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SYS Podcast Episode 379: With Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly (transcript)

This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 379: With Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly.

Welcome to Episode #379 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Myers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly, who wrote a hilarious comedy feature called Golden Arm about a woman arm wrestler. They’ll be taking us through their journey of bringing this screenplay to life, how they came up with the idea, how they wrote it together and ultimately how they got it produced. 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 does go up by $10. So if your script is ready, definitely submit now before that 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 million. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes. 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 #379. 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, just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once a week for five weeks, along with a whole 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. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing screenwriters Ann Marie Allison and Jenna Milly. Here is the interview.

Ashley: Welcome Ann Marie and Jenna to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.

Ann: Thank you.

Jenna: Thanks for having us.

Ashley: To start us out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Ann Marie, why don’t you go first, and then Jenna, you can follow it up. And just a quick couple of minutes, kinda just to get to know you guys a little bit. Where did you come from, and how did you get into the entertainment business?

Ann: Well, I actually live right outside of Washington DC at Silver Spring, Maryland. And I really only got into the entertainment business because Jenna and I went to college together and we always did so many fun, like crazy shenanigans when we were at University of Georgia in Athens. As we both graduated, she was a journalism major, I was a psychology. And I went to graduate school for psych and Jenna went to graduate school for film, and she’ll probably speak more about that. But she called me one day was just calling me about screenwriting and her screenwriting classes. And I was like, “Oh my God, this is so much more interesting than what I’m doing, and it sounds so fun.” So I said to her, “Hey, would you ever consider letting me write a screenplay with you?”

And she was very, very sweet to stay, “Sure,’ thinking that maybe I would never follow up on that. But like the next day I turned in like the first act of a script and she was like, “Oh, you’re serious about this?” So I kind of just wrote [inaudible 00:03:45] into the entertainment business. But she could probably talk a little bit more about the LA side of things and how we got into it.

Jenna: I mean, first of all, this is Jenna. Actually I would be nowhere without Ann Marie. I would say I’m writing [inaudible 00:04:01] of all her maybe ideas. And it’s true, I did, I was working as a journalist. My dad always wanted me to be a journalist and I loved writing. And I think when you’re growing up like on the East Coast, no one tells you you can be a filmmaker because it’s just not in the air like it is maybe in California. I don’t know if that’s still true today with the internet and all the classes that you can take online and all of your, the awesome podcasts that we now have available to us. But it took me a long time to figure out that I wanted to write scripts. And then when I did and Ann Marie told me she was interested, I just thought, “Oh, this would be so fun.”

Ann Marie knows so much about character and motivation because she was studying psychology, and that is so useful when you’re writing scripts to have those pieces connecting with plot, which is what I was studying. So we just really made the perfect team when we started writing together. And that’s how we kinda got started.

Ashley: Got you. And so then let’s talk about that next piece. So then you guys start writing together. How did you actually turn this into a career? Did you start doing some short films, did you start sending out these scripts to agents and managers? What was the first steps to actually turn this into a career and actually get some scripts sold?

Jenna: Well, you know, we did, we just started working on feature films. We’ve always been interested in writing features, and we started entering contests and sending scripts out to managers. We got our first manager, which was Chris Benton of H2S at the time, and he was very supportive. He was sending out our scripts, which was maybe five, six, seven years ago. And one of the scripts that we wrote was actually Golden Arm and he loved it. He thought it was great. He sent it around Hollywood and we didn’t get very far with it because it was the female sports comedy and people kept telling us, and Ann Marie could speak more to this, that female sports comedies were not selling in Hollywood. Even the bridesmaids had done really well, and people loved you know, a league of their own. It just wasn’t something that folks were into and that studios were buying. And this was just such a disappointment to us as we had been writing, you know, big female comedies. And we really wanted to write in that space. But I’ll let Ann Marie tell you more about how that idea came about.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Let’s dig into that now. Well, actually one follow up question. So it sounds like you got this manager. How did you get the manager? Did you get them through cold query letters, did you get the manager through cold calling, through a referral through a friend? How did you actually land this first manager?

Jenna: So, because I had been working as a journalist, I had interviewed him for some work that I had been doing and I just kept in communication with him. And like anything I think in this business, if you can create good contacts and always keep your network, you know, keep widening your network and keep good relationships, and then know the right time to ask someone to read your script, that’s really important. And you wanna use those asks when it’s the right time, when the script is ready. And that’s what Ann Marie and I did, we took a script in and it was in good shape, and he said, “Well, I think this is good. I think I can get behind you guys. And I think I can go around town with this.” So I think for anybody trying to break in, you need to network with as many people as you can and keep those relationships strong and also be bold when you go and meet someone and keep in communication with them.

If you don’t want to go through that kind of a delicate dance of knowing how many times to follow up and just be polite and respectful, but just keep your nose to the grindstone with that kind of thing. And that’s what he eventually answered.

