This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 348: With Writer/Director James Di Martino.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #348 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing James Di Martino, who just did a low budget horror film called The Faceless Man. He’s another writer-director who came up doing shorts, and he talks about how that experience helped him get this current opportunity directing and writing his first feature film. 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 #348. 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 now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director, James Di Martino. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome James to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
James: Yeah, 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?
James: Yeah. Cool. Well, I’m from Melbourne, Australia. I’ve lived here all my life. Basically, I’ve always had an affinity for film and for writing. I guess you can trace back, I was always very obsessed with the camera and making unique stories. Of course, when you’re growing up especially in Melbourne, Australia at the time when I was growing up, making films was very niche. There wasn’t many people that were doing it. So it wasn’t a viable career path for many people. There was a time when I dedicated a lot of time to writing. I wrote a few novels that weren’t ever made, but they were written. They were edited and I never bothered to get them because that first works and stuff.
And I started to realize that not many people do read novels and books. There came a time where I, again, I got back into film and I experimented a lot with the Handy cam first. And then after I graduated university, so I decided to fall into marketing and I kind of became an academic by a bit of, yeah, just luck I guess. And so that research requires a lot of writing and I became a researcher in marketing. At that same time, I never wanted to be a teacher that was preaching without doing. So I started up my own business, which was Chapter 5 Studios, which was a production company. At the start of the journey, it was really about working out what the business wanted to do. Did we wanna make films, did we wanna do advertisements?
So we made it through with the short films and during that process wrote six scripts. No, sorry, I wrote four scripts. I produced a total of six. That was a really good learning experience for me. That also made me know what I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on making movies. Yes, it’s a lot harder that way, a lot less money, but it was something that I really wanted to do. Then basically we decided, I decided to write the future screenplay for The Faceless Man.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about some of these shorts for a minute. How did you get this production company started? Did you raise money, was it just self-funded? Maybe talk about some of those early steps, just getting it started then going out and doing some of these shorts. It sounds like you said, you kept saying you went back into film. But what does that actually mean? What were you doing beforehand that gave you sort of the experience to actually go out and have the confidence to go out and actually make some short films?
James: Well I guess one of the things that happened to me very young was I ended up getting cancer when I was 18. When you’re diagnosed that young it’s hard. Before then I was just at university, I was doing a business degree. After that incident, I kind of realized that you do what you wanna do because you’ve only got one time, and being very young like that you can… it’s hard on family, friends and yeah. Going through that, you never want anyone to go through that. Yeah. So basically after that I got a whole bunch of friends together and we used the Handy cam, and we made a whole film that will never get released apart from us. It teaches you a lot when you work with these, never work with friends.
And when I wrote the screenplay for that, it was just a fan made movie on, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the, it was called Double V Vega. It was a film that Quentin Tarantino said he was gonna make, but he never did, and we just took a whole bunch of friends together and did that. The reasoning behind it is that, at school I had made a trailer for [inaudible 00:05:50] flick. It was the same name. We just evolved into a whole feature. We shot it with friends and it was… the sound was all absolutely screwed up, and it was just a complete like passion little project that you film with mates, no actors or anything. I realized when I finished that I couldn’t market the bloody thing.
I realized that it was a piece that… it was not something you wanna ever get out, now anyway. When you’re starting out it just, that’s a little fun project. But it taught me a lot. It taught me how to get locations, it taught… like we scored a whole church just by talking to the priest and saying like, “Can we go in your church and film?” I realized that you can get locations just by talking to people which helped later on when you’re trying to schedule the whole troop was brutally hard. After the thing I realized that, you know what, I think I need to go into marketing because marketing seems to be the area that as a filmmaker, you really need to know. And I wasn’t wrong. It came actually… a funny flip side and how this goes the other way.
I was at university for a long time, and I did my masters. I worked many casual jobs. So I worked just to support, like I started off as a lifeguard. So I think that, I don’t know to what extent, but the bottom of the barrel people are the lifeguards. They treat you just like shit. And I experienced a lot of like…
Ashley: What’s funny is, living in Los Angeles there’s a whole culture of lifeguards here in Los Angeles. And when you talk to them though, going to Australia is like a status symbol as these guys go to Australia and they’re a lifeguard for a summer, and then they come back and that sort of has status in the LA lifeguard community.
