it actually made perfect sense in the end. It was one of those notes that you get and you just can’t believe somebody saying it.
Ashley: Did you know that the studio version of this was also aliens?
Thunder: No, in fact, I had intentionally from the moment I got the assignment; I intentionally avoided any knowledge of the studio film. All I knew about the Battleship while I was writing it, and even while I was making the film, all I knew about Battleship was that Liam Nissan was in it. I actually didn’t find out it had aliens in it until actually late in production, and I was like now I see why they wanted aliens. By then I already had my own story.
Ashley: I think you’re exactly right. There’s no one that’s even going to come close to beating the American US Navy at this point. They came to the same conclusion that you did. So let’s move along on some of these other films and eventually talk about Shark Nado. Did you just continue to sort of work with the same system? Basically you would get log lines and then you would pitch them and they would hire you to write it or hire you to write and direct it?
Thunder: I mean it was actually American Warships, what the battleship movie ended up being called American Warships that got me Shark Nado. I finished American Warships, and in a lot of ways it was the best production I’d ever done there, and they were all very happy with it at least until Universal started suing people. My argument is the only reason Universal actually sued over it is because they knew I had a better story than I did. That’s my opinion of Universal. They were very happy with it, and they said okay, what do you want to do next? They said we’ve got these kinds of things coming up. We want to do a giant monster movie I guess because Pacific Rim was going to be coming out, and I was like yeah, I’ve always been a Godzilla fan. Maybe a giant monster movie would be okay. I was just sort of thinking what do I want to do with a giant monster movie? They called me in for a meeting, and they said look, we’ve got this idea. It’s called Shark Storm. We think you’d be the guy to do it. I was like Shark Storm? That doesn’t sound like anything I would want to do, I mean haven’t we seen enough shark movies? At the same time I was feeling a little burned by the American Warships experience because while I had been trying to do a very realistic serious action—I mean, it wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was a serious attempt at a naval action movie. The visual effects were just laughable, and I had no control of them. So when you watch that film, it comes off as being a lot cheesier than it would have been if my exact film had been made the way it was though we had really good visual effects. I was feeling very burned by that, and so I didn’t want to do another serious movie that was going to end up being cheesy and tacky. When they said we want you to do Shark Storm I said is this going to be played for laughs or is this going to be a straight movie about sharks in a storm? They said no, it’s going to be straight. I said no, I don’t want to do that because it will just look crappy and people will laugh where they’re not supposed to laugh. I don’t want to do that. At the same time I was getting into Game of Thrones. I think that was the first year of Game of Thrones, and I was like you know what I really want to do is I want to create a whole world. I want to do something like create a whole civilization and really sort of get into it, but at the same time I want to design a movie that we can do on this low budget without it looking cheesy. So I don’t want to do something grandiose. They were like well, okay. So we have this one-line thing that maybe would work for you. A group of refugees from Earth have to survive on a hostile alien planet. That was the only requirement. I could do anything as long as it fit that [inaudible 0:51:20.1] description. I was like yes, I’ll do that, and that became a film called [inaudible 0:51:25.6] which I didn’t know at the time was their mock buster for After Earth, but once again I had no knowledge of the studio film. So at that point I already had agreed to do the giant monster movie so what happened then was now I had two projects going at the same time. So I called a friend of mine who was a huge Godzilla fan, a huge monster movie fan, and basically he and I were going to collaborate on the giant monster movie. He was going to do the bulk of the work, and I would just sort of polish it and make sure it was professional and acceptable for the Asylum while I focused on 0:52:12.2] so I was working on [inaudible 0:52:16.6] when they came to me a month later, they said you know forget about Shark Storm. What we really want you to do is Shark Nado, and I said what does sharks have to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? I heard Shark Nado. He said No, no, no, Shark Nano like a tornado full of sharks, and I said that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. If I can do it that way, I’m in.
Ashley: What was the difference between Shark Storm and Shark Nano?
