This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 389 With Writer/Director Craig Moss.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #389 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, Craig Moss. He started out in the business doing spoofs, including a famous short called Saving Ryan’s Privates, which we talk about briefly in this interview. And then he did some feature spoofs and slowly has worked his way into doing thrillers, and he has a new thriller that he just completed called Let us In. So that will be the focus of the interview with Craig today. 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 only a couple more weeks. 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 a lot of industry judges reading the scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away thousands in cash and prizes. This year, we have a short film script category, 30 pages or less. So if you have a low budget short script, by all means, submit that as well. 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 #389. 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. 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’m working on. So we’re still plugging away with The Rideshare Killer. As I mentioned over the last couple of weeks, our film is playing at a couple of film festivals, including Action On Film in Las Vegas.
I’m recording this a few weeks before the festival, so I still don’t have an actual specific screening time, but hopefully we’ll get that soon. If you’re in Las Vegas and you wanna check out The Rideshare Killer, just drop me an email and I will let you know certainly by the time this episode publishes, we should have the exact screening date. But the festival takes place from June 26th through August 1st. So the film will be screened sometime between those dates. We’ve actually been accepted to a number of festivals at this point. But I’m finding they’re very, very disorganized. I’ve been to Action On Film before, and Del obviously, I had him on the last week, and so he’s very organized. He’s done this before.
So his festival is really pretty well run, but a lot of these others, for instance, one, we sent a screener link to… you know, we got accepted, we sent them a screener link, but we could never get in touch with anybody. No phone, email, we could never actually track someone down. Our film was scheduled to screen in person. It looked like I can tell from my Vimeo stats that they downloaded the password protected version of the film or it seemed like they did anyways. But we never heard back from them. I have no idea if the film screened, no one from our cast or crew could go. So I don’t even know if the film was screened. We had another one that at least on FilmFreeway, made it seem like it was gonna be an in-person event.
And then of course they switched to online. Obviously with COVID we kind of understand this, but we’ve been talking to some distributors and they are a little bit skeptical about doing these online festivals because there’s many outlets that wanna buy a film and they wanna get like the premier rights. They don’t want it to have been shown anywhere. Doing an in-person festival is sort of a little bit out… it’s sort of carved out of that. But these online festivals, they’re selling tickets and they’re screening online, so theoretically anybody in the world can see the movie through this festival. So the festivals, I don’t know about these online festivals. They distribute, you know, you don’t get completely clear answers because this is sort of a new thing.
So no one is quite sure how this is gonna shake out, but from the filmmaker perspective we don’t want our films screened online. We don’t make any of that money. The festival charges people basically to come and watch your movie, they don’t pay you anything. In fact, we paid them to be in the festival. So it just doesn’t seem quite right. Again, and this festival at least through FilmFreeway, made it seem like they were going to do an in-person event this year. Again, another one, we emailed them and just never heard anything back. Again, I understand that this is COVID, it’s definitely an issue, but I do think there’s a lot of room for improvement with the festivals. So that’ll be something I kind of have been thinking about.
And then, yeah, we’ll be going to these festivals, so I’ll have a little more experience after these next six months going into all of these. Anyways, that’s the big thing that I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer- director Craig Moss. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Craig to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Craig: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. 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 business?
Craig: Grew up here in LA, which I know is a shocker. Not many of us are based, starting out in LA. Usually there’re a lot of exports here. And I being in LA, just always loved the filmmaking thing. Like that was my, that was always my dream. And so I did a few short films. One became very popular. It was a parody of a movie called Saving Private Ryan, but ours is called Saving Ryan’s Privates. Not the porn. It wasn’t a porno.
Ashley: Yeah, and I… let’s dig into that a little bit. I was in LA in 1998 or whenever this came out. And I remember it, I remember it sort of just, I don’t think I ever saw it, but I do remember it. And I’m curious, what did you guys do to promote it? And it seems to me during that timeframe, there was tons of Blair Witch spoofs. There was tons of like, people were just making these sort of short spoofs. And in fact, I had friends that were out there making them. What did you guys do? What do you think elevated yours above all these other short spoofs that were getting made and what did you guys do to promote it?
