Ashley: Welcome to Episode #225 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 Brandon Rhiness. Brandon was working a day job about five years ago and finally committed to writing. He started out by writing and producing his own comic books and then he started writing screenplays about three years ago. He now has half a dozen or so projects in various stages of development including some films that are in the latter stages of post-production. He’s making a full time living as a writer up in Canada.
He’s got a great story about one person with some talent and some drive and determination and how he’s been able to find success in the business, and again living way up in Canada a long way from Hollywood. 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 or 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 #225. 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 query 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.
A quick few words about what I’m working on, a quick update on The Pinch, my crime-thriller feature film that I wrote and directed and produced last year. I’ve really done a lot on that the last couple of weeks. I’m still talking with distributors so there’s still some emails bouncing back and forth just trying to see if I can cut some kind of a deal with distributors. I’m still waiting to hear back from a few film festivals so no real update on that, and I’m still waiting to hear on my poster. The poster is taking a little bit longer than I would have hoped but I really wanna get it right so I don’t wanna put a lot of time constraints, I really just wanna get as good a poster as I possibly can. On the writing front last week I wrote up a nine-paged horror short script.
Not really sure what I’m gonna do with it. It’s pretty simple, it’s basically just four actors…I guess five actors is what I would need and just one house. I have the house already so it will be pretty easy to shoot. I’m thinking maybe I’ll go and shoot a little horror short film but I haven’t decided on that. And then what I started working on after I finished this horror short film is an animated show and it’s a super hero cartoon, I would say sort of like an hommage to those old Justice League cartoons which is kind of I really grew up watching those reruns as a kid. So I just remember the old Spider Man cartoon, the old Justice League, Aqua Man, all those. This is sort of a spoofy sort of hommage to that tongue and cheek comedic version of a superhero cartoon.
I’m also thinking about writing up a show bible with that show and making the first script sort of a pilot script. I can kind of see how this could easily turn into a series, so maybe that’s what I’ll do with it now that I have an outline. I basically sort of outlined the first episode. At first I was thinking this would just be sort of as I said a comic…almost a spoof of a comic or superhero cartoon, but I think if I angle it just right it could pretty easily be a show that goes on. If anyone who listens to the podcast has an experience with animation, not so much in writing but the actual production, please drop me a line. I know nothing about producing animations so I’d be curious to talk with someone who knew about it.
I mean, I know stuff like the Pixar animations high end and as I said this old school type of animation from maybe the ‘70s and ‘80s that these superhero cartoons were done in. I just have no idea like is that more expensive…maybe that’s become more expensive maybe nowadays with computers the Pixar animation is cheaper. But those are the kind of things I need to learn, so if you have any experience producing animation and you don’t mind emailing back and forth with me a little bit, please do drop me an email. It’s [email protected].
Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. Now let’s go ahead and get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing Canadian screenwriter Brandon Rhiness. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Brandon to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Brandon: Yeah, thanks for having me on Ashley. It’s been a while I’ve been wanting to get on here and now I’m finally here. It’s an honor and it’s great.
Ashley: Perfect. Yeah, I’m looking forward to talking with you. 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?
Brandon: I’m from Canada, I’m currently living in Edmonton. I’ve lived in this area all my life. I’ve kind of always written stories. I remember even when I was young enough to even learn how to write, I remember I used to write Star Wars stories. I remember sitting in a chair and I’d write in pencil crayon. I don’t know how old I was, I was very young. I always remember I used to run out of story before I got to the end of the page. It would be like four sentences and that’s all I could do. I remember the first time I wrote an entire one page by double speed it was like a milestone. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m a writer.” But what really made things click was in grade four and I had a dream that I was kidnapped and that I had to escape these kidnappers.
The next day I wrote the story down. It was a few pages long and I asked my teacher at school if I could read it to the class and she let me. I read it to the class and I remember as soon I finished everyone erupted in applause. Everyone just loved it and I was Mr. Popular for the next day or so and everyone yelled, “You need to write a part two!” That’s kind of the moment where I was like, “Hey, people like stuff that I write.” So throughout high school and college I had like a passing interest in writing and filmmaking. I wrote a bunch of really bad scripts trying to do it, not really taking it seriously. I made some short films on the VHS of my friends that were really bad. I never really thought it would be a career, it was just something that I did for fun.
It wasn’t until in the last five years. I’ve always been interested in comics and I started writing and publishing my own comics, then I’d get hired to write some other comics. I was actually making a bit of money at it and getting some attention. At that point basically I’d given up on screenwriting for about eight years. Finally one day I remember I was watching the movie Hard Boiled the John Woo movie and I was just like, “I should write a movie.” I was like, “Yeah, I used to write screenplays.” Now I kind of have my act together and I’m starting to be responsible and actually kind of get some momentum. I was like, “I wonder if I could write a script and sell it.” So I wrote an action script called Bad Cop Bad Cop.
When it was done I was like okay, how do you sell a script? I went to Google and typed in Selling Your Screenplay and the first thing that came up of course was your podcast and I was like, “This is cool.” So I was worked at a machine shop just running a machine all day by myself so I’d listen to music and stuff. I went and listened to every single episode that you had recorded and I was basically so inspired because I was like this guy is…he thinks like me, he reminds me of myself and it was like episode two or four or something, you said something along the lines of “If I can do this, you can do it too. If you have a decent screenplay and you follow this method you have a good chance of getting it made.”
I remember I was like, “Yeah, I can do this!” I remember thinking, “I wonder if one day I’m actually gonna be like a real screenwriter and then I could be on this guy’s show.” A few months later I sent you an email and we’ve been sporadically in touch. And then lo and behold it’s like the dream came true in the last three years. I’m now a working screenwriter, that’s how I make my living and I’m now on your show. Now I can really tell everyone who’s listening to this and who is where I was three years ago is you can do this too. This is not something that’s unattainable, regular guys like me can actually do this so you can too. And I’m in the prairies of Canada. If you’re in LA or some big city in the States it’s at your fingertips to actually be able to do this.
Ashley: Well, I really appreciate that [chuckles] it’s a huge complement actually seeing someone put it to words because you know, creating a podcast is such a strange experience. Right now obviously we’re having this interaction but when I’m putting the thing together I’m just talking into a camera and you just don’t really feel like there’s anybody out there listening so it’s good to bump into someone that actually is out there listening. Let’s talk a little bit about the comic books just for a second. You were working basically it sounds like almost a manual labor job working in a machine shop and you just decided okay I’m gonna just start going home at night and start writing comics. And then were you also an illustrator, did you hire an illustrator?
Maybe just talk about that…and I don’t wanna spend a ton of time on it but maybe just a couple of minutes just explaining what those steps were and what that process was to create the comic and then ultimately sell it and get some of these paid gigs.
Brandon: [inaudible 00:09:41] I basically had to learn from the ground up. I’d been a comic fan most of my life so I knew how they were made. There was like a penciller, an inker, a colorer, a letterer…that kind of thing, but I’d never actually made one. The first comic for me, it took like a year. It is such a hard process but you’re always kind of like, okay, step one I have to write a comic. I looked into it and it’s not really like in screenplays it’s a standard format, in comics it’s not. So I just made my own. It’s like okay, panel one this is what happens, panel two this is what happens, I’ll write a dialogue and then we just put out on Craigslist [inaudible 00:10:18] Facebook just, “I’m looking for an artist.”
