This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 311: Robert Conway Filmmaker Of Eminence Hill (Western).
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #311 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Robert Conway who just did a Western film called Eminence Hill. We talked through that film and how it all came together as well as how he got his start in the business. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review on 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 #311. If you want my free guide-How To Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons.
I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional 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. So quick few words about what I’m working on. Still catching up from the production of The Rideshare Killer and a lot of the catching up is just catching up on sleep. We were shooting 12 hours a day for 17 days. We only had three days off in those 17 days. So the whole period just was really, really strenuous. As one of the producers and the writer, the director, I was always the first one there and the last one to leave. So it was quite a bit longer than the 12 hours for me.
And just the first week was mostly night shoots. We had a lot of night… It’s a sort of a horror murder mystery, so a lot of night shooting. So the first week was… the first day was like eight to eight, but then after that it was like literally 4:00 pm to 4:00 am cause for those next four days… The first week was grueling, just really tough to get sleep, so definitely not easy. If you’ve ever done production I’m sure he can relate to just how physically grueling it is, but slowly catching up on sleep and now I kind of feel revived and ready to go and really kind of energized. I think we had a lot of good energy on the project. Everyone really just seemed really motivated and seemed to really have a good time and sort of be behind it. So hopefully I can sort of draft off all that energy and get into the next steps.
So still finishing up just a lot of little odds and ends. I’m trying to set up the wrap party, I’ve got to get that done. I think we’re gonna do that in a couple of weeks or in about a week. I’ve got to return the camera. We rented a nice camera package off of ShareGrid, which is a site where people list their camera and camera equipment and then people can rent it out. It’s kind of like eBay for camera rentals. There’s definitely sort of a social aspect where you can leave feedback for the people and you can kind of look at what sort of feedback you have, you create an account. You have to have insurance for all of this so like that’s the main component to allowing someone to rent your camera obviously is that they have insurance, legitimate insurance to cover in case it gets stolen, broken or lost or something.
But that actually was a pretty good experience. I had never used ShareGrid. A number of people had recommended over the years, but if you’re looking at shooting something and you need camera equipment and it’s from soup to nuts. I mean, they have low end cameras all the way up to super high end cameras, lenses, tripods just everything that has to do with cameras and camera equipment. You can pretty much find it on ShareGrid. I’m sure other areas of the country, obviously Los Angeles, probably New York, bigger cities probably are gonna have a lot more people participating. Again, it’s very much like eBay in the sense it’s like a marketplace where people are listing their stuff.
It’s not, at least from what I found, it didn’t seem to be like companies, big companies listing all of their equipment. It legitimately seemed like just small guys. The guy we rented our camera package from, he’s just a guy that… he’s like a director. He does commercials and actually talking to him too, he’s also a writer and getting into writing scripts and that sort of stuff. But he’s professional director of commercials and videos. So he has all these camera equipment and he’s actually trying to sort of segue, it sounded like he’s trying to segue into being more of a screenwriter than a director in commercials and that sort of stuff. He has all this really nice high end camera equipment so he just listed on ShareGrid. He knows about the equipment and understands it.
Again, nice lenses nice tripod the whole package. So far it’s been a good experience. So anyways, if you’re looking at renting camera equipment, definitely check out ShareGrid. It’s a great, great place. But the big thing now is organizing the Kickstarter. We’ve got to raise some more money for post-production. That’s kind of our main mission now here for the next month. So I’ve started to work on that as well. I’ve got to create the Kickstarter video first off. I’m not supremely technical when it comes to like film editing and working with these very high resolution video files. So I’ve got to figure out how to create low res proxy files and then start dumping those clips, and then I can start to edit a little bit. Just some little clips for the Kickstarter video.
I think that’s gonna be a big part of it, is showing people what we’ve actually shot and getting people energized and excited about that. We’ve got a lot of really great scenes and when you’re sitting there shooting them you kinda edit them together in your head. But there’s nothing like actually editing them, seeing them adding sound effects and that sort of stuff. So I’ve got to at least get a couple of clips together here in the next couple of weeks so we can put the Kickstarter video together. We’ve got to organize all the folks. Again, everybody really seemed very energized by the product, really into the project. I think a lot of the actors and some of the other crew, they’re gonna really help with the Kickstarter video, so we’ve got to coordinate with them.
