This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 314: With Producer Jameson Parker.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #314 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Jameson Parker, who is a development executive at Brightlight Pictures, and also a producer who’s done several films. We talk about how he and his company find scripts and why and how those scripts make it into production. 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 #314. 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. Quick few words about what I’m working on. I’m putting together the Kickstarter video for The Rideshare Killer this week. I’m making good progress and we’re hoping to launch the campaign on February 3rd… Monday, February 3rd, so that’s actually the same day that this episode is published. Since we’ve shot the entire film, I use a good bit of the footage in the Kickstarter video and at the end we have a short teaser trailer.
So if you’re interested in seeing the video or learning more about the project or perhaps even contributing, just go to www.theridesharekiller.com and that will actually take you to the Kickstarter page. Again, that’s www.theridesharekiller.com. Any help you can give us is greatly appreciated and it doesn’t just have to be monetary help either. If you’re not in a position to contribute, no worries at all, but perhaps pass along the link to all of your horror fan friends. Aside from raising money, the whole point to the Kickstarter campaign is to raise awareness for the film. So anyone you can mention it to is a big help and greatly appreciated. Anyways, wish us luck.
Hopefully we’ll be able to raise the money and get through post-production easily. So that’s the main thing I am working on this week. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing producer Jameson Parker. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Jameson to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Jameson: Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Jameson: Yeah, totally. I grew up in a very small town in British Columbia, Canada called Shawnigan Lake. It’s about 45 minutes North of the capital of the province Victoria. I’ve been interested in the entertainment industry for almost my entire life. I started as an actor, my dad weaned my brother and I on old westerns and Turner classic movies and episodes of the Rockford Files and this weird uncanny knowledge about the industry. So I started as an actor, I went to theater school…
Ashley: …just to step in there for a second. So was your dad in the business or he just was a real movie fan? Just a fan of television movies?
Jameson: Yeah, just a big fan of movies and TV. And so yeah. Not connected to the business at all. Neither of my parents were, but we’re both super supportive when I wanted to pursue a career as an actor, I went to school for it. The only thing that they asked was that when I did my training, it was somewhere that also gave me a degree. That was kind of their backup plan. If he never gets any work at least he’s got a degree. I worked for a while, a few years as a professional theater actor across Canada, like working at pretty much every major regional theater in the country and making next to no money in professional theater in Canada, but it was invaluable experience and something that I draw on every day now as a producer.
I got into this side of the business because I directed music videos through college and little sketches for college humor and some of this digital content and produced some music videos and had been in a play that I really loved called Prodigals. That was the first feature that I made with my then business partner, David Kay. We were like, “Well, we want to make… let’s make a foolish [inaudible 00:05:20]. We were like “Let’s jump in and make a feature film and see if we can do it.” And we did. From there I just kind of caught the bug. It was really, you know, the transition was to make work for ourselves as actors. David and I had gone through the BFA theater program at UBC together.
So it was to make work for ourselves as actors. And then that kind of turned into me sliding more into the producing and the acting. That’s when I linked up with Shawn Williamson and Brightlight, which is where I am now.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So let’s talk… tell me a little bit about Brightlight. What sort of films do you guys do over there?
Jameson: Yeah. Brightlight has been around for a long time. It was first announced at TIFF in 2001. We’ve done stuff like, we’ve done indie films like Colossal and White Noise and 50/ 50, you know, some bigger stuff for the American studios, like The Interview, Horns, The Ninth Life of Louis Drax is movie that the company put together. We’ve had TIFF gala’s and premiered at Sundance and kind of all over the world, shot all over the world, based in Vancouver. We also do a lot of television as well. We’re currently producing The Good Doctor for Sony and ABC.
Ashley: Okay. Got you. I noticed too Descendants Three I think was listed on your website too. That’s yeah, middle of the road. Yeah, pretty high end middle of the road type content. So yeah, that’s all great. So let’s just talk about indie film. Obviously something like The Descendants comes from Disney, so it’s a little bit of a different bird than independent film. But let’s talk a little bit about indie film in general. What are some of the trends that you’re seeing and where do you think some of these trends are going?
Jameson: Oh well, it’s getting increasingly hard to make an independent film, but it’s also… there is a slow death of an old kinda sales model and this resurgence of a similar model I guess to the studio system where a lot of these streamers are the ones who are getting behind these films. And then there’s places like Neon and 824 and a few indie distributors that are still left in LA who are making things and making interesting stuff. I mean, Big Beaches had a huge year this year. Obviously 824, and there are some of those bigger kind of indie brands. We’re lucky we’re a Canadian company, so we don’t seek out Canadian content.
If things happen to be Canadian content then we can put it through Telefilm, which is our national film funding body and draw some money out of there to make a movie that would maybe normally be made for four or five million for seven or eight. So that’s a kind of cool model that we are fortunate enough to tap into.
