This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 204: Writer/Director Martin Gooch Talks About His New Fantasy / Horror Film, The Gatehouse.
Welcome to Episode #204 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today am interviewing writer, director Martin Gooch. He was one of the first podcast guests I had on the show probably almost four years ago- Episode Number #17. I will link to it in the show notes. Have a listen to it if you can as that episode really digs into the early days of Martin’s career. But today I’m talking with Martin about his latest horror film called The Gate House, so stay tuned for that interview.
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You can find all the podcast notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #204. 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 your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log-on and creative letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for a material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer, director Martin Gooch. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome back Martin to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Martin: Thanks for having me. It’s great to be back. Who knew this would happen?
Ashley: Yeah exactly, because you’re one of the original interviews that I did. Episode Number #17. I will refer people back to that. That was a great interview. We talked a lot about your background, so I’m just gonna link to that in the show notes. We won’t dig into your background so much in this interview, but I will definitely refer people to Episode #17 if they wanna know more about your origin stories. So let’s dig into your latest film The Gate House. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or log-on for the film. Just tell us what it’s all about.
Martin: Okay, so just out of interest, the original podcast is number 17, what number is this?
Ashley: Gee, you know, I record them two or three weeks before but this will probably be like number 203, 204, 205…I’m well past 200 episodes now.
Martin: That’s fantastic.
Ashley: Exactly…the E-Hi5.
Martin: Okay, so Gate House, when I originally picked this my pitch went almost exactly like this. I said, “Have you seen Pan’s Labyrinth? And they said…
Ashley: I’ve not.
Martin: Oh, there you’re supposed to say yes.
Martin: Okay. So it’s like Pan’s Labyrinth, only without the Labyrinth or Pan.
Ashley: [laughs] So, I’m not sure…I haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth and I don’t know what Pan’s Labyrinth would be without the Pan or the Labyrinth.
Martin: And they gave me the money, so that worked. It’s amazing how short a pitch can actually be but there you go. So the Gate House, it’s a gothic horror, a fantastical fable if you will. It’s all about a little girl called Eternity who’s 10 years old, who lives in a haunted gate house at the edge of an ancient wood. She likes to go and dig for buried treasure in the forest, but one day she digs up something she shouldn’t and the forest wants it back.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Where did this idea come from? What was the genesis of the story?
Martin: Well I mean, as all the show makers listening to this know, it’s very difficult to get a film going because you got to have ideas and then you got to have money, all sorts of things. So what happened was my parents live in a very small village in Somerset, which is the west of England. It’s very ancient part of England. Some of the woodland there has been woodland since before the Romans got there, so it’s unspoilt woodland. It’s 2000 years old in place. To get there you have to go past Stonehenge, which obviously people know about and that’s 5,000 years old too. It’s very very very ancient woodland. And there at my parent’s house is this little 17th Century hunting lodge. In the old days…because there would be this forest everywhere, you would go off hunting for deer and you’d hunt and you’d hunt and you’d need to stop and have a cup of tea, eat something and then carry on.
So they used to build this little lodges in places if you were very wealthy, where you could just stop, warm up and eat and that’s still there. I drove past it a thousand times and then one day I drove past it, this very beautiful, very strange structure and there was a young woman outside putting up laundry and all the trees had been cut back and the grass had been trimmed. I stopped the car and I said, “Hello, I love your house, it’s amazing.” She said, “We’ve just moved in bla bla bla.” And I said, “Well, I’m a filmmaker, I’d love to see it.” And she said, “Oh, come in, I love films.” So I had a look around and I said, “Look, if I write a film that fits your house, can we come and film here?” And she said, “Yes that will be amazing.” So [Inaudible 00:05:32] four months later we turned up and with a film crew and shot the film.
Ashley: Wow, that’s a great story. No promise, she didn’t back trade or anything and literally the whole movie could be shot on her property, on her house?
Martin: We shot for 14 days in and around the house like in the garden and stuff and there was a big section of woodland behind it, a big triangle of woods where we shot a lot of the film. Throughout the whole film got shot in that one little bit of woods. And then there’s a couple of other scenes we got…the little girl’s school and a library and there’s a couple of other bits, but they were mostly shot within 10 minutes’ drive by car of the gate house. So it was shot in Somerset.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I think actually this is when I start talking about the writing process. I think this is actually a good Segway into that. It sounds like it took you four months to write the script from the time you met this lady, from the time you go in and…actually probably it was a lot less than four months if you were shooting in four months. So maybe we can talk about that writing process of this specific script. How long did it take you to actually write the script?
Martin: I think these things, they’re kind of amorphous. You sort of think about it. You think, okay…you got to say, “Okay, I’m gonna write another film.” You have to make that decision and then you got to clear your brain a bit because usually there’s a thousand different stories going on and you got to focus on one. So you sort of…I would start making notes. I’d just make notes on bits piece of paper and then once I’ve worked out the story, which may only be a page of A4 paper, then I’ll write that up and then I’ll write the whole story out about three pages just in actions, like what happens, this happens, this happens, this happens bla bla bla.
