This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 336 With Scoob! (2020) Writer – Matt Lieberman.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #336 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing screenwriter Matt Lieberman. He wrote a new Scooby Doo film called Scoob, which is currently out and available on demand. And he’s been on a real hot streak lately with a number of other big films coming out that he’s written. He wrote the animated film Addams Family that came out last year, he has a new live action film with Ryan Reynolds called Free Guy that’s coming out later this year or next year. He’s really one of the hottest screenwriters right now working in both animation and live action.
We talk through this, the differences between animation, the difference between live action. We talk through his career, how he got started and how it’s all come together for him. So stay tuned for that interview. The SYS Six-Figure Screenplay Contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The contest closes on July 31st. We’re on the final stretch now with less than a month to get your submissions in. The idea for this 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. Every submission will get read by at least three professional readers.
And I’ve lined up about 40 industry judges to read the scripts that move out of the first round. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winners. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, or perhaps enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. And if you’re listening to this podcast after the contest closes, we’re planning on running this contest every year. So check out the landing page to see what upcoming dates might be approaching. Again, 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 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. 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 #336. 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 now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing screenwriter Matt Lieberman. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Matt to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Matt: Thanks for having me.
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?
Matt: I grew up in New Jersey, the Jersey suburbs, loving movies, kinda being a movie fanatic, and also being into writing, but I never put the two together as a career that you could have back then until I went to NYU and I took a screenwriting class and realized, A, it was something I could do well and B, it was something that I didn’t have to ask favors for, or spend a lot of money to actually make a movie. I could write any movie I wanted to, and that there was a power in that, I think.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So what were you writing before you got to NYU? You were writing short stories or just nonfiction, whatever and you felt like you were good at it and liked it, but you didn’t put it together with screenwriting.
Matt: Yeah. No creative writing, any kinda creative writing was fun for me and I loved that. I maybe tried to write some books, but never completed a full book, but yeah. And then once I realized…. yeah, to me, a filmmaker was either Steven Spielberg or Woody Allen, you kind of did both in a way. I don’t know why I never put it together back then.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. What was your first step to actually turning this into a career? So you go to NYU, did you write a bunch of spec scripts, you moved to LA start pitching them. Maybe you can walk through that process going from a wannabe screenwriter at NYU to actually breaking into the industry and selling some scripts.
Matt: Yeah, well, at NYU when I was there, you were either in film production or you were in film theory. There was no undergrad screenwriter, screenwriting major. I don’t know if they have that now, but… So there was a few screenwriting classes where you would write short things or maybe write things that you were gonna make in school, but then I… there was one class that was write a feature or a screenplay that I… that you had to, according to what the list thing you had to really prepare for. And so I really like took it seriously. I had a full outline by the time I started the class and I was like one of the, maybe one or two people to write a full feature screenplay in that class.
So I think the professor kinda took me under his wing and he was like, “You understand, you seem to have a grasp of screenwriting and how to build a scene.” So he showed me how to get an agent by querying them. When I did it, it was before you would do it. I don’t even know how you query an agent these days, but you had to write a form letter and have a self-addressed stamped envelope that you put in with it. And like, and I send out my screenplay out to agents and I got responses, and some asked to read it, some didn’t. And I was like, “Okay, I…” I moved out to New York to LA like armed with how I can do this. I knew that in that query letter, you had to have some idea that would catch an agent’s eye.
That’s also where I learned to build a… I’m a high concept writer now, and it’s kind of where I started to see what high concept really meant, which is like grabbing somebody with… in just a sentence or two.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So we’re gonna circle back to that and I do wanna get your thoughts on that. Because I think that’s a very important thing to talk about is this idea of something being high concept. Let’s talk about that move. I get a lot of questions from screenwriters, just sort of tactical questions about, where should I live in LA? What’s a good first job? What apartment, housing… sort of where in LA is a good place to locate? Maybe you can talk through your process. What did you do and is that same…? What you did, was that something you recommend to new people to LA?
Matt: I definitely think you should move to LA if you wanna be a screenwriter. You definitely should plan on living there permanently. Anybody who says, “Oh, I’m coming and giving it two or three months,” that seems to be, to me, it’s just not gonna work. It’s kind of a lost cause. You have to commit to it because it is a process and it takes a long time for almost everybody. And I could talk about that. We could circle back to that. But it doesn’t matter where in LA live, you could even, you could live an hour outside of the city, as long as once things are going, you can pretty easily meet with people, even though in today’s, I don’t know, maybe in today’s environment, Zoom meetings are just as easy.
