This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 199: Director / Producer Scott Waugh Talks About His New Film, 6 Below: Miracle on the Mountain.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #199 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing director, producer Scott Waugh. He recently did a film called Six Below: Miracle on the Mountain. We dig into this project and also how as a producer and director he finds projects like this to produce. Stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode viable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on twitter or liking it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re all very much appreciated. 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 incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on.
You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for episode number #199. 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. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log line and creative letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So a couple of quick words about what I’m working on. Quick update on The Pinch, the crime-action/thriller feature film that I’m finishing up. I am making some good progress. I launched the first trailer last week, I launched the second trailer this week. It’s a little longer and a little more polished, so if you’re curious to see that I will link to it in the show notes. Also my dialogue editor has finished up his portion so I’m gonna be picking up his hard drives and bringing them to the sound mixer hopefully today or tomorrow, which is really the final stage of audio is basically the sound mix. It definitely feels like the homestretch now. My mixer thinks he can do his portion in about a month, so hopefully I’ll have this thing done in the next four to six weeks. Once he mixes the sound I basically just bring it back to my editor, we drop the thing into the timeline and then we just start out putting the different versions of the film. It should be a fairly straight forward process.
There was a couple of glitches when my colorist output the file. There was a couple of glitches that need to be redone but again we’re just at the very very homestretch here now. And as I said, I’m really gonna be pushing to get this thing done here in the next four to six weeks. I’ve already started the ramp up on the marketing side. I’m going to be sending some emails to distributors this week and probably start to submit to some festivals as well. So now I’ll start to see how this thing is gonna be received by the world and to me that’s really the most exciting part of it. I mean, it’s been a lot of work and it’s just bringing it all together. It’s just been such a long process. It’s hard to be super excited. It feels more just like running a marathon. You’re happy to be finished but the biggest emotion is just the sense of just finishing up and moving on. So that’s good.
Again, I just wanna mention the webinar I did a couple of months ago about The Pinch. It’s called The Pinch: Producing a Micro-Budget Feature Film. I go into great detail on exactly how I wrote, directed and produced this micro-budget film. Specifically I talk about how to write a micro-budget screenplay, how to raise money to shoot your micro-budget screenplay, which includes a lot of information about how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, which I did for The Pinch. And then I also dig into pre-production and production and of course post production. The webinar is over three hours long so there’s a ton of information in it. I worked hard to put this webinar together so I am charging a small fee to view it. But if you’re looking to write, direct and or produce a micro-budget film I think this could really help you. There are a ton of directors and producers out there looking for the next great micro-budget script. So even if you’re just a writer who’s looking to understand this market better, I think this webinar could be very valuable to you as well.
I think writing scripts that can be shot on a micro-budget level is a great way to meet up and coming directors and producers and get some produced writing credits. You can find this webinar at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/thepinch and the word “The Pinch” is all lower case and all one word, and of course I will link to it as well in the show notes. On the writing front, I finished the kids TV pilot script. I’ve been talking about this for the last month or so. I finished that a few weeks ago and now I am starting to work on episode number two. The producer is trying to raise the money to shoot the first six episodes which will kind of be like a limited run first season, so while he’s getting the logistics figured out, I’m starting to churn out these episodes. It’s actually been a very fun project to work on. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever done. I’ve never written anything for kids. It’s fairly easy to write these scripts. They’re 20 to 30 paged…around 24 or 25 pages and I would say it’s taking me about 30 hours to write one episode. Not too bad.
The comedy is broad. It’s kids and animals, so as long as I keep it family friendly, I can make it really as crazy and silly as I want. I have two kids as well—a seven year old and a four year old, so I watch a lot of these shows now, so I feel pretty well versed in what sort of comedy works for kids and what they find funny. The big limitation with this project is going to be budget since it’s very speculative to do a show like this basically where the producer is trying to produce it first and then sell it. There’s constant pressure to keep things simple and cheap and keep the budget as low as possible because as I said, this is very very speculative. So that’s been the biggest challenge with the pilot episode. The producers read it and everybody seemed to like it, but that was sort of the biggest notice, for the budget they have, will they be able to shoot it. I’m sure I’m gonna have to go back into that pilot episode, probably do a lot of cutting and condensing trying to make things simpler.
