This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 228: Writer/Director Dylan Reynolds Talks About His New Horror Comedy, 4/20 Massacre.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #228 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 Dylan Reynolds. He just did a horror film called 4/20 Massacre. We talk about that film and how he got it going and how he was able to ultimately get it produced, so stay tuned for that interview. Just a quick announcement, a few weeks ago I was interviewed on the Horror Filmmaking Academy Podcast. I answered a lot of basic screenwriting questions as well as talk about my own career including my recent film The Pinch. If you have any interest in hearing me talk a bit more about screenwriting check it out. I will link to it in the show notes but it’s episode number seven of the Horror Filmmaking Academy Podcast which you can find in all the normal places like SoundCloud, iTunes and YouTube.
If you find this episode viable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread a word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Over on iTunes I wanna thank Buddiez06 who left me a very nice review on the iTunes platform. Thank you again Buddiez06. It is appreciated to see some people out there are getting value from the podcast, so thank you very much. If you have a minute please do go to iTunes and leave some feedback. If there’s a comment that you wanna make to me that you don’t want it to be public, those are very much appreciated too and you can always email those to me [email protected]. Any and all feedback is very much appreciated.
These iTunes reviews are really helpful. They get the podcast listed in more places within iTunes so it reaches a broader audience so again they are very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #228. 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 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, so a quick update on The Pinch, the crime-thriller feature film that I wrote, directed and produced last year. So The Pinch was accepted into the Action On 14th annual Film Festival which takes place in August in Las Vegas. Action On Film also does a screenwriting contest, and if you remember back a few weeks Rob Tobin who I interviewed on this podcast actually mentioned it as a contest that was very favorable towards genre films and is a contest that he had entered with some of his scripts and gotten some recognition. The Pinch is definitely sort of a low budget genre film so maybe that’s why I was accepted into this festival. That is exciting. I don’t have any of the particulars right now for the festival but it takes place in Vegas sometimes in August. So once those details do start to emerge I will certainly announce those here on the podcast.
I’ve been working on the poster with my new poster artist so that’s moving on nicely. So far he’s come up with some really exciting concepts for the poster so I have high hopes for this and I’m really excited to see how these all shapes up. I have an appointment with my editor tomorrow. We’re gonna be discussing the final version of the film. Basically I’ve got to bring him some of the polished sound files. He’s gonna dump them into the edit and then he just has to start rendering out the various versions of these films. The different platforms have different specific things. I’ve been talking to one of these aggregators. The aggregator will basically get the film up onto iTunes and Amazon and they have their own lists of how they want the film delivered to them so that then they can prepare for iTunes and Amazon.
So I’ve just got to basically go over that with my editor, make sure he understands how to do all that and then he will render out the final versions of the film and then as I said I’ll start passing those over to the aggregator and moving that along. As mentioned last week I’ll probably be making an announcement the next couple of weeks about the first leg of distribution for The Pinch. I’m gonna release it first to all the listeners of this podcast. I’ve been talking about it on the podcast so I feel like that’s at least a little bit of a bonus for people that have stuck with me here for the last couple of years as I’ve been talking about the film. I’m just gonna set it up and then release it through the podcast. You’ll be able to find a link somewhere on my site when I’ve figured out all the specifics. Once I get that done I’ll probably roll with that for a few weeks and then I will start to roll it out to iTunes and Amazon.
I’m still also talking… there’s a company called Tag which does theatrical screenings. I’ve been emailing with them possibly trying to figure out how to set up a theatrical screening here in LA and maybe some other cities as well but right now that’s kind of where I’m at. Tomorrow I’ll be going up to the editor and getting all that taken care of. Anyway, that’s what I’m working on, so now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director Dylan Reynolds. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Dylan to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today.
Dylan: Oh yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
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?