I had no idea what they charge or anything but when we started getting like dozens and hundreds of responses I looked through all their art and I basically picked the ones who had the best art and then found the one who charged the least out of those and then it would be like, okay, with my job I can afford to pay for like two pages every pay cheque. So every second Friday I would send them the new page of the script, that person would draw it, send it back and then I would send it to the colorist for the next two weeks to get colored. I just had this little system built and after a whole year we got a comic finished. And then I’d say, “How do I print this?” I’d check through different printers and I found one in Florida so I bought 100 copies and then the package arrived and it’s like, “Holy cow, I made a comic!”
Then it’s like “Well, let’s start a second one,” and I was like, “I’m willing to do four pages, two different comics at once just because you put a bit more money into it. And then my Higher Universe Comics creative partner Adam Storoschuk, he started putting money into it. He just started creating more comics and then we began going faster and then people were liking them. We started getting some traction and then I got some offers to write some other indie comics. I made a little money doing that that I would invest in them.
Ashley: How were you getting this traction? Was that literally like walking into a comic store, showing them and say, “Hey, would you guys sell our comic?” How did you get traction for your comic?
Brandon: Honestly it’s funny. Partly it was just social media just telling everyone about it. We actually had a funny method of selling them. Adam my partner, he would just take a stack of them and he would go hang out at bars at night and drink he would just run into people and be like, “Hey man, we’re from Edmonton and we make comics. You wanna buy one at 10 bucks?” And of course with people having a few drinks…, “Yeah sure, I’ll read one. I remember one time he sold like 20 of them in a bar and he sits in this bar and he looks around and there’s like 20 people just sitting at tables reading these comics. But of course when he’d come home he’d be like, “Hey man, we just made 200 bucks.” So it’s like sweet, that’s 200 bucks. We can print more comics, we can add like a third title and it just started growing and growing and now we’re actually pretty big and people always ask us, “Can we come and visit your studio?” And I’m like, “Well, the studio is basically my apartment and my laptop, but we have artists from all over the world in like 10 different countries. Just now I can think up an idea and I just have the system built and the contacts where I can just get a comic made. It’s like I wanna do a new one, I just, “Hey Travis, do you wanna draw this?” “Hey Eugene, you wanna color it?” “Hey Chris, you wanna letter it?” “Sure.” We got a system like every two weeks they turn the pages in and then I put out a hell of a lot of content.
Ashley: And you’re still doing this as you’ve taken up more screenwriting work…you’re still doing the comic?
Brandon: Yeah, it has slowed down just because I’m putting money now into the films which is way more expensive so the comics has slowed down drastically, but we do have new stuff coming out all the time.
Ashley: Perfect. I just wanna go back, you mentioned that you sort of live in a rural area, not in a big city.
Brandon: That’s a bit misleading. Edmonton is a pretty big city. It’s like over a million people, but the prairies…it’s kind of a remote area but it is a big city I live in.
Ashley: Okay, I understand. I grew up in Annapolis, Maryland. I don’t really know the population there but it’s not a huge city but it’s outside of DC, it’s outside of Baltimore. Growing up I didn’t know any artists at all…writers, actors, directors, filmmakers, and so for me that was a big stumbling block to get over, just to feel like this is actually something that could be real. I’d be curious how you got over that. What inspired you with these comics that you thought…did you know some other people that were having some success with this or was it just purely, “You know what, I’m just gonna make a go at this, I don’t care even though I’ve never met anybody that did this.”
Brandon: It was kind of half and half. I didn’t have a lot of people who inspired me but I did have one Facebook buddy. I can’t remember how we met but it was a stranger that I met on Facebook and we ended up messaging and becoming Facebook friends. His name is Chris Johnson, he lives in Texas. I remember he was starting to kind of buddy me like, “If you’re so into comics and you’re a writer try writing a comic.” I was like, “Man, I don’t even know where to start, I have no money, blah, blah, blah.” He just kept the pressure on me and then one day I was like, “Maybe I could try. If I put my mind to it I could figure this out.” So I guess I owe it to him to inspire me like that, but a lot of it was I didn’t know people in my social circle that did this kind of thing, which is strange because now everyone in my social circle does this kind of thing. Back then it was basically just all from within. I just decided this is what I’m gonna do and inspired myself and made it happen.
Ashley: Perfect. Recently you’ve had a number of options, scripts sales, movies going into production and writing assignments. Let’s dig in and talk about some of those. I have just queued up some of your bigger credits and I just wanted to run through them one by one. I think it would be interesting to get a quick idea about what the project is about and then ultimately how did you sell it. Let’s start with John 316. I guess this is the first spec script that you were able to sell. Maybe to start out, just give us the log line for that.
Brandon: Basically John 3:16 is the title. It’s kind of like loosely based in the famous Bible verse. Basically it’s a guy named John who shows up at this mental institution and he thinks he’s Jesus and he ends up inspiring the staff and this kind of thing. Does is he really have Messiah-like powers or is he just a crazy guy. Basically he just inspires the other patients and the staff and helps them with their lives and stuff. It’s like a feel good drama.
Ashley: Okay. Was there some budgetary things. It sounds like it could be fairly low budget. It sounds like a fairly contained script. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. What is the scope of the project?
Brandon: Yeah, it was done on a fairly low budget. Just honestly from where we live local producers, we just don’t have access to the kind of budgets they do down in LA. Everything could be done on a low budget but at the same time we have a lot of free resources where the city lets you shoot on their property for no money. There’s just things like that, I think like the actual wages that people make are probably like a quarter of what they do in LA. So basically like a $250,000 budget here is probably like $2 million in LA or something like that. Most of the story took place in the mental institution. We shot actually at a real mental institution. It was fairly low budget but they made the best of the resources they had.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. And where did this idea come from, what was the genesis of it?
Brandon: Actually it was funny. A filmmaker I used to live with about 2007 we made this really, really stupid feature-like action movie called Errand Boy. There was no budget, we just had our own friends in it, we were running around town filming stuff. But that guy Knighten Richman where we were living at, he worked at the mental institution where they shot it. I remember one day we asked him, “Do you ever get people that come in thinking they’re someone else, like Napoleon and…” He was like, “It’s always either Jesus or [inaudible 00:17:39]. That kind of just stuck in my mind and I just years later thought, “What if there was a guy who was Jesus and like maybe he really was,” and that kind of thing. So that spun the whole idea.
Ashley: Yeah, so how did you ultimately sell this script?
Brandon: It funny because I actually gave up on it. I was about halfway down the script and the story just went off the rails and it was just poorly written. At the time I thought it was my worst script. I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna shun this for now and maybe one day I’ll come back to it.” And I actually saw a Facebook post by an Edmonton producer Jarvis Greiner from Hot Shots Films and he’d been in LA for like 10 years or something doing whatever down there. He just came back to Edmonton and he posted on a Facebook filmmaking group that he was looking for scripts. I messaged him, we met for coffee and I gave him a few of my horror and thriller scripts and he read them and he was like, “I really like it, I like your writing but horror is not really my thing.” He’s like, “Do you have a drama by any chance?” And I was like, “Well, I got this one thing, it’s really not finished,” and I pitched it to him.