With this second episode, now that I’ve kind of had some meetings with the producers and gotten a feel of where they’re going, I’m trying to keep this second episode super, super simple. Only a handful of sets and just keep it so that they can shoot it on the budget that they have. Going through something like The Pinch was a great experience for a writer because since I also produced that, I have a much better understanding of sort of what things are costly, what things are difficult to shoot and so I think all of that is as well helping me write this. But that’s really gonna be the biggest challenge, is can we shoot the scripts that I’ve written on the budget we have? The idea that I came up with probably does not lend itself to super cheap. As I said it’s animals and that can be somewhat challenging. A lot of takes off in time. It’s not always easy to get animals to do exactly what you want, but that’s sort of inherent to the premise because the actor that they have is an animal trainer, so that’s sort of wrapped in there. There’s no getting around that. And this animal trainer has all the animals, and so that’s a big piece of it, but it’s definitely gonna take some time, so it’s really just a matter of coming up with a story that’s interesting, fun, makes kids laugh but still adheres to the budget.
Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing director and producer Scott Waugh. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Scott to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Scott: Absolutely. My pleasure.
Ashley: To start out maybe you can give us a little overview of your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Scott: Well, I grew up in Los Angeles. My father was the original Spider Man in the TV show 1976. So I was an onset child my whole life and I started doing stunt work when I was 12 and did stunts for about 25 years. I went to college, studied camera, studied acting, got my degree in fine arts acting and I always knew I wanted to be a director and thought I better nail the craft of acting if I wanna be a good director. So I did get my degree and then I came to LA and started producing my first features in ’97 and that’s kind of taken me all the way to here now, so it looks like…I hate to say it but it looks like I’ll be going on my 20th year.
Ashley: I hear it. The years go by quick. Let’s dig into Six Below: Miracle on The Mountain starring Josh Harnett and Mira Sorvino. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or a log line for this film.
Scott: The pitch on it has always been that it was a crystal meth addict snowboarder that got lost in Mammoth Mountain in 2004 and it’s a true story. The book was sent to me. It’s about his survival on those eight days on the mountain, and they pitched it to me. It was kind of crazy but they were like, “No, he falls in a river and gets completely wet, it’s all below zero temperatures and wolves come out there. All those crazy stuff and he ends up losing both legs and has to eat his own skin to get out.” And I was like, “Wow, that’s a crazy story.” So they sent me the book and I looked at the bottom of the title and it says, “The true story of Eric LeMarque.” I was like, “Eric LeMarque.” And I went up to my assistant and I said, “Did Eric LeMarque play hockey?” And he said, “Yeah, he played for the Boston Bruins. And I was like, “Oh my God, show me a picture.” So he showed me a picture and I looked at this guy and I’m like, “Oh my God, I played hockey with this guy for six years when I was a kid and his dad was my coach and I always wondered what happened to him. I mean, they originally sent me the book to produce it and turn it into a movie but once I found out it was one of my childhood friends I was like, “Man, I got to direct this. This is incredible.”
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding. Let me just touch on something you just mentioned. You said that somebody sent you this book. I just want to touch on…as a producer, how does material typically flow to you? Was the person who sent this book a colleague or a friend? Do people just pitch you cold queries, they send you emails. Maybe just talk about how material like Six Below just filters through your sphere.
Scott: Well the traditional sphere is through my agent Mike Esola and then those that know me and have relationships with me, they usually just kind of direct route email it or just give me a call and say, “Hey now, I got this book.” That’s kind of how Six Below was. A friend of mine that was an up and coming producer wanted to turn this into a movie and he sent it to me and that’s kind of how it all started, not being known to him that I knew him.
Ashley: Yeah. So how did you ultimately find a writer? You optioned the book and then do you have a number of writers you’ve worked with in the past? Maybe you can talk about that process of finding the right writer to turn this book into a screenplay.
Scott: Well, this one’s kind of funny because right place right time. My assistant at the time wanted to be a writer and had been really working on it and when this whole thing was spinning up I was actually on prep for another film and he asked me if I would give him a shot. He was like, “Let me just write the first 20 pages and if you like it, great, if you don’t then I will find somebody else.” I had nothing to lose. I was like, “Yeah man, go ahead. Write the first 20 pages.” So he wrote the first 20 pages and gave me to read and they were great. I was like, “Well, keep on going.” And that’s it man, it’s a journey. His first screenplay that’s been produced and now he’s no longer my assistant, he’s a writer.
Ashley: Had you read something that he had written before this so that you at least had some confidence that he might be able to pull it off?
Scott: Yes, I had. He had a spec script that he had written that’ I’d read before and he did a lot of treatment writing for myself.
Ashley: I just wanna ask, there’s a lot of people that are writers, they get this jobs as assistants to producers or even TV and features. Maybe you can talk about that protocol for how he approached you. What is appropriate for an assistant or somebody working in that capacity to talk to their boss and say, “Hey, I’m a writer and I have a script. Would you like to read it?” Maybe you can just talk about sort of that relationship and what you feel is appropriate and maybe even some things that you kind of feel is inappropriate.
