This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 377: With Writer/Producer Shaked Berenson.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #377 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I am interviewing independent producer, Shaked Berenson, who just wrote and produced a film called Dolphin Island. It’s a family-friendly film he shot in The Bahamas that, obviously enough, features dolphins in a prominent role. He’s got a lot of experience as producer, so we really dig into the details about how he was able to put this project together, why he shot in The Bahamas, why he chose dolphins, coming up with the idea, getting funded. Really the whole process of making this movie.
So stay tuned for that interview. SYS’s Six-Figure Screenplay contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The regular deadline is May 31st, after that it goes up by $10. So if your script is ready, definitely submit now, before the final deadline. We’re looking for low budget shorts and features. I’m defining low budget as less than six figures, in other words, less than $1,000,000. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes. I’m gonna have last year’s contest winner actually on the podcast next week, so stay tuned for that. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about or perhaps enter, just go to 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’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 #377. If you want my free guide, How to Sell a Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by gonnawww.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 it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Quick few words about what I am working on. The main thing I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks, is trying to set up distribution for The Rideshare Killer.
With a low budget movie like this, there’s plenty of distributors who are willing to take the movie on, but it’s very hard to gauge whether they will ever actually send you any money once they do take it on. So it’s just a very tough process and it’s not always the best salesmen who we should go with, although that’s sometimes how it feels. But it’s kind of a game of poker as you’re trying to make these decisions, very important decisions that could really affect the financial outcome of this movie. But you’re trying to do it with a lot of incomplete information because you don’t have a relationship, or at least I don’t have a relationship with a lot of these distributors.
Which really is one of my key focuses on this thing, is really trying to find a distributor that I like and that I feel like I can work with, not just on this project, but future projects. So it’s definitely been difficult hearing all these pitches. A lot of times they all sound alike. Anyway, so Tony and I, my producing partner, we’ve been doing these conference calls over the last couple of weeks. Again, just basically hearing these pitches from the distributors, they all, it’s all kind of the same thing. They tell you how much money they’re gonna make with this film and how great it’s all gonna be, but then of course, once you sign with them it’s quite typical that you never hear from them again. So that’s what you really got to watch out for.
And there’s, obviously the contract is important. There’s a bunch of different things you can kinda put in place to try and keep the distributors honest, but ultimately I think it comes down to the relationship. Does that distributor like you and do they wanna work with you in the future? I think that probably has more impact on how the distributor treats you than any contract that you could potentially sign with them. Anyway, so it’s definitely taking some time. You got to email back and forth with these folks, you got to set up the meetings and then do the meetings. But hopefully this will pay dividends. I’m just definitely excited to get it out there, and as I said, there’s definitely distributors that will take it on.
So, whether we can recoup our money is perhaps debatable, but we definitely will find a distributor. We will definitely get it out there. So that’s the good news. The other thing I’ve been doing this week, I did a table read for my noir mystery thriller screenplay I’ve been working on, I’ve mentioned a couple of times here on the podcast. We did a read via Zoom and it actually went pretty well, at least I thought so. I haven’t done any table readings via Zoom yet. The writer’s group that I used to be a part of, they’ve been doing Zoom readings and I’ve still been in touch with some of the writers there and they’ve been very positive about it. I didn’t feel like it was quite as valuable as an in-person table read where you really can sort of feel the room a little bit more.
There’s something on Zoom where there’s just a split second delay, so it makes comedy, there’s some jokes… It’s a mystery thriller, a noir mystery thriller, but there’s some sort of repartee between the actors, the lead and the female lead that sort of would get some jokes, but it just, it’s hard to sort of hear that stuff in a Zoom meeting, as opposed to when you’re in an actual live room. You really can kinda get more of a sense of sort of how it’s going. But overall, there were definitely moments where you could kinda feel the actors getting into it and having that back and forth. So I think it was very valuable and it’s super easy and obviously cheap to set up. Obviously your actors can be located at pretty much anywhere in the world.
