This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 410 – Making The #1 Movie In the Box Office .
Ashley Meyers: Welcome to Episode 410, the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer director – Christian Nilsson, who just wrote and directed a feature thriller called Dash Cam. We talk in depth about this film and how he was able to pull it all together. It’s another very inspiring story, 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 a comment on YouTube or retweeting 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 mentioned 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/podcasts. And then just look for episode number 410. If you want my free guide How to Sell a Screenplay in five weeks, you can pick that up by going to 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 log on enquiry letter, and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material really is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So, a quick few words about what I’m working on. I’ve been working on a couple of things, we’re still getting the deliverables together for the ride share killer waiting on the poster. But the designs team did send us three mock ups to look at, they all look pretty good. So now it’s just a matter of deciding which one is the best one to use, or maybe tweak them a little bit or maybe even use some of the elements from the three different versions. But that’s what we’re going to be doing here. The next week is just going back and forth with our designers. But it is moving along nicely. And hopefully I’ll have a completed poster here to show everybody very shortly. I think I have found my theatre for the film festival next year. It’s kind of Hollywood East LA area. So, I’m trying to negotiate a price now. But it’s looking good. These folks seem really nice. And they run festivals in this theatre. In fact, I went and looked at it a couple weeks ago. And they were doing some sort of like an experimental film festival there. So, they’re kind of set up for festivals and seemed like cool guys. So just emailing with them trying to get sort of the details all ironed out. But hopefully I’ll have an announcement for that as well. Soon I’d like to launch the film festival, along with next year’s SYS screenplay contest, all at the same time. So, I’m hoping you know, by February, I’ve got everything ready to go. I’m also getting ready to put together our annual budget list, which is our yearly publication that we send out to all our producers, highlighting the best low budget screenplays. Obviously, a lot of these screenplays come from the contest that we run, but also scripts that the readers pull out throughout the year. So, if you’ve gotten SYS script analysis, I’m going to go back to all of my readers and just say; Hey, were there any scripts this year that you guys read through the analysis process that you thought really should be highlighted and pull out and they’ll make some recommendations, and then I’ll look those over. And then we’ll come up with a list of you know, three, four, or five scripts, and then plus the contest scripts. And those will all be included as sort of our best of low budget scripts for the year. And as I said, we send it to all our producer contacts, this is actually going to be our fifth year. And every year, I seem to get a little more traction with this more people ask about it and are reading it. So that’s all very good. If you had a feature script in the contest, and you were a quarterfinalist or better, I sent you out an email on how to get that script listed in the SYS database. And that’s where we really need to script because throughout the year, I’m going to have producers looking through the database. And if the script is listed in there, I’ve created a little tab that basically says, you know, producer can log into the database. And then they just click a link that says, view all the 2021 SYS screenplay contest winners. And so, if you go and input your script into that, you’ll be listed when the producers are searching for that tab. So again, you should have gotten an email from me if you’re a quarterfinalist or above with a feature script. So definitely check that out. If you have a minute, definitely get your script into the SYS database, because it’s definitely going to be a way that I can get some more eyeballs on your script throughout this coming year. Anyways, those are the things that I’ve been working on over the last couple of weeks. So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today, I’m interviewing writer director Christian Nielsen, here is the interview.
Welcome Christian to the selling your screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Ashley Meyers: So, to start out, maybe you tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grew up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so I grew up on the east end of Long Island and was somebody that really always wanted to be making films. I think it’s probably a therapist would tell me it’s because I was a middle child and was just looking for some way to get my parents attention. But yeah, I went to school for filmmaking, to college filmmaking and shortly afterwards moved out to Los Angeles, graduated really at the height of the recession in 2008-2009, and was really surprised that the red carpet wasn’t just rolled out for me upon arrival. And I realized that I really didn’t, I learned how to make a movie, but I didn’t learn how movies were made, if that makes sense. And so, I took whatever sort of jobs I could upon moving out there. And it was an interesting moment of while there wasn’t a lot of money being spent, in a lot of places, as it was a recession. It was an interesting moment where YouTube was just really getting noticed by bigger media outlets. And so, places like the Huffington Post, and Buzzfeed, all of those companies are starting to suddenly think, oh, maybe we should have some sort of video element to our publications. But what is this platform? And so, I found myself in an interesting place where I didn’t have enough experience to get any big jobs. But these jobs in digital media, they were looking for someone that had only my amount of experience, like I was, I had been on YouTube since as we created. And so, I found myself working in digital media, when I couldn’t really find any sort of work in television and film. And because, again, didn’t really know how to even look for those jobs at that point. So, thus started a 10-to-12-year career in video journalism. And at this point, if you looked at my LinkedIn, it would say an Emmy Award winning video journalist. And at this point, I’ve worked for companies like I mentioned, Huff Post, BuzzFeed, Esquire time, I work at the Atlantic right now. And so, I always had a different approach to storytelling compared to a lot of the other people that I worked with that with journalism school, where they were always looking for the headlines of a story I was always looking for, who’s the character here, what is the story of their overcoming. And I think, just my approach to that lends itself to video journalism a little bit more. And I would say the last five years, really started to feel like I’ve gotten I went too far down this road, like this was supposed to be the support path to do what I wanted to be doing creatively. And it really just became the only road that I was on. And so, five years ago, really started focusing on making an independent film and wrote a script, put together $1.3 million of funding for, cast A-list actors from television and film. And we really put together an incredible package that I was in awe that I was going to be directing and had written. And then the pandemic happened. And that project is as long as it took to put together really unraveled overnight. And so, a producer friend of mine and I who was in a similar position, we were just talking about, like how all of this control that we thought we had had, we realized we had no control at all. And so, we had an idea for as to how to get us back on track. And it was this absurd idea of like, could we make a $0, 0 budget film to become the number one movie in the US box office? Do you know the story?
