This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 361: With Writer/Director Shawn Linden.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #361 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. I hope your 2021 is off to a great start. Today I’m interviewing writer-director, Shawn Linden who did a horror thriller film called Hunter Hunter. Another great story from a Canadian writer. He worked his way up through production and got some writing gigs early in his career and eventually was able to get the opportunity to write and direct a feature film, which took him years to get into production. So today we’ll hear his story. 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 re-tweeting 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 are very, very much appreciated. If you’ve never left a comment on any of these, I definitely do look at them and will respond to them if you have any questions. It’s always a good way just to leave some feedback as well. 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 look for Episode Number #361. If you want my free guide, How to Sell a Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter, and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really is everything you need to know to your screenplay, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer-director, Shawn Linden. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Shawn to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Shawn: Hi, Ashley. It’s great to be here.
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?
Shawn: I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which is kind of smack dab in the middle of Canada. I got into liking films probably from a literature point of view first. I’d read a lot of books when I was a little kid and wanted to be a writer my whole life, and that kind of gravitated towards cinema because it was it was more highly consumed than writing was at the time and still is of course. But yeah, that’s where I got in it from. I wrote my first screenplay at 21 when I was still in school. That screenplay got me an agent and was kind of off and on as a working screenwriter and also worked on kind of below the line in the local film industry as a set decorator and a props person.
So I got to know film sets from the inside out and wound up getting enough jobs as a screenwriter to eventually be able to direct, and that’s what led here.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect, yeah. That’s a great little recap. I’m curious. So that first screenplay you wrote while still in school, you said you got an agent. How did you get an agent? Did you just send out cold query letters? Did you cold call them? Did you have some people you knew in the business? What did that look like living in the middle of Canada? What was sort of that next step? You get an agent, was your agent local to the middle of Canada? Was he more cosmopolitan?
Shawn: I had zero experience when I first wrote that script, and so I just blindly struck out to as many script competitions as I could. The script got some attention through that, and I believe that led to two companies of interest who had wanted to option the script. So what I had on my hands was two groups of people who wanted a script and I had no representation. So it was a good way to introduce myself with this problem, that I have a script that two people want, and can you resolve this? So the agent, he did resolve that and was my agent for a number of years.
Ashley: Got you. Yeah. So great. So let’s talk about some of your first films as a writer-director. I noticed on IMDb your first two credits are Nobody and The Good Lie. Just quickly, how did you get those films produced? At this point, you’ve written a number of scripts, you’ve been working as a screenwriter, sounds like you have some on-set production. Were you pitching your projects to the producers you were meeting? Were you pitching it to your agent?
Did your agent get these scripts out? Maybe just talk briefly about those two films and how you were able to basically move from a screenwriter to a screenwriter/director.
Shawn: By the time a record’s sellable, I couldn’t go and pitch myself as a director because I hadn’t even, I’d never made a short film before. I’d directed nobody. So I was not really in a position to be hired for anything other than, you know, the only way to do that was to create it myself and produce it and finance it with people that I knew. So it was done completely out of the typical system, even locally. It was just a bunch of friends that got together to make a movie and found a camera and a couple of Hollywood actors, oddly enough, and we got to do it for a few tens of thousands of dollars. That was our money. So that was just completely… that was made because it was a cheap enough script that we could do it by ourselves, and so we did it.
It had enough success to allow me to start circulating some other scripts and enough attention that people would start looking because now I had something that existed as a piece, and that’s how The Good Lie came about. It had built on… they kind of… they’re very small, incremental steps that one experience allows you not to jump anything, but just to kind of proceed to the next best level.
Ashley: Got you. So let’s dig into your latest film, Hunter Hunter. Maybe to start out, you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Shawn: It is about a family of fur trappers who are living out in the wilderness far away from civilization. There’s a wolf, they’re being kind of harassed by a wolf that’s stealing from their traps. So the hunter husband goes out to hunt the wolf and finds something far more grim than he had bargained for.
Ashley: Got you. Where did this idea come from? What’s sort of the genesis of this story?
