This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 383: With Director Ted Campbell.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #383 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director, Ted Campbell. If you’ve been following the podcast, you may remember, Ted is the director who found last year’s winning screenplay Killer Profile, which was originally titled Friend Request. He found that project through SYS’s Six-Figure screenplay contest. He then took it over to MarVista Entertainment where he has worked before, has a relationship with, and they ended up shooting this film a few months ago. So it’s now in post-production.
So now he’s coming on the show to talk about his experience, just reading screenplays for the contest, working with Richard on the rewrites for this particular project, and then ultimately getting Killer Profile produced. We talk about his background in the business as well, how he was able to work his way up and get to the point now where he is directing these films for MarVista Entertainment. So stay tuned for that interview. SYS’s Six-Figure screenplay contest is open for submissions. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The final deadline is July 31st. So if your script is ready, definitely submit now before the final deadline. We’re looking for a low-budget shorts and features, and 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, people like Ted, reading scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes. And 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, please submit that as well. I’ve got a number of industry judges who are looking for short scripts. 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 #383. 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 whole bunch of bonus lessons.
I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. It teaches 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 a couple of quick words about what I am working on. We’re still meeting with distributors on the Rideshare Killer. We’re not really in a big hurry to sign with anyone. We’re still waiting to hear back from festivals. So we’re sort of doing that. Tony, my producing partner on this has really been handling the festivals. So I’m not up on the exact numbers, but I think we’ve gotten into two so far and we’ve gotten rejected by three.
The two we’ve gotten into, actually there’s been no LA festivals that we’ve gotten into which is a little bit disappointing. I was really hoping to do our premiere here in LA. Just because it’s easy, we shot here in LA so we can get all the cast and crew out, but so far we haven’t gotten into any LA festivals. So I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen. But we’ve gotten into the Houston Horror Festival, and that is in late June I think, and Action On Film, which if you remember, I actually took my other film, The Pinch there, and that one is in Vegas. I think that is in late July or early August, but in any event I’ll be making some more announcements as we get the dates and stuff.
If you live in one of these cities, by all means, hopefully you can go out and actually check out the film. It is fun to see a film at a festival on a big screen and stuff. I don’t think I’ll be able to go to Houston, but I will hopefully be able to go to the Vegas one. It just depends on the dates. I think I’m actually out of town on the Houston one. But in any event I’ll come back and I’ll have some dates, so if you live in those cities just maybe keep an eye out for that. So the other big thing I’ve been working on obviously, is the SYS contest. I mentioned that obviously I’m having Ted on as one of our industry judges. I’m starting to pull out some of the top screenplays and have begun pitching those to our industry judges.
So if you have a low-budget screenplay, please do submit. And again, I’ve got a good number of producers looking for shorts. So if you have a low budget short, definitely, I would definitely consider that as well. I’m also ready, I’m also about ready to launch my screenwriting course. I’ve been talking about this. It’s been taking me a little more time than I had thought, but I’m really at this point almost ready. I’ll probably launch here in the next week or two. I’ll probably open it up to SYS Select members first, just to kind of get some feedback and make sure everything’s working properly. It’s from concept to completion. So I’m covering the entire process of writing a screenplay, coming up with the idea, vetting the idea and outlining the script and then vetting the various sections and then writing the first act, writing the second act, writing the third act. And then of course, I’ve got a module on marketing the screenplay as well.
So stay tuned for those details. Hopefully I’ll have an announcement here in the next week or two. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m gonna do next as a producer, the film noir project I’ve been working on for a while now, it still has a long ways to go. So I’m not really sure when that one will go, if it will go. I’m starting to work a bit on a romcom that I’ve had for, I wrote a few years ago. It’s pretty easy to shoot, takes place mostly at a dive bar. So I’m sort of looking around for that and kind of see what I can do in terms of a dive bar here in LA. If I can find it cheaply enough, that will kind of help me anchor my budget. I just don’t know, I haven’t found the right location yet.
So I’m kind of just sending out feelers on that and kind of just see what I can turn up, but an actor friend called me actually a couple of days ago and wants to do a short film, really just for his reel. So I’m talking to him about that and I’m kind of thinking maybe a short might be a nice, quick, easy way to just get something done this year. I would really like to shoot something this year, but just with everything going on it just seems like it’s gonna be difficult and now we’re almost halfway through the year. So I’m thinking this short might not be a bad idea, but again, I’m still kind of out there just looking and just kind of trying to figure out what is the best opportunity for me next.