Ashley Meyers: No, no, keep going. This is fascinating.
Christian Nilsson: Okay. And so, we created this film over Zoom, we shot up for $0 It was called unsubscribe. It was just a bunch of YouTubers that we shot over the course of four nights, rented out a movie theatre doing what is called for walling where we essentially had rented out the theatre at the height of COVID, when no theatres were being rented out, bought all the all the tickets with our own money, knowing the money’s just funneling right back into our own pocket because we were into that that theatre. And we did on June 10, 2020, we had the number one movie in the US box office, because of this absurd thing that we did. And the story went viral that night, we were on every morning show, we are on literally every, every digital news outlet. Washington Post, I believe was the sort was the outlet that broke the story. And we started, we were really just trying to show people that we were just trying to take control again after an event had taken all of our control away. And ironically, then, people started to call and people started to say, oh, well, what are these things that we’re working on? What is the film that had fallen apart? And what one call in particular was interesting was someone that was interested in us making a feature film version of Unsubscribed, that Zoom horror movie. But at that point a few zoom horror movies had had had come out during the pandemic, and also that movie was made for the stunt. It wasn’t like the stunt to support the movie, if that makes sense. It wasn’t a film first idea. It was a stunt first. And so, I had countered pitch to them. If you want something like that, I have a better idea of something, they were able to do it at this point, the pandemic, like sag really hadn’t come out the requirements yet. So, I was able to pitch them, this is going to be a one character story, it’s going to be one location, we’ll never have to have two actors in the same spot, we’ll be able to do all the things that made that that short film Unsubscribe successful, but build on that and almost use the limitations of filmmaking in this pandemic, and use those as strengths in this particular story. And that’s how we got we got to the film Dash Cam. So that is a very long answer to what was a very short question.
Ashley Meyers: No, no, that’s, that’s a fascinating story. There’s a fascinating story. And there’s a couple things I want to pick apart on that. Number one, just first, when so much of the entertainment industry is disappointment and rejection. And I’m sure putting this movie together as million-dollar movie together took a lot of effort and stuff, how do you dust yourself off? I mean, this is part of the process. If you’re going to go into this business, you have to kind of get used to some real disappointments. But how do you just psychologically just dust yourself off and get up and keep moving forward in the face of something that that is can be really disappointing.
Christian Nilsson: It felt like a death. And I don’t mean that in any sort of funny way. Like even now thinking back to what that the days that I had realized that all of that work had just kind of fallen apart on me. And right in front of me, despite my best effort. It really felt like a death I was I mourn for it. Also, because I feel like we are taught that you put the work in and it’ll come through and like I was saying before how like I learned in college, how to make a movie, but not how a movie was made. I had spent years filling in those gaps and speaking with people and learning how to do this thing, right. And I and I did this thing, right? I spoke with lawyers wouldn’t had to make a business plan I put together the financials and the comps and all the all the things that you would be taught in a master’s or doctorate level film production courses. I did all of those things. And it worked. And I had success. And it wasn’t easy. I was constantly on the phone and knocking on doors and expanding my network. But you could still do all those things, right? And it could still fall apart and you could still be losing all those pieces. It was honestly it was a really valuable lesson. I think that I didn’t notice it at the time, but I think looking back I probably had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. But oh, my first feature is going to it’s going to be a pretty big feature this this one like I know not a lot of people get to do this thing got that I’m going to be able to do and I’m kind of grateful now looking back but that’s not how it worked out that I had to get much scrappier much, much, much, much scrappier and kind of finding a more creative version of myself in that scrappiness and I will get that film back together. It wasn’t my first and probably won’t be my second. But when that film comes together, it is going to be a much more successful film, I think, both as a storyteller and as and as a producer than it would have been if it if it was the first film that I have produced.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha, gotcha. So, let’s dig into Dash Cam here. And maybe the start, you kind of gave us a little bit of preamble but maybe you can just give us a logline or pitch like what is sort of the logline for Dash Cam.