But having a day job where you have time and energy at the end of the day to be creative, I think is very important. I started out, I didn’t really know anybody here. I took temp jobs until I found one that at an office at a studio in their post-production, in their home video department, actually, and the guy said to me, and this was a great advice. He wasn’t the writer, but he, I think he was an actor. He was like, “Look, you could take a writer’s assistant gig and be… and then you’ll work long hours and maybe you’ll make contacts with other writers, but you’ll never have the time and energy to do your own thing. Or you could do this, which is the best job, it’s nine to five, and you go home at the end of the day, maybe you answer an email or two.” And he was really right.
I think that really was a big part of what helped me was that I could go home nights and weekends. It was not a creative job so I had, still had… you know, if you have a creative job, but you’re writing, I don’t know, copy or something that you don’t believe in that’s just taking away from your own creative energy at the end of the day. There was a lot of working nights and weekends on my own and watching [inaudible 00:09:07] to go to the beach and just kind of… it was just something I was compelled to do.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Okay. What would you consider sort of your first break? On IMDb you have a writing credit for Dr. Doolittle: Tail to the Chief, was that your first writing credit? Had you optioned some other stuff, had you started to sell some stuff? What sort of predated that actual sale and getting that script produced?
Matt: Yeah, that was my first writing job, even though I don’t know if I would even call it a break. I feel like armed with that, with knowing how to query an agent, I got an agent. I was always able to get an agent very easily. I mean, they were small, they were at small agencies, but they believed in the, either the project I went out with or believed in me. And that’s important. Even though I had an agent for many years before I sold anything, we would go out with the scripts, they had varying degrees of success, some of them almost got optioned, some would have a big attachment. But I mean, I must have gone out with at least five or six specs before that Dr. Doolittle job, which was just that going in for opening writing assignment and them liking my take.
But it was all those years of writing specs and going in for jobs and losing them that really prepares you, because nobody teaches you even in school, how to do those things. And I can talk about those processes to you because I think they’re very important. And there’s definitely a helpless feeling when you move out here, like how do I do this?
Ashley: Let’s dig into something you said. I thought something you said there was super interesting and I think it’s not… it’s… a lot of people that are outside the industry don’t realize it. You just said that you don’t consider Dr. Doolittle your first big break. And I think there’s definitely this perception that outside the industry, if I can just sell that first script, everything will be smooth sailing from then. What’s interesting when I was preparing for the interview, I noticed Dr. Doolittle was in 2008, your career really took off in 2018. So there must’ve been 10 years of similar things, you’re sending scripts out and I kinda wanted to get your take on that. What did those 10 years look like between Dr. Doolittle and actually really breaking out and having a bunch of scripts get sold and produced?
Matt: Yeah, I mean, I would agree with you, there are no breaks, I think. Sure you could come out with this genius screenplay and it could set the world on fire. Those are rare and few in between, and they prob… I have had friends that had their first script get them lots of attention and then even, maybe get them a job and then they don’t know how to replicate it because they didn’t do the 10 years of work to know what they did right by writing that script. When I sold Dr. Doolittle, look, I’m not putting it down, I was real money, I was Writers Guild minimum, which was, I deposited a cheque that was like the most money I ever seen in my life, and I was happy to get it. But then it was like, what’s next?
Actually, that next year was kind of a low time for me because my day… I was married, my day job was taking more and more of my time, and I was feeling like is this going… I’d been working on it for many years, but I was like, “Is this plan B gonna be my plan A? I don’t know.” I had this pitch, this idea for this movie called the [inaudible 00:12:49] which was a high concept movie about a guy who was abducted by aliens and forced to be their pet. It was like an opposite reverse ET. My agent at the time was like, “That’s a great idea. We could sell this, we could pitch this.” I put it together in a pitch and I still didn’t feel solid about it, but we went out, we pitched it, Scott Rudin took a shine to it and basically demanded Disney buy it for him.
That felt to me… that job allowed me to quit my day job. That job was like, you need to write this, you don’t have time to have a day job anymore. So I mean, it’s still not a…
Ashley: What year was that? How far after 2008 was that?
Matt: Well, that was… I mean, Dr. Doolittle was 2006, so that was 2007. That was May, 2007.
Ashley: I got you.
