This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 328: With Neasa Hardiman Writer-Director of Sea Fever.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #328 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Neasa Hardiman who just did a film called Sea Fever. It’s a limited location thriller that takes place on a boat out to sea. We walk through her career, how she got her start and how this film came together for her, so stay tuned for that interview. The SYS Six-Figure Screenplay Contest is now open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The early bird discount runs through May 31st. The idea for the contest was simple, find the best low-budget scripts and present them to the industry.
I’m defining low-budget as less than $1,000,000, in other words, six figures or less. If you have any questions about how to figure out the budget of your screenplay, I created a video which you can find on the landing page which will help you estimate your budget. Here’s how it’s gonna work. Every submission will get read by at least three professional readers. These are readers I have hired to read scripts in the first round. Each reader will give each script a quick assessment, which you can actually purchase if you’d like to see some quick feedback on your script. Then the scripts that stand out in the first round will move to the second round where I will disseminate the scripts out to our industry judges.
The industry judges will grade the scripts and we will choose the winners from the ones that stand out among those judges. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winners. I’ve lined up about 40 of these industry pro judges. They are listed on the contest landing page with links to their IMDb page, so you can really get a sense of who these people are. These are real filmmakers who are making movies. The reason many of these folks are willing to be judges is not just to give back to the community, but also to potentially find material that they themselves might like to produce or be a part of in some way. So once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about or perhaps even enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #328.
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.
Just a quick shout out to screenwriter Peter Wisan. He just sold an original screenplay to a medium sized production company through the SYS Select leads. As we were emailing back and forth, he actually also mentioned that he had had success a while back through another lead and he was actually hired to help rewrite a seven-figure project. So a big congratulations to Peter and thank you Peter for sharing these success stories. I really do enjoy hearing them. I added a little blurb about the deal that he got on the success page. If you wanna learn a little more about it, just check out that. It’s just www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Again, I really love hearing these success stories.
Really does make me feel like all this stuff that I’m putting out there, the services, all this content is actually helping people. It’s extremely gratifying. I can also help promote you to other writers… I’m sorry, other producers as I get to know you a little bit. One of the interesting things is as Peter and I were emailing back and forth, we got to know a little bit about each other. Again, this other option that he had came up and it’s like, you know, that’s actually what networking is. It’s like he, Peter’s on my radar. I’m discussing scripts with all of these various producers, and that’s just like, that’s part of the process. If you have success stories or you have some real legitimate way to connect with someone, I would really urge you to do that.
Not just my success stories, but other screenwriters and stuff. That’s really what it’s all about. Again, it’s not like me and Peter have become friends through this email exchange, but we pass back a bunch of emails, just he had a bunch of other suggestions sort of unrelated to the options or the sales and stuff and just again, just got to know him a little bit and now I kinda know who he is and I’ll recognize his emails as they come in. And again, I looked at now his scripts and kind of gotten a feel for what he’s writing. That’s, again, that’s what real networking is. I always feel like a lot of people try and put themselves in positions to network in these sort of stilted ways. And it just, for myself, I never found that that ever really worked.
I just wasn’t that sort of social person that could go out there and just schmooze and make things. But again, doing stuff like what Peter has done, reaching out to me, emailing back and forth, just talking about other things besides this option, we’re slowly, you know, I’m getting to know who he is. Obviously he knew who I was listening on the podcast, but that’s how actual stuff happens. That’s why I really encourage you, obviously if you have success stories for my services, it’s beneficial for me to promote those potentially I can bring in more business obviously. So it’s self-serving on my part, but it also does help to serve your own career in the sense that again, you’re getting on my radar, I’m interacting with producers and you’re just potentially networking a little bit with somebody.
Again, don’t just think about this just purely for my own selfish SYS successes. And one of the reasons I’m bringing this up is because Peter is a prime example of someone. He had a pretty good success through our services, but I just never knew anything about it. And so hearing about it really does help. It helps not just my service, but it also really does kinda help his own career potentially. Again, this is to me what networking actually looks like. Anyways, if you have a success story, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. But just in general, if there’s some way of connecting with someone in like a real way, not just, “Hey, I love your podcast.” “Hey, great job on the podcast this week.”