James: Yeah. Well, at a quarter places. Maybe the beach is different, but where I worked, where I started working anyway, it was really like really negative in power and yeah, it was just, it wasn’t really that good. I did work at better places. So that was a bit more experience. I worked in gyms, that just got me through, and then I ended up becoming a teacher at university. So I’ve done academic, and again, as I said before, the biggest, and this was, I think this was like maybe six years after I had made that handy cam movie that I hope will never get out or do anything. Then I decided… and talking about what happened, I had saved up a bit of money and I started to get some cameras and I formed a production company.
So we’ve got a series of cameras and me and… again, it’s interesting how in life you fall through and meet people. But I met a person that when we were at, I was working as a lifeguard at my second job and he had a desire to be an actor. That was Daniel. Basically he said that if you start a production company, I will help you. And he kind of became my second man. At the start, we had a series of five people, but after the first project, The Lazy Barber everything changed. No one, when you start a business, no one has the drive that you have, especially when people are working for nearly nothing. When we made The Lazy Barber, which was a seven-minute short film, and it was made as kind of a marketing tactic for an actual real, Lazy Barber that my cousin was working with at the time.
And the payment for that was they would create us our own website, which is the Chanel 5 Studio website page. But also that would be our starting showcase for the fourth film.
Ashley: And say this again, how did this tie in? I didn’t quite understand what this other business was that they wanted this production.
James: My cousin had… he was working with a barber and they had designed beard oils? Beard oils and the beard…
Ashley: For your hair and beard. I see, I see.
James: The funny thing about The Lazy Barber short film, is it’s so subtle with it’s matter that people watch it and they don’t… they actually say, “Was that a real barber at the end?” And again, series of mistakes, casting a real barber that wasn’t an actor because it was his thing, The Lazy Barber. That was a mistake. They’re not actors, they don’t realize… but again, that’s a great learning experience when you go through something like that, and you’re tortured, blacked up, because… And it also gives you a lot more respect for actors as well because you get to see how normal everyday people react in these situations. Not everyone likes cameras all on them. They get very self-conscious and they freak out.
It actually provides a really funny story that I might have included in a feature film. It’s interesting how like these things that you do. Anyway, after that, Dan stayed with me and he was in my feature film, and he’s still with me at the moment. But the other people that I’d started with they basically left. It was too stressful for them. They didn’t like the fact that we weren’t making any money on these short films, but we had to get better. We had to… and it didn’t, and it wasn’t about making these short films with, you know, spending thousands and thousands of dollars. After I bought the equipment, The Lazy Barber was made on 70 bucks. It made a few festivals. It made the finals of the Short+Sweet Festival.
It was really… and you could tell the other films were all made on that 10 grand or proper multi-million. So that was a nice, simple thing and reward for everyone that worked on that film. Following the… do you want me to continue on?
Ashley: Yeah, no, this is fascinating stuff. Yeah. And I’m just curious, ultimately, let’s bring it into The Faceless Man. How did these shorts prepare you for a feature film?
James: Again, I came from marketing. I never went to film school. I had watched a lot of movies. A bit like Tarantino, I never went to film school, I just watched a lot of films. That’s basically what I did. I watched a lot of films. I read a lot about my directors that I liked, whether it was through interviews or their autobiographies. And it’s really interesting, because a lot of those books actually give you insight in their directing style. Especially the Cassan book actually talks about what he did when he made the movies, and that was invaluable stuff for me you know? Also trial and error. I’m the type of person that needs to go out, fail the fuck up, and then I will learn from that and take that with me. With the short films, I knew that I needed…
And at first day we looked, I looked back on how I was on The Lazy Barber and I’m like I was a fail of a director at that point. I didn’t even know what I wanted, I didn’t know… but it’s through each of these failures and getting critically assessed, especially once me and Dan will meet and be like, “What did we do wrong?” “Okay. We did this wrong.” And when we made a coin flip for the second one, my brother was working with us and he wrote that script then he directed it. It was the first time we had a casting drop out and so that means I had to play one of the actors. I’m not really an actor, but it was a good position to get into, to… That was actually made for CropFest. I don’t know if you know about CropFest, but it’s a pretty big festival in Australia.
