This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 242: Writer/Director Mike Mayhall Talks About His New TV Series, Bronx SIU, And His Career Living Outside Of Hollywood.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #242 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 and actor Mike Mayhall. He recently co-wrote and co-directed a limited series TV show called Bronx SIU. He also lives in Louisiana so far from Hollywood and has built his career all while living outside of Los Angeles. 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 #242. 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. Last Wednesday we had our world premiere in Las Vegas at The Action On Film Festival. We ended up being nominated for a number of awards although we didn’t actually win any of those. But it was a really great time, lots of fun. I went to both awards nights, watched a ton of films, spent as much time as I could just in the screening room trying to watch…there was a bunch of shots, a bunch of features, so really just fascinating, interesting to see films and then talked to the filmmakers, see the filmmakers. It really renewed my own dedication to independent film.
Just seeing and being around so many passionate filmmakers is inspiring. I mean, there’s just a lot of people out there and hopefully in some small way this podcast is about that too, just getting word out there that there’re other passionate filmmakers out there and having these interviews every week and just seeing the hard work and the struggles that we all go through. It’s all part of the process. It’s all very normal and it’s inspiring to see these other filmmakers having the same problems that I have with my films they have with their films and we’re all just pushing these things out, trying to just be creative and put something out into the world. Action On Film did a great job organizing the event bringing a ton of really cool, creative people together in a very supportive environment.
That’s really my take away about Action On Film is that they’re really trying to create an environment that sort of fosters support and encouragement for creative people. There was rank amateurs with experimental shots. I saw one short film. It was kind of cool, it was just all in this apartment, this woman is kind of being chased around an apartment complex, like a five minute shot. Obviously just her and her friend did it, she shot it. She’s like the actor in it, she edited it. So just very much a do-it-yourselfer all the way up to high level action movies. In fact Alexander Nevsky who I have interviewed in Episode Number #181, he was actually at the festival with his film Maximum Impact. I think he got a couple of awards. The film Astro, I talked to that director Asaph Akbar just a few weeks ago in Episode #233.
That film was nominated for a number of awards too. I think it actually won a couple of them. So as I said before on this podcast I’ll say it again. This is a great way to meet people. There is a ton of directors at film festivals, a ton of producers at film festivals and I can tell you from seeing some of their films they need help with writing. So if you’re a good competent, easy to work with, friendly writer I think going to a film festival like this could really, really help you meet the right types of people. Again, these producers, these directors that are entering these types of festivals, they’re very accessible at a festival like this. Everybody is there to talk to other filmmakers and just get to know the other people at the festival.
I would really encourage you, if any film festivals are within driving distance for you, just go to some of the screenings, maybe try and go to the awards dinner or maybe even volunteer to work at the festival. If you volunteer to work at the festival, that’s a great way to really get in, know everyone, get to meet all the filmmakers, get to meet all the people running the festival. So again, if you have the time, if you have the resources to volunteer I’d recommend that. But at the very least just look around your local city, your local area. Maybe there’s a city an hour or two away that you could drive to conceivably. Just look around. Almost every major city in this day and age has a film festival or two.
Some of them not that well run, some of them will be like ghost towns. You’ll go, there won’t be a lot there, but that’s gonna be part of the learning process, finding the good festivals. Again, I really would recommend Action On Film is really a good festival for people to go and attend. It’s a supportive, caring environment. People really are there to…at least that’s the sense I came away with. People are really there to talk to other people, help other people, get help themselves. So if you’re ever in the Las Vegas area around August definitely check out Action On Film. But even on sort of taking a step back if you don’t have the resources to fly to Vegas or go to Vegas, just look around your local area and get involved with the film festival because it’s a great way of just sort of building your network and being a part of the filmmaking community.
Anyway, so hopefully you can tell I had a great time. I just couldn’t recommend Action On Film any more. It just really was a great job and they did a great job running it. So now I’m full steam ahead trying to release The Pinch. I’m getting the deliverables to the aggregator. Last week I literally mailed them a hard drive with the film and the trailer on it. The film seemed to pass at least…I’m not exactly sure what their quality control process is but at least the preliminary one. It sounds like they sent me an email, there was a couple of issues, but it sounds like I passed that first check. I’m not sure if there will be more QC down the road but at least the first check we kind of got the film through. The only real issue was I used the wrong Codec to output the trailer, so I’ve got to basically just re-explore the trailer and send that to them.
The trailer is actually small enough that I can do that online so I don’t have to actually physically mail them a hard drive although I did include that on the hard drive when I mailed that to them with the film. So all in all at least this first round the QC seemed to have gone pretty well. I’ll do that this week, re-output the trailer and then put that up so that they have it and then hopefully this will slowly be moving forward. And then the next sort of step is setting like a hard release date. Once all the stuff is passed and all the stuff is in their system then we can really figure out what that hard release date will be. So stay tuned for that.
