This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 416 – Making An Action Movie on a Budget. .

Welcome to Episode 416 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with Today I’m interviewing filmmaker Michael Matteo Rossi. He’s a real independent writer, director, producer. He’s been putting projects together for a while now and comes on today to talk about his new film The Handler. It’s a super contained action thriller that he shot during COVID. It’s another inspiring story for someone who’s just out there making things happen, 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 and then just look for episode number 416. If you want my free guide ‘How to Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks’, you can pick that up by going to 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 is everything you need to know to sell your screenplay, just go to

A quick few words about what I’ve been working on. So, we’re finally getting ready for the release of the rideshare killer. We’ve got all of our deliverables together. And we’re just trying to figure out the exact release schedule now. So, I should have an update on that real soon. I’ve been having… some of my early podcast episodes chopped up into 32nd clips and posting them on Tik Tok and all the other places where you post these sort of short clips, I think YouTube shorts, Facebook, Instagram reels. I’m not really getting much traction yet with these. So, if you have a Tik Tok account or use Tik Tok, please do look me up and give some of my videos likes, under my name just Ashley Scott Meyers. I’ll also put a link from my website. So, if you go to, in the upper right-hand corner, I have all the links to the Facebook and I’ve put one there for Tik Tok as well. Also, we have officially launched SYS six figure Film Festival and screenplay contest for 2022. So, if you have a low budget screenplay producible for less than 1 million US dollars, just go to And if you have a low budget film produced for less than $1 million, we’re taking submissions on that through Film Freeway, please do tell all your filmmaker friends about the contest, I’m really going to try and make this contest great for the filmmaking community, everyone that’s involved, I’m going to try and bring as much value as possible to the filmmaking community. And I’m totally open to suggestions too. So, if you’re someone who’s been to a lot of film festivals, or someone who’s entered a lot of screenplay contest, and have some suggestions on what makes these festivals and contests valuable for the people who enter them, please do email me, you can always get in touch And those types of emails are always very much appreciated. So those are some of the things that I have been working on over the last couple of weeks. Now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing filmmaker, Michael Matteo Rossi. Here is the interview.

Ashley: Welcome, Michael to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.

Michael: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where do you grow up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business?

Michael: Sure, yeah. Well, I was like born and raised, actually. So, I kind of lived here my whole life, went to San Diego State for college, then when I graduated, pretty much came right back to LA just to kind of continue pursuing my, my career as a screenwriter, director, producer. So, I’ve made some short films in college. And then that kind of gave me the leg up to once I graduated, try to get into kind of doing my first indie feature and kind of never looked back from then.

Ashley: And so, let’s talk about that a little bit your first indie feature just real quick, maybe you can kind of tell us how you got that off the ground. How did you raise money? How did you get the script polished up sort of just maybe the two-minute overview of that one?

Michael: Sure. Sure. So, I had gone through about six months of kind of development how so to speak before that was very stressful, close calls the whole bit. And then I kind of took a step back and I said, you know what, let me think of another script that I wrote. It’s a little bit more contained that can be done on a lesser budget. And I kind of had something where was basically two main locations, less than 10 main characters, and I had some money saved up a little bit. And I kind of use that as the first kind of money in fun type thing. And then I was able to kind of get a couple other people interested and excited about it, and basically made it first super ultra-low budget, but we got it done and gone distributed. And that was just something that again, gave me that leg up to kind of make my next feature and all of that type of stuff.

Ashley: So, you mentioned like you had a couple of close calls, maybe we can talk about that a little bit. Because I just I always find with people in the entertainment industry, people that are outside, they don’t realize how many close calls often happen. And it doesn’t quite get over the hump. And I was in a similar when you and I met on the pitch, I was in a similar situation where I had had a couple of scripts that almost made it, you know, into production, I said, I’m just going to go do myself. What were you doing before you did this first feature? Were you writing scripts and sending them out sort of the traditional writer route where you’re trying to get an agent and a manager and get them into studios? What was sort of your approach before you did this first independent film?