Craig: Yeah, so our parody was one of the first ones. So, it was before the Blair Witch thing. It literally, and I’ll be honest with you, like right when ours was sort of sent out and I’ll just let you know what I mean by that. But when it was sent out, then literally within that next month, there was like all of these. There was like a George Lucas in Love, which was like a Star Wars parody. There was the Blair Witch, there was… I mean, they had a million of them. It was like a, you know… So for us it was easier because we were like the one of the first. And so what happened was, the way we… you know what, we didn’t really didn’t have to promote it, because once we… that’s the great thing about parodies, is that you’ve got the built-in marketing because you’re spoofing an existing entity that’s already popular.
So the marketing’s already sort of geared in there. And so what happened was when we did the short, my manager just sent it back. Then he would send the tape, the VHS tape and you would… they would have the couriers sent it out to production companies and studios, and they would watch it. And I guess it was sort of a hot thing where in the studios, they were mass producing them in their VHS machines, and they were sending them out. Anyways, so the bottom line is, it got in the trades and became kind of its own thing. And then, which was amazing, because it helped start my career. That film was very, very instrumental.
Ashley: So it sounds like you already had like some pieces in place, like you had a manager or agent or something. You had somebody to start sending this out. So take us back then. When you first started out on this career, how did you get to that point where you actually had an agent or manager?
Craig: It was a tough road, but what happened was I had a writing partner at the time, Steve Schoenberg, we had written a spec, and Steve was working at New Line Cinema and distribution. So what happened was, he gave it to, handed over to a development guy there, a guy named Bryan Hickel, and Bryan loved the script that we wrote. He sent it over to a manager named Warren Zide, and a guy named Chris Bender read it and really loved it, and then repped us from that spec. We didn’t end up selling a spec, but we were, that’s how we got our representation through that. And then once we did Saving Ryan’s Privates, which I just directed it, there were two writers, Brent Goldberg and David Wagner.
And so what ended up happening was, once that got out there, then all the agents wanted to sign us. And so my manager sort of led us down that road and we ended up signing with one of the bigger agencies and kind of started that way.
Ashley: Okay. So then take us along. Then what happened? Once Saving Ryan’s Private sort of got you to this next step, what were some of those next professional steps that you took? Did you start to get writing assignments, did you have some specs that you got out there?
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that was during the time when the spec market was amazing and Steve and I and my writing partner, we were writing specs like crazy and selling them like crazy. I mean, we had great managers, Chris Bender and JC Spank, God rest his soul. We love JC. He was an amazing salesman and Chris was great at development. So he would help us develop these screenplays and we sell them up all over town at different places, all the studios. And then, which was terrific, the only problem was that these screenplays weren’t getting made into films, but we were getting paid well for it, but it still was not satisfying. And so then the writer strike happened in 2008, and we had a film at Fox at the time that we thought was good to go, but then the writer strike just stopped everything.
So I had to kind of figure out, I have got kids and mortgage and all that. I had to figure out, okay, how are we gonna turn this around? And so I thought, you know what, I got to get back into the directing thing. So me and a fellow writer Brad Kaaya, who had written some things, and I used to work with him on other projects that we sold. We wrote the parody… What ended up happening was, we were going around town trying to pitch a comedy. And they basically said to us, unless you’re Judd Apatow, you’re never gonna sell a comedy. It’s just not gonna happen. So we thought, okay, we’ll Judd Apatow obviously, he’s this sort of… he’s this genre in himself. And because all the… every comedy that was released within those two years that we were trying to sell stuff was Judd Apatow.
So we thought, okay, well maybe we should parody those films. So then we… which was kind of a weird idea, but we ended up writing this little short trailer called The 41 Year old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Super Bad About It. So we basically parodied all those movies and put them into this little trailer we shot over a weekend and we shot it for nothing. And then again, my reps went out with it and there was a producer who loved it and said, if I can get Fox to hop on board, we can start shooting this thing next month. And I mean, that was crazy talk because I’ve sold all these screenplays and nothing was ever made, and we didn’t even have a script. It was just a trailer. And so a week goes by, comes back to us, says Fox is interested, how quickly can you get us a screenplay?
So we literally wrote it in like two or three weeks, and if you watch the movie, you can tell that it was written two or three weeks. And so we literally… Ash. R was the producer and he said we were to go into production in a month. So it was just so bizarre that whole process. So we ended up shooting it for like nothing. I mean, it was like a $1.2 million film, but it was the greatest experience being able to shoot a feature film, because I’d only shot short films. So we did that and the movie, as weird as it was and as crazy as the film was, it performed well. So that sort of launched us.
Ashley: Yeah. I’m curious, what do you think the difference was? Why did this film go and why did some of your other scripts not go, are there any lessons to be learned in that?