Anyway, that’s what I’m working on. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director and actor Mike Mayhall. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Mike to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Mike: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Mike: Okay, I’m from a small town called Mandeville, Louisiana which is about 30 miles just directly north of New Orleans Louisiana as the [inaudible 00:07:48] lies. How did I get interested in the entertainment world? I’ve always been interested in the entertainment world. I can remember [laughs] as a little kid watching television thinking, “Well, I can do that, I can do that.” And I wouldn’t watch the television show because I was mad because I wanted to go to the television show. But that’s the mind of a little kid, right. I have just always been interested. That’s the point in time I got involved in local theater which led to my high school theater which led to college and summer stock and it just sort of kept building from there.
Ashley: And so originally when you were getting out of high school are you thinking you’re gonna be an actor at this point? Was that sort of your primary goal?
Mike: Yeah, I was supposed to be on Broadway sort of fighting and acting doing Shakespeare. That was the plan coming out of high school. I went to college in Louisiana and then had one of the best undergrad theater departments in the [inaudible 00:08:40] area. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Actors Equity Association? It’s the stage union essentially. As SAG is the screen gild it’s the stage union for actors. Our theater program was run like an equity hub, so it was extremely professionally done and it was just great. I normally saw the performance that’s why I studied…I really dived into creative writing and play writing and directed and so built sort of a foundation there.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s talk about that. At what point did you say, “Hey, I think I could be good at writing as well?” And were you always writing in high school, were you writing little play’s and stuff so it was always a part of sort of your repertoire?
Mike: I had just an early [inaudible 00:09:22] active imagination. I wrote my first play in high school. The high school did two plays. It did a musical and then a straight play. And then for the junior-seniors…was it just the seniors…anyway. You were able to write and create the one act plays. Those are original plays. I wrote a one act play and it got picked and it got performed and it sort of further cemented my love for like a little bit of everything. But as far as all of my good writer [inaudible 00:09:57] I never really I think until recently thought of myself as a writer. I just knew I had stories in my head, ideas and I liked to write them down. I think I did it more for my own enjoyment than I did with any sort of bigger goal.
Even when I was living in Florida and I was helping write plays for some of the stuff for some of the theme parks and then I had my own company and I was writing original shows, I really just wrote it as like, well we need a show so I’ll just write the show and then I’ll perform and direct the show. But I never really thought of myself as a writer, it was always just something that I’d always done and it wasn’t until finally my friends kind of were like, “Mike, you’re kind of sort of pretty good at this and you should just bring it along with all the other sets of skills and nature it as much as you try to nature the acting and the directing.
Ashley: So I noticed on IMDb your first sort of writing, directing, producing credits are a bunch of shots. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. I’m a big proponent of shots. Almost every week on the podcast I’m telling people as writers it’s a great way just to get out there, meet people, see your stuff on film and work on some of the practical aspects. Maybe you can talk about that. How did you find these shots, how did you raise money for them, how did you produce them?
Mike: So the first shot I did was not very good. The screenplay was good but I really just…it was a theater play and I had been working in the film industry for a while and I really just wanted to just do this. I wanted to take a luck at directing a short film, and I learned a lot from that short film. It was just all volunteer, everyone volunteered. I was like, “Hey, it’s gonna be a day of your life, you wanna come out and help me out. I had some friends in the industry and they all came out and they did it. I learned really, really quickly what worked and didn’t work. That was like an eight-minute short film. So the next one I did was a half an hour. So to kind of tell you like where I went from…how I landed into the next one.
The next one was half an hour and again it was…I don’t think we paid anybody. I might have paid my camera men. I think I paid my camera guy, we found a bloom mic. All we had is a bloom mic and we lit it with lights from the hardware store. Everybody came together and I wrote a script and everybody liked it and I said, “Let’s just do it.” I think we took two weekends and we filmed it out at my mom’s property at the back yard because it was a…I wrote it so I can film it outside and I learned a lot from that. I think I’ve lost track of the question because I’m rumbling.
Ashley: Yeah, no I think you’re answering. What was the jump? So now you’ve done a few shots, what was the jump? And it looks like Jake’s Road at least on IMDb is your first feature. What was the jump? I mean, once you’ve done a 30 minute shot you’re actually pretty close to a feature film.
Mike: I think it was just sort of naivety and ambition. I was like…I had a lot of freedom to do a lot of shots. I look at them and I’m like, “Man, you guys are brilliant. You’re cracking this great little…these great, beautiful kind of works of art and they’re so wonderful and they’re so amazing,” but then they kept doing short films. I was like, “You know, I feel like I could spend the next year or two doing a dozen different shots which was beneficial and wonderful and amazing, or I could just write a script and just go for it.” And that’s what I did. I had a context, his name is Dan Garcia who is the show creator of Bronx SIU. Dan and I had met years ago on another film and we just sort of cultivated a relationship.
I wrote a script, it was written to be low budget and I thought it was pretty good. I sent it to him and he said, “This is good, if you can figure how to get it produced I’ll help you sell it.” And so I had sort of a producer sort of already in my corner. He didn’t offer any financial assistance, that was up to me. Once I sort of found someone that sort of gave me just the slightest bit of belief I just went out and found money.