We actually made the shortlist final. Again, the movie was made on maybe like 100 dollars or something and had a number of sounds features that required a lot of reproducing, because we just didn’t have the best sound and stuff. It was on the third or fourth film that we made about an eccentric pioneer was a very creative script my brother wrote and I directed. It’s really sad what happened with that film and it showed me what happens when you have production problems, technical problems specifically. We couldn’t light the scenes at all that we had. We had no experience lighting big stuff. It was a lot more complicated set up than we had previously done especially with The Lazy Barber being in just specific things coin flip or being all in on one table.
Now we had people walking in and out of the house and it was a lot more complicated and it was really, we shot it over three days in an artist’s house. So we found a house that was amazing. It had like, I’ve never seen anything like it before. And we got, we just had, but we didn’t have, professional wise, we didn’t have professional filming people. We didn’t have anyone that was professional. So even though… and the sound was all screwed up. So that was in post-production for ages. And it showed what happens when a project is not done well. The problem that happened, and I learned a lot from that. That film was a very big learning curve of emotional trauma because you have this obligation once you make a film to satisfy people.
And then once it comes out, I knew it was never gonna be great that one, because of all the problems we had. So I was able to salvage a 10 minute cut I think of that, and I was okay with the 10 minute version. It was a path. It was just a borderline path. It wouldn’t go anywhere or do anything, but like it was at least the project got done. After, it’s actually funny that the fourth short film came out before the third. So we went straight into another one. And I wrote a very psychological film that I think formed the basis of my style. I think Congratulations was the first real time I got my style on what is real and what is fake. I was able to keep the film quite basic.
Again, the film’s rather wordy and not everyone really understands it, but it’s really interesting when you make these kind of movies that are strange. You get these people that really liked it and then you get people that go, “I don’t understand what the hell that was.” So it’s really interesting. The feedback I got and people laughed and that was very well acted, and I started to… I guess the real voice is [inaudible 00:15:42] congratulations is always a very… it’s about a woman who believes she’s in a short film, and we used an interesting trick with the camera where she looks into the camera, breaking the fourth wall and stuff like that. That always interests me in films when characters break the fourth wall.
And I think just in that short film formed the basis of a feature that I wrote recently. So I think that I learned a lot from that movie and navigating extras. We had l think like maybe 50, 60 extras on one scene.
Ashley: What did you spend on this one?
James: Well, we had a drone in this one. So if you don’t include the drone costs of buying the drone to do some of the drone shots, maybe like 300, 400 dollars maybe.
Ashley: Okay. So you got all these extras for free then basically.
James: Pretty much. Like everyone just like… Well, a lot of the actors here in Australia and stuff like a lot of them work for the screen credit. We didn’t have money to be able to pay the, make these productions, proper, big set production. I’m getting to that point though. Because this was the fourth one, remember? So up to this point I hadn’t spent much money on any of these shorts, really. Like Lazy Barber- 70, Coinflipper- a hundred and something, Painted World, there was a lot of props we had to buy, so I think that was like 330. Congratulations, it was probably 400 because of catering.
Ashley: Yeah. So you spend a little bit, 100 bucks or something on food.
James: Yeah. You know, we make a barbecue for everyone and that feeds all the extras. The next one, the fifth short film was… Dan, I told Dan that he needed to write and direct something to understand what it was like to make a short film. That was called The Immigration Game. This was a very, very good learning experience for myself and everyone I worked with because Dan was a good actor, but he had never written before. I think this was the first time I put him on the spot to write write something. And as we talked about scripts, when we read the script out and break it down, there were a number of things that I raised that were not ever got…
James: Yeah, addressed. And it gets to the point where no one was listening to me. So I’m like, “You know what, do it. Go on do it. I wanna see if I’m wrong.” It was a very interesting thing to see. The script was very ambitious for, I guess, the money that we had. I think this time around, we spent about maybe a grand or something. But it was very like, there was a lot of stunts, we didn’t have a stunt coordinator. There was a lot… So anyway, when… it was sort of long too, I think it came to like 18 minutes or something. The criticism that that got, because when we showcased the shorts, the criticism that one got was a very, very good learning experience, I think for myself, and to just really understand that when there are big problems like that in the script, they need to be addressed.
