This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 346: With Writer/Director Christian Sesma.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #346 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director Christian Sesma, who was on the podcast a couple of years ago in Episode Number #134. So check that episode out if you have time and wanna hear a bit more about his background. But this week we’ll be talking about his new film- Paydirt, starring Val Kilmer and Luke Goss. We talk about writing the film, casting it and how it came together for him. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. 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 #346. 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 a 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 a quick few words about what I’m working on. I’m still plugging away on my mystery thriller feature film, the Rideshare Killer. I just sent back notes to my editor, so we’re doing another pass remotely. In the meantime, I’m bringing on my colorist, sound people and composer. In fact, we have our first real meeting with the composer this morning in just a few minutes, right after actually I finish up with the podcast.
I’m hoping to get two insert shots… two or three insert shots here over the next couple of weeks, so I’m sort of organizing that. But it’s coming together nicely and we’re still hoping to get it all done by the end of the year. That’s still our deadline. Hopefully we will make that and it still looks pretty reasonable. I’m gonna be announcing the folks who made it into the second round of SYS Six Figure Screenplay contest hopefully next week. I’m actually recording this podcast on August 28th, so it’s not gonna be released for over two weeks. Hopefully I’ll have actually made the announcement before this episode even publishes. We’re still reading through these scripts. I kind of figured the contest closed July 31st, and I figured it would take us probably a month to get through all the scripts.
So we’re kind of on pace to do that so then early September we’ll be making that announcement. Each script is getting read by at least three first round readers, so it’s just taking us some time to get through everything. But we should have everything read hopefully by the end of the weekend, and then hopefully I can start to really go the scripts and figure out which ones were the most highly rated. A lot of them have already sort of surfaced and bubbled to the top just in terms of the ratings that I’ve seen. The scripts have been coming in since I guess April or May. And so I’ve already started to get scripts out to the industry judges and that sort of thing. So I would say most of the scripts are through the system, but as I said, we’re still… the scripts that came in towards the end of July we’re still processing.
The idea is hopefully in September we’ll make this announcement about who’s making it into the second round, and then the quarterfinals and semifinals there’ll be announced in October, and then our finalist and winner will be announced in November. So stay tuned for all of those announcements. If you entered the contest, don’t worry, sit tight. I will be sending out an email to everyone, and that will be the first announcement that I make. It will just be an email to everyone that entered the contest and then I’ll be announcing everything on my blog. Obviously www.selliyourscreenplay.com, all our various social media channels, Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.
So just keep an eye on those and then hopefully next week as well, I’ll do a real official announcement through the podcast. But hopefully we’ll have a formal announcement before this episode airs and certainly before next week episodes airs as well. So just keep an eye out for those announcements. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer-director Christian Sesma. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome back Christian to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Christian: Awesome. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So you were on the show before in Episode Number #134, so I will put that in the show notes and direct people to that episode. We dug into your background a little bit, so people can kinda learn more about where you’re from and kinda how you got started in that interview. But today we’re gonna talk about your new project, the film Paydirt, starring Luke Goss and Val Kilmer. And maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this new film all about?
Christian: Yeah, the movie’s about an ex-parolee that gets out and has been planning this kind of five to seven-year heist. And he’s put away by this sheriff whose life kind of took a wrong turn after doing this and has been obsessed with catching him and putting him back in this whole time. The story is about the adventures that happen and all that good stuff, and where is this money [laughs]?
Ashley: Yeah. Where did this idea come from? What was sort of the genesis of this idea?
Christian: I think that the… I always wanted to do kind of like a desert crime heist movie. I’m from here, I’m born and raised in Palm Springs. The Coachella Valley is my home. It’s my backdrop, my backyard. And like any… if we’re talking about script writing, that’s always a strong point. It’s very cliché, but there’s a lot of truth. I was able to really tailor-make this movie with locations in mind that I knew it would be cinematic and big and come off really cool on the screen that had not really been seen before from out here, much less.
Ashley: Perfect. Well, let’s dig into your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write? Are you writing at a home office, do you go out to Starbucks and write?
Christian: It’s between my home and a local coffee shop out here called Ernest Coffee in Palm Springs, which is the best. So I’m either there or I’m here at home.
Ashley: Got you. And when do you typically write morning, afternoon, evening, late in the middle of the night?