Ashley: When he said he would sell it, he would take it to distributors and basically sell the finished product?
Mike: Yeah, he would knock on doors for me, he would help me out and he would introduce me to people of that nature. So suddenly like in a matter of an hour I became a writer, director, producer and learning how to produce a film was part of the best experience that happened to me. It was really trial by fire. Anything I could have gotten wrong in a film happened to us. It wasn’t necessarily things that happened to us, I mean, three weeks before we rolled we had a classic hurricane come in and wash away our site and everything was under water. We had to push, we had to move things and like it was just a nightmare. I mean, there was just a large amount of things that went wrong. In pre-production and post production things were just a nightmare. The actual filming went great. It was great, but there was the [inaudible 00:15:05] of things where I didn’t quite understand how everything worked where there was a lot of other [inaudible 00:15:09].
Ashley: And so, how did you raise the money for that one, do you have any tips there for just a first time filmmaker?
Mike: Like every other first time filmmaker I first went selling to friends and family. I had been pounding the pavement really hard in the stunt world quite literally and I knew that I wanted to create something so I’d saved as much money as I possibly could over the last few years with the intention of producing a film. I just didn’t know what that film was gonna be yet because I also realized real quickly that unless you got some…A low budget, I don’t like saying low budget because that makes it sound like the movie is not worthy of a bigger accolade. Let’s just say a small film producer someone who’s concentrating on smaller scale films. I realized that people weren’t gonna really take me seriously unless I had some skin in the game.
So I thought that it was important to me to have my own money in the game. That opened up a few doors of like a friend would have a friend who’s interested in investing in movies, and when I would talk to them I said, “You know, I’m putting up $15,000 of my own money and suddenly it went from…they looked at me differently as I was a producer, I had something invested. Clearly I’m not gonna put my own money in if I think it’s not worthy. And so it just brought me to another level of a conversation because I had tried before that and people just sort of just smiled at me. They were like, “Well, you know the film, go get them kid,” and I was like, “This is not where I wanna be. I don’t wanna be shoveled off like that.
Ashley: And so, what does your pitch look like to friends and family? It seems to me that’s a very different pitch than having like your investment deck and RIY and that kind of stuff. It’s more about being part of this cool project or something. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what your pitch looked like.
Mike: My family had seen me go from the kid in high school to a professional, working actor and supporting myself. I think for them to see that, that was kind of important because I wasn’t just coming to them with my hand out. I was saying, “Look, I’ve got an understanding of how this works, I’ve been working professionally, I’ve got a producer who’s gonna give us distribution connections and I really think that this is my first sort of step. So I approached it to them in two ways, as someone who was a professional that knew what they were talking about and at the same time I was like, “Grandma, I really wanna do this.” Grandmas are gonna always help you in a different way than anybody else, than your parents will and things of that nature.
Some family look at it as a business thing and they’re like, “Show me your plan, talk to me about your plan,” which was helpful because it helped me sort of visualize my A, B, C, D plan, you know, how to get there. Some were just like, “I’ll help you because I love you and I’ve been seeing you go through this and I believe in you.” It was a much more casual conversation. I can tell you I did learn early on, and I’m still trying to master this is that I realized that I’m selling me, not necessarily the screenplay. Do you know I find that if people believe in you they’re much more likely to come on board as opposed to just believing in the…It’s hard to create something tangible out of just a screenplay. It’s just words until you can put it on film.
I don’t even think my family realized what we were doing because I showed them the finished product and they were like, “Wow, that’s a real movie!” I’m like, “Well, yeah are you kidding? I’m a real filmmaker!” So it was an interesting sort of all-around thing trying to get the money from everybody.
Ashley: So let’s talk a minute about living outside of Los Angeles. So you got out of college, you were sort of a theater actor. How did you make that jump to becoming a professional actor and did moving to New York, LA, was that ever part of your plan and did you ever go to one of the big cities?
Mike: Yeah, originally it was part of the plan. When I got out of college I did a summer stock up on the East Coast up in Main and then a friend of mine ended up moving to Atlanta, Florida. She was like you should come down her because you have a skill set in stage combat and sort of fighting and stunt work, plus you’re a classically trained actor and you have all these sets of skills which are in high demand out in Atlanta, Florida. I realized I wasn’t quite ready to go to New York or LA yet. I knew I wanted to go to one of those places but I was just a little unsure. So I thought Orlando sounds like a good place and when I got down there they had all the theme parks, some of the most talented people in the world worked there and had a huge theater, local theater, professional theater scene. As well as they had film and television.
