This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 212: Canadian Screenwriter Jason Filiatrault Talks About His New Film Entanglement Starring Thomas Middleditch.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #212 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Canadian writer Jason Filiatrault. He wrote the Indie Film Entanglement and we talked the process of how he got that film produced as well as how he got his start in the entertainment business all while living up in Canada. Stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode viable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me 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 #212. 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 material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Once again if you’d like to get this free guide just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing Canadian writer Jason Filiatrault. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jason to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jason: Thanks for having me Ashley.
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?
Jason: I’m from Calgary, Canada. I grew up there. I got interested primarily just through being a weird kid who wanted to do something [inaudible 00:02:11] thing or an industry that was that vibrant in my city but I was into writing and seemed like a good way to about it, so I kind of chased after it for a while until I caught a little bit of the tail anyway.
Ashley: Okay, and what were some of those practical steps that you took to make this into an actual career?
Jason: I did a two year program for film studies at my local college and then it was a lot of chasing down local production companies, working as a PA, doing office PA work, going out in different location shoots and stopping traffic and then eventually always telling people I was interested in writing and then just always at the end of the day going home and writing and making sure I had stuff to show people. It was mostly just perseverance and then kind of trying to be guy that people that I knew thought of when they thought of who do I know who is a screenwriter.
Ashley: Yeah. And so maybe you can describe some of that too to our listeners about sort of an appropriate way as a production assistant, how can you approach the director or the producer on set and introduce yourself and get them to know that you’re a writer without the process being annoying or hustling them.
Jason: As a PA that’s onset that’s hard. I mean, do your job for sure. If people are paying for your time, for sure don’t use that money that they’re giving you to then try to sell them. That’s a little ridiculous. And you know, I mean any job you do try to be good at that job while you’re doing it. For me it was being in the office and just building up a rapport. It was a small production company. We were doing commercials and music videos and corporate stuff then. It was a company that was looking to move towards doing more dramatic stuff. So for sure like for me it was just the advantage of it being a small company. They were at most three or four of us in the office filing tapes and stuff like that.
It was that kind of a thing. Then also just being an easy person to talk to to an extent and being open to talking about their stories. Everybody has a story to tell. For me it’s always a question of being interested in what people’s stories are. Producers and directors, they have stories they want to tell. They have their favorite directors, they have their favorite films. They would love to do something like that. So for me it was like finding people who had that same sensibility and then working with them when I could.
Ashley: And so what would you say was your first break as a screenwriter? Was there a particular script that you got optioned and then got produced? What did that first break look like?
Jason: There was a feature script I wrote six, seven years ago that was accepted into a program in Canada here called the Canadian Film Center Telefilm Comedy Exchange, which is kind of an accelerated program for comedy scripts and they kind of…the Canadian Film Center is a really fantastic resource up here for supporting and educating filmmakers. And their mandate was kind of like looking for the best Canadian comedy scripts to try and encourage development on those projects. So getting into that was for sure like putting a good spotlight on some work of mine. And then also a web series I did with the same producer that I started out with called Bunny Hug that we made up here in Canada. Looking back on it, it’s gorgeous and the performances are great but the writing from my part was a little bit amateurish. But…that was very weird sounding…However, it definitely sort of showed what kind of a writer I was, which got me a little bit of notice. And then from those two things I kind of got my agent and built a bit of a career in Canada doing that stuff.
Ashley: Perfect. So let’s dig into your latest film Entanglement. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or log line. What is this film all about?
Jason: Entanglement is a very dramatic comedy about a young man who is depressed with his life, who learns that his parents had almost adopted a daughter before he was born and then changed their mind. So he decides to track down his nearly adopted sister just to find out if his life would have been any better if he’d grown up with her and then he awkwardly falls in love with her. That’s the short bit of it.
Ashley: Where did this idea come from? What was the genesis of this story?
Jason: It came kind of from two places. For me the first was wanting to undertake a deconstruction of the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope and sort of seeing how far down the road I could take that before it crashed into a wall. And then the other side of it was learning that my parents had tried to adopt a child before I was born and then kind of becoming a little bit obsessed about the idea of this missed connection and how there is somebody out there in the world who was nearly my sibling and they don’t know it and I don’t know who they are, but for one brief moment there was a chance when the planets could have aligned so that we grew up together and that seemed like a very strange concept to me. Something [inaudible 00:07:59] in the idea that there’re people in our orbit all around us who by any change of fate would have not been part of our lives and how that affects who we are and the idea that if you get too obsessed with those thoughts they can kind of destroy you also. So those two ideas came together in a nice way and that I’ve been looking for something to do on one subject and this other one came along. So there was a bit of a collision of two ideas I wanted to do and they kind of came together all right.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Let’s dig into your writing process. I always like to just ask, how much time do you spend outlining versus how much time do you spend actually in final draft writing the script?
