This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 397: With Writer/Author Geoffrey D. Calhoun.
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #397 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing screenwriter and fellow podcaster Geoffrey D. Calhoun. He runs the successful screenwriter podcast, which you can find anywhere podcasts are available, and he’s also a screenwriter, and we talk very specifically about how he’s been able to get gigs and get projects produced. For him it’s been a lot of networking. He has a very unique way of doing his networking and he goes into some real detail about it. So stay tuned for that interview. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leaving me a comment on YouTube or re-tweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook.
These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast. So they are very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #397. If you want my free guide- How To Sell A Screenplay In Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks, along with a bunch of bonus lessons.
I teach the whole process of how to sell 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 its everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. Just a quick few words about what I’m working on. So on The Rideshare Killer, we are still meeting with distributors that our sales agent is bringing to us. So hopefully we will settle on one soon. I’ve actually started writing another spec as I’m trying to get some other projects going. I have a short film, I’ve got an actor friend that would like to do a short film. So I’ll probably try and do that sometime here in the next few months. But in the meantime, I’m just working on this spec.
It’s actually been quite a bit of fun writing the spec. I really haven’t done a spec like this in quite a while. There’s a lot of freedom in it. You’re really, at least in the beginning, you’re really only writing it for yourself, and there is something to that. It’s a sci-fi epic, so it’s a bit outside the scope of what I’ve been producing myself. But I’d like to just have this one in sort of my quiver of scripts. If I ever get the opportunity to direct something much larger, this would be like a cool project to have. Quick update on the contest. We’ll be making our second round announcement on September 27th. So obviously that’s been a big part of what I’ve been doing lately, starting to read some scripts and really look through them, spending a lot of time getting them out to the industry judges.
Again, that’s September 27th, we’ll make our second round announcement. So if you entered contest, definitely keep an eye out for that. We’ll send out email to everyone, but we’ll also be posting it on the website. As you might remember last year’s winner was a writer named Richard Pierce, who I interviewed on podcast Episode #378. His film actually was produced and it actually premiered on Lifetime a couple of weekends ago. I record these podcasts a few weeks in advance and I actually didn’t get word out, so I couldn’t get the announcement out in the podcast. But it was renamed, when it originally was entered into the contest by Richard was actually called Friend Request.
At some point once it got sold, it was renamed to Killer Profile, but now that it’s actually showing on Lifetime, the Lifetime network, they’ve renamed it to Do You Trust Your Boyfriend? So keep an eye out for that film, Do You Trust Your Boyfriend, on Lifetime. I’m sure they’ll be running it again. I think they usually, they have a whole template where they take these films and they run them a bunch of times. So definitely keep an eye out for that. And I’m sure it’ll eventually as well end up on the various Video On Demand platforms. So hopefully I can make an announcement there. But this is a good example of a low budget script that kind of went through some development process, obviously the contest.
Definitely listen to the episode with Richard, again, that’s Episode #378. He was really clear in exactly what he was trying to write. He was writing a Lifetime movie. He knew that from the jump, and I think that was a big part of his success. And he really goes into some great detail in that on the podcast episode. But again, the movie is called Do You Trust Your Boyfriend, and I highly recommend you watch the movie and then also check out the podcast episode that Richard did with me. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing screenwriter Geoffrey D. Calhoun. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Geoffrey to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Geoffrey: Thanks for having me on Ashley. This is awesome.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Geoffrey: I grew up in the Detroit area. I mean, I’ve always loved films and television. I actually stumbled into screenwriting on a bet. A friend of mine was an editor for a local kids show, and like a Saturday morning show, and he wanted to get into screenwriting. So he put an open call out to everybody, nobody responded. So I was like, “I’ll do it.” So then we, I learned how to write a screenplay, ended up falling in love with it, and here we are 15 years later.
Ashley: Did you have any… before that were there any like sort of thoughts of, I could be a writer or a screenwriter? Did you have any aspirations before that?
Geoffrey: It never even weighed on me. I mean, I’m actually dyslexic. So I own that. So being a writer never really occurred to me. After I started screenwriting for about four or five years I just really loved it, but I never thought this is something you can get paid to do. And then one day it just stumbled on me. This nice old woman asked me if I enjoyed what I did for a living at the time, and I realized, oh no. She said, “You got to do what you love.” I was like, “Well, I like writing.” So I ended up really pursuing that.
Ashley: And all the Star Wars paraphernalia I see behind you, and I mentioned this on your podcast, I’m a big Star Wars fan. I mean, clearly you were into that sort of stuff, films and movies. It was love.