Matt: So 13 years ago. Then I sold that, it was a big of a sale as I ever made as a pitch, I wrote it, the Disney people liked working with me and a lot of the cool projects that were going on there were in this thing called the Disney Writers Program, which is a… which is like you… a deal for young writers where you make a deal with them for a year to work with them exclusively. They give you an office, you work on different various projects in different stages of development, you bring them your own projects. They have an option to renew it for a second year. And it was right after the writer’s strike. I had made my first sale, I got into the Writers Guild and then there was a writer’s strike for two or three months.
And this Disney Writers Program was really appealing to me. Even though I’d already sold a script I felt like it would give me some stability, which is a hard thing to do as a… have as a writer. It was a godsend to me because it really allowed me to work on the craft of writing and not worry about hustling. I mean, there was a little bit of hustling involved, but… and it really allowed me to establish relationships with producers and people at studios and you kind of realize that they’re not hollow gates, they’re very, obviously intelligent, creative people, but they’re people, which is something as a young screenwriter, you don’t really grasp because every pitch feels like there’s so much stakes to it.
It also allowed me to make friends with other writers, which is so critical in being a young writer. I mean, that’s… if anybody wants to take anything from this away, it’s like make relationships with other people, other writers at various stages of their career. That’s the most helpful thing. Yeah. Then I… after I got… I did that for three years and got different writing assignments, but Scooby Doo, Scoob, which comes out tomorrow, was a first script that it was the right script on the right property. Like every script can’t be an A, but this one came out really good. It was a property that Warner Brothers was very excited about, and I got a deal with them as a result of it. It was a thing where I turned it in on Friday and by Monday, we were getting excited calls from the studio.
Ashley: And what was that? That was a pitch first and then they hired you to write the script to expand the pitch out.
Matt: Yeah. They were like, “We wanna make a Scooby Doo movie.” That was it. That was the parameters. Maybe there could be some Hanna-Barbera characters involved, but we don’t know. And I had this clear idea for it, obviously getting that assignment came from many years of pitching and knowing how to do that. But yeah, I got that pitch, I got the job and yeah, we were… and once I turned it in a year later after I pitched it, that process takes longer than most people expect, it was off to the races. And things snowballed from there. That was really the break quote unquote.
Ashley: Yeah. Let’s talk about… going back on some of the things, you mentioned these query letters and high concept, let’s talk about that a little bit. Maybe you can sort of define high concept and talk about your process. How do you… like you just pitched that reverse ET and I totally, like as soon as you say that reverse ET, like it’s literally three words or two words and it’s kinda high concept, very, very quickly. So maybe you can talk about that. What is your definition of high concept and then how do you generate these high concept ideas?
Matt: Yeah, well, somebody explained it to me pretty clearly when I was a young writer, which was like, “Okay, I’m crowning you a studio executive. You have a very busy day, you have a very busy slate, it’s your job to put these… to get good movies going that make a lot of money for you.” And of course, today this is… there’s a lot of what gets pushed through is original, is IP. Well, I’ll get to that in a second. So you’re the studio executive and somebody comes in with you with two projects, one they’re really excited about, it’s a character piece about this guy, and I don’t know, you just have to read it. And the other one is Jim Carrey is God for a day and has all the powers of God for a week.
Which are you gonna green light? You have five minutes. I mean, it’s clear to you. And that is high concept, is like, I see it, I get it, I know who I could cast in it. I could cast eight people that would mean something to box office, and it… Yeah, it’s something that I haven’t seen before or in a way I haven’t seen it before. That has actually turned into IP. That’s why IP is so safe to studio execs. Because you could go into your boss and say, “Oh, I have Batman.” Nobody’s gonna argue with Batman today is…. Or even, “I have something with a built in fan base.” But as I think I’ve shown, high concept ideas still do get made. I have, two of my specs, I have studio spending like over $250 million to make them in today’s day and age.
Free Guy is the other example, which comes out maybe at the end of this year. Yeah, I think a good idea floats to the top. So that is high concept.
Ashley: Okay. So then let’s talk about your process of generating these high concept ideas. Maybe we could even go back. I noticed you sold a spec script, Meet the Machines to Lion’s Gate. Maybe we could even use that one as sort of an example. What’s the concept for that one? And then ultimately, how did you generate that concept and sell that script?
Matt: Yeah. Meet the Machines is about two… there’re are about two robots that have been tasked to raise this kid for the son of a robotic engineer and the robotic engineer dies. So they have to… because they’re robots, they have to raise him in the optimal environment. They bring him to the suburbs with the best school system, and how can two robots raise a kid in the suburbs and fit in. It’s a little Coneheads, I guess, in a way. Yeah, so…
Ashley: It also does sound, it sounds like, just pitching it to me, it sounds also it could be episodic, like it could definitely be a premise for a TV show.