Time differences might be a potential issue, but it’s super easy to set up and then you can do it… We had a guy named Jacob, who’s probably gonna be the editor on this film. He actually recorded it. I’m not that high up on Zoom. I actually don’t have a Zoom account. I’ll just occasionally do these Zoom meetings. But he recorded it and everything, so we’ll be able to go back and listen to it. Maybe that will give us some more insight into sort of the laughter, and when the other people on the call laugh. Maybe hearing the recording will give us a little more insight in that. But I highly recommend it as I said, it’s not as… I didn’t feel like it was as good as an in-person read, table read, but you basically just get a bunch of actors, you give them a couple of roles. They’re really minor roles. There’s probably maybe eight main roles in this script.
So I had maybe eight actors and then I would double up. They were… like, there’s a bunch of roles. It’s just one line here, or two lines there. I would double up the actor. So I probably had eight actors, and then a few other people like Jacob was, I mentioned the editor, he was sort of technical, doing some of the technical stuff, running the Zoom meeting. And then obviously myself, I actually read narration. I don’t know, it was a little bit distracting. I’ve never done that before, but I would read sort of the main narration, the slug lines and stuff to kinda set up the scenes and then the actors would kinda take over from there doing their thing. But I don’t know that I would do that again. I think I felt like I was a little bit distracted.
Sometimes I feel like if someone else is doing the narration I can listen a little better and I get a little bit more out of it. So I would probably change that as well and not actually do the narration. I always feel bad calling somebody in to do the narration because it’s kind of a hard job. You’re literally sitting there reading for an hour and a half, all the slug lines and kinda the boring stuff, for the most part. So it’s not a great job. So when we used to do the in-person writer’s group, I would kinda just get somebody to do it that was there, and then I would typically listen, but with this, I… some of them I had to like call them up and get them on a Zoom call.
So I just didn’t feel like I could just bring someone in. So I thought I’ll just do the reading, but I think the next time I would try and get one of my friends to do the Zoom, to do the actual narration. But anyways, I highly recommend it. If you’re working on a script, if there’s a script that you’re kinda workshopping, you wanna kinda take it to that next level, doing a read like this really can be helpful. You hear it, and then you yourself get kind of a new perspective on it. And then obviously once you end, when you talk to the other actors and the other people that were on the call and you kinda get notes in real time, and that’s the best time to get notes, because everybody was there, everybody heard the same thing, and then you really can kinda dive into some notes.
And there’s some back and forth with the notes where one person will chime in with a note and then another person. So it’s very helpful, I find, just from a development process too. And as I said with Zoom, it’s pretty easy to set up. Anyways, that’s what I’ve been working on the last a couple of weeks. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing independent producer, Shaked Berenson. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Shaked to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Shaked: Thank you for having me.
Ashley: 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 industry?
Shaked: Funny enough, I was born in the States, but I grew up in Israel. This is why I have this funny accent. I came to back Los Angeles after my military service. In Israel there was mandatory military service. After that, I came to go to UCLA. So I didn’t came to this town for filmmaking, I didn’t come here wanting to be an actor or director or anything like that. I studied business and economics at UCLA. I was looking for a job as a bartender, but couldn’t find one, so I started to work in the movie business for a film producer. And 20 years later I produced 40 something films, two TV series and had my own company, sold it, have a different company now. So I kind of fell into the movie business.
Ashley: Yeah. So talk about that a little bit. How did you meet this producer and what were you doing at that entry-level job? What was that all about? But really how did you get that? Because I get a lot of emails from people saying, “How can I get to Los Angeles? How can I get that entry-level job?”
Shaked: Yeah, it was pretty much just dumb luck. I was here being Israeli and speaking Hebrew. My boss at the time was remodeling his house and the contractor was Israeli. So he was looking for somebody that can monitor that. I was a personal assistant, really just handling a lot of his personal stuff. And when you were so close to the owner of a company as a personal assistant, you kind of become like a son or like a right-hand man. So very quickly he was asking me about, “Oh, what do you think about this script, what do you think about that?” And then people were leaving, so I started assuming other people’s jobs like marketing and delivery. Then when we were shooting, it would go and help on set.