So those are the main things I’ve been working on over the last week. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer-director, Ted Campbell. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Ted, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Ted: Thanks for asking me.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Ted: Oh, geez. Well, I’m originally from Boston, Mass. I grew up in the suburbs outside of Boston. I just started, date myself here, but I was making little super eight movies and painting my friends up to be zombies and kind of wanted to be a Tom Savini and George Romero. And when it came time for to look for a college and everything, I was just poking around and realized that I found Emerson College, which is where I ended up graduating from, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, people actually get paid to do this?” I had no idea. Where I grew up, very working class. I had no clue. So I went to Emerson, did the… with Emerson, we had a internship program that places you basically, you do your last semester here in Los Angeles. I did that and never looked back and I’ve been here ever since.
Ashley: Got you. I wanna talk about a little bit of that, of some of those credits. I noticed on IMDb, some of your first credits are production assistant credits in the mid ‘90s. Maybe you can talk a little bit about those. Are those… is that what Emerson was able to set you up with out here, or were you able to get out here and then you started had to leap frog from project to project?
Ted: Yeah, actually my… the internship I took, I was, my degree was in film production, but when it came time to look for that internship, I wanted to try something different. I ended up working for an independent producer and essentially working as her assistant, running the phones and scheduling our coverage of all the projects we were doing. And just to learn that more the development side and from an indie producer side, just to learn it. I learned very quickly it wasn’t something that I was in love with [laughs], but I learned a lot and that was cool that brief amount of time just to learn something different. But then yeah, it was eventually hustling and getting a gig as a PA and then end up being a freelance and just hop from gig to gig.
I did end up being, working in post-production for a long time as an assistant and a coordinator, which is back in the day, it was a DVD, it was home video mastering. We were taking the films after they were done and having trailers and the things and all this stuff. It was a lot of technical stuff and it wasn’t really something I was in love with. So I started doing that freelance where I was just a coordinator from project to project. And I just was like, there was a space between projects. I didn’t have something lined up right away, and I started just volunteering as an assistant director, mostly with some AFI thesis projects. And I just discovered that…
Ashley: Okay. You liked that sort of a little more of the logistical type.
Ted: Yeah. Well, the first one I did, it was a friend of mine was like, “Hey, I’m producing this short film over the weekend. You wanna help out?” I’m like, “Great. Sure. Let’s just be on set, sounds like fun.” She’s like, “Great. You can be the second AD.” I’m like, “Awesome. What’s he do?”
Ted: And dove in. And like day two, the crew was like, “Wow, how long have you been doing this?” I’m like, “Well, 12 hours?” They’re like, “Oh.” So I was like, “Maybe I have, there’s something I’m connecting to here,” and yeah, just being on set. Then that just steamrolled into, yeah, I think I wanna pursue this because more than anything, it was you were learning how a film actually gets made. And just learning… I always think a first AD is someone who, you know, there’s like sort of a disparaging saying like, “Oh, he just knows a little about a lot.” Well, that’s actually a plus for an AD. Like I wouldn’t know how to actually focus pull, but when the focus puller asks me for a second, and I look over and I see him touching his buttons, oh, I know what he needs. Yes, yes. One more second. You start to understand little bits and things.
I know what the art department, when they ask for more time here, duh, duh, duh. Just learning all this stuff. So then now segwaying into directing. It’s just like, I’m jumping ahead into conversations, “Hey, don’t you need anything…?”
Ashley: Yeah, but this is… yeah, exactly. It’s a great background. And I wanna dig into that a little bit because what does that transition? I know there’s gonna be a lot of people listening to this. This is a screenwriting podcast, so there’ll be a lot of screenwriters that maybe get those PA jobs. But how did you transition then from first AD to actual director? I know from people outside the industry, they might think that’s a very natural jump, but it’s not always that natural because it’s much more, it’s less creative and more logistical I would say, being an AD. And so you have to make sort of that creative jump. Did you do a bunch of shorts? Talk about that a little bit.
How did you go from just being the guy that they call that they need for logistical help, to the guy they call for creative stuff?
Ted: During all of that, I was writing, I was always writing. I was writing screenplays. And there was a certain point where I was realizing that it was just such a thing, especially with screenwriting. I think screenwriting was… like and I always go back to the analogy of like originally wanted to be a musician. I remember, and I was a total metal head forever. And loved guitar solos, but it’s like the concept of hearing those and like, how did they come up with that? I couldn’t put it together easily. It took a long time. I think at film school, we had the library and I think I cracked open, like, I’m trying to think of the script now, but cracked open a script in the script library. I read that and I was like, “I understand this.”
