This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 349: With Sam Macaroni Writer/Director Guest House (2020).
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #349 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing writer-director, and also actor Sam Macaroni. He just recently did a film called Guest House, starring Pauly Shore. We talk about his career, breaking into the industry and how he got this film produced. 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 #349. 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’m interviewing writer-director, and actor, Sam Macaroni. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Sam to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Sam: Hey, thanks man. 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.
Sam: In San Jose California, which is basically a national forest park. It’s not a place many people come from to Los Angeles to make movies, but you know, we come from all over, so…
Ashley: Sure. And so how did you get interested? Were you making shorts as a kid? How did you kinda get interested in the business living out there?
Sam: I knew when I was six. It was really weird. I was just obsessed with movies, and at that time we didn’t have cell phones and cameras. My dad was one of the only people in the neighborhood that had a video camera. I thought it was really cool and I took it from him and he never got it back. I made a bunch of short films, made a lot of short films and moved to LA when I was 18 years old, to try to make movies with a trunk full of VHS tapes to try to sell my vision to people. It was interesting.
Ashley: So let’s talk about that transition for a minute. I know I have a lot of listeners that live outside of Los Angeles. Maybe you have a few tips from people that are moving from outside of Los Angeles to Los Angeles. Is there a particular place in LA that you recommend for newcomers and maybe there’s some tips just in terms of getting some income going, are there some particular jobs or ways of getting jobs that you might recommend?
Sam: There’s a couple jobs to do in Los Angeles when you’re a screenwriter or an actor because obviously I was trying to do that as well. And you know, it’s restaurant, which isn’t doing so well right now because of the pandemic, and then it’s extra work. I did a lot of extra work, which was really awesome because I was able to see how they made actual movies and stand next to movie stars and kinda figure out the hierarchy of a set, because it’s a really crazy world when you hear about it, but then when you’re actually there it’s different. So I’d say my story from coming to Los Angeles down here, I got a job as an extra on the movie Heat. I was a stunt driver. It was like one of the first movies I was in.
I remember telling my dad, I called him at lunch and I said, “I’m here on a movie with Robert De Niro. And my dad said, “Holy crap!” He said, “Can you get him to sign one of my business cards?” I didn’t know anything about who could talk to who, so I was skipping up to Mr. De Niro at the lunch break. He had sectioned himself off about three buildings down, he was running his lines and I remember going up to him, and I think it was 1994. I remember saying, “Hey Mr. De Niro, I’m sorry to bother you. My father wants your autograph.” He cussed me out right there on the street. He said, “How did you find me? I’m memorizing my effing lies.” I mean, he cussed me out good, and I remember calling my dad back about 15 minutes later crying telling him it was terrible. But I’ve since met him and he’s a very nice man. And yeah, it was so funny.
Ashley: Yeah. Okay. So take us through this process. Now, you did a bunch of shorts it sounds like in high school and later. Did you continue to do shorts once you got to Los Angeles? I noticed on IMDb you have dozens, if not close to a hundred short credits that you’ve actually written, directed and produced and acted in.
Sam: Yeah. Well, I guess that’d be my single greatest piece of advice to anyone coming down here, is just pick up a camera and do it. If you’re a screenwriter, pick up a piece of paper and a pencil or a typewriter and just write, write, write. Because I wrote so many scripts, so many scripts and they were all terrible. I don’t even think I figured it out till five years ago. You just have to write and then make it, and write and then make it and get opinions and get opinions. And you don’t listen to everyone’s opinion, but if five opinions line up, it’s probably something you should consider changing or doing. I did make a lot of shorts. I made probably 15 to 20 short films before I moved down here.
It’s a little different for your listeners because I also direct, so I’m gonna try to keep this to the screenwriting, but I did get a short that I had made spotted at a party. It was kinda one of those classic Hollywood stories. Somebody saw short at a party and they worked for MCA Universal and they called and asked me if I wanted direct music videos. That’s kinda how I got into directing. But it really all came from writing scripts, scripting out these shorts and shooting them. And shooting them cheaply. I didn’t have any money.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So then let’s talk about your latest film, it’s now a feature, Guest House starting Pauly Shore and Billy Zane. Maybe you can kinda dovetail into that. How did these shorts lead you to that position where now you’re directing a feature film?