If the person that’s in charge of writing it doesn’t pick up on them then they’re never gonna be completely fixed later. Anyway, this brought us to… the only short film I’m very happy with is Five O’clock. I think I spent three and a half grand on that one. That was a Western. We actually had guns going off. We had an armor on board to do all this stuff. And it was once I finished Five O’clock, the Western that I wrote, I was very satisfied with the skill level that I had at that point. I failed on so many shorts, and then the Five O’clock short film actually… we made the actors social SWOT, which is one of the highest recognitions in Australia at that point. So, I mean, I look back at it and I’m like look, it’s 14 minutes, could have been 10 now.
And I probably could have cut them and carry a subplot from it and just kept it as a very self-contained story about [inaudible 00:19:37].” And that’s me evolving as a writer at the time.
Ashley: But you extended out, this was a 40-minute short?
James: No, no, it was a four 14-minute short.
Ashley: Oh 14. I thought you said 40. Got you.
James: No, no. But I said, now I’m looking at it and I’m like it could usually being cut to 10 if I was wiser at that back then.
Ashley: Got you.
James: But anyway, you have your limitations. Nothing’s perfect, and I was happy with the film. There was a lot of gunk off that went off that I was very happy that we did. The acting was produced throughout it. So yeah. And I guess that’s where it leads is from that short story to me… After Five O’clock was done, I was like, “Okay, now it’s time.” I did a lot of research in marketing of a feature film, what sells, what not to do. I saw a lot of what people fail to do, their first feature movie. Did you wanna talk about this now, or did you…?
Ashley: Yeah, let’s dig into this now. This is some of your thoughts. So you’ve just completed your first feature called The Faceless Man. Maybe to start out, just give us a quick pitch or a logline, sort of what’s this story all about, and then we’ll dig into some of these details.
James: Yeah, sure, sure. So basically it’s about six friends that… so it focuses on Emily who was a cancer survivor, and basically that sets off with six friends going out to a, not a cabin in the woods, but it’s a holiday house in the country. They’re basically terrorized by the locals, the redneck locals and a paranormal monster, the faceless man, as well. And it’s throwing them into really crazy situations as they try and avoid death. Yeah.
Ashley: You keep mentioning too, that you go back into academia where you have a job, what do you teach in academia? What is your job in academia?
James: Yeah. Marketing.
Ashley: Okay. And so then, so that’s sort of your fascination with marketing. I think that’s so interesting. So let’s go back into what you’re talking about before. You’re doing the research and trying to figure out what is your best option in terms of marketability. Maybe take us through that journey.
James: Yeah, sure. Well, I mean, I saw a lot of, especially a lot of projects here in Australia that just crashed and burned, meaning a lot of money was spent and these movies never went anywhere. I mean, not even known in USA or the people that made them made no money. That always really frightened me because I wanna be able to at least make money to support myself. Or like, and how come all this money was spent and they never recouped anything over like, but then you look at these projects and you’re like, they’re foreign. Or there’s nothing happening in them or they’re in my opinion they’re golden calves, which is a fantastic terminology that was used about The Last Jedi.
A golden calf is basically something unworthy of worship. And some films fall into those categories. I think that these are not to bash the Australian industry, but there are a lot of films here that are golden calves. They’re unworthy of worship and they’re praised and they never make anything and no one ever hears about them.
Ashley: Meaning they’re praised in the critical sense. Like, oh, this is a critical achievement, but nobody actually wants to see the movie.
James: Yeah. Or the audience hype or backlash against it, you know? A bit like The Last Jedi. That kinda falls into that. That was a term I found online, and I really liked it because that was true. There are these movies that are praised or like the kingdom come, but people don’t want them. They don’t wanna watch them. And the reaction is very bad. I saw a lot of that.
