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SYS Podcast Episode 237: Director Matthew Ross Talks About His New Crime Thriller Feature, Siberia, Starring Keanu Reeves (transcript)

This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 237: Director Matthew Ross Talks About His New Crime Thriller Feature, Siberia, Starring Keanu Reeves.

Ashley: Welcome to Episode #237 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger of the www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing director Matthew Ross who just did a feature film with Keanu Reeves called Siberia. We talk through how this film came together as well as how he was able to jumpstart his career with his first feature film Frank and Lola. Stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode viable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes.

I also publish a transcript with every episode incase you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast, and then just look for Episode Number #237. 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. As mentioned over the last couple of weeks, I’m in the final stages of getting my crime, thriller feature film- The Pinch out into the world. We’re doing our world premiere at the Action On Film Festival in August which takes place in Las Vegas. The screening is going to take place on Wednesday August 22nd at 10:00 pm in the Brenden Theater which is located in the Palms Casino which again is in Las Vegas. I’d say it’s safe to say that this will probably be our only theatrical screening in Las Vegas. So if you live in the area and wanna check out the film please do come and join us. I will link to the ticket information in the show notes so you can click the link and just get some tickets. Again, if you’re in the Las Vegas area. The other thing I’ve been working on is the poster and the trailer for The Pinch.

I basically got another cut of the trailer done but it still needs some sound work. So it might take me another week or two to polish that all up. But the poster is officially done. If you watch this podcast via YouTube you can actually see the poster hanging behind me, so I’m very happy to finally get that finished and ready for distribution. Again, I really wanna thank my artist Michael Koch on this. He just did a ton of hard work on this poster. So again, a big thanks to Michael for helping me on this poster. If you can’t make the screening in Vegas but still wanna see The Pinch, for a limited time I’m gonna be selling it through the website, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/thepinch. I’m gonna keep it up for sale on the website probably for a couple more weeks and then I will be rolling it out to iTunes and Amazon.

I’m gonna try and basically do the release on iTunes and Amazon toward the latter part of August, so basically after our screening in Vegas, then I will hopefully have the release all ready to go. So as soon as we do our screening in Vegas then I’ll have the film ready to start releasing on the various platforms. Anyways, that’s The Pinch. That’s what I’m working on with that. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing director Matthew Ross. Here is the interview.

Ashley: Welcome Matthew to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.

Matthew: Thanks man.

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?

Matthew: Well, I grew up in New York City during the time when there was a lot more arthouse movie theaters around than there are today and I was lucky enough to go out and get a feel of them. So I spent many days and early evenings of my childhood watching movies with my mum at theaters near my house. That’s really what made me fall in love with movies. It happened at a very young age. People would watch Alfred Hitchcock. He projected on 35mm when you’re seven or eight years old. It’s a pretty good way to get somebody hooked on filmmaking and that’s what happened. It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.

Ashley: And so what were your first steps to turning this into a career? You have this childhood, you’re growing up, you’re seeing all these films, falling in love with films. But how did you actually turn that into a career? Did you go to film school, did you just get out of high school and start submitting as a PA? What was your path to becoming a writer-director?

Matthew: Well, I was an art major at Harvard and I made some films there but I wouldn’t say that my education there was kind of a technical film school in the vain of say NYU or USU or AFI or any of those for instance. I made shots throughout that period. I PA’d too when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I worked at Miramax as an intern during my late teen years and also got to do coverage for them. It was really journalism actually that gave me my real entry into the film business. I started writing about movies just a year or two after graduating from college and managed to get a couple of very lucky breaks which allowed me to really create a career as a fulltime film journalist when I was in my early 20s. That is something that I continued to do for quite some time. All the while while I was in that I was also writing scripts on the side and preparing for my career as a film director.

Ashley: I’m curious, I noticed on IMDb you have a number of credits as both a writer and a director for the short films that you’ve done. Maybe you can talk about that for just a minute. Doing the short films, how do you think those impacted ultimately your career and your success getting to the point now where you’re directing feature films?