Sam: So I saw about 10 years ago, the YouTube pop up and I saw the ability to make a short and then create it on your own and then publish it on your own. I just started doing that and some of them took off and went viral and I got really lucky. I looked carefully to see what shorts were doing well and what shorts weren’t, and then I started tailoring my content towards what people liked and that got me in a position to where I had some interest from some people to possibly make a feature, which was the whole reason that I was on YouTube, because that wasn’t my thing. I just wanted to make features, but you have to get noticed somehow. And so it was 2015, I was… I’m like every screenwriter I have probably six or seven scripts going at any given moment.
I was right in the middle of my my little swirl of scripts. I think I had seven that year. They were all pretty bad. I remember I was looking for a house to rent and I went to this one house and it was a beautiful house, but in the back there was a guest house and there was a guy in the guest house. And the realtor said, “Hey, don’t go back there.” And of course, when somebody tells you that, it’s like, “Why not?” So the realtor took a phone call and I went and knocked on that door and I’ll never forget what I saw. Just the creepiest, creepiest guy opened that door up with like long…
Ashley: It was the actual Polly Shore.
Sam: It was, but it wasn’t a cute cuddly care bear version. It was like the nasty, yellow fingernails. And there was paint on the wall that was peeling. There were cigarette butts everywhere in these little jars of water. I couldn’t figure out what the guy was doing. There was Kleenex balled up everywhere. There was the stench of cigarette, stale cigarette smoke like I’d never, ever experienced before. I remember sitting there with this guy and asking him who he was, and him telling me that he was the owner’s friend. And I remember asking him clearly, “Will you leave if I get this place?” Which he countered with, “Could I stay if you got this place?” And it was an interesting quick conversation.
I remember driving away that day, talking to my girlfriend and I said, “Hey, there’s a movie there somewhere.” And she’s like, “If you wanna write it, go ahead and write it.” I did, and it ended up being this and it’s crazy because I can remember that day perfectly.
Ashley: I think that’s actually a great story just to show how life leads us sometimes to these stories. So let’s talk about the actual writing of it. The credit is yourself, is the story by, and then the writing credit, you also share the writing credit with Sean Bishop and Troy Duffy. How did they play into the writing of the script and what did your collaboration actually look like?
Sam: Troy Duffy for 20 years. I think everybody knows him as the guy who wrote Boondock Saints. And then my friend Sean Bishop worked for Disney. He’d written some television scripts for DreamWorks. I think he wrote one of the… I think he wrote Shrek the Halls television show. So these are guys that I’d written a lot of short films with. I brought Troy in, I did a short film on YouTube called Nightrider 2016 that I wrote with Troy. I have another one called Empires. There’s some Star Wars spoof that I wrote with Sean in 2013 or something. These are videos that we all enjoyed writing with each other. So I went home and I wrote the treatment for Guest House and I thought it was funny. And then I wrote the first draft and my first draft was 74 pages.
A lot of what is in the movie now was in that first draft. Character names are all the same, situations are pretty close. Some of the gags and pranks at the end are pretty close. But Troy, he’s always been very good at writing shocking comedy. He’s pretty in your face and Sean, his specialty is heart, but he’s from the school of Disney and Pixar. He worked for John Lasseter, so he understands the heart. And I think every comedy, even if it’s gonna be raunchy and crazy needs to make you happy and sad and make you mad and all that fun stuff. So I wrote a draft and then I sat the two guys down and I said, “Hey, can you punch this up?” That quickly became us meeting every night for, I don’t know, probably six months, came in, Sean out of the heart and Troy shocked it up and it ended up being what it is today.
It was an interesting process and it worked well. Somebody’s always got to get… I’ve written with a lot of partners and if you sit in a room and you just keep talking and talking and talking, sometimes you can talk yourself out of writing anything. So I’m a big believer in just doing that first draft sticking to a pretty good formula, pretty easy structure formula and banging it out and then bringing it to people that have eyes that you trust and making it better.
Ashley: Yeah. So how much time on this, taking Guest House as the example, how much time did you spend just kicking around the idea, working on an outline and then versus actually creating that 74 page first draft? What is sort of the timeline breakdown? Do you spend a lot of time outlining, less time in final draft? Do you spend a lot of time in final draft and less time outlining?
Sam: I spent the majority of the time… I think I spent a week outlining. I just tried to shove it into act one, two and three and put a nice beginning, middle and end. I spent seven days on the first draft and it was quite the fastest I’ve ever written anything. I think it’s because I was just inspired. Sometimes you get that little itch and for me, I break it down to a numbers game. I say, okay, I got 70 pages, because that’s what I wanted to hit with the first draft. I don’t think 100 pages is necessary because in 75 you can tell if you have something or not, but 50, you don’t really know. So I always try to do 75. So it’s a numbers game. I mean, I tell myself if I write, it’s a challenge, I tell myself if I write 10 pages a day, I’ll have it done in seven, if I write 20 pages a day, I’ll have it done in three.
