This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 292: Director Nick Hamm Talks About His New Film, Driven, Starring Jason Sudeikis.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #292 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing director Nick Hamm. He just directed a film called Driven, which is a story of John DeLorean. We’re gonna talk through that film, how it got developed and written and ultimately how it got produced, 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.
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 in case 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 #292. 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 logline 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.
Quick few words about what I’m working on, I’m still putting together my horror-thriller mystery project. Right now I’m looking at casting a few of the main roles before I run the Kickstarter Campaign. I’m hoping to find some actors who have a lot of social media following and could potentially help with the fundraising through the Kickstarter. Obviously they have to be good actors and they have to be right for the part. That’s really the challenge is getting all those things to match up. We literally had thousands of actors submit, so now it’s a matter of going through the headshots and try to figure out who is the best fit for this. We’ll hopefully be running our auditions in the next couple of weeks and then we’ll do the Kickstarter probably in September or maybe it will even drag on into October. We’ll see.
So that’s the main thing I’m working on at the moment, just putting all of that together. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing director Nick Hamm. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Nick to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Nick: It’s good to be here Ashley.
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?
Nick: I was born in Belfast in Northern Ireland, then I moved to London and I went to school there and attended Manchester University and spend my time in Manchester doing plays and learning about theater. And I had been obsessed with theater, so I spent the early first ten years of my life working in the theater. I was a director, lucky enough to be a director at the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. It kind of taught me a lot about working with actors, working with writers. One of the most informative experiences was working with Arthur Miller for many years there on his work. I was a young director in my twenties and I had a great opportunity. That to me was… my main aim when I was younger, was to go into the theater really, and to direct plays, which I did.
And then as I grew in that and understood that and understood how that worked I kind of gravitated towards film. I went to film school, and while I was at the Royal Shakespeare Company I attended classes and I started to make my own movies I suppose. That took me away from theater and into television and [inaudible 00:03:42] into films in the UK.
Ashley: I get you. And so talk about that transition a little bit. It sounds like you having a successful career as a theater director, and then it sounds like maybe you did some short films on your own, just self-funded them just kind of to get that ball rolling?
Nick: I actually never bothered with self-funding the films. I self-funded theater shows at the beginning just to get myself going to see if I could try and practice but… Now, I would say that I did that little stint to this film school [inaudible 00:04:11] for a while but then I realized that I always was going to gravitate into film. I always knew, but I wanted to go into the, I guess into the film business with a real understanding of something that I could do I suppose better, that I could do uniquely. That for me was the ability to work with actors, to dramatize and craft scenes and to create from the page something that was dramatic and something that was interesting. But I wanted to put that into a film context, and so essentially you do stuff again, you kind of, when you transition you know, as I did when I was like 29, 30.
You sort of go back to zero again in some respects. But that’s okay. You start shooting promos, you start shooting commercials, you do anything that you can get your hands on really as a director at that early stage in your career. Because what you want is flying hours. You want to get behind the camera. You wanna understand lenses, you wanna understand how that works. And then you want to use the two skill sets that you’ve got, one working in the theater and the second, understanding the techniques of film making and putting them together. And for me that was the most… that union of the two was really, really wonderful. I enjoyed it.
Ashley: Yeah, I can see that is a good coupling. So let’s dig into your latest film Driven. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Nick: Well, this film concerns a story of a certain section of John DeLorean’s life when he lived in Southern California. He was attempting to create and make a car that became famous in [inaudible 00:05:54] future. And it concerns a relationship he had with a neighbor who happened to be living in the same street, a rather [inaudible 00:06:03] scumbag, my character called Jim Hoffman who was kind of, unfortunate for DeLorean, happened to be a low level informant for the FBI who was sent in by the FBI to Southern California to essentially try and help the DEA and the FBI with the anti-drugs business in the early ‘80s and the late ‘70s. Effectively he was on… Hoffman was kind of working with… he was undercover working with a guy called Morgan… one of the guys called Morgan who was bringing the drugs in for the cartels in Southern California.
Now, so… and as I said, Hoffman was a deeply unpleasant man and one of life’s inherent losers. And so this movie concerns the relationship between Hoffman and DeLorean and how Hoffman wound DeLorean into essentially a world of [inaudible 00:07:10] and I think DeLorean went willingly in that respect. But it’s kind of a weird, perverse buddy movie. It’s sort of their relationship. It’s kind of like a movie of two men who are equally… who are charlatans to the core, both of them, and who, you know, when you have to liaise sometimes things are rather interesting. And in this case this is a movie concerning two rather adept showmen shall we say.
