This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 301: Writer/Director Bernie Rao On Turning Furniture Into A Horror Villain In His Latest Feature, Killer Sofa.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #301 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing another good friend of mine, Bernie Rao. He is a very talented Portuguese film maker who’s been living mostly in New Zealand over the last few years. The more astute listeners to the podcast will notice that Bernie was the cinematographer on my film The Pinch. So we’ll talk about how we met briefly too, which I think is a real good example of how actual networking happens in the business and how you can connect with people and actually build a relationship. We talk briefly about that as well. He just did a quirky horror feature film called Killer Sofa. He’s a real do-it-yourself film maker, has lots of great insights for us, 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. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast so they’re very much appreciated. And I know every week I drone on with the same message, but it really is appreciated. So if you have a minute, please do, just take a minute, just like one of my posts, share it, push it around, do whatever you can do on your social media channels. It is very much appreciated and it is helpful. 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 #301. 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 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.
A quick few words about what I’m working on, I’m still solely putting together my horror-thriller mystery project. What I’m trying to do with this project is to create a modern day giallo film. If you’re unfamiliar with Italian giallo films, they were made in the ‘60s and into the ‘70s and were the predecessor of films like Halloween and Friday The 13th. Directors like Mario Bava and Dario Argento were the ones who were working in this space. They’re almost always mystery thrillers, which is what I have. So, I’m gonna try and create an updated, modern version of one of these giallo films. That’s the plan. Anyways, I’ve got a few other pieces in place on a financial front but we still need to raise some more money.
We’re gonna do some casting in the next couple of weeks and then we’ll hit the Kickstarter Campaign. Hopefully I’ll have an update on that project about the Kickstarter Campaign in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer, director Bernie Rao. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Bernie to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Bernie: Ashley, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Ashley: For the astute listeners, they will know that you were the cinematographer on my film- The Pinch. Now you have your own feature that you’re pushing out into the world, so we’re gonna talk about that. But I think it’s interesting to maybe just for a second talk about how we met, because so much in Hollywood, people will say, “Oh, network, and you gotta meet the right people and this kind of thing.” I think our relationship and the way we met is a real good example, a very organic networking. And I don’t think either one of us were really setting out with this intention of networking or anything else. We just were two people connecting and ultimately it became a friendship and a working relationship.
So maybe you can take us back and kinda just set up sort of that… where you were in your life when we met and when you kinda reached out to me. What were you doing and what was your intention by sending me that original email?
Bernie: I guess I started listening to your podcast… I think I told you this story when I heard that the guys at Screen Notes… Script Notes, were talking about your podcast…
Ashley: In a derogatory manner [laughter].
Bernie: But they were reviewing something you did, something you guys said about them. And what struck me about your podcast was that… you know, okay, John August, Craig Maison, these guys are super established in Hollywood. These guys are professionals making hundred thousand, three hundred thousand, a million dollars as script. And what struck me about your podcast was that, okay, here’s a screenwriter that’s like at my level, like independent filmmaking level. It’s a working screenwriter, something… at least me that I don’t live in the States, I don’t have contact with. So, okay, this is the real deal. This is a guy that’s doing the work, is a working class screenwriter.
At the time I was producing, I guess it was my fourth feature film, I suppose my third, I don’t know, I don’t remember. But… and I started following your podcast because I wanted to hear from the trenches, like okay, these are the guys who are trying to sell their scripts. And then I followed your podcast I think for a year, I don’t know, maybe six months. It’s so easy these days, with the phone I just get the podcast uploaded and I’m like I’m driving and I’m listening to the podcast, or washing dishes, listening to the podcast. And then I started hearing you talking about, “Okay, I’m producing a film and I’m looking for crew,” And I’m like, “That’s pretty cool,” because I work as a cinematographer and maybe I could give this guy a hand because when you started saying, “Okay, anyone knows anybody?” And normally that’s my cue. I always sense something. I’m always, “Okay, I would like to make a film in LA of course.” So I think I contacted you back then and said, “Hey Ashley, I listen to your podcast, great stuff. I’m a cinematographer and I can come and shoot your film.” Yeah. So again I have [crosstalk].