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so Dash Cam is a psychological thriller that follows an editor who’s working from home who is just working in his local news station and he’s working on what he believes to be a cut and dry story about a police stopped gone wrong that resulted in the death of both the officer on duty and the driver that was pulled over. And while this editor is working on this story, accidentally stumbled upon some video evidence that he was not supposed to see. And so, he uses his skills as an editor to analyze and really investigate this footage. And he thinks do I actually have the opportunity to break a story on the morning news, or is he seeing things that potentially aren’t there?
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha. So, let’s just take us back a little bit. It sounds like as I said, there were some things that were leading up to this movie specifically with Unsubscribed where you were kind of leading into this stuff. But how much of a movie like this, you sort of said it in a derogatory way that Unsubscribed was sort of a trick first or kind of just it was a fad first before it was a story, but how much of it do you have to lean into something like this where there is some high concept, there is some marketability, and you had this, as I said, you were drafting off this Unsubscribe. So how much did that sort of input? How much input did this go into sort of formulating this idea? Sort of and I’m really asking just like the marketing of sort of the business and getting it to what you’re saying, where you learned how to make a movie, but not how movies were made? Like, what are those lessons now that you’re applying to this movie, as you’re thinking about what movie you want to do?
Christian Nilsson: There’s a lot there’s let me know if I’m missing this in my answer. But when I say that Unsubscribe was a stunt first. It was we were really looking at like, what were the pieces that we had to work with. And I wrote a story around that I’ve also I wrote the script in one day, and we and it was filmed four days later. That’s an interesting story to tell at a cocktail party, that’s a way to interest a potential agent or manager. Like no one wants to hear, like really rushed through it. But if we had known at that point that we had access to some of the biggest YouTubers that are on YouTube. And we knew that with their availability, we knew some were available for four days, somewhere down for two days. And so, I really just wrote a horror script around that. I wrote a horror movie that takes place on Zoom. And I had never seen Unfriended, I had never seen searching, I hadn’t put in the research that a filmmaker would put into that field when I did that. All I knew was I was thinking, what if Rear Window happened on a Zoom call? And, and do think beyond that, and putting it together? Again, until I say it was stuck first, it was really, I had always imagined, like, oh, this is going to be a really great YouTube. And then when suddenly, it was everywhere in the press, and people are looking at it. And we had hundreds of 1000s of downloads and views. There was a moment of like, oh, I really wish I spent some time on this one. But the things I learned, I learned about that, I mean, I had already known that stuff like you should, you shouldn’t go into a story, or really any film, even if it is a stunt without it having the merits of a good story. And I don’t think that that was true for Dash Cam. Dash Cam is born out of my love of New Hollywood films, specifically those psychological thrillers that you see in the in the 70s and early 80s. And I was also aware that I probably could have could have told an interesting drama that took place in this time, but I hadn’t seen a screen life thriller that was really done in the way that we had done Dash Cam. And also, I hadn’t seen one that merged screen life with what we think as more classic filmmaking styles. So, I saw that there was an opportunity to, to mix and match things that were already proven and successful in this genre, but also tell a story that also felt unique in this time, I was really aware of when we were making this, that while there was no discussion about what movies were being filmed, especially when we made this in summer of 2020. When we were shooting this in summer 2020, I knew that we were going to see an insane amount of what we would call pandemic films later on. So, it was important to me that whatever dash cam was, I knew I couldn’t ignore the pandemic, but I didn’t want to be I didn’t want to be able to be lumped easily into that conversation. So, I’ve been saying I’ve been referring to it. Now it’s pandemic adjacent, in that it really does play on the confusion that we felt in the moment. It really plays on the isolation. The amount of virtual gatherings that we were seeing the disturbing video, evidence of police brutality, it really felt of the moment we were in, but the pandemic itself is never brought up. When a character is wearing a mask, it’s because they’re agoraphobic or we’ve heard the kind of a germ of why they’re a germaphobe isn’t really explored. So, it’s again, pandemic adjacent. But I was aware that when we were working on this film that that we were going to event, we’re probably going to be released in a moment where there were a lot of these, and I was trying to get ahead of it being somewhat of a tired concept already. What I didn’t expect, though, was that the movie premiered in our film. For anybody that hasn’t seen it talks about a conspiracy going on with the New York State Governor and a cover up of some unspecified investigation. The New York State Governor like the sexual allegations that came out against Governor Cuomo dropped literally the week that we premiered so people were tying those together. It’s like I did not tighten that up.