Ashley: Yeah. And let me just back you up a little bit. So you mentioned that there was this old sales model that was starting to crumble. What is the old sales model that you’re referring to specifically? I mean, with indie films, it seems like the old sales model was always just raising money and that doesn’t seem that different than it is now.
Jameson: Well, we’re talking about a model that is based on pre-selling your film into certain territories or approaching a sales agent or bringing a sales agent on board who is capable enough to put up a minimum guarantee for your film against the world and putting that as part of your finance plan, but it’s getting increasingly harder and harder to sell some of these independent films into some of these foreign territories. And then it’s even harder to presale them. People are waiting more, taking less risk because a lot of the exhibitors in these certain territories are not seeing the ticket sales that they used to. People are staying home to watch Netflix and they’re coming out for big event films rather than more niche fair.
Now I think that something like a movie like Uncut Gems, having such a huge box office in the US is very encouraging. People are getting out to see some of these really independent films. Some of these more original scripts and Knives Out obviously a bit bigger version of that. But that is a non-Marvel, non-tent-pole movie that made a ton of money at the box office, which is encouraging to say the least.
Ashley: Yeah. So in terms of the presales and getting those presale deals set up, what is the thing nowadays that’s the winners from the losers? What do you need to actually do some presales in the current market?
Jameson: Well sales are still largely cast based. The basis of everything is a great script. We look more to independent financiers rather than a sales model. Somebody that we can partner with who has a good creative head on their shoulders and knows how to spend their money wisely and can be a partner in the development of the creative so they feel comfortable putting money into the project, rather than going out and trying to presale a film. We’re not… Brightlight’s not a massive company. We aren’t… I guess we don’t have access to those big stars that sell in some of those international territories like the Nicolas Cages and the Russell Crows and some of these people, these names that you see floating around AFM and Cannes all the time attached to these packages, Johnny Depp is becoming one of those.
Increasingly to get something of quality made, you are needing to find smart partners who believe in what you’re doing and aren’t necessarily running your… I guess, movie through a sales metric to see how much it would generate in Germany or France or the UK. Rather, they’re betting on smart creatives and great material.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s talk about this just from a screenwriter’s perspective. What is some advice you would have for indie screenwriters? The screenwriters that maybe wanna get into this space? What does a screenplay look like for these indie films? Are there any tips or tricks that you could give to our audience on that front?
Jameson: I don’t think… there’s no like… there’s no tricks to doing it. It’s just…
Ashley: But in terms of like budget, are there certain budget ranges that you’re saying these indie films…? You know, you just mentioned the guy like Nicholas Cage. I mean, there’s gonna be certain budget even with a star like Nicholas Cage. We’re talking probably talking about less than nowadays, less than 10 million, less than 5 million. There’s probably budget restrictions. There probably are some things that screenwriters would wanna be aware of. If they think that they’re gonna work in this space,
Jameson: I’d just say write something good. Don’t worry about what the budget is. Just find something, however big it is, write it as best as you can. The rest of it will fall into place. The right amount of money will come for a great script. It will find a home if it’s good enough. Just yeah, I would say write something that’s compelling with characters that we wanna spend an hour and a half to two hours and 15 minutes with. And with twists and turns that are gonna make your audience excited and titillated throughout the ride.
Ashley: Yeah. And so I would say 90% of my audience is very confident that they’ve written that script. So then the next step is how do they find indie producers like yourself? Maybe we can just start with specifics like, how do projects come through to your company and then maybe even take a step back and give us some more just general advice.
Jameson: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think look at what are you watching when you are… if you think that you’ve written the screenplay, what are you watching? What movies have you seen in the past two or three years that you loved? I think of something like searching [inaudible 00:14:48] is a really phenomenal young producer who has made a really nice name for himself in this space. Another guy like that is Ross Putman and who’s now an agent at Verve. These guys who have great taste have a growing role index and a little bit of success behind them so that they can push something forward that they’re in love with. So find whose taste aligns with yours and if you’ve written something that is personal enough and something that you wanna see on screen, then chances are the stuff that you like the producers of those films will respond to your material.
If your tastes are as aligned as they should be. And as far as like how material comes through Brightlight, through a multitude of avenues, whether it’s friends of friends sending me screenplays or whether it’s agents or managers or sometimes cold submissions. It’s always better I think when a script comes to us with some sort of personal connection, there’s a… it’s all storytelling, right? Everything is and the pitch process is no different. There’s some story behind it. It’s like, why do I wanna pick up this screenplay on Sunday at four o’clock when I could be spending time with friends or family? Why am I excited to sit down for two hours and read the script that they’re… sometimes there’s a story that comes along with it.