Ashley: And even taking a back step and my recollection was… and it’s interesting. It’s interesting to now hear your side of it, that there was a little more intention behind it, because my recollection was you sent me an email just giving me some practical advice on a Kickstarter campaign. Because I was running a Kickstarter Campaign and you had run one for your film. So you were just kind of saying, “Hey, I did one. Here’s kind of [inaudible 00:06:51] .” And that’s sort of kicked it off. And then I watched your movie, The Bold Lands, which we can promote a little bit. We’ll put a link to it at the end to The Bold Lands. But then I watched your movie and I was like, “Oh, this really where it was shot.” That’s kinda how this came about.
And again I think it’s important to mention that you were living at the time in New Zealand, so far, far, far away from Hollywood, and you grew up in Portugal. So you’re definitely not like an American and living in Hollywood or know anybody in Hollywood. You’re a filmmaker outside.
Bernie: Yeah, now I remember. It was like that. Exactly. It was some time ago that you were doing the Kickstarter and I was like, “Dude… [laughs].” I always just tell a precautionary tale. I don’t know, I just said. “I did my Kickstarter, here’s what to avoid,” because I wanted to give back because… like podcasts people who make the podcast, they’re putting the work out in the world and they don’t ask for anything in return I suppose. So I just felt I needed to… I don’t know, maybe I wrote you a short email, I don’t remember.
Bernie: Just saying like honestly what I thought is like, “Maybe this guy gets a lot of emails, he’s not gonna open this.” But hey, here’s my two cents about this. Yeah, and this started from there of course. It’s like eventually led to I don’t know, I don’t remember if I offered or if you said, “Would you like to come?” And I was like, “Huh, I can actually do this. I can get my camera, get my stuff and just get over there and shoot a film. Yeah, that’s fine.”
Ashley: Anyways, it felt like a very organic process and I just wanted to kind of reveal a little bit of that to people because again, I just always feel like when I go to networking events, it always feels a little stilted and I’ve honestly never gotten anything out of like a networking event where everyone is there [crosstalk]. It always feels stilted and a little bit awkward and it’s not organic, and just our relationship has felt very organic from the start. There’s never been anything that was a push or stretch or these sort of things. It grew naturally and obviously we’ve become friends and you did a great job as a cinematographer and so that’s just gotten better and grown and I’ve been now a fan of yours as I watch your career develop as well.
So let’s dig into that, to your career a little bit. Let’s take a step back now and just start with your beginning. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Bernie: So, okay. I grew up in Portugal, Lisbon and very bad at school. I don’t know how far I want to go back but very bad at school. I couldn’t follow up. I was dislocated in back, but l had this thing, okay. I could lie [laughs]. I could tell good lies. I could tell like… I would make up excuses for why I wouldn’t do my homework. That was thing. It’s like homework was awful and I would spend hours just making up these excuses, working out the details. And I had great pleasure in that, and there was a moment I think that was definitive for me, was like it takes 10 excuses to sell one, right? It’s like selling a screenplay. So there was this moment where I came up with this super articulated excuse, and there was the teacher there, I was like nine or 10, and the teacher stops for a moment and she starts clapping [laughter].
She claps and she says, “Everybody, just give Bernardo a round of applause.” And I’m like, I felt like that moment was like, “Oh man, I can do this. This is the shit.” So anyway, then I started making stories, I always wanted to be a writer and I went to eventually led me to film school, but then I realized this is tough. Selling screenplays even in Portugal, what works in Portugal is TV and so I had a [inaudible 00:10:54] but I started working for TV programs, writing TV soap operas, I wrote everything.
Ashley: How did you get those jobs in Portugal? How did you go from just being a recent college grad to getting a job as a writer on a soap opera?
Bernie: You know, basically I always say that mentality of… times were tough then and my family, we didn’t have a lot of money, I have a lot of siblings so I always had to work from a very early age, 16. I started working, delivering pieces. So I always had a job. I was always very pragmatic about things. I realized, I read somewhere or I listened to an interview… someone working on a TV station and he was… There was this tip, right? He said, “If you wanna work in TV you gotta present yourself as a professional and you have to write something that they want to produce. This was years ago and this is still valid today. So I wrote this teenage soap opera and I wrote like a couple of episodes, I went straight to the president of a production company in Portugal and I got his… I think I called.
Back in the day there was no email. Email was not a big thing. I just went there and I left my script there and I said, “Okay, this is a script I wrote.” And they actually called me back and said, “Well, this is really funny, this is good. We don’t want you to do this, but we want you to work for us.” That’s the normal start. So I started working for them just writing whatever they…
Ashley: And tell me, just how many… so this is the success, did you do this a number of times that didn’t turn into success? Like very production company in Portugal you gave them your script and this was the one that hit, or was it just you did it one or two times and you got a hit?