I mean, it really is a numbers game. And then I lock myself in a room and I try to just go as fast as I can. In that outline, I outline what every scene is. I do it three by five. I look at them all and I play with it and I know what my scenes are and I’m just, in this scene Blake gets home, he’s just been fired. So I have that much to go on. Then I challenge myself to just come up with anything I can to get through that scene. I try to make the scene two pages. If I can just do two pages of the scene, I can fly. Maybe three, if it needs it, one if I’m doing some silly montage. But you surprise yourself. Because if you sit and you think too much, I find I’ll… is the pen red, is the pen green, why do you have a blue pen? It’s like none of that matters.
Because what I finally learned once you shoot the movies, all that changes anyway. It all changes. It all changes the day you show up to shoot because of whatever scenarios are happening or whatever your actor brings. So get something down, let it be a blueprint because it’s ultimately gonna change on set. And then when I edit it, a lot of it changes and gets restructured through the process, where if you’re too precious about your script, you don’t get anything done. So I challenge myself to get through it as quickly as possible, and then generally I go back and read that and I don’t even remember where some of the ideas come from. Then I’m like going so look at it and I’m like, “Wow, if I can make myself laugh, it’s pretty cool.”
Ashley: Yeah. So on your development process, in this case you brought in Sean and Troy to help you do the rewrite. Are there other people that you send your script to just to get notes? And were Sean and Troy, were they the ones that the material seems to resonate, so you kinda went and pitched the idea of them doing a rewrite? Is there other people sort of in your circle that you also get notes from?
Sam: Yes. It’s really important to get notes. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of people down here. I’ve been in Los Angeles for, I think, two decades now. So if you’re down here long enough and you manage to actually stay, you should have some people in your circle that actually make movies. And so I’ve got a lot of friends that are real feature film writers and directors. So I make sure to get at least five opinions before I get into my second draft. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb. If you get notes from five people, first thing I do is I never ask for notes. I just say, “Please read this,” because somebody is gonna give you notes no matter what. But if you ask for notes, then you’re looking for problems.
If you just say, “Read this,” and they give you their opinion, I find that it’s more of what I want. I want their opinion. Sometimes I don’t agree with people, but if five people read something and five people are like, “Hey, your lead is a jerk,” then I’ve got something to look at. So what I’m looking for is overlapping opinions. I’m not really looking for notes. I can’t stand notes.
Ashley: So what kinda notes… maybe we could have one specific example. What kind of notes did you get on Guest House that you had to go back and make some changes?
Sam: Well my lead sounded like a jerk. He was actually more of a jerk than Poly Shores character, Randy, who’s living out in the guest house. My lead fought back so hard in my first draft that he came off as somebody that should probably be in jail and it didn’t have a soft enough ending. I think my ending, it was just ended I think with the house burning down and it was Sean that came in and said, ‘Hey look, you got to resolve this. You’ve got this guy out in the guest house.” And for your listeners that don’t know my plot, a young couple moves into their dream house, and the only stipulation is they have to let this guy stay in the guest house for three months. And of course he never goes anywhere and he ruins the house and their relationship and their marriage.
So it was Sean that said, “Hey, we should have a wedding at the end of it.” And so I re-engineered the whole ending and the whole third act is, they think they’ve got Randy out of the house, they think they chased them off because there was a prank war, turf war in the middle of this movie. They try to go ahead with their wedding and Randy shows up and just absolutely ruins it. The couple breaks up, and by now you’ve watched these people go through hell together, so you now actually care and there’s a happy, sad montage where they think they’re going off in their separate directions, and then it was Sean who said Randy should give them their house back and he should have turned their guest house into a nursery because she’s pregnant.
That’s what we did, and it was a really fun, tender ending where he comes back and he embraces the… gives them the guest house and hands it over to their family. And it actually… we did a couple of test screenings and there were people crying and I couldn’t believe it. I was looking around and I was like, “Oh my gosh, we made somebody cry on this silly little stoner comedy. So it’s an interesting process, but you got to know who’s good at what and trust him.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Okay. So now you have a script that you guys are happy with. What was the next step to actually getting it into production? You’re also a producer. So were you involved in the raising of the money? Maybe you can talk about that just a little bit. How you actually got this from script to screen.