Ashley Meyers: And so, you know, in this day and age because you mentioned a whole rash of sort of very topical issues like police brutality and you know, the Dash Cams and the body cam footage, the policeman have all of that sort of stuff. How much does that play into, just as an artist, what you’re trying to say? And it seems like America right now is so polarized, you know, if you go one a little bit too far this way, you know, it sounds sort of, oh, you’re bashing Cuomo in this, you are Trumper? How much of this stuff plays into sort of your thinking and what you want to say, as an artist? And how do you navigate that that minefield of being lumped into one of these two camps?
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, that’s a great question. I started this by being aware of what was off limits. And so first and foremost, I am a white filmmaker. I didn’t think touching any story. Any story that touched on Black Lives Matter was my story to tell. I didn’t think that my voice really needs to be injected into that conversation. But I did think I could have a conversation on trusting sources of news that we’re seeing and the way that when we see evidence of police brutality, how that feels as a human being. And so that I was aware of that line. And I was very conscious of how I was walking that throughout the making of the film. And then as far as being polarizing, yes, it’s a great point, I think someone watching this film shouldn’t be able to see my own politics in it. Because I don’t side with either viewpoint. All I’m kind of saying is, our expectations of reality, sometimes cloud how we view that reality. And there’s a lot of examples of that, in the film, Jake will see a Halloween costume. But he’s already come to a judgement of that person. So, he believes that their Halloween costume is a certain costume upon viewing of it, and then realizes that we didn’t have those context clues that he had just given us, we would clearly recognize that costume is something else. When his girlfriend, Mara later in the film is being presented the seen evidence that he is out of order, she comes to a completely different conclusion that he has. So, our expectations of reality, I think, really clouds that and I don’t think that’s a political stance. I just think that that is an acknowledgement of how either side of the aisle believes and grabs hold of information and weaponizes information that that fits them and fits their narrative. I don’t think that I’ve done either of those in this and I even think Jake, throughout the film, doesn’t really even know where he kind of falls. And yeah, yeah, it but it was, it was a hard line to navigate. But I don’t think I ever fell on the others on either side of it.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha. Gotcha. So, let’s just talk about your actual writing process a little bit. I’m always curious just to hear how people write scripts. Where do you typically write, do you have a home office? Do you need, you know, ambient noise at Starbucks? And when do you typically write? Do you have a real set routine? You may more freeform Morning, noon night? What is your writing schedule look like?
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so it is different for Dash Cam. But I do have what normal writing looks like. And then there’s what dashcam looks like I have a, so I’m a full-time video journalist at the Atlantic. And that is I guess you’d call that a nine to five. So, I wake up every morning at five o’clock. And I write and I write for hours into my workday starts and I do have a little home office where I am and it’s quiet. It’s surrounded by my favorite books with my favorite movies. I’ve found writing with just some sort of ambient noise, or music is helpful to me, but though not required. But what is required is in New York, and I and I’m always delivering whatever I’m writing or talking something through to a mirror because if I can’t believe it in the mirror, I can’t write it down. I don’t give myself limits as far as what I’m going to write. But I do have to write until my workday starts. And so, some days, that’s three pages, and some days, that’s 10 pages. I also never go back through what I’m reading until I’ve completed it. But what is interesting, and this is something I hadn’t found somebody else that would get works this way. But this has worked really, really well for me. But again, I did not do this for Dash Cam I finished a script. Maybe I’ll go back and clean it up to the things that I knew that I had to clean. I then put it on the blacklist and I pay for two evaluations people that are negative attitude familiar if you’re going to get people that are going to critique your script, give you notes, but I don’t give them any log lines. Don’t give them character bios, I give them absolutely nothing about my film, because I’m going to get feedback from people that are just cold readers. And eventually, this film is going to go out to the world and is going to be read by people. And they might not read my logline, they might not read the pitching materials that I’m getting, they’re only going to have this script. And so, I feel that this especially this early in the process is invaluable. And then you get that feedback, that generally takes a week or two to get that. While I’m doing that, I go through the script, I use index cards, and I write out every single beat that had happened in a movie on one side of the index card. On the other side index card, I have to write what the conflict is, in that beat, every action needs to have a conflict. If a character, scene I was just writing yesterday, if it’s a character’s making coffee and a 7-Eleven, what is the conflict there, like even the smallest action, I need to be able to peg a conflict for so that one was they couldn’t find the hot sleeves and the coffee was really, really hot. I just feel like I’ve been told that scripts that I’ve written, have good pacing. And I think it’s just because of that, it’s just because every single action has