This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 369: With Author-Screenwriter Susie Moloney.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #369 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing Canadian writer, Susie Maloney. She is a book author who was able to leverage that success into a screenwriting career. Again, she’s from Canada and she continues to live and work from there. She’s very down to earth, offers a lot of great insight into the business of writing, how she got her start and how she’s been able to maintain a great career. So stay tuned for that interview. SYS’s Six Figure Screenplay contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The early bird deadline is March 31st. After that, it goes up by $10.
So if your script is ready, definitely submit early. This year we have a short film script category, 30 pages or less. So if you have a low budget short script, by all means submit that as well. I’ve got a number of industry judges, producers who are looking for short scripts. The idea for the contest was simple, find the best low budget scripts and present them to the industry. We’re looking for the best low budget screenplays, and I’m defining low budget as less than one million us dollars. In other words, six figures or less. For shorts, I’m figuring, I’m thinking four figures or less, so well less than $10,000. Most of the producers who are looking for shorts, you know, the budgets on short films are very, very, very small as there’s not really a good opportunity to make your money back with a short film.
So again, for low budget short films, I definitely do have some producers looking for them. However, they are gonna need to be very, very simplistic and low budget. Every submission will get read by at least two professional readers who will do a short assessment, which you can actually purchase if you’d like. I’ve lined up about 50 industry judges to read the scripts that move into the later rounds. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes to the winner. And once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about or perhaps enter, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. And if you’re listening to this podcast after the contest closes, we’re planning on running this contest every year.
So do check out the landing page as I will publish the… whatever dates are upcoming, I will publish them on that same page once the contest has closed. So again, www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or 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 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 #369. 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. Again, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So a couple quick words about what I am working on. We’re still plugging away on The Rideshare Killer. A big thanks to Kurt Weiser, who did a number of effects shots for the film. Those are all finished, so now next week, I’m gonna take those to the colorist for him to color. Kurt is also the producer of this podcast, so if you need some effects or podcast editing, please do drop me a line and I will put you in touch with Kurt. We’re just waiting now on sound design and final mix, which can’t happen until the composer is done with the score, which is just about done. The score is basically done. She has somebody that she works with to just kind of level things and mixings a little bit as far as the score goes. So they’re working on that.
I would say that’s another week or two, and then we have sound design and then ultimately the final sound mix. And then we’re back to the editor, and the editor basically puts all of these different pieces together, the sound, the colored version, and then he will start to output those and then we’ll be basically officially done. The other big news for the Rideshare Killer, the trailer is officially out. It was out a couple of weeks ago, so hopefully you’ve seen it by now. But if not, definitely check it out as well. I will link to the Rideshare Killer trailer in the show notes. So we’re definitely getting closer. I’ve been talking about this for ages now, but I’m putting together a screenwriting course, which will basically guide you through the entire process from coming up with a marketable concept, to actually completing the script and ultimately marketing the script.
So I’m gonna be releasing that hopefully in about a month. It’s been a little harder than I expected to get it all together, but hopefully it’ll be a nice course for folks, if you need some help getting your script written. So those are the main things that I have been working on last week. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I am interviewing Canadian screenwriter and book author, Susie Moloney. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Susie to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Susie: Thank you for having me Ashley.
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?
Susie: Well, you know, I was one of those out-of-nowhere people. I was born and raised in a little city called Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada. It’s actually the geographical center of North America. There’s a little fun fact. So being a little prairie city, there wasn’t many examples of screenwriters or writers at all that I knew of. Our most famous writer was probably Margaret Lawrence, who’s famous to us, probably not famous to Americans. I knew from a young age that I was going to be a writer. My grandfather wrote, he wrote crossword puzzles. So I kind of had an example, but I went right away into books. I started writing novels. My career was the horror novelist and that goes pretty far back, farther back than I’d like to talk about. So that’s where I came into it.
Ashley: Okay. So let’s just talk about that for a little bit. How did you get into novels? How did you get some of those first novels published? You just start writing them on spec, submit to publishers? Just in two or three minutes, maybe we can talk about that. I know there’s a lot of screenwriters out there that probably have novels that they might wanna dust off or even potentially write.