Thunder: Shark Storm was going to be played straight and Shark Nano sounded so ridiculous that there was no way they could play it straight, and apparently what had happened—I didn’t know this at the time—but what had happened is that the Asylum wanted to do a movie called Shark Storm and Sci-Fi had this title Shark Nado which was from a line in another one of their movies. They wanted to do a movie called Shark Nado, and so they had their monthly meeting, at that point Sci-Fi and Asylum were having monthly meetings. They each mentioned these projects. Asylum said they wanted to do a movie called Shark Storm, and Sci-Fi said well, that’s great but call it Shark Nado. So by the time it got to me, Sci-Fi had already weighed in and given some notes on it. The part of those notes that allowed me to feel like I could do it was when Sci-Fi said obviously any movie called Shark Nado was going to have humor in it because the Asylum was famous for taking the [inaudible 0:54:22.6] movies very seriously, playing them absolutely straight, and I knew if we were making a movie called Shark Nado, it had to be done with a wink and a nod sort of. So I wrote Shark Nado and had great fun with it. It was a catch to direct it, but by the time I finished the first draft, I realized that I had written a script for a hundred million dollar film. Maybe there was a way I could do it for twenty million dollars, but I didn’t see any way to do it for one million. So I was like I’m not sure how to do this on this budget, and at the same time I was developing the idea of the treatment for [inaudible 0:55:17.7] and it looked like they were going to be scheduled to be shot at the same time. So I chose [inaudible 0:55:28.0 to direct.
Ashley: How did [inaudible 0:55:30.5] turn out?
Thunder: I loved it. We went off to the jungles of Costa Rica for two months, and I made a science fiction from it, an actual science fiction film with science fiction concepts, and I got to do some good action stuff. I got to do some interesting ideas I thought, and it only calls for visual effects that I knew would be very easy to do. I think it’s a very good little movie. It didn’t get a lot of attention, but I’m very proud of it. The critics who did review it certainly compared it favourably to After Earth. I don’t think there was a single review of [inaudible 0:56:21.2] that didn’t mention that it was better than After Earth. I just really liked it. I got to sort of do stuff as a director with it.
Ashley: Let’s talk about your writing process just for a minute. Typically when you get one of these assignments you’ve flushed out a three or four-page outline, how long does it then take you to write up a full script?
Thunder: It depends on when the deadline is because that’s how long it takes. On Two Hundred Miles per Hour, they improved the outline, said this is great. We want you to go write the script. There’s just one catch. We need it in twelve days, and at that point I’d never written a script in less than two months before because I’d always been writing on spec and just writing at my own pace. Usually a script would take me about two months. They wanted it in twelve days, and what was worse is that this was near the end of the year and I already had a Christmas party that I was throwing scheduled for two days later. I knew I had to clean my apartment, and I had to buy food. I had to decorate, and I had to do all this stuff. So by the time I actually got started on the script, I actually only had ten days to write it. So basically I just sort of chained myself to my computer, and I worked for ten hours straight for ten days. At the end of ten days I had a first draft. That’s not how I’d recommend doing it. It was an interesting trial by fire as I had never written a script nearly that fast, and it proves to me that I could do it. So on the next film when I had a month and I really wanted two months, I knew I could get it done in a month. Shark Nado, I actually had a lot of time because they hadn’t even put it in the schedule when I started writing it. Apparently they were known. I had been warned while I was doing American Warships, I had been warned that the development process with these co-productions with Sci-Fi was torturous and could go on forever because the execs at Asylum would have very different notes from the execs at Sci-Fi. So you’d satisfy one set of notes, and then the other company would not like it. So you would address their notes and it would go back and forth. The guy who was producing American Warships had also worked on one of the sci-fi co-productions and it had taken two years before the script was approved. So I was rather nervous about that. Then when I actually wrote the first draft of Shark Nado, the Asylum had some notes for me which was basically take out all this humor. I was like okay, but it’s called Shark Nado, and if Sci-Fi comes back and says it needs to be funny, I’m going to get out a big cartoon hammer and hit you all over the heads with it. So I took out all the humor and they approved it. The script went off to Sci-Fi, and Sci-Fi had a few minor notes and one major note. The major note was this should be funnier. So I put all the humor back in, and I addressed their notes. That was basically it. There were a few more minor notes from people, but Asylum’s director Zelman, said that this was the quickest script process they had ever had with Sci-Fi. It was approved practically within a month I bet of my first draft being turned in.