Matt: Sure, absolutely. It had been discussed before I wrote it as a feature for sure. And that’s an idea I had floating around in my head for a long time, a robot family, a family of robots trying to fit into the suburbs. That’s probably the logline. I had it in the back of my head floating around for years, and it…
Ashley: And what’s the process, okay, so it’s floating around, do you have like an idea bank? Like I have an idea bank, so I’ve got a Google doc, if I get just a random idea, I just put it in there and then I go back to it and the better ideas slowly… Do you have some process like that? This is in the back of your mind, do you actually note it and then in a year, you see it on your list, and you start kicking it around in your head again?
Matt: Yes. That’s how I do it. I have a doc in Mac notes that I add to and go back to. I definitely get in an idea mode, like I wanna come up with an idea. Like I’ve finished a screenplay, I maybe have some time, or maybe I just wanna get away from pages or outlining and just think of new ideas. So I start writing even something that doesn’t seem like an idea, just worlds or other movies that I like that I would like to work in that kind of space reading… reading things, taking things in, mashing things up, seeing where that gets me and that’s where something like Free Guy probably came out of for sure.
Ashley: Okay. And so, maybe you can pitch the… what’s the premise of Free Guy?
Matt: Free Guy is about a guy who lives in a… has a pretty routine life, and then he basically realizes he’s the background guy in a Grand Theft Auto video game. So it’s like Truman Show.
Ashley: I got you. So then, is this again, is this another idea that you just kicked around, you put it into your idea bank and then slowly noodled it over the years? Do you tell friends about it and that starts to hone your pitch a little bit? Do you tell your agent and manager? Again, are there some sort of processes that you’re going through to kind of figure out, okay, which are the ideas that are worth exploring further?
Matt: Yeah. Well, I met my manager Adam Kolbrenner in 2011 and things definitely changed for me. He’s kind of been my partner in coming up with any… in career choices and deciding what to write next. He has a great sense of what is sellable and what’s a movie. So I definitely would… he would be the first person I pitched anything I was excited about or like, “Hey, what do you think about this?” He’s definitely the first person I pitched, would pitch a robot family to. And definitely, I remember pitching him on the side of the road, Free Guy, like, and being excited about it. That’s an idea I just knew right away. Even my agent at the time was like, “I don’t know. It sounds like…”
I don’t know what he said, pixels or… which it was not at all like, but it was [inaudible 00:23:34] that was probably the fault of me for not pitching right.
So I put it on the back burner and then I was like, “That idea is just a great idea.” And I pitched it out in the meeting and the guy’s like, “That’s a great idea.” And I’m like, “I know that’s a great idea.” So then it got back into the front. That’s how it gets back to the top of the list. If I’m excited about something, I could write it very quickly.
Ashley: Got you. Let’s dig into your writing process a little bit. And just some quick questions, where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, are you the guy that goes down to Starbucks and likes a little bit of ambiance?
Matt: These days an office, my home office, in these days my home office, obviously. I did work at a… and I… with the Disney writer’s program and other companies I’ve worked for have given me offices and I did for a long time prefer leaving the house and going somewhere even [inaudible 00:23:30]. I would go to a coffee house sometime just to mix up the energy for myself or go somewhere without internet to keep myself honest. But these days, I am a nine to fiver. I used to write nights and weekends like I said, but now that I have a family, I’m a nine to six kinda writer. It’s like a job. I take a shower, I get dressed and I go into my office and write till lunchtime. And then usually I switch projects in the afternoon.
Ashley: I got you. So when you’re preparing and you’re doing an outline, how much time do you spend in the outline stage versus how much time do you spend in actual final draft writing scenes?
Matt: Yeah, that depends. I mean, I do think that what’s interesting about this profession is that… I mean the real work is breaking the story and coming up with the major story beats, that is usually what you pitch the studios for free, but if you’re doing your own thing, that is definitely the work. I’ve definitely gone into scripts with like a vague idea of what I wanted and gotten to the finish line and they’ve come out well, but usually I like to know, like my break into act two, my midpoint and act three. At least have a general idea of what that is. And outlining I… for a pitch, I usually outline a story like to six or seven pages in text document in final draft. That’s my litmus, like around the right amount of information you need to start a story.