Geoffrey: Yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, I’m a Generation X, a Latchkey Kid, right? So I grew up in front of the TV. So I mean, I love all the… I watched films all day long and it was always my escape. To this day, pre-COVID, I would go to the theater by myself even and just hang out in the theater and watch films, because I just love that environment. And taking in story, because story is tradition and I feel like it makes us better people as well.
Ashley: Yeah, you’re so right. I used to go to the movies alone as well, and there is some sort of calming effect, especially in the day when nobody else is there. You mentioned that you were dyslexic. I also am slightly dyslexic. I’m curious. Well, I’m curious, how would you think that’s affected your writing and how have you overcome it?
Geoffrey: It’s a superpower dude. Like being dyslexic… So dyslexics think visually. It’s just the way that our brains are. We think in pictures. Since you think in pictures, when it comes to screenwriting, it’s a visual medium in a written form, so you can see the scene already. You just have to translate it, which is a lot more difficult for people who aren’t dyslexic because they have to learn how to think visually, but we already do.
Ashley: Interesting. So when did this, when did you get diagnosed and how did you work through this? It sounds like you know a lot more about it than me.
Geoffrey: When I was a little kid I was in the special reading class. So it was me, it was the girl who had just come in from China, and then there was somebody who was suffering with, I mean, they didn’t diagnose it, but I’d have to assume it was some kind of a significant autism. So it was just us three in the class, and I couldn’t alphabetize to save my life. So what I used to do during break and lunches is, I would pack extra Hostess Cupcakes in my lunch bag and then I would just bribe one of the other kids to like help me alphabetize or help me check my reports and things like that because they were spelled so poorly.
Ashley: That’s funny. I had terrible handwriting, I still have terrible handwriting. And I’m a terrible speller, which I always attributed to the dyslexia. Still, even as an adult I’m a terrible speller. You can find my Selling Your Screenplay, you can find lots of spelling typos and stuff. I get people emailing me all the time. The other big thing I’ve found is I’m a very, very slow reader and that’s been probably I’d say the biggest thing that’s hampered me as a screenwriter. How have you dealt with that? Are you a slow reader, and have you been able to overcome that?
Geoffrey: Well, I run www.wefixyourscript.com, so we do a lot of film, like script analysis and stuff like that. So what I end up doing is I bring in affiliates who work with me staff-wise, and then I make sure that they’re fully vetted and then they help kind of all the over flow. But yeah, I am a slow reader. It can take me a long time to read a script, but when I read that script I’ll tell you, I know everything about it.
Ashley: Let’s dive into some of your projects. I just looked at your IMDb page, and let’s start with some of these credits. On SOS and Sirens of Chrome, you have a contributing writer credit. I’m curious. What exactly does that mean? What did you… what part did you take in the writing of this?
Geoffrey: So SOS I was brought on to fix that gate before it went into shooting. So I had, they had run into several screenplay issues because they just had a bunch of writers on it. So I came in right before shooting and I did a huge rewrite on it. I came in and fixed that for them and they were happy with it. Then they went into shooting with a consistent storyline. Sirens of Chrome, I’ve been on that project on and off just helping the director really delineate story for it. So he’ll kind of, trying to tell a true life story and he just needs help focusing. So I come in and I help them rework aspects of story and subplots for that.
Ashley: Got you. And how did you find these gigs? What is your method for finding gigs like this?
Geoffrey: It’s always networking, man. That’s the secret weapon. So people end up finding me really. People know people that I know and they say, “I have a hard time. The script is in trouble, we’re shooting next Wednesday.” Then they go, “Oh, well Jeff fixes scripts.” So then I end up coming into the practice. That’s usually what happens.
Ashley: Got you. I wonder if you could do like… take us through one of these specifically. Who hired you and exactly how did that sort of line go?
Geoffrey: I get brought in by the directors. First, we’ll have a meeting and we’ll talk about like, if I can bring value to the project. Because I don’t wanna come onto a project that I can’t help, especially if they’re in a pinch. So we’ll talk about what the concept is, what the issues are. Then they’ll send me the script and I’ll look the script over and I’ll be like, “Okay, what can I do for this?” But the other thing is like, I love a challenge. So if a script is like in a lot of trouble, I get really fired up about it. I’m like, “Yeah, I can work on this.” So then I’ll work on that script and really try and fix it. And I’ll tell them, “This is what I think I can do, but I need freedom to be able to do it.” So they’ll be like, “Yeah, yeah, go for it.”
