Ashley: Welcome to Episode #295 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Jason Winer who just directed a high-concept romantic comedy feature called Ode To Joy. It’s about a guy who passes out whenever he experiences strong emotions especially joy, so having a romantic relationship is very difficult with this condition so it’s a great premise for a romantic comedy to kind of set that all in motion. We talk through this project as well as his others and how he got started 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 me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
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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 t 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 is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing director Jason Winer. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jason to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jason: I’m excited to do 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?
Jason: I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. I was like a storyteller from a young age. I used to memorize kids [inaudible 00:02:20] and perform them for other kids. I was an actor, I had a local TV show and for college I went off to Northwestern University and really got into the theatre department there. I was a double major in Art and Performance study which is kind of the snobby version of a theatre major. But what it did for me was mix together a lot of literature and writing with performance. So without knowing I wanted to be a director, I was studying acting, writing and photography.
Ashley: I got you. And so what are some of those moves… you get done with college, what are some of those moves to turn this into an actual career?
Jason: Well, in college I was in this comedy group called The Mee-Ow Show, which is sort of like a perennial thing in Northwestern. Lots of kind of famous alumni, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seth Myers had been in this group. And my particular cast stayed together after college and we started performing together at the Improv Olympic which is a theatre in Chicago and studying with a guy named Del [inaudible 00:03:40] who’s a guru of improvisation. He taught Baluchi, Radner, Murray, Carley, he’s incredible. He passed away since but it was incredible to able to study comedy with him and that was kind of my comedy and storytelling grad school, I feel like was that time at Improv Olympic with Del. And my group moved to LA together which was a great start in the business because we had each other and we were writing together and trying to create shows together.
We sold a show to MTV as kids really in our early 20’s but we got a chance to… we got paid nothing for it but we got a chance to write and produce and make something and that was sort of like my first thing.
Ashley: And how did you guys get in the position to sell something to MTV? First off I was gonna think, how big of a group was this, how many people were in this Improv group?
Ashley: Six of us. Okay. And then how did you guys get in the position…
Jason: Well, we were performing all over town. We used to do improvised movies where we would take a suggestion from the audience and then use it to do a 40-minute uninterrupted narrative improvisation where we would improvise not only the scenes in the movie but actually tell the audience what the camera was doing and simulate those stage pictures. So it was really fun and funny and we took that show but we got invited to the [inaudible 00:05:24] Comedy Festival which is unfortunately no more but at the time was kind of a big deal. Out of that got signed by big-time agents and those agents helped connect us with producers and that’s how we sold the show to MTV.
Ashley: I got you. Just in general, what do you think attracted you to performing and writing and directing and just the arts in general? What was it about you or what was it about it that just really drove you to pursue a career in it?
Jason: As I said, it was kind of all about the storytelling for me. I just loved it. And I loved movies, again, without quite knowing I wanted to direct. Like I was just saying our early shows we were doing these improvised movies. We were making up movies live in front of an audience and so I like to think that… and this is kind of advice that I give too, it’s like you can’t be driven by the end result, by the success that may or may not come. You gotta love making the thing. And that’s it, I loved making the thing. And so I just think that’s what drove me. And that’s what ultimately… I happened to become successful because I made enough things that people like.
Ashley: Yeah. Sound advice.
Jason: But I would’ve made those things anyway if I could, you know?
Ashley: Yeah. So take me from that moment, you did a short film The Adventures of Big Handsome Guy and His Little Friend and you directed that. Take me through that moment where you’re doing basically your short as your calling card from going and actually getting professional work as a director. What did that transition actually look like and…?
Jason: That was the first thing I was [inaudible 00:07:19] directed and it was until age 29 and we called in favors from everyone we knew and I was essentially… you know at that point I had been making my living as a commercial actor to a large extent and also as photographer on the side. I would take actors’ headshot and I used a lot of that money to make this short. But we worked really hard on the script. We worked on this 15 paged script for almost a year Hayes, MacArthur and I did, and Hayes is now an actor, some know, you’ve seen him on stuff like Angie Tribeca. Anyway, he and I wrote this thing together and the second I was behind the camera directing it and using everything I had learned from all my years acting, from my years producing, from my years doing the MTV thing, from my photography business at that point. I was like, “My god!” I felt that I was in the matrix.
I had never directed before but I knew how to do it. And the second I did it I was like, “This is it. This combines all of the things I love and this is what I wanna do.” Then from there once we made the film we got it into a bunch of festivals, it got seen by agents at ICM and they signed me as a writer and director and they’re still my agents today. Then they got it to a bunch of producers and showrunners around town and there were some guys [inaudible 00:08:59] who had a deal that point at FOX and they wanted to develop it as a TV show, and we sold it to FOX and then it got re-made as a big budget pilot for FOX.
Ashley: Okay. That’s fantastic. So let’s dig into your latest film Ode To Joy. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is Ode To Joy all about?
Jason: Ode to Joy is about a man who is living with this disease called Cataplexy. Cataplexy is like Narcolepsy except it’s triggered by extreme emotions. So basically what happens is if you have Cataplexy and you experience anger, frustration and in Charlie’s case, joy, you experience muscle weakness to the point of actually crumbling to the ground. He basically can’t allow himself to experience any extreme emotion and most notably happiness. When we heard that it’s a real thing that actually more people are affected by than you would think because I think it’s like 3,000,000 people worldwide. It creates the inability to allow yourself to be happy and we thought, “My god, this is the ultimate obstacle to falling in love,” which makes it like an incredible basis for a romantic comedy.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. How did you get involved with this project? Was the script already written and then they brought you in on it, were you involved from the development of the idea? Maybe you can talk about your process and how you got involved with it.
