This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 423 – Le-Van Kiet on The Requin starring Alicia Silverstone .
Welcome to Episode 423 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyer, screenwriter and blogger over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing writer-director Le Van Kiet. He just did a shark movie called The Requin, starring Alicia Silverstone. We dig into his career, how he got his start, and then how he was able to write this movie and direct it, and ultimately, get it produced. So, stay tuned for that interview.
SYS’s six figure screenplay contest is open for submissions, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. The early bird deadline is March 31st. So, enter now to save money. So, if your script is ready, definitely submit, you guys as I said, you can save some money before March 31st. We’re looking for low budget shorts and features. I’m defining low budgets as less than six figures, in other words, less than $1 million. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds. We’re giving away 1000s in cash and prizes. I had the winner from 2020 – Richard Pearce on the podcast in Episode 378. He won the contest that year and was introduced to one of our industry judges – Ted Campbell, who took the script to Marvista Entertainment and got the film produced. So, check out that episode to learn more about his story.
This year, we also have a short films category, 30 pages or less. So, if you have a low budget short script, by all means, submit that as well. We’ve got a number of industry judge producers who are looking for short scripts. And a quick congratulations to screenwriter Andrew Marshall, who just had his screenplay, a price paid option by a producer who found him through SYS’s six figure screenplay contest. And this is a script from the first year of the contest. So, now two years ago. Interestingly, I am getting script requests from the first year as well as obviously the most recent year of the contest. In fact, I had another one a few weeks ago, where the industry judge actually liked the script from the first, again that first year, contacted the writer and actually the writers had already optioned the script. So, it didn’t get optioned through the contest, but potentially it could have. So, I’m definitely still getting some interest on a lot of these scripts, as I said, not just from last year, but also from the first year. Anyway, I posted a little blurb about this on the SYS success stories page. So, if you want to see, learn a little bit more about that success and just kind of hear in general, what sort of success people are having with selling your screenplay, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/success. Anyway, if you do want to enter the contest, or learn more about that, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leave me 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. Go find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for episode number 423. If you want my free guide How to Sell 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 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 sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So, I mentioned this briefly last week, kind of a little bit of a short episode, just because I wasn’t feeling good. But we begun distribution for The Rideshare Killer. Now we’ve really begun in earnest. The first place we are releasing is the transactional VOD. So that’s basically you can go to amazon.com. And you can pay I think it’s $1.99 for the standard definition, or 299, for the high definition, and basically just rent the movie and watch it sort of a very typical setup. But that’s again, it’s transactional. So, you pay it’s not yet in like the Amazon Prime, or any of these more subscription-based services. Our distributor indie writes, has a nice marketing guide that we’ve been going through, they send it out to all of their filmmakers. And sort of the first prong of the marketing plan is to create a lot of content images and video clips from the movie, and then posting all of that to social media, encouraging the cast and crew to post it to all their social media channels as well. And then hopefully, we can start to build some momentum for the film. Obviously, there’s other things like press, you know, podcasts, blogs, but this content marketing piece is the first piece that we’re going to start really rolling out in earnest. So today, that’s kind of be one of my big jobs this afternoon after I get done doing all this with a podcast, I’ve got to create a bunch of content again, it’s going to be images, I go through the film, pull a bunch of stills. I’ve got to take the post or get like the little rideshare killer logo and create something that I can then attach to all of these still images, just to give them a little bit of sort of visual continuity. And then also, you know, create some just little, you know, probably even 15 second, 20 second little video clips from the movie, and then there’ll be like a little card at the end that says, you know, “Now available on Amazon”, but someone has to make all that stuff and you know in a case of an independent film, that somebody is probably going to be me. So, I’ll be digging in that to this afternoon. And as I said, then we’ll start to roll out some of these other parts of the marketing plan, which, as I said, will be, me trying to go on podcasts, connecting with those sorts of folks. Frankly, I’m one of them, you know, I get it the other direction. Obviously, the people that come on my podcast are coming the other direction, they’re trying to promote their movie. So now I’ll be going out trying to promote my movie on some of these other podcasts. And there’s blogs, and there’s all kinds of ways that you can contact these places and try and get their attention and basically get on their radar and get them to write a review for your film. So again, that’s going to be down the road. But at least for the next couple of weeks, we’re going to start this content marketing piece. Anyway, if you’re at all curious about The Rideshare Killer, please do check it out. Again, it’s available on amazon.com. And I think as I said, it’s just $1.99 for the standard definition, I think it’s $2.99 for the high definition. So please do check it out if you have a moment, and definitely leave a review. The reviews are always helpful. And you know, if you know of anybody that’s into low budget horror films, please do pass it along to them and talk it up for us. Anyways, that’s what I’ve been working on here over the last week or so. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer director Lee Van Kiet, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Lee Van to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Le Van: Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So, to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Le Van: Well, I’ve studied film school when my first years in college at UCLA, and I kind of got the bug, I read a very like a library book, it was very just large print book of filmmaking, it was very basic, it’s like just what roles people did. And it just intrigued me, just the whole business of it all and the collaboration and the roles that everybody played. And so, I kept at it until I graduated film school and kind of dove into making my own film and just went straight into it, knew about failure and knew about the mistakes that I did, but I’ve always been a storyteller, and I’ve always wanted to write it, write my own stuff, and personal stories and kind of personal touches on things. And so that’s really what got me to the next steps. And it’s the writing really, and that’s really what got me more attention and people talking.
