This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 136: Screenwriter Shane Weisfeld Talks About Selling Freezer, Starring Dylan McDermott, While Living Far From Hollywood.
Ashely: Welcome to episode #136 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Shane Weisfeld who wrote the feature film, “Freezer” starring Dillon McDermott. He sold this script while living far from Hollywood. And we dig into the specifics of how he made this happen? So, stay tuned for that.
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I continue to build out the SYS Script Library. I want to thank a few people who sent in scripts recently, Adam Pitzler, who sent in, “Children of Man.” And “The Hunger Games.” Screenplays. I want to thank Sean Smith who sent in, “The Conjuring.” And I want to thank Knob Sube who sent in the screenplay for “WhipLash.” So all these scripts, and lots of other scripts are available at the SYS Script Library. If you have a screenplay you do not see listed in the script library. Please do Email it to me, and I’ll post it to the SYS Script Library The SYS Script Library, it’s completely free, and we have over 1000 script in the library. Many award winning movies, television shows, a huge whole aray of different types of screenplays. All the scripts are in PDF format so you can download them and read them on whatever device you typically use to read screenplays. To go to the SYS Script Library, just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/library, again that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/library.
If you want my free guide, “How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks” You can pick that up by going to – www.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 and quarry letter. How to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for new material. It really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Again, that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
And now, a couple of quick words about what I am working on. Just, I’m recording this Podcast, it’ll be released I think, on August 8th 2016. I’m recording it on
Monday August 1st 2016. So, it takes a week to record, but I literally just finished production literally last day of shooting was Friday July 29 2016. We wrapped up production and did a few pick-up shots over the weekend. But, basically production wrapped up on the 29th for my crime action thriller, “The Pinch.” It was a long 15 days, everything went very well though. I think we got some great footage. I’m actually, as the production went on I was very nervous at the beginning. I just really wasn’t sure what to expect? But as the production went on, the filming became less nervous, and more confident, and I feel actually revived. I mean, it’s a lot of work, but, I feel good now that it’s done and I’m excited to get into the post-production process. I published a lot of short videos on my blogs – www.ashleyscottmeyers.com. You can look through them, some of the recent posts there, and I published these videos through YouTube as well. A lot of them, we did a quick teaser trailer, which is really like the first day or two. Burnie, my photographer, just whipped up a quick. He used some of the footage to create a teaser trailer, thank you Burnie for that. Again, you can find that on www.sellingyourscreenplay.com
Also on YouTube channel. We had a bunch of people working behind the scenes footage. And we whipped up a couple of videos on that as well. One of the other producers, Adam Strange. He edited those together I think, Chris shot the first one. So, thank you Chris for shooting that. And then Adam edited it together. And then Adam took a bunch of the stills and edited those together into a little video, just to get behind the scenes. And I’m going to try and release some more of that stuff. We’ve got a bunch more behind the scenes pictures. We’ve got some more behind the scenes footage as well. If you want to see how the filming went. It’s just some behind the scenes photos on www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Look at some of the latest blog posts. Or just check out the YouTube channel. And I’ve created like a play list within the YouTube channel. The, www.youtube.com/sellingyourscreenplay. I’ve created a folder called, “The Pinch” so you can go in there. I’ve put all of these videos in that end up, the Kick-Starter stuff is there as well. I was releasing episodes as I was during the Kick-Starter Campaign for “The Pinch.” I’ve put those in there as well. So, hopefully at the end of it all of this I’ll have a nice whole library of videos all centered around the production process of “The Pinch.” And I’m going to put those in there and try and create specific Podcast episode for, “The Pinch,” Just get all my thoughts on that. Hopefully, I’ll write it up this week. And I’ll do that next week, publish that maybe next week, or the week after. But, I want to do it while it’s all fresh in my mind. If even for just my own, I’d just be curious to record my own thoughts on the production process. Kinda just go through some of the things I think I did well. Some of the things I think I could improve on. It’ll be a good record just for myself, if I ever decide to make another movie. I’ll be able to go back and listen to it, and hopefully that will be valuable for some other people too. Who are thinking about producing their own film. Overall it was a great experience, when I started. As I said, I was really quite nervous, didn’t know quite what to think? About it, the process went pretty smoothly. And as I said, became more common and more confident as the process continued. I couldn’t have asked for a better casting, crew. We just have lots of great actors, lots of great crew that came on and did a tremendous job. There were just so many awesome people on this project, everyone did a fantastic job. So, I’m really excited to get this thing. It’s really just get this thing rolling and get this film finished and see how it turns out. As I said, I’ll continue to try and release stuff. I’m actually working on a post through now. Again, my producing partner Adam is ripping up a poster. And we’ll have that probably by next week or two, along with two movies as well. And you know, that’s just the first version of the poster. You know, things again, may change? Just as we find a distributor and stuff. But I want to get poster out. And attach it to the IMDb page. Just start to have some sets to publicize it, the film. So, I’d say that’s the next thing that we’re going to be ponying up. Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. Obviously that’s going to be the next few months I’ll be continuing to get through post-production with,]
“The Pinch.” I have started coming up with some new ideas I’m thinking about. A new
spec. script I’m going to start. So, hopefully in the next week or two. I will get down some, start writing a new spec. script. And you know, as it evolves over the next six months. This project sort of starts to come to mind. I’ll definitely start thinking, “Gee, what else can I shoot myself?” So, I’ll knock out a spec. script. And Idea I had, I don’t think it’ll be something I’ll shoot myself, probably a little bit bigger budget than what I can actually raise myself. But I do want to start thinking about potential projects of things I could write, direct, and shoot myself as well. Because as I said, right now I just feel really good about the experience, and hopefully I’ll be able to do it again.
