This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 209: Writer/Producer Bob Farkas Talks About His New Comedy Film, Crazy Famous.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #209 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer, producer Bob Farkas. He just did a comedy film called Crazy Famous. He’s got an inspiring story about how he got his first film off the ground. He doesn’t live in Hollywood and he didn’t know anybody in Hollywood and he had a whole other career in a whole other field. So 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 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 #209. 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 line 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.
I just wanna quickly mention the writer’s group that I’m in. We’re always looking to add good writers to the rotation. We meet every Tuesday at 7:15pm until about 10:00 pm in Sherman Oaks, California. It’s right around where the 405 and the 101 freeways intersect. Here’s how it works– each week three member writers put up around 25 pages of a screenplay that they’re currently working on. The pages are read on stage by professional actors in front of the other writers in the group, and then the listening writers give notes to the presenting writers. As a member writer you’ll be putting up roughly 25 pages every five weeks. It’s a great way to workshop your material, network with other talented actors and writers and hone your critical thinking skills by giving these other writers notes.
This is a live in-person event, so you need to live somewhere near Sherman Oaks, California to be able to attend weekly. If you’re not in the Los Angeles area perhaps consider starting a writer’s group of your own. Nearly every city in the world has a community of filmmakers and writers, and in most cases they’re just looking for someone to step up and be a leader and get things organized. The one big stumbling block to my group is that you have to be committed to showing up nearly every Tuesday, even when you’re not presenting pages so that you can give notes to the other writers who are presenting that night. If you’d like to learn more about the group go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/writersgroup. The word writers group is lower case and all one word. I will of course I will link to it in the show notes as well. So now let’s get into the main segment today. I’m interviewing writer/producer Bob Farkas. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Bob to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Bob: Hey, I appreciate you having me on. Thanks so much.
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?
Bob: Well, basically I grew up in the Washington DC area which is not really the Mecca for film. But at the same time I had an older brother and he went to of all places, the UFC Film School where he was editing film and the same trailers as George Lucas. It was a bit of a process for him to get in, but for some reason growing up in this area, he wanted to be a movie director and so this is literally in the 80s. He got into UFC Film School and when he graduated he literally made his first film, a feature called Prime Risk, about kids ripping off automated tele machines back in the day. He made the film and he got it released on HBO in all the cable channels at the time, had a limited theatrical release and he made his money back.
But the problem was is that as a movie director, one of the qualities he had to have is you have to be able to take constructive criticism and criticism was something that he didn’t really take to too well, so he came back to the Washington DC area and basically checked out of Hollywood and decided to make a career making videos and training films and stuff with the government. But at the same time as the younger brother, I watched this whole process and I immediately became attracted to movie making, specifically on the screenwriting side of it. So now I’m in my early 20s, I’m going to school studying business finance at George Washington University and I [Inaudible 00:05:17] how to be a screenwriter.
Unfortunately with no resources and no money and has a cousin who worked at Paramount Studios, she showed me the reading room they had for thousands of screenplays stacked on top of each other. Basically to say it’s gonna be very difficult for you to ever have a career as a screenwriter unless you make the film yourself. That was the magic word she said- make it yourself, so I put that ambition of the shelf and I literally started a marketing business in a completely different industry, and then fast forward, 30 years later I have the money and resources to make a film and that’s what I did.
Ashley: Wow, that’s a fascinating story. So you went to this other career in advertising. Did you always plan on getting back into the entertainment industry? Was that sort of on the back of [crosstalk]?
Bob: In a backward sort of way. I was always pretty good at business so I started a marketing business that caters to national associations in the Washington DC area. Most associations, whether it’s for social work or accounting or for most industries, they have their headquarters in the Washington DC area because they wanna lobby on Capitol Hill and advance the course of their association and what better place to do it than Washington DC? So I started a business and it grew, since I was in my early 20s, but I always had an ambition to be a screenwriter. And so I figured that if I could build the business to a certain point I would have the necessary resources to independently finance a feature film, not something that’s a student film or ultra-low budget but a regular film that you would see with a production value that you would see on any commercial movie theatre in America or beyond.