Ashley: That’s great.
Thunder: It wasn’t on the schedule and so the script just sat while I then started concentrating on writing [inaudible 1:20.9] and so just before I was going to go off to Costa Rica for pre-production, they said hey, you know, we need to take another pass at Shark Nado because it’s kind of a two-hundred-million-dollar film right now. So I did a quick production polish on Shark Nado before I went off to the jungle, but really it was still a hundred-million-dollar film. So it was up to Anthony Ferranti, the Director, to figure out how to make it, and, in fact, he ended up changing quite a bit especially in the first half hour just to make it doable.
Ashley: I’m curious. I want to go back on something you said earlier. You basically struggled for twenty years and then finally broke in. What did you do to support yourself during these twenty years, just continued to do production jobs, still photographer, that kind of stuff or did you have some other career?
Thunder: I had a variety of day jobs, most of which I have now blacked out of my memory, and I spent a long time doing corporate promotional videos which was kind of a trap because it paid pretty well, and I was still directing. So I was sort of getting my fix. I remember there was this one company that I’d been doing videos for a year or two. I was doing a whole series of promotional videos for this company. So I was actually working in their office, and they’d set up a little mini office for me within the larger space, the facility. There was an assistant editor and I. I was pretty much a one-man shop. I would write the promo [inaudible 1:02:18.4] I’d cast them; I’d direct them. I’d produce them. I’d hire a production crew for the days we were actually shooting. I’d edit them with this assistant editor. This went on for a couple of years I guess, and during this whole time I had put up a mock-up poster of this film I wanted to raise money for and make which was before even Vampire Zombies. It was a science fiction film called The Man and the Machine. It was about this robot that basically went insane and terrorized these two people whose space ship had crash landed. I had created this mock-up poster as inspiration. I put it up on the wall in this little cubicle at this company that made toupees, hair replacements. So here I was making these videos about toupees and I remember one day we were waiting for something to render because this was the late 90’s and it took half an hour for a one-second dissolve to render on their nonlinear editing system. I remember sitting there and looking up at that poster and realizing that it had been on the wall for over a year, and I hadn’t done anything to make that film happen. It was kind of a wake-up call for me that I’d been going down the wrong track for awhile. So right then and there I started researching business plans for independent films and started trying to figure out how to put together financing. I spent a couple years trying to get that film made, and I was not able to, in the end raise enough money to make it. But that process is what then allowed us having already done that once is what then allowed us to in pretty short order to put together the business and raise the money to do Mutant Vampire Zombies from the Hood. Once I had that script it could be done on a lower budget.
Ashley: Sometimes it is. It’s these failures that actually help you with your successes. I’m curious. I mean Shark Nado is this sort of cultural phenomenon, and I’m curious how that has impacted your career as a screenwriter? Has it gotten you meetings? Has it gotten you some writing assignments?