He was like, “Oh, I wanna read it.” I was like, “Well, it’s halfway done, it’s really bad.” He was like, “I don’t care I wanna read it.” I was like, “Okay.” I emailed to him what I had. I was like, “Keep in mind this is not my best work, this is not representing me.” I thought he was gonna hate it. I remember it was Christmas morning about two years ago. I wake up at 6:00am and I got a message from him and he’s like, “I love it, I think I can make this. We got to finish it. I was like, “Are you freaking kidding me!” He was like, “Yeah, finish the script.” I finished it the best I could and then we started doing rewrites and he got the financing and they bought it and they went out and they shot it and it’s still in post-production. But yeah, that was my first spec sale.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Let’s talk about Cor Values. I guess this is one of your first writing assignments. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. What’s the pitch on that one or the log line on that one?
Brandon: Cor Values is basically a guy from the city. He’s like a reporter, he goes back to his old hometown. His father died and he’s got to go settle his estate but at the same time there’s this ongoing between the native reserve and the city where the [inaudible 00:19:56] is going there’s kind of like a big fight going on about running a new freeway through the land. He goes down to recover that but he ends up finding out that basically the base of the tunnel has been taken over by a satanic cult and the more he delves into it he just realizes how deep it goes. It’s kind of like a thriller-horror type thing.
Ashley: And so what did the producers come to you with? Did they have just an idea, was it based on a book? What did they actually have that they wanted you to turn into a screenplay?
Brandon: Producer-director Gill Allan, he’d read some of my other stuff and he liked it. Basically he just met with me over coffee one day and he basically just gave me his one paragraph pitch, “Well, this is what happens,” and he drew a little diagram and he’s like, “I’m open to whatever kind of story but it has to have these elements.” He gave a rough outline for it and he’s like, “Can you write that?” And I was like, “Sure.” I wrote it and he liked it and we did some revisions and it’s actually premiering next week. It’s been shot and having a big red carpet premier in about a week.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I just wanna touch on Go Back One but also on this. How did you meet this guy…I misheard his name. How did you meet this director. And then taking a step back, how did you meet the producer for John 316?
Brandon: John 316 the producer was Jarvis Greiner, the director. He’s the one that I met for coffee and individually pitched it to. They brought out other producers on board as it took off. I met him over Facebook and Gill Allan. He’s a…
Ashley: When you say Facebook, are you just like searching for other filmmakers, are they friends of some of your filmmaker friends, do you just go around friending people? How do you actually work that to “meet somebody on Facebook”?
Brandon: I’m part of several filmmaking groups. Some of them are Edmonton filmmakers and some it’s just the horror filmmakers group, different groups like that. Once a while things will pop up in your feed and it just happened he posted and DMed at filmmakers group that he was looking for scripts.
Ashley: You had never met him up to that point, that was your first introduction to him I see?
Brandon: No, I just happened to see that and so I sent him an email and I was like, “Hey, I’m Brandon,” and we got to know each other from that.
Ashley: Okay, perfect.
Brandon: For Gill Allan, I was shopping around a script called The Man In The Box that I had, a horror. I can’t even remember how I met him but at some point someone introduced me to Gill Allan and suggested him and they kind of hooked up a meeting so I met him for coffee and I gave him the script. He read it and said he liked it but again horror wasn’t his thing. I think it was like a few months later, he had contacted me and he’d thought of me to hire to write Cor Values.
Ashley: Okay perfect. Let’s talk about First Born Son. I guess that’s another spec script that you wrote and recently optioned. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that one. What is that film all about?
Brandon: It’s like a young boy who is kidnapped when he was five years old and years have gone by, he’s now 17 and he comes home. Of course they rescue him, he’s been incredibly disturbed and warped and the 10 year old son in the family who was not even born when his older brother was kidnapped, he starts to suspect that his brother is not this innocent victim and that he’s actually a pretty evil guy. When the mysterious deaths start occurring the younger boy is convinced though nobody believes him, that his older brother is actually behind them. It’s a thriller.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And how did you get that one optioned?
Brandon: That one actually was shopped around a lot. The guy [inaudible 00:23:36] in Florida had originally…he was interested in it. He even sent me an option agreement and he said he loved the script. I even suggested doing some rewrites and he was like, “No, no, no, don’t touch it. It’s perfect the way it is. Everything you have on the page I’m gonna put on the screen, I love it!” Then just things kind of went sour. It fell apart before we actually signed the agreement.” That was about a year ago. Then I had some other guy in the Netherlands who was tentatively interested in it but that got put on the back burner. Then just about a month ago Peter emailed me back and he’s like, “Yea, we got basically some guy down in Florida who’s wealthy. He’s willing to fund the entire movie, in exchange for he gets to play one of the parts. He was like, “Yeah, we can make it happen. I’ll send you an option agreement right now.” He sent it, I signed it and it’s now in pre-production and they’re hoping to shoot in June.
Ashley: Perfect. You mentioned a guy in the Netherlands. I’m curious, how did you hook up with that guy? How do you just reach out and meet people from the Netherlands?
Brandon: Honestly I just got into using your system of the query letters. I think it was last summer, I spent the entire summer…I dedicated myself to cold emailing 10 producers a day. I would just go to IMDb and I would just find every possible producer I could of lower budget stuff and I would send them a pitch of one of my scripts. I did 10 a day for the entire summer and 9 out of 10 ignored me, but the 1 out of 10 that wrote back, some of them I started into get relationships with and we would discuss and talked over email or whatever. They would like my writing and we stayed in touch and he was one of those who would just…I pitched him, I never knew him. I just sent him a cold email, a query letter and he had been in touch with me and then he liked some of my scripts and then actually he referred me just recently to the producers who’ve produced some of these films and they hired me to write their next movie. I’ve already written a treatment for it, I’ve been paid for it and now we’re just trying to get the actual script written.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Let’s talk about One Night Drunk. I guess that’s another recent option. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that one. What’s that log line?
Brandon: It a guy who has a fight with his fiancé so he goes to the bar and he just gets drunk. He loses his wallet and he loses his phone so he has no way of getting home and he’s far away from home. He decides, “I’m just gonna walk across the city and walk home.” And just a series of events…things screw him over and he runs into all these bizarre people and kind of gets side tracked and he’s just trying to get home but something always happens where he has to go on this little side mission. It’s funny enough because I pitched that script to so many people and no one liked it. They were just like, “Yeah, it’s interesting,” and no one could really feel it but Sherman Malone who’s a young actor-director from Dallas, Texas, he read it and he just loved it and he actually showed me his first low budget feature that he made.
After watching it I was like, “Yeah, he’s perfect. He’s a such the everyman guy that he’d be perfect in a movie full of directly interacting with weirdos. I remember when I first pitched it to him, he looked at my IMDb page and he’s like, “Oh, you’ve had so much stuff, I don’t think I can afford someone of your caliber.” And I was like, “I’m still indie I’m not a rich guy, we can work something out.” So we worked out a deal and I was like you know what, this script is not getting traction anywhere else but I have one guy that loves it, so let’s do it. That was probably like six months ago we signed that and just yesterday he announced he’s doing auditions and stuff, so he’s hoping this summer he’ll be shooting.
Ashley: Perfect. Let’s move on to Red Room. I guess that’s another writing assignment. I guess in my notes I have something about a company in Netherlands, so maybe that circles back to the story you were just talking about. Is that the writing assignment you just mentioned?