Bernie: This was the only time things worked out. Maybe I was naïve, I don’t know. Maybe I was lucky back in the day things were different. So that worked out and I got that job and then that job led to other jobs, you know. I’m simplifying things a lot because I was doing a lot of stuff, other types of jobs in the TV. Like I was doing sound, some editing, some other things like that, but yeah, that was it. It worked out that time and never again [laughs]. But led me to other jobs and sometimes I would get paid well, sometimes not so well, but it was soul crushing. Because you’re working, you’re not making your own stories. You’re just making the stories they want to tell and sometimes you don’t even understand the taste or what makes it good, so you’re not… and you lose confidence in yourself, and you kinda die a little bit inside.
Ashley: Yeah, I know [crosstalk]. Yeah, I know exactly what you’re saying. Okay, so… and this is a conversation that you and I have had and I think it’s worth bringing it up here. I understand you’re nine years old, you’re basically making up these elaborate stories to excuse why you didn’t do your homework and you’re segwaying in it. But what do you think at the end of the day, I understand that as being sort of a Segway into this, but what do you think attracted you to the entertainment? What do you think attracted you to being a writer? And the conversation, some of what we’ve had is… I had a conversation with a friend of mine, and he’s in the tech industry and he’s done very well for himself, and I just… it always, the money is not always as big a thing. Obviously you make it, about A level you have the potential of earning a lot of money. But a lot of the screenwriters are guys like us that are sort of scratching out a living, making independent films. I often wonder, why do I stick with it? How do you answer that? Why were you attracted to this originally, and especially after all these years of going through these soul- crushing experiences? Why are you still persistent in it?
Bernie: I guess there’s only one word like passion [laugh]. For me when I started writing, I remember exactly why I did it, because I didn’t have an easy childhood. I was a bit weird looking, pimples, stuff that really crushes you when you’re a teenager. So for me the writing was like an escape and it’s always been an escape from the reality of the day to day grinds. I was like I could go somewhere and be inside, living inside my head. That was the escape. After a while that was the big change. When you start, “Okay, so I can do this. I have some imagination I can come up with stories, so how I’m I going to make money doing this?” That is the million dollar question. And that is like what I’ve been trying to answer for 20, 30 years.
There is the thing, because back then I remember thinking, “Okay, I’m doing, I’m writing this, but I’m doing what they want, but I want to do my own movies. Why isn’t anybody paying for this? I think they’re good. That is the thing. Is like making money in this business, you really have to follow the scientific method and try things and reach somewhere where you can actually do a product that you can sell, and that’s like reverse engineering everything. Unless, you know, those stories that we hear, and I read like Rebel Without A Crew of course, those stories, Terentinos and stuff. I mean, that’s stuff like science fiction. That doesn’t happen anymore. Sometimes I think of that and… I love astronomy and I’m always like checking out astronomy stuff.
This is like the expanding universe. So we’re here and there’s galaxies that you can see, but they’re redshifted and here’s the thing, even travelling at the speed of light you’ll never get there. And those are the deals from the ‘90s. There’s dark matter and black matter and all of that and it’s like it’s growing and forget it. You can still see it but they’re gone. And then after years you cannot see it anymore. So my point of view is like I don’t even consider that as an option anymore. That’s like a fairy tale because I look around and I see what’s working and we go to the film markets, as I say, we went together. You see the reality of this, you see the matrix. Okay, so this is how it is, it’s the bleak. Bleak, but it’s real. So now it’s like you’re getting to survival mode.
You get all Bear Grylls about it. You just go, “Okay, I gotta survive in this environment now. I gotta make my shelter, I gotta get some food and water,” and you start small. Hopefully you’ll grow until you have a house in the woods maybe. But now I only have this little branch. At least there’s something there. Anyway.
Ashley: Okay, no I think that sums it up. And I’m right there with you and I think there’s a lot of people listening to this podcast that probably are in a similar situation, so thank you for that. Let’s dig into your latest film Killer Sofa. And maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Bernie: Killer Sofa follows the story of a recliner that basically falls in love with a girl and starts committing crimes of passion. And there’s more to it of course, there’s the story why it got possessed. Yeah, that’s it, and there’s a couple of detectives trying to figure out what the hell is going on and a Rabbi and his vudu [inaudible 00:18:50] sorceress girlfriend try to figure out what’s going on as well. Yeah, it’s a fun movie, it’s a horror comedy and…
Ashley: Where did this idea come from? What was the genesis of this story?