If there’s an actual way to connect with someone, that can go a long way to serving your career. Again, not thinking along the lines of me connecting with me, but connecting with these producers. What about these producers that are listed on the SYS contest page? What about going on Twitter and getting to know them and just starting to get on their radar? Maybe one of those producers will see your script and will kinda get, you’ll get on their radar. Again, this is how networking works, real networking, actually kind of just understanding people and organically connecting, not trying to be stilted, not reaching out to producers, “Hey everybody… my mom thinks this story would really make a great movie. Would you check it out?”
Like, that’s not real networking. That’s like probably 50% of the emails I get from people are those kinds of things. And I’m just, you know, what can I do with those types of emails? What can a producer do? Put yourself in the producer’s shoes. What can he do with an email like that that is, “Hey, my mom,” or “My brother,” or, “All my friends say I’d just make a great writer. They’ve read my short stories and can you help me get my career going?” And it’s like, “Hmm, probably not.” There’s gotta be some actual connection. There’s gotta be something that you can kinda relate to a person. And again, put yourself in the producer’s shoes and think about what kind of email you would like to get as a producer that might actually make you connect to someone.
Anyways, a little bit of a ramble here with this, but do check out the success stories page. If you have a success story through SYS, I definitely would really very much like to hear from you about it. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing filmmaker Neasa Hardiman. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Neasa to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Neasa: Thanks for having me Ashley.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Neasa: Well, I’m from Dublin in Ireland and I was always interested in creative writing and I was interested in art and I was interested in science. And when I finished school I thought, “Do I wanna do creative writing and visual arts or do I wanna do science?” And I thought, you know what, I’m gonna do visual arts because if I do visual arts, I can learn everything I want to learn about science whereas the converse may not be true.
Ashley: Huh? That’s, yeah, it’s a good point. What were some of your steps to actually turning this into a career?
Neasa: Well I started out as a designer. I did a lot of CG work. I did virtual design and animation just at a time when that was kinda taking off. So that was a really interesting way into the business. And that it gave me a lot of confidence and that kind of hardware and software-based image making, which was great. Then from there I moved into directing live action and I started working in documentary. I directed a whole load of documentary, which is really useful in terms of learning how to tell a story. From there then I made a couple of short films. I got really interested in working with actors. I wrote and directed for the theater and out of that then I got an agent in the UK and I started working, making TV drama in the UK.
And out of that I got picked up by a US agency, and I worked with Amazon and Netflix since then. So I’ve kinda come out of high-end TV.
Ashley: Yeah. I got you. So let’s talk about some of those transitions. I know that a lot of people that listen to this podcast, they’re obviously screenwriters, but they may work in the entertainment business in some sort of another facet, whether that be an attorney or an accountant or in your case special effects, CGI and that stuff. How did you make that transition? Were you writing scripts, were you organizing? It sounds like you made the transition to documentary. So did you have a couple of like pitch decks for documentaries you wanted to go and do and you would kinda throw those out to your contacts? Maybe just talk about that transition going from not being a producer and a director, but being on the industry. How did you actually bridge that gap?
Neasa: Yeah, I think the script is 100% the thing, and the great thing of course as everybody says about screen writing is you can do it yourself at home. The trick I think with screenwriting is keep doing it. Do it every day. The other big piece of advice I would give to people is you learn your craft by doing, and you write your screenplay and if it doesn’t take off and if nobody is interested, write another one. If that doesn’t take off, write another one. Don’t [inaudible 00:11:30] with one project that you try and sell around town, nobody’s interested and you rewrite it and try and sell it again. Don’t do that. Write something new. There are always better ideas out there, and you have an [inaudible 00:11:39] ideas in you. Every time you write something new, it’s better than what you wrote before.
Ashley: Yeah. So then just like on a practical sense, what were some of those steps for you? When you were working as a CGI artist, were you also writing scripts? Were you also sort of preparing for these other opportunities?
Neasa: Yes, I was. Yeah. I wrote a story of which was picked up by Creative Europe for development. So that was really helpful and I learned a lot. Because what they do is they bring you to a European capital and you meet other aspiring filmmakers and you work together [inaudible 00:12:16] the script for a week. So that was massively helpful for me. I came back out of that and I get documentary pitches to the TV broadcaster in Ireland and I ended up making documentary films for about three or four years, both creative documentary and investigative documentary. What I learned out of that was how to tell a screen story. Because when you’re shooting documentary like that, you write a script but obviously you have to be really careful that you’re not controlling the action.
