This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 171: Canadian Writer / Director Ed Gass-Donnelly Talks About His New Feature, Lavender.
Ashley: Welcome to episode #171 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and Blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing Writer/Director, Ed Gass-Donnelly. Ed recently wrote and directed a feature film called, “Lavender.” We dig into this film, and we also talk a bit about how he broke into the business as well. So, stay tuned for that.
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So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing, Writer/Director,
Ed Gass-Donnelly. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Ed to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Ed: Yeah, my pleasure, thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Ed: A, I’m from Toronto, Canada. And I just grew-up in mostly a prominent theater director, back in the ‘70’s through filming, through the present day. I really started working, you know, I had aspirations of directing theater. And I did that for a little while. And then I guess that was it. I mean, like around, I started making even my first short film, maybe like 16 years ago now.
I think it was right around like the advent of the Cannon, XR-1, you know, like that first mine DVD camera, it actually looked decent. Suddenly, it was right around the you know, I call it, the reservation of film making. Where something wasn’t even need as much stuff. Or to where as you didn’t need as much money, you know, to pull it off. So, I was always intrigued by the idea of movies I had just seen. So much more technical than say, doing theater. You can literally have an empty room, and actors, and you could make in theater. You needed a bit more that that, as you could to make a movie. I was always daunted by that. And then around that time I just got a to a just or, and you know I worked in, a director that sits in on a MLW that sit on to get a feel for it. And then, sometime there after I started adapting, you know, some writers work into short films, making my own. That just kinda into videos, and eventually into features. But that, kinda the.
Ed: That’s how it began.
Ashley: Yeah. And let’s talk about those short films, just for a quick second. I’m a big proponent of writers, you know, writing and then producing their own shorts. Maybe you can just talk about you know, how did you fund these and ultimately how did you promote them, to help you get to the point where you went from shorts to features?
Ed: Well, I mean, it’s funny. I think a bit of a double-edged sword. In some ways I feel like create a movement. Like permission the crappiest feature, it didn’t work, even as the best short in some ways. Because at least I guess it’s so not even make a movie on iPhone. To at least somehow be able to complete the trauma by finishing a feature somehow? It be more impressive, at least a joker, a at least I get the perfection in an industry where people didn’t confuse this. I guess that’s one thing, for people to see your short and get annoyed by it. It’s like, oh, you made a short film? It’s like, join the club of millions. But, at least, the unique thing, you made a feature. And it’s weird, now that I couldn’t go and make a bad feature. But, I think you can actually spend too much time making shorts. I guess I hear them saying. But, you know, when I first started doing them. You know, my first couple shots at film. And it was just, back in the day. It was a camera assistance who had a bunch of short end, you know I would give them their chance to shoot their first, one of their first projects. You know, we shot everything for, home movies made for like 6-minute film. We shot in 35mm and we made it for like $2000.00. Which is like $20.00 American dollars. And back to I guess, I don’t remember how we raised the money? We did like a fundraiser, I’ve always been pretty good at doing fundraising events. Going to like local job centers. And you know and getting stuff donated to them. And you know, like a charity present to them. You know, how do you help like a movie kind of event? And that was kinda how we in Canada raise we didn’t really have a grant money you can get. For like, my first two I made without grant money. And then I got like, grant money for those others.
Ashley: Okay, what was your first feature film? Was it, “This Beautiful City?”
Ed: That was my first feature.
Ashley: Okay, so how did you make the leap from short films to feature films? Was it just a function of doing these same things you’ve been doing with the shorts? Going and getting grant money, and going, you know, and talking to people to donate some money to it. Just do it on a bigger scale?