Brandon: Yes, that’s the exact one. It was actually the film that the shot was like a five minute shot. It’s probably a year or two ago they kind of had it in the works and they hired me to write a treatment. They had an outline and they had a short film and asked me to expand it into a feature. They had a director in mind, his name escapes me but he’s like an older director I think from the ’70 and ‘80s. Their plan was to re-ignite the Italian horror genre, so they hired me to write this treatment which I did. I wrote a 15 paged treatment, sent it to them and they got back to me and said, “Well, this director he didn’t like it.” I was like, “Okay, that sucks.” I don’t know if it was my treatment of just the entire concept that he didn’t like. So now they took the project back to Nick who was that first guy I was telling you about that I just cold emailed.
He’s also the one that directed the [inaudible 00:28:32] and they were like, “Hey, do you wanna direct it?” They’re meeting on the 23rd. I guess the decision will be made at that point whether to move ahead. I think it’s a really cool story so I got my fingers crossed that they’ll hire me to finish the entire script.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Another one of your scripts, On The Hour, I guess that’s another script that you’ve recently optioned. Again, what’s the log line on that and how did you option it?
Brandon: On The Hour, it’s a basically a group of friends go to stay…this guy inherits a house, a big property from his grandma when she dies and he brings all his friends out there to have a housewarming party but he didn’t realized that his grandma was a witch and the property was cursed. They start dying off one by one on the hour, every hour. Basically the stroke of every hour one of them will just die in some horrible way and they have to find a way out of this curse.
Ashley: How did you get that gig?
Brandon: That was a spec. I just came up with it myself, I wrote it. I’ve been shopping that one around. I had a lot of interest in it and I had a company in LA they offered me a very small amount of money for it but they wanted to change the ending and I was debating whether or not to do that. But honestly for what they were offering I was like it’s not even really worth doing it. But then I got contacted by a producer in Vancouver just within the last month and he’s like, “I love it, we can sell this.” They wanna do it for like $1.5 million. They sent me the option agreement, I signed it and he’s raising the money now. They hired some company that does movie budgets. They’re actually coming to do an actual budget for it so actually they’re putting money into it already. It’s a 12 month option so he’s fairly confident so hopefully that one will get off the ground and happen.
Ashley: Perfect, let’s talk about Cold Comfort for a minute. I guess that’s a film that you’ve written and you’re also directing. Maybe you can tell us what the log line is there and how you got that one going.
Brandon: Yeah, Cold Comfort is about a young woman wakes up in a room, she’s locked in a room, no recollection of why she’s there or how she got there. She quickly finds out that she’s been kidnapped but she has no resources to get out and they’re planning to ransom her and then kill her if they don’t get the money. She manages to sneak a phone into the room and she has to use her wits to play the kidnappers off of each other and get little bits of information to feed to the cops so they can come find out where she is. It’s basically like a…like you only ever see her on screen. There’s actually one other guy you see a little bit but basically it’s a one character, one room script. All the other characters are all voice overs, you just hear them on the phone or outside the room. We’ve recorded all the other dialogue already and we begin production on it this Friday.
Ashley: Okay, Perfect. You had mentioned before we started the interview and we’ll circle back to it at the end but it sounded like you’re doing some crowd funding for that. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that.
Brandon: Yeah, we had an Indiegogo Campaign going. We’re doing this basically on micro-budget. We’re trying to raise $12,000 which is [inaudible 00:31:48] for that with a skeleton crew and one actor, one location. We’re giving away some cool stuff in exchange. You can actually get some of my comics. If you wanna buy a comic you can get those in exchange for donations. The cool thing too is everyone who donates, no matter how small, you’re gonna get your name in the credits and on IMDb. So making sure just getting you an IMDb page and being involved in a movie and having your name on it. By all means if we could do with the help we appreciate all the money we can get and we just hope people are willing to help us out.
Ashley: Perfect. As I said, we’ll circle back to that at the end and I’ll definitely get that link so people can get that and I’ll put it in the show notes. As we went through some of your scripts, it seems like a lot of them are thrillers. I’m curious if that’s where your interest lies or if it’s more that you’ve written a bunch of scripts and you just happen to be optioning more of the thrillers than other of scripts.
Brandon: Yeah, most of my stuff tends to be horror-thriller. That’s where my main interest is. I write a lot of comedy too but just they haven’t gotten a lot of attention because a lot of my comedies are more broad comedies, they’d be much higher budget. For a newer writer it’s hard for someone to invest in the tens of millions into a movie whereas just a low budget horror-thriller they’re willing to do that. I think that’s mainly what it is. Most ideas I have tend to go towards the horror-thriller genre. I do them all, drama, I did one action, it’s just that is my favorite genre but it is a popular genre and I have to make a living at this. I have to have right the kind of stuff that’s gonna sell. So if I can do something I like writing and it’s a popular genre that someone’s gonna buy it’s like I’d be a fool not to focus on that.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So you’ve got a lot going on obviously, directing, writing, multiple writing assignments. How many scripts per year would you say you’re able to finish?
Brandon: I’d say like 10. One a month is what I try to do. It’s slowed down a bit recently because I’m writing some TV episodes now and I’m writing some reality shows and I’m directing a movie so I’ve had to put my own spec stuff on hold. But when I get into it, once I have the outline done I try to sit down and do 10 pages a day until all the script’s done. When you do that you can get a hell of a lot of stuff written. There’s times I’ll go through it and I’ll just write, within a two or three months span I’ll have like five scripts written. I’ll let them sit for a while and then I’ll keep pitching them and keep rewriting them and they get better and better and eventually someone will choose it.
Ashley: Yeah, and when you had a full time job, how many scripts per year do you think you were able to write?
Brandon: It was like two or three. That’s the thing with a fulltime job it’s so hard. You come home and you’re like I’m gonna sit here and write. Now I’m doing this for a living so it’s like my day is open so I just have time to write all that. It’s paying dividends because I’m just starting to be in demand. I’m starting to just get tons of writing jobs.
Ashley: Throughout this process you were describing your movies, several of them you said, “Yeah, I shopped it around a good bit before I got this option or sale. Can you describe your process? What does that actually mean? What is your process for shopping around? You get a script done, you feel confident about it and what do you start doing with it just to get it out into the world?
Brandon: The first thing I do is I keep a list of any producer that’s been interested in my work before because they’re the ones that know me, they are more likely to respond. So I pitch it to them and if they all pass or whatever I get the weekly InkTip leads, I get the weekly screenwriting staffing leads. Any of those that match the script I have I’ll pitch to them. I keep a spreadsheet of every producer I send it to, why I send it to them, what their response was, that type of thing. If I don’t get a response from there I just start cold pitching to anyone. At times I’ll google…I always google “Indie horror movies” and I’ll find a list of Indie horror movies from 2017 and I’ll click on every single one and see if the producer’s email address is on my IMDb Pro and then I’ll just send them a message, “Hey, I’m Brandon this is my IMDb page, I’ve had these couple of things done recently, I have a new script, here’s the log line, let me know if you’d like to read it.”
Just a very simple pitch and I do that over and over and over again. I’ll go through it and I’ll do rewrites on the script and make it better and then I’ll continue with the process. Sometimes it takes like a year but eventually I find that every script, even the one that’s hated by so many people, eventually it will find one person that’s like, “I love this and I wanna make it.”
