This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 286: Writer/Director Jérôme Cohen-Olivar Talks About His New Horror Feature, The 16th Episode.
SYS Podcast Episode #286: Jerome Cohen Olivar
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #286 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourccreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer- director Jerome Cohen Olivar. He just did a horror film called The 16th Episode. It’s another very timely story about a bunch of YouTubers who struggle to build their channel and end up in a lot of trouble. We talk through this film as well as some of his other projects, so stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes, or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer- director Jerome Cohen Olivar. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jerome to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jerome: Well, thanks Ashley for having me.
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?
Jerome: Okay. I grew up in Morocco, mainly. I was born in France but at the age of four I moved to Morocco with my parents and that’s where I grew up. And I guess the culture there and the many rituals and the stories and tales about… you know, Morocco is a very story rich country. And so I think that played a role in constructing I guess my psyche as far as I was trying to tell stories. That was one part and obviously it’s a very complex mechanism as to how you become a storyteller.
Ashley: Did you go to film school, did you start doing short films on your own? Maybe walk us through sort of that process?
Jerome: Well, to be honest when you mentioned filmmaking back in my days in Morocco nobody would really take you seriously. It’s not like we had an industry over there and it was mainly me grabbing my Super 8 camera and then shooting just random stuff. Most of it fun footage, but at the time, yeah, I guess you wouldn’t call it fun footage. But it was basically just random footage of me doing silly things and friends and being stabbed and blood, stuff like that. And then slowly as years went by, I realized that this was actually something that we wanted to do. And so I guess it’s a little more difficult when you’re on this side of the Atlantic because again, there’s no industry and it’s hard to connect to anyone and to get advice.
So for a while I kind of forgot about it. I didn’t go to film school. I actually studied… I went to UCLA, I studied economics and I dropped out. I said, “Okay, now I know what I wanna do, I wanna make movies because whatever I’m doing is really boring.” So I went and shot a first short film, and then from then on I started building my… slowly building my career. And there you go.
Ashley: I got you. Perfect. So let’s dig into The 16th Episode. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick logline or pitch. What is the story for that film?
Jerome: Yeah, The 16th Episode is about these three YouTubers who are not really doing very well with their channels, and they’re really struggling, everyone has a bad story about why and how they’re struggling. So the movie opens in Brazil, and the viewership is down, and their next [inaudible 00:05:04] and mainly what they wanna do is try to get their viewership up. Otherwise, basically, they’re out of the picture. So they go to Morocco and things… do you want me tell you this whole story. You’ve seen the movie, right?
Ashley: No, no, I have not seen it yet. I just wanna get a kind of a feel for it. But I think that’s good information. That’s the kind of the setup, and I think that will be interesting for people, and enough to kind of get them to think maybe they should check it out. So maybe you can talk about sort of where the story came from. Obviously, being about YouTubers who are trying to get views, that’s very, very timely. But where did this story come from? How did you come up with this idea?
Jerome: I was trying to write a very conventional screenplay and try to get an agent in Los Angeles, so I started out doing that. It was obviously… you know how hard it is. I had an open door at one of the major agencies and so I was sending screenplays and getting faxes all the time. One day my agent told me… he wasn’t my agent then, but he said, “You know, you should write something, you should write something really like from the heart without trying to fit in any kind of a paradigm.” So I kind of went free [inaudible 00:06:22]. In the beginning, I kind of went out of everything that I learned the scholarly way and started writing what was then little horror movie? And then from then on I realized that maybe I had a script, so I sent it to this guy and he said, “Okay, I like it. Let’s try and get it out to people.”
He sent it out to three companies and Oren Peli, the director of Paranormal Activity ended up optioning the script. I was out of it because I wasn’t supposed to direct the movie. I waited after a year, development hell, nothing happened. Two years, nothing happened, and I decided that I was gonna direct it. And that’s what I did. But since time had passed, I rewrote it again and then integrated the new elements. To answer your question about the YouTubers it was the exact same story, except when I wrote it, there weren’t YouTubers and when I started, they were YouTubers. But it was about a blog and was about kind of the same thing. So it was a little bit updated to fit the actual… the time. The time frame of now.
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. So this agent, he said, “Go write something from the heart.” I’m curious, did you just love horror movies, so this was the first thing that kind of came to you and so you were well versed on this, and these are the kinds of films you enjoy watching and so this is the kind of film you wanted to make?
Jerome: Yes. Well, when you’re trying to get an agent, I think, for me, and I speak for me, you always try to do your grammar right, you always try to do your structure right, you kind of wanna play the rules that you learned. And it’s a good thing to do. Again, I speak for me because everybody I’m sure has a different kind of approach. And it works and it doesn’t. At some point I think what you feel is what remains and I think that I was writing decent screenplays, were maybe a little bit too formulaic. And when I wrote with [inaudible 00:08:41] I kind of went with some kind of rage and I forgot the grammar, and I forgot everything. I forgot it rewrote. To me I had written something that was a little bit of a mess.
I think that when you do that that becomes interesting because you leave everything you’ve learned behind. It’s kind of like when you speak, you don’t think about vocabulary, you don’t think about grammar. And if you think too much about it then you kind of lose your identity and you kind of lose who you are. I think for me it was kind of the same thing. My writing since then has become much more intuitive as opposed to, “Okay, well, I’m gonna write the first act, I’m gonna have a break at page 19, and then a midpoint at page 60, and then [inaudible 00:09:27] or whatever. I stopped doing that completely. I stopped doing that completely and when I stopped doing that, I found that people were responding to my stories much more.