I instantly understood what was happening on the page. Still had to spend years understanding character arcs, understanding structure, and like learning the craft of it. But, and this was a note I always got early on like, well, the story is kind of… but this writer instinctually knows the scene. So I just, from watching movies over and over again and seeing it on how it’s constructed, the blueprint on the page, I just instantly connected to that and just got to the point where I just had to admit to myself it was something that I would just have to always do, regardless of something getting produced. It was just, I just had to be, my brain was always thinking stories or ideas and the whole structure part of screenwriting to me is just fascinating. How there’s this structure, but when you do it right, it’s completely hidden.
And you’re just taking the audience along on a ride and they don’t feel or see the beats. They feel the beat, they don’t see the beats. So yeah, I was all during that time, I was writing as, it was like a two-pronged attack where I was learning physical production and always every set, every movie was learning. Like watching, why did the director do that? Why did the production designer do that? Trying to learn, learn, learn, and at the same time, creatively, I was writing specs and trying to get them out there and trying to get management and entering contests and eventually doing really well in contests. And that’s kind of where things started to really change, and then it was like connecting those two things.
Ashley: Got you. What were some of the contests that you entered that gave you a real boost career-wise?
Ted: The first one, and it doesn’t exist anymore, ScriptShark used to have a contest.
Ashley: I do remember them, yeah.
Ted: And that one, I won that one and I remember getting that call thinking like, “Hey, you won the contest,” and I’m thinking, “Oh, great, I got a copy of movie magic screenwriter or something.” And she heard, the woman on the other side of the phone, heard my voice. Like, “No, no, no, no. I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. You won the contest.” I’m like, “Huh?” Like I did not expect to get, basically win the grand prize. And that kind of propelled me. I basically had at that, after I had written several specs, I had one that was actually in a small way, I think this is why your screenplay contest when you’re unproduced are so good. It’s a resume builder.
That gives everyone you’re trying to get it read by just that second pause of like, “Oh, it was a grand prize winner. Maybe I will open this.” And that got read, and then it just kind of, that was like that first little something that pushed things forward.
Ashley: I wanna go back on one thing that you mentioned earlier. When I first got to LA, I got one of these production assistant jobs, and I think they literally paid me $50 a day. And my problem with it was, this was probably the mid ‘90s. My problem with it was, I just was so tired at the end of the day. You know, you work these 12, 14-hour days, and then you go home and it makes it very difficult to write. And even if you make it to the weekend, you get days off. I was actually working another job just to keep, the bills flowed. Because I was only making a $50 a day as the PA. So I always felt like it just wasn’t a good balance for me to try and be a writer. How were you able to make that balance actually work?
Ted: Eventually when it became to AD-ing and being a first AD what, for me, the saving grace was like, I always tell people, really, I’m this AD, but really I’m a writer. a budding director. So think about it. If I was an actor and I was waiting tables, it’s my day job, you know? So it was, what’s good about… for me what’s great about being a first AD was I’m working freelance and you have these chunks of time off. And I would just prioritize that. Like I have three weeks between this project ended and that project starts where I have to go to work and make money and pay the rent. I have three weeks of free time I would write. I would just use those times and focus in that.
It was a little hard, and sometimes I think early on, it took a while to make the brain click over to. Because writers, something they’re very, very good at is procrastination. And you would let those three weeks slip away and then you’d take the job and be like, “Oh, I’m on this job and it’s taking away from what I really wanna do.” And like, you’d have to click the brain over like, well, you’re the guy that sat around and said, “Well, my muse isn’t here yet.” That’s the other thing sometimes, and I always say that screenwriting, and probably with all writing, I don’t know, I’m a screenwriter. Sometimes it’s just ditch digging and you just got to get in there and just do it.
You just got to, I think what is it Hemingway said, like the first draft of everything is shit. You just have to be willing to write poorly. No one has to see that. And it’s just molding that lump of clay on the wheel and just keep going, keep going, keep going.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. For sure. Sound advice. So let’s talk about your most recent project. Originally it was called Friend Request. I guess you guys have changed the title to Killer Profile, and this is a script that you found through the SYS Screenplay Contest. So we’ll touch on that a little bit. Maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
Ted: It’s about a girl in high school who starts to have these, starts to listen to her friends a little too much and think maybe she doesn’t trust her boyfriend as much as she should and decides to create this fake online profile to basically, I guess it would be catfishing, and to pretend to be some other girl and flirt with him and he passes the test. He says, “No, I have a girlfriend, very nice to meet you.” So she texts him and sends him racy pictures, and he’s all, blah, blah, blah. So she tells her friends about this and they’re like, “Oh, I wanna use it too.” And then her friend takes it and she learns like a couple of days later, her friend’s been using it with all these different people.