a level of conflict in it. So that’s my next level of feedback. I then again, before every written, I didn’t give that draft out to three or four family and friends, I get all of the feedback from both the blacklist and those family and friends, I also have my own knowledge of like scenes that had conflict and didn’t have conflict. And then I think I have enough information at that point to have educated conversations with people. And I would say 95 to 100% of the time, their notes are going to line up to the problems that I’ve found in my index cards. Like if I couldn’t find what the conflict was of that scene. Or maybe there was no gives no, as far as character growth in that scene. I’ve already found that at my index cards, and I hear that back in my notes. I then take all of that information and I rewrite the script and I don’t go back into my Word file or my final draft and plug and fix those holes. I literally mark the hell out of a script with all those changes. I open a new file and I rewrite the movie. That is how I write every single draft. So, for the film, Westhampton was the film that I had raised money for. It was an eight with eight drafts of that page. I did that process eight times. And things I’ve learned about myself in doing that his first drafts are rough. And that’s fine. I think it’s just about getting the story down. Second drafts, you getting there. Third fourth drafts, you start to notice that like, oh, there’s like, there’s a really nice story here. I don’t know if most stories really needed beyond there. I’ve just found after that. You’re really just building in like layers of worlds, that are really helpful. I wouldn’t, I’ve only written a dress of one script now that that was that script was handed in. And that was a lot because as we got actors coming on, it was incorporating actors notes and things like that. But yeah, that’s kind of my process. I don’t know anybody else that works that way, really helpful to me.
Ashley Meyers: Yeah, some interesting things there. So, on your second draft, third draft, fourth draft, do you continue to get notes from people? Do you have some additional people, you go back out to you to go back out to some of the same people for notes, or it’s just at that point, you’re just honing it yourself?
Christian Nilsson: There are always new people, or there’s always people. I’m sure the people that see the first draft, maybe they’ll see the third draft, they probably wouldn’t see the second draft, there’s different levels of readers. And I think that when we find those just through trial and error, like there are some people that I can send the roughest idea to. And they will be like, ooh, really excited. I hope you’re going down this path. I hope you’re not going down this path. And those conversations are really interesting, especially when you have just the seeds of a concept. I have other people that are incredibly knowledgeable that have real world experience working for studios or whatnot. But if it’s not a movie that you’ve placed in front of them, they cannot fill in the lines to see how the movie gets there. Like, I had one reader of this of this pilot that I just wrote, and they were hung up on like this a subway station I described in New York wasn’t accurate. I put an escalator on a subway station that didn’t have an escalator and they were like, couldn’t, you lost me. I lost them for the rest of the script. Because I put an escalator in a subway station that doesn’t actually have an escalator it’s like they couldn’t just that was enough for them to be like; Nope, doesn’t work. And so, you find you find those readers and so that you just have them real later draft and when you when you know that you could work when you could have, can you work that stuff out. I also have found that, and this is something I had learned from reading Stephen King’s on writing when I was in college, he wrecked that cow, he is avid reader in mind. There’s a person that he was writing his scripts for. And that is true of me too, his is his wife, mine is just was a friend of mine from college. And he’s the only person that might read every single draft. I’ve also found that I now loop him in later. And later in the process, like maybe he’ll read like, he’ll start on draft three, but then he’ll read everyone after that. Because I know, he’s kind of my, if he says it works, it works. And if he sees a problem, there’s a problem. But again, I feel you just kind of find those people by looking. And there’s also people that like, there are people that I’ve given films to that have been cruel and notes, nice people, but cruel in notes. And I think you just kind of realize like, if our scripts are our children, but don’t know how much I believe you don’t give your children to someone that they wouldn’t be safe. Or they’re going to make them feel that they are inhuman. So, you also find those people like there was a moment when I was much younger, when I first moved out to California. But before I worked at London post, a reader from Lions Gate gave me the harshest criticism I’ve ever received on anything. And I’m not saying it wasn’t warranted, and maybe it was worn, maybe the root of their notes were right. But the way in which they were delivered was devastating. And it was years before I wrote another script. And so, you also find those people and you have to avoid them as much as you can.
Ashley Meyers: Yeah, yeah. I’m curious, you have a sort of a very distinct process. How much time do you spend outlining? And how much time do you spend actually in Final Draft cranking out the script pages? Do you go right into the writing? Do you spend a lot of time just formulating sort of an outline, at least in your head? And I’m curious, because you’re the first person writer I think I probably ever told you that does the cards after they’ve got a draft of the script. Typically, the cards are, you know, before the draft. So just talk about that a little bit. What’s your sort of pre writing? And then how much time do you spend on it?