So it seemed like just a great place to sort of land and I ended up spending almost 10 years there. Inevitably what happened in the film world, I had a friend of mine who’s doing stunts in New Orleans. Around 2003 or 2004 the film world started really coming to…Hollywood started coming to New Orleans. And so I had a film agent in Florida, I had done some auditions, I hadn’t really booked anything, then I got an agent here in New Orleans and just started submitting and it was just as simple as that. I told him my theater background, I said I had no film, but if you just take a shot at me, I promise you I will represent you well. The one thing I was, was always try to be professional in everything that I do.
It was really just a matter of that. It really just came to pounding the pavement, knocking on doors and hustling and never stopping. You just continue…you just got to keep going in this business. It’s really about the times and that. Sometimes you get a homerun but most of the time you’re just trying to get on base.
Ashley: Yeah. So I’m curious, have you found…I guess there’s always the big fish in the small pond or the small fish in a bigger pond. Have you found that being in Orleans there’s enough acting work and you’re a hustler or you’re well known in that sort of circle?
Mike: Yes and no. For me when I came to New Orleans I would have I guess in theaters what you sort of called an [inaudible 00:21:18] look. I wasn’t a character actor. You look at me, I’m 5’10, I’m athletic and I’m…you’d kind of say I’m more of in the leading man category than you are in the kind of 60 year old grisly man look. In New Orleans there’s a lot of character actor roles. So a lot of times they don’t go for my look unless it’s sort of like the young cop or the young angry guy. So there’s a lot of one liners and in front of Hollywood [inaudible 00:21:47] I’m sure it’s gonna be floating around Los Angeles. So you’ve got New Orleans and you’ve got Atlanta to be hot spots.
So in one way it’s helped me to be here because I’ve gotten in front of major Los Angeles casting directors that I would have never, ever been able to see or meet in person living in Los Angeles. And when I get on set I’m able…It’s such a more of a relaxed atmosphere here, I’m able to talk to directors and producers and executive producers and they’re way more open to just talk about the business and how to pursue things. So my time spent here I really just look at like a big opposite. Even when I was living in LA for a few years I just looked at is as every time I’m on set I’m gonna…I try to learn something beyond just the line that I’m saying. Like why is it being lit this way, why is the camera pointing this way? What is the reason that it’s dilating this way, the camera’s pointing here to here or here to here? What’s the director thinking, what’s he saying? So I would always sort of hover or ask questions.
That ultimately is one of the reasons why I really like it here because I’ve been around set in LA and it’s way more straight and it’s way more tight. It’s much harder to get around the people I really wanna be around which are the directors and the producers to understand what they’re thinking.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So let’s dig into your latest TV series Bronx SIU. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is that series all about?
Mike: Bronx SIU is about a group of I would say elite detectives that are up in the Bronx up in New York and they are brought in and focus on some of the more difficult or I guess just sort of darker cases. Like they’re just sort of the cases that are outside the box. This group comes in to solve those sort of crimes. There’s eight episodes and there’s some really unique crimes and criminals running around that these guys had to come in and think outside of the box. I think we’ve been onto something really good there, I like it.
Ashley: Yeah, it sound fascinating. So where did this idea come from? What’s sort of the genesis of this project?
Mike: So again [inaudible 00:24:00] off and on together for 15 years. Last year he called me and he said that he’s got a TV show that he’s working on and he says that it was his baby. His dad grew up in the Bronx and he was somewhat writing this show from sort of his perspective of back then. He said he drew…some of the cases and things he remembers, he sort of drew from his memories there. So he outlined/wrote the first six episodes and then he gave them to me and I was like, “Hey man, I think you got something here but let me do my thing with it because I think I can polish or I can…I think we can between his voice and his vision and my words I think we can really make something great here.”
So I did a pass on all of them and finished out the ones that he just outlined and then wrote two more on my own to make it eight episodes plus six. Initially it was presented to me and then I just came on full force to really help bring Dan’s vision into the screen. In doing so it also became my vision, so it really became a cooperation.
Ashley: So when Dan came to you he had these outlines and some of these scripts written. Did he have any other pieces in place? Was he already starting to pitch to networks or get network money or anything?
Mike: Yeah, he had some investors and he had the network UMC the movie channel I think on the…to this day I don’t know if they were on the hook and ready to go or if it was show us the final product and then we’ll think about it. Sometimes in this business it’s you cannot like say, “I’ve got this and in order to get this and I’ve got this, so now I can get this, it’s an interesting juggling act. So I don’t 100% know if he had something.
Ashley: But there was a sense that he was gonna produce these things, he wasn’t writing on spec. I mean he had some money in place…
Mike: It was pretty much this is happening, do you wanna be a part of it or not? And I was like, “Absolutely, I wanna be a part of it.”
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So let’s talk about your writing process. We can talk about specifically with this project or just sort of in general. It sounds like this is a little bit unique, but maybe even the two episode that you wrote yourself. To start out maybe you can just talk about the collaboration back and forth. So he sends you these scripts, and then you read them and then did you tell them, “Here’s the direction I think I should go,” and then you guys sort of hammered out the notes or did you just go and do your thing and then send it to him and hoped he liked it?