Thunder: Yeah. Yeah. It took me twenty years to be an overnight success as they say. I mean it’s changed so much and yet it hasn’t changed. It’s not like Steven Spielberg is calling me up and hiring me to direct his next movie. It’s not like [Inaudible 1:05:23.2] has hired me for Guardians of the Galaxy even though if you ask me Guardians of the Galaxy is really no different than Shark Nado except it’s got a much, much bigger budget. It’s still the same sort of tongue-in-cheek tone; it’s still the same sense of fun, the same campiness. So I don’t know why they haven’t called me for Guardians of the Galaxy. The big difference is it got me an agent. The night that Shark Nado blew up and the subsequent three or four days was by far the most surreal experience of my life. But as it was all happening, the one thought in my head was okay this is it. This is your big break, and if you don’t capitalize on it, you’re never going to get another one because things like this if you’re lucky come along once in a lifetime. Who could have thought that this ridiculous little shark movie was going to take off like this. So my main goal coming out of it was that I had to get myself a good agent because the agent was the key to the business, the key that unlocks the doors. And for a long time the agents controlled the industry. It’s not quite that way anymore, not like in the 80’s and 90’s, the days of the super agents, Bernie Brillstein and what have you. That was my main goal was to get a good agent. So as it was blowing up, I was reaching out to all the well-placed contacts I had. I knew a vice president at New Line or a guy who had been vice president at New Line. I knew a guy who had been president of the WB and who was now an independent producer. I knew a couple of people who had been show runners on successful series. I just made contacts over the last twenty years someone I’d gotten to know fairly well, and in the past I’d asked him for recommendations. Every time you recommend somebody to an agent, you’re putting your reputation on the line. It had always been a very awkward thing and they never really I think felt comfortable doing that for me until Shark Nado blew up. When I called them the next day after Shark Nado blew up and said hey, this has happened; I really need to take advantage of it. Can you refer me to an agent? Now they were willing to do that, and the other thing I was thinking of in those first few days was I’ve got to get all the publicity out of this that I can, and my cousin who had once done PR for Nike called me up and said this is amazing. What are you doing to take advantage of it? I said well, I’m trying to figure that out. He said you need a publicist. I said I can’t afford a publicist. They’re like ten thousand dollars a month. I don’t have that kind of money. She said here’s what you should do. Go on Twitter and post something like “the broke writer of Shark Nado needs publicist now” and that’s what I did. Within an hour I had a professional publicist who was willing to work on commission.
Ashley: That’s great.
Thunder: He gets started getting me interviews. I was on Good Morning America. This happened on a Friday, and Shark Nado blew up Thursday night. On Friday I did the Twitter post. By the end of the day I had a publicist and by Saturday he had arranged for me to be interviewed on Good Morning America amongst many, many other places. I was on CNN; I was on MSNBC. I was on all these things, and he went to the CNN interview with me. While we were in the green room, we were just talking, getting to know each other because it was the first time we actually met in person. We had just been talking on the phone and stuff. I said the main thing I want to get out of this is I want to get an agent. He said well, I just happen to know an agent at the [inaudible 1:10:05.4] Agency. Let me contact him for you. He made the call, and they talked for a minute. He said he wanted to read the Shark Nado script. I said okay. So I sent him over my original script, not what had actually finally been shot but my original script. Apparently he wanted to make sure that I hadn’t written this thinking it was a good serious movie. He wanted to make sure that I actually understood what I was writing and that I was in on the joke. Once he read my actual script, he called me for a meeting, and I went in and met with him the very next day. I was prepared to pitch him to convince him to represent me, and he spent the whole lunch trying to convince me to let him represent me. I had heard very good things about the Girsch agency. I would always ask people who had representation if they liked their agent or not, and the only ones who were universally happy with their agents were people at Girsch. So when he offered to represent me I said yeah, let’s do it.
Ashley: The last thing I like to do just to wrap things up is just get anything you feel comfortable sharing like a Twitter feed or a Facebook page or a blog, just something so people can maybe follow along with kind of what you’re doing.
Thunder: Sure. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/thunderlevinofficial. I’m on Twitter at Thunderlevin.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I’ll get all that stuff and get that into the show notes. So what’s next for you? What are you working on now?
Thunder: Well, I’m working on two TV movies, both of which are top secret at the moment, but one of which I’m sure you could guess at. I am in the process of pitching two TV series, one of which is called Dive and it’s sort of a Shark Nado tongue-in-cheek science fiction series. I guess I would describe it as Star Trek meets One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest in a submarine. Then I’m also pitching a serious apocalyptic TV series which is called As We Know It.
Ashley: It sounds like you have a lot going on. Once again, Thunder, I appreciate you coming on. The Shark Nado has been definitely been something that came on my radar. I remember when I first saw the first trailer for it. I though is this even real? I thought somebody had made this trailer as some sort of a joke. I watched it with my young daughter, she’s five years old, and we’ve watched the movies and she loves them. So I had really enjoyed them. So again, I really appreciate you coming on.
Thunder: Sure. Thanks for having me. It was fun.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
Ashley: Thanks. Bye.