Dylan: Well, I grew up in Tujunga, California which is basically Los Angeles. So I’m one of the rare ones in that I didn’t move into LA. A lot of people seem to do that. I’m actually born and raised in LA. I always loved movies as a kid. I always liked [inaudible 00:06:17] to read comic books and that kind of stuff. I was a nerd in other words. It’s something I always wanted to get into. I didn’t go to school for film, I went for marketing but when I got out I just started going on Craigslist and working on a bunch of low budget shoots doing [inaudible 00:06:35] that kind of thing until eventually I got to make my own movie and I’ve just been kind of doing business since 2004 in various capacities and doing production and currently I’m working in film distribution.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Maybe you can talk a little bit about getting that first film off the ground. What did you do to get that going? Obviously if you’re doing a lot of production work you have a lot of contacts, you wrangle those contacts together. Maybe just talk through that process of getting that first film done.
Dylan: Sure, my first movie was called Chain Link which is like a crime-drama kind of like…what’s that Dustin Hoffman movie Going Straight or Straight Time? So it’s along the vibes about an ex-con recently released from prison trying to get his life straight and just keeps screwing up basically. It’s a very uplifting film. But yeah, I wrote it as a small budget thing and exactly what you said, I called in favors, at DP I worked with a lot of productions, the [inaudible 00:0007:48] I worked with another movie. I still paid them but it was definitely on the favor level. It was just like pursuing a dream really. I knew I wanna make movies so that was gonna be my Sundance movie and that didn’t happen of course but I won a few festivals and that was really my film school because I didn’t go to film school so I learnt all the editing and directing and scheduling and all that stuff basically on that film.
Ashley: Perfect. So let’s dig into your latest film 4/20 Massacre. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a log line for that film.
Dylan: Yeah well, it’s a movie about five women who go hiking in the woods for their friends’ birthday which happens to fall on April 20th which is the national weed holiday. They cross the turf of a real marijuana grow operation and they must fight to survive the living nightmare which is how our synopsis goes on IMDb.
Ashley: Where did this idea come from, what’s the genesis of this idea?
Dylan: Well, besides the obvious overall inspiration I was sitting around brainstorming. I knew I wanted to make a horror film from an ex-movie and I gravitated towards the slasher genre. Basically the title came to me first, I felt that was good. If you’re making low budget movies you won’t have the stars and the names and the big budget. A lot of it kind of goes to title so I figured that was a good, catchy exploitation kind of title where I could try and build from. And then I start doing some research and one, with the actual date of April 20th I came to find out that besides being the weed holiday thing it’s also a date for Hitler’s birthday, the Columbine High massacre and a few other tragedies throughout the years. It’s just like a strange coincidence so I was like, that’s kind of interesting.
And then through my research also I came upon different stories about the actual problem that exists at national parks where there’s legal marijuana grow operations and [inaudible 00:10:13] had gotten shot at or had gotten their feet in bear traps and that sort of thing. So [inaudible 00:10:20] type and with the weed holiday and the tragic occurrences that also happened on that day, so it’s Friday 13th but with weed. That’s where I took off from.
Ashley: Perfect. It’s funny, as soon as you were describing the premise, my dad actually worked for the Department of Interior and he used to describe…I remember hearing these sorts of stories and it’s booby-traps and all kinds of crazy people living out in the hills protecting their marijuana farms. So yeah, that’s a fantastic high-concept idea. Maybe we can talk a little bit about your writing process. We can be specific to this project but we can also be maybe more general if this project was not typical. How much time do you spend preparing to write, in other words in that sort of outlining index cards phase versus actually opening up final draft and writing slug lines and dialogue and stuff?
Dylan: Well, the evolution of this one…I always have like half-baked ideas and stories I guess, so this was like one of among a handful and the at some point I decided this is would be a good project given this is doable for the little money I had and all that. So I wrote down some ideas about it before I doing the outline stuff and then I came back to it. Basically my process for this and yeah, everyone has their own different process and each project will be probably a bit different, but what I did was like…I did basically a different outline, just kept going through breaking down the characters, breaking down the story bits, figuring out where the structure is gonna be and that’s just like free-flowing idea kind of stuff.