Sam: Yeah, I did all of that and it’s a really stressful process. So you get this thing, you have this script and by the way, the script’s never done. I mean, even… I started pitching I think in 2017 and [inaudible 00:17:21]. And I’d get a call from Troy at two in the morning, “Hey dude, we got to have Randy say this.” And it’s like, “Oh crap.” I run back over to his house and we end up rewriting the whole thing. You keep retuning the script and retuning the script, but at the same time I’m pitching this thing everywhere, you know? I’m having lunches for other projects and I’m saying, “Hey, I got a comedy as well. I have a comedy, I have a comedy.” And you make a deck, you make a sales presentation. I started the deck as soon as the script was done.
A deck, for anybody that doesn’t know what a deck is, is it’s just a sales tool to say what this project is [inaudible 00:17:56] at the front of it and a log line. And then you rip pictures off the internet of things that are similar. So obviously movies that are similar to mine would be Money Pit or Project X. So you put a bunch of photographs from those movies, you put photographs of people moving into houses. Anything that shows the look and feel, then you put a bio section and anything [inaudible 00:18:16] in the project, and then you put a section at the end of that deck that has similar films and how much they cost and how much they made. And obviously you air it towards the movies that have made a lot.
So you kinda make your little presentation look well. I pitched that deck around for a while I was doing it. There was a minute where I was gonna do the movie with National Lampoon and that company is all over the place. It had just been purchased by some new owners and they brought me in, they met with me, I promised I could make the movie for a half a million dollars. They were very close to doing it and then they’ve just fell out. So then I did what was called a rip reel. A rip reel is where you rip scenes from other movies and you edit a little three-minute presentation of, ‘this is what your movie would look and feel like’. It’s like a deck but with moving visuals. So I did the rip reel, took scenes from Project X, Money Pit…
You put a song that you kinda want to show the look and feel of your movie, and then I just kept taking more and more meetings. It was Troy that said, “You have to meet this producer. He would probably make this movie.” And Troy took me down to a launch at the American Film Market in 2018. I met a producer, we sat down and he said, “I’ll make this.” And you know, I’ve heard that a million times. So you just say, “Great, thank you. Awesome.” Sure enough he kept calling and two months later he said, “I’ve got a financer set up for this.” Then you get into the world of when you have a movie financed, it’s all movies are done on cast contingent. So it’s, if somebody signs on to star on it.
And that is a whole other game in itself where every celebrity is kind of ranked on how well they sell in different countries. Most producers will say, “[inaudible 00:19:58] this guy.” And it means, how does he do in England, how does he do overseas? I went after a couple of leads and we settled on Pauly and checked all the boxes. All the producers were happy and the second he was on board and some other casts came on board and it all came together pretty quickly at that point.
Ashley: Yeah. So let’s talk about that. And I’m wondering, I wanna step back too just in terms of the cast. You had a great cast for this movie, Billy Zane, obviously you mentioned Pauly Shore, but you had Lou Ferrigno, Bobby Lee, Steve-O, Chris Kattan, you know, all real comedy, I guess Lou Ferrigno it as not a comedy guy, but certainly Steve-O, Chris Kattan, Bobby are real comedy heavyweights I would say. How did you get some of those people involved? I think the broader question is I noticed a lot of these actors were in some of the shorts that you had done. It sounds like with Sean and Troy, you had done shorts with them. Maybe just talk about how you met those folks and how you were able to just relate to them and become friends with them and continue to work with them.
Sam: I mean, it comes from making exciting, fun stuff. So Steve-O, I’ve been best friends with for probably twenty something years. I worked on many, many, many, many projects with him and…
Ashley: And how did you meet him originally?
Sam: Let’s see. I was at an actor’s house. That actor’s name is… actually I’ve never told this story before. I was at an actor’s house, named Clifton Collins Jr. He’s a great actor. He’s a really good friend of mine that I’ve done a lot of projects with. I think it was 2002, and Clifton had just done a movie with Val Kilmer. And so Val Kilmer came over to hang out and he showed up with Steve-O and I remember I was sitting there and we just hit it off, and I’ve been working with him ever since. Ever since. We’ve done so many projects together, so much fun stuff. That’s how that happened. Lou I’d worked with, I made a spoof of The Hulk in 2014 and I just aggressively reached out to his people and just said, “I make these YouTube videos that get millions of views.”