Susie: Well, it’s fun to write a novel. I don’t blame them. I’m writing one right now. Well, my stories started getting longer. That’s just what I keep telling people. I always wrote stories and they just started getting longer and longer and I started to think maybe I was a novelist. So my story’s a wee bit unusual to say the least. I had written a book on spec, of course, just to see if I could do it. Then I met the man who would be one of my husbands and we moved to Ontario. So I had no work when I went to Ontario and I thought, well, I’ll spend my time writing another book and I’ll look for an agent. So I used my first book, which I felt wasn’t very good to find an agent. I actually found the first agent I approached and she sold my book within a few months and that’s the beginning of my career, not even kidding.
Then after that first book came out, which came out to some acclaim, I started writing my second novel and it went into a bidding war after three chapters, it leaked. And eventually I signed for seven figures. It was the highest selling, highest advanced ever for a novel in Canada. The film rights were sold to Cruise/Wagner, that’s Tom Cruise’s production company after a bidding war with a bunch of other companies like Jimmy Morris and Jennifer Aniston at the time. So, yeah, it was a weird, weird… it was long time ago, but it was kind of this weird jumpstart to everything.
Ashley: Yeah. And then how did you transition into screenwriting? Were you able to write some of these as you’re optioning your books, were you able to write some of those adaptations into screenplays? Talk about that transition going from a novelist to a screenwriter.
Susie: Yeah. The last thing anybody wants is a novelist to write their screenplay. They just know it’ll end up a 425-page screenplay. So no, I didn’t. That is not actually how I got my start. I did eventually after I wrote my third novel was called The Dwelling and there were lots of eyes on it for film rights. I had decided that after a lifelong affair with horror film and television, I wanted to try my hand. And cocky little girl that I was, I figured if I leveraged the rights against letting me write the first draft, I’d be able to do this and they’d see that, “Oh, look at that [inaudible 00:09:09] writer.” But what really happened was the leveraging worked. The leverage worked, so a smaller company ended up optioning the screenplay and under the condition that I write the first draft.
So there I was, my arrogant little self. I sat my butt on the chair, and I went, “This is gonna be a cake walk because I have the blueprint right in front of me and it’s my own story. And this is gonna be so easy,” and that quickly descended into tears. Yeah, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So that was my inauspicious beginnings. And I can tell you what happened to that…
Ashley: Yeah. Please, yeah, continue the story. This is fascinating.
Susie: What happened was, obviously I’d wrote a clunker and I knew it was a clunker. It was no secret to anyone around me after multiple breakdowns, et cetera. So the company that had hired me to do the first draft, they asked me very gently and delicately if they could hire, if they could allow the director that they’d attached to do the second draft. So I had a new condition, and my new condition was that he’ll let me look over his shoulder so I can see how he writes the screenplay. That was Robert Cuffley, who is the director of Bright Hill Road, my first feature film, which is a film that we’re going to talk about in a little bit. So Robert and I met and he let me shadow him while he did the rewrite and I learned a heck of a lot about screenwriting and storytelling.
And that was it. I never really looked back. I still wrote books after that. I wrote two more, but I started writing screenplays. And you know, they say the outliers rule as humans, 10,000 hours of something to become, to be able to call yourself a craftsman. So between that first time and now, I’ve put in about my 10,000 hours. Isn’t that cool? It’s sort of interesting, that that worked.
Ashley: Perfect. So now let’s get into Bright Hill Road and sort of talk about that. Did that start out as a novel that then you adapted or was that straight to screenplay?
Susie: Straight to screenplay. That was never a novel. It was never even a novel idea. What happened was, and I think that this is probably how most people kind of stumble into their first opportunity. Robert, who continued to be a sort of mentor, Robert Cuffley- the director, continued to be through those years, a sort of mentor and a good friend, frankly. We were always kind of looking for something and talking about, “Oh, we’re gonna do this together.” We actually did a short film together. Also not based on anything of mine other than a fascination with digital assistants. It was fantastic. It was shot on an iPhone, we had a lot of fun and it’s actually picked up a lot of awards since we did that.