I guess you call it flash cards or notes and then I had like a long weekend. I think I took a couple of extra days, so literally for a week I just banged out the first draft of the script. Just everyday woke up, wrote, went for a walk, that kind of thing. So I had a writing vacation. And then so I had that draft and then we did a reading of it. I did some polishing, I gave it to one or two people and then did some polishing. Then we did a reading, we brought some actor friends, a couple of which ended up being in the actual movie and actually got roles in the movie but yeah, then got notes from there and worked hard and then got feedback from my wife Vanessa Rose Parker who’s also a producer on the film and this kept [inaudible 00:13:00] basically.
Ashley: Okay. And I wonder if you could just describe for a minute this reading with the actor friends. I’m in a writers group and we do a lot of stage readings. Maybe you can describe how that goes. I know there’d be some writers out there that are just interested in maybe setting something like that up for themselves, so maybe you can just describe the setting up of the process and then what it actually looks like executing that.
Dylan: Yeah well, when we decided this is the project we’re gonna do and I got the script [inaudible 00:13:29] showing people to see what it sound like. So basically we picked a Saturday, we called up friends that are actors to come down and each person was reading like one or two roles kind of thing. Then I just tried to structure it out so you were not having the same actor in the same scene. But yeah, we just sat around, ordered some bagels in the morning and coffee and everyone sat around and read the script and then I had some discussion about the characters and roles that I worked with and opinions from other people in the room, just basically other actors that we respected to hear their feedback on. I would say if someone’s gonna do it, just…I think I’d really find readers that are actors because I’ve gone to readings where non-actors are doing it and I donno if that’s really helpful. You want people that will kind of bring some life to it. And then you just try and hear what it sounds like out loud and see if it’s working or see what is or isn’t and that will help you with your rewrite process.
Ashley: Yeah. And you just did it in your living room, just like one Saturday morning in your living room type of thing?
Dylan: Yeah, exactly.
Ashley: Perfect. How do you approach genre requirements? You said this was basically Friday The 13th but with weed. Was there anything that you were using as a template? You mentioned you work in distribution. Were there some tips that maybe you got from some of the people in distribution that said horror movies have to have these elements. Maybe talk a little bit about that. What did you do just in terms of the horror expectations and how did you use those and maybe subvert them?
Dylan: Well, this project leans towards the slasher sub-genre so I did research on those films, especially a lot of the first phase where it was like going back to First Halloween, Black Christmas, Chain Saw, and then some of the more [inaudible 00:15:35] ones like Just Before Dawn, Final Terror, The Burning. And the slasher sub-genre in particular has a pretty specific structure. You have a set up and people get killed and then you have your final [inaudible 00:15:50] so it’s one of the more stringent kind of structure. My personal approach to it was like alright, this is the formula, these are the type of characters so let’s try and approach everything with like try and do something a little different within that framework, which is why all the characters are female, so at some point, for example at one point I was writing the [inaudible 00:16:16] character Donna, as a guy.
So it had just been a [inaudible 00:16:20] seen that a billion times so I gender switched that and then I ended up gender switching everything and just kind of giving it a different flavor and layers to it I think. And then as far as distribution goes, mainly with the title I knew the whole genre is very crowded. Coming from the distribution perspective the horror genre is very crowded and there’s a lot of titles. Literally every day, week, stuff is going up so I knew I just had to try to think of something with a hook to it and usually a good way to build in a hook is with the title or the concept or sometimes really sell them to people because you don’t have the names or the marketing budget to really get that kind of attention. So I planned it like that.
Ashley: Yeah, and I’m curious what you just said that the horror landscape is very, very crowded and there’s a lot of horror movies. And so was there ever any thought to do a thriller or an action movie or maybe even a comedy or something else in another genre that maybe is not so quite so crowded?