Ashley: Yeah. And can we talk about some of the specifics? So, you graduated, did you do some production work? Did you start writing scripts and doing the normal writer stuff where you send them to agents, send them to producers, just walk us through that. What were some of those first steps to kind of get your foothold?
Le Van: I went to UCLA, so we weren’t really a structured school to learn the business, obviously, or anything with agent and I would say, I’m a pretty shy person. And if not, even more back then, but I’ve always wanted to just tell this story that I had about how I grew up in this rural area in Orange County, and doing the social unrest of urban, just youth just having those social problems back then. But I just went into it in terms of me just doing this story. And so, I did it independently, I didn’t really go the agent route, or the managers because I didn’t know how, and I was too shy to do it. Or maybe I wasn’t confident enough. And also, the landscape back then. This was early 2000. I didn’t see anybody like me, like my background that I could attribute to, to the success. And so, I just had this urge just to do this movie on my own. And so, yeah, just one thing led to another and I started to write.
Ashley: Yeah, so let’s talk about that just for a second. You mentioned that you feel like you’re too shy or maybe not confident enough to approach agents and managers. But by the same token, how did you have the competence to just go out and make an independent film? Because I mean, that takes a different type of confidence, perhaps, but where did that come from?
Le Van: It’s more attributed to I really want wanted to be in the…as a filmmaker, I really wanted to be a storyteller. And not only that I really wanted to make movies. And that was that. And so, I just, obviously, there’s certain things you do with a crew. And you’re the decision maker and you carry around a camera and you’re writing your yourself and you just, it’s more of like, okay, I’m already doing it, versus you going out there and trying to sell yourself. And so that’s a skill I didn’t have. Whereas I couldn’t sit with a person and say; Hey, I’m good at this. I’m good at that. But not really having anything to show. I could do this. I could do that. I was more into, you know, ‘let me make something and show you’. And that’s really where I started is that I just started to make these. These films and but they’re not, I don’t write in I made a feature. And it was very difficult. And it was but it got some attention.
Ashley: And how did you get that attention? Was that from entering festivals? How did you get that attention?
Le Van: Yeah, it was festivals. It was a, you know, I didn’t even know how to navigate the festival world. But I got some attention from local. It was the Vietnamese-American Film Festival. And there were people there from Vietnam who wanted to build their industry more prominently with a lot of Korean investors. And so, I was invited to go to Vietnam and in around 2009 or so. And so, I began my career really in Vietnam.
Ashley: Hmm. Okay, interesting. Interesting. Well, let’s talk about your most recent feature film, The Requin, starring Alicia Silverstone, maybe you can just give us a quick logline or pitch, what’s this film all about?
Le Van: A mid-life couple who’s going through marital problems, and they suffered a very tough trauma recently, and they want to go in this kind of Instagram like vacation to heal, and to rekindle their marriage and their love. But they are faced with the obstacle of nature, the unforeseen, a tragedy of a storm of nature, and that swept them away into the middle of the ocean, and they’re lost at sea, on a raft, the actual hut hotel that they stayed in, and they’re trying to stay afloat without being eaten by sharks.