When I did the Kickstarter video a couple of years ago, it was basically just me raising money. And I did it before I really even got the production going, so nobody was really involved in the production or very few people were involved in production. It was basically just me, but this is a much more complex sort of operation in the sense that a lot of the actors are happy to participate in the Kickstarter. And so I just got to meet with them, talk with them, see kind of what they’re willing to do and coordinate all of that, come up with ideas to kind of help promote them as well. So again, that’s just all part of this process of getting the Kickstarter together, but that’s really what I’m trying to do.
And then once we’ve done the Kickstarter, then we can really jump into post-production once we know kind of what we’re gonna have. From there we’ll just… we’ll be able to get into post production. We’ve started to hire all of the various positions and editor, that kind of stuff. Really, I think the editor’s the first thing we’ll bring on, we’ll get a rough cut together and then kind of see where we’re at. So anyways, that’s where I’m at with The Rideshare Killer, just pushing that forward. And that’s obviously the main thing that I’m working on here this weekend, probably for the foreseeable future. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer director Robert Conway. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Robert to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Robert: Thank you very much for having me.
Ashley: 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?
Robert: Well, I’ve kind of always been interested in film ever since I was a little kid. I’ve been doing it with my brothers and neighborhood friends and all that stuff. Yeah, I guess… but first I went to film school obviously, I would make my first feature film about 13 years ago now, something like that. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
Ashley: And where did you grow up?
Robert: I grew up in Arizona.
Ashley: Okay. And then where did you go to film school?
Robert: Arizona. I just got to a community and then another trade school here.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. And so take us through what are some of those steps? So you go to film school, I’m sure you did a bunch of films in film school, student films, helped your friends and this kind of thing. So then you’re getting out of film school. Take us through that process of going from just out of film school to getting that first feature film. What was that transition like and how did you actually get that first film into production?
Robert: Well, I actually did the first feature kind of as a thesis project for film school. So that was kind of… that was something I did with my classmates and yeah, that was called The Redemption. It was another Western called Redemption of Island to Hell. It got distributed in like 2009, I believe… I mean, it was 2007. Yes, that was kind of my transition was just that. I got out of film school and I’d already made one feature and then went on to make another one and kind of just been doing them ever since.
Ashley: Okay. So the first question I would have just in terms of living and being a filmmaker in Arizona, why not move to Los Angeles? Why do you like, or why do you prefer to live in Arizona versus making the trek to…
Robert: For an independent producer there’s not a heck of a lot of advantages in Los Angeles. I mean, I do fly a lot of actors and people like that, but the cost of locations, the cost of everything is a lot cheaper in Arizona. So if you’re independent, you stretch your money a lot further in a place that’s a little bit more friendly to be low budget film maker.
Ashley: Yeah. I got you. And you don’t think flying the actors out… and is there ever any crew people like that doesn’t eat up? Like the advantages in money doesn’t get overtaken by the fact that you have to fly a few of your cast out and potentially even maybe some of your crew?
Robert: Usually I don’t fly any crew. We have pretty good crew here in Arizona. I do fly my makeup team, but I fly them in from the other side of the country. So no. And a lot of the actors I could find locally as well. So no, not really.
Ashley: Okay. Let’s dig into your latest film Eminence Hill starring Barry Corbin and Dominique Swain. Maybe to start out you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Robert: Well, it’s just kind of a revenge… not really. Yeah, I guess you could say a revenge film. This young woman is kidnapped by a group of notorious outlaws and she’s taken. They’re trying to sell her into slavery and they run off, they run, they get lost, end up in this town full of religious fanatics. They’re tracked down by US Marshall and an old Indian scout who were trying to find and rescue her and they all end up in this small town called Eminence Hill, which was run by, like I said, a bunch of Puritans and just kind of a clash of different worlds, clash of different ideologies, a lot of things happen along the road.
