This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 213: Brian Taylor Talks About His New Nicholas Cage Film, Mom And Dad.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #213 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer, director Brian Taylor. He just did a film called Mum and Dad starring Nicholas Cage. We talk about that film as well as how he got his start in the business. 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 notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #213. 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’ll 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. 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 writers to the rotation. We meet every Tuesday at 7:15pm to around 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 pages roughly 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 in your local city. Nearly every city has a film community, so it’s just a matter of finding those people, reaching out to them and getting them organized. Places like Craigslist are a great way to just find those sorts of people. The one big stumbling block people have with this 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 up, and then obviously those other writers, they’re making a commitment as well so they will be giving you notes on your pages when you present. If you’d like to learn more about the group go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/writersgroup and the word “writer’s group” is all lower case and all one word and I will of course link to it in the show notes.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer, director Brian Taylor. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Brian to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Brian: My pleasure sir.
Ashley: 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.
Brian: Oh, wow. Well, I grew up in LA. I always knew I would do something like this. I couldn’t really hold down a regular job or picture myself doing that. I always knew I was gonna be in music or film or something like that.
Ashley: What were some of the first steps that you took to turn this into a career?
Brian: Well, at a certain point I’d been trying to make it as a musician for a long time with varying degrees of success and with the idea that I’m gonna do music while I’m a young guy and then when I get older I’ll get into movies because music is sort of like a young man’s thing. Then at a certain point Napster came along. Remember Napster?
Ashley: Sure, yep.
Brian: And I quickly saw the writing on the wall that that business was gonna be rough. It seemed to be…when that came along, it’s pretty apparent that you were gonna be working for free. That kind of told me it was time to make that transition. So at that point I didn’t really know anything about the movie business. I just loved movies. I thought that the director was the guy that shot the film. I didn’t know what a DP was. I just thought, “Well if the director doesn’t shoot the movie then what does he do? Isn’t the DP just the director? That’s just to show how little I knew. But I enrolled in a 10 month film program to study cinematography and editing and stuff like that. I learned how to use a camera, I learned how to thread a film camera and expose film and I learned how to edit on an Avid, taught myself how to build computers and made myself an Avid system at my house.
I got a hold of a video camera and…anyway, 10 months later I was working as a cinematographer shooting little Indie movies with an [inaudible 00:05:57] directing at some point. But then that directing part actually came along much quicker. What happened is I met Mark who became my directing partner back then, He was an AC flash operator at the time. We both hit it off really well and decided that…we quickly realized we were smarter than any of these first time directors that a new cinematographer generally ends up working with. So we just became a directing team and we signed with Radical Media as commercial directors. But all of these was sort of like a plan to eventually move into features. So getting to the subject of your podcast and the focus of your podcast, when we were commercial directors we were known for a certain, very kinetic camera style which is a way of shooting. We were very visual guys, right.
So when I came up for the idea of Crank, which was our first script, the idea of that was I wanna write something that we can sell to the town as we’re the only guys who can direct this, because the movement and the feeling and the fanaticism and the sort of kinetic quality of the movie that speaks directly to our camera work is sort of built fundamentally into the structure and concept of the movie. That’s where I sort of got the idea that’s like a guy who’s casting a movie and if he slows down he dies. He’s like the bursting speed, but a human, right. In that way the concept of Crank was very specifically designed to enable us to do crazy camera stuff and on another level designed to attach us as directors to anybody who liked that script. It was a calculated move.
Ashley: Yeah, I see. That makes a lot of sense. I’m curious…just to go back for a second, you said you signed with radical media as directors. How did you get that? In film school did you guys shoot a bunch of music videos for free or commercials for free so you had a real by the time you got to radical media? Just briefly, how did you make that transition to actually getting representation?
Brian: Yeah, we had a Canon XL1, the prosumer video camera of the day and we just went out and shot a bunch of stuff ourselves. Our real cost was basically five bucks. It cost us the cost of the tape, the TV tape that we used. Everything we shot was for free. We didn’t do anything with any production value. We didn’t try to do spec commercials. I mean, there were people around us who were trying to do the same thing we were doing and they were spending $30,000 making spec commercials and stuff that was ridiculous. We just went out and shot a bunch of footage. We knew where to put the camera, we knew how to move it and we knew how to process it and we knew how to put it together and edit it in a way that was exiting and we just created our first real from [inaudible 00:09:19]. Yes.