We were traveling to film markets like Cannes and Berlin Film Festival. So I was going and helping with the marketing and the foreign sales, doing contracts. So really quickly I learned really any aspect of being onset and offset in terms of the movie business.
Ashley: Got you. Okay. So then let’s talk about that jump. So you’re working as an assistant, it sounds like you’re moving into other avenues, marketing, distribution, all of these different places. At what point did you start actually producing your films and how did you make that leap going from assistant to essentially full-blown producer? Maybe walk us through that just quickly.
Shaked: The company at the time was starting to do bigger and bigger films. We were producing Ghost Rider with Nicholas Cage, and the company started as independent. So me and another person in the company, we convinced the owner to start a division to deal with genre films and independent films. And basically we ran the whole show. We found the content, we acquired it or produced it, went out and sell it. We did everything A to Z and, but he said like, “Well, you should do it on your own.” So we left and started our own company, which is called Epic Pictures. I ran that for 11 years, in the middle, bought a whole website called Dread Central, merged it with the company and sold that two years ago.
So what made me do the jump? I didn’t know. It seems like it was a quick process, but it was also a gradual process. So I first had my hand in a lot of different things. I learned how to do marketing, I was doing contracts, I was doing foreign sales, I started my own distribution in the US. So I think having done all the different jobs, basically odd jobs almost, on set, it really gave me a good foundation to run things myself because I really knew what it takes and how does it feel to be in different parts of production.
Ashley: Got you. Okay. So let’s talk about your latest film Dolphin Island, which you co-wrote and also produced. Maybe to start out and give us a quick pitch or a log line. What is that film all about?
Shaked: The film follows an orphaned teenager that lives with her grandfather in The Bahamas and her grandparents from her mother’s side, come in from New York trying to take custody and bring her to New York. The film really deals with different themes of, mainly on casting judgment and perception, because the grandparents come from New York and for them, her life seemed like a miserable life, but once they spend time with the local people in the island and see her life and see how happy she is, they see the value of growing up in that environment. So and then there is other people, there’s a social worker, there is all these other characters and really there’s this theme of casting judgment and not judging a book by its cover, kinda I would say, it’s a big theme of the film.
Ashley: Got you. Where did this idea come from? What was the genesis for this idea?
Shaked: So I was selling and distributing a dolphin movie a few years ago. And when hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island, I was in touch with people, with local people, trying to figure out how we can, what can we do to help them? And the government said, “We don’t need donations, that’s a short term help. But would be great if you come here, you stimulate the economy, you bring equipment, you teach people a trade. That would be the best way to help.” So my friend, Mike Disa, we worked together on a franchise animation called Space Dogs, we went to The Bahamas, did some location scouting, did some casting to see the local flavors. I came up with a story and we both basically worked to write a script with a Rolfe Kanefsky, the third writer. And then by January we’re down there to shoot a movie.
Ashley: Got you. So it sounds like part of this though, was your experience with this previous dolphin movie, is that correct?
Shaked: Yes. So I didn’t produce that one, but I did know the sales, so I knew were the film’s gonna go eventually. And that’s more of how we do things these days. I try to have a very clear path of where the film is going and pre-sale the film before even shooting the first frame. Because back in the day I used to more raise financing, shoot a movie, go into festivals, and then basically hoping to sell it. But I think in today’s environment where the [inaudible 00:15:12] is shrinking and even the transactional [inaudible 00:15:16] is shrinking, home video is pretty much dead. And when you talk about just a handful of buyers, that we all know who they are, between the Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, now Disney+, HBO Max, and sorts, you really need to have a plan in advance because if all those five to 10 players pass on it, you’re kinda screwed. Right?