Literally that’s one of the reasons why I made my first feature- Crazy Famous at the ripe old age of my early 50s. I’m 53 right now, so [laughs]. A little bit of a late start, but better late than never.
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding. I’m actually from Annapolis, Maryland too so not too far away. My dad worked at DC.
Bob: You’re near the bridge?
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s dig into Crazy Famous. You wrote it, produced it, executive produced it. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or log line for the film.
Bob: Well, the log line very simply is about an average Joe with no special skill or talent with an obsession to be famous. That obsession gets him thrown into a mental institution because he is willing to do anything or try anything to get his name in the light. At the institution when the psychologist, psychiatrist basically says, “Hey, listen Bob, the chances of you ever becoming famous with no skill and no talent is minimal to non-existent.” Of course when your life’s an ambition of something and somebody tells you you can’t do it, he has a full tantrum and they put him in an anti-suicide smack and then after some time they let him loose in the mental institution where he meets other patients.
One of the patients who overhears his desire to be famous at all cost or at all risk basically says, “Listen, I know where Osama Bin Laden is hiding. He’s not really dead, he’s still alive and well and if you get me out of here, out of this institution I’ll make you famous. That’s basically what drives the whole film, is that he meets a psychotic mental patient who claims that he’s the next secret agent, James Bond type that works with the CIA or worked with them and he was thrown into the institution because he knows where he’s hiding but he won’t confess where he’s hiding. So literally Bob helps them escape because he’s under the influence of numerous mental health drugs and when they escape with a band of mental misfits, that’s when the fun begins as far as him pursuing his goal of becoming a house hold name.
Ashley: Wow, fascinating. Where did this idea and story come from? What’s the genesis of it?
Bob: The genesis very simply is the fact that…this is kind of unrelated but related. I’ve been a youth basketball coach, a volunteer basketball coach for travel teams [Inaudible 00:10:02] for a number of years and I’ve met so many helicopter parents who weren’t famous themselves but they would push their kids to be famous and live through their kids. I mean, if you think about it Ashley, when you were born and your parents are looking in your crib, did they think about you becoming an administrative assistant or a computer programmer or some kind of mundane job or do they think or dream of you becoming a great actor or a great athlete or a scientist who cures cancer, somebody who’s on the supreme court or something of that nature?
I think it’s universal in all of us to have this deep seated need for fame and pursue it. And I think a lot of people would love to be famous but because only the extraordinary become famous unless you create some viral video that makes you stand out somewhat, but it was this fact that I ran into so many people that were pursuing fame for themselves or for their family or for their offspring. And as I really started to explore, what is it about being famous that everybody needs? Why not love, why not acceptance, why not recognition? So I wrote a script basically which started off talking about all the different people and how they became famous and then I talked about all the people especially nowadays with the internet and social media where a lot of non-talented people wanna create a viral video or become famous.
So the whole idea of the whole human need of becoming famous was something that really drove this script. The idea for the story was to find some kind of mission or take an average Joe and come up with some comical mission on how to achieve that fame being an average nobody, and one of the best scenes that I have, my favorite scenes is when he’s on the outside…I don’t wanna give away too much of the film, but they do escape from the mental institution and he goes back and visits his parents after many years and you can see and understand how the parents planted this seed in his brain and his soul that he is of no value unless he is somehow famous for something. He has a coming to Jesus moment with his parents when he realizes that his parents have adopted and brought on other kids with a chance to become famous because they deem him to be a failure at becoming famous.
Ashley: I wonder if we could dig into that a little bit. I think that’s fascinating. Obviously…I live in LA now so there’s tons of actors out here, there’s tons of people that move here and what you’re describing is…whatever you saw in Washington DC area, I’m sure it’s even greater here in the Los Angeles area.
Bob: [laughs] I would have seem so.
Ashley: Why do you think you were attracted to screenwriting, because I meet a lot of actors and you can see that there’s something in them that they want that approval and they want that fame. I think a lot of the screenwriters may be getting into it for so many different reasons. And I’ve wondered this myself, like why do I keep trying to be a screenwriter? Why do I keep writing scripts? Why do I keep doing all of this stuff? What ultimately drives you? And so what do you think drove you to decide on screenwriting versus acting or directing or producing or a number of other things?