Ashley: Let’s go back to Crank for a second. How did you ultimately…so you write the script, you are getting some hit as commercial directors. At that point did you just have enough connections to send out the script to your agent and then your agent could get it to various people? Maybe just walk us through quickly the process of actually selling that spec script.
Brian: Right. Well, the first step was to get an agent. We didn’t have a theatrical agent. We had commercial reps. Based on our commercial real, which was cool looking but not spectacular. We didn’t have like a…our real did not look like [inaudible 00:10:04] real, you know what I’m saying? The real was fine. It was good enough. The real was fun enough and we were interesting guys to talk to. And then we had the script. So we had the script. Based on those three things we had our commercial production company set meetings for us with any agents that were interested. We met with CAA and UTA and WME and the all had different pictures. Basically we went with WME at the time because they were the ones that said we can get this movie made. I think the CAA guys at the time were…they were interested and they thought they could sell us but they wanted us to do more.
They were like, “We think you guys should make a short film, maybe something that we could get into a festival and maybe this and maybe that.” We thinking like, “We don’t want to make a short film, we have a feature script.” We were all about skipping steps. We already just passed. We were not about wasting time. We don’t wanna do a short film, we don’t wanna spend in the festival [inaudible 00:11:15]. We just wanna make a feature and we’ve got a script. So the WME guys said we can get this made. We bought that hook line sinker and said, “Great, then you’re our guys.” Of course it becomes a much longer process. But yeah, once we got representation, that script became our calling card all over town and we went to a lot of different places and we got a lot of meetings. We got a lot of…It’s a super funny ridiculous script and there wasn’t anything like it at the time.It became the kind of thing where we had a lot of meetings and a lot of places where we’d come in and the guys would say, “The script it’s so funny and it’s so weird and we wish we could make something like this.
This is the kind of movie we always wished we could make. Of course we can’t but what else do you guys have?” The answer was like, “Well, we don’t have anything like this script.” So we went to a whole lot of meetings like that, but then all it takes is one yes and in this case the guys at Lakeshore had enough brass to take it on and decide to make it. But even after that the movie went through a lot of iterations. Like the first version of Crank was set up through MTV Films at Paramount. Seann Williams Scott was gonna be the main guy and Mischa Barton was gonna be the girl and we were gonna shoot it in Canada for like four million bucks. I mean, it was like a career ender [laughs] I guess in a way. Maybe it was a little more like. Maybe it was six million or something like that. But luckily Sherry Lansing at Paramount who was the top dog back then at some point.
Finally the script crossed her desk and she read it and said, “This is ridiculous, we’re not making this movie. She pulled the plug on it about two months before we were supposed to go on to production. If she hadn’t done…at the time we were really angry at Sherry for doing that, but in hindsight, she saved our careers. I’m so glad that she pulled the plug because if we had made that version, oh my God! It was just like, “How are you gonna make that movie for six million bucks in Canada? It’s just [inaudible 00:13:24]. Then it took a little more time but finally it ended up at Lionsgate and we were able to make it and then that became the springboard to other things. But it all started with a script, is what I’m trying to say. It started with a script and a script that was written for a very specific purpose. It wasn’t like a script where you go like, “Well, just write anything you want. Any movie in the world, just write it because you love it and then try to get it made.” It wasn’t that at all. It was like, this is a script designed to do certain things for us.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. So let’s dig into Mum and Dad, your latest film starring Nicholas Cage, Selma Blair. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or log line for that film incase people haven’t seen the trailer yet.
Brian: The idea of the movie is that one day, one fine day in suburban paradise something happened. A phenomenon of unknown origin that is never explained. It causes all the parents to turn homicidally on their own kids. Not someone else’s kids, you only wanna kill you own kids. And so the movie becomes…basically it evolves into 24 hours of trying to survive of a young girl and her brother in the house they grew up in to avoid being killed or killing the people that they loved most in the world, which is Mum and Dad. Nicholas Cage is Dad and Selma Blair is mum.
Ashley: So where did this idea come from? What’s sort of the genesis of this story?
Brian: Well, I’m a parent.
Ashley: [laughs] Sometimes you wanna kill you kids?