So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing Screenwriter, Shane Weisfeld. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Shane, to the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Shane: Thanks for having me, great to be here.
Ashley: So, to start out with, maybe we can kind of go back to the very beginning of your, or maybe even before your professional screenwriting career. Take us all the way back to childhood, what got you interested in and on the path. What are sort of the first things that got you on the path to being a screenwriter? Even just getting interested in screenwriting?
Shane: Number one I’ve always loved film. I just always loved going to the movies and the theater as a young child. That’s always what people do. However, I was always writing. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I came from the music side of things. I always came from a very, very, creative background. And the music industry, and film industry are always so closely linked. That I definitely last year of high school I knew I wanted to be in the film industry. And by that point in my life in high school, I had a reputation. For a number of years I had a lot of things. Sort of the fringes of the music industry. And I was always writing, whether that was for the, whether it was lyrics, or short stories. And I knew my last year in high school in some creative capacity I wanted to be in the film industry.
Ashley: Okay, so then after high school, what were your first steps towards achieving that goal?
Shane: Well, like so many people, I very naively thought that by going to film school. That, that is one great way to break into the industry. How little did I know, that’s not always the case. So, I did go to film school. I was a screenwriting major. And it was a great experience actually. Because probably already going to film school. Although I grew-up watching films, and I love film. I had never fully experienced the extent of film, in terms of the classics, the Hollywood classics, the foreign classics. And I was really exposed to a lot of that. As of a film major in school. And that really brought my horizons and opened my eyes. And in my last year as a screenwriting major, we had to write a feature script. That was our project for the semester. And once I wrote my first feature. I was hooked, I had already written a number of short scripts prior to that. But, when I wrote my first feature, that last year of film school. That absolutely did it for me, in terms of knowing what I want, and want to be in this business.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. I’d be curious and this maybe is kinda a sideline. But, I’d be curious to kind of get your, you said it was a great experience going to film school and I also got a degree here in Southern California. And I was very kind of let down, I just, the stuff you just mentioned. Oh, the classics exposed, exposed to the classics. That stuff is all totally true. But, what I felt was missing was? Some actual practical advice on how to go out and have a career. And I became curious to hear what are your thoughts on higher education? You know going out and getting a degree in screenwriting? Is it something people should do? Or not do? What are your thoughts?
Shane: Okay, here’s the thing, a lot people bash film school. A lot of industry people that bash it and say, you don’t need it. A lot people think, people who went to film school are very naïve. And you know, you’re young, you think that’s the way to go. Look, the question is, did film school directly impact me and the goals that I have achieved and the things that have happened to me? The answer is ”No” film school is/was good for me. It exposed me, from the beginning to feedback, and constructive criticism, and rejection, you know. Because, you’re in a film class and part of the projects is, your fellow students are reading your scripts and give you feedback on. And of course, if you can get feedback on from your screenwriting professor, or screenwriter teacher, that’s great. So, you’re right, it doesn’t teach the practical things, in terms of breaking into the business, dealing with the business. But, being exposed to real good constructive criticism and feedback is what it did for me. So, now that I think back to that. And I think it was a really good experience dealing with that.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so now your done with college. You have this first feature film script. What was your next steps after college?
Shane: I clearly remember saying to myself, that’s where I graduated within a year or two, I plan on being in the film industry in some creative capacity. Little did I know, two years would turn into many, many years. And I was fresh out of school, I had written a feature. I think I wrote a “Seinfeld” spec. actually. And it was really bad timing, because they had just announced the series would end. This was the last season, and I wrote the “Seinfeld” spec. And I sent it out, a few people read it. And right from the beginning I started sending out scripts. In fact, before I graduated from film school, I started reading up on the business, taking initiative. And seeing what it takes to break in. And one of the very, very first things I read, if you want any kind of career, and make any money, as a screenwriter for example. You need representation. That’s one of the very first things I started learning about this business.
Ashley: A-ha. So, where did you read that? What kind of, were you reading books? Did you read this online?
Shane: A books, back then, this is like ’97- ’98, so there wasn’t much online at the time. So, we’re still, I think it was actually being published, where you actually had to go to the book store and buy things. And there were some great magazines as well. Like “Creative Writing” and “Script Magazine” at the time were still publishing. And from there I just started reading as much as I could about the business. And literally right away I got people requesting my material. I started sending up. But the fact that I started sending up material and got people reading it right away. It meant the rejections started right away. And, there was a lot of it, it continued on for many years.
Ashley: So, where did you find these people to, I hear you say, publication. Is that like Creative Screenwriting and Script Magazine, is that where you found names of producers and agents, and managers to submit scripts to?
Shane: Partly, and too, fully it came from watching films as well. You know, I’d watch films that I really liked, and I’d study who the screenwriter is, who the producer is. Because of my last year of high school that’s where I started to slowly learn about the script to screen process. And just the elements involved in getting a film made. And I remember I’d be watching films. And I’d remember in my mind to who the screenwriter was. And I’d do research on them, then I’d research the producers, and the Executive Producers, and the role these people play in getting films made. And I would contact pretty much anybody and everybody. And anybody that can be make anything happen in this industry.