It won’t make sense to anyone other than me. If I hand it over to someone to read they’ll say, “You’re an idiot, this doesn’t make any sense.” And then I’ll start to write it so that the formative process probably takes a couple of months, but if you sat down to write it took four weeks.
Ashley: Okay, that’s good. Now, you just said the first thing you had is one page where you worked out the story. Are you concentrating mostly on story and structure or is a lot of the working out the story like getting to know the characters? Where do you fall, is it character before story or story before character? What does that first page look like? What’s actually in that one first page that you created?
Martin: Well, I could actually open up the document and have a look to remind me but I mean, I did my Master’s degree in screen writing and I specialized in structure. So I’m not writing a book, I’m not writing a comic, I’m not writing a magazine, I’m writing a script. I do believe in structure very much. I’m not saying it has to hit some pages and I’m a big believer in the Save the Cat book. I have that just over there and I look that a lot. It’s a very entertaining read and keeps you inspired. But your film has three acts whether you like it or not. It has a beginning a middle and an end. And even if people say the three-act structure is dead, well it isn’t because your film has a beginning, it has an end and there has to be an in between, so those are three acts.
Where those act breaks happen, that’s up to you. If you wanna follow a classic Hollywood, it’s about a quarter and then a quarter to the middle and then another quarter to the end of the second act and then another quarter approximately. That’s how Hollywood does it and that’s how most successful films do it. So if you wanna follow that, you got to break your page into four and work out what the inciting incident is. Write what’s happening. What do these people want and how is it gonna end. I quite often find…I mean, I’ve written lots of screenplays now. We just finished filming my fourth film as a director or is it my fifth film as a writer and my 21st script as a screen writer. Quite often I find I work out the ending first. I know how it’s gonna end or who’s gonna be standing and then I’ll back track.
For example the film we just finished a film shooting it in America. That all happened because I was in Santa Barbara at the film festival in February and there’s a huge storm. The next morning I went outside and there’s just destruction everywhere and that whole moment just inspired me and I sat down on the pier and I wrote most of the film story in one go. It all just came out straight away. It’s a very random process, but those points on the first page will be who are the characters, who’s story is it, what do these people want and what is stopping them getting it? Who’s the bad guy or what is the thing that is stopping them getting the thing they want? That is principally what 90 percent of most films is there’s a person who wants something and they can’t get it.
Ashley: Let’s talk about this…it sounds like you got two months where you were just sort of outlining and thinking about the story, one month of actually writing the script. What do your days look like during that time? Are you also working on other projects, are you in post-production on another film so you spend half your day working on that or just, what do those actual days look like? Do you just do 12 hours, do you do two hours in the morning, two hours at night? What do the actual days look like when you’re writing?
Martin: Well I mean throughout my life I found I’ve never been able to write anything in the morning. I’m completely useless if you gave me something to write in the morning. I just can’t do it. It’s pointless. I know it so I have a company raising money to make films and that takes a lot of admin. And then the other films I’ve made still need looking after and then there would be other things I do, because you know, every now and then I get hired to go out and direct stuff. So there’s a lot of strands of my life that need looking after. Also I find that I write best in the evening because after about six o’clock the phone stops ringing, no one bothers me, any emails that need to be done can be left until tomorrow because everyone’s gone home. So suddenly there’s a sort of element of freedom after about 6 pm. But of course that’s when I wanna see my girlfriend [laughs] and have dinner and do stuff and watch TV.
So invariably I find I never start writing till about 8:00 pm or 9:00 pm. And then I’ll just write and I’ll write until I’ll run out of stuff to write. So it’s not unheard of that I’ll write all night long and go to bed at five o’clock in the morning, which is a terrible idea because then I’ll wake up at eight having had three hours sleep and feel terrible. But when I write I’ll just sit there until I’ve run out of stuff to say. I might just write 200 words or I might write 20 pages but if I get stuck I just start writing something else. So I often find that I have to have two or three scripts at once. If I get stuck on script A I just go straight to script B and if I get stuck on B I go to C. And I’ve even got a novel out that is now finished but when I was working on that that was quite good to go too. Because you’re writing an entirely different style.
Ashley: Now, with that strategy that would worry me in the sense that you would get into the circle of never finishing anything, of always working on different things. Something like this obviously at some point you said you know, this I’ve got to get this over the finish line. There’s got to be moments where you don’t have anything to write or you can’t think of anything but you’ve got to just push through it.
Martin: Yeah, totally. I mean I set myself deadlines so I’ll just say I’ll have the first draft finished by my birthday or by Christmas or by Easter or by Friday the 13th or whatever and then I’m someone who hits deadlines. I’ve always always hit deadlines in whatever I’m doing. They’ve got to be realistic deadlines. You can’t say I’m going to write 60 pages before tomorrow afternoon because you know that’s not gonna happen. But if you say I’m gonna write 60 pages before the end of next month that is possible. And I wrote a feature film once in 11 days. I’m not saying it was any good, but the sheer fact that you’ve got to write and type the keys…A screenplay is about 25,000 to 30,000 words on average if it’s like 84 to 90 pages.