Dylan: I think there was definitely moments where I thought there may be a smatter way to spend my life savings like going to Vegas for one day [laughter] but I just really wanted to make a horror movie. So I did the worst thing every artist does which is like don’t listen to the naysayers or what the smart thing to do is just do the thing that you feel passionate about or that you believe in. Yeah [inaudible 00:17:58] now like I know Lifetime Movies for example sell and if you can make a movie in the $100,000 to $2000,000 range and you can sell to Lifetime and make some decent money so maybe that would have been a smarter way to put my efforts or making a kids movie or whatever it is. But I guess it’s one of those things you make a decision to make money but also to also express yourself as an artist. I guess I tried to strike that balance by making a horror movie that was unique or had enough of the hook so it can maybe rise above a little bit. Whether I’m successful or not is a different thing but that was the calculation.
Ashley: Okay, so once you were done with the script what was your next step? It sounds like your wife was a producer and I assume she was involved pretty early on and it sounds like at least in part this was self-financed. Did you send the script out and how did you try and raise some money for it, did you try and bring on another producer who maybe could raise money or did you just go directly into production with what money you had?
Dylan: We basically went into production with what money we had. I know I had spent some times and I had developed other scripts and seen projects that ended up not going anywhere for a number of years so…At the onset I think I kind of determined that this was a movie I wanted to do myself. For example I wrote to the all exterior [inaudible 00:19:32] what’s the cheapest that you do, exterior four hours a day [laughs] I brought the script from there. There was discussion about doing a Kickstarter at some point but I think around that time everyone was getting kind of burnt out on Kickstarter including myself and I was like I don’t wanna beg people to give me money for this thing, I’d rather just make it.
It felt more honest to do that because I didn’t wanna feel like I was beholding to anybody. So yeah, in retrospect maybe we should have put up an Indiegogo thing just to have a few more bells and whistles in the movie I would probably do that again. I would like to get more money next time so we can get a name in it so that it will just help to get a cable sale or Redbox or whatever it is. But in this case I just wanted to make a movie so we just pushed forward with whatever means we had.
Ashley: And so working in distribution I’m curious of something you just said and especially considering that you work in distribution. The thing that I always hear is that with horror movies cast is less important. Do you think that’s true or do you think that even a low budget horror movie could benefit from some name cast?
Dylan: I think a name in a movie is always worth more than the same movie without a name. Now, not to call out some names but again Erick Roberts and Michael Madsens kind of thing, those could still help and those are good but it won’t necessarily achieve anything but it’s…I guess how I usually describe it as a movie is not really worth anything more than the DVD it’s printed on. So your job as a producer or filmmaker or whatever is to add value to that so that should it go to Sundance does it have a so and so in it, is it got a certain genre that’s really appealing right now. I think the calculation should always be how do I add value to this if I could and one of those solutions and one of the easiest ones is to get a name in it. So 4/20 Massacre with whatever actor you wanna pick right now or like with a bigger name it could have been more appealing selling to some to some outlets especially when again it’s a cable and that kind of stuff but you’re right, it’s not completely necessary. It can be successful without that but that’s…Having a name is an easy way to add value to a movie.
Ashley: Did you already have the location, like you knew where you could shoot this. And I’m just curious almost for personal reasons. I have a horror script that takes place out in the wilderness also in the Los Angeles area. So did you already know the location and where did you shoot this?
Dylan: We shot it in a town outside the Big Bear, California and basically we stayed at a sleep late camp that they use for summer caps and the church retreats and that kind of thing. Then we just shot in the surrounding area for 10 days straight. So that was the production. At the time when I wrote that script I was like exterior force, I kept it very simple and very doable I felt. I had once scene taking place by a lake but we couldn’t find a lake around the area but we found a creek that would work so I kind of adjusted it like that. I basically wrote the script keeping locations pretty generic and then during the scouting phase we just went to different areas and tried to figure out where we could stage things that would be more sufficient for our budget and for our schedule and all that stuff.