Ashley: Yeah. So why a Western? Why now and why did you decide to do a Western? Where did that sort of come from?
Robert: Well, my student short was a Western, my first feature was a Western and that was a natural thing for me to wanna do again after doing horror movies for so long. I just felt myself gravitating back towards that. I really wanted to do it. I waited for the right script and a bright idea for a script I should say and that’s kinda where it came from.
Ashley: Okay. And so how much, now that you’ve made a bunch of feature films, kinda got some of these relationships built, how much reaching out to, once you had that idea, how much reaching out to distributors to producers do you do just to kind of vet the idea and say, “Hey, is there a market for this Western film if I were to go make it?”
Robert: No, I believe there is a market because there wasn’t a heck of a lot of other similar products being made. I mean, at least not compared with the horror. As far as that goes, I just basically convince my distributor [inaudible 00:11:37] Entertainment distributed a lot of my horror films. And so they agreed, so we also did a crowd fund to help add to the budget cause it was a Western, it was a period film and so it needed more money except what was replicating the presale there. But yeah, that wasn’t really that difficult. That was probably as compared to actually making a film of this size to that time and budget that we had. That was probably [inaudible 00:12:02].
Ashley: Yeah. So where did this idea come from? You said that you wanted to do a Western and you were just trying to find that great idea. Where did this idea come from?
Robert: Well, I started writing a very small idea of just an out-market fronting, someone who would kill because… a jury man who would kill because at that time the script was just [inaudible 00:12:26] and the conversation that just span it would have demanded to pass judgment on his son. And I used that as kind of the baseline of the film and I just kind of… I kind of grew it out from there. It kind of blossomed from that very simple idea.
Ashley: Okay. So take us through your writing process a little bit. I noticed on IMDb it says special guest writer- Owen Conway. Maybe you can kind of describe that. What does that actually mean and what did that working relationship look like in terms of producing this screenplay?
Robert: [inaudible 00:12:56] a lot of my screenplays, particularly if I’m having issue or difficulty somewhere. Owen in this film really helped with the last scene of the film trying to get the right bits to finish the film. That was really where he earned his writers credits there. I’m just trying to find the right way to kind of summarize everything that we just experienced, what we just did there. It was great. A great process. Sometimes it’s just, you know…
Ashley: Yeah. And what’s your relationship to… what’s your relationship to Owen?
Robert: Owen’s my brother.
Ashley: Okay. And then, and so he’s also an actor, so he then wanted to act in the…?
Ashley: Okay. What does that actually look like in terms of just working with him? Do you send him the script and then he gives you notes? Do you guys sit in the same room, does he actually write scenes? What does that actually look like?
Robert: It’s more the notes, but in some cases he actually writes scenes like the last scene that he wrote, the last scene of the film. The second last scene I guess. That was just something he thought to take a shot at and he did, and he did a great job site. I adjusted a couple of things, but it’s pretty much as he wrote it.
Ashley: I got you. So let’s just run through your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write? Are you someone who likes to write at the Starbucks and sort of an ambiance of people? Do you like to have a home office or something and work quietly at home?
Robert: It’s really a bit of both, it just depends on the mood I am in. I sometimes get too claustrophobic and I would wanna get out there and get to a Starbucks. As long as I have earplugs on I can block out the noise. I write with some music sometimes, but it’s got to be the right type of music, usually classical instrumental music [inaudible 00:14:36] volume. But yeah, most of the time I probably write at home, but yes, sometimes it just gets a little… you need to get that change of scenery to get the blood pumping again.
Ashley: Yeah. When do you typically write? Are you a morning person, right in the middle of the night person?
Robert: For the most part, I think the best creativity I have is the middle of the night. That’s when it’s kind of like there’s less distraction from the world around you. There’s less noise, no phone ringing and all that stuff. So yeah, I’m kind of a night owl when it comes to that.
Ashley: Okay. When you’re working on a screenplay like this one, how much time do you spend working on the outline versus actually in final draft writing out script pages?