Or they’ll give me parameters if they’re stuck on locations and things like that, and I’ll take all of those into effect. It’s just a lot of fun for me.
Ashley: Got you. So it sounds like on Sirens of Chrome, this was a director. Was this a director that you had worked with previously?
Geoffrey: No, it was the first time. A really great guy and we got along. He took me to dinner and he said…
Ashley: Who hooked you guys up?
Geoffrey: He actually found me at a film mixer.
Ashley: Just someone you’re networking and just chatting with people.
Geoffrey: Yeah. Yeah, I go there. I go to film mixers and sometimes I have my little booth. I’ll do like book signings at the booth or I’ll rep the company. And he saw me, we sat down and started chatting and pulled up a chair. He’s a good guy.
Ashley: Okay. So tell me about this. What are these film mixers? Where did you find that?
Geoffrey: Well, you can go any… So I’ll do them at film festivals. You’ll have like networking events, I’ll be there. Or we have…
Ashley: And you’ll pay for a booth and actually set up a booth and try and sign autographs and sell your book, is the idea.
Ashley: I got you.
Geoffrey: Yeah, I’ll do that as well. Yeah. Or locally at the Royal Starr Film Festival in Detroit, we have monthly film mixers where you can go and mix with producers, directors, actors, all kinds of talent. Then I’ll be there with my little booth hanging out, chatting with people.
Ashley: Okay. That’s perfect. And that’s actually something I’ve never heard someone getting gigs that way. So there’s a little bit of new information for the listeners. I noticed on IMDb too, you’ve done a bunch of documentaries. How do you think those prepared you to be a writer of fiction? Screenplay writing fiction?
Geoffrey: Documentaries are really interesting because it’s a whole different way of looking at writing a script. Because you don’t just have to do the visual, you also have to do the audio and the narrative. So you actually split a documentary screenplay into three different columns as you’re writing it, so it’s like a whole new way of looking at it. Then you have all of the source material that you have to work with as well to help weave the narrative. So it’s just this, kind of like this wonderful puzzle game. But as far as working in fiction, I think for me it’s all about that story. So even if it’s fiction or nonfiction with the documentary, you are still working in, what is the story I’m trying to tell?
What is the character that I’m trying to help express throughout this entire story? Is there a theme that I’m weaving into it? So all of the elements are there, it’s just how you kind of bake the cake, I guess.
Ashley: Got you. And on something like a documentary, how is it actually written? Do they hire the writer before they’ve shot a frame of film? Do they go and shoot a bunch of footage, then bring in the writer to start work with the footage and wrangle it into a coherent story?
Geoffrey: I’ve seen both. So I’ve seen projects where I’ve come on and they just have an idea and then we start kind of sussing out the idea, do a bunch of the research and then they go and do the recording. Or I have ones where they’ve done all the recording already, but they’re still having trouble finding the narrative. So then I’ll come in and I’ll tweak the script and redo dialogue or redo narration to help create that narrative so they can keep the audience engaged throughout the story.
Ashley: Got you. And what are you actually doing? Like, it seems to me if they already have footage, do you have basically like a script and so then you change the script and then the editor looks at the script and implements those changes?
Geoffrey: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll go through and I will change the narrative. I’ll change dialogue, they can rerecord dialogue, that’s happened. They can go through and they can re-edit it sections out. They can go through, and even if they have all the footage already, I’ll be like, “Well, you need extra footage for this because you’re not explaining exactly what you’re trying to say to the audience.” So they’ll go get new footage. So there’s, you can definitely piecemeal it all together.
Ashley: Got you. You have two of these credits, Crop Circle Realities, Occult Journeys, how did you get those gigs? Again, let’s just run through it, like with Crop Circle Realities, how did that one, how did you get hired on that one?
Geoffrey: Oh, that’s Darcy. Darcy is awesome. So I met Darcy, we’re on the film festival circuit actually. So we ended up having pizza together [laughs].
Ashley: Okay. Who is Darcy? She’s a producer?
Geoffrey: No, he’s a director and a writer as well, and he likes to do documentaries and all kinds of fun, like paranormal things, supernatural things. Those are topics that really interest him. So that’s what he likes to dive into and it’s his niche. We were just chatting and he was like, “Hey, I need help with this one doc,” and I was like, “Absolutely.” And I just kind of rolled into it and it was just a ton of fun.
Ashley: Got you. It looks like earlier in your career, you started with a couple of shorts. How did you get those shorts produced and ultimately, how did those help you along your journey as a screenwriter?