Shawn: It came about from just a bunch of ideas that synergized at once with one particular image that I’d had when I was on a bus in Germany back in 2007. I was at a film festival with nobody in Brussels, and we got waylaid down in Germany with a massive snow storm that was happening there. I had to take a bus out to some very rural retreat because all of the hotels in the city were booked up because of the storm and we drove forever to a point where there wasn’t that much snow even falling and ran into these kind of flat woodlands that was distinctly European and thoroughly creepy. That image of the, like a non-hilled, just flat area with a bunch of… like a flat forest, was one of the central images that you see it a bunch in the story as a result in the film.
But yeah, it was that image with the mist hanging in these trees that was it. For some reason, it had just triggered you know, of human beings just being another animal in the woods and of how different a life that kind of lives on the intersection of natural and social laws, how those people operate. By the time I landed back in Winnipeg, 17 hours later, or something like that, the spine for what became Hunter Hunter had been written out.
Ashley: So let’s talk about your…
Shawn: And then it took 12 years to make it.
Ashley: Wow! Yeah, yeah. That is a long time. So let’s talk about your writing process. Briefly, where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, do you go to Starbucks, do you want that ambient noise?
Shawn: I have a home office that, really a chair that I really love. That’s usually my central place for writing. I came from a massive family. We didn’t get to watch much TV, but we’re all loud people. So I was just, I grew up having to think in a loud environment and I’ve found that watching television, something mundane of just having noises, it’s just a din that you’re barely making out that that helps me for some reason.
Ashley: Yeah. Interesting. When do you typically write? Are you someone that writes in the morning, do you have like a real regimen and schedule, you write nine to five, do you write at night? What does your writing schedule look like?
Shawn: I am always in a state of trying to adhere to a more regimented schedule and it’s because the best stuff that I ever do comes in bursts. Like I’ll write a script in five days of just trying to get from point A to point B or from the beginning till the end, and the essentials will all be in there. It’ll require maybe even another gestation period before the next big burst comes out again. Whereas I’ll go a week without writing anything after those five or six days of furious activity. So it just kind of ebbs and flows to me, but I’m not a huge… I hope that I can adhere to a more, a stricter, more rigid schedule and still not lose kind of the catching the wave kind of feeling that you get when you’re effortlessly writing and you’re in the zone.
Ashley: Yeah. For sure. How much time do you spend preparing your outline? Like in the case of Hunter Hunter, it sounds like you kinda conceived of the idea, you went back home. Did you start outlining, do you do index cards, you put in a notebook? And really, I’m kinda asking, like how much time do you spend outlining versus how much time do you spend in final draft actually cranking out script pages?
Shawn: Usually most of it will be done in notebooks and in… I work with a four-act structure where the two middle acts are generally the second act in regular three-act scripts. I usually break things down into those four and when I have to deal with them in chunks, and also because my ideas come in a scattershot way, either they’re like tiny little dialogue details that I know will fit eventually into a structure that doesn’t exist yet, or there’ll be structural points. So it’s a lot of stuff that comes at me all at the same time. It helps to be able to catch it and just suddenly shove it into, box one, two, three, or four at its most simple. It gets a lot more complicated than that, but my outlines are not always…
I work in a weird way with outlines where sometimes I don’t use them at all, specifically written so that I can go back and refer to. I just become so aware of the story that it becomes a pain in the arse to write it out, because I’m not good at that.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. How do you know when your script is ready to show to others? What is your development process like and who do you show it to? Do you have an agent, a manager, other writer friends, director friends, producer friends? Who do you typically show your scripts to and how do you know it’s ready to show to them?
Shawn: I have a few people who I’ve always leaned on for that and usually know if I give them a rough script at a point where I can take their points and their discussion, like it’s all at a point where it’s valuable. Those people [inaudible 00:13:21] if I can send them a script and I can trust them to come at it from their perspective and to give their own notes on it while it’s still malleable. But when it’s presentable to other people in a capacity that, you know, when you’re trying to find funding, it just can’t have any holes in it. You know that inevitably some kind of… if you can see some form of imperfection or messiness in the script, it’s inevitable that somebody else is gonna see it along the way of the script development.