Mike: It was more of the second. He sent it to me and I was like, “Alright, I see where you’re going with this but I see a better path and a better way to say all this.” And Dan and I have a good, open and honest relationship in the sense that…in the arts you just need somebody that can say yes or no to you and be honest and not get upset because we’re all sensitive to feedback, we all want everything we do to be great, but the truth is it’s normally the 5th or sixth past that really the gold stuff comes out. So basically I said, “Here’s the rewrite, what do you think?” He said, “Yes, and I just kept going and once I did all of the six episodes rewrite and are finished then we sat down and we went through it. Basically what he did was he said, “You took this moment out, I really want you to add this moment.”
I said, “Well, I’ll add this moment but let me say it the way I wanna say it so it’s not to keep sort of the story intact and to keep people’s character voices separate. Each character has to have a separate sort of voice. Even as we would go through the film there’ll would be constant rewrites. There’s a scene at the…we would toss scenes out and rewrite them and there’s a monologue at the end of episode six, a big scene which I wrote and it really was for me sort of the summation of Bronx SIU this indie monologue and it was straight. The lead actor Brian White replaced Jamie Blue, he just nailed it. But it was collaborative in the sense that he handed me something but it was really a lot of my own voice in that he just trusted me and let me just go with it fully which was great, you know.
Ashley: Yeah. So on these two episodes and maybe this is more of a general question too. Just when you’re writing something like these two episodes where you’re not rewriting someone else’s work, how much time do you spend outlining versus how much time do you spend actually in final draft writing dialogue?
Mike: Every screenplay to me has been a little different. For those final two episodes I had an idea and I don’t even think I can call it an outline. I just had bullet in points I just wanted to [inaudible 00:28:54]. So and so does this and then so and so does this and this. And then I would just bullet and pointed all the things that I wanted to happen and then I basically stepped away from it for a day or two and I just let the wheels turn in the background. Then once I had it I pretty much just sat down and spit it all out. Every project to me has been a little bit different. Sometimes I get really detailed in the outline, sometimes it’s scene by scene and sometimes I get the whole story in my head and I just sort of start through to finish, just keep going.
Ashley: What’s a good day look like for you in terms of page count once you get into final draft?
Mike: Wow, you know, for me it’s not about page count, it’s about scene count. So some scenes are harder for me to write than others. Let’s say I’ve got a scene that is one page and then the scene following it is important and that’s gonna be like a three-paged beast. It’s more important to me that I make sure the scene is corrected where I want it to be because I find it really hard for me to sort of move on to the next moment. Even if the scene is happily going and outlined meticulously then I feel comfortable sort of moving on. I don’t really hold myself to say if I don’t get five pages or I don’t get eight pages or 10 pages or 15 if I’m feeling ambitious.
I really just try and say I wanna get through these scenes and these moments which then lead me to the next scene and the next moment. That’s what’s important to me. I don’t know if that’s the typical way of thinking but that…
Ashley: No, I think that’s interesting. Where do you typically write? Is the office we’re looking at, that’s your home office?
Mike: A little bit. So right now I got my big iMac here and then behind me is my laptop. Most of the time I’ll write on the laptop just because I find that if I sit in one place for too long I kind of just like a change of energy. Like I’m sitting at the house and I’m writing and I feel sort of stifled I’ll go out to a coffee house or a place to get lunch and then…just something about a change of atmosphere and I think the energy helps me kind of keep going.
Ashley: And when do you typically write, are you a morning person, night person, middle of the day?
Mike: All the time. I’m gonna do the phases where I tend to write all night and I’m gonna do phases where I write all morning and then sometimes it’s in the afternoon. It’s just whenever… Sometimes I write by creativity but when I really know I have a project that’s important I’ll sit and I will make myself write, just like a day job. I’m going to write from this is my job today and I’m writing. If I only two pages out I’m going to force myself to write because it can always be rewritten. It doesn’t have to be beautiful the first time you get down. It just depends on the project and how I feel like I can approach it.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So how do you know when your script is ready to show to other people and to start to get some feedback on it?
Mike: The moment I get to the end I am ready for feedback.
Ashley: When you get to the end, you’ve polished up the pages all along, you don’t necessarily have a vomit draft and then a rough draft?
Mike: I am my own worst critic. I will sit and I will rip apart a line of dialogue for hours and just think, “How should he say it? Should he say it like this or should she say it like that?” I will just destroy myself. By the time I hit that final period I’ve gone through it in my head or on paper through deletes several drafts. Every time I open up the screenplay to write again I will save it as a new draft. So I normally write four scenes but that may be let’s say four different days, so that will be four different drafts. I will just constantly save, save as new, so one screenplay for me could have 20 different drafts, but it’s really just a continuation of each thought.
Ashley: I see. That’s smart. And then if you’ve done some rewriting on something you might wanna go back to that older draft and you have that older draft. I run into that sometimes where I rewrite something. The original stuff was actually better and then you got to start trying to head-control z…yeah, exactly. So what does your development process look like? You’ve got the script, the first draft done, you’ve sent it out. Who do you typically send it to and how does that process work for you?