Geoffrey: The first short I did was for a martial arts school that I had trained at and they wanted to do a promo. So we whipped together this kind of like 10-minute short film that was doubled as a promo for them. Then they ended up playing it on a loop in the lobby and that was a lot of fun. Because we went on locations, we did shooting and all that stuff. So it was pretty cool.
Ashley: Got you. And on your most recent credit is a film called Finding Nicole, what’s that project all about?
Geoffrey: Well, that’s an amazing project. That’s a true story that I was honored to be able to adapt about a woman who left her ex-husband after he tried killing her and the kids. Then he hired an assassin after he was put in prison to come after her. So I was, it was on the local news. It actually hit national news. I think she was on CNN about it. So that ended up getting picked up by a director. The director knew of me, approached me with it. I said, “What do you think? I’d absolutely wanna write this story.” I was lucky to have to adapt it. And now they’re in pre-pro.
Ashley: Got you. So you mentioned that this director is the one that hired you. How did you meet that director?
Geoffrey: Again, just Harley Wallen and networking, man. I mean, he knew of me at a film festival. He had saw me on a panel. I did a panel at a film festival on screenwriting. It was Indie Gathering International Film Festival. He saw me there. He ended up stopping by at one of my booths when I was doing a book signing and we just chatted it up and really enjoyed it and I just love meeting and networking with people. That’s how I get my gigs. It’s pretty amazing. I’m very, very thankful.
Ashley: Got you. Let’s talk about your book a little bit, The Guide For Every Screenwriter: From Synopsis To Subplots: The Secrets Of Screenwriting Revealed. So how does your approach differ? I mean, there’s obviously a million screenwriting books out there. How does your approach differ from some of the other books? I’m kind of a fan of Blake Snyder and Sid Field. How does your approach different maybe from those folks?
Geoffrey: All of those, I have a lot of respect for Sid Field, Blake Snyder, all the… Viki King, all those guys. But they all really come, they’re all descendants of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth. If you really look at it, if you do the history, he created the Monomyth, which is the hero’s journey, right? Which is derived from all of different cultures and the different icons and heroes or religious symbols within those cultures, all have followed the same journey. He broke that down. So then that was kind of created from Christopher Vogler who took the Monomyth and then kind of watered it down a little bit into The Writer’s Journey. Then from there, everybody kind of piecemealed their own little structure together.
So you’ve got the Blake Snyder, you’ve got Sid Field and you have other versions of it. So what that has done, is people kind of almost keep watering it down so that the steps get fewer and fewer. Whereas before you had so many, and then you had like 12, then you have like, I have like nine. So I’ve taken that structure and kind of created an amalgamation of all of these different little journeys of the characters and then make it simple to understand. Then I mix in subplots within as well. That’s kind of what separates my book from everything else, is that I include the subplots of where they fall in line with the main plot.
Ashley: Got you. Is there any secrets that you can reveal here on the podcast? Are there some things that you think screenwriters need to know, maybe a little tidbit from the book?
Geoffrey: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. So one of the big things I always find is, a lot of scripts will always be super concept-heavy, but they won’t really incorporate a theme. And when they don’t have that theme, they don’t really have a through line for the story of where to go with it. So if you look at it like this, like the concept is the engine, but the theme is the fuel. So the theme kind of helps guide you of where to go within the story. Otherwise it just kind of turns from set piece into set piece. So I think that is something they really play around with. But the other thing about theme is that your central character’s journey is basically a relationship to the theme, whereas the central character becomes like the living embodiment of the theme.
So you put them on an arc of that theme that causes them to change as a person, not necessarily grow, change. That’s what’s different.
Ashley: Got you. I’m curious, and I keep going back to this networking that you’ve been doing. I’m curious, when you were writing this book was that part of your plan? Was there a plan? You’d been to festivals and recognized that there was some kind of a market there? Because I mean, I’ve written a book, obviously I’ve got my site, so you saw this and you saw that… Had you been going to festivals before you wrote the book and sort of saw that you could get a booth and sell the book there?
Geoffrey: Absolutely. Yeah. So querying was huge and everybody said for a long time, querying was the answer to success. I never agreed with it. And I even had success with querying and I still didn’t think it was the end all be all. Because obviously like with querying, like pulling the lever on a slot machine. You just don’t know what you’re gonna get, but you keep hoping that you’re gonna hit that jackpot. And I though, the best way to do this, really put yourself out there, make people know who you are, network with them, and then eventually build that relationship and that’s gonna lead to work. That’s really succeeded with me. So yeah, I put that in the book.
Ashley: Got you. And you show up at these festivals and it makes you an authority as well, having a booth, having a published book, that sort of stuff plays into them potentially hiring you. Correct?