Ashley: A-ha. And I just want to take, again, a little side step here. All of this was being done while not living in Los Angeles correct? You were outside of the L.A. scene. Shane
Shane: Correct. And I knew that there were certain film makers, I’m Canadian, I live outside of Toronto, been here my whole life. There were Canadians that made a good living staying in Canada. Getting work on both sides of the boarder. Going to L.A. I wouldn’t have to. But still, their home base is in Canada. So I knew that was possible, and we’ve seen that it is possible. Especially as a screenwriter, you can live around the world. And the thing about Toronto, if people don’t know this? Next to New York, it is only the third largest TV hub in North America. And there were, and there still is, of course, great things going on here.
Ashley: A-huh. And what I always here is, there is a lot of production up in Canada. But not necessarily, you know, where the script originates. Are you, do you find that?
Shane: You’re right, you hit the nail on the head, you’re right. This has become a very big service industry here. Where we service producers funnel it in New York. But, That is slowly changing. You know, we, there is a lot of stuff originated here. The government supports the arts, they support film makers, and screenwriters. And you need to have what’s known as Canadian content of course. A screenwriter has to be Canadian, director has to be Canadian, it has to take place here. As long as you have that, and those producers attached, and elements are attached. You can get funding for a film. But, you’re right, there is a lot of filming that goes on where the script does not originate here. But, it is changing quite a lot. The TV industry here, for example is very, very good right now, very good. The feature industry has always been tough a bit.
Ashley: Okay, so take us through this process now, getting out of college. You’ve started to submit. You told me, talked about getting some of these rejections. Were you writing more scripts at this point? Had the one feature from college. Did you just start to grind out more and more scripts and send those out?
Shane: Exactly, like I said, when I wrote my first feature. I was hooked, I just started writing feature after feature. And it was great because each script I would write would be better than the last one, which is what you want. The problem was, and this is one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made. And one of the things I tell young aspiring writers is, I was not going back and rewriting my scripts enough. I was doing second, third maybe fourth drafts. But, I was never doing like full, full rewrites in alls. And this came later in the game, and so for years I was handing our scripts knowing good, but knowing they could be much better, that they weren’t great. And so the rejection basically started to pile up. And I was keeping every single rejection letter, just to keep track of who was reading my stuff and who was rejecting it. And I’ve got a huge, huge, huge, huge, rejection pile. Because we’re talking about 18 ½ years now, of rejection. Despite some things that has happened to me in the last several years. I still face rejection, and I have kept every single rejection letter.
Ashley: Yeah, and just to get a sense of the scope, how many submissions do you think you were making at any given year?
Shane: At this point, you have these first few years outside of college. Well, I mean, talking about good ole’ quarry letters, you know. I was sending a lot of stuff. You know, a lot of writers hate me for saying this. I actually never had too much trouble getting responses from my quarry. People actually request my stuff. I kind of mastered the art of the quarry letter, the art of the pitch, the art of the log-line. And this is stuff that I had read when I first graduated about. Had to learn, how to approach people. And how to be succinct. And in telling your story, and what it’s about. So, of course, most of the time I would hear back. But, let’s put it this way, I had a lot of people read my stuff, in just the first couple of years.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And so maybe we can just take a moment right now, and you said, you mastered the art of the pitch. Maybe you can give us some tips? Just general tips for writing a quarry letter and writing a log-line.
Shane: Well, quarry letter, whether you’re Emailing someone, or pitching to them with a face. You want to be as simple as possible. That is the best way I can put it. Just be very simple, and to the point. Sometimes quarry letter, or even pitches can be just too long. And when you talk too long, probably like I am talking right now? You can, the more chance of screwing it up. So, when it comes to a quarry letter, for example, it really should really be no longer than half a page, not even then, just two or three paragraphs really. And when it comes to actual log-line, of your script. Whether it’s a feature film or TV script, two or three sentences at the most. You should be able to sum it up.
Ashley: And what, yeah. And what’s in your quarry letter? Like you have an opening which I send you my script, here’s the log-line, and do you give a bit of background about yourself. A little bit of background about the story. What are those two or paragraphs that you’re including in the quarry letter?
Shane: Alright, I think again, at the beginning I gave a background and a, I guess it helps. But, I don’t really know if people care much about that. They really just mainly care about the log-line. But what’s really important, is if you’ve scripts. You can tell people that, but. Mainly you want them to get excited about one specific script, that you really think is your best writing sample. And something that really shows your voice, that’s really important as well. And, you know, whether you have written ten scripts or one script, as long as you pitch them something you feel very, very strongly about that they can respond to.
Ashley: Yeah, okay. So you’re going along and you’re writing a bunch of scripts, you’re sending them out. And I guess this is the late ‘90’s, into the 200’s? So, maybe you can bring us up, and what are some of the first sort of success. Even the minor successes that you had?