Robert: I’m not a huge outline person. I’m gonna have an outline in my head, but I don’t really, I don’t go by the strict outline rules. I don’t. I find it more [inaudible 00:15:28] I like to have an idea, a general idea of where I’m going when I start, but then I let things kind of take, almost take on a life of their own. Once I establish my characters, I feel like their actions will become second nature to me, what they will do in any given scenario. So, yeah. I use outlines only in the most rudimentary and basic form, but yeah, 99% of it is writing and if it’s not working, I’ll go back and I’ll write something else.
Ashley: I see. How long did it take you to write this script? And I’m curious too, how much time you spend with the first draft and then how much time do you spend actually rewriting once you have that first draft?
Robert: That’s a big process. Really, you get the first draft, I don’t know. This one, it took a while. This one was a few months, which is a lot of time for me. Usually I write a lot faster than that. The first draft is just completely changing all the time. It’s never like even when you get on set, even when you’re done with setting, when you’re at post-production, the final part is in the edit. So it goes through that sometimes even after casting. If you ended up going a different direction for a character you might make some practical changes for that, but also just trying to work through every actor’s individual strengths and weaknesses, trying to have you help it play to their strengths. So, yeah, the script to me is always just kind of organic and fluid until we actually literally lock picture.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s talk about your development process. It sounds like your brother Owen is involved in it somewhat. Did you also give, once you have a draft that you’re happy with, do you also give it to the distributor? Do you have a couple of other close writer friends or director friends that you give it to? What does your development process look like?
Robert: I have another writer friend. The distributor usually wants the draft at some point before they can be distributed obviously. So yeah, it’s all part of the process. The distributor is more of they’re making sure it’s got enough action or the things they’re looking for, that it’s not too long, which is a big thing. Today people don’t want anything longer than 85 to 90 minutes. Eminent Hill is longer, it’s 100 minutes run-time.
Ashley: I see. Wow, 85 to 90 minutes. That’s… yeah. So then let’s talk about getting the notes from some of these people. How do you take these notes? It sounds like the distributor notes would be much more just practical kind of logistical type things but just notes like even from your brother, from some of these other people, how do you take those notes and how do you implement them? Maybe talk about that process a little bit.
Robert: I think it’s on a case by case basis. Really, some notes are really relevant, other notes you might not agree with. You take what you want and leave the rest.
Ashley: Yeah. And how do you approach genre requirements? I’d be curious too to just get your insight into like what your distributor told you. You’re making a Western and what notes did you get just in terms of genre from the distributor or even approaching it? I mean, it’s a revenge Western, there’s certainly some other films that you could look at, but maybe talk about that a little bit. Just in terms of the genre, what did the distributor expect and what were you kind of trying to deliver?
Robert: Well, the most important thing he wanted was action, which sometimes the Westerns are a little bit slower burn than action movies per se, but he wanted to make sure there was enough action. Yeah, and that’s basically his only concern really.
Ashley: Okay. And how much action? When you say enough action, how much is that? I mean sort of the rule of thumb that I’ve heard is like for an action movie, you want an action scene every 10 pages. In like a Western like this it’s sort of a Western action, how much action did he want?
Robert: Well, I think it would be less than that because there’s other things that could potentially qualify as action in a Western. I believe something should happen every five pages whether it’s action per se that might be a little bit much. But again, it’s not really an action script. So I mean, you know, a good shoot out of the end a good shoot out halfway through it and then something… an inciting incident at the beginning that kind of shows us the world that we’re in.
Ashley: Yeah. So, okay. So, and then you had done your script. What were your next steps to actually getting this produced? Did you have financing or at least partial financing lined up with this distributor? You also mentioned a Kickstarter. Maybe walk us through that process of having the completed script and walking that through the process of actually getting funded.
Robert: Well, I had a Kickstarter or… Indiegogo. I had that, I had partial financing from the distributor and then I also found individual partners as well to supplement the budgets that I had at least enough to get the basics of the film done, that we used to shoot stuff. And yeah, they kind of all worked in tandem with each other. I did a little promo video for the crowd fund to show people what kind of a movie I was trying to make. I put that out there. I got a pretty good response from that. So that was another thing that really got me excited about the genre. I knew I was on the right track. People really still do love the westerns.