Michael: Yes. So basically, I tried to tackle it from all sides and all avenues that I knew I did try to do the whole; okay, let me see if I can kind of send inquiry letters to let agents, managers what have you, then maybe try to shop my script around? That can be obviously something difficult, especially when, you know, you’re a filmmaker writer that hasn’t had any other features produced, or feature scripts produced? So that was a tricky one. And then it’s, you know, using six degrees of separation, who do you know, what favors can you ask, what type of things like that? So, I kind of took it from all different avenues. And then, you know, it’s a cliche, but invest in yourself sometimes, and you know, whether you’re an actor, writer or what have you, we all technically spend time and money to better ourselves and our career. So, I did have a little bit of money saved up, I knew that I had to basically fund you know, at least a portion of the film to at least get the couple people out that I knew might invest interested, because I was saying, Look, I’m going all into you know, so it’s one of those things get in the first fund is usually the most difficult. So, I took that kind of a little bit more unorthodox route, you know, the kind of ‘do it yourself’ route. But thankfully, it is paid off, you know, I got a distribution deal the whole bit. But, you know, as soon as you know, so much of it starts with yourself. I mean, if you’re not going to promote, if you’re not going to put yourself out there, if you’re not going to, you know, go out there and pitch your script or sell it up or something like that, then what’s the incentive for other people to first kind of bankroll your bet on you. So that I think was very helpful. It really starts with you seeing what you can do, digging deep, see what kind of connections you have, and just be hungry for it.

Ashley: Yeah, sound advice for sure. I’m curious. So, you had a little bit of seed money, you kind of got the ball rolling. Who were the investors that you went out to? Were they friends and family? Were they colleagues of colleagues? And what was your actual pitch to them? A lot of these early films, you’re not necessarily going to make their money back in like a pure ROI sense. So, what is your pitch in that situation? You know, I have seen so many of those pitches, oh, look at Blair Witch look at, you know, paranormal activity. It was $30,000, it made 100 million, we see those sort of astronomical outliers. But that’s not always necessarily the reality, what was your pitch to your investors?

Michael: So yes, I mean, a lot of it were either people that I knew, you know, friends, colleagues, even a little bit of family that that understood, and look, I told it to them straight to, I said, Look, you know, whatever you’d put in, there’s a chance that you might not see a penny back. And thankfully, you know, they had a little bit of expendable income, that they could kind of see it, you know, they were interested in giving me that chance. They had also seen some of my previous short films, they had seen that I stayed pretty prolific and that I had done well on the festival circuit. So that of course was a leg up. And of course, the script itself. I mean, that’s a selling point to they responded favorably to it, if they liked it based on the logline, based on the synopsis and then based on of course, the actual script and then reading it, that was like okay, you know what, let’s see this film out there. You know, if the script is as good as what the potential film could be, let me give X amount of money. So, I told it very straight. I think I was very transparent with them. And I think just being very honest with them, like you said, I wasn’t going to give them that comparison, oh, this is going to be the next Blair Witch, this is going to be the next, whatever, you know, it’s going to be made for 50 grand, and we’re going to make 50 million. I didn’t insult any of their intelligence, I told them very straight. You know, here’s what it is. Here’s how it is. You’re investing basically based on the script on the content, my ability to see films out, and at least get them out there and complete them. And thankfully, for the first time, that was enough to do it.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah, perfect. That’s sound advice as well. So, you and I met on my film, The Pinch a number of years ago, you helped out with some producing duties. And one thing that I was impressed with was your networking. I mean, I follow you on Facebook, or I’m friends with you on Facebook. And I think pretty much every single person from the cast and crew of The Pinch also follows you on Facebook. And I’m curious, what is your overall approach to social media? How does it help you? Why do you do it? And what are you trying to accomplish with all these social media posts?

Michael: Again, another good question. I think that, as annoying as social media may be “as necessary as it may be”, it’s essential nowadays. And it’s strange, because my bread and butter in terms of social media, ironically, is Twitter, which I know some people are not on Twitter, they don’t know how to use it. It’s confusing all that. But my Twitter grew kind of exponentially, just through me giving advice, certain things like that. It got retweeted a lot. This was around 16, when we were doing the pitch, and it just kind of came from there. And I’m telling you, I’ve been able to reach out to kind of some talent directly based on that. I’ve found an investor off of that, that I didn’t even know as an investor at first. So, if you are a screenwriter, if you are a producer, all that, I will say as annoying as it may be, you have to be on social media. That is such an important way to network. And to even be like okay, look, hey, maybe have mutual friends with this person. But that person, it just creates this forum that if you know how to play it right, you can definitely use it to your advantage in terms of cultivating your script into a film, what have you. So, I think it’s extremely important. I really do.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, let’s dig into your latest film The Handler, maybe to start out, you can just give us a quick pitch or logline. What is this film all about?