So you know if you’re to get whether the script’s any good you need a physical amount of time to actually press those keys and do everything. So if you work out how long it takes you to physically do it then you can break it down and you can say alright, I’m gonna write two pages a day every day. But then all that means is that you end up with your 84 paged script and there’s no guarantee it’s gonna be any good. One of the things that always amazes me is people say, “Oh I’ve only got five pages left then I’ll finish my script.” And I say, “No,” because writing is rewriting. All you’ve got is your first draft. All you’ve got is your big chunk of marble sitting on the desk in your sculptor’s room. You just got the marble and then now you’re gonna chip away until you can get the actual…the story is deep within the marble. Like I say, one of the things I said to my script students is, you know free diving when you learn how to dive without an Aqua Lung and you just dive under the water.
The first time you dive you can only go a couple of feet and then you have to come up the water and after you’ve been free diving for years you can go all the way down to the sea bed and look for buried treasure and oysters and pearls and stuff and then come up. And writing is the same. Your story is right down there in your subconscious, a long long way from the world you’re sitting in right now. If you only just spend five minutes and then check your email, five minutes and check twitter, five minutes and check Facebook, you’ll never ever get to where the story is because it’s right down there at the bottom. So when I write I turn off Wi-Fi, I don’t look at Facebook, I don’t look at the internet. I tend to go for a lot of walks so I’m just completely on my own so I can just think things through without being bothered.
That’s where you find stories. That’s why when people go to writers retreats, writers retreats are in the middle of nowhere. You don’t have writers retreats in the middle of Soho in London because you wouldn’t get anything done, because every five minutes there’s a police siren that goes past and someone shouts or something and you’re brought back up to the surface of the water and you’ll never find the buried treasure which is deep in your subconscious. I think that when I need to hit a deadline I lock myself away. When I wrote that script that was done in 11 days, basically every morning I’d get up, I’d go into my office and I’d turn everything off and I’d just sit there and write and I got it all done and I got paid which is a nice thing. But to get a script, say you’re happy with it, I think it’s very unlikely it’s ever gonna be in the first draft. I think it’s gonna be in the later draft.
I strongly believe in script editors. If you have a really good script editor it’s great because then you can argue; you can have a conversation. The last three films I’ve done, actually more than that. In fact a couple of the films that haven’t been shot but have been written, I wrote with one particular script editor and she’s very good and she has a slightly different point of view from me and she’s not afraid to tell me that things work or they don’t work. And I’ll say, well it doesn’t work but bla bla bla and then she’ll realize that maybe it does work or maybe it’s even worse than I thought it was and it needs fixing. But to be able to have that dialogue is very important. I don’t believe that people sit down and write page one and then they get to page 90 the script is done.
I met one writer, who’s very well known, who should remain nameless, who told me he just sat down and wrote the scripts like that. And I thought, that’s amazing, that’s amazing. How brilliant he must be. Then a few years later I met the director who directed the film and he laughed and he said, “It wasn’t like that at all.”
Ashley: That’s a good story and hopefully people are really listening to that. Let’s talk about that. It’s a good Segway into what your development process looks like. So do you finish…this editor, what is her background? Is she a producer, is she someone who has studied screen writing? Who is this editor?
Martin: She is very well qualified. She writes TV drama, but a very very deep level of understanding of what makes a good script. So you can argue at a higher level rather than just someone saying, “Oh that’s rubbish.” She’ll say, ”This is rubbish, but this why it’s rubbish and this is how it cannot be rubbish.”
Ashley: So then how does the relationship work? Do you give her pages as you complete them? Do you write an entire draft and send her the full draft? What does that actually look like?
Martin: I send her a full draft. I don’t know if I’ll send her the first draft but the first draft is always they call it the vomit draft. It’s just getting everything out of your head onto paper. So I send her the not vomit draft. The vomit draft plus a little bit of polishing. So [Inaudible 00:19:28] out the first draft. So [Inaudible 00:19:30] and then she’ll give me proper notes maybe as much as 10 pages of notes. A very general, broad brush strokes tone. We talk about tone a lot because that’s very very important to get the tone right. We struggled with the tone on The Gate House. There was actually an entire sub plot and we filmed it. It’s in the script and we actually filmed it all and then in the edit the film was overrunning a little bit because I wanted it to be about 90 minutes because that helps sell the film.
I don’t know what but it’s running really long, like maybe one hour, 120 or something like that, so it’s just too long. And I looked at it and I was shaving…
Ashley: Two hours and twenty minutes.
Martin: Yeah, I mean 120 minutes.
Ashley: Okay, two hours, yeah I see.
Martin: So it was running over long and I was going through it and shaving off a frame here and a frame there and it wasn’t making a difference and then I just realized that this whole section, this whole sub plot was unnecessary. It’s didn’t add to the film. It was very nicely filmed and we had a wonderful actress in it and she did a brilliant performance and this was comprised of about five or six scenes and I sort of cut away one scene and it was running better. Then I cut away another scene and it was running better. And I cut away the other one and the other one and I didn’t want to lose this scene with the actress in because it was a really beautiful scene and we’d had great fun filming it bla la bla.