Shane: Minor successes? Well, in the beginning, actually no, not in the beginning. For about a couple of years I did start entering screenwriting competitions. And, the first competition I placed in was “Script Magazine” would have these competitions called, “The Open Door Competitions.” And I came second, and this was based on the first draft of a script. I didn’t even rewrite it. And I came in second in this competition. And I think I won some screenwriting software. Which was good, because I was actually writing my scripts in MS Word, which is no good. And so, I won screenwriting software, and started using that. And back then, screenwriting competitions. The marketplace wasn’t flooded with competition, like it is now. There is very few competitions. And is going around. And it was, and it still is a great way to get noticed. And for me, the success really was just people reading my stuff period. Because I read and I knew how hard it was to make your mark, just get read period, get people to respond to you. But what happened was, even though people were rejecting my scripts. I was still making connections with these people. And this is very, very, important. Because it wasn’t always a closed door. It wasn’t always hey, I read your script, not for me. Have a nice life, don’t ever contact me again. So, for the most part it was, hey, I read your script, I like it, I don’t love it. But, feel free to send me something in the future. Hey, I read your script, it’s not what I’m looking for right now. But, let me know what else you might have going on. Keep in touch. You know, so.
Ashley: A-huh. And so you would just start creating a database of these people and resubmit, finish, and submit the script. And hit all those people up.
Shane: Yeah, some of them I would, I would resubmit. Again, the rejection was just kept coming. This went on for years and years. It still goes on, but of course.
Shane: To be honest with you, for the first 12 years, we’re talking like ’98 to 2010. I didn’t have much going on at all. I was really writing a lot of scripts, getting a lot of people to read them. But after 12 years, I really didn’t progress much, in terms of something happening. In terms of getting representation, or becoming a producer, or any of that. And it didn’t actually happen until 2010. So, we’re talking 12 years of writing many scripts, and facing tons and tons and tons of rejection. And it those 12 years I saw a lot of people quit. I know a lot of people that quit. I knew a lot of people that quit after that, after a year or two of trying and nothing happening.
Ashley: Yeah. So, how many scripts would you say you wrote in that 12-year period?
Shane: A, I think I wrote about, 12, I basically wrote one feature per year pretty much. And then 16, I’ve written several since then. All together I think I wrote, written about 16 or 17 features and several TV scripts and some short scripts as well.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, okay. So, there’s this period 1998-2010, were you submitting to agents mostly? Or were you submitting to producers mostly? Or was it a mix, what were you doing there with your submissions?
Shane: A mix, producers, executives, agents, managers, you know, literary managers, they. The whole literary management industry, I guess you could call it, didn’t really start until the late ‘90’s. Literary managers didn’t really exist before then. But don’t, until the late ‘90’s. We really saw a lot of managers come into the fold. A lot of these people were agents, who turned into managers, and then started producing. So, I had all kinds of people reading my stuff. I had some directors recently read my stuff. I had some professional writers. Read my stuff.
Ashley: And that was enough to just keep you going? You just felt like you were on the right path, even though you weren’t necessarily selling stuff. People were giving you enough positive feedback, to kind of keep you motivated to persevere or was it just pure, you were just determined combination?
Shane: I’d say about 95% perseverance, and 5% positive feedback. I never really had anyone say, hey, this is a piece of crap, you know, you’re not going to go anywhere, you have no talent. You know, for the most part a lot of the feedback was pretty positive. It was mostly determination. I knew that I was programmed to do this, that I’m not meant to quit. I don’t even know how to quit. I don’t know what it feels like to quit. I did not want to quit. This is what I wanted to do.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, okay. So, then let’s talk about 2010 and that turning point. What was first kind of success you actually had?
Shane: 2010, was a huge turning point in my point. Because I was definitely wanting to write things up at the time. Contained crime, thriller, which is one of my favorite genres, or sub-genres. I love writing thrillers and crime thrillers. And I wrote something that actually it took place only in one location in this ended up becoming my first produced credit. But first things first. I did manage to finally land representation in 2010. After 12 years of actively trying. And I don’t want to use the word luck. Because I don’t think a single word. I don’t think luck has much to do with it. But the timing was right, at the time. There was a manager, who is now my former manager. He had started his own company, after being a manager in development, and he was still signing clients. And at the timing was right, and finally found representation. And that’s when things really started happening for me.
Ashley: Okay, and so, then he was able to, once you signed with representation, he was able to start getting your scripts out there, and getting you meetings, and or just getting your scripts read?
Shane: Exactly, and I have to credit my former manager a lot. Because he is probably responsible for me being a writer. Because at the time he signed me, I remember him saying, you know, this is really good, but it’s not great. However, I’m still signing clients, I’m going to take a chance on you. We’re going to work on making you great. So, he was very hands on in terms of development process, and giving notes. And he said, “When I feel this is great, then I’m going to take it out to the marketplace.” And eventually he did.
Ashley: Okay, so what was that development process like? You just wrote a bunch of drafts, he would give you notes and then just back and forth like that?
Shane: Exactly, and not a lot of managers do this, you know. Managers are not know for doing it, as opposed to agents. But not all managers will sort of hold your hand in terms of feedback. And I know, he was really great. This is one of the first times, like, truly, truly learned about the true re-writing and what it takes to trim the fat and really add story and character elements to it. Because originally the first draft, it was just a bare-bones thriller. But, he allowed me to add the crime element to it. And that’s when things really started to come together with this script. And he took it out pretty wide. It was a lot of people, a lot of very good people read it.
Ashley: A-huh. And so, where did the idea, or just understand that just one location thrillers were something that the marketplace wanted. Or was it just what you wanted to write? Or was there some, you know, you’re calculated decision to write this one location thriller. Because you felt that the marketplace wanted that.