Ann: Well, yeah, also, this is Ann Marie, just to piggyback off of what you have been saying, because I know your followers are probably really interested in that piece of it. But one of the other things that we did when we were just starting out, is we went through IMDb and looked at producing companies that could do movies that we love, and kind of looks like this is a movie in the vein of Brides Maids, or this is a movie in the vein of Wedding Crashers. So we would go through IMDb and kind of scour through that, and find producing companies, and find producer’s names and try to make connections.

I mean, we were doing a lot of like real digging into that, and we didn’t have anybody to help us really. That was one thing that we did, was learning about the production companies that made films and that were interested in making films that we were writing. And then the second piece was making sure your scripts are ready to be read, because you can think it’s great, but if you hadn’t had anyone else read it, and you know, sending out to your friends, sending it to professionals readers. If you haven’t done the work to rewrite it and make sure it’s ready to go, you just want to be very judicious before you send it because you want it to be ready.

Ashley: Yeah, for sure. That’s excellent advice. I’m curious. So as you were going through IMDbPro and sort of creating your own database of people to submit to, did this ever result in any successes? Did you have some success, did you start to network and actually get in with some producers using this method?

Ann: Yeah, I mean, we did. We did have meetings with just the creative exec. They were the sort of the gatekeeper to the producer. So we’d start, you kind of have to just start where you can start and we would have those kind of meetings. I actually flew out to LA, probably for five years, I was flying out to LA like every quarter and we’d have like a week of meetings, either regenerated from this method that we kind of developed or in contacts that we had just met through different events, or you go to screenwriting conferences and you have the screenwriters and the people that come to speak to you. Sometimes people are really kind and willing to sit down and chat with you. And it was just us trying to understand the business, trying to understand who were the decision makers and how to get our stuff in front of those people.

Of course it was wonderful that Jenna had this opportunity to interview Chris, but we didn’t like immediately say, “Hey, take our scripts.” We massaged that for quite a bit until it’s, at a certain point he just asked for it because Jenna was like, “Yeah, well, you know, we write as a team,” and he had known her well enough, know us well enough that he could just ask for it. So it wasn’t, it was actually nice to be able to just handover.

Jenna: I was just gonna add something that Ann Marie said that was so great, which is about the networking process and doing all those meetings. And it may feel like laborious to have to go to all these meetings, but you just never know. You never know if you’re meeting an assistant one day and that person is going to be running a studio the next day. We had a meeting very early in our career with a creative exec, who is now an agent at our company who just set us up for a job a couple of months ago. But we met him, I think our first meeting was like eight years ago. We met him in this tiny office. I don’t even think he had an office. I think he was meeting us in the room with a coffee machine and he was so cute and nice. And he read our script.

And I think actually at this point, at the early start of your career, what you really wanna get is reads. You want people to read you and even if they don’t buy your script, at least they read you. And if they say they like you and they wanna meet you and have a general meeting, then you are building a relationship with that person. And they’ll remember you. They’ll remember you the next time you, they have a job opening. They’ll say, “Oh, I read these two gals. I read their script, and maybe it’s time to call them back to this other assignment.” So you wanna build the reads that you get and the meetings that you get. And then that person moves on in Hollywood, and you’re hopefully still around, they’ll say, “Oh, wow, they’re still writing. They’re still here.

I will try to get them a job.” And that’s what happened to us with this agent that we now know that we met in that coffee room eight years ago.

Ashley: Yeah, got you. And that’s for sure. That’s great advice. Let’s dig into Golden Arm quickly here. Maybe to start out, you guys can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this movie all about?

Jenna: This movie’s about a wimpy Baker named Melanie who gets roped into the world of ladies arm wrestling by her truck driving best friend. So it’s a road movie about best friends and arm wrestling.

Ashley: Got you. And where did this idea come from? Are you guys experienced arm wrestlers?

Ann: So it was born of this charity. I’m going to just do a quick shout out to the DC Lady Arm Wrestlers. I was one of the co-founders of this charity about 10 years ago where we arm wrestled for charity. We’d get together in DC, we had a space, all the ladies would come out and then we would pitch that they could come in costume with an entourage. And we’d have these big events on Saturday nights where all these people would come out and kind of bet on your favorite wrestler, and all the money would go towards charity. The thing that really struck me is not only was it just so fun and crazy and such time and obviously for a good cause, but you know, the women that came out, it was just such a fun transformation to watch.

The doctors, the lawyers, the mums, the teachers who came out to do these wrestling, come to the rehearsal as a normal, everyday gal and then show up at night as their character, like Amy Smackhouse who is our national champ, and you know, just ready to absolutely ready to Castro down. The transformation and it’s just like the women empowerment and all of that, it sort of just built in a very organic sort of experience. And this was like pre Me Too. So we felt, we didn’t think it was that cutting edge, but people kept saying, “Oh, this is really great. It’s what we really need.” So Jenna actually wrote an article for us about the charity and as she was writing and getting to know everybody, she was like, “Oh my gosh, we should really write in this world. This is such a crazy fun world.”

And I’m an athlete and I just love the idea of writing a female sports comedy, because there just weren’t that many that you could point to and say, “So that’s our dodge ball. That’s our major league.” There’s just not that many things that you can do. So we wrote Golden Arm, sort of in that inspiration from the charit. And Jenna actually is the one that came up with the two best friends on the road kind of angle that we ended up writing into the movie.