Christian: Morning sessions. I’m an early bird, always have been. I like kind of hitting the gym and then just writing right after and just getting nice and caffeinated [laughs]. Nice and caffeinated off and just writing.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. And when you’re working on a screenplay, how much do you write per day? Do you blast through 16 hours a day, do you write a few hours and then…?
Christian: No, I try… No, because I think for me, my process is, there’s kinda like a peak page capacity. I think that I write probably best from like six or seven, probably like seven or 8:00 AM till about lunch and I can be pretty productive. And then probably I would say like by 9:00 PM till about midnight, my days when I’m really in the script writing process or for my script job, I think that’s my most productive times. Obviously, I have a family to [inaudible 00:07:15] in the morning. So usually kinda average, I can average out about like six to nine pages a day.
Ashley: Yeah. So with Paydirt, how much time did you spend with this outline stage versus actually in final draft cranking out script pages?
Christian: My process is this, I always do it every time. I start with a logline, right? Like a one sentence logline, then I beef out to synopsis then I write like a one-page treatment broken up by acts. And that’s really it. Then I come up with a title that kinda gets me excited, but that’s usually my process. After that, I just go straight to final draft and start writing and allow the story to start telling itself and going on the ride. The way I do is like, I’m just watching the movie play out in my head and basically recording what I see and hear, is very much the style. Paydirt I think I wrote in, I don’t know, eight days or something like that. It’s really fast.
Ashley: Wow. Yeah. Yeah. What does your development process look like? Do you go through several drafts on your own? Do you have some trusted friends that you send the script out? What does that look like for you?
Christian: Yeah, there’s a few people. A lot of times I run it by my agent, things like that. But Paydirt went through a few drafts maybe, maybe, but it was pretty… this one hit pretty fast. I mean, people really liked the first, second draft. I think it was like the first draft got everybody on board and we did just did some shooting draft revisions. Because you always have to revise it once you get into production or pre-production and start kinda revising people’s schedules and locations and things like that. But for the most part, we shot like a very close to first draft version, which isn’t normally the case, but still.
Ashley: Yeah. What’s your take on sort of the classic three act structure? The Blake Snyder, Sid Field’s, how do you approach screenplay structure with something like Paydirt?
Christian: I did approach it kind of standardly in a very kind of typical fashion, where the good… the fun thing is that it means we have multiple storylines taking place with different characters. And so I just make sure to tie them up at like the end of page 27 when I’m finishing up act one and then making sure we’re hitting our action beats. I think those action beats… it’s you open up with the action sequence on the first three pages, you kind of hang out and then you start beefing. I mean, it’s usually like every 10 pages we’re doing something actually to kind of keep the pages moving, to keep everybody involved and interested and making sure that we hit that kind of peak, and then your kind of mid act two, act three, we always say fake finale.
So we create this like fake ending that you think is the ending, but there’s still another ending in act three and then you just tie it on up. But I kind of still adhere to that for the most part, because it’s a very clean way of storytelling I think, and it’s very subconsciously accepted when people watch it.
Ashley: So in terms of approaching sort of the crime heist genre how did you come at that? I mean, the heist genre has some really great movies, Ocean’s 11 and these are generally regarded as really clever, well-written scripts. So how did you kind of approach that and how did you give it sort of a unique spin?
Christian: Well again, this was something that… I’m a huge Guy Ritchie fan, Soderbergh fan and the others, so I definitely wanted to make an indie version of that. Obviously, our budget is what they had in a day, but it was still… or less, but it was still one of those things where I wanted to at least have the elements there that will feel familiar even though we couldn’t… I think a lot of times in the crime genre, you’re location hopping, you’re character hopping quite a bit, that you don’t have that luxury in an independent film for budgetary reasons, right? We can’t just go skipping around, but I thought I tried to kind of bring enough of those elements enough and cut it, and intercut flashbacks and things like that enough that it felt familiar when you’re watching this, you go, “Oh, this is the feeling I’m getting from this kind of movie?”
And then also the ending where it’s the MacGuffin ending. The whole time I’m writing it like they’re after this cash. It’s cash, cash, cash. Where’d the money go? Where’d the money go? Where’d the money go? Then all of a sudden, it’s like there was no money. That was all just to kind of like as a MacGuffin or kind of like a slide of hand or diversion to kind of keep people off Damien Brooks’ trail as they laundered the money through the casino the whole time.