Ashley: And where did this idea come from?
Le Van: It actually came from an article I read about this Indonesian boy who, he had a hut. And he had it looked after it overnight for his father, because there were fishermen. And overnight, a storm came by and it just swept his hut away. And he was able to survive in this hut for months. And there were very detailed stories about how he survived it. And I had this story about a couple who went on a hut vacation basically, floating hut, a flotilla, as they say it. And it just made sense about this guy, this little boy survival, and what it takes in us to go against all odds and survive nature.
Ashley: And I’m curious, as I was preparing for this interview, you know it seems very high concept. I watched the trailer, very high concept and very polished. But as I talk to you, one of the things that I noticed, you said your first film was a very personal film about urban culture in Orange County, that was your real experience, I assume you haven’t been swept away on a Hut and attack by sharks. So how do you make this personal? How do you get something that is so sort of not really even realistic, and sort of our day to day, how do you make a film or a script like this personal to your experience?
Le Van: I guess it goes to the core of what I was trying to say, metaphorically, which is, I wanted a film about an awakening of oneself, basically, to just to let go. Let go of fear, let go of a lot of this materialism that is out there so much in our world now, but also just to look inward. And so that you can appreciate what’s out there in front of you, which is a person who loves you, who does care about you, regardless of all the hardships that you’ve been through. And also, whatever nature is going to throw at you, you will survive because you’ve had that strong inner core. And really, that’s what the movie is about. And I just leaned into that as much as I could. But I also know enough about an audience that I because I’m a film audience myself and what I would like to see in the shark movie is, specifically, I’d like to see something different, obviously, it’s a movie that I would pay for myself to see. So, I went about it like that. So that gave me some guidelines to go for.
Ashley: And let’s talk about that real quickly. Because it is a sort of a tried and true, I guess, sort of sub-genre of the shark movie. You know, how do you make it original and give it a spin? What are some of those things that you can do when there’s been so many shark movies before?
Le Van: Well, I didn’t focus or lean into the gimmick of a shark movie, right. I really wanted people to love and understand the characters, and will be willing to go with them for the 90 minutes that you’re being subjected to everything, all the vulnerabilities that they show you, all of the excitement and all the dread that they’re going to present to you, but you got to love them, you know. So, I find myself more leaning into the characters, and their arc and their journey. And that kind of takes care of itself, because you are going to put them through things that are exciting. You know, you are going to do an undersea water scene where it’s like a horror movie, like a dark hallway, a little girl in the middle of the night hearing creaky sounds, you know that the mom, you know, the demons there, but you don’t know when it’s going to show up. And so, you have all that tool.
Ashley: Gotcha, gotcha. So, let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. Where do you typically write? And when do you typically write? Are you a writer that likes to go to Starbucks with that ambient noise? You have a home office? You’re right in the middle of the night? Write first thing in the morning? What is your writing routine look like?
Le Van: I’m actually not as disciplined as I want to, but I go about it more inward. Meaning I just, you could say it’s more of meditating about the movie. It’s really just sitting calmly and just thinking about what am I seeing, I like structure first, you know, big building the bones first and building that kind of skeleton. So, I would think it through first. And then I would plot it in a map, basically. And I slowly just fill in the blanks. But I always sit for a long time and just think about the movie first. And if it’s not coming through visually and in a kind of like a textured form, then then I have to keep at it until I get that down, and then I’ll write the map of it out.
Ashley: Gotcha. And so, what does it be talking about timeline? So, you’ve got this sort of just process and then of thinking, and then do you go to an outline, and then you go to final draft and actually crank out the script pages. And just give us some just basic, because I know new writers are always just wondering, you know, how long should I spend on the thinking stage? How long should I spend on the outline stage? How long should I spend in Final Draft?