I just want to mention two things I’m doing at Selling Your Screenplay to help screenwriters find producers who are looking for material. First, I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will 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 ask them if they’d like to receive this monthly newsletter of pitches. So far I have well over two hundred 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 scripts into the hands of lots of producers, sign up at sellingyourscreenplayselect.com and secondly, I’ve partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting lead sites so I can syndicate their leads to Sys Select members. There are lots of great leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting ten to twelve high-quality leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking for material or who are actively looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project that they’re developing. If you sign up for Sys Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week, and these emails that I’m sending out will have direct contact to the producer so there is no proxy between Selling Your Screenplay and these producers. You will get direct contact information. You’ll be able to email them or in some cases I think call them directly. These leads run the gamut from production companies looking for spec scripts to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or write up a particular novel or something that they have optioned. There are leads for short films, features, producers looking for TV and web series pilots. There is a huge array of different types of projects, and again, these are premium leads so for the most part they are paid leads. They may not be obviously for writing a short. You’re not necessarily going to make a lot of money, but these producers do have some budget to hire writers. So they are professional credits, as I said, paid screenwriting leads. So if you want to learn more about that, definitely check out Sys Select. You can sign up by going to sellingyourscreenplayselect.com to learn more on that page as well.
I recently set up a success stories page. I get a lot of emails asking hey, how do people do with your blast? How do people do with these leads? Go and check that out if you’re curious just to see what some other writers are doing with these leads and with the email and fax blast service that I offer at sellingyourscreenplay.com/success and you can read a whole bunch of success stories. If you’ve had some success with the Sys Services please do email me. I’d love to add you to the success stories page and perhaps even have you on for an interview on the podcast. These success stories are very inspirational. It’s great to share your story and tell other people kind of how you got started, how you broke in, how you made your first few dollars as a screenwriter. So if you have had some success please just drop me a line and drop me an email.
In the next episode of the podcast I’m going to be interviewing Sean Baker and Critch Burgotch who wrote the film Tangerine. It’s a real art house film about transvestites, prostitutes working in Hollywood. It was shot here in LA using a lot of non-actors. It was shot on an IPhone so it’s a real interesting film to watch. It’s a cool story, but it’s also just if you hear sort of the behind-the-scenes is a real interesting story. Eventually this film did make it to Sundance as well. So I’m interviewing these two writers next week. So keep an eye out for that episode.
To wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Thunder. I really hope that people are getting some value out of these podcasts. There are so many great bits of inspiration and tactical advice that I think Thunder gave us. So I just want to touch on a couple of things that stood out to me, but I really think the whole interview was just chockfull of just great interesting advice to screenwriters.
A few things that really stood out to me, the 20-year hustle that Thunder went through, really pay attention to this. I mean he was networking; he was writing. He was directing infomercials, commercials and infomercials for nearly two decades. This is important. Working as a director is great experience just learning how to run production and how to shoot stuff. So I think obviously if you can work your way up and get into a point where you’re writing and directing commercials. That’s a great training ground for feature films. I think it’s just really interesting too; he constantly was pushing his scripts out there and constantly failing. He had some near misses and anybody who’s in this business for any length of time can tell you that’s really just sort of part of how things go. On the podcast I try not to talk about things until something is like some contract is signed. These things are going on. With me all the time you get people emailing you they read your script, oh we’re going to make this movie. I’ve got financing in place; let’s go and then things kind of peter out for whatever reason. The story that Thunder says, it sounds very specific to him how this guy died and things didn’t quite work out, but I never had exactly the same thing happen to me but those are the sorts of things that happen. Just things can go wrong, and you just never until the money’s in the bank, you can never really count on it until that contract is signed. You really can never quite tell what’s going to happen. So you’ve got to keep a lot of irons in the fire. You’ve got to keep a lot of things going so that hopefully one of them actually does take off. I think it is interesting too that ultimately what really got him ahead as a writer and a director was shooting his own low-budget Indi film. Again, he was able to really take some of his working experience as a commercial director and wrap that into his love for fiction films, for feature films, and that’s a great way he was able to leverage a lot of his skills and a lot of his interests together.