Scott: I think you want to be aware of somebody’s time is always really a concern. I think being cordial always helps and I think the mere fact that he didn’t wanna waste too much time…”Give me a shot and I’ll write you the whole script” It was, “Let me just write the first act and see if you like that. And then I’m doing it for free. I just wanna show you that I can do this.” I love that tenacity in people that really wanna try and show you and I mean, look, there’s no harm no foul if at all it doesn’t cost the producer any money and it gives this person a shot and if it’s good I don’t think a producer’s gonna pass it up because he’s not an established writer. If the writing’s good, the writing’s good. That’s all that really matters.
Ashley: Had he done this before…like had he written some other scripts basically for free on spec for you and your company or was this the first one and has he done this subsequently after this one?
Scott: This was his first one and he did write another spec script after this and now I think he is actually getting paid to write.
Ashley: I see. Let’s talk about the development process a little bit. Maybe you can just talk about how that process went. So he’s cooking up this first draft, you’re reading it. What tools do you guys use. Do you guys get in meetings, you read the script, you get in meetings, do you do it over Skype, do you do it via email? Maybe just talk through just the logistics of that development process and then maybe we can even get into some of the actual specifics of what development notes you gave him.
Scott: Well I think with myself I always tried to get in the room with the writer and really [inaudible 00:15:37] out some of my notes and certain sections. I think with Madison and how I always work is, I don’t like to work in micro notes [inaudible 00:15:49] unless the script is just swinging and there’s only a few tweaks. But I do find that normally when I come onto a project, I’m kind of looking at the macro level. I like to note pin hole creativity. I want the writer to be able to take it and run with it. So I’ll always give very broad macro notes of what if this character didn’t do this. What if we got rid of one character entirely? Those kinds of notes that are really broad, that I think will help the material but that I think will really let the writer still be really creative, take the note and run with it. That’s kind of how we were on Six Below in the beginning.
Ashley: Maybe you can just speak a little bit on raising the money. You have a draft of the script done, what were your next steps then about going out and actually trying to get this thing into production and ultimately that means just raising the money.
Scott: Well, I’ve been very fortunate to have made a bunch of films now, so I kind of have a great [inaudible 00:17:05] line to financiers and studios and I basically wanted to do this on the independent side. I just wanted full creative freedom so I partnered with a technology company [inaudible 00:17:19] and then [inaudible 00:17:20] who have a relationship with some [inaudible 00:17:23]. So it was kind of pretty easy honestly because I wanted to keep the budget down because I’m a producer on it as well, so I wanted to be financially responsible.
Ashley: Maybe talk about the logistics of Josh Hartnett and Mira Sorvino. Were they on before you got the financing or did they come on after?
Scott: They came on kind of simultaneously. I was after [inaudible 00:17:58] the financing on his side and I told him I was gonna go after [inaudible 00:18:04] and he totally agreed with it and then he helped me get after Mira Sorvino. It was a kind of a tag. I’ve always been a [inaudible 00:18:12] fan so I was super excited to go after Josh with this.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. How can people see Six Below? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be?
Scott: Yeah, the release is next week [laughs]. It’s October [inaudible 00:18:30] release theatrically 500 screens across United States on October 12th at 7:00 pm. One night one screen and you can go to [inaudible 00:18:43].com type in your zip code and it will tell you the closest theatre to you. And then on October 13th we have our Day-and-Date release. So it will be in 10 theatres spread out across America and also on premium downloads…paper view etc. And then [inaudible 00:19:05] in November.
Ashely: Yeah, perfect. And so what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Anything you’re comfortable sharing. A twitter handle, Facebook page, blog…is there anything you actively use in terms of social media just for putting out your work and letting people know what you’re up to?
Scott: Well, the only social channel I use is Instagram and it’s Action For Life. That’s my handle on Instagram and it kind of gives people a peek at where I’m at and what I’m doing.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I will round that up and I will put that in the show notes so people can click over to it. Scott I really appreciate your time and coming to talk with me. Good luck with this film.
Scott: Thank you so much.
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In the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing producer Dana Lustig. She has been producing for years and just did a movie with Daniel Ratcliff called Jungle. So we talk about that film as well as how she got her start in the business and how she currently finds scripts to produce. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Scott. I loved the story Scott told about the screenwriter on this film, Madison Turner. He saw an opportunity and he put himself out there. He offered to write the first act for free. He wasn’t asking Scott to read a full screenplay, just one act and he made it clear that if Scott didn’t like it he could toss it away without a problem. Scott wanted to make this movie. He was already invested. You had him tell the story about how he knew this guy from previously…the main guy that the book was about.