Ashley: Yeah. Got you. So let’s talk about that just quickly. I remember when I got to LA in the ’90s, this whole idea of pre-selling like, that’s what all independent producers seem to talk about. I think in the ’90s, maybe it was a lot easier. It seems like that’s kind of died out. So now I talk to a lot of producers and this idea of pre-selling is much, much more difficult. Are you finding that? And what’s the trick to getting these pre-sales? Is it just having these former relationships, is it having a track record? Are you pre-selling to people you’ve sold films to previously? Are you forging new relationships? What does sort of that actually look like in this, in 2021?
Shaked: It’s really all of the above, right? So it’s relationships are very important. I think a lot of filmmakers focus on the script, on the concept while in [inaudible 00:16:21] for the buyer, they need to have the comfort that they know that they work with the producer and the director is actually gonna deliver what they say on time, quality and budget. That’s a big driving force behind what the buyers think about. In terms of pre-sales, it’s still pre-sales like in the ’90s, it’s just different type of pre-sales. In the ’90s what, I haven’t been doing it since 2003, but I know the history, and the numbers, what started in the ’90s and went through probably 2008 is more of selling it territory by territory.
So you would take the film and you would pre-sale it in, usually in major territories, like Germany, France, UK, Australia, Japan, and then we’ll take those contracts to bring them to finance the film. Today, when I say pre-sale, I’m more mean, like do a presale to Netflix, and then you have the budget to make the movie, but less in terms of parsing it out and going out and selling it to 10 territories and try to navigate all those contracts. That became a lot harder. A lot of people approach me asking about presales, and it’s very important to understand that the pre-sales process, there is two things that are very challenging. First of all, the mechanic of it, right? You need to go to a bank, and I always say, the moment you step into the bank, it costs you about 150 grand.
So between the lawyers, accountants, and bankers, you need to understand that you cannot pre-sell a $350,000 budget movie or a million dollar budget… If you’re talking about less than, let’s say five, six million, it just isn’t worth it. It’s expensive money. The second thing is to understand the dynamics of what makes a movie pre-sellable. And the easiest thing to kind of visualize it is you need to think about your sales agent when he sits with his buyer from Germany, a pre-sell situation is that, that person over there need to say, “Listen, I need to close this movie right now because I know that the next buyer from Germany is gonna buy it instead.” Right?
That’s a pre-sellable movie. Think about what element makes that happen, it’s very far and few, right? You’re talking about huge property, you’re talking about Harry Potter and attachments like Ryan Gosling, your… even your $15,000,000 movie with a sprinkle of stars, still, if the risk is not there and they don’t have to have it at the moment, they can just wait and see how it goes. And that’s most films right now. There’s no real pressure for the buyers to pre-buy. In addition, I’m sure you read the trades and you know what’s going on in Berlin and South by Southwest and all those, buyers have been burnt lately from pre-buying films that then end up being sold to a streamer and the rights are being taken away from them.
So the whole point of them pre-buying is to take a little bit of risk so they can get a better price, and they can have a guarantee that they’re gonna have a film to release in theaters, let’s say in 2023. But when the movie is already completed, and they’re six months before what should have been the release date and the movie goes to Sundance, and then sells to Netflix and they pull back the rights, that really disrupts their business. So the whole world of pre-sales is kinda shaky and has a lot of challenges at the moment.
Ashley: Got you. So, one thing I wanna just… so on this film, on Dolphin Island, you’re basically saying, well, it doesn’t make sense to try and pre-sell a movie that’s, let’s say less than $5,000,000. So you’re throwing us that little bone, that this movie was a $5,000,000 movie. I’m curious about the cast. What was it about this movie that you think was that hook? Because you didn’t have Ryan Gosling in this movie. You had a good cast, but I wouldn’t say you had any names. What was it, the hook that got this one pre-sold?