I think it’s Hitchcock who said, “In documentaries, God is the director, but in drama the director is God.” So having done that for a few years with my own visual training I thought, “I really want… I want to be God. I want to control everything that’s happening.” The other thing that I felt having that documentary was the [inaudible 00:13;04] the subject is a slightly unequal bargain. Even though the films that I made, they were about social transformation, they were about wanting to change things for the better for the communities that we were filming, but nonetheless it was an uneven bargain. Whereas when I write a drama and I work with actors, the bargain is a much more equal bargain.
So I’m still telling these kind of stories, I’m still trying to fumble through, I hope think and possibly maybe change the world a little bit for the better in terms of how we think about things [inaudible 00:13:39] much more even bargain then I’m much more comfortable with that. So that was one of my main reasons to move from documentary and start… and I just always wanted to make fiction. But one of the other ways I fell into making fiction was having been a documentary director and producer and having written my own documentary and I needed the experience of working with actors. So I applied to the public service broadcaster to work in [inaudible 00:14:04] drama.
That was a real learning curve for me because of course when you work in that kind of drama or like a hospital drama for the BBC that went out once a week, an hour long drama once a week. And [inaudible 00:14:19] story time. And so you have to make it interesting and meaningful and authentic and the character that we really like, but you can’t be too self-conscious [inaudible 00:14:29]. You can’t have kind of visual [inaudible 00:14:33] and having come from a visual background [inaudible 00:14:37] cinematic language too is ultimate was not actually as important as getting really great performance. That’s when the [inaudible 00:14:47] and making sure that the story [inaudible 00:14:50] at writing from working with actors like that who really knew their craft and really understood how to make characters to like.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So let’s dig into your latest film Sea Fever. Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is that film all about?
Neasa: Well, the film it’s a really devastating thriller with sci-fi elements. Really it’s a story about taking responsibility for ourselves, for our actions, for our community, and ultimately for our world, but posed through the medium of a sci-fi action thriller. So it’s centered around Siobhán, she’s a Marine biologist and she’s socially awkward. She may be on the autism spectrum, although she’s never been tested. And she has to go on to a troller because she’s doing her doctoral thesis in Marine biology. So she’s isn’t social, she loves to be on her own. and now she’s with this troller crew who value sociability and humor and practicality. And they really don’t like her, but everybody has their reasons and they were all complex and conflicted characters.
And one day encounter deep sea animal because they’ve been deep sea pulling in the Atlantic. Siobhán becomes the one who is the natural leader of the crew, and she is the one, the only one really to can be chose and analyze and hopefully save what turns out to be quite a deathly situation.
Ashley: Yeah. So, yeah, it sounds fascinating. Where did this idea come from? What was sort of the genesis, sort of the seed of this story?
Neasa: Well, what I wanted to do was I wanted to tell a story that had some kind of real meat to it in terms of the ideas behind it. But I wanted to tell the story through the medium of something that would be exciting and keep you on the edge of your seat. I’ve always loved grounded sci-fi, so the film is rooted in antecedents like Alien, like The Abyss, like Arrival, Annihilation. Any film beginning with ‘A’, really, no [laughs]. That kind of grounded sci-fi, which is very character-driven, but has this [inaudible 00:17:10] element at the heart of the story.
Ashley: Yeah. Huh. So let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. How much time do you spend, and I think this would be a good example to use Sea Fever as kinda the case study, how long do you spend outlining versus how long do you spend in final draft actually cranking out script pages?
Neasa: I spend a long time outlining. I feel like story [inaudible 00:17:37]. I absolutely love writing dialogue. It is my favorite thing to do, but I always leave it until the end. I’m a big believer in stoke to your story first. Make sure you can tell your story in one page. Make sure that you have those exciting, really important story beats hammered out in a really coherent and consistent way. And I’m a big believer in step outlining. So I’ll start with something really short. The very first thing that I do is I’ll have a really kind of [inaudible 00:18:09] abstract idea and I’ll start researching and I’ll dive into research. And it’s in the research then that the story starts to come in little bits and pieces. So I did a lot of research into what it’s like to be on troller.