But someone having seen that, approached Robert and said, “Do you have a horror film? We wanna do a neverMind Production, neverMind Films, that [inaudible 00:12:17] the producer of Bright Hill Road. Robert turned to me and he said, “Do you have anything?” I gave the only answer that you can give when someone says to you, “Do you have anything?” I said, yes, but it was a lie [laughs]. That was a lie Ashley. I had nothing. So they wanted a treatment in a month. So I had a sort of… I had a sort of character that was floating around in my head that I’d always wanted to put into something. So I took her and I took my fascination and terror of aftermath and I put them together and I had a sort of story.
Then as I started writing the treatment, it became very exciting to me, the concept that I was playing with. And before I knew it, I actually did have something, and that eventually became Bright Hill Road.
Ashley: Huh, nice. So let’s start out with a quick logline or pitch. Maybe you can just tell us what this film is all about, just the story.
Susie: In the aftermath of a workplace shooting, a young woman flees only to find herself at a rundown boarding house where she’s forced to confront her demons. I think that’s it. Loglines are the worst. I’d like all the screenwriters up there to give me a high five.
Ashley: Got you. Yeah. So, and I will link to the trailer too. The trailer is really well done as well. So people can definitely check out the trailer if they kinda wanna learn a little bit about the film. So let’s just talk about your relationship with Robert Cuffley. I think that’s fascinating how you guys met. He sort of mentored you. Maybe you can compare that, it sounds like this was a really good working relationship. What is some of the things that you say are really good about it? I ask this sort of in the context is at this point, there must’ve been some directors you’ve worked with that maybe the relationship was not quite as good. So for all the directors out there, what can they do to facilitate a good relationship with the screenwriter that they’re working with?
Susie: I’ll tell you the biggest thing, because some of it is also just about… I hate to bring it into this, but sometimes as a woman your voice isn’t as heard in groups of men and filmmaking can be quite a male world. I think I went into that world even post-meeting Robert with a bit of trepidation. The one thing that I can say, Robert always heard my idea. He heard it, he thought about it, often he used it. He is a great one to say, “You know what, that’s a good idea. Let’s do that.” It gives you so much confidence as a storyteller. Because let me tell you, as you mentioned, the beginning of our relationship where he was mentoring, he was mentoring someone who took 540 words to say something that could probably be said in 35 and teaching them how to not do that.
That was the biggest problem I remember with that first draft of my own book, was these long, fascinating fluffery descriptions that nobody could ever possibly shoot. And he kind of… he moved me away from all of that quite effectively. Now I’m writing a new book and I find myself using very sparse language, but that specifically really worked for [inaudible 00:15:43].
Ashley: Yeah. So where are you located now? Are you in the United States?
Susie: I’m in Alberta, Alberta, Canada in Edmonton way, way up North. Yeah, at the, you know, past the, where am I? I’m almost North of [inaudible 00:15:57].
Ashley: I’m curious as your career has moved along, have you thought about making the transition down to Los Angeles and if not, why not?
Susie: Well, I have access to Los Angeles through my agents. I’ve also had, because I did live in New York for quite some time, and I also, my literary agent is American and they have their agency for film, book to film is I believe it’s still ICM. So I have a lot of access to the US. That’s a difficult question to ask a Canadian today of all days, just because yesterday was the storming of the Capitol, which was terrifying.
Ashley: Yeah, it’s not the day.
Susie: So, you know, no is the short answer. But of course I love LA. I’ve been there a lot of times. If it was a TV gig, I’d bet I’d do it, but for film I can get as much done from up… and I’m a Canadian, you know.
Ashley: Perfect. So let’s talk about your writing process for just a minute. We can be sort of specific with Bright Hill Road. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office, do you go to Starbucks? And when do you typically write, are you a morning person, a middle of the night person? What does your sort of writing day look like?