Then the next day, the girl, the fake profile person, “I wanna introduce a new kid in class here. Here’s Heather Harris.” And then she’s there like, “What? Wait a minute. She’s not real.” Apparently she is. And then she begins to wreak havoc on their lives. Basically they stole this girl’s identity without really knowing it ruined her life, and now she’s coming back, as we do in these little movies.
Ashley: So I think you read maybe three or four scripts for the contest, and I’m curious, what was it about this one that stood out? Like, what was it that made this one the one that you said “Yes, I wanna try and pursue it and get it into production?”
Ted: More often than not, especially with a spec, you have a really cool premise, but then the premise isn’t followed through to the end. It’s not woven into all the drama and all the other parts that happen. It kind of becomes a jumping off point and then the story’s, I mean some meander and some, it just becomes, if it’s done well, all the characters interactions are making sense, but this whole kind of theme, which in, which Killer Profile ultimately ended up being like social media and trust, were like the two big themes that wove. Richard just wove all that together all the way to the end, and I thought, “This is great. This is amazing.” It’s very hard to come up with a cool premise that continues all the way until the last page and this certainly did. And it was very cool to be able to, you know.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I’m curious, Richard mentioned that there were some rewrites. What were some of the things that needed to be bumped up or changed? Maybe can talk about that a little bit, how that process worked.
Ted: Well, I think some of it was our villain character, we wanted to build her up more and actually show… we wrote in, or Richard wrote in more scenes at home with her mom and really showing this dynamic between them so that you had a more sympathetic villain. So she wasn’t just crazy. It was coming from somewhere and she had basically this poor home life. There was that, and then we were, and then there were just budget constraints. I mean, we’re very… so we shot it in 14 days for under $500,000. And there’s things you can’t have, I think. I forget what some of the bigger ones, where it’s high school, so high school demands lots of background.
I think there were some car… that’s one of the things in low budget. You have a conversation in the car. Those are actually really hard to do on these movies. Our trick is, the car pulls up, our characters get out and then they start talking, or they walk to the car, they talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, get in the car, scene ends, and the car drives away. Because we just, it’s just logistically, it’s a logistic time suck to do car talk thing, people dialogue in a moving car. It’s very difficult to do, and we are, 14 days is…
Ashley: Yeah, it’s a tight…
Ted: [inaudible 00:20:39].
Ashley: Yeah, no doubt. So walk us through sort of this process. I think I introduced you… I mean, you were reading scripts as I was sort of pitching them to you. And I think it was probably August or September-ish when you read Friend Request, and then I introduced you to Richard and then I sort of stepped away and I just kind of would hear from you guys occasionally. But take us through that process of, getting a script. What sort of a deal did you cut for Richard and then ultimately who did you take the script to and how did you ultimately get it produced?
Ted: Yeah, well, I have a relationship with MarVista Entertainment. I’ve been an AD for them for many years on several films and I’ve been slowly working my way up. “Hey, I write too,” into the conversations. And after a few years it was an opportunity to then actually pitch them ideas. So I had a few things already pitched that got basically approved as a pitch, had not yet gotten approved to go to script yet, and they were sort of sitting there. If you know MarVista they make, I don’t know, I think they make a hundred movies a year. And I’m working with one department that’s got about 30 films on their plate. And there were several little pockets of like these producer, associate producer teams that oversee the production and the development of the projects.
So I had those and then what was originally Friend Request landed on my desk. So I pitched to them. I could, now I had a direct line where I was like in an open conversation basically, “Hey, I just found this one. I think it’s perfect for what we do. You guys interested in reading it?” They said, “Yes.” I think they liked it, so the next step in their process is we have to create a two-page pitch document, which goes to the next higher-up decision makers, the big execs over at the company. Richard had basically had a synopsis he’d been using to pitch it himself. Together, we kind of tweaked it a little bit. We sent it to MarVista. Usually you get notes back, they’re gonna help you develop that. That’s how my other projects happened before they send it to their boss.
Because they wanna look good too, right? And they know what they’re looking… They’re making a particular kind of sub-genre of these TV films, these TV female-driven thrillers. And we waited a couple of weeks and other things are going on. You kind of don’t bug them too much. You give them some time because they’re super busy. Everyone is. Again, if you’re pitching or sending scripts to somebody’s, patience. That’s probably the hardest part of the whole game, is you just, sometimes you got to wait. You just got to wait.
Ashley: Yeah. If they’re worth talking to they’re definitely busy. So it can take a while.