Mike: It just depends on…I got a few buddies who do screenwriting and we’re constantly trading scripts back and forth and trying to challenge each other. I think people if you’ve been in it a long while I feel that you know who you can send it to for honest feedback and the feedback you kind of wanna hear. I really just need to hear that, “Yes, you’re doing a good job and keep going.” So I’ve got that person. Then I’ve got the person who’s gonna just rip me apart because he knows that if he doesn’t lay into me I’m never gonna try to be better. So I usually send it out to a few people just to get some feedback and thoughts and if I can I will gather my peers together and we’ll do a play review of it, and we’ll just sit down just to have a round robin afterwards and they’ll tell me their yes and no’s and what they like and don’t like.
Ashley: Okay. So once you were done with these scripts, were you involved at all in the process of then pitching to the networks and raising the additional money?
Mike: No. By the time that we were done with the scripts we were a few days out from shooting. So during that time period Dan just left me alone to rewrite and write scripts and he put on his producer hat and went to I guess the investors at UMC did his deal and the next thing I know we’re in New York and we’re scouting and then we’re in Los Angeles and we’re filming. It was super quick.
Ashley: Yeah. And maybe I asked this and you said you didn’t honestly know. So now once you’ve finished the things were the TV networks involved by that point once you had done production?
Mike: Yes. I believe UMC was involved by that point. I don’t know how they were involved, I don’t know if they were involved as a back-up or an investor or if it was they had contract with Dan to air the episodes one they were completed. I don’t know if that was pending approval, that I don’t know.
Ashley: Perfect. So what advice do you have for writers at this stage 2018? What advice would you have? Just a general advice someone trying to break into the business?
Mike: I just think, so I have some friends who are producers and they tell me they get hundreds if not thousands of scripts a day. So it boggles my mind like how to get to the top of that pile. For years I have entered all sorts of screenwriting contests with all the big film festivals and screenwriting contests. I have entered and I always get feedback but what ultimately frustrates me is that the person giving me feedback is just one person and it’s their sort of opinion. It still doesn’t go anywhere, it doesn’t go anywhere for me. I felt that the best way to get your scripts and your material out in front of people is a, make some shots, keep promoting yourself in that way, people will notice.
Cultivate relationships. The relationship that Dan and I have and I’ve got other friends who are producers in the area now, we all started at one level and we are all working out towards the next. So you really got to work hard at cultivating these relationships. Here’s the secret formula. If you wanna try to get something done small you have to hope big but you have to write small, because as an individual producer, let’s say I say, “Well, I’ve got let’s just say $50,000 and I wanna do a $50,000 movie.” Now, it can be done but it takes a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifice. But I’m not gonna go looking for a sci-fi film or a horror film with like tons of visual or special effects. I need to find a sort of specific film that I can fit into that budget.
If you can write small then you probably have a better chance of getting your screenplay done. And in today’s market of the digital Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, everybody needs content. So if you can build a small little brick and the next time it’s a little bigger and a little bigger and a little bigger then you’ll start working your way up. Go to the American Film Market. See what the distribution people want. There’s a big difference between what you wanna write and what they’re asking for. And I’ve never really been good at pitching a film cold, it’s just not my strength, but some people are. I’ve seen people sell films based off of poster and the concept. But I think that the thing that I can’t wait to begin is learning the business side of everything.
I’m all about the creativity but there’s a whole other world out there that you have no control over and that’s the business and production side and producers, some of them are pretty heartless man, they’ll look at it and they’ll go…I’ve heard people go, “Your screenplay is 95 pages, we need a 90 paged script.” What, did you remove the cover letter, I don’t know! I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that…I’ve been around that. It’s hard for it to make sense how hard it is to write a 90 paged script. But I would say learning the business side will give you a much better insight into what the market is looking for, how you need to write and what needs to happen. And with creativity and all the things out there now you can write small and film small and still offer a big project that can put your name in big letters.
Ashley: So we talked about this earlier sort of living outside of LA and you sort of described your situation with acting. I’m curious with writing it seems like it’s a little bit…like definitely I think being in Atlanta or someplace like New Orleans because there is so much production it stands to reason that as a competent actor you’re networking and you’re meeting people. You could find some work. But as a writer I’m maybe a little more skeptical because the writing seems like it’s definitely done in mostly LA, sometimes maybe New York. Have you ever thought in terms of as a writer, producer, director, have you ever thought maybe it would be advantageous to go to LA?
Mike: Yes, and I’ve been thinking a lot about that this year. With the release of Bronx SIU I though man, it seems like now that I’ve got something really legitimate, you can no longer deny that okay, I’ve done something, something is here, here it is in my resume. I have a producer friend on NCIS New Orleans. I called him and said, “Hey man, I’ve got this show coming out, I really want you to help me figure out how to have NCIS New Orleans look at me as a director-writer, not just some guy living in New Orleans who talks about it.” He put my name in the hat but they had already picked their directors for this year so next year we’re going to revisit that conversation. So there’s one sort of way I’m trying to see how I can get into the network’s television.