Matthew:  I think making short films as a college student, several of those early short films I shot them while I was in college. They’d provide you with the opportunity to learn and to fail really. Making movies involves a lot of different skills and uses every part of your brain and unless you’re always [inaudible 00:07:06] you’re not gonna get it right the first time you do it. So making shots really is a way to learn how to tell a story and just as importantly sort of how not to tell a story.

Ashley: And did you submit these shots to festivals, did you promote them or were they more just learning experiences?

Matthew: The first few were just [inaudible 00:07:30] films and then I guess beginning with Curtis and Clover which I made when I was about 24 years old that played some film festivals, then I made a film called Lola which was actually kind of a [inaudible 00:07:46] card for my first feature film Frank and Lola and that played on a number of film festivals. Yeah, but that was sort of at the time when it was kind of a last era of short films and film festivals being a leeway to gain attention as a filmmaker. It was before the YouTube revolution and all of this access to technology as well as an exhibition of the shots. That was nearly around when I was doing that.

Ashley: Let’s just talk about Lola just for one second. So you make this short film Lola, you submit it to some film festivals, maybe just talk about that process bridging that gap from a short film like Lola to the feature film. Did you immediately get an agent, did that agent then sort of pass you down the line to some producers. Maybe just talk through that process a little bit because I know people are always kind of curious how that actually happens.

Matthew: Sure. It took a very long time. I’d actually written a script early, very early draft of Frank and Lola before I made the shot because I’d learned from experience with my previous short films that if somebody responds to your short film and wants to work with you they’re gonna wanna know what you wanna make so you should probably be prepared to have something, specifically a script or at the very least idea. So I tried to do it the right way this time which was to write a script and then make a shot that shared a lot of themes with the features just to show that I could make Frank and Lola as a director. So that’s what I did and the short film I was really proud of and it ended up getting me some terrific producers on board the movie and I had a script ready to go and I thought that Frank and Lola would just be a matter of time because all signs were pointing in that direction.

Eventually that’s exactly what happened but it just happened to take about eight years of near misses and many heart breaks and bad timing and bad luck before I finally got a chance to make Frank and Lola.

Ashley: Yeah. So let’s dig into your latest film Siberia starring Keanu Reeves. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or a log line for that film. What is this film all about?

Matthew: The film tells the story of an American diamond trader named Lucas, played by Keanu Reeves who travels to St. Petersburg to make an extremely lucrative diamond deal with a very shady criminal in St. Petersburg, except when he arrives there his partner is missing along with the diamonds that they plan on selling. So left with a few options he decides to travel to Siberia in order to find his partner and the diamonds and while he’s there he ends up beginning an unlikely love affair with the café owner in a small Siberian town played by Ana Ularu. That character, Katya ends up becoming an unwilling participant in a much more dangerous world of the diamond trade back in St. Petersburg.

Ashley: Okay, perfect. How did you get involved with this project? Did you start early on, was it accorded to the project movie and then they brought you in as a director? Maybe you can describe that process a little bit.

Matthew: Yeah, I mean Keanu and his partner Steven and the writer Scott Smith who you might know from the wonderful movie and script A Simple Plan, they had been developing the script for Siberia for some time before I got involved, and then Keanu had seen Frank and Lola and responded to it very positively which was a real [inaudible 00:11:57] for me because I was such a big fan of his. Our agency set us up to meet in New York and we met and the meeting went very well and the next thing I was in prep in Siberia. I think between meeting him and going into prep on the film was like four months or something like that.

Ashley: I’m curious…obviously you’re a fan of Keanu Reeves, so that’s definitely a big part of this. But what attracted you to the script or the story that wanted you to get involved as a director?