Susie: Oh, I’m a definite write everyday person. I can tell you that. It’s not always the single project until towards the end when all those balls are rolling towards each other at the bottom there, then I’m writing all day long. But I, you know what I get up at 6:45. Hate me all you want morning haters. I get up at 6:45, I do some yoga, I make coffee, and then I write until I have to walk the dog, and then I write again. With Bright Hill Road, I had a very, very tight timeline. So I skipped the yoga, never skipped the coffee, of course, but I wrote all day long because I had about a month to write that after the treatment. Of course the treatment’s the harder part, once you have a treatment, you know, the joke is it’s all typing, not exactly true, but I did have [inaudible 00:18:08] treatment to work from.
So I was able to make my deadline. Then of course, I got another opportunity to do a couple of passes on it. I don’t recommend that, and normally that would not be the process. The process would be, you know, a nice, slow, thoughtful ride through the first vomit draft. And then an even more thoughtful pass on a second draft. I burn a scented candle while I write. It’s very important.
Ashley: Got you. Yeah, just to get you in the mood. It sounds like for Bright Hill Road, you were under kind of a deadline. You wrote this treatment in about a month, but what is your normal when you’re working on a screenplay? What does it normally look like for you in terms of outlining? How much time do you spend on the outline, the index cards, the treatment versus actually in final draft writing script dialogue and action description and stuff?
Susie: Well, I had, again, this was another tight turnaround, but in the past when I’d had my leisure, for instance I don’t do index cards because I come from the world of books. So all of my outlining is done post style in a word for… in Word. So I outline, I think for… you know how you’ve got one idea and it’s at a more infancy than the next idea, which is maybe a toddler, then the next idea, which is just starting school sort of thing. So you’re always kind of working on a number of ideas. I start with the baby stuff, you know, I’ll be jotting ideas down in the notebook. I’ll do that at least a month, if it’s at my leisure, that said. And then I’m not get to it a kind of person, and so I’ll spend two days where I will take that treatment and turn it into a script fixing the treatment as I go and as I discovered things writing the screenplay.
I wrote a romantic comedy in about what I think is my comfort zone, and it was five months. Nobody was looking for it, nobody was rushing me. I was writing it only morning, and it took about five months from idea to completement.
Ashley: Got you. Yeah. I’m curious, you mentioned that you’re always working on multiple projects. Obviously you’ve got a lot going on being a novelist and a screenwriter. So I kinda get that, but I worry a little bit about people that are always working on new projects, but never actually finish a project. How do you stay…? You know, because it’s always the finishing that is you get the most resistance and oftentimes becomes the most difficult. How do you, and if you keep having these other sort of other projects coming along, how do you stay focused and how do you actually deliver and get those scripts over the finish line?
Susie: Ashley, in all honesty, I only write one thing at a time. I mean, I have… I’m writing a book right now, but I call that my side gig. I’m writing that at my leisure, just for me, for kicks and giggles. But I’m working on a screenplay that is my main project. What I meant by I’ve always gotten multiple… I’m always thinking about multiple projects. So I’m thinking about, oh, I could write that if I wanted. And then that’s in the back of my head sitting there, percolating, fermenting, whatever you wanna call it. Aging sweetly in the bottle, like a good Bordeaux. Eventually I will get to that idea and I’ll start writing down a bit more about it until it’s time to say to somebody, my agent, “What do you think of this idea? I think it’s really gonna work.”
By then I’ve got kind of a premise and a mid-point and an ending, and I kinda know what the story is. But at that point I’m not gonna pick it up unless I’m done what I was working on. The other thing is you get a lot of first draft and then you got to send it out to the story editors or producers or, and, you know, and they give you notes, “I’d like it more if it had this.” And so then I don’t consider doing a pass writing, I consider it a pass. Unless it’s a page one rewrite, which often happens, I don’t consider, I think of it as a late stage kind of fixing up. So when we talk about multiple projects, it’s really only one project being written at a time, one main project.
Ashley: So let’s talk a little bit about your development process. We can talk specifically about Bright Hill Road. How did that go? So you wrote this treatment, were you in contact with Robert the whole time? Were you getting notes? And one question I always kinda like to just get just sort of the idea from the writers, how do you arbitrate ideas, especially in a situation like this where Robert is maybe more experienced in film? Are there ever ideas that he gives you that maybe you don’t agree with or notes that you don’t agree with and how do you work through those and still maintain a good relationship with producers and directors that you’re working with?