Ashley: Let me just interject there. One thing I find with a lot of the European filmmakers that I talk to that have this same similar attitude is a lot of the money in European cinema comes through the government. So it’s not… you know, in Hollywood, say what you want about the Hollywood system, but it is ruthless in its attempt to make money with the projects. I find with a lot of the European filmmakers, because a lot of the money’s coming through the government, so they’re not as concerned as ROI. ROI is not the primary objective. I mean, in Hollywood ROI is the primary objective 100 percent of the time because these are businesses trying to make money, whereas in Europe… Is that part of the issue in Australia?
Is there a lot of government money that’s funding, some of these movies? So just the emphasis is maybe not on making money with them.
James: Yeah. I do think that when you go back to the ‘80s, and again, The Faceless Man is an exploitation throwback to the golden age of cinema, that’s how I feel, anyway. But when you go back to the ‘80s, many people were private investing, making huge or crazy films. Mad Max was one of them and everyone [inaudible 00:24:19]. And because we had this crazy creative period of time, many creative, crazy projects came out. It’s interesting how everything just phased out and now it’s all about diversity, and the government are just pouring… well, yeah, like you said screen Australia, screen Victoria want things to be a certain way. I guess I knew from the moment I wrote my script that the government would not support it because it was just too crazy.
I had too many things that go against what they’re making. So I didn’t even bother to send in an application because I knew that I’d be wasting time, effort. I think that, that… yeah, to answer your question, that’s definitely happened. In regards to marketing and researching, there are a few other questions. Like I researched a lot of films here, and saw a lot of, you know, and I was able to I guess try and pinpoint what would… and again, you never really know with marketing, you’re always finding things. Yeah. So I looked at the American market because that’s where like you said, the ROI, you need to try and recoup your investment and make money on something. That’s the whole aim of it.
So I looked at it and horror was the most, I mean, it seems to be the area of films where people watch in these horror movies. They are greatly perceived as like most people watch them. So a bit better than like a drama or romantic romcom that just, unless you get a known actor in there, no one will bother to watch it around the world. So I did… so do you want me to go on the script process now?
Ashley: Yeah, no, I think this is fascinating. The other question I was gonna check, at this point, so you’ve done a bunch of these shorts you’ve entered them in festivals, had you met any distributors? And as you’re doing this market research, did you reach out to any distributors to kinda get their feel on the project, to horror, you know, Australian throwback, horror movie? Did you start to maybe talk to some of those folks?
James: Well I guess I was… at the time I was teaching, so I was… Yeah, I was teaching and making movies at one specific time. So I was teaching, market research was actually a subject that I taught. I also taught branding and I was also writing a script at the time. What I did was I watched a lot of Ozploitation films, so Mad Max, I watched Dark Age, Turkey Shoot, O’Brien [inaudible 00:26:58] and Smith Duff. And I watched a lot of that and I watched a lot of horror movies, Evil Dead, Wolf Creek. It was through that time I’m forming these ideas that I came to write The Faceless Man. It was almost like a deconstruction of what had come before, because what I hate is I find a lot of horror movies, very, very boring, very predictable I know exactly what’s gonna happen.
I despised Split for the last 20 minutes of watching someone run around, chased by someone. And I’m like, “This is ridiculous. This is boring.” And people did love that movie, but I just find that stuff very boring. It’s like, “Well, we’ve got another 20 minutes of watching her run away. She’s the only one left. What’s gonna happen?” But that’s just me though. People can like what they want. But I was really big on creating and deconstructing. So getting the stereotype character from horror movies and breaking them down into kind of situations they wouldn’t generally be in in other horror movies. And I was very big on references as well. So for me, having a movie that had throwbacks to other movies was something that I really wanted to do.
I don’t know why, but I just, I kind of, whenever I see a movie that references other movies, I get a smile on my face. I’m like, “Oh, that’s from that movie, that’s from that movie.” And if I don’t know what the reference is from, I’ll try and find it, and I’ll wanna go watch that movie. So that was something that I really wanted to play as well. There was a big extreme factor because some of the characters that I had written were extreme. One guy’s name was Barry the C word. So that was like his name. Interesting thing about that is that even reviewers that did not like my movie have actually liked that character, which is ironic. It’s funny because did I go to distributors? Well, we went around to a few people to get some insight and the feedback I got for one was very funny.