I did a lot of research into what it’s like to be near a diverse. I did a lot of research into Marine biology and what we know and don’t know about the deep ocean, mostly what we don’t know. From that, then I started to piece together the kind of story that I wanted to tell. I knew I wanted to tell a story that would be a metaphor for the climate catastrophe, but that would have a proper edge-of-the-seat thriller. I knew I wanted to have a really diverse cast, but I knew I wanted to have a cast that were locked into the same place. So having those kinds of parameters set I started to beat out story, just a single page. And I would rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite that until I felt like I really, I had a shape that I thought was gonna work.
Then out of that I would break it down into sequences. So I broke it down into eight sequences and made sure that each sequence in and of itself had it’s own narrative tension and was like a short film, that it had rising and falling action all the way through it. And once I had those eight sequences then I went back into building the characters.
Ashley: And do you get feedback as you’re going through this process? Are you showing it to any producers or anything?
Neasa: At that early stage, no. No. At that early stage I’m still kinda trying to figure out myself what shape it should be. So it’s kind of too, if I showed it to anybody, they’d go, “I don’t really understand what this is.” So I don’t do that. But once I’ve drilled on in the characters and I have a better idea… Because you know, being in charge, you kinda have to come together and it’s a little bit like riding a bicycle. The theme is always the thing that I’d come to first. I’ve got the theme and then I’m thinking about, ‘well what kind of people would have that kind of crisis?’ Like what kind of people would be bottled up against each other in that kind of situation. Who would those people be and what would they want and how would their wants conflict and what would be truthful about that? So that takes some time as well.
Then trying to sculpt those characters into a form that feels exciting and credible backstory that I feel like they’re coming alive under my hands. And so maybe until I have all of that work done and I’ve got a pretty good step outline that I’ll then make it into a script. And once I’ve made it into a script, that’s when I’ll show it to a producer. Because for me anyway, I think it’s very difficult for people to read into your own rough work. Only you can really read into your own rough work. You have to produce something that at least at surface level looks finished so that people can see where you want it to go and how you want it to be. So once I had a script, that’s when I showed it to the producers.
And they were kind enough to chip in stuff that was a commercial proposition. So then we were off to the races.
Ashley: As you were developing the idea were you getting feedback from the producers? Because you just made the comment that you got to the producers and they thought that it had some legs in terms of the marketing, did you get any feedback early on before you wrote the script that, “Hey, here’s an idea I’m working on. Do you think this would be a marketable idea that you could get funding for?”
Neasa: The feedback that I got was, at the script stage, was from a woman professional script editor. So once the producer could see that the thing had legs, we employed her and then I worked with her to develop the script from there. So their input really was the assessment of whether the project had marketability. Once they made that assessment, then they were willing to invest in it. But in terms of the actual storytelling, they came from a script editor, which was really valuable. Somebody else who’s in that world of how do you craft a story?
Ashley: So how can people see Sea Fever? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Neasa: Well, that’s the $64,000 question right now. Of course the world has changed so radically since the film was…
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding.
Neasa: So the release date in the US is the 10th of April. I’m hoping that we might still have our nationwide theatrical release, but even if everybody is staying at home and we are still all protecting each other and staying safe I very much hope that some of your listeners might enjoy downloading it at Video On Demand.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well, Neasa, I really appreciate your coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and of course good luck with all your future projects as well.
Neasa: A great pleasure. Thanks very much.
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.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Jamie Bernadette, who is an actress who just produced and starred in a horror film called Dead by Dawn. She is sort of a modern-day scream queen. She stars in a ton of these types of horror films and in fact she’s been in a few films that have been highlighted here on the SYS podcast, including 4/20 Massacre. I think there was another film. I looked through her resume. I was trying to figure out which are the other films, but I think there’s a couple of films she’s actually been in some of these horror movies that have come across my desk here at SYS. It’s an interesting interview because we really see the script and the project through an actor’s eyes.
She is really an actor first, producer second. So it’s really interesting just to kinda see how she chose this project, how she got involved with this project and why this is a project that appealed to her. So some great information for writers really through the actor’s eyes. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.