I’m not saying that I’m again, everything that you learn writing a script, but all I’m saying is that it should be in the background. It should be something that you have in the back of your mind and then forget about it and then just right from your heart. Yeah. So to answer your question, horror was my thing, I just went and wrote something, almost without thinking. I wrote a first draft maybe in like two weeks to three weeks. Obviously the rewriting takes forever, but the base was there about three, four weeks, and then the rewriting takes me how many… it’s like 10, 15 drafts of rewrites and then I’m sure it’s [inaudible 00:10:18]. Especially when you have a few people working, yeah.
Ashley: I’m curious, because the way this seemed to go down was you wrote the script, you sent it out, you got it optioned, but nothing ever came of it. Was your intention or you were hoping that you would get to direct it. And sort of a secondary question was, as you were writing this, did you write with budget in mind knowing that you might end up directing it and might not be able to raise $50 million?
Jerome: Yeah. Well, firstly I said it’s a very low budget because it’s [inaudible 00:10:50] but it’s not really [inaudible 00:10:52] because it starts with the objective and subjective point of view so it’s not really [inaudible 00:10:58]. Every time I hear about a new take on [inaudible 00:11:01] it’s very flattering, but I wouldn’t call it fantasy. I will just call it a film. But to answer your question, when I wrote it I intended to direct it. I didn’t even intend to sell it to my agent at all, because my thought was, “He’s gonna read this and make fun of me because it’s too crazy and it’s too… it’s completely out of the [inaudible 00:11:25]. I guess I was on my computer getting bored or being on some social media or something and I said, “You know, I have nothing to lose,” I said to myself.
So I sent it to… I sent it and forget about it. Three weeks later he calls me and says, “You got a great script, let’s get it out there.” So that’s kind of the way it went. And then, okay, I was very happy because Oren Peli was obviously who he was. And to me it was a perfect springboard as a writer. But then you don’t want things to drag on, then you kind of go, “Hey, what’s… what is this all about? Obviously I’m not doing it for the money, otherwise I would have chosen another job. I’m not doing it for the fame, and I just wanna do… I just wanna take pleasure in doing it and have fun doing it. I wanna make my own films. I think it’s so important at the end because there’s nothing for me.
I would have suffered if somebody had made it and had not adhered to the vision of the film. It would have been very hurtful.
Ashley: So let’s talk about your writing process for a minute. Just some quick questions. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, do you write at a Starbucks coffee shop? Where do you typically write your scripts?
Jerome: I typically write in places that are that are noisy, and that are… I need life around me. And I’m sure that a lot of… I don’t know about other writers, I’m sure everybody has his way. But to me, if I find that I’m too isolated I tend to lose… it’s the opposite. I tend to lose the though. I need life around me for some reason, I don’t know maybe it triggers some unconscious things and makes my writing more truthful, maybe I don’t know why. But so usually I can go to a café and then start thinking about the ideas. And what I would do is I used to write treatments. Again, I go back to being scholarly as opposed to… so I used to write treatments and I used to do cards when I started and right now, I know my setup, I know the middle of the movie at this point, I know the ending.
And that’s all I need to know, because I found that if I set myself too many story beats or too many obligations during the screenplay, then you kind of… you lose the ability for the characters to find their own motivation and find their own way. And so again, to answer your question, I would say the writing process is a little bit intuitive. Like, I think my unconscious mind knows exactly what’s gonna happen but my conscious mind has no idea. I kind of like to play with that balance of okay, I know what the setup is, I know what the end is. I know structurally, more or less with the balance of the movie, I don’t wanna know more because something might arise that is totally surprising, that is totally out of context.
And that to me is the edge. That to me is the little plus, the little spark that’s going to make the screenplay maybe a little different and push it a little bit out of bounds. And going back to horror I think to me what makes a good horror movie before anything is the drama behind it. There’s this whole debate about horror not being drama, but if you look at all the classics, and I don’t mean to lecture anybody here but I’m just… this is just so you get an idea of how the process goes. If you look you look at the classics and if you look at movies like The Tangent, The Exorcist or Don’t Look Now, all these movies are really about… they’re really character driven, and they’re really about characters pushing the plot and not the other way round.
And I really tried to do that in The 16th Episode. And then hopefully you can find a balance but to me it will always be about character, and plot second. I hope that kind of gives you an idea.
Ashley: Yep. No, I totally agree. How can people see The 16th Episode? Do you know when it’s gonna be released?
Jerome: Yes, it’s gonna be released on June 28th in a few theaters across the country. Limited release. And then simultaneously it’s going to also to be released on VOD, iTunes, I guess everywhere. A lot of platforms. The distributor did a very good job at placing the movie in major outlets and stuff, so I’m excited about that. I’m really excited. So yeah, anybody who wants to watch the movie, they can just go to iTunes, and it will be on Amazon Prime and on cable right after that, and on DVD, and Blu-ray, and we’ll see what happens.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes.
Jerome: Yeah, yeah. I have a page, The 16th Episode page. I have a private page, which is my page. But on my page I rarely talk movies. It’s like when I go home, I rarely touch movies. So it’s kind of the same with my life on Facebook. There’s a professional page for The 16th Episode. There’s a website. And then my partner Yasmin who produced the film, she keeps all the professional… She also handles the social media, and the website and everything and she keeps everything updated. She probably has more material coming up in the next few days. But you can definitely keep up just… I use Twitter also. I’m not a super social media expert, so that’s what my partner Yasmin does. And, by the way I wanna say hello to. I thank her for the work because I wouldn’t… okay, if that’s possible.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. Well, Jerome I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films.
Jerome: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: Thank you. Will talk to you later. Bye.
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