Michael: Sure. So, it follows Riker Dune, who’s an ex-marine and he comes back short on money, he kind of falls into this kind of mob boss guy to do odd jobs, things like that. He realizes it’s not turning out well. And he basically purposely screws up a job, and basically finds shelter in this safe house where the mob boss basically intermittently sends all of these mercenaries out to kill him. And it’s kind of what he does, like throwback to 80s 90s action films, where you have to suspend your disbelief a little bit, and just enjoy the ride, the fights, the action, all of that good stuff.

Ashley: Yeah. And so where did this idea come from? You mentioned the 80s and the 90s. Maybe you can talk a little bit that was sort of the genesis of this story.

Michael: But the interesting thing is that I had actually finished another script, about a month before COVID happened in early 2020. And then COVID hit kind of sidelined my ideas, because it was a little bit more of a high concept. And a few months into COVID, I’m just like, look, I got to do something. I’m getting cabin fever, I needed stay productive all of that. And I basically had access to this one big house location. And that gave me that creative juice to be like, let me see what I can do based on this kind of one big location contained script. And that’s where it kind of blossomed, and you know, we didn’t even have a full working script actually when we were doing it. We had more of a blueprint. It’s pretty crazy. And then yeah, no, it was an interesting approach. But I worked with a lot of actors that I’d worked with before that are great with improv with everything like that. But I just tried to take advantage and make the best out of the situation that was there with so many things closed. And thankfully, I think it paid off.

Ashley: Yeah. So, I’m curious, just how do you because you mentioned action and the fighting, and how do you handle that on a low budget? Just maybe give us just some sort of logistical pointers for shooting a low budget action film? I mean, you guys had, you have gun play in there. There’s certainly a lot of hand-to-hand fighting, but maybe walk through that. Do you have a stunt coordinator? How much time do you spend choreographing these fights beforehand? How do you actually shoot these things on a low budget?

Michael: So, for the whole month before we filmed, my lead actor Chris Levine, great guy worked with my stunt site coordinator Matt. And they work every day on kind of perfecting his own craft of fighting, because he fights a lot in the film. And we had a basic breakdown of you know, we went into location a bunch of times before, but so much of it, no joke of the fine tuning, fight scenes were done the day of maybe an hour or two before we blocked it out. But you have to trust your, your talent and crew to make sure that they know what they’re doing. And everybody showed up super professional, we’re all about it. And then in terms of how to pull off, you know, some of the action to or the gun stuff, everything, I mixed practical with some VFX. We, for example, like we had this one guy, this train guy who, with a paintball gun, which shoot out dust balls, which when they hit it surface, they look like bullets hitting the wall, which was cool. So, you mix that with my great VFX Artist, James Poirier. And he did the flashes was the flashes, he did some blood, everything like that. And then mixed with of course, our onset special effects makeup artists Rafi, who was great. She did a lot of the cuts in the blood and the bruises. So, it’s just as it’s been resourceful. I mean, that’s the thing. It’s really working with people that you trust that believe in the film.

Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So, let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write? And when do you typically write? Are you write in the morning? Do you go to a coffee shop for that ambient noise, you have a home office? What is your writing schedule look like?

Michael: So, I almost 100% write at home, actually, I write in my room. And I basically write in kind of short controlled bursts, so to speak, I will sit down and just let it bleed onto the computer for a good 30 minutes to an hour. And then I got to take a walk, I got to take a little break all that I can’t actually write for like five hours straight uninterrupted. It just the process doesn’t work for me. So, I usually don’t listen to music or anything like that. When I’m writing, I actually need like total focus, and all that I put my phone away, I put all the other distractions away. And I just focus on the writing. And I usually think it starts with the characters and the characters can create a plot. So that’s my approach again, I think that it varies from person. But that’s the one that I feel the most comfortable with.

Ashley: Sure. And how much time do you spend, actually, in Final Draft writing script pages? versus how much time do you spend doing index cards and outlining and that sort of preparatory stuff?

Michael: So, interestingly enough, I would actually saved probably 80-20, 80% on final draft, 20% that kind of the index notes, all of that, which I know sounds pretty crazy. But I think about and I break down and I brainstorm so much so that it just kind of writes itself, so to speak once I hit final draft. It’s an interesting approach, I just make sure that I know and understand the characters really, really well, where they start, where they’re going and where they end up.

Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. So, as you were going through this script, let’s talk a little bit about your development process. Once you have a draft, what do you do with it? Do you polish it up yourself? Do you have some trusted writer friends or producer friends, actor friends? Do you get notes from them, just walk us through sort of your development process with the script like The Handler.

Michael: So, I knew that obviously, the most important character was Riker. And I almost as I was starting to write it, had actors in mind for each of the roles. I would send this script or the idea to a couple of actors that I really trust that are good friends that would tell it to me straight give me their thoughts, everything, once they seem very receptive towards it, that only kind of confirmed how I felt as even more like, wow, I want to make it happen. So, it’s usually just sending it to a few trusted people that I know it’s hard to be straight. And if they are as receptive to it as, as how I feel about it. It’s go time, it’s just it’s off to the races. It’s, you know, me trying to, you know, make it.

Ashley: Yeah. And how do you go forward if maybe they don’t respond quite the way you would want or they offer a bunch of changes that maybe you don’t necessarily agree with? How do you navigate those waters?

Michael: I am open minded and I appreciate constructive criticism. And if somebody has an idea that I don’t take, I’ll be very transparent. And I’ll be honest, I’ll say, I appreciate that. But I think I’m feeling good about this. But I have pretty thick skin. So, I don’t get to turn about that. And on the flip side, if, you know, somebody makes a decent suggestion, or Mike, why don’t you try this? I’m all for it. So, I don’t take any of it personally, I know that with the people that give me this advice, their best interest is to only make this story better. So, I’m all for it. I’m okay with it, you know, because I know not to reach out to the people that kind of ‘don’t know what they’re talking about, or just going to make the most ridiculous things.’ I reach out to people that are well versed in reading scripts, understanding, understanding characters, story, arcs, all of that. And, again, we’ll be very honest with me.

Ashley: How do you approach screenplay structure, and especially with something like this, where you have sort of an action movie that maybe even has certain genre requirements, like, you know, an action scene every 10 minutes or something like that, but how do you just approach sort of the structure of something like this? There’s sort of that Blake Snyder, Syd field, you know, your three-act structure with all your act breaks, and midpoint? What is your approach to this? This sort of stuff?

Michael: Yeah, no, I think that, like I said, I mean, it starts with the characters, I basically, I write a whole synopsis down at first, you know, before I even get into the whole, writing the script, where, all right, here are the marks that I want to hit, I knew that this was going to be my most action-packed script that I had ever written. So, I knew that just like you said, to be on it, almost an action scene, or an action thing, every five pages, so to speak, or, you know, even more frequently, so I knew that that needed to be sprinkled in. But I also knew for this one, you know, I was going to go present and then flashback, and then present flashback to show how he got to the point that he went to. So, it’s kind of told in an interesting structure that way, it’s writing and having the whole kind of story idea from beginning to end at first, and then just kind of going more into detail with the actual script once I know that.

Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. Okay. So once you had a draft of the script that you like, it sounds like you sent it to a couple actors, you’re getting a good response from them. So, it becomes go time, how did you actually raise the money, what was sort of some of those steps to actually getting this thing from script to post production?

Michael: I basically, I invested a lot of it myself, or for money that I’ve made on previous films that I’ve done. So, I kind of recycled that because between us, you know, and your viewers, this film was made on a lot less than they may think it was. So, I was able to kind of be very smart with that. And also work with keep in mind too, at that point, so many people were just hungry for work, they just wanted to be out there. This was we shot this in July of 2020. So, it was a good opportunity for all of us to say, look, we’ll do stuff including me lower than what I may feel I should do. But we just want to create it and make good content. So, I was able to kind of budget it with my other producer and then say, okay, this is totally feasible. Let’s make it happen. But I didn’t reach out to some of my bigger primary investors because I knew that I could pretty much do this myself. So, I wanted to kind of do that. I know… Again, there’s no right way. Everybody wants to know how do you get the money for things and all that. But thankfully, I was able to kind of handle most of it myself, actually.

Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. So now, how did you get hooked up with them uncorked entertainment, we actually I had Keith on my podcast a couple of years ago, Keith Leopard over at uncorked. And we get a lot of his movies coming across a podcast, but how did you ultimately get in touch with him and get signed on with him?