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, I figure out major beats before I write it, but I’m beholden to none of them. There was a script, I actually I abandoned this one because it just wasn’t working. But it just started going in its own place. And the characters I had created just interacted and in a way that was just was slightly different than I had imagined and interacting. And so, I was I’m just kind of let these guys go. But I did set the best example because I did abandon it. Because my god like the end of the third act, I was like, where did this film go? And I just realized that it was probably the wrong characters to tell in that story. Because they were, they felt fully realized and they felt like people that I would love to watch in the film. But I they definitely felt like they were connecting the dots of the beats that I had put together like they should have been in some, like, some heist film, not some like, like indie road-trip movie. But I’ve lost track of your question. Oh, yes, yes, I roughly write out the beats like I know. Like, if there’s, I’m familiar with like, traditional story circle. And so, I might look at that. Are you familiar that you want to break it down?
Ashley Meyers: Yeah, yeah.
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so like, it’s going to start with like, what is the normal life of this character? Let’s sit in on this. Establish that a little bit. What’s the inciting incident that’s going to happen to him that the next beat we’ll call it the end of Act One as unhelpful as that is, but that is going to be he’s now been forced to change and he’s going to commit and I’m saying he, but it could be he or she. Act one, end of act one he’s going to commit, the midpoint of the movie is going to be it’s going to match the ending of our film, but it’s good but it won’t be on his own terms. Like it’ll feel right but everything about it will be wrong. So, what is that then the all is lost, how do we take all these things away from him and then the climax he is final action to get back to everything he wanted, but on his own terms and then the return is on his own terms. Now he’s happy. I’ll throw things in that circle and then start writing. I just need to know that there’s a shape to this. And it also helps me like what I know with the all is lost moment is or the, I guess the low point as extended field would say, when I know what that is I could then create a story in that normal life part that makes this particular character, the worst person ever to be in this story. So, if I know that there’s going to be this, I mean, find Finding Nemo is a great example from if you listen to the scriptnotes.podcast, they talk about this a lot like, we know that there’s going to be a scene where Nemo has to swim, and it’s going to be really difficult. So, you make him a disabled fish. And you give him one weak fin. And so, in me establish that in the beginning. So that when we have that final action word, so you are the worst person for us to be rooting for right now, because you do not have the tools to make this work. So just a bigger obstacle to overcome. All that, assuming I also realize that like, I’ve talked to people that have said, to engineer a store like that is very unhelpful. And I completely see that argument. For me it is just to see like, does the story that I’ve thought of have a shape? Can I get there? Can I get back to that return moment? And tell an interesting story. I will then just start writing. I might instantly realize that the inciting incident, not the inciting incident wanted, and then I’ll just kind of create a different one. Maybe I’ll like redo those points really quick, just to make sure I’m not wasting my time. But yeah, I don’t really need to see the full roadmap when I’m writing. It’s just about finding the characters. And finding some story that has a beginning, middle and end, I’ll find the themes later. I would say that, that’s probably 100% true. The theme of the movie is never in my first draft, I find that theme later, like the start of the script West Hampton I was talking about the theme of that film is like you can’t get home again. When I figured that out in the second draft, it completely informed the third draft. The third draft is when it really becomes a Ooh, this is a solid movie that has a message, didn’t really have a message before that was just vignettes of these of a character, kind of going through emotions. I always describe myself to people like I’m not a first draft screenwriter. I’m not somebody that writes something, and then you can go, and that’s also why I said like Dash Cam wasn’t the case, Dash Cam I had to write really, really quickly. So, I had to do it in a very, very different way.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha.
Christian Nilsson: Yeah. I’ve always felt like I’m, you want to read a script? Like, if I’m not my third draft, you probably shouldn’t see it yet, because I probably don’t fully see yet.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha, gotcha. So, let’s talk about then you have a draft of Dash Cam that you like, bring us through then those that story? How did you actually take that script and get it into production? It sounds like you had some interest from your previous film. Did you get investors up front before you wrote the script? Maybe just walk us through that? How did it go from script to production? Where did the money come from? And how did you get everything together?