Bob: Sure. I’ve always had an affinity for writing. Actually while I was running the business, a marketing business, I took a part time moonlighting job as a sports reporter for the local newspapers in the Washington DC area. So literally after work was over, my Monday marketing job I would go out there and I would cover sports in the local area and write and write columns and so forth. I actually have written about 10 or 15 columns that got into the Washington Post as a guest writer. It’s something I always wanted to do and literally there was a time when I wanted to sell the company and just become a fulltime writer in this space for newspapers and stuff, but obviously the newspaper business has changed dramatically over 20, 30 years.
One of the things that attracted me about screenwriting per se is that I love to have the creative power of creating my own universe in a story and having all these different characters. And all the characters, whether it’s a lead character or side character, they all have their motivations just like you and I do. The attraction of creating something, a story and putting it on screen because people are very visual and I would think a written piece is not as attractive or powerful as the written piece translated to the screen with music and actors and the whole [Inaudible 00:15:24]. So the long and short of it is screenwriting has always been something that’s been very attractive to me versus acting or producing or directing because of the fact that…you know, it’s kind of funny.
From what I understand is when you make a movie the director gets most of the credit, the actors are actually seen and they get all the glamour and the fame that comes along with it, and the writer doesn’t get proportionally as much credit and attention for a movie. Movies don’t happen without a good screenplay. You talk to any actor, any director, producer, the screenplay is the most important thing. It’s the blue print for any movie and because of that importance that is the reason why I was always attracted to the screenwriting portion of it. I don’t necessarily wanna be in front of the camera because I don’t think I’d be good at it [laughs] or talented at it. Screenwriting is something where you write a screenplay for three, four months or three, four years and it’s like you’re creating your own family.
Actually one of the things I realized is the five screenplays I’ve written, when you’re finished with the screenplay you’re kind of lonely after that because you say goodbye to all the characters that you created and it’s so much like you created your own family and then once the screenplay is over and you have finished writing it you have to wave goodbye to that family and move on. That’s kind of the germ. There’s other reasons…just being attracted to writing, period, but creating a screenplay from the dust, coming up with an original idea, that’s why I don’t like to really watch too many other movies because I don’t want it to sully my brain one way or the other. I wanna create something that’s completely original from my own experiences and also from whatever my brain can create. So that in a nutshell is kind of the reason why screenwriting is so attractive.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s talk about the writing process and we can be sort of specific with Crazy Famous. You mentioned you’d written five screenplays. Let’s talk about those 30 years. So you’re running this ad agency, you’re moonlighting as a journalist, writing some articles. Were you also writing scripts during this period? Where did those five scripts that you’ve written…
Ashley: So you were always sort of writing screenplays. Were you doing something to market those scripts? Were you sending them to contests, were you sending them out to agencies?
Bob: No [laughs] you know I realize that anything in the arts, especially in the film business as you can testify yourself, is very competitive. That’s one of the reasons why I did not pursue For Better or For Worse. The reason why I didn’t pursue a screenwriting career in my early 20s is because of the fact that, you know, how am I gonna pay the bills, how am I gonna raise a family bla bla bla because it’s maybe a more of a hit or miss proposition. While I was running the business and chasing around on different newspaper articles, one of the things that was my personal interest is late at night when everything is done and the kids are sleeping and the family is tucked away in bed, I’m up in my office writing screenplays.
I have ideas and then you write an outline of that idea and then you start filling it in with characters from either people you’ve met or known or seen over the years or you create characters out of the dust. Although I had never taken a film school class or a screenwriting class I have read a number of screenplays and again with a brother that doubled in the industry for a few years back in the day, I would pick up any resources on screenwriting. Now the internet is a great way. If you wanna format something on a screenplay you just google it and you’ll find out how to do it. So I didn’t take the normal pathway that maybe most in the industry have taken as an outsider but that’s kind of the gem of what I’ve been doing over the years, is writing screenplays at night. When I have good ideas I write for days in a row and sometimes I leave it alone for months.