Jason: I spend a lot more time outlining now than I used to for sure. I used to spend a week just sort of doing a [inaudible 00:08:55] and making sure I had the stronger hits and turns clear in my mind before I went to the page. But now I’ll spend maybe…if possible a good three weeks just living in an outline stage. And I won’t do like a traditional outline per se. I won’t do 10, 12 pages of it, but what I will do is sort of open up a word document and just start writing the story to myself almost in a letter. I’ll just start telling myself the story. Any time I come up against a wall I start finding myself drifting away from the point I’ll stop and I’ll say, “Okay, tell me the story again.” And I’ll start over again, and then each time I’m getting a little bit further through in that story and I’m picking up bits from the end and moving things around a little bit and telling. And because I write alone it gives me that feeling of sort of bouncing ideas off people and working with…it’s almost to say as if I’m working with myself in the past a little bit.
So that document starts to become my outline and then I’ll take those sort of more cozy versions of that and start to work out the actual mechanics of constructing a script. And I’m really big on structure especially in the outlining phase. I definitely wanna know the [inaudible 00:10:16] I’m moving towards each time and I wanna know what bits I’m trying to hit hard. I do it a lot more now just because I’ve done it enough without and I think we’ve all sort of had those scripts where we’ve gotten 65 pages down the line and we’re realizing that we’re either running out of steam or we didn’t know what we were getting into or it doesn’t end where we thought it ended like…The further along I get the less time I wanna waste sort of throwing away 60 pages of a script. I wanna know where I’m going and I wanna…and you can do all of that in the outline. You don’t have to wait for the actual screenplay to get to that point.
Ashley: So you said you spend about three weeks on the outline. How much time then do you spend then actually writing the script once you have this fairly detailed outline?
Jason: That differs entirely. Sometimes it’s a month, sometimes it’s two. I would say I try not to spend more than three months’ time on any single feature, while also like you can do things concurrently. So I’m outlining on one thing and just sketching out bits for something else. If I’m drafting on something, I’m maybe breaking an idea for a series or something like that, like always keeping something else going on the burner just because I find if I get against the wall on something it’s good for my mind just to shift gears and try to do something that’s totally outside the zone where my subconscious is kind of taken over on the problem.
Ashley: Yeah, what does your writing schedule look like? Do you write in the morning, do you write in the evenings do you write in the middle of the night? And where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, do you go out to a coffee shop? What does that look like?
Jason: I have a home office. I can’t really write…the idea of people moving around me or [inaudible 00:12:21] reading what I’m writing is paralyzing to me. So I write at home in various locations wherever I find myself sitting. Timewise…I mean, it depends on what’s going on. Like I’m working in a room right now writing so my time for my own stuff is very limited…Two evenings or if at all. If I’m just sort of on my own schedule day to day I try to do something for six hours during the day. I try to get up at a reasonable hour and then do some kind of work. It doesn’t have to be writing out the gate. It can be outlining, it can be just thinking up ideas. But I think for me what’s more important is that when I feel like writing, do it. For me it’s about, you know, I can do all sorts of work that helps a script go forward any time of the day, but when the time comes when I’m like, “I need to write,” I have to be able to just do that right then and there. Usually that’s like an evening thing when things have been kicking around my head all day. Then also in the mornings. I can’t say it’s a particularly [inaudible 00:13:34] idea.
Ashley: What does your development process look like? We can talk specifically about Entanglement just to be real specific. So then you have a first draft. How do you know that it’s ready to show to other people and what does that look like? Do you have a few trusted friends, do you have an agent, a manager…you send it to them and you get notes? How does that process work for you?
Jason: For sure I try to send everything to my agent just so they know what I’m working on. What they choose to read or care about is entirely up to them. Again my feeling with agents is that they’re there to help me sell the things I create. They’re not gonna…they’re there to do their job and my job is to keep writing regardless. But most of my development process is…it generally works like this. I will write something, I will send it to a few producers or directors that I know and trust usually before it’s ready just because I’m way too excited about the concept that I finished something, which is very exciting. But I’m also thinking in terms of like while I’m writing it I generally have an idea of who I know who would be good for it from a producer and a director’s standpoint, at least from a Canadian view point. I know of most of the kind of people up in Canada that I would get along with, that I would wanna work with on an industry level. And we’re all pretty friendly up here, so I could probably reach out to people and at least gauge their interest in a thing.
So during the writing I’m already thinking about who I would think would do a good job with the script, and then reaching…all it is for me afterwards is sort of reaching out to those people and just seeing if there’s any interest. Everybody has different things they wanna do and different projects that they have going, so not everybody is gonna have the time to read or an inclination to it. It’s not like a personal thing, it’s just like do you have time and does this feel like something that fits in with your world. It’s a lot of just trying to get feedback from people who’s taste I trust and not so much about like are they really big in the industry, or do they make a lot of things, but like do I think they like the things that I wanna write, is a far more important question for me when I’m sending people work just looking for notes and thoughts and stuff.