Ashley: And you’re also a producer so I’m gonna be curious to kinda get your thoughts on that process. Once you were done with the script, you put on your producer hat, what were some of those steps to actually getting this movie funded and getting it into production?
Christian: Well, the good thing is it was funded before we started writing. So when we came to me it was all… when Jack Campbell from Octane came to me with the opportunity to make a movie in my backyard, and I started coming up with concepts of what to make, I knew I wrote with budget in mind. I knew what we could do and what we couldn’t do. So that hat kinda didn’t ever, didn’t come off for the most part as I’m writing.
Ashley: I got you. And so maybe take us back a little bit, what does that process actually look like? Were these producers or production company you had worked with before and or distributor you had worked with before, they came to you and said, “Hey, we wanna make an action movie, what do you have? We have funding in place.” Maybe walk us through that process a little bit.
Christian: Yeah. So Jack came to me who was involved in the movie I shot here in my backyard called Night Crew in 2014. That was a really big kind of indie action horror film. It was a ton of gunplay in this than the other and he liked what we did here, so when he came back to me and he was like, “Would you wanna do this again?” You see I said yes, but I wanted to play in a different genre, which was more of the crime heist and whatnot. We didn’t have the budget for the action pieces and explosion, and massive gunplay and that kinda stuff that we did on that movie. But this one we just wanted to have again, elements that were familiar, but it wasn’t in the action movies like at all, it was more of a crime heist thriller.
Ashley: Yeah. So when he came to you and basically it was still, it was these early stages, you’re coming up with ideas. Was there any cast involved at that point, like Luke Goss or Val Kilmer where they saying, “Hey, we can get these actors, write them in?”
Christian: For sure. I mean, Val was a later opportunity, but definitely wrote it with everyone else for the most part in mind. Like Luke, for sure. I knew that I could approach Luke with this. I felt it was definitely tailor-made to that. For him and Mike, Paul Sloane, and a couple of the female leads. I knew that we could pull that off and Val was kind of the icing on the cake as we started trying to find a really legendary actor to play the sheriff. When he expressed interest it was all amazing from there.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. So what have you seen… I always like to close the interviews down just by asking the guest what they’ve seen. Is there anything you’ve seen recently that you felt was really exceptional? Netflix, Hulu whatever you’ve seen, just give us a recommendation. As I said, it’s a screenwriting centric audience.
Christian: Oh my gosh, that’s a tough one. I mean…
Ashley: I know I’m putting you on the spot, sorry about that. I should have given you a warning before.
Christian: No, no, it’s good… I watch so much. I’m constantly watching movies, I’m constantly watching them all the time. I’ll tell you what, in the quarantine that’s all I’ve done is watch movies. And I will say a movie that I hadn’t watched in forever, then I started because I got like the projector and all this stuff and I’m like, “Hey, if we can’t go to the movies, I’m gonna bring the movies to me. I’m gonna have a home theater here.” But you know, I might talk… I won’t mention a new movie because I can’t think of one off the bat, but I will say a movie that I hadn’t seen maybe since whatever and I’ve watched it and fell all over in love with it again, was Casa Blanca. I am in love with that movie right now.
Like I had seen it when I was a kid and I hadn’t seen it recently. It’s been forever and I hadn’t seen it with like… I don’t think I saw it since I became a filmmaker, put it that way. And when I saw it, I’m like, “Dude, no wonder this…!” Like it had the elements there of any mainstream popcorn movie. I mean, Spielberg… I mean, like Indiana Jones is frigging, is Rick, you know? Totally, he’s just off [inaudible 00:15:53] the world. So I think watching these kind of old movies and seeing how they infused in writer directors that infuse me has been a really amazing process.
Ashley: How can people see Paydirt? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Christian: Yeah. It’s August 7th on Demand and digital everywhere. And then after that, I mean, there’ll be news dropping about streamers and DVD and all that kinda stuff.
Ashley: 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’ll round up for the show notes.
Christian: Hit me up on… Yeah, just hit me on Instagram @seskri, S-E-S-K-R-I. I think that’s probably the best bet or Facebook @Christian Sesma.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. Will do. Well, Christian, congratulations on this film. I look forward to talking to you in the future. Good luck with it.
Christian: Thanks Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you.
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 writer-director Jeff Barnaby who just did a zombie film called Blood Quantum. He did a bunch of short films which got him some attention, and those led him to this film, which is his second feature. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.