At some point, actually I talked to a producer contact I have in Big Bear because [inaudible 00:23:34] we live in LA so that’s an area we can shoot named Sharon. So I contacted Sharon and she put me in touch with these people that had this sleep late camp thing. So I went there and basically just started work in the area and started finding areas that would work for the film. Not to get into all production but then when we got to the end of double booking us with summer camp stuff so we ended up having changed from most of our locations because we were too close to a screaming kids and stuff so [inaudible 00:24:07] on the day anyways, but I guess it was written in retract we had different locations that we got to make it work.
Ashley: You mentioned that sleep late camp does church groups and that kind of stuff. Was there any pushback on the fact that this was called 4/20 Massacre, it’s a horror movie, obviously marijuana is involved. Was there any pushback on that just like for ethical reasons like, “Oh no, we’re a church group we can’t do it?”
Dylan: No one said anything to us. There was definitely some funny moments, especially the first day we had to find [inaudible 00:24:40] the crew can find their way to the site where at the same time kids were going out. We would walk by and some of the actors would be depending on what scenes we were doing like just covered in blood and we were going to eat lunch and walking by everybody and the kids thought it was cool. The counsellors were too appreciative of it but it was interesting. Nothing ever really came up about it but there was definitely some awkward side glances.
Ashley: What did the actual production look like, did you load everybody up in a van and then everybody just stayed out there for 10 days or you were using some of these beds at the camp ground or were people driving back and forth to LA?
Dylan: Yeah, it was an adult summer camp basically where we [inaudible 00:25:28] during the day. Everyone drove up there themselves and then we all stayed in the cabins and went out during the day and shot our scenes and came back at night and had adult beverages and stayed around a campfire and talked about the next day’s schedule. It was a lot of fun actually.
Ashley: Perfect. So how can people see 4/20 Massacre, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Dylan: Yes, right now you can watch 4/20 Massacre on Amazon Video. You can [inaudible 00:25:29] on there. You can also buy the DVD if you’re one of the cool people. It’s also on some DOD outlets. If you have [inaudible 00:26:08] you can rent it off there. It’s gonna be available at Family Video which is a DVD rental chain mostly in the East-Coast area but the DVD can be rented there and then come May we’ll have it on iTunes and Google and that kind of stuff. But probably the best, easiest is probably finding it on Amazon I think.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And whenever I’m on a podcast people will sometimes ask me the question if I could start my career over what I’d do. My answer is always I would try and get a low level job in distribution and work my way up there just to understand that side of the business better. Are there any lessons that you’ve learned from distribution that maybe you can give these screenwriter who are listening to this podcast?
Dylan: I guess so many times I deal with filmmakers and I get it, they just made the movie that they wanted to make without really much consideration of who’s gonna watch this thing. So I think you have to be…you kind of have to put whatever you wanna call it business hat on or your cynical gaze on and work with what’s actually in the red boxes [inaudible 00:27:19] show time, what’s the type of movies, what’s the type of genres and subject matter and kind of build your project from there. I always say it’s always like you can put whatever you want on the cover or on the book, for example 4/20 Massacre in the end of the day I think is like an indie-drama that a killer just happens to show up in. It has a flashy exploitation title but I think we actually tried to do some art in it and. So I don’t think you should see it as selling out so to speak, I think you should see it as just doing your art through something that’s gonna sell and that can get you to keep making your next project.
Ashley: Perfect, good advice. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing you can give us that now and I’ll round it up for the show notes as well so people can click over to it.
Dylan: Sure, probably the best way is the Facebook and twitter pages for 4/20 Massacre. I believe you can just type 4/20 Massacre in the both of them and it will come up. Facebook I think our handle’s The Hike Productions and then twitter I think it’s Four20 Massacre.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I will round that stuff up for the show notes and put those in there. Dylan I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Excellent interview and I wish you luck with the film.
Dylan: Okay cool man, thank you.
Ashley: Thank you, will talk to later.
Dylan: Alright, have a good one.
Ashley: You too, bye.
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