Jason: Yeah. I was involved from the very beginning. Mike Falbo who’s one of the producers found this American-like piece about Cataplexy and had this idea that it could make a wildly original romantic comedy if done just right. He brought it to me, we knew each other, we were connected by… he worked at a company called Mosaic, which is my management company. He brought the idea to me and then together we set about trying to find the right writer and we met a number of writers including Max Warner, who had since won a bunch of Emmy for the [inaudible 00:11:23] rapport and at the time had written a great script that was on the Blacklist called Fun Side. He had a great take on the material and he and I started working together on developing the pitch.
Ashley: I see. And take me through that process—- I’m sorry, take me through that process a little bit. How did you get the pool of actors that you were willing to read their scripts and interview because I know that’s gonna be the first question people listening to this podcast will ask, “Well, how can I get myself in a pool?” did you go to agents? It sounds like you were working with your manager se he probably had a bunch of writers within the company or something. But maybe you can talk about that. How do you get yourself in a position where you’re being considered by a producer and a director like yourself?
Jason: Well Max, I mean, Max had a script on the Blacklist so that’s how we knew of him. And it was kind of Mike Falbo’s job as a producer and as a development executive to kind of know of up and coming writers for situations just like this. So how do you get yourself in that position, I mean, it goes back to making things. It doesn’t cost any money to write a script, it’s about putting the work in. So Max had done that. At the same time he had a notable job in TV and was cultivating and sharpening his liturgical skill.
Ashley: Let’s talk about the development process of this. So you had this high-concept idea, you interview this writer, he has a good take on it, then what does the development process look like? Do you sit in a room together, come up with an outline then he goes off and writes pages, do you just let him go do his first draft? Maybe talk through that process. What does that actually look like working with a director like yourself?
Jason: In this case, and this is just my style, I was actively involved in breaking the story with him and figuring out the building blocks of literally what was gonna happen in this story. But that’s because we were kinda developing it as a pitch together so we weren’t yet writing the script, we were writing the pitch and we took the pitch into Sony and sold it to Sony as a studio movie and Sony paid Max to write the script, Max went off and wrote the script and together, I weighed in and we did drafts and drafts together and then when we gave it to Sony it was a year later, which is a very reasonable time between pitch a delivering a feature script to a studio. But in that time the business had changed and basically Sony when they received the script that, “My god! This is everything you guys promised in the pitch. It’s funny and it’s heartfelt and we don’t make this budget level movie anymore.”
So basically the market for this movie at studios had just kind of evaporated and that had changed inside of that year. This was approximately 2013, that’s just a guess but I think that’s about where we are in time here. Then we set out to put it together independently. Sony was very gracious about giving us the script back but then getting it made is hard because you’re sending it around to actors and you’re asking them to read it without a money offer which is just basically begging. And I give Martin Freeman all the credit in the world for not only being like a conscientious reader of material that gets sent his way but seeing the potential in it to be something really special.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. How can people see Ode To Joy, what’s the release schedule going to be like?
Jason: On this Friday which is the 9th of August, it will be out in theaters in New Yok and LA and available for downloads simultaneously on Amazon and iTunes and also your local cable provider. Hopefully people go see it in the theatre in New York and LA because if it does well in those couple of theaters then it will expand to more cities the following weeks.
Ashley: I see. 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?
Jason: Yeah, sure, I appreciate that. People can follow me on Twitter and it’s just my name @jasonwiner and also same thing on Instagram.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. And I will round those up for the show notes. Well, Jason I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future projects as well.
Jason: Thank you so much.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select Screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of this service. You can find out about all the SYS Select successes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also on SYS Podcast Episode #222. I talk with Steve Deering who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
When you join SYS Select you get success to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. These services include the Newsletter, the monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads. We have partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads services so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They’re looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots- all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select you get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS Select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years. So you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join.
The classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept to outlining to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about please got to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Atlanta-based writer Mark Leidner. He just wrote a cool Sci-fi Thriller script called Empathy Inc. He’s a great example of a writer living far from Hollywood who’s getting movies made. This is his second feature film and he’s done it all without an agent or a manager and of course he lives in Atlanta so he’s very, very, very far from Hollywood. And we talk about this. We talk about exactly how he got his first film made, how that parlayed into this second film. And it’s just a great example, again, of someone that’s making things happen without being in Los Angeles. So keep an eye out for that episode next week.
To wrap things up I just wanna touch on something from today’s interview with Jason. I love what he said about the project he sold to MTV. He just loved doing the work and making it and I think this is so important. We are doing something that is creative and hopefully fun and so I just couldn’t agree more with what Jason said about that project. So often the success is what we put the emphasis on when really we should be putting the emphasis on having fun, on being creative and doing really great work, not worrying about all the other stuff. And I know my podcast is all about being practical and trying to sell something and make this an actual career, and there’s that practical side of me that always wants to do the right thing in terms of the business decisions, but at the end of the day the passion is what is going to make this fun and that fun and that joy, that passion, that will come out in the work and hopefully rub off on the audience.
So I’m a firm believer in making smart… working smart and giving yourself the best possible chance of success which often means compromise and doing the best with what you have. At the same time don’t forget about the passion and the joy. Don’t leave that out. That’s what’s gonna ultimately make these projects successful. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.