Ted: Exactly. So yeah, so I was like couple of weeks or something goes by and I just checked in, “Hey, any notes on the pitch?” He said, “Oh no, we already sent it up. It got approved.” I’m like, “What?” And then it was, I did my first film writing and directing for MarVista. I had a second film lined up. I hadn’t finished the script yet, and they were like itching to put that into production. And I always kind of pitched to them, I was like, “Well, you know, Killer Profile has been approved, Friend Request, but that’s a completed script. Why don’t we just put that in this slot since you wanna put something on the schedule?” They said, “Okay, yeah, good idea.” So I was like, that was great texting Richard, “Guess what brother? You’re going into production. Standby for notes. Here they come.”
And that was pretty much it. It’s like, it’s a wild ride the way we put these together and how quickly they happen. There’s a whole machine now that we, and on top of that, we have COVID protocols, which is, makes it a little more challenging than the usual.
Ashley: Yeah. So there’s a couple of things I wanna parse out of that. Number one, it sounds like you’ve been AD-ing, these films, which obviously gives you a great background to actually direct one because you know what these schedules are actually gonna look like. I mean, someone that doesn’t have that kind of experience would not wanna touch this with a 10 foot pole trying to shoot that many pages in that few days. So I think that’s something people shouldn’t… that’s not something to gloss over. At what point in this thing did MarVista actually step up and do some sort of an official option in that process?
Ted: As soon as it was approved by the higher-ups, it’s basically that email you get, and so they approve it. So how it works with MarVista too, is they’re the studio, but then it’s the… and there’s this company called Shadowboxer Films who I’ve worked for many years. They’re the physical production entity who are hired by MarVista to actually make the movie. So MarVista approves the script, approves the… they approve some of the cast, mostly the leads, and then it’s just like, you turn in a budget, they approve the budget and the account is set up and off you go. And they’re basically at that point, they’re like, “Show us the first cut for us to do notes.” They’re pretty much hands off at that point.
Ashley: And you’re working with one of these producers that are like a MarVista employee, and they’re the ones that are actually line producing this thing for you, or you bring on your own team?
Ted: Yes. Well, It’s kind of like I had been working for them forever, so we all knew each other.
Ashley: Got you.
Ted: And then we’re all freelance on the crew side, but we’re all been together. So it’s like, it was funny. I mean, I’m coming in and I just knew, as an AD I’d already known… I knew the gaffer and knew the key grip.
Ashley: That’s what I was gonna say. You’ve been doing the AD-ing for quite a while, and really seeing firsthand how these movies are put together. I’m curious, were there some things in this screenplay that you knew really hit those beats? Because these are sort of a sub-genre and exactly what you’re saying, these movies are formulaic and that’s not to disparage them. That’s actually exactly how these movies are made. So whether some things in his script that you saw sort of really met the formula? I’m asking this sort of as a follow-up question, because one of the things I was impressed by Richard after talking to him yesterday, was that he was very much in tune with, he watches a lot of these types of movies, he and his wife.
So he’s very much in tune of how these movies actually work. What beats the mother daughter relationship, The relationships that exist and sort of the character arcs that these characters go through. Were there some things in there that you can kind of maybe pull out for our listeners that say, “Yeah, this is something that this script really played into that MarVista really liked?”
Ted: Yeah. I mean, and I didn’t realize that having read it. I was like, “Yeah, this is perfect.” After meeting Richard, he was like, “Yeah, my wife and I watch so many of these Hallmark, Lifetime movies that it was like, why don’t I just try one has a spec. I just tried to write one.” So he was specifically writing it in that genre. And yeah, it just had all the beats. It had the opening teaser, it had a strong female lead. It was really a majority female cast. I mean, from a structure point, I think, I can’t remember the beat yet. I can’t remember the line, but I was teasing him at one point, and I was like, there was, we were talking theme and I think it’s, to me, the theme overall was trust if you read the script.
Because there’s Nicole, our lead character’s kind of impetus is also that her parents are recently divorced, dad had cheated. So she’s already got this little thing, she doesn’t really trust and that’s that whole arc overall of the film, or on the underneath of it was just about trust in her friends and they trust each other and the friendships break apart halfway through the movie and then they come together at the end as they do. I forgot where I was going with that. Oh, there was something he said, there’s something someone actually almost on the page, like theme stated like, “Ah, thank you, Blake Snyder.” There’s an obvious Save The Cat moment and like, see. I don’t know, love or hate, I love Save The Cat by the way, but…
I can go on a whole tirade about that, but that’s separate, but it was awesome. It was like right there. And I mean, I had read it a few times and hadn’t realized. So that’s again, where I go back to the structure was all there, but you weren’t totally being like, oh, I feel the act two break coming up. It was like, oh crap, there’s the act two break. It was so well structured. He had the opening teaser that brought us back to the… like all those little, these always have these little opening teaser of something like, “Oh my God, what’s happening?” And then we come to the normal world and then our main characters are introduced and off we go. All those beats were there. I think there was one MarVista note, which is always important in these films is like, they always say the mom is the way in.