Ashley: How did you get involved with this project? Was this something that came to you as a script that was written and then you jumped on it or was it something that you helped develop from the ground up?
Nick: No, normally in my films I work with a writer called Colin Bateman so this is my, what is it, my second film with him. I did a movie called The Journey with him in England which was about the relationship between two Irish politicians to war on the militant side, head of the Iranian basically, the head of the Protestants in Northern Ireland. This is our second movie together.
Ashley: Oh, I see.
Nick: So we created it from scratch because we believed in the story, we liked the idea of the story. We said that, “Well, this is a fascinating tale,” and actually no one’s done it. No one has told this story in the best part of like 20 odd years in Hollywood. It hasn’t gone anywhere. People have tried, tons of director have tried to get it off the ground and, I think there was a documentary maybe I’ve seen a couple of docs about it but there’s not really been a drama. We were fascinated about why hasn’t there been a drama, why has nobody tried to tackle this? And then we realized when we started to investigate it that everyone had approached the DeLorean story as a biopic and that was something that we just weren’t interested in doing.
I think biopics are awful most of the time, I mean, unless the person you’re doing is actually completely fascinating you aren’t gonna end up having to dramatize and invent stuff in their life that just didn’t happen in order for the movie to work. And so by and large we kind of thought to ourselves, “DeLorean is not a fantastically savory character.” He’s not Steve Jobs, he didn’t invent something that changed the world. He was a showman and a car guy and he tried to get away and scam his way through the later part of his career in borrowing and taking money from the British government to build his car in a factory in Belfast. We knew all that because he’s from Belfast. I’m from Belfast, we knew the story. We knew what happened.
And then when we discovered the story of Hoffman, when we found out about him were like, “Oh man, this is great. This guy is absolute disaster!” This guy got done at the age of 21 for hijacking hostages in a Las Vegas casino and threatening to bomb it unless they, you know, that’s Hoffman. That all went under the radar later, that all got buried in the [inaudible 00:10:23]. So Hoffman as a character became this kind of, this really interesting thing that called out from under a rock. We were like okay, let’s do him. Let’s work with this guy, let’s reinvent him. We had tried to find him, obviously we can’t find him, he went into the witness protection program, he’s probably dead although you never know. I actually at one point put a private investigator on it.
We paid for a top level private investigator to try and investigate where he was and where he came from. There is very little out there about him and in fact some of the photos that are about him are kind of very difficult to get. They’re all blurred. But for us that gave us a canvas. As dramatists we could then go, “Okay, so there’s not a lot about him. What do we need, what can we invent, what can we make and how do we show this story of this car guy who kind of falls into this weird FBI trap to try and make $30,000,000 to keep his car company going. That’s how we found Hoffman.
Ashley: I got you. Let’s talk about your development process a little bit. You guys are developing this story, are you guys in the same room? And I just kinda like to hear the logistics of the setup of how you guys work. There’s a lot if screenwriters that work with partners so I’m just always curious to kind of get a little bit of light. Are you guys in the same room, are you doing outlines and he’s going off and writing pages, you’re giving notes?
Nick: As you know, it’s achingly boring, first off and it’s painstakingly you wanna shoot yourself right away through the whole process. It’s the most, as most writers will tell you, it’s really difficult, it’s time consuming and 80% of the time it doesn’t bloody work. You have a great idea and then you see the results of the writing of the idea and the scene doesn’t work or the idea doesn’t work. It’s a constant act of compromise and failure and defeat. Then always as you’re doing these things you’re going, “Well, nobody’s gonna make this. I’m never gonna get any money and this is completely academic exercise anyway and what am I doing?” That’s where you start from whenever you’re developing a movie and probably most writers and directors, people are saying, “Wait, how the hell are we ever gonna get this made, even if we can get a script at the end of it?” You’re always, in the back of your head, you kind of trying to work from the place of. “Okay, let’s just do the best we can.”
What happens is Colin lived in Northern Ireland, I live in London sometimes and I live here sometimes, so we would meet at the beginning of the process and we’d have a general discussion. You wanna get forensic about it, is that how you like it?
Ashley: Sure. The more details, the better. I like details.