I talked about this before on the podcast. I think that’s a great one-two combination, working in the industry having some sort of an industry job even if it’s not as a director of commercials, working in the industry and also going out and making things happen for yourself. Time and time again people on the podcasts that I’ve interviewed come up with that. Obviously working in the industry is a great thing to do. You make a lot of connections, but you’ve also in your spare time you’ve got to be writing scripts and you’ve got to be just trying to push your scripts ahead and get those scripts out there. In Thunder’s case, you’re just going out there and making an Indi film even all the while working a full-time job doing commercials. These are long hours so it’s not like Thunder just had lots of monies, wealthy parents and can sit around and do this Indi film. Doing commercials and working in that infomercial space is gruelling hours. You can be on the set a lot. There is a lot of prep work, a lot of production, a lot of post-production. It’s not particularly high paid, it’s good experience but the people that do these, it’s very much sort of a blue-collar job of filmmaking doing these infomercials. So it’s great experience but it’s not like Thunder was making millions of dollars doing it. He had to at some point just go home from work when he was exhausted and start writing that script and spend his weekends, even going to the beach he sat down and wrote these scripts and started to push them forward. That’s just what it’s going to take, but I think it’s a great one-two combination of working in the industry and then also working to push your projects ahead.
When I started Sys, this was many, many years ago when it was just a blog long before the podcast, I remember actually reading a forum post about my blogs and people had read some of my blog posts. I think the specific post they were talking about was basically someone saying well, gee, how long should it take me to break in? I was telling them it could take two, three, four, five, or maybe ten years or even more years to break in. I mean we just heard Thunder’s story, two decades of beating his head against the wall, and the people in this forum were basically saying this guy, Ashley Scott Meyers is such a [inaudible 1:21:40.1] downer. It’s just so depressing to read his stuff. I don’t find it depressing and perhaps that’s why I don’t mind talking about it. To me hearing Thunder’s story is very inspirational, and I hope that people listening to this podcast find it inspirational as well. I mean, he’s a really cool guy. He’s finally worked hard and kind of gotten what was coming to him after all these years. So I think that’s great, but it’s not easy but it’s fairly straightforward, and I think it’s going to take a lot of work. It’s a lot of work but it’s fairly straightforward, and I think that’s what I like about hearing these types of stories. I guess at some point there is a little bit of luck in the Shark Nado. Things sort of really took off and you can’t really predict those things, but him getting to the point even if Shark Nado hadn’t been this huge cultural phenomenon, he still would have been basically there writing scripts professionally, directing feature films professionally, and doing this stuff, that was kind of the icing on the cake, and I think it’s really worth noting it’s a 20-year slog for him. I don’t think it’s depressing; I think it’s encouraging. Maybe you can do it quicker if you’re super talented or get super lucky or some combination of two, I think it definitely can happen much, much quicker. But I think for most people this is the sort of effort that it’s going to take. Is it worth the effort, the 20-year slog to eventually write Shark Nado, that’s a question only you can answer for yourself but I do think realistically that’s what it’s going to take. Again, unless you’re super talented or super doper lucky or some combination of the two, I think this is sort of the reality of what the entertainment industry is. As I said, it’s a lot of work but if you’re not afraid of doing hard work, it is pretty straightforward.
I do hope to watch Shark Nado with some new appreciation. I remember reading a review of a film that I wrote and helped produce, a movie called Man Overboard. This was back in 2008. We were being really aggressive sending DVD’s out to blogs or trying to generate a bunch of reviews. This one film site just absolutely bashed our film, but part of the review I remember, the first paragraph was well, you know, people are making these movies, and this movie is crappy, but I guess everyone just made a little bit of money and so they’re moving on. He missed the point. Nobody made a lot of money on that movie. Everybody that worked on it was working for very little money and was really doing it just because they thought it was a cool project. Something like Shark Nado, a lot of people just laughed it off, but when you really dig down into the story of the people who made it, a guy like Thunder, there’s a pretty interesting story there, and I’d like to think my films—there’s a story even if some of these films that I’ve made are terrible; they get terrible reviews in different places, people rip into them. There is a story behind them. Keep that in mind as you go through your own career. Even the silliest movies do have an interesting story behind them, and there is quite a bit of just skill and hard work that goes into them.
Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.