So I think that was another thing in this pass MarVista notes was beefing up, just making the mom character in that relationship to the main character strong as well. So we had these dueling sort of mom daughter relationships, the good one and the bad one, kind of, sort of.
Ashley: Yeah. So yeah, perfect. So I’m curious too. It sounds like your relationship with Richard worked out really well. You guys are working on another project. Maybe we can talk about that a little bit. But as someone who works with writers and has worked as a writer, you’re a writer yourself, what were some of the things that Richard has done that really impressed you and endeared you to continue to work on other projects with him? Clearly you’re a writer yourself. So, I mean, you could have taken on writing more of this script, but it sounds like whatever your relationship was good enough that you tasked him with that. But what are some of the things he’s done that really made you wanna work with him again?
Ted: I think… I mean, I just thought he was a great writer. His characters were solid. Because again, we’re in this, like you said, there’s kind of formulaic sub-genre that there’s certain beats we have to hit, but he had characters where, what I was reading on the page, it’s like, I don’t have to over-explain this to an actor. We can build a backstory from this. He did exactly what a screenwriter is supposed to do. It’s like, this is the blueprint. There’s so much subtext that we could pick and choose and create our own little subtext that without changing anything to his overall, but that on the day me and the actor can know where the actor is coming from at this.
When we always… before we start a scene and before we start our first blocking process, it’s like, I always me and my actor, we sit down and we and we go, “All right. What do we know? What do we not know? Where were we just before we… Where were we were in the moment before this? Where are we go to the… what’s the end?” And then we start working out the blocking. And he had all of that in there that just gave us so much to work with. Again, it was so much subtext that we, it was just so much fun to build and we did so much. I mean, I can’t wait for people to see it because if you’ve read the script, Kendall [inaudible 00:31:22] who plays Heather, basically the villain, oh my gosh, she was so much fun. She did such a great job.
And most of it was because Richard gave her so much to work with, and that was it. The other thing was we built this thing into, and this may be something in the development later on that our main character, like she’s a high school student, she’s a senior looking to go to college and really see what she wants to go is towards journalism school. Her mom used to be a journalist and that’s kind of her inspiration. She wants, like, she looks up to mom and what mom used to do is in the spring and whatever. The note from the studio was that, well, she should use her, use all their special skills to defeat the villain. So she should use something in her journalism skills to defeat the villain at the end.
We were like, “Well, what do we do that?” Well, we have the big, the monologuing at the end with the villain, as we do in these [laughs]. And it’s like, well, the usual, what we usually do is she says, “Well, I just told you everything, but it’s just me and you and I’m gonna kill you and no one’s gonna know.” And she’s like, “Oh, yeah, well, I recorded the whole thing.” And we’re like, “Oh, great.” And then we built this thing just to make it a character quirk that she didn’t really use a computer. She wrote her, she did a lot of her work in her notebook, like, oh, she should have like an analog, old school, mini tape recorder, not like a digital thingy. Nice. Oh, and we’re, this is us spitballing, like in a Zoom session like this, because this is this note from the studio that we have to figure out.
And I don’t know who said it, but like, “Oh my God, the tape recorder is mom’s old tape recorder from back in the day.” And it was like all these little things connected and it was just us going back and forth. And that was fun [laughs]. Just creating an enriching character, and at the same time solving a story… Not solving, but addressing a studio’s note that they know was a perfectly valid note because it… because other characters like there’s the best friend you’ve read it is, the cask friend uses her, she’s the computer nerd. She uses her computer nerd skills to defeat the villain. So we needed our main character to use something of her skills, and that was what that, all that came together, which in the end, it was like this tool and this prop that connected to character. And that was the lovely part.
Ashley: Yeah. Got you. Got you. It just sounds like there’s something in the chemistry between you guys that works in the creative environment or whatever. Tell us about a little bit about this next project. You mentioned that you had one set up at MarVista that then Friend Request kind of take in, is this the one you’re working on now with Richard, that one that was previously slated that you were working on the script?
Ted: Yeah. This one was again, a pitch that got approved. And basically I started, I went into production on this first film and then all of a sudden it steam… they wanted to go into production on the second one. I was like, “I don’t even have a script yet.” Or, “I’m only 20 pages in and I’m in post on the last one, and I just…” So I said, well, to buy myself time in one respect, I was like, “Well, Friend Request is a completed script. Why don’t we put that in the slot in the schedule, and that’ll buy me a little bit of time.” But then you go in and I’m location scouting and I’m casting and I’m talking to wardrobe and da da da… and I was like, “I have no time to write.” So I was like, “Hey Richard, can I just punt this to you? Like, I’ve started it.”