Susie: Well, you know, there’s always a certain amount of tears on both sides, that’s just… Robert does have more experience than I do. Lucky for me and maybe for him too, we have very similar tastes in horror and what we consider to be horror, what we consider to be good storytelling. We have similar tastes. Maybe that was right from the start when he thought my book [inaudible 00:23:26] movie and so did I. But so when I was writing the treatment, I was in contact with Robert, but we have an agreement where he lets me have my head, so to speak. He trusts my storytelling, I mean, I’ve sold a lot of books. And so he trusts that I know how to tell a story. So usually when I’ve cornered myself, I’m really stuck, or if I’m confused as to whether or not something is cinematic, which is less the case now I’m writing currently my…
So I’ve learned an awful lot writing those other ones. So then I’ll call him and we’ll discuss it. He always said to me, “Do you want me to read it now, or do you wanna save it?” And I can make that choice, you know? And if it’s terribly troublesome I’ll say, “I want you to read it now.” But in the case of Bright Hill Road, we were under the gun and so I wrote the treatment straight through, and then everybody read it, frankly. Robert read it first, he’s always my gatekeeper. You got to get a director that’s gonna get your, have your back. Right. So then once anything, glaring was fixed, it went to the producers, the executive producers, me and my agent, and Robert’s manager and our cabal of people that are all on side with whatever it is, is being made.
So that was that early process. Then by the time it was time to write the script, as I mentioned, the treatment was pretty solid. So writing was smooth and Robert was in pre-production. I didn’t have the opportunity for a lot of support [inaudible 00:25:11]. Things were falling into place, and then he read the graft and he made notes. I went and fixed what I could, and then it went back to him and then it went to everybody and we shot on schedule. So I do, one thing I can say about myself having been a novelist, I do write fast, and I’m a very quick study, so I get it. It’s easy when, because we do have excellent communication. I know what he means. And he certainly knows what I mean.
He’s kind of like my interpreter. So if somebody else doesn’t get something, he knows how to make it something that they will get.
Ashley: What sort of notes did you get from the production company that you guys were working and submitted this treatment to?
Susie: I’m equally lucky they’re in this, in the case of Bright Hill Road. Colin Sheldon, the producer likes horror. He’s produced a lot of films. So he doesn’t give, you know, the sit-com version notes. He gives really good notes. I think an early one was related to, “We’re not sure we can shoot this in this sequence, can you move around the times of day for these scenes so that…” you know, we had a small budget and locations are always one of those things that bleed into how things are shot and creatively, can we make the scene [inaudible 00:26:38] shoot? I learned a lot with that too. I learned a lot about using location [inaudible 00:26:44] financially.
Ashley: Yeah, it sounds like those are, yeah, sort of financial notes.
Susie: Yeah. I wish I had some bad stories to tell. I’m trying to think of any, but this is actually a really… maybe it was because everybody had to be on absolute best behavior because we had a limited shooting time are most budgets now are smallish. So everybody did their best.
Ashley: Got you. What have you seen…? I like to wrap up the interviews just by asking the guests something that they’ve seen lately, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, anything that’s out there that you think would be especially interesting to screenwriters?
Susie: Well, I saw the other night, The Lodge. That’s the 2020 film, Riley Keough is in it. I forget the name of the filmmaker and the screenwriter, isn’t that terrible? It was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. I am permanently damaged by that film.
Ashley: Is that right? Okay, I’ll check it out. That sounds like a good recommendation. How can people see Bright Hill Road? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like for that?
Susie: I do. It is released North America, VOD, January 12, 2021.
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 put in the show notes so people can find you.
Susie: Oh, friend me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram on Susie Maloney everywhere. That’s S-U-S-I-E M-O-L-O-N-E-Y.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Perfect. Well, Susie, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.
Susie: Ashley, thank you so much. I love the podcast.
Ashley: Thank you. I really do appreciate that. So good luck, Susie, and we’ll chat soon.
Ashley: Thank you. Bye.
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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 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 Steve Kostanski. He is also a Canadian writer. He got his start doing special effects, makeup and special effects creatures up in Canada. And he has now moved into writing and directing his own feature films. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.