What I notice locally as far as writing is concerned is that I notice a lot of people who come in here with small, independent productions. That ranges from everything from I’ve seen $25,000 movies to $2.5 million. In this outside of Hollywood range a lot of the writers are also the director. I very rarely see productions where it’s here’s the writer and here’s the director because again that’s a budget sort of thing. If I pay a writer and then I got to pay a director as a producer it’s advantageous for me to have one and the same. Or the writer takes on another sort of another hat of an assistant producer or an actor or they just find a space to fill that can help move the film along. So I’ve seen a lot of that, which is great I think for the independent filmmaker.
So if you’re a writer and you think you have the ability to direct or you’re a writer and you feel you have the ability to produce I think you need to start pushing that envelop or try to sharpen that skill set a little bit. Because I have friends who in LA who are writers and they’re doing the same thing everyone else does. They’re just knocking on doors and knocking on doors. I get screenplays sent to me…I think on average it may be once a month right now I’m getting a screenplay or two. I like the concepts but at the level I’m at they’re just too big. I can’t make a two million dollar apartment of a film, that’s just way away from me right now. I mean, it could change tomorrow. Bronx SIU could be a hit and the next thing you know I am making that, and I would love to be able to, but I’m looking for things that are compartmentalized and that I could do.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s so smart. And within the last maybe two months I talked to a producer and I’m not sure if he was based in Louisiana or not but as running Selling Your Screenplay, he was looking for writers that were based in Louisiana and it was something to do with the tax breaks. Obviously there’s the production tax breaks but there was also some sort of tax incentives for actually getting a writer that’s also from Louisiana.
Mike: Yes, so in Louisiana if you’re already a local writer or director, if you get exactly how the [inaudible 00:42:02] is done you can get up to like a 40% tax break on that individual. Or if they are producing, you get a local producer, director, let’s say you’re a writer and you’ve got a screenplay and then together we find a producer and I’m here as a director, the whole production can get up to like an enormous 40% tax break…don’t quote me on that. It’s huge. It’s big enough to bring the money in so that it becomes a local Louisiana production. It’s an interesting thing. It’s an interesting way to start trying to learn the business side or the money side of things. It really allows you to see things from a different perspective and write sometimes from a different perspective. I still write the big projects, I still write the $20 million fantasies that I wanna do, but I also have got that side of me that’s like, “Okay, here’s the small stuff.”
Ashley: Yeah. What’s next for you? Are you starting to think about what your next project will be after Bronx SIU?
Mike: Yeah, there’s the [inaudible 00:43:05] we get a second season. So I’m already mentally sort of pinning down ideas of plots and characters that I want to come back and where I want the story to go and how the acts to happen. Because at the end of the season we’ve really set up a really major cliff hanger and I’ve got my bad guys positioned where I want them to be and so I really want them to really come to fruition in the second season. As far as what I’m starting to train on right now, the two projects that we’re trying to get up Dan and I, one is like a really small micro-budget film done in Florida. It’s a family adventure film, sort of [inaudible 00:43:40]. It’s got some moral lesson and it’s got some adventure. It’s really cute.
And then another one is a bit of a darker action-thriller murder mystery where essentially everybody’s a criminal and it’s just more about who’s the nicest criminal of the group, you know, who’s the good guy in a room full of bad guys sort of scenario. That hopefully will be a little bit bigger and I got to call Dan about that. Now that I said it I need to call him about that.
Ashley: Throughout this process you mentioned that at one point you had an agent for acting. You had an agent in Orlando and then you moved to New Orleans. Have you tried to get an agent as a writer and a director?
Mike: I’m just starting to look into that. Now that the show is officially out and playing and all episodes are accepted I’ll probably look into getting an agent for directing…probably more of directing than writing. That’s mainly because I guess it’s a bit of vanity, I just wanna direct what I write or find somebody else’s project that I can help the way that I’ve been helped. I really enjoy doing that. I love to help and nature other writers and give feedback and things like that. Not that I’m the best at what I do but I just feel like that little bit of experience I can pass on.
Ashley: In terms of…because I think what you just said is more typical, but I think people that are trying to break into the business, they think it’s the reverse. You get an agent and then you get your first TV show. Maybe you can talk to that a little bit because I get so many emails from people, “Hey, how can I get an agent, how can I get a manager. I’ve been doing this in Selling Scripts for decades at this point and I’ve really never had an effective agent or a manager. I just think people don’t realize that it’s the horse before the cart in my cases.
Mike: Yeah, I really picture that Hollywood has got…there a definite margin to Hollywood where you can kind of get off the bus and suddenly someone sees you, you say the right line in the right room for the right person and you’re sorted. We’ve seen it happen in television shows and interviews but the most part of this is you’re a slave in LA and it’s 25 years down the road and suddenly you’re an overnight success. I feel like the mainstream in Hollywood sort of has a show-me-first attitude. Show me your first film, show me your short film, show me your feature, show me your screenplay, okay, they want a pet, they want to…okay, you’re legit and then maybe they’ll talk to you.