Ashley: Got you. Yeah, that’s great. Let’s talk about your actual collaboration and the writing of the actual script. How do you guys work as a team? Are you guys in the same room? Do you live in other cities and you work online and through Skype? How does it work just as far as your collaboration going?

Jenna: This is Jenna. I live in Los Angeles and so Ann Marie lives in DC. So we mostly work on the phone and we outline the whole script together, pretty much every beat. And that takes the longest. I would see that takes three to four weeks to do that. Would you say that’s right Ann Marie?

Ann: Yeah.

Jenna: About three or four weeks. And then we go off and write, one of us will write the first half, and then the other one will sort of be on call during that time. Like if you get stuck in the writing, the other person will be available to help through a scene because, you know, when you get into the pages, there’s always something different happening that’s not in the outline. And then once the first person is ready to, halfway through they’ll turn it over to the other person, and then that person will just read the beginning, we’ll do a note session and then complete the second half. So really by the time we get to the end of the first draft, it’s really been revised multiple times. I would say almost four, three or four times by the time we get to our first, real first draft.

Then we go back over it again, we’ll send it back to the first person and hopefully it takes maybe six to eight weeks to have a draft that a producer would look at. We also have a reader that works for us that gives us notes. Because it’s always good to have a third person go, “Hey, look at this,” or, “Hey, what do you think about that?”

Ashley: Who is this third person I’m curious?

Jenna: You know, there’s lots of folks on the internet that give notes, that do studio notes. So you know, just a producer note giver that you can hire on the internet and we just use different services. I mean, even Austin Film Festival has their own services that you can call up and we just sometimes run our notes through people and see, oh, what do they think? What does this person think? We can get different ideas.

Ashley: Got you. Got you. And something like this, how do you guys approach screenplay structure, genre requirements? You guys are taking the angle, this is a comedy, there’s sort of genre requirements. You need a big laugh every 10 pages. I’m just curious. How do you guys kind of approach this structure and these sorts of genre requirements? Is it more organic or do you try and really outline that stuff as you’re doing this outline?

Ann: I think we’re more organic about it. I will say like, Jenna and I feel like our brand is action comedy for strong female leads. That’s what we go in and pitch. And I do think it’s important when you’re first starting out to kind of figure out what the brand is or what your voice is. It’s like, sort of that question people ask of you, but when you’re doing like, oh, I’m doing a dramedy, and I’m doing a comedy and I’m doing series and I’m doing a feature film, I feel like people look at you as though you can’t focus. That’s the feeling that we got when we first, I think, started out. So as we started to really understand, what does write what you know really mean and what, you know, like people say, “Write what you know, or write what you wanna see.”

Like what does that mean for us? We did find that there was, it was sort of in this box of funny ladies doing funny things. There’s definitely always a plot, we’re not, you know, there’s a lot of focus around goal and character and a fun plot that gives good stakes. So that’s for us. I mean, there’s people out there though that are amazing drama writers or amazing indie ensemble writers. We tried writing ensemble comedy, it was really hard. But in terms of like writing comedy into the script, one of the things we have learned over the years is to not get too hung up on the jokes that you come up with because eventually everything kind of gets rewritten. And if you’re too precious about these things that really made you laugh in the beginning, it can kind of take the story in a direction that’s not best.

So I think, I don’t know Jenna, do you think that’s just sort of an explanation of how we approach the structure?

Jenna:  Oh yeah, I think so. I think it’s so hard to not write to the joke. And if you don’t, we always try to write conflict comes out of character. So once you have that working, then the joke can always change. You’re also going to, once you sell to a studio, they’re gonna come in with their notes and their notes are most likely gonna choose the situation, the situation is gonna change the joke. You have to know going in that the joke will probably change.

Ashley: Yeah. How can people see Golden Arm? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?

Ann: We do. It’s gonna be released on VOD and in select theaters on April 30th.

Ashley: April 30th, 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.

Ann: Yeah. I was gonna say Instagram. Golden Arm movie is basically on every platform as goldenarmmovie, like all one word. You can find @goldenarmmovie on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, there’s a website. And then my personal Instagram is @thereelannmarieallison, which is R-E-E-L. And then Jenny, feel free to jump in.

Jenna: Yeah, mine is Jenna, J-E-N-N-A-M-I-L-L-Y. And feel free to follow us and @goldenarmmovie will help keep you up with everything.

Ashley: Okay. Well, perfect. Perfect. Well, I really appreciate you guys taking some time out to come and talk with me. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your future films as well.

Ann: Thank you.

Jenna: Thanks.

Ann: Thank you Ashley. Thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.

Ashley: No problem. Thank you. We’ll talk to you guys later.

Jenna: Okay. Bye-Bye.

Ashley: Bye.

Ann: Bye

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 our 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 and 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 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 writer-director, Kerry Mondragon who just wrote and directed his first feature film and adventure romance called Tyger Tyger. He comes on next week to tell us how he got this script produced. Again, it’s another great story of a guy just writing something and just making things happen for himself. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.