Nick: [laughs] Okay. He would go into… we’d have a general discussion about it and the best way for us to start is Colin will write a very early draft. He’ll blast that out, if you like, a kind of long, torturous, massive script with different characters and different storylines and different people. And what I’m always aware of with writers is okay, what is going to turn the writer on most? What’s the character that’s gonna be interesting for the writer to write? I’m not writing it, I’m just part of the process of creating it but I’m not a writer. What is gonna make that writer to be a better writer? How is he gonna… and so a lot of the time with Colin, it’s finding the voice of the characters and some of the times we’ll go through three or four drafts where he’ll write scenes to [inaudible 00:14:20] ideas and you’ll think okay, the character that you really identify with there, the character that you really think is funny as Hoffman because you can write this scumbag really well.
You can write this kind of cheeky, weird, lying, charmer really well. So let’ focus down on that. Before we go through… and it takes us about a year and a half by and large, it’s a lot of frustration. But after about a year we finally get something and then it’s just about timing how long I can have him for because he’s overseas writing other stuff and how long I can be there for so you sometimes do it… you know, we started this when we were on post on The Journey and we’ve got our next one as well so we know what we’re doing next. And so we write the next one as I’m in post on this one. As I was editing The Journey we start to work on DeLorean and then as I edited DeLorean we start to work on the next one.
It’s only about a year after I finished one before I started with him on the next one. And proper, proper and that’s the process and then lot of it is Skype. Skype is a fantastic creative tool, I mean, it’s just fantastic. Really, it puts you together and it allows you to function and it allows you to create together in a room without pressure and sometimes the most important thing in a creative room is silence.
Ashley: Yeah. How do you guys handle disagreements if you guys are developing this story and maybe he thought the story should go in this direction, you think the story should go in another direction?
Nick: He’ll never do anything he doesn’t wanna do. I mean, if you have to push a writer into doing something and they don’t wanna do it and then they, you know, they’re very rarely going to write it well. In the end a writer always wins because they just go, “Well, I can’t write that.”
Ashley: I wish more directors thought like that.
Nick: Because you’re just gonna make them write something and their hearts’ not in it and then they’re not gonna be very good. So why would you do that. And then also at times…
Ashley: How… I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Nick: Go ahead. No, no, you go.
Ashley: I was gonna ask, just how faithful to the truth you guys felt you had to be. This is a very well-known story, I’m sure a lot of people, especially the audience, a lot of the audience for this film is gonna be car guys, it’s gonna be who are the kind of at least have some degree of understanding of what this story is about. So how much did you feel like you had to be truthful as opposed to being overly dramatic or really maybe…
Nick: That is a good question. I mean here’s the deal, we researched, right? He read everything, he read all the trials documents from the court case. He read the FBI documents. We read a lot. What people don’t know about is Hoffman. That’s what they don’t know. They know DeLorean and the coke deal and how the FBI and all the rest of it but they have no idea of the Morgan Hendrik backstory with the cartels and the DEA trying to stop the drug trade in southern California and how it’s a complete accident that DeLorean got involved in all that. They don’t know any of that. They don’t know that DeLorean lived on a…. the thing that made this movie come alive is we discovered that DeLorean when he was living in… he had a pad in Southern California.
It was placed down in Pauma Valley, right? Weird kind of resort-like, so the place was semi-desert but very beautiful and rich… swimming pools, palm trees, golf courses, you get the idea. That was his kind of retreat in Southern California from his New York apartment and all the rest of it. Now, it just so happened that down the road from him, Hoffman had a house, and their kids started to play together. They started to play in the streets and that’s how they met and that’s how it happened. And that act of the kids playing together brought one of the scummiest people on the planet- Hoffman, right next to DeLorean. And if that hadn’t happened he wouldn’t have done the coke deal. No one knows that. People do know, but they don’t really know that. It’s not something the family’s ever advertised.
Ashley: So after a year, a year and a half, you have this script that you guys feel pretty strongly about, what is then your next step as far as taking it out to producers and trying to raise the money for it?
Nick: Well, I have a producing partner called Pierce Tempest and Piers is… Piers sort of sits over the both of us really. And so when we are ready to go out we basically call Piers and say, “We’re ready, here is the screenplay. Let’s go!” So Piers goes and raises the money and I immediately go in to try and start casting. The way we make these movies is through the actors.
Ashley: I see. Now, was there some talks with this producer, Piers before you wrote the script? Did you pitch them the idea saying, “What do you think about a movie [crosstalk].”