Ed: No, I mean, at that point “Beautiful City” was actually with a big play of mine that I had done. And we had sort of in the process had thought sort of came, had actually made a good. I movie when I still the time I had, even though I hadn’t done a play in a couple few years. But, a so, actually, you know, I had gotten it on like a one hour play, I can’t remember now? But, I okay, actually really cool. And so, we tried several different avenues and doors. In Canada, a couple of places that were funding, like “The Canadian Film Center.” Based on a couple of movies a year each. Even though we funded, we tried those each. But, ultimately didn’t succeed. Which ultimately, actually the whole idea. They recommended this guy to the script, if we had gotten then, and not let us shoot at that point. And we didn’t realize that until like we know, that crowed in June. You know, making us wait for another year. It certainly took, in the whole process of that time, I really. Like okay, the whole idea of this is really cool. It was actually a movie, we’re going to need a lot more time. You know, my first feature screenplay. I could really use that extra time. So, when it came to actually making, we tried to get like the divisional, you know, at that time. We were looking for a quarter of a million dollars. You know, there’s like not grants, some is just weird, just now. And for like indefinitely, and according to leverage, a bit weird, kind of like in-between. It’s not like a full-on movie. But it’s not supposed to not change it. So, we actually got like, the only way we managed to pull that off? Was then, we should then find a distributor. At the time we were a bit cocky. But, they had unheard of really like a $75,000.00 MG, instead of just off the script. And having me only make. That was enough to trigger Canadian Tax Credits. So, and then, you know. We were hoping for you know, some grant money that didn’t arrive. And well, you should make this movie with like, $150,000 later. I had to shoot it on digital or on if we could get $100 more. My partner and I like, my producing partner and I, he like yeah, he and I basically. I think he borrowed $50 grand, he put in. We did partner with our own money in. Which you know, of course. We were supposed to do, didn’t even make that per say. But, the thing was, by having done that, in that where as a feature film, at least from a funding level. I agree someone with a lot of the action we wouldn’t have been able to do before. So, even though, in some ways it’s like, a lost leader. And it should be a passion project, I mean we could make on our own with our own money, I highly recommended it. But, we did end up, you know, getting a substantial amount through cash credit distributor. If we didn’t have that distributor. None of this would have been able to come together.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s dig into “Lavender” Starring Justin Long and Abby Cornish and Dermot Mulrony. Maybe you can start out by just giving us a quick pitch and or log-line for that film.
Ed: Yeah, it is a psychological thriller, and a photographer who is obsessed with photographing these old houses and has no idea why? And when she wakes up from an accident with missing memories. As she pieces her memory back together. She finds out that she owns one of these old run down houses that she is photographed in. She may have been responsible for the death of a family she doesn’t even know she had, one lived there. It’s the whole pieces is kinda like a psychological memory play with a super natural twist.
Ashley: I see. So, how, where does this idea come from?
Ed: Like I said earlier. It’s probably the part, the single most, and probably the longest, to really read the script for it. My friend Collen, had brought me new coat, had said to me, had written initials, that I had sent years and years ago. And had a sense of ideas, I wasn’t connecting with it. Then years later, I after that, he had brought me copy of the draft. Oh, I could have potential with this. I mean, we were going to schedule it for a while. And then, ultimately I started coming on, and he wrote it for the next while. It was a sort of slow evolution because the challenge for me in any movie that had these mental stories. What the, I had to think what in, she wasn’t the target for, and especially for the ghost in the big vehicle, I mean, why now? You can’t check, oh, 25 years later, ago, to the day. And that’s why they start, as opposed to time. You can get to a strong, emotional catalyst. Once we sort of figured that out, that for me was fun to see how I could make this, in the end and justify her position while she walked in this house. You know, and the thing too, see how this film. See, how this happy couple suddenly like, oh, their house is gone and then they fix it. That’s just kinda, if people could empower to come back. I wish the idea, how can this story? What does it ultimately accomplish? In “Lavender” very much it’s all about. Logic and power, where they, there is a creature condition in this relationship. And so much for the course of resolving everything, half of the movie. You sort of feel like her, and her husband and family they can control this together to resolve in the sort of splinter the dividing them to finally be concord. So that, it was all those ideas, you know, elements that lead you to the being. I think, you know, conventionally has a greater sense of depth. And direction and making.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s talk about the collaboration with Collen on this? It sounds like from what you just described. Just kind of correct me if I’m wrong? But you, basically took the draft that he gave you. You went off by yourself and did re-writing. Or was there some back and forth where you’re getting notes from him. And he was writing scenes.
Ed: Yeah, there, I mean, at first, I hired him as to do work on it. And then it was just a sort of faulting, he sort of did. He did like, okay, I don’t really know what we’re up to? The frank that we could have like, put it in a drawer, for you know, six months. And then one day, I just started hacking on it. It really was a back and forth, and it just became a collaboration after that.
Ashley: Let’s just talk a little bit about your own writing process. When you’re writing a script. How much time do you spend, sort of in the preparation stages, versus, the actual opening up “Final Draft” and writing script pages.