Bernie: Well, that goes into that pragmatic thing like I finished… I came out of a tour that I did with the Bold Lands, that movie we talked about where I realized, man, this movie is a complete flop. I couldn’t sell this. So I figured out, I got these assets, so I got a feature film. So I thought, okay, I’m a musician, so maybe I can just do a tour projecting the film and playing live music with the film. So I did that for a few months just playing live music with the film and I went to City Councils and I sold this as a cultural event. Like, “Hey, I’m a musician and here’s the feature film and I’m gonna put instruments on stage and I’m gonna play, and here’s what I charge. And this is good for City Councils and places that promote culture because they want things happening and this is a different thing.
I did that and I survived for six months, but during those months I thought, “Okay, I can’t do this again. This is like no way I’m going to make a Night House film and survive in this business. So I thought, “Okay, next step is horror.” Because film markets, there’s that thing that everybody knows that horror sells. There’s a huge community and it’s easier to sell a horror film than a drama with no stars. I started checking out horror films. I’m a big horror film fan from back in the days. The only reason why I never did a horror film or attempted to produce one was because I thought, “Oh man, I can’t afford special effects or visual effects. I don’t even know where to start.” I started watching a lot of horror films, like what’s being done?
And then I watched a lot of crappy films, like oh my god, I can’t believe these things are selling. This is horrible. It’s horrible in a way of not very well made. It’s just in terms of ideas. Just like rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat and always the same idea like the haunted house. I mean, I understand it’s a genre, okay, I understand that and I understand there’s troops, there’s clichés that people like to watch. But I was like, “Oh my God, this is…” It got me to a very depressed place and I thought… And then I finished watching this film, I remember I was alone at home like watching this horror film about some being that comes from the water, and there’s this girl, three’s a whole thing. There’s a puddle in your living room, that thing is gonna come from the water and it’s gonna take you into the puddle.
But this was awful. And I’m like, “Man, everybody can make horror film. Anything can be the bad thing, the bad guy, the villain. So I looked around and said, “Okay, I’m gonna find the stupidest villain I can, just as an exercise. And a friend of mine was travelling at the moment and he said, “Can you just keep my recliner in your place because I don’t wanna rent storage” I was like, “Oh man, what if I made a recliner like the bad guy?” And then immediately I felt that was like hilarious. So I started moving the recliner around and imagining, “Oh yeah, it’s gonna get on it’s feet and it’s gonna kill people with the pillows, and there’s the lever thing and the legs things that goes up and down and oh, I could pinch a head there. So I started working on that. I was like, “Okay, I’ll try to write the film because I’ve been writing for so long.
I can put together something really bad really quickly [laughter. Just as an exercise I started from there. I was not very serious about it but it was an idea that was cool enough for me to keep pursuing it if that makes sense. I just did an outline, three acts, like a climax, what could happen, and I was like, “Oh man, this could actually be something that could pierce through the noise, something that at least would be a fresh and original thing.” I’ve never seen this thing. Now I read the comments and they’re talking about Pee Wee or Death Bed and all those movies. I never watched any of that [laughter]. I don’t know, I should maybe go and check out what they did. But I thought, okay [inaudible 00:23:50] just grew, because I have those actually three weeks where I’m trying to find an idea to materialize, to execute.
Those were my three weeks. In the end of the three week period where I’m just thinking about ideas, that was the best idea I had at the time. I didn’t have any other ideas. I said, “Okay, I guess I’m making this movie,” Then you go through the steps. You go like, “Okay, so I got my script, so now maybe I’ll get some notes on the scripts. So now I’m starting to break down the script and see locations. And I bought a recliner that had a bit of a grumpy face, that’s why I ended up with that one. And I put some eyes there and just tried to figure out the logistics, okay, how am I going to move this thing? It starts from there, it’s a very pragmatic process. After a while the story becomes the blueprint for the movie.
When you think as a producer, when you reverse engineer everything that’s going to happen and how you are going to shoot this thing, you start adjusting the story accordingly of course, like, “Okay, so I guess I’m not going to have the swimming pool, so I’m going to have the park. So I guess this is my house now and I changed houses. I wrote the scripts so I could shoot in my old house that I was renting at the time, so I changed to a new house, so I said, “Okay, I need to change the story to make it happen in this house now.” And that was it. It was just about making something different really, and then it just grew.