Shaked: Yeah. So this is, yeah, this is very different. Dolphin Island is basically, it’s a TV movie. It was made on the SAG Ultra Low Budget constraint. It’s much less than $5,000,000. The story behind it is really relationship. And when you have relationship, I spent a lot of years building relationship with TV stations in different countries, and basically it was financed by one sale to a big broadcaster in Europe that could take those rights and finance the film. And me having a distribution company, I held the rights in the US and other territories to kind of make the profit on top of the budget. Yeah. So it’s if the movie is pre-sellable, absolutely not. This is a hundred percent not pre-sellable movie.
But when you have companies that in that either TV or VOD kind of business, they can get orders from Netflix or a broadcaster for a sub million dollars or a $2,000,000 movie, and they can make five of those a year or 10 of those a year, whatever the needs of the broadcaster.
Ashley: I get a lot of that from like Lifetime producers. They make the movie for what Lifetime sells it, Lifetime gets North America, and then they try and make their profit in the other areas. So it’s kind of…
Ashley: Yeah, got you.
Shaked: It’s Lifetime, BT, Syfy channel, Hallmark. I mean, this has been business for a long time now for many career producers.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Okay. So let’s dig into the actual script for this and the writing of this. Let’s talk a little bit about the actual writing with your writing partner, Mike. What did that look…? So, and it looks like also there’s another writer, Rolfe Kanefsky, on this as well. Maybe you can kinda describe, how was your writing process like? Were you guys in the same room, were you using something like Skype or Zoom? What was your tools to collaborate? Did you come up with an outline together and then he went and wrote a scene, you wrote a scene? Just describe sort of how the collaboration worked between the three of you.
Shaked: So I came up with the initial story and hired Rolfe and brought Mike to direct and co-write. So I came up with a story and then we started meeting, fleshing out the story, getting their input into the story until we flush out a good beat sheet. Rolfe is really the one that built it into a 90 pages script, and then all three of us basically did rewrite. So we would meet, usually on a Sunday at, I forgot the name of the diner. There’s a diner in Burbank that we used to meet every Sunday for four hours, just go over notes. Rolfe was really the one kind of the master of the script, and putting the words together and yeah, that’s about it. So that was kind of the process.
The main reason is, as a producer again, these films are made for hire. It’s not some vision or something that you really wanna do for 10 years. It was really made for what I know we can get in The Bahamas. And after Mike and I went and we did a day of casting and we looked at location, we also did adjustment to the script because part of our goal was to use as many cast and crew in The Bahamas obviously to help the local economy. And knowing that those are not professional actors, it was important for us to try to write the characters for who we saw, so actually they don’t need to act, they can just be themselves in front of the camera as much as possible, and to be very authentic to who they are culturally and the people on the Island.
So that was kind of the process in our mind. Then the second thing to remember the process is just knowing that in the sales world, a lot of people…there’s family films and there’s kids’ films, right? And a lot of people call kids’ films, family movies, but what’s really important, especially when you’re working with a broadcaster or when you’re trying to do sales is to try to make a product that works for both the kids to watch it, and their, what I call the kids and the grandparents, right? They’re babysitting them. Part of it that was really a driving force, and when you even look at the backbone of the script, it’s like, okay, how do you make a movie that a teen can watch, and also the grandparents?
How about you make a movie about teens and grandparents? So that’s really the core of the script. The movie is, it’s a drama. It’s a custody battle over a kid. It’s like, you go like, well that’s very… how do you have a dolphin in that? But the idea was to make… is the backbone of the script is something that the parents can actually watch in it’s complexity of characters and some deepness into the themes, and then you bring some of the silliness and the dolphin and all the fun parts to have something engaging for the kids. Wonderful actor and comedian, Bob Bledsoe was casted as the bumbling lawyer. So, the villain is also a more cartoonish character of sort, and it was a very important to cast somebody that can in one hand be the villain, but also be likable and redeemable by the end of the movie.