Ashley: So was there some sort of development process that you would utilize? As you finished a script did you send it to your brother…he had some experience in the industry. Was there any kind of development, did you get feedback? How did you handle that?
Bob: While I was building a business and I didn’t have the resources to make a film I would just tuck it away in my drawer and be done with it, and then if I had further ideas to embellish it, you know, if you think about a script over the years you’re gonna constantly revise and update it and do that type of thing. But in my late 40 when I was determined to make a film and had the resources and financing available to make it, that’s when I took it out of its drawer and I had a number of people read it, I developed some contacts in the film industry and again through my brother who was going to class with Charlie [Inaudible 00:21:17] Walter [Inaudible 00:21:18] son and a few others that are active in the business right now. I got through to some casting directors and a couple of producers and they read it and they gave me their input and started making revisions based on that.
I sent it out for some coverage, I had everybody and anybody read it, I got to a casting director that put it out there to a few actors that we wanted. And so it was basically a [Inaudible 00:21:47] that I sent it out to a lot of different people. I wanted their comments and tweaked on it and that’s how I refined the script to the point that when I found a producer to help me actually make it which was an effort on its own that took three, four years just to find the right production team that wouldn’t just to talk about it but that would actually help me make it. That’s when as I got closer to the shoot date I was making revisions all the way up until the day of the shoot and sometimes I would make it during the shoot because actors have their own [Inaudible 00:22:26] take on it.
And so one of the things I learned about screenwriting that I didn’t really appreciate before is that you’re constantly changing that thing. It’s a living, breathing animal so to speak and you can’t just finish a script and say, “I’m done with it.” Now, maybe I’m a little different because I also produced it, so I was on the set…usually writers aren’t on the set while you’re actually shooting the film. So I was talking to the actors and they were explaining, “Bob, I think it’s too wordy here, maybe we should try something else here,” so that might have been a little bit of a different experience for me versus some of the other screenwriters that are out there.
Ashley: Wow. Let’s talk about your process of getting on the crew just going through this. There’s got to be a point where you’ve got the script, you’ve started to get some feedback, you’re rewriting it, you say, “Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and make this movie.” How did you go about getting together your crew doing all that stuff? Was it just through these contacts, was it Craigslist ads, were you contacting people through website? Maybe walk through that process. If there’s anybody out there who’s sort of in your situation maybe you can give them some tips about producing.
Bob: It was basically contacts. I think going through directories and things like that gets you off to a start, but you have to know people and you have to know people that are active in the industry. There’s a lot of people that say they’re active and they’re doing things but they don’t actually follow through with it. It’s interesting, when I first went out to LA from DC and I met with Mr. [Inaudible 00:24:05]. That got me started but I basically went through three of four different producers at the time, a couple of casting directors. I went through two different directors, I spent some development monies that I wouldn’t say it was a waste of money, but nothing happened and I was introduced through an entertainment lawyer that I know to a New York producer different than the people in LA I was chasing after to get it made.
You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to make a film. Even you have a completed script and you have a financing lined up it’s still very difficult especially when you’re a first time filmmaker, nobody really believes that you’re gonna make a film. So I met a producer, a very good producer and his name is Vince Maggio from New York City and he was a very blunt, direct, honest guy and he’s the one who basically helped me find the director- Paul Gerald and we got a casting director which is very important and basically that’s what started the process. He did have a screenwriter doctor…a screenplay doctor to help me flush up the script a little bit more and that’s basically in a nut shell how we got it started.
Ashley: Okay, perfect.
Bob: It wasn’t easy though.
Ashley: Yeah I know. I hear you. So you have these five scripts, why did you choose Crazy Famous as the one to pursue over any of these other stories that you had sitting around?
Bob: [Inaudible 00:25:45]
Bob: I always wanted to make films that were appealing to a niche market. I have another script that I’m gonna be starting to produce pretty soon called The Animal Lover, which is typically about animals and animal rights and that type of thing, because I think it has a built in audience. With the so many films out there now, you have to appeal at least to a niche audience that will see the film and hopefully if it crosses over more people will see it and it takes off that way. Now against my wisdom I felt that if I only had one chance to make a film, if it bums or for whatever circumstantial condition is out there that I don’t know about, if I only had one chance I wanted to make a film where as many people as possible could relate to the lead character or relate to the story.