Ashley: Yeah. And I just wanna dig into something that you’ve said. There’s sort of I would say a misconception from a lot of new writers that kind of feel like once I get an agent it’s smooth sailing. It’s interesting hearing you talk where you kind of just say, “Well, sometimes my agent doesn’t even read my stuff and that frankly doesn’t even seem to bother you and you’re then sending the stuff out to producers. Is there a frustration with the relationship we have with agents where you have something that you really believe in and maybe they’re just sort of lukewarm and won’t send it out to their contacts? How do you navigate that? Maybe just give us sort of your perspective of agents in general.
Jason: I mean, I love my agent. He’s fantastic. And when I say I don’t know if they’re reading everything, it’s like I don’t know when they’re reading it…the point for me is more like they’re reading it or not is not the most important part of their job. The most important job is the agenty stuff and if I’m going to be good as a screenwriter, my job is the writy part. As far as the idea of like if you get an agent you’ve got it made, that’s…and I had that sort of misconception too and then what I realized going forward is you can only make bricks if you got clay and you got to bring some stuff to your agent. You have to be out there making contacts. My perfect world is people who I’ve already sold on the idea of me are calling my agent to negotiate deals. That’s how it should work for me. If the only thing keeping my career going is that somebody else is out there selling me to people, then that’s not me being a good writer or a good business person. My job is to go out there, make the connections, show my work around.
That whole part of the job of…I don’t think marketing yourself, but of just making yourself open and talking to people about you work. That’s a big part of the job as it should be for anybody. So for me my relationship with my agent is far more accountable for me in the sense like I wanna write scripts and then I wanna work with them to find the best people to help me make those scripts. That’s kind of the relationship I want. I want to be driving that as much myself. I don’t think a writer want’s an agent who is out there just sort of [inaudible 00:19:06] them at things willy nilly. You want somebody who gets what you wanna do and who lets you lead that a little bit. And the way you can lead that I think as a writer is by working hard and going out and meeting the kind of people you wanna work with. I think wherever you are too, whatever scene, like…I still live in Calgary. It’s not like this is a thing you can only do in one place.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s go a step further here. Now you’re done with the screenplay for Entanglement. Let’s just talk through some real specific steps that you took to actually get this movie made. Did you have this…you know, as you were writing the script you were thinking about what producers, did you reach out to those producers? Maybe just talk us through that process of how it went from spec script to actual produced script.
Jason: So in writing it I was sending a couple directors that I knew. One was a director who I sort of came up working with a little bit but since moved to Toronto, and another was a director in Vancouver that I’d met through some other people and had a good relationship with but we hadn’t really worked together. I was sort of just getting notes from them, but Jason James who actually ended up directing and producing a film really…he sort of really liked the material and he really grew attached to it. So kind of from the gate that he’d just finished his first feature, we got along very well. Charging on the material and stuff, you kind of know…at least on the comedian market, you know what the budget of this film is when you’re done writing it. You know the scale of production you’re looking at, so you already know based on that, sort of what kind of directors and producers can handle that level of a production. This isn’t a big budget thing, so you’re open to more ideas and Jason was the right voice for this film.
So that was an easy thing and sort of having seen his film, we decided to work together pretty early on. The development process on that was me sending it to a few people that I thought would dig it, finding the people that liked it the most and then trying to work with them. That was the process. From there there’s the more sort of money aspect that we submitted to a program development here in Canada with TV broadcast channel for Movie Central who were looking to sort of get in on a more ground floor level of developing projects and they came on board with some development financing and some broadcast licensing. So there’s the producery aspects that are actually putting together the budget of a film which in America I honestly don’t know how it happens. In Canada it’s a very different piece that is a lot of weird [inaudible 00:22:13] that I can’t quite fathom. But for me development is always about trying to find the people that I think are going to like it the most and sort of bring something new to it that I don’t have. Getting the options feels good but if it’s an option with the wrong person it’s gonna start feeling bad really quickly.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s sound advice. So how can people see Entanglement? Do you know what the release schedule is like?
Jason: Entanglement is being released on February 9th theatrically in limited cities, I think in limited numbers. Fifteen and on VOD and iTunes on the same day. So people can see it on February 9th probably anywhere they are in America. I hope they see it in theatres. If you have the chance it’s a lot more…it’s awesome on a phone of course, but it a lot more fun in a theatre.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Are you on twitter, Facebook, a blog? Anything you’re comfortable sharing I can round up in the show notes but you can give us that now so people can just learn more about you.
Jason: They can check in on what I’m having for lunch on my twitter which is @jayfiliatrault, which is my name, which…I’m not even gonna spell it because it’s ridiculous. But you can find me there. I mean, you can stop me and I’ll [inaudible 00:23:57] from there. That’s a good starting point if you really wanna get weird.
Ashley: Perfect. Jason I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film.
Jason: Thanks Ashley, it was nice talking to you.
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On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer, director Brian Taylor. He just did a Nicholas Cage movie called Mom and Dad. We talk about the film as well as how he got his start in the business, so keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show for the week, thank you for listening.