Ashley: How do you handle the follow up? This is a question I get because I sell this in email in Fact Plus to people and I get screenwriters asking me and obviously I’ve done a lot of cold query letters myself. How do you handle the follow up, because I find most of the time you send these things off and it’s crickets. You don’t get a response one way or another and there’s always the temptation to follow up. Maybe talk about that a little bit. If they don’t even respond do you follow up one time and then stop? What is your process like in terms of the follow up on the producers?
Brandon: Yeah, for anyone if I cold email them if they ignore me I never follow up because we never had a communication to begin with. If it’s through InkTip or Screenwriting Staffing or anything like that and they ask me to read the script, then I’ll usually wait a month. Because I have my spreadsheet I’ll wait about a month and then I’ll just follow up with them like, “Hey, did you get a chance to read that script?” If I still don’t hear anything I’ll follow up with them once more a month later and be like, “Just checking in again, no rush. Just checking in.” If I don’t hear anything at that point I assume that they’re not interested. However a couple of the scripts I’ve optioned it’s been like a year or more and all of a sudden I get a message, “I like the script…blah, blah, blah,” and it’s like, I don’t remember this person.” I’ll go back and check my spreadsheet and it’s like that was like summer of 2016. So sometimes things just take a while but I don’t want to annoy people so if I follow up twice and I hear nothing I just let it be.
Ashley: And then you might pitch them again if it’s someone that you’ve cold emailed and they’ve requested the script you might pitch them down the road another script?
Brandon: Yeah, I see that a lot of times on the screenplay lead services where someone would be looking for a thriller and I’ll be like, “I have a thriller,” and I’ll check my list and it’s like a year ago they were looking for a thriller and I pitched them the same script and they ignored me. So I was like, well, it can’t hurt to pitch it again and it was actually just within the last week or two, I can’t remember which script it was. They ignored me the first time but I pitched it again and they asked to read it. Unless they specifically say, “Don’t pitch us a second time,” Yeah, it can’t hurt and you never know, because sometimes they get like a thousand scripts and so they can just get lost in the shuffle or something like that. So it’s like unless they blatantly say no or pass on it it’s worth trying again.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So again, throughout this process you’re describing your projects and numerous times you mentioned, “Oh yeah, they sent over the option agreement and I signed it and sent it back.” I’m curious how you negotiate your option agreements. Do you have a lawyer look them over, are you just throwing caution to the wind? That’s question A and then the question part B is how do you negotiate on the actual specifics of the thing? Do you have enough experience now you know I should get this much for a budget of this much?
Brandon: Yeah, honestly I don’t have a lawyer look over it. I found that most of the option agreements, it’s basically a template. They’re all kind of the same just with the numbers filled in, so I know the things to look for and I basically just…it’s pretty standard but at this point it’s…once we get into bigger sums of money I might have to worry about it more but right now, I hate to say it but it’s like I need to make a living so if they’re offering anything reasonable I’ll take it. There’re things I look for, sometimes they leave things out that I’m wondering about so I’ll message them back and say, “Can you just add in this?” Because sometimes they’ll say 3% of the budget and there’s no minimum and I was like, “What if something happens and you try to do it on a $50,000 budget. It’s like well, I don’t wanna do it then. So I’ll be like, “I’ll do it for a minimum of this amount,” and they’ll be like, “Okay, that’s fine. You’ll at least get this amount or 3% of the budget.” So I negotiate on those levels but at this point I don’t have a lot of negotiating power and I need to get my stuff out there and I need to get paid. I’ve found that so far everyone’s been fair. I’ve never been ripped off or taken advantage of. I’m pretty confident with that. The lawyer things will come in the future but for now I got to trust my own gut.
Ashley: Yeah. I get this question all the time and I’d be curious to get your take on it. What is your opinion of giving free options?
Brandon: Honestly every option I’ve had so far has either been free or a dollar option so I don’t have any other…I’ve sold scripts but even the ones I’ve sold they’ve been like a free or one dollar option and so my opinion is obviously I would rather be paid but it’s just industry standard for when you’re starting out indie movies that’s just the way it is because the filmmakers and the producers, they have a lot of risk that they’re taking. I even heard one guy saying that it ended up the movie fell through before the option agreement but he said he’d give me 500 bucks for the option fee and he’s just like, understand it’s not a lot of money but for us it’s still we have to come up with that at the front of themselves and he’s like it’s not insignificant. And I was like, “Yeah, I understand where you’re coming from but…I think it’s something…I bet I would not have work if I refused to do it.
Ashley: Okay, that’s good to hear and that’s kind of my philosophy too. I don’t feel like there’s any real reason to put up additional road blocks to getting that movie produced and as you say $500 for a struggling indie producer, that’s like rent money for a month so he might choose someone else’s script over yours. And it’s not like the $500 is really gonna make that much of a difference to you in the long term. So how do you handle rewrites and changes? I’m sure you’ve run into this, and especially giving out free options. One of the most demoralizing things for myself about being a screenwriter is getting into these loops where the producer or the director is asking for changes that you don’t think are necessarily good and it becomes the sort of never-ending thing. They’re never quite happy and it’s always an excuse, “Well, we can’t go out to actors or we can’t start going to our financiers until the script is perfect,” and it often times drugs on almost indefinitely.
Brandon: Yeah, that’s something that actually I got from your show, I knew it was a problem. When I first started getting these options it’s something I always bring up. That’s why the guy in Florida, Peter, I asked him, “Do you want rewrites?” and he’s like, “No, it’s perfect.” I was like, “Well, that’s a first!” So it’s something that everyone’s aware of. If I can always get them to say, “We might want a few rewrites,” I want that out there just so it’s not a surprise. I let them know that I don’t want to be rewriting this for the next five years, I’ll rewrite a little bit. It’s never been a problem. The only one where it was a little bit excessive was John 3:16 because it wasn’t even finished at that point and it wasn’t very good in my mind. So Jarvis wanted a ton of rewrites.
He would actually sit in the room with me and we’d go over the script and work it out, but then he’d bring another producer on board and they would want things changed sometimes back to the way it originally was and that was getting to the point of being frustrating but ultimately it ended and it got made. Cor Values was very minimal rewrites. Most of them made sense these rewrites. That’s something I always go into. I make sure that’s either in the contract or at least spoken about is that I don’t wanna get caught in that constant rewrite thing and then I’m in the awkward position of having to just back out. I don’t want that so I make sure I get some sort of confirmation on that.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. I’m curious if you can just talk a little bit about that transition from a fulltime employee at some company and just going off on your own as a fulltime screenwriter, fulltime filmmaker. Did you save a bunch of money to give yourself a runway, was it just a leap of faith. Maybe talk about that sort of the mental preparation and then the financial preparation.
Brandon: It basically was a leap of faith. It wasn’t like I quit, I got laid off. The company I came after the American economy was bad but the Canadian economy was and there was just massive layoffs and so it’s just you show up for work one day and it’s like, “Sorry, no more job for you.” I had enough employment insurance to live on at half my wage for close to a year and I was like okay, I have to cut back on my expenses, but this is a perfect opportunity to write fulltime. So I did that for a full year. I started selling short scripts. The first couple of short scripts I gave away for free but then I was like, “I wonder if I could charge for these,” so I started charging 50 bucks for a five-paged script or ten or whatever and then I’d ask for like 100 and then it became like 250 and then it became 500 and then I was writing a bunch of these and I’m selling a few a month.