This came to me through this person and they’re super excited about it and they think that it’s going to be the next blah. That always helps for sure. Having some kind of personal connection to it, having some kind of story to it.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about some of the specific projects that you’ve worked on. You mentioned Prodigals. Let’s talk briefly about Summer Of 84. How did you get involved with that project?
Jameson: Summer Of 84 was the script that I found. I met the writer, Matt Lesley at a kind of junior executive networking event that happens annually, sometimes twice a year in LA called The Little Black Book Event. And I was leaving, he was showing up with a buddy. I was down there with a friend and colleague at Lighthouse, our sister company here in Vancouver, Brightlight sister company. Our two friends stopped to say hello and goodbye and grab a quick catch up and while they were chatting, Matt and I struck up a conversation. He told me about Summer Of 84 and asked if he could send the package and the script, and I said, “Absolutely,” and I looked at this pitch deck that he had put together at that point.
RKSS were on board and I had seen and loved Turbo Kid, and so that was also a big piece for me going, “Oh, these are really kinda cool Canadian filmmakers. There’s a nice angle there.” So I looked at the package and it was unreal. It was so cool. I couldn’t wait to read the script. And so I dug in immediately and…
Ashley: And maybe you can describe that package a little bit. Like you say, it’s so cool. What was the package? What was actually in the package? Is it like a PowerPoint presentation, is it just a written Word document with pictures and sort of a description? What was their package exactly?
Jameson: This thing was like it was full blown. It was a PDF document that was sort of a visual representation of the film. You know, with the kind of classic, there was a mood board of images from films that RKSS wanted to reference in the making of the film, breakdown of all the characters in it, a quick summary. It was just something to wet your palate and it was a great tool as we went… something that RKSS put together and that they do all the time. I’m working on another movie with them now that goes to camera in the summer. And they do it for all of their films and it’s just a visual representation of the movie that they wanna make. And they are filmmakers who are great at creating fun there.
They’re such a joy to work with and such great, generous people that you… it’s infectious. Their energy around making movies is infectious.
Ashley: I got you. Now, so when you’re meeting this this guy at this event, this networking event, is he one of RKSS? Is he part of that trio?
Jameson: No. Matt had just… Matt had written the script with his writing partner, Steven Smith. Through a series of happenstance he had met RKSS and pitched it to them and they had loved it and were around at the project. And then I chased Matt for the rights to the screenplay for probably two or three months until he relented and gave them to me. Then Matt ended up being a producer on the project. So we took it to myself and Shawn with Matt, took it to Gunpowder and Sky who had read the script. They were a newly formed company at the time. Cody Zweig, who is an exec over at Gunpowder and Sky had just moved over and he had read the script at his previous job.
There was nothing for that company to do with the project. They couldn’t finance, but as soon as Cody left and got to Gunpowder, he championed it at the studio, and was ultimately a huge part of why we got it made.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious, and this is… I’m just curious. So when he’s pitching the project to you and you were familiar with RKSS, how much does that play into the decision? You had a director, in this case a directing trio that you liked. But how much does that impact? Like you obviously like the script too, but how much does that impact in terms of you jumping on board and getting involved, just having more of a complete package than say just a screenplay that you liked?
Jameson: I mean in this particular instance, yeah, absolutely. It made a difference. I think that it really depends on who that director is or what that package is. Things have come to us way over packaged with pieces that I guess don’t necessarily get us as excited as say in RKSS package. For this one, it was like there was a… they had a great pitch for the film. Generally, I like just having a screenplay [inaudible 00:22:31] there was much of a package on the Summer Of ‘84 because there was no cast involved before [inaudible 00:22:38] there was… It was really just a director and a script. But yeah, it helped.
Ashley: Yeah. Just touch on that a little bit, where you say sometimes projects come that are over packaged. What does that actually mean? Maybe give a little bit of examples, because I run into that a lot with screenwriters approaching me. They say, “Oh, I’m gonna get this such and such a director attached,” and it’s a director I never heard of. And so that’s always my thing. It’s like, I don’t know that that’s gonna help your chances, I think that could actually hurt your chances. Attaching cast that has no sales value seems like over-packaging. But maybe you can give us some sort of real world examples of what you mean by over-packaging.
Jameson: I mean, no, you’re totally right. It’s like, okay, you’re gonna bring… if somebody’s gonna bring you a package with two or three actors and a director that you’ve never heard of, then why are you doing that? Why are you bringing that director on? Why are you bringing those cast on? If the reason is, “Oh, because they’re friends of mine and I know them,” and sometimes there’re semi recognizable name or have recognizable credits, but like you say, no sales value, then you’ve put obstacles in the way, unless it’s like… It really depends, because sometimes people go, “I’m friends with…” I don’t know, somebody. “I’m friends with John Ham and John Ham’s doing it.” That’s actually kind of cool, I’ve never seen him do that.