It was, I didn’t get a proper detailed analysis of the script, so I was never sure whether it was read or not, like properly, but I got the, “Uninteresting characters, not politically correct, a character was called the C word, and there was one other criticism as well.” I’m like the ‘not politically correct’! What the actual like screwed up like, I mean, that’s screwed up. This is a horror movie, why would you not want these kinds of things in there? And the ‘too many characters’ I’m like but the characters get killed off in horror movies, we need the body count. Like it’s not… it’s interesting on the flip side when you hear the criticism about characters in horror movies that get killed off and stuff, but go back to the Evil Dead.
These characters were so basic, and then they were just killed off. There was no real, like these characters are gonna die in horror movies. So we need to try and weave in interesting plots and situations more so than the central, apart from some central characters and supporting characters that come off very colorful. So I kinda knew that getting to… I had to make the movie first to the vision that I wanted and then go about trying to get the movie distributed and such. There was a… again, I made a few mistakes along the way. We had a producer on board at one point that said they we’re gonna do a lot of things and didn’t. That really screwed up a lot of the timeline of the movie.
We never really… again, The Faceless Man was never, we never had a lot of money. In fact, I think people would be very surprised. Maybe not now, I wouldn’t say it, but after the film’s released, but to be surprised in what we actually had to make it. It was a very… I could never do this movie again the way I did it. It was very hard. It was a brutal experience in that…
Ashley: Let’s talk about your crew a little bit. What does the crew look like for this? Who do you have? You know, you have a DP, an AC, do you have a couple PAs, some grip, electric guys, you have a makeup, hair? Maybe talk about just what you have, what kind of camera did you shoot on? That sort of stuff I’d be curious to hear.
James: Yeah. Well, I mean, it’s an interesting, because some days we did have 100 extras and stuff, so we did have to have quite a few people in that infrastructure. The problem is, is that, and what I’ve found, is that when… some actors, not everyone, some people work for a combination of deferred and payment. Some people chose, and this was all contracted to work as volunteer on the movie, that was all negotiated. The crew were all paid a very small amount of money. It wasn’t a great amount of money. Some people knew again that they’re were working as volunteer. This always, it could end up being work and people think that working on a film is fun. So that caused problems around.
Especially with some actors that didn’t realize what they were falling into. They didn’t realize that they were falling into something that they would have to be on the ball with all the time and there will be many takes and days will be long. There’ll be 14-hour days. And we would go over time and whatever. So I had… out of my [inaudible 00:32:20] we worked on Five O’clock together. We had a pretty good relationship when we made the movie. He was actually very talented and also we all liked him. We did have a gaffer but not for the whole shoot, and Reese was able to… he was, I called him a lighting [inaudible 00:32:41] which is basically what they use in the old days. He was very good at lighting the set with the minimal stuff that we had.
The A7S II is what I shot all my shorts on and the movie and no one seems to really know that. I think the quality of the movie was quite good considering it was indie. I think Reese got the most, he got probably 100 percent of the camera power out in the movie. Of course, if this was made today, I’d go and shoot on the ARRI Alexa Mini. That’s what I would go and do straight off the bat now. But at the time making the movie, we had limited resources and we have to make, we knew that, well, do we wanna spend seven grand a week to hire these cameras out, or do you think we could shoot on the A7S II in 4K and that’ll be all right?” We thought about it and we… and it did give the movie a very dreamy indie look.
So it came out all right in the end. People never really questioned the look of the film. They always say, “Very cinematic.”
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Let’s talk about your writing process just a little bit. Where do you typically write and when do you typically write? Do you go to Starbucks, do you have a home office? What does your writing schedule look like? When you get into the groove of writing, do you write three hours a day for 30 days, do you write 16 hours a day? What does that actual writing process look like?
James: Well, I mean my writing style suits when I wanna write. I hear a lot of people say you’ve got to write every day if you’re a writer. And at the start, I wrote a lot. Like I wrote a lot. I trained myself to write novels, I trained myself to script write as well. And lately I’ve found a pretty good passion of reading scripts as well, just to see how they’re different from movies that I’ve written. And everyone writes something very different. So it’s always interesting to see and take from people what they do. I guess the first thing I do is try and make a conceptual framework of the movie. That means that I get a notepad and I draft the whole thing. I think about the characters that I wanna write, I think about the story, what they’re trying to say.