I really firmly believe that there’re just no rules in this. Do it the way you think it should be done. I often said to my friends I wish I was as naïve as I was 10 years ago because I didn’t know all these unspoken rules of don’t talk to this person and have a screenplay written this way and have it this way. I would just go out there and do it and no one told me no and so I just kept doing it. And so I just think that if you wanna be a screenplay writer, write your screenplays, try to get a producer on your own. It’s a hard beast, it really, really is. But once you do it nobody can take that away from you. No one can ever say to you you’re not a screenwriter, you’re not a producer, you’re not a director because it’s there, it’s on tape, it’s a digital, it’s yours forever.
So I just think you’ve got to do it. You have to do it. I can remember coming up in the business as an actor, as a stuntman, as a writer, as a director, there was always the free stuff. It’s like I’m slaving away for nothing and then I’m making $50 a day and now I’m making $100 a day and then now I’m making a scale. There’s a system of do it, you know. Hard work, that’s the only thing that I’ve got to say is that it’s just a lot of pounding on pavement and hard work, and try to be nice along the way.
Ashley: Yeah, exactly for sure. So I just like to end the interviews by asking people, what have you seen recently that you really, really thought was great. We’re sort of in the golden age of TV. Anything on Netflix or Hulu that you’ve been watching, any TV shows, movies, anything you’d recommend to our audience.
Mike: Everything! I love everything on TV now. It’s so good. It’s hard for me not to find a TV show where I’m like, “That is a great moment.” I really love…I’m a big comic geek so I really love what Netflix has done with The Dare Devil and The Punisher and things like that. From the writing to the camera angles to the lighting, it’s just beautiful. I’m watching a show on Amazon called Britannica…I mispronounce it. It’s about the Roman invasion of Kilts and it’s just bizarre and phenomenal and crazy. It’s just all over the place but I love it. Fortitude on Amazon was great. Yeah, I just I’m a big fan of everything but I really force myself to try not to look at it from a director, writer, producer point of view.
I just really at the end of the day wanna be entertained and ultimately at the end of the day that’s what I want people to want about Bronx SIU and anything I do. I don’t want you to…you can get into the artistry and go, “Why is this person lit more than that person and why the camera is doing that,” but at the end of the day I just wanna be entertained. I wanna have fun. I wanna think, I wanna cry, I wanna laugh and that’s what I look for and that’s what I try to do.
Ashley: Yeah, so sound advice. So maybe you can talk real quick just about the release schedule of Bronx SIU. When is it coming out and what networks will it be on?
Mike: It is officially on UMC, the Urban Movie Channel and if you have Amazon Prime you can also watch through that. UMC is a pay prescription. It’s like $4 a month. But since I got you right now, if you go to UMC or Amazon and to the Bronx SIU, if you put the code in, let me make sure I have this right. Bronx UMC, that B-R-O-N-X U-M-C, you should get a 30 day free trial.
Ashley: Of UMC, okay.
Mike: Yeah, so that’s pretty cool, and it comes out once a week every Thursday, so this Thursday, what’s the date of this Thursday, do you know?
Ashley: It would be August 2nd.
Mike: August 2nd…so August 2nd will be episode three. There’s already two episodes up right now. Go to UMC, enter the code Bronx UMC when asked for the promo code and you can catch up. But every Thursday new show.
Ashley: Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re working on, Twitter, Facebook, blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll link to the show notes.
Mike: I would say I have a Facebook account of Mike Mayhall and Twitter and Instagram. It’s all under my name, either Mike or Michael Mayhall. I don’t post a whole lot but usually when the next project rolls around I’ll put some information out there. I try to get more involved with social media but…
Ashley: There’s only so much time in a day, I got you. Well perfect Mike. Congratulations on getting this done. Congratulations, I look forward to hearing about your next project and I really appreciate your time today.
Mike: Thank you so much for having me and you keep writing.
Ashley: Thank you, will talk to you later.
A quick plug for the SYS screenwriting analysis service. It’s a really economical way to get a high quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy our three pack you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days, but rarely more than a week. The readers will evaluate your script on six key factors- concept, character, structure, marketability, tone and overall craft, which includes formatting, spelling and grammar.
Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write you a log line and synopsis for you. You can add this log line and synopsis writing service to an analysis, or you can simply purchase this service as standalone product. As a bonus if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the data base searching for material on a daily basis so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend or consider from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is a monthly newsletter goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material. So again this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Luke Del Tredici. He has an extensive background in television writing so we talk through that part of his career, how he got started in TV writing and just talk briefly about some of the shows he’s worked on. He also recently did a feature film called Arizona, so we dig into that film as well, the writing of it and then how ultimately he was able to get it produced. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show, thank you for listening.