Ed: A, I mean, arbitrarily I know, writing doesn’t take very long. But, coming of itself and the problems it does, like, sort of have to do with things that are important form. In a notebook, or like structuring it, and you know, figuring out either, like looking to re-writing somebody else’s material. If body imagines you can resolve with my own image. And kind of plunk it out in the short form, and I do that so I can research, and fully understand what the movie is? And then if, execution I can sort of turn out a draft. And then sort of look at it, like a whole. But, I’m only able to write that quickly if I’ve actually You know, fully planned out exactly what I’m going to do with that. It isn’t going to change, but you have to have a strong thesis, at least for me.
Before I can write, okay. I know I can do exploratory and figure out and try and plot it in my head and all that.
Ashley: Yeah. And so, I guess this question? Is being directed specifically at “Lavender.” But, I’m curious, just to kind of get your thoughts. How do you know when a script is ready to start sending out to people? You must have some trust to producing part yours or people in the industry that just want to get their feedback on. And how do you know when it’s not that time to start sending it out?
Ed: I know, I think it’s a constant failure. You constantly think it’s ready. But, you know, there’s a part right now. You know, we could have sent it out right now, and it was optioned for a while, and ultimately it would have floundered for a while. But, then you know, I spent some time on it. And the later, hopefully, people that want it. But, it was like, I didn’t know that the first time. I couldn’t, I don’t know? I could have made the purpose I made. It was like the first time flailing with it a bit. So, I don’t really know? Certainly, from in terms of, like, sooner or later towards the end, I send it to somebody, I sent it to a handful of friends. That are like we’ll keep it, you know, we won’t share it. I’ve certainly been through that were given certain consideration. But, whether it’s like, an agency, manager, or my wife, or a couple of friends. Like well, a couple of my producing friends, who are my close friends, who I offered to share you know, my dirty laundry. And get their initial feedback off of, even if it’s super rough. But there is so much. I can usually get the department like, I don’t know what else to do with it. You know, I feel like is it accomplishing what I think it’s accomplishing? What I’ll do, I don’t have any further ideas. And then, you know, at some point. And my need appearance accomplish something. Or, you’re kinda given a trial by fire. See how it’s, even testing the waters, before going wide with it. Even if you can talk a couple of more producers, fine. The only bother is, reading the second time down the road. If she realizes it’s getting not hitting the big fat somebody looking for. Or it’s not quite accomplishing what you think it should be accomplishing. But, yeah, I don’t know the answer to that question? But, it’s all I could think of.
Ashley: No, you gave us a good answer. So, let’s talk about the taking and the interpreting those notes. So, now you’ve sent this script out to a few trusted, close friends, you’re starting on to get feedback on. Maybe you could walk through that process? Do you know when to take someone’s feedback? How do you know when to ignore someone’s feedback? Which still approach to feedback when you’re at the early stages of development in a script?
Ed: Well, I mean, it’s, I’m opened to that. I think it can be the same approach, thought process. In the first of all the bag. No, in the know or you know like the plot for that is big enough. You know, I mean, is because of a current theme? People want to be pointing out the symptoms and not the problem. Oh, you know, cut this scene out, this character doesn’t work. But, it might be that, that character is fine, it’s just that there is an underlying problem. They’re just being, of the symptom and not the disease. So, I just trying and look at, especially in the beginning, it’s not that feedback isn’t important, it adds. If everybody, if one person tells me that, you know, the end isn’t going to work, but everybody else responds positively to it? Then I’m going to have a deep seated fear that the ending won’t work. And then one person finds it best. Darn you, you’re probably right. But, in general, I look for someone who’s had a brilliant idea. Because I think at the end of the day, I don’t care if you put up with them, if it’s a strong idea, go with it.
But, generally if you thinking how to fit in how to solve for that first victim? You get to a point of a problem, I mean, yeah, it’s more for me, a bunch of people I think the same thing, then listen. Maybe not to listen just in how to fix it, but it’s not accomplishing the goal you said I could accomplish.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, okay, So, let’s kinda talk about once you’re done with the script? What were your first steps? You now feel like you’ve got a script that you have polished up you feel like it’s pretty-good. What were your first steps to actually to get this movie finally financed?
Ed: Well, it’s funny, as collaborators, so whatever that is? Writing partners or financier, in the case of “Lavender” A high profile American producers were attached at one point. But, ultimately he ended up stopped producing, became a Studio Head. So, you know, something to do with love of life came back to me. And you know, finally I could produce this film out of Caan, I don’t need, you know, at the time we were looking at being a larger movie. And now, it was pointed out I don’t feel this happening, a trillion-dollar movie, I think we could get $5 million dollars for a movie. And I ended up partnering with it. A friend who, David Loe, who’s produced, the other producer in the movie, him and myself. But, originally we were going to work with another movie that fell apart. He like really responded to the material. I’m always trying to find, you know, a good ali to work with, and people that you trust and like. Because you know, it can be too long a process to work with assholes.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah.