So now I was like, “You know what, I made the same amount selling short scripts as I did when I got a pay cheque.” So I was like this can cover my rent and everything plus I have my EI money coming. Then the EI money ran out and it was like, okay, now I’m at a big crossroads, do I go and get a job or do I trust myself and try to do this writing thing. It was a hard decision to make. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, so I only had to look out for myself and I was like, “You know what, I can always get another stupid job.” So I’m like, “Let’s just try this, I’ll take it one month at a time, I’ll just try to make enough money to pay my rent and grow a few money for one more month and then if I run out of money I’ll go get a job.” I’m now I think on month 17 so it’s been a year and a half and it’s like I sell a script and that’s another two, three months.
Then I write a TV episode, that’s one more month’s rent and it’s kind of just keep going and now there’s more opportunities coming in so hopefully I can keep it up indefinitely. But a decision had to be made, I couldn’t do this as a living working at a freaking factory all day.
Ashley: Well, congratulations on that. That’s very, very impressive. How did you sell these shots? I wonder if you can talk about that for just a minute. How were you finding the leads to even sell the shots? Craigslist, INkTip?
Brandon: Yeah, Craigslist, InkTip, Screenwriting Staffing, all of those. The first one was just like a young director in Denver wanted to make his first movie. I sent him my five-paged horror script called The Granny and he’s like, “I love it, I wanna make it.” I was like, “Sure,” and he was like, “I don’t got any money to buy it.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s fine.” Three weeks later it was made, it was on YouTube and it wasn’t very good. It was pretty bad but whatever but that kind of launched…because I would tell everyone I pitched after that I have my short script made in Denver. Most producers were not even bothered to check it out. They would just see like, well, someone else made this guy’s script. Then when I got a second one done I’d be like, I’ve had two scripts made in the last month.
And then it just made me sound like a big deal and now I’m at like 40 shots I’ve had made and it’s…So now if people check my IMDb it’s like wow, all these people have trusted this guy to write something so obviously he should be taken seriously. So it’s so much easier now to get gigs.
Ashley: What does your typical day look like now? Maybe you can just describe, you get up in the morning, do you answer a bunch of emails and then you start your writing. What does your day look like? Just break it out into segments or what you get accomplished.
Brandon: Yeah, I like to write in the morning or at least I like to try to write in the morning but I think a lot of writers I’ve had have this problem, the procrastination basically. So usually I’ll get up and I’ll get to answering some emails, post some stuff on Facebook and do stuff that’s important but not really, and then eventually the guilt takes over and I’ll be like, “Now, I got to sit over and write. So I’ll just sit there and I’ll just plough at my 10 pages and as soon as that’s done I feel so much better because even if it’s noon or like one pm it’s like I’ve written 10 pages today. So even if I just waste the rest of the day, I still wrote 10 pages of the script, so I still wrote hell of a lot more than most people do. But now that I’m involved in actually directing a movie there’s a lot of work to do with that. Just the producing of it and all that kind of thing, but I always get to the point even where I’m at now is I’m involved in so many projects it’s becoming too overwhelming and it’s like I’m working on two writing assignments, I’m shooting a movie and it’s like oh my God, I have to worry about balancing that. But basically I just take it a day at a time. The most pressing things I get done and I just keep to my deadlines, I keep my promises and basically I just work hard and get things done.
Ashley: I wonder if we can just spend a minute on your writing process. How much time do you spend outlining versus actually opening up final draft. It sounds like you spend a lot of time in final draft if you’re pumping out a script a month but maybe you can speak to that a little bit. How much time outlining index cards versus how much time in final draft?
Brandon: I don’t outline that extensively because I find most of my good ideas come while I’m writing whereas if I have the whole movie outlined, I start writing, it usually starts going in a different direction a bit and then my outlines kind of doesn’t make sense. I’m always experimenting with new ways to do it. Usually what I’ll do is I’ll just do the index card thing or whatever for the first 10 to 20 pages and I’ll write that and it’s just like once I have that done solidly it’s like, okay, what happens next. Because if I think too far ahead then I get good ideas while I’m writing and then it’s just I hate being constrained. So I just do a little bit ahead, a little bit ahead. Honestly there’s a few scripts I’ve done like Cold Comfort being one where I didn’t have very much planning at all, I just kind of knew I had to keep it interesting because it’s all in one room, it can get boring.
I just wrote it and it’s like what’s the coolest thing that could happen next. I kind of did the whole script like that and there’s always a point where it got too confusing where I actually had to sit down and plot out exactly what happened. So yeah, I have different methods but I like to spend more time writing than outlining.
Ashley: Perfect. A number of your projects you have writing partners on, I wonder if you can talk a little bit about collaborating on some of these projects. Have you ever written with some of these guys in the same room, have most of your projects been where one guy is taking a pass after your pass? Maybe talk about that process a little bit.
Brandon: I’ve never really had what I would consider a writing partner. For things like Motel 13 it’s a script that’s kind of in pre-production right now but we’re just trying to raise the money but my partner and I Michael Shaar-Ney we came up with the story together. We actually came up with the outline. We were sitting in the same room doing that but I actually wrote the entire script and then he would add his input after it’s done. It was the same thing with Cold Comfort. My co-creator on that Katie Gobert we came up with the story together but again I wrote the script myself and then when it’s done she would read it and have her own notes, something like that. I’ve never actually written…actually that’s not true, there was one thing that I wrote, a TV episode called My Paranormal Girlfriend.
I probably did it with a guy in the UK and on that one it was kind of I would write half, he would write half and then we’d rewrite each other’s stuff and then we’d just keep doing passes on it until we were both happy. Honestly I liked the guy but I just didn’t like that process. I don’t think I’m a writing partner kind of guy. Writing is me alone at the computer, that’s when I do my best work.
Ashley: Perfect. I’m curious about your development process once you have a first draft done. Maybe you can speak a little bit of that. I found that the people that do a lot more outlining typically have to do a lot less in the rewriting department. So it sounds like you do a lot in final draft. Do you find that you then have to spend a lot of time rewriting these script?
Brandon: Not typically. I always get in trouble from screenwriting professionals or teachers. They always say I send my scripts out too soon. Usually what I’ll do, I’ll finish it and I’ll leave it for like a week or two, I’ll do another past and then start shopping it and then everybody’s like “What are you doing, you’re gonna offend everyone.” Honestly what I found is that
Ashley: I do that too so I’m laughing [laughs]. That’s been a knock on me. I’ll send stuff out that’s probably not ready.
Brandon: Yeah, but what I found is the producers, they’re gonna want their own rewrites anyway, so as long as they could see I like the concept and this is pretty good, that’s enough for them to contact you. Even if the script’s perfect they’re still gonna want their own rewrites, so it’s like why would I wait an extra six months rewriting it when they’re gonna want rewrites anyway? So once I get this is pretty good I start sending it out and as long as I get responses but even if I don’t hear anything I’ll keep rewriting it. I have a couple of scripts that are like two, three years old that I had no interest and I’ll rewrite it because I’m getting better every day. So even a script from a year ago I’m like, “Man, I can write this way better now.”
So we take it up and make it better, but I found just getting my name out there is more important than having the work be perfect. And as long as they know you they could read it and it’s not perfect but I like the writing style. When they hear your name again when you pitch them something else they’re more likely to give you a chance.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. How do you approach screenplay structure? Are you a Blake Snyder or Syd Field fan, act breaks, inciting incidences and stuff?