And then in the end it just had to go because it didn’t…it’s all on the DVD extras but it didn’t help the film. I should have identified that in the script but sometimes things just seem different until you see them and then once you’re in the edit, the actual edit, the picture edit rather than the script edit, things become apparent that weren’t necessarily apparent at script stage.
Ashley: So let’s talk about some genre requirements. I think it’s interesting what you just said. You wanted to get this movie down to about 90 minutes because it would help sell the film. Are there some other sort of horror conventions that you also had to adhere to? And I’m curious, even going into the script or even writing the script, are you aware of that stuff, trying to keep it at 90 pages? But really any genre requirements. I’d be curious just to hear what some of these are and what are some of the things you’re thinking about.
Martin: Well, I had a meeting with a sales agent today just before I came to talk to you. We talked about exactly the same things about genre expectations from the audience and genre requirements from the sales agent. You can make a film that does really well on the festivals and everyone loves it but they won’t sell it unless it hits a very specific niche. There’s two sides to this argument. There’s the director and the [Inaudible 00:22:27] and the artist side who just say, “Look, we need to make great films and the audience will come to them.” But the problem is that the people selling the films are not filmmakers. They are people who want to make money from selling films. If it’s a difficult sell they just won’t bother unless you’re Quentin Tarantino or Steven Spielberg. If you’re a no-name filmmaker like most of us struggling to make films, they’re only gonna sell it if it’s obvious.
If you look at the films, the independent films that do well, they’re all obvious stories. I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying they’re never complicated. The only complicated films come through [Inaudible 00:23:05] distributors or well-known directors or they’re backed by someone like, I don’t know…[Inaudible 00:23:11] or BFI. And some of those films are wonderful and every now and then you get a break out film like The Lobster for example, which is not horror but that’s where the division of the [Inaudible 00:23:22] is found. But if you’re trying to make low budget horror, you have to tick the boxes of the sales agent or they just won’t sell it. Or they’ll package it with a horrible poster that you really really hate and then they’ll sell that pretending it’s something else.
Ashley: What are some of those check boxes? It sounds like the 90 minute length is one of them. What are some of those other check boxes for horror?
Martin: It’s got to be well shot, it’s got to be reasonably acted. They would really love you to have someone famous in it. But 90 minutes, a proper monster, a three-act structure…just easy sell you know, because no one’s gonna try hard if they don’t think there’s gonna be a lot of money. So as I was just saying, it’s got to be an easy sell. It’s got to tick the boxes, it’s got to fit the genre because horror obviously has several genres. You have slasher films, you have found footage films, you have supernatural films which is really the area we’re going into with The Gate House, you got gothic fantasy which is more like crimson…the [?] Guillermo del Toro films, and then you have the classic things like ware wolf and vampire, things like that. Horror has its own sub genres, so you’ve got to think which one are you. We are gothic horror and fantasy horror.
Ashley: Okay perfect. So now you’re done with the script and let’s talk about this. You just mentioned that you had a company that the whole point of the company was to raise money for movies. And in fact you even mentioned this almost four years ago when it sounded like you were just starting that up. So it sounds like you’ve got that up and running and it’s working. Maybe you can talk about the process and we can even be specific to The Gate House. Exactly how you raised the money and who you pitched and that whole process.
Martin: Sure, I mean it’s…there’s many people out there who want to be writers and directors, but there’s far less people out there who want to be producers. The thing is, if you looked at Hollywood, Hollywood are actually just doing exactly what we’re doing but on a smaller scale or we could turn that round and say that we’re doing exactly what Hollywood’s doing on a smaller scale. They’re doing it on a bigger scale. So if Tom Cruise for example wants to make a film, he looks to his team and he says, find me a film that is science fiction and they’ll give him a whole lot of scripts or they’ll tell him and they’ll say, “This one’s really good. It’s called Oblivion bla bla bla and he’ll go, “That’s great.”
He’ll buy the option to the rights and then he’ll give them a little bit of money to set up the office and get the ball rolling. So he’ll get an executive producer credit, he’ll give them however much money, probably it’s in the millions obviously. And that’s how they make film. We’re doing exactly the same thing but on a much much much smaller scale. I wanna make a film, it’s difficult to find scripts and everyone will scream when I say that but honestly for every 10 scripts I get sent, one of them is shoot-able. All the others are completely unshootable because people tend to write films that are more expensive to shoot than the budget that we have to shoot.
I understand that people wanna make huge fantasy films to rival Lord of The Rings, but it’s impossible to do that unless you got $100 million you just can’t do it. Someone sent me a script which is really fantastic about diving and I’d love to do it but it’s all about diving so you got to have divers and you got to have a swimming pool you got to have the ocean you got to have boats and you got to probably go to the Caribbean and shoot it. Even before I’d got through about half of the script I thought, this is a £10 million film, there’s no way I can raise this much money. The writer is very angry with me because they said, “You can just go and shoot it down in the River Thames.” And I said, “No we just can’t, it’s just not possible.” There seems to be this lack of understanding for writers that stuff costs money.