Craig: I think because first of all, this wasn’t a theatrical film. This was a in demand, straight to DVD as they call it, movie. So the bar was a little lower for that. But in addition, it was about the title and it was about, it’s a parody, so it’s the comedy and it’s the development process for parodies is a lot different too, you know? And so I think with all those things, it became this fast track project that just became a quick movie to make.
Ashley: Yeah. So I’m curious, as you were going along in your career, obviously Saving Ryan’s Privates is a spoof, and then 41 year old Virgin is a spoof. There’s always that screenwriting advice that, get known in a particular niche or sub niche or sub-genre. And then, so that’s sort of your calling card. And now we’re about to talk with your new film Let Us In, is clearly a departure from that. Did you find it… number one, do you recommend that advice, picking a lane and sticking in it? And then how did you ultimately break out of that lane? I noticed on IMDb, at some point you started to do more of like thrillers. I noticed there’s a couple of Mar Vista films on there. Maybe you can sort of segue into that. Number one, do you think picking a lane is a good idea? And then how did you actually get out of it and get some of those films, those thriller films that we’re not spoofs?
Craig: Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s a great question. The parody thing was just obviously, it became a sort of quick track to getting, just to get somewhere. After writing all these screenplays that were just straight up comedies and a tougher route to go, this was just a quicker track. I was lucky because the producer that did the 41 Year Old, the next project he wanted to do was an action film, and it was based on, inspired by a real person. And so the producer, Ash, wanted me to write and direct the film. So it was this action comedy and it was called Bad Ass and it was with Danny Trejo. And then ultimately we had Ron Perlman and then we did… it did well, so we did two more and we had Danny Glover.
So it was Danny Trejo and Danny Glover, these old dudes who went out and kicked ass and a lot of fun. Kind of like Lethal Weapon or Rush Hour. Anyway, so the bottom line is, so I was doing these action films. And then I was approached by a producer and she had a thriller and I loved the script and I’ve always wanted to do that. And so she gave me the chance to do that. And we shot that out in Ohio, and then I did a couple, I did a couple of movies for a Cartel in Mar Vista that were thrillers. So I was lucky enough to kind of bounce around and do different genres, which was, which I was very fortunate.
Ashley: Got you. Got you. Let’s dig into your latest film, Let Us In. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this new film all about?
Craig: Well, it’s inspired by this online urban legend called The Black Eyed Kids. I don’t know if anyone’s ever heard or seen this online, but it’s a bunch of teenagers that wear hoodies that have completely black eyes. There’s no whites in their eyes and they’re very creepy and they go up to people in their homes or people are in their cars that are parked in a parking lot. They’ll knock on the window and asked to be let in, which is this metaphor for them being abducted. And so I loved that urban legend and then created a story around that based on a 12 year old girl who lives in a small town, who’s ostracized in a small town, and people are missing. A lot of her friends and other people. So she has to take matters in our own hands and figure out what’s going on, and so she becomes this hero.
Ashley: And where did this idea come from? I mean, just looking at it, it had a lot of the stranger days, sort of those ‘80s kids’ movies sort of feel to it. Where did the idea come from for this one?
Craig: Well, so I’ve always been a fan, and Joe as well, who also was a co-writer on it, Joe Claro of, those films and goonies was a big inspiration, but we kind of felt like at this point in time, there weren’t a lot of those films and there was this sort of lacking piece to the marketplace of the sort of younger set Sci-fi thriller films with some adventure to them. So that’s… I wanted to… we decided Joe and I, to tap into that and to kind of create a film that filled that void. So, yeah.
Ashley: And maybe you can talk a little bit about your collaboration with Joe. What does that actually look like? Are you guys in the same room? Do you come up with an outline and divide up the scenes and you write a scene, he writes a scene. How does your collaboration actually work?
Craig: Beat sheet. Everything’s about the beat sheet, very specific, detail everything out. And that was what I learned when I was with the Chris Bender, and that’s been a key to writing screenplays for me. Very detailed and then writing and then sending pages to each other and then revising and doing it that way. It doesn’t really work for me in the room. I have to kind of… development wise we can do it that way, but for writing purposes, it doesn’t… I can’t… I just, for me personally, I can’t do that.
Ashley: Got you. How long when you guys are working on this beat sheet, how long does that take? And I’m sort of curious, just in terms of like the beat sheet verse the actual writing of the script, how much is in that. How much time is put into that beat sheet, and then once you have a beat sheet, how much time to actually whip out the script?