Brandon: No, I’m the exact opposite. Sometimes I try to actively go against that and just try different structure things. I hate being constrained by it and honestly I hate knowing it because now when I watch Hollywood movies I can’t help but see the structure and it ruins it. It just makes me think it’s a movie. I’m like, “Oh, this is the act two break, it’s so obvious.” I have my own structure where it’s just like start off with something interesting and I see it in 10 page increments where as long as I have interesting things constantly happening that’s gonna be a good structure. Obviously the rough three act structure works, beginning middle and end so there’s a rough frame work there. Some of my broad comedies exactly fit the three act structure but for the most part, I just hate it.
There’s parts of three act structure that I just don’t like. I think Blake Snyder calls it the Dark Night of The Soul where everything falls apart right before the act three break. I hate those parts in movies, they’re always so boring so I’m like, “Okay, I’m just gonna not do that.” My own thing is to skip that. In my earlier days I tried to make myself do it that way, I thought it was proper but now I’m like you know what, I’m gonna do it my way. And as soon as I started doing that, that’s when I got attention because my heart, me is now in the script and it’s what I want and other people can see that. Its like, “Yeah, this script has balls. He’s not trying to follow a formula like every other screenwriting student. This is something a bit different and people can see that and that’s what’s gotten me to where I am.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. And I was just gonna ask the next question what advice do you have for writers that are looking to break in to TV and film and the advice you just gave I think, being original is certainly good advice. But is there anything else you could think of? If someone was staring out now and they’re in your shoes from five, six years ago working that job that they not necessarily passionate about and they’re trying to get into this. What advice would you have for them?
Brandon: Yeah, basically just to write a lot because people always ask me for advice but I’ve heard people say, “I’ve been writing for like two years, InkTip doesn’t work, I’ve never sold something on there.” It’s like well, it’s worked for me several times. It’s like I’ve never read their stuff but your work has to be good. If you’re not good at this you’re not gonna make it. That’s what it is. But you can become good. It was actually kind of like a defining moment when I became good. I sent Mike [inaudible 00:57:06] a famous…he used to write The Punisher. He’s a novelist and comic book writer and I sent him my very first comic and he was just like, “Good job buddie, you got to become a better writer. If you want this for real, you’re not good enough yet. Just become good.”
At that point I made an effort, “I’m gonna become good.” So I just started putting way more work into it and I found that I made my scripts shorter instead of longer. It’s like just chop down, cut out every useless word, just find tighter ways to say every single sentence. And that was the point where people were like, “Oh my God, your scripts are the easiest scripts to read, I can do it in one sitting and it’s like I started to get complements like that and I’d go through over and over just trying to make it. I wanted it to be the easiest possible thing to read and then I got to the point where I have a hard time reading other scripts because it’s like, “My God, you have a whole paragraph here, I could do this in one sentence!”
So basically if your script’s 120 pages you can make it 90 pages. Start chopping things out, just make everything tighter. As soon as I started doing that instantly my scripts just started selling. So yeah, basically learn how to write well. Just tighten everything up. Omit useless words, just everything you can to make it as tight and right to the point as you could be.
Ashley: I’m curious and as I listen to you describe your story and I wonder this about myself too but I’d be curious to get your opinion. How much of your success do you think boils down to your ability to write versus your ability to be a real hustler? What I find, like exactly what you say, when I have someone come to me and tell me InkTip doesn’t work, when you really dig into their story they’ve probably answered three leads and put one script into it. They don’t understand the sheer scope of what’s going on. I mean, you’re out here doing cold emails, you’re networking on Facebook, you’re a member of numerous of these services, you’re emailing people like me, so you’re really doing a ton of those things and I don’t think people fully appreciate that. But what is your opinion? How important is the writing versus how important is the marketing?
Brandon: I would say it’s like maybe 10% or 20% of writing, the rest is marketing. All the stuff I have is all hustle. I think being a good writer is like power for the course. Without that it’s nothing. If you’re a good writer that’s good, that’s what you need, but it’s all hustle. If you could see my list of producers, I show you some people and it takes like a minute to scroll through. It’s so long. I’ve probably pitched 2,000 producers and I’ve had like five options. If look at it like that it seems like I’m a failure, it’s like everyone’s ignoring you. And I’m like, “Yeah, most people will. You have to pitch it to everyone just to find the one person that’s gonna give you money for it.”
Ashley: Yeah, that’s so important. You just need to find that one person. You don’t have to find 100 people at this stage, it’s just that one person that can write a cheque.
Brandon: Yeah, and even like I just had one of my short scripts produced called The Moustache and actually Mike Shaar-Ney who I mentioned earlier who’s my co-producer and co-creator on Motel 13, he liked it. He produced and directed it and that was another one. I probably pitched it to like 50 people and no one was interested. People didn’t think it was funny and I basically had given up for like a year, I’d stopped pitching it until Mike asked if I had a short comedy. I was like, “Well, I got The Moustache, you can read it if you want.” He’s like, “This is hilarious, I wanna make it.” He made it and now it’s like this coming weekend it’s in some film festival in LA and he’s won some awards for it and it just shows everyone could hate a script but there’s gonna be one person out there who likes it and it gets made and it’s good and wins awards. So just don’t give up on anything you’re working on because eventually you find someone that’s willing to do it.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s just circle back down to Cold Comfort. Maybe you can just talk about that just quickly. You’ve got the Indiegogo set up, and what are the dates on that? It sounds like you’re going into production and you’re trying to raise money really for post-production.
Brandon: Yeah, basically we’re paying out of our own pockets anything we don’t raise, but we wanted to actually be able to show some of the stuff we’re shooting to get people excited about it. We’re shooting over the last week of April but Indiegogo goes till mid-May. For one I wanted this podcast to air while still going but also we wanted to just have stuff to show for it so when the money comes in we’ll have enough to deal with the second half of paying for everything. We’re just paying for the post-production cost and all that stuff.
Ashley: Perfect. As I said I’ll get that link from you and I’ll put that in the show notes if anybody want to learn more and see some of your footage they can check out your Indiegogo Campaign. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, website, anything you’re comfortable sharing, just mention that now and I’ll grab that as well and put that in the show notes.
Brandon: Yeah, sure. My twitter is just my name @brandonrhiness. I’m on Facebook too if you’re interested in [inaudible 01:02:07] Facebook page is for all my different content but if you go to www.thehigheruniverse.com that is my comic book website. I’ll have some film stuff on there too but that will show you some of the comic books I have available and obviously if you just google me or any of my stuff, it’s available. Any of my graphic novels or comics are available online. I’m pretty easy to find, I’m pretty approachable if you want my message to be on Facebook or whatever as long as you’re not a weirdo or anything I’m pretty cool about meeting new people and stuff.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Brandon, this has been inspiring to me. I really appreciate you circling back with me and just connecting with me. It’s really inspiring seeing what you’re doing. I always get the question do I have to move to LA, so you’re a living proof that you don’t have to move to LA, you can make a career for yourself in Canada and probably other faraway places.
Brandon: Yeah, for sure. Thanks for having me. I hope three years from now someone that was listening today will be on your show and…, “Yeah I heard that guy Brandon Rhiness and he inspired me, kind of pass the torch on.
Ashley: Yeah, I hope so too. Well, Brandon again it was great talking with you and good luck with your project.
Brandon: Alright, thanks.
Ashley: Perfect, will talk to you later.