If you have a big shootout scene with 20 people, all firing guns, everyone getting shot to bits, you can’t shoot that in an hour. It’s gonna take days to shoot that because you got to be careful that no one can get hurt and are you gonna have blank firing guns or real guns which don’t have any armor or are you gonna do all your guns in post-production with muzzle flashes and so you got to get the [Inaudible 00:27:46] kids. So suddenly this one page of action in someone’s script maybe says that 20 people have a gun fight and they’ll get killed, unless you do it in a comedic style, it’s gonna take a while to shoot. And I often find that we make the films we make because we have a budget. We know that we can only raise X amount of money to make the film so we have to be sure that the script is doable. As soon as you’re writing the script and Clint Eastwood walks through the door, you suddenly know that you suddenly got to find $5 million for Clint Eastwood’s appearance fee, which you may not have. So you don’t have Clint Eastwood in your film.
Ashley: So maybe you can just back track a little bit. What is the key to raising the money that you did raise for this film?
Martin: Well, this was a bit of a strange one actually because I wanted to make the film and I’d met the owner of the house and I’d started to write the script and I’d written about 90 percent of the script and a mutual friend of mine who is a composer, he said, “You need to meet this producer because they have done a couple of successful low budget films.” So we met up and we got on very well. We had a good laugh and they said, “Have you got anything that you can do for a small amount of money?” And I said, “Yes, actually I’m writing it right now.” She said, “I’ll read it.” So she read it and she said, “Yeah we can do it. Can you do it for this much money?” And I said, “Yes, it’s gonna be tight but we can do it for that much money.” And she went off and we were very lucky on this occasion. We found an investor pretty fast who wanted to put his money in, so that was that. It’s outside of…I said I was I had the [Inaudible 00:29:39] to raise money, so it’s outside of that particular circle of finance. It’s funny you know, you spend hours and hours or days and days or years and years looking in one direction and then the money comes from another director totally.
Ashley: Yeah, the irony of life. So now you’ve got the money, you’ve filmed the film. What was your steps to getting distribution? Did you go to the film festivals with this one, did you have a distribution and lined up some of the distributors you’ve worked with before?
Martin: Well, to be honest there’s distributors we had on the previous two films we weren’t overly excited about, so we decided to go further afield. But we did very well on the festival circuit for The Gate House. I mean, it’s a small budget film and we premiered at Raindance last October and we completely sold out the screening and we sold out so much that they booked another screening and we sold that out as well. It’s a really lovely start to the festival run. Then we got some nice reviews and we went on to the London Sci-Fi Festival in May and then we started picking up some awards and we won best horror film at the London Independent Film Award.
We went to a few festivals, we played at Helsinki and we played in Italy and we played all over North America, USA and we won in a few festivals. We’re playing at the Buffalo Dreams International Film Festival this weekend I believe which is the 12th of [?] every month is November. So I can’t tell you what a month is anymore. I got no clue where I am, who I am or what’s going on. We had a good festival run. I think if you can get a year of festival screenings and pick up some proper decent awards, that’s a really good run for a film of this size.
Ashley: And so then, did you meet a distributor during that process at the festivals or were you querying the distributors as you were picking up some awards and getting this festival…
Martin: We were doing both and we ended up with three offers from three different distributors which were very nice. We actually got four offers in the end. Three at the same time and then one came in at the end. We went with a company called Uncork’d, who are quite well known in North America and the American distribution I believe is the fourth of December this year 2017 and then it will be coming out in DVD in North America next year…sometime in early 2018. We’re just working out the UK distribution at the moment.
Ashley: Okay perfect. I’m curious, and I’m going through it and you can see my poster back here for my low budget feature. I’m literally going through the process now of submitting to film festivals and I’d be curious to get your approach to that. Obviously you’ve been doing it for a while so you probably have some idea about what festivals are good. But I’m doing the typical stuff where I google top…because mine’s like sort of a crime-thriller so I’m googling top thriller film festivals and Movie Maker Magazine had a list of top thriller and then I’m on FilmFreeway trying to cross reference them and find them and submit to them.
What does your process look like for finding festivals and being able to tell? Actually this is a big problem and it’s something missing in the market place. Like FilmFreeway has these reviews of the festivals but I’ve never seen a negative review. And so I wonder, like I’m looking at some of these festivals and thinking, are these even really worth entering. It’s very difficult to tell. But maybe you can talk about your process of how you find festivals and maybe even recommend a couple of good festivals, even some of the ones that maybe we haven’t heard of that you think are good.
Martin: Yeah sure, totally. I mean, I’ve been going to film festivals for a long time…like 25 years. I love making films, I like meeting filmmakers, I like talking about films with some beer and seeing films. I think there’s nothing more fun to be quite honest. I like meeting actors and meeting crew and talking about movies. You’ve got to be very realistic about what you want from a film festival. I mean, I’ve been to the Cannes Film Festival 15 times. That’s 15 years over the last 17 years or 18 years. I remember I’ve told this story before, but I remember very specifically at one year at Cannes, I was walking back to my accommodation and I just felt very very sad. I felt really, really sad and miserable and down in the dumps.