Geoffrey: I guess, I’ve never really looked at it that way. I’ve just always looked at it that I know what I can bring to the table. So if I get brought on to a gig, then I know I can really provide some value to them and really help with that kind of a script. So I think you have to make sure that you’re at the level to be able to do that.
Ashley: Got you. So what are you… Tell us a little bit about your podcast. What do you have going on over there?
Geoffrey: Yeah. So The Successful Screenwriter podcast is a, it’s hit the top 15 podcasts. I interview screenwriting gurus, instructors, Hollywood writers. I’ve had, yourself that’s gonna be on there. We really break down what helped them find success and what kind of, and I kind of mine them for knowledge that I can pass on to my viewers, and it’s been popular.
Ashley: Got you. And how do people find that?
Geoffrey: Yeah, you can go to… The Successful Screenwriter podcast is on every major podcast platform, but you can go to www.thesuccessfulscreenwriter.com as well and visit the website. It’s got a ton of cool stuff. Yeah.
Ashley: Got you. Perfect. We’ll round that up for the show notes. I always like to just wrap up the interview by asking the guest if there’s anything they’ve seen recently, anything on Netflix, Hulu, HBO that you thought maybe screenwriters could really learn from?
Geoffrey: I actually watched a really cool Norwegian film, I think it was on Netflix or Amazon Prime, called The Mortal, and I thought it was really great. It was like the Norwegian version of Brightburn. I thought it was awesome.
Ashley: Okay. Perfect. I have not heard of that one. So that’s an interesting recommendation. How can people find your book? That’s available on Amazon, wherever books can be found?
Geoffrey: Oh yeah. I mean, you can find it anywhere. I think it’s even sold online at Target. So it’s The Guide For Every Screenwriters, it’s pretty easy to find.
Ashley: Got you. What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, obviously we’ll keep your website in the show notes as well, but are you active on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook?
Geoffrey: I’m on Facebook, I’m on Twitter as @ScreenwriterPod. I’m on Twitter as well. I’m on Instagram as @thesuccessfulscreenwriter.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. We will round those up for the show notes as well. You ended my podcast by the great question, was there anything that I should have asked you that I didn’t? Is there anything you wanted to say that maybe we just didn’t get a chance to talk about?
Geoffrey: No, I think we covered it pretty good. I really appreciate you having me on the show.
Ashley: Geoffrey, I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Geoffrey: Thank you.
Ashley: Thank you.
SYS’s From Concept to Completion Screenwriting Course is now available. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse. It will take you through every part of writing a screenplay, coming up with a concept, outlining, writing the opening pages, the first act, second act, third act, and then rewriting. And then there’s even a module at the end on marketing your screenplay once it’s polished and ready to be sent out. We’re offering this course in two different versions. The first version you get the course, plus you get three analyses from an SYS reader. You’ll get one analysis on your outline and then you’ll get two analyses on your first draft of your screenplay. This is just our introductory price.
You’re getting three full analyses, which is actually the same price as our three-pack analysis bundle. So you’re essentially getting the course for free when you buy the three analyses that come with it. And to be clear, you’re getting our full analysis with this package. The other version doesn’t have the analysis, so you’ll have to find some friends or colleagues who will do the feedback portion of the course with you. I’m letting SYS Select members do this version of the course for free. So if you’re a member of SYS Select, you already have access to it. You also might consider that as an option. If you join SYS Select, you will get the course as part of that membership too. A big piece of this course is accountability. Once you start the course, you’ll get an email every Sunday with that week’s assignment.
And if you don’t complete it, we’ll follow up with another reminder the next week. It’s easy to pause the course if you need to take some time off, but as long as you’re enrolled, you’ll continue to get reminders for each section until it’s completed. The objective of the course is to get you through it in six months, so that you have a completed polished screenplay ready be sent out. So if you have an idea for a screenplay and you’re having a hard time getting it done, this course might be exactly what you need. If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse. It’s all one word, all lower case.
I will of course link to the course in the show notes, and I will put a link to the course on the homepage up in the right hand side bar. On the next episode of the podcast, I’m gonna be interviewing Brendan Steere, who is a writer and director who just did a really fun film called The VelociPastor, about a pastor who kills dinosaurs. It looks like a really cool fun film. So definitely check that out if you have a chance before the interview next week. Brendan talks to us about his career, how he got into the business, worked his way up. And then we talk specifically about the VelociPastor, which actually started out as a short film. We talk through that a bit, as well using a short film to eventually get your feature film produced. So keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.