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so it was I mean, first I’ll say it’s an ultra-low budget film, like it was a very, very small budget film. But I saw I had made Unsubscribe, producers had reached out to me saying we will fund a feature version of Unsubscribe, I said to them, I have this better idea that I literally thought of earlier that day. And so, I kind of like on the call pitch to them. The story of an editor that gets sent footage tells a different story and he uses his skills and editor to solve the crime. They said write out a summary, we will get on a call with the acquisitions team at Gravatar where they had a connection, we’ll patch you through, we’ll have you cold pitch them and we’ll go from there. And then I expected them to say, give us a call when you have the summary, but they stay so we’re going to schedule a call for later on tonight. So, it was just a; oh, I have to just figure this out. And so, I just quickly wrote down with the story beats of, again, every beat that’s going to happen in this movie, I did I think was probably a bit more traditional but found the conflicts in that initial paper outline and figured it out there, sent that over, got greenlit on that call, they then gave me a production time when it did not make sense, like he was even a scrappy as I was. I never had timeline doing it. I don’t know any movie can get made in this amount of time especially like if you’re not really offering a lot of money.
Ashley Meyers: And what was that like a 10-day shoot, they wanted to shoot a feature in 10 days or five days or something?
Christian Nilsson: It was fully delivered this movie and in three months. Like, write this thing, shoot it, edit it, also you have to scream movie. It’s actually heavily VFX because you’re not actually recording on the television or computer screen, you’re really have to recreate all that stuff. And so yeah, if you’re not hiring graphics art team to do that, that’s somebody, me making those elements to make them realistic. And so, I knew that I really couldn’t do that. But I had gotten into four months. And then which they had agreed to. And so then yeah, it was, within a month, I had written one draft of Dash Cam, I had gotten some notes, and then had like, just kind of plugged like plug those fixes in. In hindsight, like and I don’t know how helpful this is or how much proof of film would want me to say this. In hindsight, I would have caught a big issue that we realized later on with the third act of the film, I think would have been caught in the rewriting of it. Because of this quick process. I didn’t catch a problem that I would face later on. But yeah, and so it was written with, I guess you can call two drafts in one month. And we were shooting it three days later. So, it was very, very, very quick. We shot the film in a total of 14 days, shooting overnights in the East Village. I ended up having to take on about half of the budget as well. In addition to the money that we that we had raised, and also for people that are interested in producing like how it works for this, we had pre sold the exclusive rights of the film.
Ashley Meyers: To Gravitas?
Christian Nilsson: To kamikaze dog fight who has an output deal with Gravitas.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha.
Christian Nilsson: Yeah. So that’s our budget was essentially our like, if you want to call that like, like an MG, but I wouldn’t call it that. But yeah, like our sale of the film to kamikaze allowed us to fund half of the film, and then we didn’t qualify for any tax incentives, especially because New York had gotten rid of them at this time for low budget films like ours. And so, I essentially, I just became an investor in the film.
Ashley Meyers: So, the Kamikaze is the one that was set up this meeting with Gravitas for you?
Christian Nilsson: That’s right.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha. And how do you expect to make back your money, your own personal investment in the film? How is that laid out in terms of just getting your money back and recouping your money? Working with someone like Kamikaze, do they want their money first? Like how does the something like that work?
Christian Nilsson: So, I probably what is true on a lot of say, they my path to making money, my money back is actually quite straightforward, I think has already happened, though we’re still so close to the release of this. I haven’t seen any of it yet. They seem like they are I guess the way they imagined it is they are the distribution fee and the investment fee, like they kind of see themselves as that of like, they what is traditionally given like that piece is goes to Gravitas. I make the traditional piece that would go to a filmmaker/investor, as well. And then a lot of this film was funded on me giving up points to my team. And so, when money comes in, and I’m paid after the budget like that, then that starts getting handed back. But thriller films, especially right now, most pandemic films are horror films, which I couldn’t have foreseen that when we’re making this film. But most pandemic movies turned out to be horror films, not allows them or thrillers. Horror films do not sell on airlines. Thrillers sell really well airlines. We’ve done quite well, in international airlines. We’re actually are only released at this point in the US and Canada, as far as paid VOD. But we are already in Europe, on airlines. And that’s where we already had found some pretty significant success. So yeah, so we’ll make money back that way. It was one of the reasons why the budget was kept as small as it was, is because we knew that it was, you can never say it’s impossible to lose money because people do it. But we made it as difficult as possible for us to actually lose money on this film. And so, it was a lot of favors or a lot of the production partners that I had lined up for my previous film. I had to just kind of call up and say, Hey, I know we were going to work on this much bigger one, but my hope is that this gets us back on track to make that one. And so, I was able to get a lot of people to donate their time and their resources for a film that would have really been difficult to make otherwise.
Ashley Meyers: Gotcha, gotcha. So, I just like to wrap up these interviews by asking my guests if there’s anything out there that they’ve seen recently, HBO, Netflix, Hulu, that they thought was really great and they can recommend to budding screenwriters?