Shane: It was a bit of both. It was part strategy, part I did really want to write this. Because it is in my heart, this genre, I was really interested in writing it. At the same time after all these years, of nothing happening. I wanted to write something that I knew, was at least low risk, in terms of financing. I wasn’t trying to second guess them, the marketplace. I mean, there are companies always looking for one location thrillers. Partly because it is low risk in terms of the budget, in terms of financing. But, I knew specifically, of some companies who were looking for this type of material. And again, this company goes from being on top of the industry, on top of the marketplace. We mean, who’s looking for what? What’s in development, what actors are looking for types of scripts. For example, It was just, the timing was right. But you know, there is a lot of companies that read it and said, “It’s too small.” They weren’t necessarily looking for a one location thriller. So, a lot of times it comes down to demanding, and not very quickly. There’s a company that may love the script. But, it’s just not part of their mandated. It’s just not something they are looking to make.
Ashley: Yeah, and so, you’re saying like you’re doing research, you’re finding out what actors are looking for work, what type of material. Where were you doing that research? Just, “Hollywood Reporter” “Daily Variety” where were doing it at, that research?
Shane: And it goes back to the beginning, just reading about the history, and I love reading about the people behind the scenes. The people that put the movies together. The creative people, and reading the trades, yes that was a huge part of it. It wasn’t so much type of it, as far as what actors are looking for? It’s more of a type of scripts that producers and executives are looking for, whether they are drawn to it. Because they are really the first people that are going to read your stuff. This is especially true of an agent or manager sends the script to someone. Usually they are going to send it to a producer first. And all eventually, they all guess on board there. So, you know, staying on top of the marketplace is really important. But I don’t want people to think that I was just trying to second guess them, the marketplace and chase them. The marketplace, it was a strategy. The most important thing, was this something I really, really wanted to write.
Ashley: A-huh. So this, we have the trades, what other publications would you recommend screenwriters read, in addition to, “Hollywood Reporter” and
Shane: A, there’s so many websites these days, the corporate tracking boards for tracking stuff in the last couple of years, “The Black List” all the lists, “The Blood List.” “The Young and Hungry List.” All that stuff. Because you get to know who the players are, people that represent the screenwriters. Of course the “Go to” “Variety” and “Hollywood Reporter” are great, there’s “Deadline” of course, these days is great. The wrath.com is a really good site as well.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So, I just want to touch on one thing, where you kind of hinted at? So, I think I know the answer, but just to be absolutely clear. So, you got this manager through just cold calling and quarry letters. Is, that, is it someone you knew that you had been sending scripts to for years. Maybe you could describe that process. I know that’s going to be a big question for people. How can I find that initial representation?
Shane: I hate to say this but it was a cold quarry letter. The thing about quarrying is? I’m not very proud of it. It is the longest, and hardest way to get your material out there. There is other ways you can get people to read your stuff and make a connection, by all means do that. But if you have nothing else going on and you have no other way for people to read your stuff and know who you are? You can quarry. So, yeah, that came out of a quarry. However, I knew who this manager was, I knew what he was doing? And again, this comes from just staying on top of it the industry. Because I want to be in this industry so bad. I knew that I had to know every possible thing I could about it. I mean, just staying on top of who’s, who and who’s doing what? So, I knew this manager had just started his own company, and he was still signing clients. And again, you know, the timing worked out. So, it was great to be on top of that. In terms of knowing who’s doing what and what’s going on. Your concentration of course should always be the writing. But, this is a business, constantly changing. Everyday there’s this stuff going on.
Ashley: Yeah. So, this film, one location thriller film we’ve been talking about is called, “Freezer” starring Dill McDermott. Let’s dig into that specific script a little bit. Maybe just to start out, you can give us a quick pitch a log-line for the film.
Shane: It’s a crime thriller, but the guy who’s kidnapped, and he’s forced into an industrial freezer. And his life is at stake and he’s forced to come up with millions that some really bad guys think he stole. And like I said, originally it started off as a very bare-bones thriller. But, through the re-write process it became a crime thriller. And that’s when really real people started gravitating towards it. There was a lot of people who read it. There were a lot of people that liked it. But for the first part, no one really, really stepped up to the plate and said, “Yes, we want to make this.” You know of course you will always care about all it takes is one “Yes.” It really takes two, or three or four “Yes’s” to be honest. What? The one “Yes” hopefully can come from a producer that can make things happen. And the guys that produce it, “Freezer” originally had passed on it actually. And they came back I think, three or four months later, asked if it was still available. And they were ready to make it.
Ashley: Okay. So, where did this idea come from? Maybe you could talk about some of the initial seeds of an idea, where you came up with that.
Shane: I love these contained thrillers, these one location thrillers. Especially if it’s a crime thriller. And it was an idea I had for a while. And I always have working log-lines, I always have these maybe five or six log-lines, things I’m interested in writing. But in terms of the order of writing them? I don’t know? That one of my log-lines I said, “Hum, this location thriller at the time was called, “The Freezer.” And I said, “You know what? I’m going to start writing this, I really, really want to write this.” So, I really, really want to show my chops.” And it was a challenge well, because I had never written a contained thriller before, a one location thriller. And I wrote it with a guy here, and he was writing his own stuff as well. And was just sort of a permanent experiment to just write this thing, and see what would come out of it.