I thought this is ridiculous, you’re in Cannes, it’s the south of France, there’s beautiful weather, there’s beautiful food, there’s free wine…I don’t drink wine, but there’s still free wine and there’s beautiful people, there’s the beach, everything’s fantastic, there’s films, there’s stuff to do. But why was I feeling so fed up? And the reason was I had such high expectations. I was gonna go to Cannes, I was gonna sell a movie, make some money, bla bla bla etc., and of course that happens to one 1.10001 percent of people. I mean, I sold a screenplay in Cannes once for money, but that is now 10 years ago. So you’re gonna have your expectations but there’s a festival…they used to have a festival in Denmark called Bon Shotts, which is a Danish festival for short films and I went there seven years in a row.
It’s a tiny festival and 300 people would turn up and it was the most fun. It was fantastic. It was on a beautiful little Island by the Coast that have all sorts of strange events and singing and dancing and watching films and I met people there who are now my friends for life. So you can go to the biggest film festival in the whole world and have a thoroughly miserable time because your expectation is too great. And you can go to the tiniest festival in the world and have a wonderful time because your expectation is correct for that size of festival. Everyone knows the analogy between film festivals and wedding cakes. The tiers of festivals. So you have the top tier with the little cake and that would be festivals like Cannes, obviously Venice, Berlin, Toronto, New York Film Festival and a few others.
And then you got your second tier and your third tier and your fourth tier. You got to identify where your film is. Because if you look at the Cannes Film Festival, and everyone says, “Oh my God, I want to get my film into the director’s [Inaudible 00:36:33], well, let’s be realistic, are there any films in Cannes that ever done anywhere less than £3.5 million pounds? The answer is no, there aren’t any. Are there any films that have done well at Cannes that have not had a big distributor behind them? The answer is no, there isn’t any. It’s never happened. And so you got to look at those things. And if you’ve made this fantastic film and you made it for 20,000 pounds or dollars, it’s not going to play in Cannes. It might play in the sales area where the agents look at stuff and decide what’s going to happen. But no one’s gonna show your film because it’s Quentin Tarantino, it’s Steven Spielberg, it’s those boys are playing and you have to be realistic.
But if you go down to the second tier, which is maybe Raindance, so yeah, obviously Sundance is on the top tier, you look at Raindance which is the British biggest independent film festival in Europe I believe, and that’s usually in the autumn, we just had it in September. Then you’ve got a really good chance of getting in. And they will watch your film. I think they get 6,000 films a year and they watch every single film. It’s incredible really. So you got to plan your campaign. It’s very easy to spend a ton of money. I know some people go drunk ebaying or come home late and then go on FilmFreeway and go, “I’d quite like to go to Madrid. Let’s enter the Madrid Film Festival.” And you spend £25 and then that goes and then you think, “Oh, I’d quite like to go to Barcelona. That’s also in Spain, let’s do that.” Then before you know it you spend £100 and then you get rejected from all of those festivals and you think, oh bugger, that was a waste of money, wasn’t it.
I think it you’re playing the film festival game and you don’t have connections, you got to go to the festival every…the first year you go to any festival is just a reconnaissance, just like if you’re making a film. Before you shoot on location, you need to go and look at the location. Where is the electricity? Is there somewhere to go to the toilet? Is it quiet? Is there a Chinese laundry next door with vehicles reversing 24/7 and going beep beep beep so you’ve got no chance of recording good sound? This is why I do recces. When you go to film festivals, the first year you go is a recce. You got meet them, find the program, become friends with the program, meet them, see what films they like. And be aware that the festival is only three days and most of them have three days all week. Then they only have a certain number of slots and they’re only gonna take a certain number of films.
So if for example they’re gonna show [Inaudible 00:39:25] are a lot for a festival, then 25 of those films will come from their friends or people they know or people with lots of money who put into the film. So already you’re down to 25. And then they’re only gonna take films that fit their genre. So if they’re a horror festival, they’re not gonna take your happy film about a cuddly toy. So don’t enter the wrong festival. Then all of a sudden you realize they’re only actually looking for four films and instead of the 50 that you thought they were looking for, they’re only looking for four. So your film’s got to be really really really perfect for them their festival to get in and that is an art unto itself. But like I said, it all comes back to the circle of what do you want from the festival. There was a festival for a number of years called Branchage, which was in Jersey and we went down there and that was the most fun. It was a completely pointless film festival, nothing ever happened but they had the best band and the best music and the best fun and I always look back at that festival and I go like, “My God, that was a lot of fun. That was really superb.”