I think the good thing was is that at that point in the process, I had a completed outline that was studio approved. They had already… Because I always would, I do a detail. I’m a big outliner. I mean, I always like, my thing is too, and people are like, “Well, do I really have to outline?” I would say, “Yes. Next question.”
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah, no, I’m big on outlining too.
Ted: I mean, people do it, I don’t understand it. Screenplays are about structure, you should know where you’re going. You should have your map. I mean, it changes. It’s not like, an outline… I guess that’s what’s, maybe that’s, younger writers are like, “Well, I get this outline. I got to stick to it.” It’s like, no, the outline, sometimes you get to a certain point in your draft and you go back to the outline and you have to rework it. I’m like, “Sorry guys, it’s work [laughs].” But I had this outline that was pretty solid for Richard just to jump in on so that it wasn’t like starting from scratch and then let him rock and roll. And then we just kind of started passing the draft back and forth. I mean, he went and did his completed draft.
Ashley: Did you need to get approval from MarVista to bring him on as a writer, or just the concept was approved and he had already done Friend Request? Was that enough?
Ted: No. Again, the way the deal is the production entity, which is Shadowboxer Films. So they’re the physical production company. It’s Robert Ballo is the head guy, the producer there. He’s the one that makes those approvals. So MarVista only had approved… And the good thing was, is like, well, he’s obviously, my pitch to Robert was, let’s let Richard take this on. It’s like time first of all, he’s a great writer, and he’s a really improved writer with MarVista because we’re shooting, we’re prepping his movie or we’re shooting his movie now. So that really wasn’t a difficult sell at all. And they’ve been working together and Richard has been working with MarVista. Because at one point we’re deep in shooting the last movie, and so it was Richard and the development people over there just, they did a whole session together without me being even involved.
Ashley: Got you. And it sounds like you’re just a couple of weeks out from shooting this one as well. Correct? You’re prepping that one now.
Ted: Yeah. We just locked our cast and we’re just getting real close to locking locations.
Ashley: Got you. So I’m curious how people can see Killer Profile. Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like, or when it will be released, or who’s gonna release it? Do you have any information at all? Because I’m eager now to watch, now that I’ve read the script. So it sounds like I’m gonna be really waiting till it comes out.
Ted: Yeah, no, I don’t know. I can’t wait. I mean, MarVista has a million… I think they’re like, their main goal or their biggest client or distributor is Lifetime. I mean, that’s the style. If anything, these days there’s a sub-genre called the Lifetime movie, whether it’s on Lifetime or not. But I think that would be their main goal. But with MarVista, they have so many avenues. I mean, there’s a lot of, and I can’t remember there’s little, some of their notes too, they had asked certain character things or moments because they were like, “Well, this is good for foreign. Foreign likes this kind of, this subplot,” or something. I can’t remember exactly what it was. So there’s a big foreign part to this for what they do. Apparently France and Spain love American melodramas [laughs].
Ashley: Huh. Yeah. Who knew?
Ted: Yeah. And Germany too, I think is a big market or used to be, I don’t know. But with MarVista, it’s gonna be out there all over. It’ll be on Hulu, Netflix, eventually I mean, it goes kind of down the chain as it… you sell it off to the first bidder and they get premier rights and it stays with them for six months forever, and then they can send it somewhere else and eventually it’ll be all over.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. Perfect. Perfect. Well, 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 and I’ll link to in the show notes.
Ted: Yeah. I mean, my as much as I can, Instagram’s a good one. I try to put something up there from each day. I have a fun little hashtag #viewfromtodaysoffice, which is I shoot some random. Because when you’re in movies and you’re… sometimes you’re in the strangest places and you have like, you look at this image or… I try to grab the fun behind the scenes where you can actually see the mechanics of it. To me, that’s cool.
Ashley: Yeah. Well, I really wanna just thank you. I mean, you read some scripts obviously last year, you’re reading some scripts again this year for the contest. So thank you for that. I can’t tell you just as the guy that’s running the contest, how happy I am to see the movie getting made and getting into production. Obviously this is, it’s our first, it was our first year. So I mean, I couldn’t have imagined that it could go this smoothly. In my experience, movies can take a year or five years or 10 years to get made. So getting this thing through production and essentially, I mean, you’ll certainly be done before the end of the year. So less than a year from script to being finished, is an incredible accomplishment. So congratulations on that and I do really appreciate all your help.