Ashley: Let’s talk a little bit about your writing process, and we can be specific to Killer Sofa or just sort of in general, just a couple of quick questions. Where do typically write, are you the guy that goes to the coffee shop and needs some ambiance or you have a home office you write in seclusion?
Bernie: I’m a totally coffee shop guy. I go to a coffee shop, I order a large soy flat white. That’s what I get. The larger they can give me, and then I go there and I stay there until I start getting weird looks. That’s me. So there’s a specific type of café that I need to go needs to be more than 10 tables, otherwise the employees would start looking at you. You don’t wanna be the weird guy in the corner laughing to yourself with your beanie and your so large flat white, you know, $4 for four hours there.
Ashley: When do you typically write? You go in the mornings, you go at night, the middle of the day? When is your typical writing?
Bernie: It just depends how excited I am and how desperate I am to get this shit done. So I try to go in the mornings if I can. If I’m not doing any video editing work or if I’m not doing any work that pays, I don’t know, I just go and write as much as I can. I don’t have a routine per se. It depends if the coffee is full, maybe I’ll just go for a run and come back when the coffee is a bit… the café is a bit… you know, I just need to get it done. But when I’m inspired, man, I can write for six hours, seven hours, it depends.
Ashley: How much time do you spend with the outline, versus how much time do you spend in final draft actually writing script pages?
Bernie: Normally it’s the outline, that’s the thing, the treatment… I call it [inaudible 00:27:26] from film school days. But it’s like you gotta have the story in like three or four pages, write all the bits need to be there, and then writing the script, these are the challenges there when you start actually digging into the script. The story evolve and you realize, “Aah, this story can go this way,” then you change your outline. But normally the outline and treatment, it takes me yeah, longer than writing the script. I mean, it changes a lot. Sometimes you write the treatment and then you spend a lot of time perfecting the lines or changing… polishing the script. But normally I can make a script… I can do a script in one month I think, one month and a half.
And then maybe another month just doing rewrites and polishing and then once you break down and you go, “Okay, so here are my locations, here are my actors,” then you’re always changing until the day you shoot and after that and then editing and blah blah blah. So it’s… but yeah. It depends because, you know, there’s two types of scripts and I’m leaning more towards now the producible script these days, like the feasible scripts. But there’s other scripts I wrote where I spent a year on that script and I think there’s only one where I just perfected that thing to… I wrote that and I rewrote it and I was working with a producer, so, I don’t know…that’s probably my best script, but its not a script I can make next week. That’s the problem here. Yeah.
Ashley: Let’s touch on that a little bit, cause I think that might be interesting for people to hear about. This other project you are talking about takes place in New Zealand and is about some of the indigenous people. So you’ve pursued this angle of trying to get the government money that supports these local films. It’s something that’s very not American, we don’t really have that in America. And maybe you can talk about that process a little bit. You’ve had a little bit of success, like you’ve slowly started to gain ground in that. Maybe you can just talk about that. How does that actually work and what are some tips and tricks, if someone is looking at trying to get one of these government grants, what do you suggest?
Bernie: So that was the thing that took me the longest to learn. Like in Portugal, the only way to make films in the 90’s and even today, is like if you go to the government…the government has a bureau, I suppose a bureau of culture and they have like a million dollars each year to invest in the local film industry. They will finance films, maybe 80% financing the budget, equity money. So it’s like they give you the money and you can produce your film or write a script or… Basically these are grants. Okay, so that’s very competitive of course because if in Portugal they have 10 million people of course, you have like 100,000 people who desperately want to make films. It is highly, highly competitive. Throughout the years I always tried to get these grants, but I could never get there, and I didn’t understand why.
These days I understand why, cause I was successful a few times now getting these grants. So you’ve gotta understand what’s their mission, and you have to understand that behind the website there’s a person or there’s a group of persons that work for somebody. And you’ve got to understand, what’s their job. In New Zealand it’s like about fostering the local industry and projecting a New Zealand image into the world. Because this is the government, they are always promoting the country. In New Zealand and in China and Macau and Portugal. So you have to write a story that goes in line with their mission. It’s like, what is important for New Zealand? What do they want to put out there, and then you need to write a story that lives in that world.