Matthew: Well, of course I was getting the chance to work with Keanu Reeves who’s an actor who I just have tremendous admiration for was at the top of my thought. I thought the script was risky and bold and challenging and those are always things that I’m looking for as a story teller. I really liked the fact that it wasn’t an easily classifiable script in terms of genre but it worked both as a thriller or crime-thriller as well as a love story and very successful I thought [inaudible 00:13:10] of those two genres which is something that I did with my first movie Frank and Lola which is sort of several genres as this one. So it just seemed like a very bold, risky challenge with a performer who was fearless in Keanu. That’s kind of what got me hooked on wanting to make this film.

Ashley: Maybe you can talk just a little bit in more general terms. I get a lot of emails from people, they’re asking me things like, “Hey, how can I get in contact with this director, I’ve got the perfect script for them?” Just in general, is this the typical way that scripts get to you, they go through your representation and they come to you? Do you ever just field query letters, do you ever just find scripts through friends? How do you find scripts that potentially you do wanna direct?

Matthew: Well, I’ve only made two movies. The first one was a script that was completely my own idea and the second one was the situation I just described. The sample size is especially big, but in general I would say having a representation whether it’s a manager or an agent [inaudible 00:14:25] is very helpful because you have only so much time in a day as a director and on the other hand is it’s through a personal connection, you know, a friend or a friend of a friend. That’s certainly the best way I think to get some of them to read something soon. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reading a blind submission or somebody contacting me through my website which has a contact email on it. I would say a faster read would be to get something through representation.

Ashley: Yeah, sure. So maybe just now sort of looking back as your career took shape, maybe you could just give some advice for up and coming screen writers. Maybe there’s even some differences if someone just wants to be a screenwriter maybe that’s one set of advice, and if someone wants to be a writer-director maybe that’s another set of advice. What advice would you have for these folks that are trying to break in?

Matthew: Well, if it’s for those people who are purely interested in being screenwriters I would say have as many writing samples as you can that you believe in that you can send out. Working screenwriters and people who begin or who are able to take the step into professional screenwriting tend to have a lot of writing materials. So keep writing. Don’t just stick with one project. If you’re trying to be a writer-director be prepared to really be in it for the long haul and make sure that whatever story you’re trying to tell and whatever script you’re trying to make is something that you completely not only believe in and are willing to sacrifice everything to get made because that’s certainly what it took for me. If I didn’t believe in Frank and Lola so much there’s no way I would have spent eight years trying to get it made.

So just make sure that…you only got one chance to direct your first film and ideally you’re going to do something that is unique. So find your own voice and stick with it and that would be my advice.

Ashley: Yeah, so perfect. Sound advice for sure. How can people see Siberia, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?

Matthew: It’s gonna be in select theaters and on VOD on July 13th. So check your local listing. Hopefully we’ll have an extended theatrical run if we fill seats at the beginning of our theatrical run but either way they will be able to watch it on demand, iTunes, Amazon Pay-per-view, all that stuff.

Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? I think you just mentioned a website. Maybe you could give us that URL. But Twitter, Facebook, blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes so people can click over to it.

Matthew: Yes sure. My company is Lola Film- L-O-L-A F-I-L-M and that’s kind of the handle that I use for everything. So my website is www.lolafilm.net. My Twitter handle is Lola Film, my Tumbler blog is www.lolafilm.tumbler.com. That’s definitely the best way to reach me and then through my website you can find individual sites of the films that I’ve made and my work as a journalist among other things.

Ashley: Okay, perfect Matthew. Well, I really appreciate you coming and talking with me today. Good luck with this film.

Matthew: Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

Ashley: Thank you, will talk to you later. Bye.

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 database. 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 database. You can learn about all of this 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 types of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties.

They’re are looking for shots, they’re looking for features, TVs and web series pilots, all types of different projects. If you sign up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also you can get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your log line and query letter and answer any screen writing related questions that you might have. Also in the forum are all the recorded screenwriting classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to all of those as well. 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.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.

On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Luke Sparke. He started off working as a costume designer on films and eventually was able to make the leap to writer-director. We talk about this transition as well as his latest feature film called Occupation which is a sci-fi action flick about an alien invasion. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show, thank you for listening.