Ted: Thanks for hooking me up with Richard. It’s been great, you know?
Ashley: Well, seriously though, I really do appreciate this and you’re welcome any time. When you have your next movie to promote, we can have you back on, you can talk about that one.
Ted: Great. Sounds good.
Ashley: Perfect, Ted. I really appreciate it. Thank you. We’ll talk to you later.
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, Greg Ace Sager. He is an independent producer-writer-director who’s done a number of feature films and he’s on next week to talk about his new psychological thriller called Open Your Eyes. He talks about his career, how he’s been able to make his feature films while living far from Hollywood.
So keep an eye out for that episode next week. To wrap things up I just wanna touch on a few things from today’s interview. I know this whole episode is really just one big advertisement for my contest. So sorry for that, but I do think that there’s quite a bit of value for screenwriters if they really listen to what Ted and Richard have said. If you haven’t listened to the episode with Richard, definitely go back and check that one out, it’s Episode #378, and really listen to Richard and how he wrote this script. He was very familiar with the type of material that MarVista produces. Obviously, Ted is also quite familiar with it since he’s made a bunch of movies with MarVista and he’s worked in various aspects on these movies, AD, from directing them to AD to writer.
So he really understands these things as well. So Richard did his leg work, really understanding the market that he was trying to write in and Ted was able to easily recognize this and get it produced. Really think about just what a marriage this was. It was really just a function of getting these two people together because they both had done the work. Ted had the connections in MarVista. He’s done the work, obviously as a producer and a director, getting that experience that MarVista trusts him and is willing to put a movie in his hands. And as I said on the writer front, and these are things we could all be doing. The stuff Richard did, it didn’t cost him any money.
He just honed in on a specific niche, in this case these Lifetime, female-driven thrillers, and he analyzed it, he watched them and he really got to know these films. So then it was really functional. And he wrote a good version of that. So then it really was just a function of Richard trying to find the right person that could recognize this. And in this case, I’m very happy to be that person and to be that person that gave him that introduction. But I think he would have eventually probably sold this script because he had done such a good job doing that leg work and understanding the market, understanding what it was people like Ted, people, companies like MarVista, what it is they’re actually looking for.
So again, really check that episode out, listen to what Ted has to say, listen to what Richard has to say. By design, I list all of these industry judges on my contest landing page, www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. Just there’s a link at the top that says judges, click on it, and then you’ll be pushed down to the bottom of the page. And you’ll see a whole list of all the judges, including Ted, he’s back this year. But you’ll see a whole list of these judges and their names. Most, I think all of them I’ve linked over to their IMDb pages. So you can really look at them, go to their IMDb pages and see what their credits are. Make use of this information. Check out the judges’ IMDb pages.
See what sort of movies these folks are actually making. Watch those movies. Try and understand why were those movies made? What was it about those movies that these directors, these producers liked? And let that inform your own writing. There’s always this debate about trying to write for the market place or writing what you believe in or this and this, and I just, I never see it as either or. These things can inform our writing. And clearly, Richard in this case, he actually enjoys to sit down with his wife and watch these Lifetime thrillers. He gets some enjoyment. It’s not a disparaging thing he looks at a these Lifetime thrillers, as a lot of people do, looks at them as sort of melodramas, trashy sort of melodramas, pulpy trashy melodramas. No, he took it seriously, he enjoys them.
And when you enjoy something, then you hopefully can put that same enjoyment into your screen, and if you enjoy them then you understand what people are getting out of them, and you understand what people are enjoying in them. So again, I just, I never see this really as a debate of one thing over the other. Oh, write for the markets, or don’t write for the markets, or write what you’re passionate about. I think there is some middle ground, and I think Richard found that middle ground. And I think the more informed you are about your market and who’s gonna actually watch this movie, the better off you’re gonna be. Obviously you need to have passion for the project, you need to have an understanding of the material, a respect for the material.
I mean, you’re not gonna be able to, if you look down on Lifetime thrillers, obviously you’re not gonna write one that people that like these movies appreciate. It’s gonna ne snarky, sarcastic, and kind of looking down on these things. Obviously, Ted would not have responded to something like that. Again, just really listen to what Richard had to say. Listen to what the legwork is that he did and then listen to what Ted has to say. I think there’s some good value and it’s not surprising, you listen to these two people and it’s not surprising they were able to get together and actually get a movie made. Anyway, once again, if you do have a low-budget script, check out the contest page. Again, it’s just www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest.
Look at the industry judges, use the information that’s out there and use it to your advantage and let it at least inform some of your own writing. Anyway, that’s the show. Thank you for listening.