Because we wanted to be family-friendly and the characters either need to be redeemed or get punished for their actions by the end of the film. So a lot of it was kinda engineering the movie around people we like to work with, people we worked with in the past, people we knew we can use, locations we knew we can use. And the dolphin, of course.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. I’m curious. I wonder if you can just give us a few of the details on that conversation with the broadcaster. As you’re pitching this to them and trying to pre-sell it, what did you go to them with? Did you have a completed script, so you said, “Okay, we have this family movie?” or did you just go to them and say, “Hey, what are you guys looking for, maybe we can make something for you.” What was that actually, initial conversations look like?
Shaked: I had nothing beside the relationship of selling them hundreds of movies in the past 14 years. And I approached them saying, “Hey, remember I sold you guys this film in the past? We’re think about doing something similar, it’s gonna help the people in The Bahamas. Do you need the content?” “Yes.” And that’s it. There was no scraped cast, no concept, none of those things yet.
Ashley: And then before, how far along is it before they actually green-light this thing and say, “Okay, we’ll fund this.” Did you need a script at that point?
Shaked: Well, they have approval over the script and over the rough cut, but in the end of the day, again, it’s a relationship-based business. They knew that I will deliver them on time and on budget and on quality what they need to satisfy their requirements. So it was fairly easy, we didn’t need a green-light process, or we basically hit the ground running.
Ashley: I’m curious, you mentioned that you and Mike had worked on some previous projects before. Maybe talk, as I know, there’s gonna be screenwriters listening to this thinking, “Oh, well, how could I get myself in the position where you hire me instead of someone like Rolfe?” Maybe take us through that. What is your relationship with Rolfe like, how did you meet him and why did you choose him for this project?
Shaked: I always say that making a movie, especially for somebody like myself, it’s like marriage, it’s not like dating, right? Because I’m usually involved from concept all the way down to selling and putting DVDs in Walmart, on the shelves. So it’s usually a five to six-year process from beginning to end. I like to work with people that I know that they’re fun working with and that I trust, which means that if you are in this circle, and if you look at my body of work, you will see that there’s a lot of repeating names, right? If it’s DPS, ADs, anything, VA’s, writers, directors, actors. So if we are working together, it’s great because there is potential to doing a lot more in the future.
The difficulty is that it’s much harder to get in. You know, I have my first AD. If he’s available, he will be the first AD on my show, if the director is happy with him. That means that if you a first AD and you wanna work with me, it’s gonna be very, very hard. With Rolfe, we made a, I don’t know, probably five movies together. He wrote Tiger’s Tail, he wrote Space Dogs I. We worked on so many films together the past, it just, you have your go-to people if they’re available. And they like the concept or they like to work in that space, then that’s what you’re gonna do. Right? So it’s very hard for a writer to basically come and start to work with me. It’s just not that easy.
Usually they need to either have a very, a package, but then they might not need me that point. Or sometimes I reach out in when I look for content, I look for a specific script or specific treatments that I know that my clients are looking for, I reach out to writers and we get pitches. I do have a RFP list that our company is sending, RFP requests for proposals periodically based on conversations. We have with streamers and broadcasters and distributors that we work with. So we are very clear about how to pitch us, what we’re looking for and what the pitching process. Just sending us scripts, or, I had a few times people just tweeting me their treatment. People reach out to you in all sorts of ways.
It’s generally not the best way to approach producers or studios. It’s usually much smarter to either develop a personal relationship, which is hard, or at least try to look and listen to what they’re looking for so you can be there at the right time when they’re looking for you, as opposed to just send them stuff that they’re not looking for. If you want, you can add a link on the description of the interview and we can put the link for the RFP. In general, people sign up need to know that it’s also very much depends on experience. So if you’re a insurance broker from somewhere that just watch movies and so to say, think that you can write movies because you saw a lot of them, that’s probably not what we’re looking for.
We’re looking for experience. When you sit on the side of the table, you can see the difference between people that actually are doing this for a living. Not to be too harsh, but my dad always said, just the fact that the dog can chase cars doesn’t mean that it can drive one. And I think that people don’t, sometimes don’t realize how much thought, even for the movies that they think it’s a bad movie, how much thought and work actually goes into them to make them happen and to get the script where they are. I think a lot of it’s also from the beginning of my career when I was doing script coverage, I probably read, I don’t know, I read two, three scripts a day. So we’re talking about a hundred a month.