So it’s better just to fix that stuff and be really confident about the script. Essentially once you’ve got on paper the story that you wanna tell, that’s reducing it to something that’s maybe a little too simple, but as soon as you feel like this is my story, yeah, and then you can kind of, you can hand it off. I have to have that, stay with it forever until it’s… like when the script… If you take Hunter Hunter, for example and that’s something that has lasted for 10 or 11 years, that’s undergone massive rewrites. It’s changed very dramatically, but it’s never lost the core storyline. It was just a bunch of stuff that was added around it that during the course of events, wound up getting boiled down to the points that made that story unique.
So at every point in that 10 years, it was never done. It was always in a state of flux, in a state of revision or improvements or adapting to whatever circumstances you’re forced into. That takes place all the way up until you’re shooting, the very first day of shooting. Then you’re messing with the image once it’s done until you’re not allowed to do that anymore. So everything’s in kind of a… it’s in a constant state of flux until they take it away from you. Either the script or the movie.
Ashley: Yeah, no doubt. So you were a producer on Hunter Hunter as well as writer-director. What was the steps involved in raising the money for this film? You have your complete script, did you take it out to your agent, did you have some producers that you’ve worked with before that you sent it out? Maybe talk about that process of going from script to screen?
Shawn: Well it had originally… like there were… during that 10 plus years, there were countless heartaches and getting close to being green lit with various different productions. But the story with Hunter Hunter is that at a time that I was adapting it to send it out for another fresh, you know, give it another shot, it had just come out of option from the last production company and I was trying to adapt it and to keep pushing it. That came at around the time that the company called MarVista or Neil Elman from the company MarVista who wound up providing the cash to make the movie. But Neil Elman, I had known for a decade and he had read the script Hunter Hunter, and he’d liked it enough that I wound up getting a couple of writing jobs with the company that he was at the time.
He remembered that script 10 years later and phoned me up and said, he’s now with a different company with a different mandate, a different slate, and he’s never forgotten that script. That had come at the time when I had just updated it and readied it to go. So it was like all of the stars aligned at the same time to get it made, but it was a struggle. I mean, at first we had a larger budget and then it was determined that we couldn’t get that amount of money. So immediately it had to go through another rewrite phase and another reorganization phase, different schedule, different money allocated to different places, that essentially had to become a different plan and was rejiggered towards a smaller or a shorter time period even then. It was a constant grind, like it always is with development and getting things going.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. How can people see Hunter Hunter? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Shawn: It is coming out in the States and Canada on December the 18th, and it is in select theaters and on VOD.
Ashley: Perfect. 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.
Shawn: Most of my social media is private still. I’m not too sure.
Ashley: No worries. Do you have a website for the movie or anything?
Shawn: I don’t think we have one yet. You know what? That’s a great question.
Ashley: Got you. So, no, yeah, no worries. I’ll circle back before I publish it and I’ll see if I can get some of those links from you and the publicist and we’ll put those in the show notes. Well, Shawn, I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me. Great interview, lots of good advice. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.
Shawn: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.
Ashley: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
Shawn: Take care, Ashley. Have a good day.
Ashley: A quick plug for the SYS screenwriting analysis service. It’s a really economical way to get a high quality professional evaluation on your screenplay. When you buy a three-pack you get evaluations at just $67 per script for feature films and just $55 for teleplays. All the readers have professional experience reading for studios, production companies, contests, and agencies. You can read a short bio on each reader on our website, and you can pick the reader who you think is the best fit for your script. Turnaround time is usually just a few days, but rarely more than a week, the readers will evaluate your script on six key factors, concept character, structure, marketability, tone, and overall craft, which includes formatting, spelling, and grammar.
Every script will get a grade of pass consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank. If you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts, we also do proofreading without any analysis, we will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write a logline and synopsis for you. You can add this logline and Synopsis Writing Service to an analysis or you can simply purchase this service as a standalone product. As a bonus. If your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS select database, which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS select program.
Producers are in the database searching for material on a daily basis. So it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly best of newsletter. Each month, we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our Script Analysis Service. This is a monthly newsletter that goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material. So again, this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Tom Dever who works for Coverfly, which is a company that helps run screenwriting competitions. I actually used Coverfly to help with my own contest this past year, and we’ll hopefully be using them again. Tom has a lot of insight into how contests work and he’s been in charge of helping develop screenwriters over at Coverfly. So he’s got lots of great information for writers. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.