That’s when I said…if you ask 99 people, if you asked 100 people out in the street, 99 people would say if you can wave a magic wand and make them instantly famous, 99 people would say, “Yes, do that please. Wave your magic wand and make me famous.” The one person who said7, “No, don’t do that,” is probably lying. So from the fact that I wanted to create one movie where everybody could relate to the lead character and in Bob, an average Joe who wants to be famous, I think everybody could take the ride with our lead character and really enjoy themselves and they can enjoy the characters safely because the character is doing what most people wanna do. They wanna do anything and everything to get famous, and Bob will do it regardless of what trouble he gets into or what legal matters he gets into or whether he gets thrown into a mental institution or even if he gets killed.
The thing about the movies that are so attractive is that people can take two hours off and fantasize about being in the character’s shoes and take a ride with them. And I felt because the power of fame is so universal, that is something I wanted to explore in a film and if I only had one film to make that’s what I wanted to do it about. But so we’ll see what happens.
Ashley: Yeah, exactly. What are the goals…this is kind of as we wrap up…what were the goals for this film? And I understand you’re kind of in the middle of the journey, but do you feel those goals were a success?
Bob: Yeah, the film is done, it’s in the can, it’s completed and it’s gonna be released on January 9th 2018 On Demand through as many platforms as Gravitas. I have a distributor. We don’t have a phone distributor yet but we’re working on that right now. The goal from here are to see if audiences will take to it and like it and watch it. It’s never really been about making money although making money helps. If the film has some traction, some legs to it, that will give me the platform to make other films, because what I’m really looking at is to have a second career where I’m making independent feature maybe once every couple of years and as I said before enter the various niche or audiences that I feel would be very interested in these various scripts that I wrote.
Seventy five percent of the goal is done. The film was shot and made and I learned a lot and now the most intoxicating part is coming up which is, okay, it’s now gonna go out there into people’s homes, on TV, on cable, paper view, subscription, DVD, bla bla bla. How will the react to it and will they understand the message that we have and will they be entertained? That’s probably the most exciting part of the process, to see how audiences react.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. And maybe you can just mention now the Crazy Famous twitter handle, Facebook page. Just tell us about how people can learn more about the film.
Bob: Well, we’re on the three major social media pages. We have a Facebook page for Crazy Famous movie, you can type that into the search engine. We also have Crazy Famous film on twitter and on Instagram I also think it’s Crazy Famous Movie. I’m sure that your listeners can find it on any of those three sites and I am more than happy to have them join and follow as we get closer to our release date and it would be overwhelming to me to have people especially in the screenwriting industry to review the film and give their feedback. It’s really an enjoyable process outside of all the problems we had [laughs] but if it was easy I guess anybody could do it, but I love the process.
Ashley: Bob, I really appreciate you coming on and talking to me. You’re an inspiration. I love hearing stories like this where you don’t wait for permission, you just go out and you make things happen for yourself. I think that’s just such an inspiration. Hopefully the people listening to this will be inspired as well. I really appreciate your time today and good luck with the film.
Bob: Thanks for having me on. I really do appreciate it Ashley. Thank you.
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We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write a log line and synopsis for you. You can add this log line and synopsis service to an analysis, or you can simply purchase this service as standalone product. As a bonus, if your script gets a recommend from a reader, you get a free email on Facts Plus to my list of industry contacts. This is the exact same blast service I use myself to promote my own scripts, and it’s the same service I sell on the website. It’s a great way to get your script into the hands of producers who are looking for material. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing filmmaker Alex Ferrari. He is a filmmaker and podcaster. He runs the Indie Film Hustle podcast and recently completed a feature film called This is Meg. This is Meg is currently available on iTunes and Amazon and also actually Hulu as well. All the typical On Demand services. So if you like to watch the film before next week’s interview with Alex, I highly recommend that you do so as it would give you a little bit more context. This is another great story about someone getting out there and creating something and not waiting for someone to give them permission to do it. He just got out there and made a film. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.