Ashley: And so how much money did you raise on Indiegogo?
Robert: I don’t know, 10 grand or so.
Ashley: And then how… and how did you go and actually promote that? What were the methods you used to actually get some attention on that Indiegogo campaign?
Robert: Facebook was really probably the only effective method. Yeah.
Ashley: And what does that mean to you? Did you buy Facebook ads or you’re talking about just sending out messages to the people that you’re friends with on Facebook?
Robert: Really just sending out messages. Just sending out messages to just friends and people who have similar interests, people who are into Western movies. That was basically it.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s talk about getting the cast on board. You had Barry Corbin, you had Dominique Swain in this movie. I get a lot of emails from writers saying, “How can I get this actor or that actor?” How did you get these actors involved in the project? Did you hire a casting director, did you have a past relationship with them that you could lean on? Maybe talk about that process a little bit.
Robert: I had a casting director for some of the lower filling out some of the unknowns, but as far as the name actors, I just basically had to contact them or their management, their representation, make an offer. It’s kind of a pretty formal process of how that works. Usually, you submit an offer letter based on how much, how many days you think you’re going to need them, what you’re willing to pay a day, what you’re willing to pay for the whole show and then you more or less have to offer and hopefully if you’re lucky, they accept your offer or they counter and then you agree to the counter and then you move forward. That’s essentially how a process like that works.
Ashley: And so when you make this initial offer and you say, “Okay, we’re gonna pay you X number of dollars per day,” how do you actually come up with that original number? Does your distributor, or maybe you just have enough experience in the business to know sort of roughly what these actors are willing to work with. Obviously you don’t want to offer $10,000 a day if the person is willing to work for $1,000 a day. But how do you come up with that sort of initial amount that you went and offered?
Robert: Well, sometimes you’ll have an idea of what people work for, but it’s very… I don’t know how reliable those types of figures are. Usually it comes down to what you actually have budgeted. So like let’s say you’re above the line for your casting, what do you have budget and within that, how many names can you squeeze into it, and how many days can you maybe shave off to make it happen? So it’s a heck of a lot of back and forth. It’s a lot of just figuring it out as you go. But the best thing is to start with what you can really afford and then have a… you know, be able to go higher obviously, because you’re probably going to have to. And then just meeting somewhere in the middle. It’s like any type of negotiation or business dealing in that sense.
You just pitch it and hopefully you get them excited about the project. If they do like the project, that could be another incentive for them to do that aside from the money. So that’s always part of it. It always an important part of it.
Ashley: Sure. So how can people see Eminence Hill? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Robert: No, it’s coming out tonight actually. Yeah, at Laemmle Music Hall. It’ll be playing there for a week.
Ashley: Oh, nice. And that’s where you’re going… you’re driving to LA to go to that screening.
Robert: Exactly. Yes. And then… yeah, and then on the fifth, which is Tuesday [inaudible 00:24:18] pretty much everywhere. So, direct TV, Dish, Cox, cables pretty much everybody took it. Apple of course, Microsoft, I mean all the usual… Google Play, all the usual VOD joints that are all those platforms you should be on.
Ashley: Sure. 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.
Robert: Yeah, yeah, please. E H… well, www.facebook.com\EH for Eminence Hill. EH Western. So that’s the best place cause right now we’re just pushing everything behind Eminence Hill, getting worried about that out there so it’s… Yeah.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. I’ll get that link and I’ll put that in the show notes so people can click over to it. Well Robert, I appreciate your coming on and taking a few minutes out to talk with me. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films.
Robert: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: I thank you. Will talk to you later. Bye. Bye.
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On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Kristin Alexandre, who is a real go getter. She comes on to talk about her film Altar Rock and how she put it all together. She is another inspirational writer who just went out there and made things happen for herself. She put the project together without having an agent or a manager, without living in Los Angeles, and without knowing a lot of people in the entertainment business. She just smartly networked and used what opportunities she could find to her full advantage. Very candid interview, really talks about how this project came together and what she did to kind of push it down to the finish line, so keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show, thank you for listening.