Ashley: Let me just interject there, cause one thing that occurs to me since I have read the script that you are talking about, I think it’s an excellent script and would make an excellent movie. But as you’re talking, it doesn’t seem to me that it’s one that projects a great view of New Zealand. There’s a lot of drug use, people that are really down and out and that doesn’t seem to me that…it seems to me that might not be the image that the New Zealand government wants to project to the world. You know what I am saying?
Bernie: Well and that’s why it’s not made yet [laughter]. That is the thing. This movie yes, I would go for that grant, but I haven’t tried to go there yet, because I had another producer attached and I was working with that producer and I’m still working in some way, so it’s not ready to go there yet, just because exactly that. That’s like, it’s not ready to show to them because I know that it’s not projecting a good image of New Zealand. But you don’t have to be all rosy and doesn’t have to be all rainbows and blue skies. You can show the reality which is like social problems that New Zealand has, like okay, there’s people that use drugs and there’s crime and there’s gangs, but somehow, you need to have some sort of social commentary there. Nobody is trying to hide anything or project an image of a country that you don’t want to let people to believe that New Zealand is a perfect place.
So they understand that and they support a lot of films that really don’t project New Zealand as a perfect place. It just needs to be something there that it’s worth for them to invest their money, to put their stamp, because when they put their name on something, that means something. It’s their name in the game, right? But anyway, New Zealand is one thing, I got money from Macau to make a film…a couple of films actually, and Macau has other concerns. Of course they want to project Macau as it is, as a great place to do business and a great place to live but they have other concerns and concerns for example, talking about Macau is like, it’s a very small industry comparing to Hong Kong which is just across the river, and they desperately want to make a dynamic scene… I don’t know how to explain that.
They want to have people active in the industry. They want to create an industry, so they are less demanding than New Zealand for example where film making has been happening for a while so they get more picky. So this is important as well. Places like Namibia, so they are starting and they have a film commission now, so maybe that’s a good opportunity for you to go there and try to make a film using their film commission money, it’s good for you because you pay your bills and you make something that they want, that they need. So anything… anyway, about these grants it’s like yes, understand that the money is available, you have to apply and for me my biggest tip is like understand what they want and their mission and try to write a story that goes in line with that mission, but a story that you think for you it needs to make sense, and is a story that you want to tell somehow, otherwise will be a complete sell out I suppose.
Ashley: Jumping back to Killer Sofa. Let’s talk about distribution. Maybe you can just walk us through that path. How did you ultimately get distribution for this film?
Bernie: I produced the film, I shot the film, you know, like all self-financed and a very skeleton crew, almost sometimes no crew, you know how I make the films. And then there was a time I kind of reversed engineered the film from the get go, like I started thinking, “Okay, I’m going to make this, so I’m going to take this to the film markets.” That was my approach. I was not thinking about film festivals at all. That was always my goal. Film markets early in the process when I had shot… when I had gone through principal photography, I assembled a little trailer, a teaser and I sent to all the… I went to the film market database and I sent… I looked for companies that were selling similar films to mine.
I wrote an email saying, “Hey, I am coming to the film market, here’s my teaser, here’s my log line, I would love to meet you there because I am looking for representation, basically.” That was it, I got a lot of replies, very quickly, and that never happened to me. So this was something I realized I had something new and that people were at least interested to watch. That was it, and I got a lot of meetings in the film market, I think 2017, because people just wanted to know more and just wanted to watch the film. The film was not edited at that point but yeah, I remember we did an email blast with your…
Bernie: Jesus! Man, I got so many emails. I was like… I don’t know, it was good, random emails, crazy emails, good emails and emails that led to things. That’s the thing, you know. Just getting the word out there. Then I went to the film market, I met with some sales agents, like lots of sales agents and then there was like, “Okay. Great, we are interested.” Some offered me like deal memos there, and then we were like, “Okay, show me the movie and we’ll go from there. So then I went, finished the movie and eventually decided that I would split the deals, I would get a sales agent for America and a sales agent for foreign. And I went with the sales agents, I did some research and they were very… these guys had a great reputation because that’s the problem here with distribution and sales agents as you know.
There’s a lot of murky stuff out there. I chose the ones that were recommended to me and thinking ahead as well. Like I had heard great things about Devil Works, who is like my foreign sales agents from the Film Commission people so that’s good for me because I wanna be in their good books because I plan to working with them and since then they helped me a lot. So yeah, it’s about… yeah.