But was there any use? No, there was absolutely no use whatsoever at all. I don’t even know which of my films they showed there, I can’t remember. And then of course there’s the filmmaker’s worst night mare, which is you enter a festival, you get slotted for the festival you fly half-way round the world to go to the festival, you fly over, you put it on Facebook, you put it on Instagram, you put it on twitter and you turn up for your screening and there’s two people in the audience. And you’re like, what the F’ I’m I doing here? This has cost me £1,000 and there’s no one here. I could have just stood on the corner of Vauxhall Street in London and handed out 1,000 DVDs. More people would have watched it.
So that happened to me. And the year that happened to me we won the best film award as well, so it was kind of very very peculiar event. The festival after the film but no one turned up. And also the other horrible thing is if you turn up and they’re playing your film at two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. No one’s gonna turn up.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious, what TV shows…and this is kind of just a general question. What TV shows or movies have you watched recently that you like and that maybe you would recommend to the viewers? Anything stand out?
Martin: Well, I’m such a terrible mainstream person. I love Game of Thrones. I think it’s the best thing ever and I’ve watched that…I just think it’s fantastic. I really can [Inaudible 00:42:02]. Every single episode is five stars though some of them are more five stars than other five stars. But everyone’s seen that, so let’s think of something else. Last Man on Earth. The TV series Last Man on Earth. I just bought the DVD of 7series one and I thought that was brilliant. Really really good fun. I think they’re doing series four at the moment. I tend to watch these things on DVD at the moment.
Ashley: What is next for you?
Martin: We just in pause, we just finished shooting my new film which is called Black Flowers, which is a post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi. It follows the adventures of a family in North America after nuclear war as they fight for survival. We film this up in Mount Shasta, North California which is about as far in North California as you can go before you end up in Oregon, about an hour south of Ashland. That was absolutely stunning locations, incredible locations that a cinematography, even I think it’s good and I’m biased. Then we went across to Montana and filmed [Inaudible 00:43:16] in a place [Inaudible 00:43:18] in a real nuclear bunker. No sets, just a nuclear bunker. We shot for 22 days in the USA and I got about 10 days ago into the UK. I’m really happy with that. I think that’s a wonderful film. That should be ready for festivals and distribution the second quarter of next year sometime after June.
Ashley: Perfect. How can people see The Gate House? What’s the release schedule like? Is it gonna turn up on Netflix and Hulu…maybe you know the dates about when it’s gonna start…
Martin: It gets released in North America on the fourth of December this year, but on which platforms, I’m not entirely sure yet. I’ll find out. And then Netflix is a bit impenetrable because now they’re making so much of their own content. They’re buying up less independent stuff, which is obviously a shame but that’s just where the cookie crumbles. So we will try and get a Netflix release which will be nice, that will be lovely. It feels a level of [?] kudos attached if you end up on that platform I think these days. Then we’re trying for the UK distribution and it should be out on DVD in North America, I think they said February.
Ashley: What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing and just kind of stay abreast of your various projects? Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will round up and put on those show notes but you can tell us now.
Martin: Yeah, sure. On twitter I’m Goochoid, which is G-O-O-C-H-O-I-D. I basically just put out everything we’re doing on twitter. The new film Black Flowers Film has its own twitter and on Facebook I’m just Martin Gooch on Facebook. But Black Flowers Film has its own page on twitter. And now we’ve finished shooting Black Flowers, we are actively financing the next film and hopefully if all goes well we’ll do two films next year in 2018. One in the end of the spring and then one at the end of the autumn. But that’s very very ambitious and the best laid plans of men often fall along the wayside. But we’ll definitely shoot a film next year in the autumn. And if we can squeeze one in before then that will be really cool.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Well Martin, I really enjoyed talking to you again and just seeing your career progress. It sounds like you’re off to the races and you’ve been very busy. That’s outstanding. I’m sure I’ll have you on again when you get done your next film or two.
Martin: Cool…great Ash. Thank you very much see you.
Ashley: I just wanna mention two things I’m doing at Selling Your Screenplay to help screenwriters find producers who are looking for material. First, I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log-on per newsletter. I went and emailed my large data base of producers and ask them if they would like to receive this monthly newsletter of pitches. So far I have around 400 producers who have signed up to receive it. These producers are hungry for material and happy to read scripts from new writers. If you wanna participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers, sign up at www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
Secondly, I’ve partnered with one of the premier paid screen writing leads sites, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There’re lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting five to ten high quality paid leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material or who are looking to hire a screen writer for a specific project. If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. These leads run the game from production companies looking for a specific type of specs script, to producers looking to hire a screen writer to write up one of their ideas or properties. Producers are looking for shots, features, TV and web series pilots. It’s a huge array of different types of projects that these producers are looking for and these leads are exclusive to our partner and SYS Select members.
To sign up go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing director Richard Friedman, who has been directing genre films for more than three decades. He just did a film called Christmas Crime Story and we talk about that film as well as how he got his start in the business and how he’s been able to keep making movies over the years. 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 Martin. There was a lot of great takeaways in this interview, hopefully you had a number of things that really struck a chord with you. There’s definitely a number of things that Martin said that struck a chord with me. I get asked about screen writing books quite often. You heard Martin talk about Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. That’s a book I highly recommend if you haven’t already read it. I’ll link to it in the show notes, you can purchase it at Amazon. I don’t think it’s more than $10 or $12 or so. It’s pretty cheap and it’s easy to read. I’m a slow reader and I think six, eight, maybe ten hours you can probably ready through the whole thing. It’s an easy read and fairly inexpensive.