So usually even if it’s something I’m not pitching, I do that for myself, have at least five pages of an outline. That could take anywhere from a week to months. It depends on the idea. You need to sometimes to get… if you’re not… something’s not working, you need to step away and just let it simmer in your subconscious.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. How do these jobs differ? You’ve done a lot of animation, you’ve done a lot of live action. How do these jobs differ? Is animation a little more structured, are the… when you’re doing the live action are you more at home? You always hear the animation is much more collaborative, you know, they’re rewriting the script up to the last minute. Are you involved in that process with the animation all the way through the production, helping to do those rewrites versus live action where it seems like the writers kinda… by the time principal photography starts, the writer’s kinda done?
Matt: Yeah. Both. It depends on the studio. In places like Disney animation and Pixar, the writer is usually on, is in the office every day or a part of the process to the very end. Other studios, they kind of treat it more like live action, and you’re definitely… Well, Scooby Doo, I was on for maybe three of the seven years, and then at a certain point you need to work on other things and they need to see other perspectives. So yeah, it really depends. I mean, the great thing about animation is you do get to, as a writer, see things, they put things up on… they make animatics of the movie before they start to make it, so you could… there is this added element of getting to see how things are working before you’re committed to them, which is good and bad. I think it’s mostly good.
So there is a little bit of that in the process, but yeah. And in a live action movie, you can write your draft and they could say, “Thank you very much,” and you may never see them again, or you may be on set and with them till the very end too.
Ashley: Yeah. What’s your development process like? And I’d be curious to hear again, sort of versus like the specs that you’ve done. Do you write the spec, you give it to your manager, you get notes? Do you have a bunch of other writer friends? And then how does that differ when you’re hired for these assignments? Do you send it to… like you have a first draft, I would assume maybe you get a little feedback before you send it to the producer you’re working with at the studio? Maybe talk about that process a little bit, development process with these different types of projects.
Matt: Yeah. For specs I usually, at least for the first draft like to keep it insulated with just me and my manager. I trust his opinion implicitly. He has a great notes, he reads every, he’ll read a million drafts with… and work on with me to the end. And then maybe I’ll open up the circle for more feedback. My writer friends, I lean on for story problems and you get stuck on a page and where it… as that is something that if I was just by myself and not talking to anybody, or even for a writing assignment, a lot of times producers don’t know how to fix story problems. They know what’s wrong, they know it’s not working, but they can’t tell you how to fix it. So a phone call to one of my writer friends who I met in the Disney writer’s program can save me two weeks of pulling my hair out in an hour.
Because it’s like, it’s just like life. You don’t know what your own problem is, but somebody could meet you for five minutes and tell you exactly. It’s the same thing with writing. You could be overthinking, the smallest thing could get you stuck, and someone’s like, “Just put a hat on it.” And you’re like, “Oh my God.” So yeah. And I definitely have different friends that are more helpful for different types of story problems. I have more friends that I have great grasp of character and thinking about it through that lens and other friends who can help me with story problems and breaking through. I have friends who are very harsh and can blow things up, which is I think important and important as a new screenwriter to know that writing is rewriting and it’s not perfect.
You got to kill your darlings, you just can’t be precious about it. You will ultimately get a better story with harsher criticism than with friends who are like, “Oh, it’s great. I like it.”
Ashley: Sure. And how do you deal with, especially in these paid assignments where they’re basically paying you to write, how do you deal with notes that you just flat out don’t agree with? And how do you… do you make a good effort, you try and make a legitimate case why it’s not gonna work? Maybe walk through that process a little bit.
Matt: I think it’s important as of what you’re… look, these people are paying you a lot of money. It’s important to… and most of the producers I’ve dealt with are smart and even… and very savvy and have great story sense. Even ones who are maybe newer or for whatever reason, don’t have great notes. They’re usually poking at something that’s a problem, they’re bumping on something. Maybe their solution for it is not correct, or… but it’s indicative that there’s something there. So you definitely, as yourself, even if you get a bad note, you have to breathe it out for a day or two, really look at it in the cold light of day and try it. I mean, I had a friend of mine who was like, “Well, look, whatever you do, you’re gonna give it…” I’m gonna give it Matt Lieberman vitamins.
Like it may not seem to add up, usually sometimes notes that seem that I just don’t agree with, I go in and I like the thing that I did even better. And sometimes it’s something that seems like a big note is just a little tweak that that can go a long way. So I like to give every note it’s day, day in the sun and I usually address them all. So at least the producer feels like they’ve been heard. That’s about the other core philosophy.