Ashley: A-ha. So take us through your writing process. It can be specific to “Freezer” or just in general, what your writing looks like these days. You know, how much you spend on a script like, “Freezer.” You’ve got this log-line, how much time do you spend, you know, outlining before you actually open “Final Draft” and start writing the script?
Shane: “Freezer” was interesting, and a some people may not like me for this. But, there was no outline to “Freezer.” But I will tell you this, there was no final outline. When we wrote “Freezer” the first draft in like three weeks. We just banged out in like three weeks. We knew exactly what we wanted to write, beginning, middle, end, we knew scene after scene. So, you don’t necessarily need to have a full form of outline. But, you absolutely need to know what you’re going to write. Before you write a scene, you need to know what that scene is going to be in this? Though, that’s how “Freezer” started, however, the rewrite process ended up being like two, to two and a half years. And that’s when the script really, really came together. And I can’t mention this enough, you know, re-writing process is so important because that is when you’re script is really going to take on a life of its own. And that’s when you’re script can go from mediocre to good, to great. And that’s exactly what happened to “Freezer.” So, it really, really pulled in and formed during the re-write process. The re-write process with my manager, and the re-write process with notes and feedback from producers when they log-on.
Ashley: Yeah. Is that typical of how you write? You usually just kind of dash out a first draft? Or do you typically spend more time doing it, an outline?
Shane: I don’t spend too much time doing outline, I certainly have done outline and scripts. And it’s very important to outline, it does help absolutely. I think with most scripts that you do really fall flat in the second act. Most people, they’re very hyped up, and very excited about their first and third drafts, beginning and end stuff, it’s that middle chunk. And I think sometimes maybe before you write that second draft, it’s very important to outline what’s going to take up a chunk of your story, that second draft. Unfortunately a lot of people read the first draft, first five, eight, ten pages. And they may even get into the second act a little bit, realizing the false flats, and they don’t read the rest of the script.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. okay. So, take us through now, this process you’ve done. You wrote the first draft in three weeks. You finally got it to an agent. You’re just in development with him, over two years, then what was the next step? Once your agent said, yep, now I’m comfortable with this. Maybe take us through those steps of what he did where it went? And then ultimately how it got told.
Shane: Well, the re-write process with my manager was about three months all together, from when I got representation, to when the movie got shot. That was the 2 ½ year period. So, I got representation, my manager, re-writes went on for about 2 or 3 months. He took it out to the marketplace, I think about 50 companies. Rather, he got it to some great companies really fast. And he would update us every day, who’s reading, who’s passing. And like I said, the guy ended up producing it. At the time they were based on the Paramount lot. They didn’t have a deal with Paramount, they were an independent company. But they had passed on it, and then they came back and said, “Yeah, we’re ready to make this.” And well, what was great about this company was? They were a small independent company. So, they had a ton of stuff, in development. So they were able to really pull the resources and put a lot of effort and time into getting this finished, and May it end. It actually came together pretty quick, I was actually quite surprised, normally it doesn’t work like this. But if you think about it? I signed with a manager, and 2 ½ years later, this movie is before the camera. For that, industry standards, that’s pretty fast.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, then, let’s talk about your, those 2 ½ years. Did you continue to write stuff and develop stuff with your manager. And did he continue to send that stuff out to his contact? It was mostly “Freezer” we were working on. I think at the time, he had stuff with other clients as well. Of course he’s helping the other clients. But, “Freezer” was the constant trace definitely. Doing the re-writes with my manager, and doing the re-writes with the producers. I was developing other stuff, but it was mostly, “Freezer” “Freezer” “Freezer.” And especially when it went into preproduction. And I was writing something else at the time. But my concentration was definitely on “Freezer.” And the producers out, was the concentration as well, in terms of getting all the elements attached, and trying to get this thing made. And they optioned it, the option period was for a year. And I think, they ended up extending it? And after about 2 or 3 months, they offered to extend the option after that. And that’s when it was finally a “Go.” Of course I’m putting things in a nut shell.
Shane: There’s so much to tell, in terms of what went on. But, like I said, in terms of industry standards, it actually happened pretty fast when you consider most things will spend several years or years and years in development. And sometimes without getting made.
Ashley: Yeah, now any more notes like, you develop this with your manager. You say, he’s confident, he sends it out. And then he adds to the production company, was there a lot of re-write, I mean, once you got it to the production company, they have additional notes.
Shane: They did, that’s usually how it works. They of course had their own notes, and they were great notes. And what was great about the company was? We were bouncing around ideas, and they were opened to our suggestions. And if there is something I didn’t like. Or there was I was uncomfortable with, I was able to tell them that. But, for the most part, I was pretty much on board with their suggestions.
Ashley: Okay, okay. And so then, that was that whole, you said you optioned it for a year and then extended it, the option that year. You spent quite a bit of time doing that in development.
Shane: Yeah, that’s right, because the whole point of an option is with the producers all they. Usually it’s for a year, the option period. They use that time to have the rights to the script, and develop it, and work with the writer, or other writers. And just bring it to a level where they can go to finance it. There is actors and directors and try and get it made. And that’s what they did for the first year. After the first year, it was almost a go, the elements, almost all the elements were there. And they were still wanting to make this film. Or so they just basically extended the option. And so that’s when things were a go. About two to three months after that.