Brian: You know, it’s kind of a…it’s funny because when we were…just anecdotally, we shot the movie in Kentucky and we wanted to shoot it in a real neighborhood. So we were going around from house to house looking for the house to use as our primary location, and we would go to these really conservative communities, you know, people had Bibles on the walls and there always came a point in scouting these houses where you had to tell them what the movie was about because they asked and you can’t lie. But I never wanted to say it because I thought, “Man, we’re never gonna get to a house where they know what the movie’s about.” But actually every last one, when I told them what the movie was about, the people would just laugh. They were like, “Man, I’d see that movie, I wanna kill my kids every day.” Then I realized we were okay. Even though the idea seems dark at first blush, it’s done very satirically and [inaudible 00:16:12]. No pun intended. And works in a way that it ends up being like a really fun kind of like rollercoaster of a movie.
Ashley: Yeah, I’m curious. The two films we’ve talked about of yours—Crank and Mum and Dad, they’re both very sort of high concept [?]hockey premises. I’m curious how much you think that affects your ability to get these movies made.
Brian: Well, I think it affects it a lot. My feeling has always been when you’re doing a small movie and you’re trying to get attention in a sea of Star Wars and Avengers, concept is really your friend. You really need to have an original concept that once people hear about it, it sparks something. The Purge is a great example of that. I don’t know how great a movie The Purge is, I don’t know how well executed that movie is. It’s fine. But the concept is so great that when you hear the idea, that you’re automatically intrigued, and I think you just really need that, especially for a small movie, you know. That’s always the beginning, is I wanna hear a log line or a concept that I haven’t heard before. Now, in the case of Mum and Dad, sometimes you find out really quickly [inaudible 00:17:38] had that idea before [laughs]. Because it can be a problematic or a dangerous idea that makes it actually harder to get made in a certain way.
So Mum and Dad was a movie that definitely the hook or one of the big appeals of the movie is also something that makes it really hard to get made. My agents were terrified of the hook and certainly most production companies hear the hook and they’re like, “You know, that’s awful.” What I kept getting all the time was, “I’m a parent. I can’t make this movie” And I thought like, “All of us are fucking parents. I’m a parent, Nick Cage is a parent, Selma Blair is a parent.” It’s like, “Fuck you!” [laughs]. It’s not about whether or not you’re a parent. Being a parent just means you can relate to the angst and anxiety of the characters in the movie. But I mean, read it. It’s funny, it’s silly. We’re not sitting out there wasting kids watch [inaudible 00:18:36]. It’s not that kind of movie. I don’t think it’s like a vicious or mean spirited movie. I think it’s just…it’s an absurd premise that allows us to do interesting things with that.
Ashley: So maybe you can just tell us what the release schedule is gonna be like for this film. Do you know when it’s gonna be released and how it’s gonna be released?
Brian: Yeah, we’re hitting the screens and DOD on January 19th, so keep your eyes open and your head up and you’ll have a chance to see this film.
Ashley: Sounds good. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, twitter, Facebook, blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I can round that stuff up.
Brian: That’s great. I mean, the only social media that I do of any kind is twitter and I’m @theunrealBT on twitter.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I will get that and I’ll put it in the show notes. Brian I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today. I really enjoyed the film and I wish you the best of luck with it.
Brian: Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you, will talk you later.
I just wanna mention a new service that I recently launched. I built the SYS Select Screenplay data base. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a log line, synopsis and other pertinent information about the project like budget and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. I’m adding features to this nearly every day, so ultimately it will be the hub for all of the SYS Select services. If you’re a member of SYS Select already you should have already received your log in information. I’ve already got dozens of producers in the system looking for screenplays. To learn more about this just go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
Also when you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. Those services include a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay per month in this newsletter screenwriting leads. We have also have partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites out there so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members.
There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been receiving about 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 screenwriter 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 of course exclusive to our partner and to SYS Select members.
Also you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your log line and creative letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. Also in the forum are all the recorded screenwriting classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to all of those as well. You can learn more about the classes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/online-classes. Of course I will link to that in the show notes as well. Once again if all of this sounds like something you might like to learn more about or potentially join, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer, director Steven Coogan. He just did a film called Dance Baby Dance. It’s another great story of a writer just going out there and making things happen for himself. We talk a lot about that project, how he brought it all together. He wrote it, directed it, produced it from top to bottom and we really dig into that and go into the details of how that project came together. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.