Le Van: I think it’s really important to prep yourself first, because you’re, I mean, for me, at least when I do get into the final draft and to the actual writing, it should just speak for itself. You know, it should, it should just go from cut to cut, basically. And that’s you already seeing the movie, in your mind and prep and also in your map, which is you would call an outline. But for me, it’s more like you’re the audience already. And you have to see this through because you’ve seen the movie already. And so, I like to have already seen the movie completely, meaning, okay, what’s the opening shot? What’s it going to do? And what’s happens next? What happens next? And, okay, I’m thinking this is about 30-minutes into the movie. What am I experiencing? Or what have I experienced? And so, it’s a lot of planning first and the prep, in my opinion. And then it’s once you really get into the actual final draft in the software and the writing all that it’s more mechanical, it’s more execution rather than trying to figure it out at that time, because I tend to be one of those people that get very nervous staring at a screen and it’s blank. And you know, that is usually very daunting. I think a lot of people might have that. But if you don’t think that that is really the place that is important, or it’s the execution stage, per se, then I think by the time you do get to that stage, you’ve already had so much material and so much thought that it can never be blank space, it will just keep on going. A good one that I’ve heard was, I just heard is Elmore Leonard how he writes is, he just basically just writes down every dialogue that he hears from this main character that he has, like he’ll say, okay, Hawk, this man Hawk talks like this. And he just keeps on writing down what this guy says, and as far as dialogue, and then the story just forms from there.
Ashley: So what is your development process look like? I mean, once you have a draft that you’re happy with, how do you go about developing a project? Do you have some trusted writer, director, producer, actor, friends, you have agent managers, what do you do in terms of just getting feedback? And how do you take that feedback?
Le Van: I’m curious about two spectrums of the read. One is the sales part. I mean, if you can have somebody who wants to read your script for sales opportunity, those are a really good resource to have, because they’ll tell you all of these selling points even though you don’t agree to them, or it might sound very, like, really left field of what you’re going for, but they have a window into something, for example, those they’ll say, like ‘shark movies always sell’ because there’s this the reason why is this, this, this, this, but then you’re not going to really go about doing what they say, because it’ll end up being like a shark needle, or something like that, which…
Ashley: It still actually sell.
Le Van: … But you know, and so the other thing is, you always want a good dialogue person, a good person who knows how to read dialogue that can say, well, this doesn’t sound fresh, it doesn’t sound real. So that’s me, I always find that that’s the most helpful, the things that I find that can put you in a trap is, you are too stringent with rules in script writing, because there’s a lot of people who talk about rules and structure out there. But if you follow the rules, and you kind of lightly do the checkbox thing, and your movie will be correct, but it won’t be interesting, or new. It’ll just be correct. And so, I think movies break rules all the time, and that distinguishes you from either a correct screenwriter or an actual filmmaker. Yeah.
Ashley: So, once you had a script that you were happy with, what were those next steps to actually getting this thing into production? Did you have some producers that you knew were looking for this type of thing, just walk us through that process?
Le Van: It’s a very collaborative process, actually, because you’re essentially asking for a large amount of money to be trusted into your product. And so, you do spend a good amount of time in development with the person with the money people, basically the people who are entrusted with a certain amount of money that you approve, and also you trust their opinions, and then you have to trust their opinions. I don’t think you should go with people who, it’s just their money, and then that’s it. I think, good producers and good development team out there, they want your vision to be realized, but then they also know what a good movie is, essentially, so they help you and everybody wins it if the relationship is very collaborative.
Ashley: And who were these people? Were these people you knew from your previous projects, and you just kind of rolled them so they knew what you were working on? And did that really inform you have writing this script? Like you because you mentioned like shark movies always sell. So, did you already know that when you decided to write a shark movie, you got this idea, the Indonesian boy or something. And I’m just kind of asking, just from a business perspective, like, how much does that inform you artistically?
Le Van: No, I mean, to me, I was just, that’s just chatter. I mean, I don’t always believe in those kind of statements where you know, this, all action movies sell off, certainly, so I get it, you know, they’re there. But it depends on you, you know, you could be in that market, where you’re making a lot of these genre movies that are going to be in a certain audience and sell. But for me, it was partnerships with the people who’ve already produced my movies before and they’re able to take it to market and they’re able to give me a window into people’s reactions and people’s comments, and then slowly it’s other partners coming in that are interested and then we get notes from them. And then it’s also people navigating temperatures of are we going to be able to work together for the next two years or so, and if everything goes out well, and because everybody wants to make a movie, and a good movie. And so, everybody’s really trying to get there with relationships and so they’re, you know, for example, buyer at the market who’s interested in your script, but they don’t know who you are, you kind of have to sell them, that you can do this and you’ll make their notes. And that also you’re going to make a movie that everyone’s going to be proud of. I’m not going to say it does involve producers from the market, and my personal relationships with other producers who I’ve worked with who link between, you know, they’re all linked up together, and we’re at it because this team that we develop with.