Martin mentioned that he can’t write in the morning. I’m the opposite, I feel like mornings are the best time for me to write. But you’ve got to find what works for you and the only way you’re gonna do that is by doing it. Write in the morning, write in the afternoon, write in the evening and then try and figure out when your most productive hours are. I love how Martin describes his attending film festivals over the years. He just goes and meets people and networks. That’s really how people learn and how you get acclimated to the culture and the climate of independent film making. By going to these festivals he gets to see the other films at the festivals, he gets to meet the other filmmakers and no matter where you live in the world there is probably a film festival or two or maybe three within driving distance of you. This is a great way to get out there and meet people and see other people’s work.
You can listen to podcasts, you can read blog posts and obviously I’m a big proponent of that because I run a blog and a podcast, but actually meeting people in person is really a different experience and I really think it’s worth making the effort to try and do that. Again these film festivals, especially the small film festivals, they’re very down to earth, the filmmakers are just intermingling with the people attending the festivals. All the filmmakers that are there are very accessible, you can go up you can just talk to them say, “Hey, I really liked your film, what else are you working on?” You can just get to know these people and I’ve been to the film festivals on sort of the opposite end of the spectrum where I’ve had a film and it’s nice when people come up…they’ve seen the film and they come up and talk to you. It’s very easy atmosphere, people are there to have a good time, to enjoy film, to celebrate film. So again, if you can get to a film festival cheaply and easily, I just really can’t recommend it enough.
But I wanna spend a minute on what Martin said about genre and being able to sell a film. That it must check certain boxes for a distributor to think he can sell it. This is really important, I mean, you’ve got to understand who these distributors are. I just couldn’t agree more with what Martin said about there are certain directors, and Martin says like Quentin Tarantino. There’re certain [Inaudible 00:50:44] that they can make the films that they wanna make and they get the best cast and they get the best producers and they get the best writers and they get the best distribution. Those films, they’re sort of a known entity. It’s exactly what Martin said. For the smaller films it’s very very difficult to make those things work. You hear about them. You hear about these Sundance films. They are these sort of artsy films, they go to someplace like Sundance, they break out, they make money, the filmmaker goes on to great success.
And we think that because we hear about these very unique stories, we think that that’s kind of how it happens. But I’m really more in Martin’s camp here, is that for these low budget genre films, you’ve got to think about who’s gonna be ultimately distributing them. Who’s ultimately gonna be watching them. The distributors, they don’t have huge budgets. You don’t have a pedigree or perhaps you do, but if you don’t have a pedigree as a director or writer or a producer or an actor, if you don’t have that kind of a pedigree it’s gonna be difficult to market these films and the distributors will understand that. Even if the film is good, it’s gonna be tough for a distributor to go out and sell a film that doesn’t fall into a clear genre film. Now, I followed up my question with another question to him, like what are some of these specific things? He mentioned a bunch of things that are specific to genre. I mean, he is making these genre films so he’s well versed in it. But that to me is the real take away. It’s not the specific things that Martin’s saying, do this and do that. It’s understanding, it’s like he really understands the genre, the sub-genres within the genre.
He understands what the distributors are looking for. But this is a moving target. So you’ll listen to this podcast now, I’m, recording it here in the late 2017. You might be listening to it 2018, 2019. These things are constantly changing and evolving. The real way you’ll understand these things is the way Martin has done it, by watching these films and by being invested in that genre and that sub-genre and understanding. That’s how you’re gonna learn about these things. As I said, these things are moving targets, they’re evolving, they’re changing and as an artist and a creative person you wanna understand these genre check boxes but you also maybe wanna push them a little bit and be creative and maybe turn them on their head a little bit or even just give them a slight tweak or twist. But in order to do that and to do it successfully, you’ve got to really understand the genre and the way you do that is by studying it, watching these films, reading these scripts and then really trying to dissect what these scripts are all about.
This is also another film- The Gate House, the film that Martin just wrote and directed that is being distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment. That’s just exactly like the two films I talked about with Justin Price a couple of weeks ago on the podcast. He had done a film called The 13th Friday and The Elf. Those are also being distributed by Uncork’d Entertainment and I reached out to the owner of Uncork’d Entertainment, a fellow named Keith Leopard and I interviewed him so I got that episode now in the can and ready to publish. I’m gonna publish that at the end of this month…at the end of December. Keep that on the back banner and understand because I’m gonna ask him specifically about these films, The Elf, 13th Friday, The Gate House and what interested him about those films. So keep that in the back of your minds, that hopefully these will all come together and we’ll get another view of this film from the distributor’s angle which I found very fascinating and I’m excited to release that episode as I said that’s gonna be coming out in a couple of weeks.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.