I remember I used to read them in the stop-and-go traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. Like, with a printed script on the steering wheel and you very, very quickly see [inaudible 00:31:45] just so many scripts are there to get submissions that it’s very clear that the people, all knowledge is just from watching other people’s movies and TV shows. Because you look at a script’s like, oh, that’s a scene from Die Hard, and this scene is from Lethal Weapon, and this is kind of… And it just a mish-mash of other things. Usually there is a lot of thoughts about the concept or the opening or the end, but to fill 90 pages is a lot harder. So it just feels like somebody feels like, oh, it’d be cool if this happens, and then the butler did it.
Okay. But now the other 89 pages is just filler, and just exposition that, just nonsense, you know? So and that’s the majority of the scripts you’re reading. People need to remember, like out of, for example, the studio system, and now it’s different because streamers sometimes just green-light whatever comes on the table. I don’t know what the process of that. But the old numbers of networks making TV shows, for example, we’re talking about the four percent shows that are actually being made. And that’s for starting to get green light into being developed to a pilot. This is not just, you and me just coming up with an idea. This is something that, pitch accepted and starting development in a network, you know?
So I used to do a lecture about how not to pitch a project in South by Southwest, and I basically counted in, I think it was 2015, I counted how many scripts I got that year from different sources. I think it was something around 600 scripts. Then I broke it down. Like how many scripts were from unsolicited, how many from managers, agents, filmmakers we have been working in the past or co-production markets, and then how many movies we made that year, which was five, right? How many of those were from scripts that guy got in unsolicited? Zero. It was if I’m not mistaken, two were from CAA, two were from production, co-production markets and one were just an original idea that we came up and hired a writer and did the whole thing.
So it’s very rare that people just get scripts and, this is brilliant. You hear about the stories, I think that it’s almost like hearing about somebody is winning the lottery. It gets people excited. And it’s good they’re dreamers because that’s bringing the talent in, but it’s a long road. It’s a long road. I’m not trying to discourage your listeners because I know it’s a writers listeners, but I think it’s important to know the reality and important to know how things looks from the other side.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. And I’ll be curious to, as a follow-up question, like take us back. When did you meet Rolfe? Like you said, he’s done a bunch of projects. A lot of times I get people sending me these sorts of questions, and it always feels like writers need to find producers that are at their same experience level, and people need to meet you 20 years ago, so that you’re on the way up. And I’m sure a lot of these writers, you still work with, these ADs, all of these people you’re mentioning are probably you met as your way up. So talk about that. How did you actually meet Rolfe? What was the first interaction with him and then how did that relationship develop?
Shaked: I think if I remember correctly, we met when he wrote for us a movie called the Tiger’s Tail, which is another animal movie. He was already working multiple time with another producer that we knew and we together co-produced a family movie. So he was basically brought in by another producer that already had a trusted relationship with. So yeah, so I think it’s important… writers, like directors, they, and like producers, can need to prove themselves in the beginning. So like what you said is very, very true. When you’re starting a new business, the best thing to do is just get around to a team of other people that are starting, hopefully, maybe have a little bit more experience than you.
But early enough that they’re still looking for talent and make short movies, make proof of concept shorts and things like that, or very low budget films so you can actually get the experience, you can learn from it, then you can use it as your calling card for the next project.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Excellent advice. How can people see Dolphin Island? What’s the release schedule gonna be like?
Shaked: The movie was actually releasing, oh, it was released today in Canada, it was released two weeks ago in the US. It’s on all major VOD platforms, the Apple TV, iTunes, direct TV, you know, Spectrum, all of those. People can go to www.dolphinislandmovie.com there is a list there of where you can find the movie. And yeah, I appreciate it. People can go and see it and rate and review it. People sometimes don’t realize like the whole rating system, on Amazon or iTunes, they just give it like four stars or five stars, it’s so crucial. So crucial. Because today the platforms really work with just AI that index and decide what to recommend you. So the more people give a film five stars, it will recommend it to similar people.