Ed: So, some different, at that point. A day luxury trying to find a financer. It just suddenly, kind of came together. It felt quickly at that point. And it really just became a sort of all full of that financing was conditional on finding the right actors. So, I was at the process of making those offers, instead of the theme.
Ashley: Yeah. So, let’s back it up just a little bit. And you mentioned like your producing partners on this. We can talk a little bit about how you built those relationships. Because it seems like that ultimately a key, is having those relationships with people who have access to those financiers. Maybe you could just walk us back. And talk about specifically these people you work with on this project and how you ultimately met them originally?
Ed: I mean if something, I guess the nature of this existing, you meet people. And then I met Dave. I had been hired to write a super, another medical producer that was set in Alaska, so let’s shoot this thing in Canada, and take advantage of the tax credits. And they brought on Dave as mel, and ultimately offered me Canadian Credits on the film. As we worked togther on that project, and we became friends. And then ultimately that film fell apart. So, it was just a coincidence that we heard and ultimately got attached to the same project. And we were friends with each other that a couple of years later, a more like a year later. I shared this script with him, and suddenly we were working together. So, the moral, craving, it’s nice to be and maintain contact with your friends. But, ultimately the fact coming down to that. No way I could have planned to meet or socialize, a different kind of we, ended up working on a film that didn’t happen.
So, people for life, oh you know, they should have projects, we’ve gotten over all that.
Don’t just take a pact, responsible for. I think there is some value in you know, maintaining connections. With people you share a response with.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I wonder if we could talk about the cast first, for a second? I get a lot of screenwriters asking, hey, how can I get such, and such an actor attached to my project? Maybe you could just talk briefly about how you got these main actors attached to the project?
Ed: Well, I mean you need to get people attached without having money in place is tricky. You definitely need to check on things. I’m going through it, I’m on a project now, where, unless you got you know, I really high-profile producer, or you know, a high-profile director. A high-profile means actor talent already attached. You know, if you’re going to go out and go to an agent. Hey, can you tell your client, so we would love for her to play the lead in this movie. If you lie here, unless you might pass it on. It’s at the bottom of the pile, or might not be a second thought. There might be a special offer. Getting an agent is you know, legally you must listen to their contract obligation to present the offer to their client. We have no scripts, and that became, even if it’s not that high of an offer. With “Lavender” when we had one financially on-board. The dance we do, well, they’re not necessarily going to commit. The money for the movie cast. But, you can at least get them to approve for example. A okay, you can get one of 20 actors to go and make the movie for this price or. Only get these actors for the cover price. So, they have these actors pro-legit. Then you can financial back an offer? Like for instance, we’ll pay so, and so, $100,000.00 so, and so, 10 million dollars. Then you feel confident in those. Then if the actor says, “Yes” and they all come together. They’re not putting themselves, and risk by making that offer. Or if you do that? And you the writer, or the director, just wants to go with an ax and go. Oh, I could have made this for a million dollars. And the movie doesn’t happen. I mean, you can get sued, and that’s where you all have to be careful. But, if you can have, that is where having the partner that believes in the project, can certainly make it a lot easier to go get talent.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, perfect. So well, how can people see “Lavender?” Do you know what the release schedule is going to be like for it?
Ed: I’m pretty sure it’s March 3rd, it comes out on theaters, and DOD, and I’m not sure, I’m not sure what’s been announced? I’d say. You say the first thing, I could only say a couple of things. Your interview was my first, at talking at least. So, it will definitely come out in theaters on the 3rd, in theaters as well as DOD.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. So, what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, you support a blog, whatever you’re comfortable sharing? You can just give us that now, and I’ll link to it in the show notes. I’ll round it all up and put it in the show notes. But, if there is some way that we can?
Ed: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I’m on Twitter @therealEdgd is my handle. I use it sparingly but, you said where to find me.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect, perfect. Well, Ed I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today, excellent interview. I really wish you luck with this film.
Ed: Thanks so much.
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In the next episode of the Podcast, I’m going to be interviewing, Director Cool Hoven, who just did a western called, “Brimstone.” He’s originally from the Netherlands. He built his reputation as a director locally first in his home country. And has now started to write and direct films for the International Market. He started with short films and has slowly worked his way up to features. And we dig into his entire career, from getting that first break, right up to his most recent feature film. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week.
That is the show, thank you for listening.