So Scott was invested. Scott wanted to make this film. When Madison comes along and makes this offer, it’s really a perfect fit. I mean, what producer isn’t going to accept this offer? Scott had to hire a screenwriter, so Madison shows up says, “Hey, give me a shot at it. I’ll write the first 20, 30 pages and I’ll do it for free.” I mean, what producer is not gonna jump at that? It’s saving Scott time. It’s helping Scott out. From Scott’s perspective this is a no lose situation. It’s a potential win-win. It’s a win for Scott and it’s a win for Madison as the writer. And that’s exactly what you wanna create for producers. You wanna create these no lose situations so there is no reason for them to turn you down. And just take a step back and really think about this for a minute. When you send a creative letter or a pitch or any kind of approaching a producer that you don’t necessarily have a relationship with, you’re asking them to help you out.
You’re asking them for a favor. They don’t know you and now you want them to take several hours out of their day and read your full screenplay which most likely isn’t gonna be something they like or something they can do anything with. So really think about that. Sending out queries, it can work but you’re basically asking the producer a favor. “Hey, you don’t know me. My script may not be something you can actually use but would you check it out.” Some producers are in the mark of a script, some producers are open to that, but it’s a better strategy if you can figure out ways to create these sorts of win-win no lose situations for producers. Now there’s a couple of parts to what Madison did for Scott, so I do wanna just touch on those very briefly. First, obviously Madison had to be in LA. So if you’re not in LA you’ve got to get to LA. You’ve got to find that low level job at a production company. This is sometimes easier said than done. I’ve talked a lot about this on my podcast. There’s a variety of ways of doing that. You can do temp work. There are temp services in LA that specialize in doing tempwork to production companies or entertainment companies. So that’s a great way.
I’m not sure of the podcast number but Eric Burke did a podcast episode with me and he did exactly that. He goes through exactly sort of his…the way he went about doing it. So I would say check that one out. I’ll round it up and I’ll put that in the show notes. If you wanna listen to a real concrete nuts and bolts story about how one person made this work you can check that out. The other part of this is that this film is not necessarily a huge studio film, so it’s unlikely to get a ton of attention. Just having one credit like this and I can speak from experience on this, isn’t going to necessarily make Madison’s career just take off. There’s still a lot more work for him to do. It sounds like he’s in a great position to do it and it sound like he’s a hustler so I’m sure he’ll be able to take advantage of any hit he gets from this project. But be prepared for that too. One credit does not make a screenwriting career. You’re gonna have to put yourself out there over and over again. You’re gonna have to take chances.
You’re probably gonna have to write some material for free and we have to talk to Madison about this but there’s a good chance…I’ve done some of this in my career where I’ve written stuff for free and it doesn’t work out so as a screenwriter you’re constantly putting yourself out there and things don’t always turn out the way they do for Madison in this particular case. And as I said, if we were to talk to Madison, I would say there’s a good chance he might have tried things before that didn’t work out. He might have written 50 scripts for free for producers, and this is one that finally actually did take off. So just keep that in mind. I mean, you’re looking at sort of the one that worked here because there’s a produced film but realize that you may go through this several times and that’s part of the process. I’m not saying that to discourage you or to tell you not to do it. I’m telling you that’s part of the process. You’re most likely gonna write scripts for free for producers and they’re not gonna get produced and you’re gonna be back to square one. You’re gonna have to take a step back and you have to do it again.
Even after this credit from Madison, there’s a good chance he’s still gonna have to write some free stuff and continue to hustle and continue to get his stuff out there. There’s no free lunch and there’s no coasting. So just kind of understand that going into this. And the reason why I think it’s important to understand and I’m not trying to be negative, the reason I think it’s important to understand it is because that’s part of the process and if you understand that going into it, you won’t be discouraged when it happens. This is part of the process. Madison is building relationships with guys like Scott and Scott is a real director and a real producer and someone who’s actually making movies and so now they have an even stronger relationship and even maybe it will be five years down the road, maybe Scott will look back to Madison to write another script. You just don’t know how these relationships are gonna work out but that’s really the key to any of these things.
It’s building these relationships with other smart talented people on the business that are making movies and partnering with them and getting to know them. That’s really the most important thing. I think probably the most important lesson you could take away from this is that Madison now has a really good ally in Scott and Scott probably is gonna keep an eye out for other opportunities for Madison and hopefully Madison is pursuing other producers and trying to meet other people and get a manager and move other things away from Scott. He’s trying to push his career in other directions as well because certainly you don’t wanna rely on just one person or one producer or one director for your own career. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.