Ashley: Yeah. So, I’m just curious, to dig into this development process a little bit. What, was there any, you know, notes that you got that you didn’t like? How did you handle those? That’s always something I like to just ask writers. Because it’s inevitable, if you’re going to be a writer you are going to get some notes from people. You know, they are paying the bill, but may not necessarily? You may not necessarily agree with them, and how you handle those notes? And again, we can even, you don’t have to be specific about this project. But just in general how do you handle notes when you don’t necessarily think that they’re that great.
Shane: Well, this goes back to the beginning again. What are as early as possible, if you can, try and get professional feedback. Really good constructive criticism, personally, I never went to family or friends to read my stuff. Well, I did actually, I never asked them, or said to them. Okay, be brutally honest with me, when you give me feedback. Because, it’s always going to be bios. So, it’s very important to learn collaboration, right from the beginning. And I do specifically remember? There were a couple of ideas that producers had, that we just weren’t on board with. And they were like, look, if you are uncomfortable with something, come tell us. Because we want all of us to be on board with this, and on the same page. At the same time, the producers gave me notes where like, “Oh, wow, well that’s cool, I wouldn’t have thought of that, you know?” Also, collaboration can be a great thing. Unfortunately, a lot of people will take it too personal. And they don’t want to re-write things again and again, and again, and they don’t want to change things around. But for the most part, their suggestions, their notes it worked out fine.
Ashley: And I just want to touch on one thing, and again, we don’t have to talk specifically about “Freezer” It can be more general, I get this question a lot. And it’s happened to me a lot as a screenwriter. Where the production company will option the script, and you know, there’s no budget to pay the writer for the re-writes, you know. Maybe you make a few bucks on the option, maybe you don’t. But the bottom line, almost every instance that I can remember with every option I’ve ever had. You know, the producer, we have some notes. And I get screenwriters Emailing me saying, should I do them, should I not do them? What’s your opinion on that if the producer is asking you for re-writes, and doesn’t have a budget to pay you?
Shane: That’s a good question? I think, I don’t like the idea of optioning something for free, because there are other options out there. I think there should always be at least a little something up front. You want to re-write for free, to a point. If it becomes you know, so taxing on you, in your spending so much time and time and time. And you feel like there is no progression, you’re kind of going in circles working for free. Then you can step up and say something. But, you know, a lot of the times, you know, it just kind of comes with the territory. You know, it doesn’t necessarily have to be written contract on how many re-writes you do and how much you’ll get paid for it. It’s kind of all part of it, I don’t know? I mean, it’s still all new to me, I don’t have too much experience. But, the
re-write process over all went really well, and you know, when it comes to options. You don’t really actually get paid until the movie begins principle photography when the movie starts shooting. So, if you can get a little something up front that’s great. But, when it comes to independent film for the most part, you’re kind of expected to do a couple of re-writes, whether it’s in your contract or not. And you don’t get paid until the movie starts shooting. We were okay with doing re-writes. It wasn’t like totally and completely tacit where we had no life. And they really had good notes, good feedback, good suggestion.
Ashley: And so you said, get a little something for the option. Can you just define that, what is, what do you consider a little something for the option? I get this question a lot. You know, pretty soon you want to option a script, and what do you consider kind of like a low end option?
Shane: Well, I don’t want to get into amounts. But, when the producers give you a little something up front? They are basically paying off out of pocket. I mean, no producers are going to buy a script. Because then they would be paying out of pocket. And that would be completely insane. You know, a little something is fine. Of course there are writers who have optioned stuff for free, and it ends u working out. But, I mean, you should, if you’re serious about making your script, and they absolutely want it and go ahead with it. They should give you a little something up front for it. You know, with the Hollywood system, of course with studios. They purchase scripts, they buy scripts. But then again, with Hollywood, where you get all the money up front. You know, it’s basically in an amount against the total purchase price. And then the same in a film, you don’t get the rest of that money until principle photography, and the movie starts shooting.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, okay, so now the film, you sold the script, they’ve gone into production, I’m just kind of curious, okay. So, what happens after that. And I want to just refer people to, I actually outlined my own experience after selling my first script. And episode #2 of the Podcast. People can go back and listen to that. But you know, sort of my expectations, of selling that first script, were vastly different from the reality of selling it. I really thought it was going to be a great stepping stone and my career was really going to take off. And I really found that, that wasn’t really the case. I mean selling my second script was probably harder. I probably was a little luckier with my first one. And it was probably a little easier. So probably harder selling the second one. And the first one, being an amateur screenwriter, and getting that first credit, really didn’t help me sell the second one. And so, I’m just curious, how your expectations, were the reality met expectations? And what was your career life like after this thing was filmed? And produced and getting out into the world.
Shane: Well, you hit the nail on the head. There is always the expectations, verses just the reality. And this is a business of ironies. There’s so many ironic thing, that those ironies come mixed. And I think one of the biggest myths is that, once you get representation, or and whether or not you have an agent or a manager? That means that you can just sort of kick-back and concentrate on the writing. Your agent or manager is going to work on everything. They’re going to go to bat for you. And they are going to do everything to help you. Hopefully that’s the case, if you have good enough representation. But, you have to understand, that your agent or manager has to deal with other clients too, especially if you are new to the roster. If you’re going to spend more time with clients who have been with them for a long time. It doesn’t just instantaneously happen. And I think another huge myth, is that if you have a movie produced and it gets released. And you’re sort of like all of a sudden thrust into the business. And for a small percentage of writers that has happened. And, I’m jealous of that, I wish that was me. I wish things would just instantaneously, it happened when I got representation, when I became a produced screenwriter. But, for the most part, that’s not always the case. There’s always two sets of dues to pay. You’re going to be paying your dues when you’re trying to break into the business. And you’re going to be paying your dues when you’re actually in the business, and trying to maintain a living. A, you know, doors have opened, but doors have also closed. And so becoming a produced writer, and that’s just the sort of sick little cold nature of this crazy roller coaster business.