That’s a big thing because I don’t wanna…
Ashley: And so how long do you spend on that process? Like using this movie as an example, how long do you spend on that?
James: Well, The Faceless Man was when I was starting the process. So without even going back to novel writing, I’d always get a note pad and write everything down because I just felt that was the best first way of doing it. The Faceless Man probably took a few… probably took a week of drafting where I was trying to devise what the characters and situation. I wrote everything down, character names, their bios, how they were different. It’s interesting when I go look back now, how different the characters were. Like characters were called different names, completely different names and story braids were very different. The title of the movie, very different as well.
I think I wrote up… when I was drafting everything, I got on the computer and instantly got it up final draft and I wrote the intro piece for that, which ended up being in the movie. I didn’t know that was the intro piece for The Faceless Man at the time, but it just came to me that these characters were talking to each other, a big argument in the hospital space over cancer. And that same intro piece that went for seven pages, was molded later when The Faceless Man’s script became more rounded, and I was able to tweak it to suit the film from that. So that was, I mean, The Faceless Man for me is a very different process than how I would write and draft stuff today, just because of how crazy the idea was and how different it was.
It’s not your typical horror film, it’s a deconstruction. And I hope that when… for me anyway, if I watch something different, I always appreciate it, and I always think that that was different, it’s not your typical run-of-the-mill. I hope that, you know, there are heaps of horror movies out there that are your typical run-of-the-mill horror movies where the monster’s chasing someone, people die and that’s it. Yeah. Now this is a different movie and I hope that people don’t expect the same thing. It is a deconstruction of the drama. I almost want you to not to feel like you’re watching a horror movie at some point, and then all the horror elements hit later on the script. I wanted it to feel almost like a trip as well, where you’re going through drama, intense drama into comedy, into mystery, into dark comedy mystery, and then hit with the horror.
I wanted it to flow differently with a very different experience. And balancing, and some reviewers have been very good on picking up that the balancing act the movie was playing between jumping from a comedy aspect to dark horror. And that came out when I was writing, when I realized that things do need to have bright moments or there needs to be moments of dark humor here and there. And not everyone will find it funny, because humor doesn’t break culture, so some people find it funnier than others. But I mean, that helps those horror moments so much more. And also this comedy, it’s dark man. It’s not meant to be what you… you should feel bad for laughing, really.
It’s the situation that’s so extreme that it’s like, “Ah shit! I really shouldn’t be laughing at this.”
Ashley: Yeah. Okay. So now you’re done with the script, you have a draft you like, what were your next steps? You’re also a producer on the project. So what were those next steps to raise money? Was it self-financed did you go out Kickstarter, did you go out to friends and family, did you go out to some production companies? What were those steps?
James: Yeah. So basically we did raise… we did do a Kickstarter and that was a very stressful and full on process. We aimed for 10 grand. So we kept it very small for a reason that it was like we… I kinda realized when I was doing it that if I didn’t hit the target, then the whole morale of the team drops significantly. Generally the productions and especially indie, they go kinda like a parabola, like that, and then up again. Meaning that people at the start are very enthusiastic to get ahead. Like the actors, everyone’s your best friend, everyone’s there for you, everyone… I know through that Kickstarter period was a really good groom for everyone because even though it was hard, it was brutal, we raised 11,500.
So we went over the limit by $1,500 and that money helped a lot to get the crew truck and other things, more money to make things better. So as lead producer, I had invested my own money into the project, as well as we were able to get one private investor on board to help raise money for the movie. That’s basically how I was able to get the funds.
Ashley: Do you have any quick tips running the Kickstarter? I’ve done a couple of Kickstarters myself, so I’m totally on board how hard they are. Do you have one or two tips maybe for people that are thinking of running a Kickstarter? And then the second part of that would be one or two tips for people when you’re trying to approach an investor, what did that pitch look like to your investor?