Christian Nilsson: Budding screenwriter, somebody that’s like screenwriting first?
Ashley Meyers: Sure. Anything you’ve watching, is there anything you’ve been watching recently that you thought was really great?
Christian Nilsson: I mean, honestly, I’m watching a lot of criterion channel has a collection of New York stories that I have. And I mentioned before, I love New Hollywood movies like psychological thrillers of the 70s. A lot of those are New York centric stories, watching through their catalogue that they have on this New York stories thing has been, it’s been incredible just to see what independent filmmaking look like in the city I’m working in at that time like that. That’s crazy. Also, I love the history of New York City and the culture of New York City. And I feel like looking at these films is almost like something of a time capsule going back. I watched Pelham, taking a Pelham 123, which I’d never seen the original one. That was incredible to see. The subway how that worked at that time. Also, they used a pristine clean subway because the city wouldn’t give them access to film and the dirty one. So, it’s private, like I’m sure I saw. So, it was never as clean as it was Filming of that. But then I watched Martin Sheen’s first movie called The Incident, which is filmed 10 years earlier on the same exact subway line. And now it’s just like, there’s something about that, that I really connect with. But for as far as screenwriting, I think the best screenwriting I’ve seen in a long time is, Mayor of East Town, which I imagine a lot of people have seen at this point, it’s been out for a while, but that I really feel like that was a masterclass on character development. I also like I’m somebody that loves subtle story arcs. And if a character like if they’re starting an endpoint like that they’re not terribly far, but they feel far for them. That those to me are stories I really gravitate towards or lean in on. And to me like that really was the perfect example of that. So, if you’re interested in being a screenwriter, especially television, I would say yes, check out Mayor of East Town.
Ashley Meyers: Yeah, I’ve heard good things about I haven’t checked it out yet. So that’s a good recommendation. I’ll put it on my watch list. How can people see Dash Cam you know, you mentioned it’s already out on it sounds like the transactional VOD are already out on but what is your release schedule looking like here for this film?
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so at this point where on anywhere you’re able to rent or stream purchases stream movies, you can find Dash Cams. So that is going to be your iTunes, your Vudu, Microsoft, Google Play, Vimeo, YouTube rent or whatever you do. So that’s where you could find the film at this point. We’re going to be released in the UK in I believe, February and probably there abouts the rest of Europe, hopefully. And then from there we’re hoping to get a streamer on board for the next window. But yeah, it’s a small film. But it’s one that the word of mouth really takes a long way and really gives it legs and I would say if you if you liked the film, give it a review on a letter box or IMDb Rotten Tomatoes. That’s how these films get seen. If you don’t like it, you can keep your opinion to yourself.
Ashley Meyers: What’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, and if you’re comfortable sharing, I will round up the show notes so people can follow your career as well.
Christian Nilsson: Yeah, so I would say follow me on Twitter and Instagram. My handle is @XGenNilsson, so like as Xmas to Christmas, Xgen is to Christian. But yeah, you’ll always be kept up to date.
Ashley Meyers: Perfect, perfect. Christian. I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with the day great interview. I really appreciate it.
Christian Nilsson: Thank you. This was a lot of fun.
Ashley Meyers: Thank you. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
I just want to 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 want to produce. Dozens of producers are in the system looking for screenplays right now. There have been a number of success stories come out of the service. You can find out about all the SYS select successes by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Also, on SYS podcast episode 222. I talk with Steve Dearing, 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, this 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 premier 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 5 to 10 high quality paid leads per week. These leads run the gamut. There are 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’re 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 sellingyourscreenplayselect.com. Again, that is sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing writer director Adam Mervis. And producer Mark Stoller. I had mark on the podcast before talking about his film Driver X. That was episode 256. So, check out that episode if you haven’t already listened to it. And Adam Mervis is an actor turned writer turned director. He has actually sold some bigger studio projects as a screenwriter. He wrote a script called 21 bridges, which was produced starring Chadwick Boseman. And he has another film coming out that he wrote, called National Champions, starring Timothy Olyphant, and JK Simmons. So those are some big projects that Adam has coming out here in the next couple of months. But next week, we talked to him about a much smaller film called The Last Days of Capitalism. This was a real micro budget film, and they talk mark and he talked very openly about the budget, well, less than $100,000. In fact, less than $50,000. It was all shot over the course of a week and they read out a suite in Las Vegas, and got all their film equipment into this suite and shot basically the entire film in this suite. So again, it’s another really great example inspiring story of just some guys going out there making things happen, getting a film done, and we really dig deep on the process, the writing of the script, and then ultimately as well, the producing something like this on a on a micro budget. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.