Ashley: A-huh. So, can you talk a little bit about some of the specific things, like you said, the doors have opened. Maybe talk about some of that, those things that were open to you. And what your career has looked like, since selling your first script and actually having it produced, not just having it sold. But actually having it produced.
Shane: Well, this business as many people as there are in it. Are actually kind of a small global community, everybody kind of knows everybody, everyone. Everyone has worked for everyone, or everyone has worked with everyone. And so, I can contact people and say, “Hey, my name’s Shane Weisfeld, I wrote this movie, “Freezer.” And a lot of times, people have said, “Well, yeah, I know who you are.” Or, “I know the film.” Or “I know the guys that produced it.” Or, “I’ve worked with the director.” Or, something like that. You know, it’s actually something of a small community, everyone knows everyone. So, it is great being able to say, “Hey, I’ve had this film produced, came out. So, and so, produced it. And it’s great when people know who you are. And you know, people are definitely more inclined to read your stuff, like yes, if you’ve had something produced. And you’ve had something happen. But, making a mistake, is still always a struggle. You know, I’m still out there, I’m still facing the uphill battle. I’ve had some great success, a lot of things have happened to me. A lot of writers can only dream about. Which is, great. But, I still got a long way to go. And I’m still not a full steady working writer, around this business yet, I wish I was. A lot of people think that’s the case when you have to
re-produce it. Most of the time, that’s not the case.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, maybe you can talk a little bit about what are your plans for the future? What are the things you are doing to continue to advance your career?
Shane: Well, talking about timing again, when “Freezer” came out. My manager at the time, he actually shut down the management part of it’s company. It still owned the business. He just was producing and doing other things. But, I was without representation for a while. And of course that always sucks. But, I was used to it and went back to that. I do have another manager again. I saw and heard back in October, she is again in Los Angeles. My previous manager was from Los Angeles. So, I work with my manager up as a team, which is great. And the greatest thing about my current manager, is, she knows I spent years, and years going out there on my own, generating my own interest, generating my own connections. And so, you have to understand that a lot of times the connections you make are going to be just that, “Connections that you make yourself.” But the great part of it is, someone is interested in reading my stuff. I can say, hey, I’ll have my manager send it over. And it’s going to be the L.A. people, or Canadian people.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, well Shane, this has been a fascinating interview. It’s a real look at a screenwriter and the transformation. And so, I really appreciate you coming on the show. Maybe to wrap things up, maybe you could tell people how they can follow along with what you are doing? If you are on Twitter, maybe you can mention your Twitter handle, if you are on Facebook. Anything you are comfortable sharing that people might be able to get to know you a little bit better.
Shane: Sure, I am on Twitter, it’s @ShaneWeisfeld, W-e-i-s-f-e-l-d. I just have had a blog for a while. And I have kind of shut that down. And transitioned it into Twitter. But, I think you can still see my blog. And my blog is sort of a testament as to what has happened to me over the last several years. In terms of the struggle, the determination, in terms of dealing with rejection, in terms of the person. So, I think I still go out there and read it. But, you can certainly follow me on Twitter.
Ashley: Okay, okay, perfect, perfect. Well, Shane once again, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Great story, and I wish you luck with your next sale.
Shane: Thanks a lot, great talking to you.
Ashley: Perfect, great talking to ya.
Ashley: I want to mention two things that I am doing at “Selling Your Screenplay, to help screenwriters find producers who are looking for new 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 month, per newsletter. I went and Emailed my large database of producers and asked them if they would like to receive this newsletter of monthly pitches. So far I have well over 300 producers that have signed up to receive it. These are producers who are hungry for material and are 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 – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select, again that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
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 a lot of great paid screenwriting leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting ten to twelve high quality paid new leads per week. These are producers and production companies that are actively looking to buy new material. Or are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project that they are working on. If you sign-up for SYS Select, you will get these leads Emailed directly to you several times a week. These leads run the gambit, from production companies looking for a specific type of spec. script. To producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up on of their ideas. Producers are looking for: Shorts, features, TV, and web series pilots. It’s a huge a ray of different types of projects that these producers are looking for. So, no matter what type of material you write, I’m sure you will be able to find some matches on, in these leads. And these leads are exclusive to our partner and SYS Select members. To sign-up, again, just go to –
www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select. Again, that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/select.
In the next episode of the Podcast I am going to be interviewing Lou Simon. She is an independent Writer/Director/Producer. We talk through her career, kind of how she got started writing, directing, producing? And then we also talk about her latest film, “All Girls Weekend.” She’s a real inspirational story, she’s someone who just went out there and did it. And I think now she’s on her fourth or fifth, or her sixth film. She’s got quite a few films under her belt. And she talks and just digs into the nuts and bolts of how she got this career along. So, anybody looking to you know, write and direct, and produce their own material will not want to miss this interview. So, keep an eye out for that episode.
That is the show, thank you for listening.