So let’s say you have three kids and somehow, Facebook, whatever it is, know that you have three kids. If, and there are some ages, if you put five stars, it will find other soulmates that are similar to you. So it will be male with three kids kind of the same age and recommend it to them. So the more people and more diverse diversity of people rate highly, or like your movie, it gets indexes and recommended to more people, and then it’s a snowball, right? Because it’s recommended to more people, more people see it, they rate it and then more and more and more or less and less doing it. So, and that’s why I think it’s really a battlefield. It’s funny because for the audience, you log into Apple TV and you see like, recently added and it looks like a storefront, when you’re an industry executive, you kind of look at it like, that’s my battlefield, right?
It’s like that, this has so much money and complexity and schedules that goes into figure out how to get your banner up there, you know?
Ashley: Yep. Yep. So anyways, all that to say, listeners, hopefully they’ll go and give you five stars here on Amazon, anywhere else that they see the film. So that is an excellent point. I hope people do really understand that because myself as a filmmaker, yeah, we’re always trying to get people to give us a nice rating, on IMDb and on Amazon. 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?
Shaked: My name is Shaked Berenson, nobody has that name. So I’m very easy to find. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook is more for my personal friends, but on Clubhouse. You know, everything is just Shaked Berenson. And the best way to get in contact is through our RFP list. So instead of just sending materials, it’s best to add yourself to our affiliates, wait, I don’t know, at least a few cycles seeing what we’re looking for and kinda understanding, kinda getting a feel of what the company is looking for before trying to submit things and just follow that, that’s really the best way.
Ashley: Got you. Well, 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.
Shaked: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Ashley: Thanks. Talk to you later.
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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 your 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 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 Richard Pierce, who you may remember was the winner of last year’s SYS’s Six-Figure screenplay contest. So his wining screenplay Friend Request, which was actually retitled, I think, to Killer Profile, was read by one of our industry judges, a writer-director-producer, named Ted Campbell, who had a relationship with MarVista Entertainment. MarVista does tons of Lifetime and Hallmark-type features. Basically they do a lot of these sort of female-led thrillers TV type stuff, made-for-TV type stuff. So Ted then walked it over to MarVista since he had a relationship with them and he actually got the project set up, they optioned it and then they actually shot it just a couple of weeks ago.
So this winning script literally is already in the can and in post production. So that’s fantastic. In fact, Ted and Richard actually hit it off doing this during this process. And Ted actually got Richard on his, another project that he had set up on MarVista. So that one is shooting in a couple of weeks. So Richard will get another credit through this relationship. So this is really an incredible success story for the contest. I’m excited just to bring it to everyone and kinda show everybody. I think it’s a great proof of concept for the contest to just show how maybe we can set something up here and actually get these movies produced. So I’ll actually have Ted, he, as I mentioned, he’s the director on this, ended up being one of the producers and the director on this project. And I’m actually gonna interview him as well.
So he’ll be on in a few weeks, but next week, again, we’re gonna hear from Richard. He’s a really nice guy. He’s just living in Vegas. He’s got a young kid and a wife, sort of normal life, but he’s just been writing for years. He had a little bit of success before, we talk about that. And now he’s got these two more writing credits to his name because of the contest. So we’ll get into all of those details next week. Again, I’m just really excited to sort of share this story with the world, because I think it’s great for the contest and obviously great for everybody who enters. It’s great for the industry judges, hopefully they’ll feel a little more confident, like the contest is working and there’s some good scripts coming through it.
So I think it’ll really help me attract more judges. I think it will energize the judges that we do have, and then again, hopefully we get more submissions and we can really find some of the best low budget scripts that are out there and are not getting seen. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.