Craig: Yeah. So I would say to develop it and get the beach sheets, three weeks to a month. And then to write it, same thing. It’s probably around three weeks to a month to write it.
Ashley: And so for something like this, what does the development process look like? Do you have agent manager, you send it? Do you have other writers, you send it out? What does that development process look like for you?
Craig: Yeah, absolutely. All the above. I sent it to, I have fellow writer friends, colleagues that I send, that I trust, that I send it to, get their notes. Also to my reps as well, get their notes and then obviously implement all that into it.
Ashley: Got you. And maybe you can talk a little bit about taking notes. Certainly you’ve probably had some writing assignments where you got notes that maybe you didn’t agree with. How do you get through those notes that you don’t necessarily agree with? How do you take notes on something like this from friends, how do you sort of distill those down and figure out which notes you wanna address and which ones you don’t?
Craig: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I mean, I think like when you’re in that, when you’re dealing with a production company and you’ve got these development people or CEs that are giving you notes, you got to obviously be open to everything, but you don’t have to take everything. They don’t, nobody knows, I mean, you know the smart ones and you know the people that are just trying to put their fingerprints on everything. And so you kind of have to go with your gut but you can’t let your ego get in the way and you have to figure out what’s best for the project, what’s best for your material, because if you let your ego get in the way, you’re never gonna get to where you wanna be. And that’s kind of the way it’s working.
And as far as fellow writers, I like notes from them because they’re smart and they do it from a writer’s perspective. And so I find those very, very valuable.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. For sure. How can people see Let Us In? Do you know what the release schedule is going to be like?
Craig: Yeah. From what I understand, so it’s being released July 2nd, and it’s gonna be on all the On-Demand platforms. It’ll be on Apple TV, it’ll be on Google Play, Roku. It’ll be on iTunes, I think on like direct TV. I think it’s everywhere for the most part. So I think they’re doing a good release with the film.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. Yeah. People can keep an eye out for it. 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 put in the show notes so people can click over to it.
Craig: I’m the worst when it comes to social media and my kids make fun of me. But I am starting to, and my daughter who obviously is in the movie, she’s gonna help me launch some things now that the movie’s gonna be coming out. So once I get that, I will make sure that information gets sent out.
Ashley: Got you. Craig, I really appreciate you coming and talking with me.
Craig: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Ashley: No problem at all. Good luck with this film and good luck with any feature films as well.
Craig: Appreciate it. Look forward to seeing you soon.
Ashley: Sounds good. Bye.
Craig: Okay, bye- bye.
Ashley: I just wanna talk quickly about SYS Select. It’s a service for screenwriters to help them sell their screenplays and get writing assignments. The first part of the service is the SYS Select screenplay database. Screenwriters upload their screenplays along with a logline, synopsis and other pertinent information like budget and genre, and then producers search for and hopefully find screenplays they wanna produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of this service, you can find out about all the SYS Select successes by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also on SYS Podcast Episode #222, I talk with Steve Deering who was the first official success story to come out of the SYS Select database.
When you join SYS Select, you get access to the screenplay database along with all the other services that we’re providing to SYS Select members. These services include the newsletter, the monthly newsletter goes out to a list of over 400 producers who are actively seeking writers and screenplays. Each SYS Select member can pitch one screenplay in this monthly newsletter. We also provide screenwriting leads, we have partnered with one of the premiere paid screenwriting leads services, so I can syndicate their leads to SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently we’ve been getting five to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut.
There’s producers looking for a specific type of spec script to producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas or properties. They are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series, pilots, all types of projects. If you sign up for SYS Select, you’ll get these leads emailed directly to you several times per week. Also, you get access to the SYS Select forum where we will help you with your logline and query letter and answer any screenwriting related questions that you might have. We also have a number of screenwriting classes that are recorded and available in the SYS Select forum. These are all the classes that I’ve done over the years, so you’ll have access to those whenever you want once you join.
The classes cover every part of writing your screenplay from concept, to outlining, to the first act, second act, third act as well as other topics like writing short films and pitching your projects in person. Once again, if this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, please go to www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing writer Tim Long, who’s written for the Simpsons TV show, as well as the Simpsons movie and some Simpson video games. He’s on next week to talk about his new feature film, The Exchange, which is a dramedy about an exchange student who comes to America and lives with a dorky American kid. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.