I was lucky enough that his rep actually showed him something I’d done or something and he thought it was funny and showed up to be in the spoof. I became good friends with him, we had a really good time and I became really good friends with his son, Louis Ferrigno, Jr, who’s also in the movie. He plays Kip, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend. Chris Kattan was a friend of, of Pauly’s, but I’d met Chris several times, but Pauly actually brought him to this project. Billy Zane I’d been friends with for, I don’t know, almost a decade. We’ve worked on a lot of projects together. We actually had a virtual reality company together when I got obsessed with virtual reality. So all these guys are just people I’ve known for years and are just good friends.
If you’re cool and you’ve got cool stuff going on then cool people wanna hang out with you, I guess that’s it.
Ashley: Yeah, no. And so when you’re pitching a guy like Chris Kattan, that’s a smaller role in a smaller movie like this, what is in it for him? Obviously you’re not gonna pay him an extraordinary large amount of money, but I guess he gets to work with his buddy Pauly Shore. Maybe you can talk about that a little bit. I think a lot of times, especially new directors, new writers, they don’t fully understand that these actors they’re just humans like us. And so a lot of times it’s not all about the money or this or that. It’s just, it can have to do with that relationship with another actor involved in the project.
Sam: You’re absolutely right. It’s really not about the money on a small project like this. It really is about, the first thing is, is the character funny, and can the actor bring something to the character? For this character, he played a delivery guy, and I think in the script it had one or two lines and what attracted him to it was, A, it’s a fun time, we’ve got a fun cast, and B, I’m gonna let you improv and I’m gonna let you go nuts because you do you better than I could ever do you. So he came onto it and he improv’d all of his scenes and he was so funny and we were dying on set. For a comedian like him at his level, he just wants to come make people laugh sometimes. I’m sure he could do bigger movies and he does do bigger movies, but he just had fun that day and that’s what these guys want, is just to come have a good time.
We all just wanna be making movies, everybody, and anybody that’s listening to your podcast just wants to make movies. For me, it’s the most fun experience of all time. It’s really stressful, but there’s nothing like sitting around with your buddies, cracking up, doing take after take after take trying to make milk come out of each other’s nose.
Ashley: Yeah, no kidding. So I just like to wrap up these interviews by asking the guests what they’ve seen recently, Netflix, Hulu, HBO. Is there something that maybe is a little below the radar that you’ve seen in the last month or six months or a year that you think maybe screenwriters should take a look at?
Sam: I gonna say that it’s a really weird time and I have spent way too much time on Amazon and Netflix that it’s all blurred together. I wish I had been to a theater recently, but I haven’t. I will say that it’s getting extremely stressful. Every time I sit down with my girlfriend it’s the, ‘what are we gonna watch’ question is so stressful now. Then we just go down the rabbit hole of Netflix and you know, Netflix, Amazon, all the same platform and it’s sickening because you’ve watched everything at this point. And I went down the rabbit hole of bad Netflix horror films, and they’ve got so many of them. They’re really not horror, they’re kinda like Lifetime or Hallmark movies that are supposed to be scary, but they’re not. So I don’t have any actual recommendations other than just I hope we can get back to the movie theater, because that’s an experience I miss.
Ashley: Yeah, I’m with you. How can people see Guest House? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Sam: Yes. This Friday, September 4th, you can get [inaudible 00:25:46] rent movies, Amazon on iTunes, all those great places that I was just talking about. It will eventually go to one of the streamers, but that’s not until six months from now. In November the DVD comes out, but the short answer is on Friday you just open up your TV or your Roku or whatever, and type it in and it’ll come up.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing, I will round up for the show notes.
Sam: The best would be @sammacaroni at Instagram or @SamMacaroni at Twitter. But I have been feeling Instagram more than Twitter lately. So follow me over there if you wanna see what I’m up to.
Ashley: Perfect. Well Sam, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me this morning. Good luck with this film and good luck on all your future films as well.
Sam: Hey, thank you and I can’t wait to listen to this episode and more episodes from you. I really it appreciate it.
Ashley: Perfect. Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
Sam: Right. See you. Thanks.
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On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing writer, director, Darren Lynn Bousman. He wrote and directed, Saw II and Saw III, and also did a movie a couple of years ago called Abattoir, which he talked about right here on the SYS podcast in Episode Number #154. So if you haven’t listened to that episode, do check that out. We talked sort of about his origin story, how he got into the industry and worked his way up. This time we’re just gonna talk about his new film, which is called Death Of Me. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. Thanks for listening. That’s the show. Bye.