Ashley: So… and you mentioned this in the email. It sounds like you’re ramping up for another film. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. What’s next for you?
Bernie: Next for me is like… it’s about reverse engineering. What I’ve learnt through these years is like in New Zealand horror doesn’t really work. And we’re talking about theatrical distribution in New Zealand. It’s a small country and what seems to be working right now is films for an older demographic because these are the people who actually go to the movies and actually pay tickets to watch a movie. We’re talking about 55 years plus audiences. Normally female audiences that bring their husbands or bring their friends. So I thought, these are the movies that work here. Like Judi Dench is huge. Judi Dench has a movie in New Zealand it’s actually makes money and actually works. So me as an independent film maker, I’m here thinking, “Okay, I’, going to New Zealand for a couple of months, what can I do that is viable for that market place?”
So I thought, “Alright, let me do drama for an older demographic with dogs.” Like reverse engineering everything so I can have the most success, like when I approach this [inaudible 00:40:30] I say all the right things that they want to hear. Then here’s my audience, here’s comparable movies, here’s why I think this is a great project. I heard you talking about these audiences and how you were looking for movies to satisfy these audiences, so that’s what I decided to do, and in the end of the day as a producer making a drama is a lot easier than making a horror. I don’t need special effects, I don’t need visual effects, I can be less inventive in the way I shoot things, because these audiences are concerned about the mundane and the reality and they’re concerned about other things, which are easier to materialize, to execute.
Of course you need to have great actors, you have other challenges. You need the acting, you need a good story that has some heart that appeals to this type, to an older person. There’s other challenges, but the challenges in the end of the day are easier for me to tackle than making a horror film. But the market is super saturated, you gotta be either really, really good at what you’re doing like the Blumhouse, and really efficient or you have to be really, really different like Paranormal Activity to pierce through the amount of movies that are being made, because making horror films is cool. I mean, it’s cool. You’re making a horror film and it just sounds good and it’s fun, but it’s a lot of work.
Ashley: How can people see Killer Sofa? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Bernie: Killer Sofa, I think it will be released in October in America Video on Demand, this is direct video, and on DVD, but at this moment I don’t have any more information about that.
Ashley: No worries. And I just like to wrap up the interviews by asking you to give us any kind of contact information, people wanna keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will round up for the show notes.
Bernie: Cool. I just created like a Twitter account for Killer Sofa. So I guess it’s Killer Sofa and then you will see the sofa there with teeth. That’s me. And I’m on Facebook, Bernie Rao, you can find me there. And that’s it. And on Vimeo, if you write Bernardo Rao or Bernie Rao you’ll get to my page and you’ll see the stuff I’m doing.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, Bernie, I appreciate you creating some time and coming on and talking with us. A great interview. I applaud what you’re doing and then I can’t wait to see this drama you’re talking about. Probably next year I’ll have you back on and we can talk about that one.
Bernie: Awesome. Thanks so much Ashley. Good Luck.
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Just a quick shout out to screenwriter Phillip Day, he found a producer through the SYS email and facts plus service who wants to shop his script around. His project is a big budget World War II piece. I often get questions about my email and Facts Plus service, can it work for big budgeted projects? This is like a $50 million World War II piece and he has had a little bit of success here finding a producer. So it definitely can work in that space as well. Big congratulations to Phillip, and thank you Phillip for emailing to tell me about this success story. I added a little blurb about his deal to the SYS success page. If you wanna learn a little bit more about it or if you just wanna check out what others are saying about the SYS services, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success.
I love hearing these success stories, it really does make me feel like the continent service that I offer are actually helping people, which is extremely gratifying. So if you have you some of the SYS services and you’ve had some success with them, or even if you haven’t had some success with them and just have a comment, feel free to email me. I just love hearing feedback. I love getting all feedback, the good, bad and the ugly, it’s not gonna offend me. But certainly if you’ve had a success story, I do like to highlight these and bring some attention. It’s always exciting to hear when someone has found that producer and has gotten that script to the next stage.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing writer-director Henry Alex Rubi who made a film… years ago he made a film called Murder Ball, that kind of put him on the map. He just wrote and directed a new film called Semper Fi, which we’ll be discussing next week. We do go into Murder Ball a little bit, it’s interesting to hear his perspective on that and kinda how that jumpstarted his career and then of course we will also talk about this new film which is a narrative fiction feature film, Semper Fi. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.