Ashley: Yeah. So, okay. And this is sort of more of a philosophical question. How do you get through those years or months or days of self-doubt? I mean, you talked about it after Dr. Doolittle in 2008, you still weren’t sure if this was actually gonna work and how do you persevere? And the reality is you don’t know. Like even the most competent person in the world, if they’re really honest with themselves, you really don’t know if you’re gonna make it to the other side. How do you persevere through that and why’d why persevere through it?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, that’s something that comes inside of your being a screenwriter. I mean, I love it, I would not trade it for the world, I’m living my dream, but it is a tough job even when you make it. And it is, I mean, I say this to my friends, I don’t know how to curse, like being a screenwriter is a meditation [inaudible 00:33:27] because it’s just the nature of the job. It’s nothing malicious. It’s just, if you write a piece of material for anybody else to make that their own, everybody’s always attacking the material. It’s for a director to make it his own, you have to change the script, for a producer to make it his own. That’s all they can do, is they can’t act in it, I mean, some actors obviously can, but it is a constant attack on the material.
As a creative exec at a studio, you have the script, but, and it’s great, but guess what if I hire this other great screenwriter, who I love to do a pass at it maybe it will be even better and it can sometimes ruin it. It is a… and once you write a script, sometimes you send it off and they all go off without you and they make it, and they all have relationships and a big fun time and you visit set for a day or two and you feel like an alien. No one’s even… the PA I don’t even know who you are. And it’s the thing that came out of your head. It’s your whole baby. But that is what it is. And definitely trying to sell a script… I mean, so I’m saying like the goal, you’re never even, you’re never fully there. As a screenwriter, you really aren’t.
So like, you have to be used to that while you’re trying to make it and be okay with that feeling. And the way I was always, the way I got through it was by working on the next project. It’s what I realized kinda early on. I would write a script and my agent would be like, “This is great. We’re gonna go out with it.” They go, they send it to producers on a Friday or whatever, and then by Monday, some like it, and it goes to the studio and you build this excitement, the studios are looking at it, and then nobody buys it. It used to be within a week. It’s probably a little longer the process. And the, “Oh, well, still, we’re gonna… these couple of people are still interested.” Those things last for…
Then you call your manager a couple of weeks later, “How’s it going?” like, “Oh, still waiting to hear.” And that just drifts on for months. So to put all your eggs in that screenplay is heartbreaking. Because that is going… that is the most common result. The only way to get past that is, I mean, for me before I even sent it out, I was already working on the next thing and I was already excited about the next thing. So, “Hey, that’s not gonna sell, maybe it will.” Like, I don’t care. I’m writing the scene in this next screenplay and Oh my God, I’m more excited about it than the last one. I don’t even care what happens with our last one. The only way to get through it is by doing the work.
The only way you know you’re gonna make it is by loving writing and doing it, and it’s just something you have to do. It’s definitely the commonality in all my friends who are working screenwriters, not, I mean, you have your moment, we’ve all had our moments of doubt, but there’s… it’s almost, there’s nothing else you could… you have to have that feeling like there’s no other way.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Sound advice for sure. And thank you for that. So what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing and just stay in touch, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I’ll round up for the show notes?
Matt: Oh yeah. It’s at Twitter. On Twitter, if anybody has a screenwriting question, I’m happy to answer it and help. I definitely feel like one of the mistakes I made as I was trying to be a screenwriter is kind of not looking for advice and not reading books and not going to blogs like yours or podcasts like yours. I thought like, if find need that, I’m not a real screenwriter. And that’s not true at all. Like you have… now, all I do is I wanna talk about story. It’s how you learn, it’s how you get better, that it’s to work on the craft and not… your thing Selling Your Screenplay, like the focus should be on screenplay. Then it will sell. It’s not that I think a mistake, a lot of young writers make is like worrying about the selling.
That is something that is mostly out of your control. The only thing you can really control is the work.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So, well, perfect. I’ll round your Twitter account up and I’ll definitely link over to that and people can pop in and follow you there. I really appreciate your, Matt, coming on and talking with me today. Congratulations on all your success, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future when some more of your films are coming out.
Matt: Oh great. Thanks. Yeah, no, thanks a lot for having me.
Ashley: Perfect. Talk to you later.
Matt: Alright, bye.
Ashley: Stay safe.
Matt: You too.
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 directors, Cary Murnion, and Jonathan Milott. They started out, they started out right out of college with their own production company, doing commercials, and then slowly worked their way up to narrative features. They have a new horror film coming out called Becky starring Joel McHale and Kevin James. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.