I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select Screenplay data base. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a log line, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays that they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. I launched this service at the beginning of this year and we’ve already started to see some success stories. You can check out SYS Podcast Episode 222 with Steve Deering. He was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select Data base. You can learn more about all of these by going to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
When you join SYS Select you get access to the screenplay database that I just mentioned along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. Those services include the monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also have partnered with one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites 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 we’ve been getting five to ten high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the game. There’s producers looking for specific type of spec scripts to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties.
They’re looking for shots, they’re looking for features, TV and web series pilots. All types of different projects. If you sign up for SYS you’ll get these emailed directly to you several times per week. Also can you get access to all of the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your log line and query 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 have access to all of those as well. The classes cover every part of the writing process, from concept to outlining to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again if this sounds like something you would like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyouscreenplayselect.com.
Just a quick shout out to screenwriter David Santo who sold a screenplay to producer Rick Troxel this last week. The sale was through one of the leads that came through the SYS Select system. Congratulations David. Thank you David for emailing to tell me about this success story. I added a little blurb about this sale to the SYS success page, if you wanna learn a little bit more about that just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success and you’ll see a whole bunch of quotes from all the people that have had some success with our services. Also if you have had some success with any of the SYS Select services, please do let me know. These stories are inspiring. I love to hear them, I love to share them on the podcast. So if you’ve had some success please just drop me an email and let me know. Again, congratulations to David on this sale. It’s really great to see some of our members get options and sales for their scripts, so again a big congratulations to him.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Brad Silberling. He’s done a number of high profile films like City of Angels, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Moonlight Mile and Casper and he came on the show to talk to me about his new film An Ordinary Man starring Ben Kingsley. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. To wrap thing up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Brandon. I really love stories like the one Brandon told about how he and his buddie were selling comics in bars. When you hear these stories, this is how great companies start like Apple and Facebook. It’s where they all began. Apple and Steve Jobs started out at the garage of his parents’ house, Facebook was started out of the dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg.
Higher Universe Comics, it was humbly started selling comic books in bars and then re-investing that money back into the business. It’s not a super-sexy story and I know that there’s people out there thinking, “Whatever, we only make $200.” But this is the kind of hustle you need, this ability to just go out there and just start making things happen. I think if you think, “$200, what’s the big deal, that’s not that much money.” I guess you’re right, it’s not that much money but really listen to what this is doing for you. When you start doing stuff like this, when you’re really on the ground you’re inter-phasing with your audience, you’re seeing what’s working and what’s not because you’re selling them the comics. You can start to get really firsthand knowledge about your audience, what they liked, why did they buy it?
When you were pitching it to them did they like the cover and that’s why they bought it. Did they like the pitch and that was why they bought it. Maybe they didn’t like the cover, maybe they didn’t like the pitch, maybe there was something about your sales presentation that they didn’t like. Maybe there’s something about the story that they didn’t like, These sorts of interactions where you’re actually out there talking to people and trying to sell something to them, those are so, so important. This is why I recommend joining a writer’s group. You put pages up in front of other writers, in front of actors, you get some reaction, you see other human beings, how they’re actually reacting to your material and this is important for us as artists, as creative people, people that are content producers. We have to see how our material is getting received and again just walking into a bar and starting to try and sell these comic books, that’s great information.
I listen a lot to these business podcasts and that I think it’s the Ron Popeil but it was one of the guys who was a salesman for one of the big companies that sells door to door. Door to door sales is obviously just brutal, absolutely brutal in terms of just people slamming their doors, people being rude to you. It’s just emotionally draining but again I heard the statistics that if you can be a success in that environment where you’re going door to door selling stuff…obviously you’re never gonna make a lot of money selling learning supplies or some sort of online learning course door to door. You’re never gonna make a ton of money doing that but that experience is very, very profound and again if you can succeed doing that, your chances of succeeding in life are exponentially good.
The people who succeed at door to door sales, the chances that they’re gonna be a success in life is almost guaranteed. Again, I would go back to this kind of a story where you have a guy, just Brandon and his buddy just creating this comic books and then just trying to figure out creative ways to sell them, going out there and making those hard conversations. Believe me, I’m sure there’s a lot of nerves and it’s somewhat awkward just taking a box of 20 comics to a bar and trying to sell them. But again this is the kind of hustle it’s gonna take. As a successful screenwriter, there’s gonna be moments where you are put into this sort of uncomfortable position of having to sell yourself, market yourself at any level. There’s gonna be those moments and getting comfortable with that as early as possible in this process I think is such a lesson.
I think it’s such an important part of why Brandon has been successful because he’s willing to do those kind of outside the box things to get his material out there, to get his material sold. I get so many emails from writers and they’re asking questions. They wanna skip a lot of those beginning steps. They wanna skip past that stuff because that stuff isn’t sexy and that stuff is hard work and it’s awkward and it can be painful. People wanna skip that. And I get these emails from people, “How can I get Steven Spielberg to read my script,” or “How can I get Martin Scorsese to read my script?” As if these writers’ scripts are even ready to have Scorsese or Spielberg take a look at them. But that’s really the thing. What Brandon just told us is exactly how you get the big players in the entertainment business to read your material.
You slowly move your career ahead. You start out very, very small, very humbly and you start building a long list of credits. Again, Brandon started small producing these low budget comic books, selling them however he could, investing that money back into his writing more comic book, building up those credits. He started doing short films, building up the list of short films. Now he’s doing feature films. He’s building up a nice list of credits. Hopefully some of these movies will find an audience, will have some success and that’s how he’s gonna get the bigger players in the industry to start wanting to hear about Brandon’s stuff. They’re gonna see some of these movies are gonna be a success. We’re not talking about Paranormal Activities success. We’re not talking about Guardians of The Galaxy success.
Some of these movies can be just mild successes within their low-budget niche and people in the industry will hear about them. Maybe the average movie going person will not hear about them but people in the industry will hear about good films even if they’re smaller films, even if they don’t make $100 at the box office, good material will get recognized and that’s how these big players in the industry, the Spielberg and the Scorsese, they’re not looking to just pluck someone out of obscurity and make them a star. They wanna see those up and coming people that are getting those movies into Sundance. The Sundance darling from last year. That’s who you’re gonna get. You need to start…the longest journey starts with a first step. These are the first steps.
A lot of things that Brian is talking about are those first steps. I know a lot of people wanna skip those steps. They wanna go straight to meeting with Spielberg and meeting Scorsese. And there are these stories out there of people being plucked from obscurity so we think that’s how it’s done, but I would argue that what Brandon is doing is actually the way. It’s the way someone builds a long lasting, sustainable career because there’s not a lot of luck. Listening to Brandon’s story, we’re not here saying, “Wow, that sure was lucky.” He’s slowly inching the ball down the field and eventually one of these films is gonna be a success if he just keeps rolling the dice, he just keeps making these low budget movies, he just keeps putting out these genre films eventually one of them will. It will take off a little bit and people in the industry will hear about it.
I really encourage you to go to Brandon’s IMDb page, I’ll link to it in the show notes. Get a real sense of the scope and the context of what he’s doing and keep an eye on Brandon’s career. He’s doing great work and I have no doubt that he’ll continue to do more great work as he progresses in his career. I think he’s worth someone for all of us to keep an eye on and be inspired from. Once again a big thanks to Brandon for coming on the show. I was inspired and I hope other people out there are as well. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.