But if it’s you have two or three friends who have never really done anything, now you have just put the obstacle in the way and made these creative choices where you’re limiting how we can put this movie together. But if you’ve made a choice and said… a real kind of conscious, creative choice to go, “I want this director to do this because of X, Y, and Z, I love this piece of work, or I think that they’re gonna bring a real vision to it,” then that is a… then that’s awesome. And if that’s the movie you wanna make, if that’s the person you want to elevate your script and bring it to screen, then phenomenal. Whether that’s with us or with somebody else, you’ve got a strong creative vision and you’re making choices based on a creative reasons rather than getting this sold reasons.
And that’s usually the problem. I mean, I think that somebody like Melina Matsoukas this director who just came… just had her first film Queen and Slim come out this year written by obviously the phenomenally talented Lena Waithe. But Melina had just… she’d been in the music videos and like I think commercial space, but mostly I knew her for her music videos. She’s done a lot of work with Beyonce. And if somebody brought you a package and said, “Hey, here’s this untested first-time feature director, Melina Matsoukas but you look at her working go, “Oh, look at all of the amazing stuff that she’s done in this space. This is a creative voice that I really want to get behind.”
If you have that kinda package with a “first time feature director”, that’s interesting. A ton of people have made that leap that way through music videos to features.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So let’s talk about your television show Julie and the Phantoms for Netflix. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. How did you get involved with that project?
Jameson: Yeah, I can talk about it as much as I can talk about it. It’s still very much on a rash. We just finished shooting less than a month ago. Yeah, just less than a month ago. It’s a very kinda cool musical TV show for Netflix that is executive produced, excuse me, and a few episodes directed by Kenny Ortega. Kenny is a legend in the filmed musical theater space. Doing things like Newsies and High School Musical and The Descendants films and he choreographed for Diana Ross and Michael Jackson did Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and choreographed a Pretty In Pink and Footloose. He’s a legend who just received his star on the walk of fame. An unbelievable talent and just a generous soul.
So Brightlight became involved because of Kenny. Shawn, my boss had made two movies with him, had made Descendants 2 and Descendants 3 with Kenny and Kenny wanted to get the band back together. So yeah, we a phenomenal time. We spent the back half of last year on the show.
Ashley: And was the show already set up at Netflix before you guys came on or was that part of the process once you guys came on, you guys got it set up at Netflix?
Jameson: No, the show was set up at Netflix. It was developed with Kenny and our showrunners, Dan Cross and David Hoge at Netflix.
Ashley: I got you. Perfect. And when is that coming out?
Jameson: They haven’t given us a date yet. Sometime in 2020.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Yeah, we’ll keep an eye out for it.
Jameson: We’re just really early in the post portion of putting the show together.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. So what’s next for you? What are you working on once Julie and the Phantoms is finished?
Jameson: I’ve got a feature that I can’t really talk about yet that will go in the summer, and I think that RKSS will be a part of it, so I’m excited about that. That’s the most immediate thing. Hopefully things go well with Julie and there are further seasons of that. It’s a really great show. We’ve got a couple of other things in the pipe that are just dating.
Ashley: Perfect. What have you seen recently? I always like to just wrap up the interviews by asking the guest what they’ve seen recently that they thought was really great. Just something maybe that was a little under the radar and it can be at the theaters, Netflix, Hulu, anything that’s out there that people could see. Maybe you saw something recently that you thought deserved a little extra attention?
Jameson: What have I seen recently that’s kind of under the radar and I really liked?
Ashley: Yeah, I’m putting you on the spot. Sorry [laughs].
Jameson: No, I know. I mean…
Ashley: Even something that’s not under the radar. What’s something that you’ve seen recently that you really enjoyed?
Jameson: Succession. I got really into Succession on HBO. I really enjoyed Greta Gerwig’s Little Women. Ford v Ferrari was great.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay. Well, yeah, that’s perfect. And those are all films actually I haven’t seen. So I will dig into some of those. 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.
Jameson: Oh yeah, totally. The www.brightlightpictures.com. Our website is regularly updated with what’s going on.
Ashley: Oh, perfect.
Jameson: IMDb is also a great spot. I have Twitter, I don’t use it as much as I should. That’s really about all of the internet, social media eplaces that you can find me.
Ashley: Okay. Well perfect. Well Jameson, I really appreciate your taking time out of your day to talk with me. Good luck with Julie and the Phantoms and all your other projects.
Jameson: Thank you so much. Thank you so much for having me on.
Ashley: Hey, thank you. Will talk to you later.
Jameson: Talk soon.
Ashley: 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 access 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 are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select, you’ll 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 go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
Just one more quick plug for The Rideshare Killer Kickstarter campaign. Again, if you have any interest in contributing or just learning more about it or watching the video, just go to www.theridesharekiller.com and that will forward you to the Kickstarter page. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.