Michael: It’s interesting because Chris Levine my lead actor, was actually in Cannes, he travelled to Cannes to kind of check out during the film festival everything and he actually met Keith and Michael there at you know, they grabbed some beers, they got along everything. And then Chris actually, because he believes that a lot too. He showed Keith one of the fight scenes and said look, you know, got it got a film coming out and looking for distribution soon all that they really liked it. Then Chris linked me up with Keith and Michael. And we started talking I felt really good about them. I’d only heard the best things from other filmmakers and people that had worked with him. So, it just made the most sense and again, we signed with them in August and it got released last week. That is very, very quick. So, so far, I’m very happy with them and everything so and credit to Chris for bridging that together, which was awesome.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, what advice do you have, just some general advice do you have for people that are trying to get into the industry and especially geared towards screenwriters? What do you recommend? Do you recommend, you know, as a producer yourself? Do you recommend someone does producing have their own scripts you recommend they find a producer? What is sort of your general advice when you get approached by a new screenwriter?

Michael: I think that first of all, networking is key, you know, just surrounding yourself with a lot of good people or people that you know, are doing some stuff, I do feel and I understand it’s easier said than done. But depending on what it is, creating your own content really helps as well. If you have even a feature script, and seeing, okay, how can I make this feasible with basically myself maybe a couple of other people, but I think it’s putting yourself out there to networking, it’s kind of checking and seeing who was looking for a script, you know, why is there a fellow colleague or actor that you feel like is interested in this help you produce it on the indie level, you have to wear so many different hats. So, you know, even if you’re writing it, you need a think of people that you may know, that can help you make it happen. And that starts with networking that starts with reaching out. Just don’t be afraid to reach out to people to reach out to producers and things like that. The worst case they do is just ignore you or say no. And then it’s on to the next one, you know, not a personal thing. So, I think all of those things really will help.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Sound Advice. I always like to end the interviews just by asking the guest if there’s anything they’ve seen recently that they thought was really great. Netflix, HBO Hulu, is there anything you’ve seen recently that maybe was a little under the radar that you could recommend to our listeners?

Michael: Oh, man, that’s a good question. God, I’ll tell you something. I haven’t watched that many recent movies, which I know is terrible. Like I just I read a lot of I rewatch a lot of movies, and I was watching some action films, obviously to prep for this. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with a lot of John Woo’s films like, hardboiled, face off, the killers like, it’s just it’s so well done. Obviously, rewatch Terminator two recently. Brilliant. I understand that not under the radar film, but all of these were so fun to watch. And then another, this film lone survivor, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg. Just seeing for me as somebody who’s starting to get into more action, thrillers, things like that. It’s so interesting to see how these action pieces the set pieces are shot. And it motivates me because some of them are brilliant. So, it gives me a lot of ideas. I understand these films are older, but those are the ones that I’ve kind of rewatched recently, and we’re like, wow, this is this was great.

Ashley: Yeah, no, those are all good recommendations. So how can people see the handle? Or what’s the release schedule going to be like for it?

Michael: So, it actually got released literally one week ago, got released on the seventh and it’s on Amazon. It’s on iTunes. It’s on Google Play. It’s on like YouTube for pay. It’s on Vudu. I think Direct TV. So, all of those Amazon, obviously probably the big one. So, you know, all those if you just even Google the hammer moving, it’ll kind of show you some of the stuff it’s on. And I think it’s a fun ride. I think that if you take it for what it is, and you know, not pretentious, it’s not trying to be anything that it is and you’ll have a good time and you’ll take some action. You know, some fight scenes.

Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Perfect. And 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’ll round up for the show notes.

Michael: Yeah, so my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all of them. You can kind of search me Michael Mateo Rossi. And it’ll pop up. So those are the ones I usually post almost every day on them or every other day. So those will be good.

Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. Well, Michael, congratulations, getting this film done. It was good to talk with you today. And good luck with all your future films.

Michael: Thank you so much, Ashley. This is great. I appreciate it.

Ashley: Hey, thank you. We’ll talk to you later.

Michael: Thank you.

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 Also, on SYS Podcast, episode 222. I talked 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 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’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 Again, that is

On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing author and screenwriting consultant Pilar Alessandra. She has her own podcast called On The Page. But she’s also written a number of books, including the coffee break screenwriter, where she’s come up with a plan for busy people to write their screenplays in short 10-minute bursts, which I think is how a lot of busy people have to start their screenwriting careers just fitting in their writing in between these moments. A lot of us are very busy with family with jobs and everything else. So, I think she’s got a really interesting approach for folks that are looking to write and looking to get into screenwriting, but don’t have big chunks of time to devote to it. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s our show. Thank you for listening.