Nick: Yeah, he was involved from the beginning. He knows we’re making the movie. He commissioned Collin to write the movie and he’s aware from the beginning…
Ashley: And does he give advice? Like this is an example, I get a lot of new screenwriters that come to me with scripts that are similar to this and I would never advice a new screenwriter to write a period piece about a historical figure like this. But obviously you’re more experienced. But does your producer give you some of those notes, “Hey, I don’t know if I can actually get this movie set u.” Did that impact your desire to write it or not?
Nick: No. In fact he is the one that said, “Let’s go do this story,” because no one had done that story. He’s aware. And also while we’re writing it, he’s gauging an interest on the show. He’s talking to people. So once we get the screenplay ready, and I work here with WME and Endeavor, who are my agents. They take the screenplay in, they work on it… I mean, they don’t work on the screenplay but they then work with Piers in putting the money together and it becomes a very good circle of people, then we basically send it out to the normal subjects, and as normal most people turn it down and that’s how it works [laughs]. It’s very rare that you get something and everybody goes, “Yes,” immediately. There’s always contingence on something.
Ashley: So how can people see Driven? When is it gonna be released?
Nick: It comes out on August… I think it’s August the 15th in North America in theaters and I think it’s also released digitally at the same time Day and Date. So I think.
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 will round up for the show notes.
Nick: Oh, I see. Well, I have… what do I have? I have I guess I think my Twitter, I think I have an Instagram account and then, what is it, I have a Twitter account.
Ashley: I’ll find it.
Nick: I mean, I’m not fantastic at that, social media I have to say.
Ashley: I got you. No worries.
Nick: It’s there but… and then I think I have a website somewhere- www.nickhamminfo.com or something. I think that’s it. I can’t really remember.
Ashley: Got you. Sounds like you use it a lot so no worries, I’ll find that stuff and round it up for the show notes.
Nick: I’m not particularly fantastic at that stuff but I’m always happy to answer questions.
Ashley: No worries. Perfect. Well Nick, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future projects too.
Nick: Thank you very much.
Ashley: Thank you. Will talk to you later, bye.
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On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer and director Richard Bates Junior. He’s a writer and director who just did a cool horror film called Tone Deaf. We’ll be talking through his career, he’s written and directed four feature films and then of course we’ll dig into this new film as well. So keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview with Nick. I think it was very telling how he decided to work with the writer and how he developed this project with the writer Colin Bateman. It was simply someone who he had worked with before. So I often get emails from people asking me how they can get in touch with Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg. But those people aren’t looking for screenplays from novices. But what people should be asking is how can I meet the next Steven Spielberg, the guy who will be Spielberg in 10 or 20 years? That’s who you wanna meet today, like right now. That’s the person you’re looking for. And the answer is really super simple to answer.
The Spielberg of tomorrow is making shorts and ultra- low budget features right now. He’s probably doing web series, all the sort of modern, low budget stuff that filmmakers are doing. As you listen to this podcast, he or she is out there putting together the next film right now, probably looking for scripts on Craig’s List or using a service like SYS Select to find scripts. Building a relationship with those folks now is how you’re going to get yourself into a position to work with them when they’ve moved up the food chain a bit. Now, obviously the problem is simply that not only is the next Spielberg looking for short scripts right now, so are millions of other people who are distinctly not the next Spielberg.
So it’s often very difficult to vet these people and figure out who actually is talented and who actually is the next Spielberg. But that’s the job as screenwriters that we have. We have to be good judges of character. I mean, we should be pretty good at this because we’re writers, we’re observant and we’re hopefully… hopefully we like to analyze people, we like to people watch and we like to try and understand people. And this is the calculus that you must do when you talk with a producer or a director who is interested in your screenplay. You must size them up, you must look in their eyes and really figure out what you think about them. Do you think they’re talented? That’s one of the reasons I’m so bullish on free options.
When you’re talking about shorts or low budget films, you’re not gonna make a ton of money on any one deal. So to me the important thing is the relationship building. If you meet someone who you like and you feel like they are talented, bickering over a few bucks is most definitely the wrong strategy. It should be more about the person, the producer, the director, the people you’re gonna work with. Are they smart, are they talented, is this someone who you think could make it to the next level? If the answer is yes, then trying to suck every dollar out of these small deals is extremely short sighted in my humble opinion. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.