James: Yeah. So basically, in terms of the Kickstarter, you’ll never be more prepared. So you can’t, I mean, I’ve seen a lot of fails. A lot. And I’ve tried to help people too. I guess my marketing background did help a lot because I knew that things needed to look good. And one of the first things I did with, we haven’t even gotten to The Faceless Man design, like I mean, because how that’s written and translates to screen, that’s a whole talk in itself when it comes to the differences with writing and writing for screen, you know? That whole process required me to pay for a whole series of concept art. Once I had all the concept art it and was very well drawn, Austin’s a magnificent drawer, that was able to help sell the image of the movie.
The Faceless Man hasn’t been done before. There has been no monster or creature in any horror movie that looks like this. Like it was inspired by a bit of [inaudible 00:40:50] and John Carpenter’s The Thing. But there hasn’t been, and there hasn’t been a monster that have been a representation of cancer in anything. So it was unique. That was the marketing hook that we had. And I think that’s the hook that has drawn people to it or made people interested to watch it, was that big hook of the monster. I needed that to draw people in.
Ashley: Got you. And then on the Kickstarter, yeah, give us a tip on the Kickstarter.
James: I had a lot of concept art that was shown, titles were custom made and the rewards were well thought out. So people that had, if you put in a thousand dollars for instance, you became an associate producer and there were two people that did that. That’s at a pretty significant boom to your campaign. A lot of people put in 50. I mean, I don’t think… I think I could have done it even better to be honest. Like, if you had the time and the knowledge you can approach sites, you can approach and network better. Every day you need to have things that are going up to get people interested. We had videos every day, interviews of cast and crew. I had an interview. The very first video people saw was a three minute video that had me in it that was talking about what the movie is and the inspirations for the movie.
I think that was very important to give people that and to show people that we were… and the people that the people that we were working with had worked on other big films like Wolf Creek, Babadook, other films that people had been aware of. It was a constant battle and struggle. The way Kickstarter works is at the start, heaps of people put in. So we made like two grand or something within the first two or three days. Then there was many days where hardly any money came in and that’s when you’re like, what am I doing wrong? You’re trying to share it everywhere, you’re trying to… I mean, now, with the contacts and stuff I have now, you realize that you could probably even find some kind of small PR people in there to try help drive it up.
You got to be careful of costs, because every cost you spend is money that you’re getting in and it’s not going out. So basically once we got more towards the end, we noticed that people were putting in more towards the end. So that middle period is the hardest. You’ve got to really try and get people motivated, putting in that. What can you do? Maybe some flash rewards, where if people put it on this day they get something that they wouldn’t normally get. So yeah, it is hard. We were very fortunate to have a pretty good network though. We had a good network of people that were interested in the project and wanted to see it get made.
Ashley: Got you. How can people see The Faceless Man? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
James: Yeah. So the 28th of August, which is in a couple of days. They can see it on Amazon Prime, Vimeo on Demand, Gumroad and [inaudible 00:43:46] House. So quite a number of streaming platforms.
Ashley: Yeah. Perfect. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing or to contact you, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will put it in the show notes?
James: Yeah. So the Chapter 5 Studio’s Facebook page is constantly updated with what we’re doing and everything. That’s probably the best form.
Ashley: And what’s that… say that again? What’s facebook.com slash what?
James: No, no. It’s Chapter 5 Studios.
Ashley: Oh, it’s your own website.
James: Yeah. Well, no, the Facebook page is constantly updated, so that’s probably the best way where people can go to have a look at what we’re doing next. And I’m pretty… Instagram as well, we’ve got an Instagram page. Our website Chapter 5 Studios as well, people can contact me directly from there, so…
Ashley: Perfect. Well, James, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and hopefully I’ll have you back in a couple months and you’ll have your next, a couple years you’ll have your next film.
James: Yeah, awesome. Alright, well, thanks a lot for that.
Ashley: Thank you, James. We’ll talk to you later.
James: Okay. Awesome. Bye.
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, and actor, Sam Macaroni. He just did a film called Guest House, starring Pauly Shore. He comes on and talks about how that story came about, how he was ultimately able to write it and get it produced. So stay tuned for that interview next week. That’s our show, thank you for listening.