Ashley: So, do you sometimes go to these producers that you’ve worked with before? Did you go to them with this idea for the shark movie, like before you even wrote it? And I’m just kind of curious sort of your mindset, like, if you were to go to them and pitch them idea, “hey, I got this great idea for a movie.” And if these the producers you’ve worked with, say, “You know what, that’s a great idea. But we could never sell it.” Does that sort of temper your enthusiasm to actually go and write it?
Le Van: Well, there’s a lot of that, because you don’t really know which one in your trove, depending on what kind of writer you have. But I always have huge amounts of ideas and treatments, and I always put it aside, I don’t usually focus on one thing, because it’s either … for me, I get tired usually on an idea that I feel like I’m at blocked. So, I would go into my other ideas. But yeah, one of them would have much more interested in the others, and then you would start to develop that more. And so, the conversation becomes; okay, well, this one’s more interesting. Because this person happens to feel stronger. And that person would champion and is able to say; Okay, let me get it to people. And I think that’s where it starts, is that you’re slowly making it for an audience. And it’s not, you know, a lot of people say it was going to be your own. And yes, it is. But then you have to realize that, eventually, it’s going to be shown. Yeah. And so, you do have to understand what kind of audience it’s targeting and where that road is going to take you.
Ashley: And I think it’s so important for people to hear from a working director like yourself that, you know, it’s not about this one great idea that you champion, it is, it’s a whole bunch of ideas, some of them take off, and some of them don’t. And how do you deal with that, where you may have an idea that you’re super passionate about, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to get the reception that maybe you would have hoped or you would think, how do you sort of deal with those setbacks?
Le Van: The key to doing this is really knowing that, eventually, you’re a storyteller and you will be telling a story that will hit somebody, it will hit people, and they’ll gravitate to it. But you can’t think that just that one story, that’s you personalize it too much, or you’re too precious about something that it’s going to inhibit you from connecting to your audience, which that might be a smarter move is because you will get your chance, but you got to be able to hear you know, it’s the same as you got to hear 10 ‘No’, but you only need one ‘Yes.’ So, you have to be able to let go a lot. And that’s been helping me to these because I wouldn’t be too precious about ideas. And that’s a good practice to have. Because when you start developing with producers, and the higher you go in this movie business and hierarchy in terms of independent film and into the studio level, a lot of your ideas will be shut down. Nicely, but you have to understand why and you have to be able to maneuver and collaborating and not fear the process. Because it’s even if you have the script that is sold even, it’s not necessarily going to be made until you get it developed even more, furthermore, with a proper producer, who’s in charge of a budget and all that.
Ashley: Yeah, sound advice for sure. So, is there anything you’ve seen recently that you thought was really great and might be helpful for screenwriters, Netflix, HBO, anything that’s out there? You could recommend?
Le Van: Yeah, I recently. I love Dope Sick a lot. I think it’s great storytelling, it has a great structure, it was a lot more brave in writing than I had expected in a such a… it could have gone the other way, you know, meaning that it’s a straightforward drama, the way it’s told is the it’s like a novel, and it really got to me, because, you know, Dope Sick, it’s on Hulu with Michael Keaton. And yeah, it’s just the way it’s told and the way it’s written it’s I think is brilliant. And I think style, if you want to think about visuals and how visuals play into to this montage field and this kind of new styles. I think euphoria is something that I’ve recently see. I thought it was great.
Ashley: Yeah, so good. Great recommendations. Yeah, no, those are great recommendations. I haven’t seen either one of those. So, I’ll have to check those out. How can people see The Requin? Do you know where it’s going to be available?
Le Van: I think it’s on demand starting next weekend, I believe. It’s on demand and I believe it’ll be in a lot of the streaming formats. Yeah, we’re very excited for the audience to see it.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, Instagram, anything you’re comfortable sharing. I will round up for the show notes.
Le Van: I’m not on either, but I I’m definitely on a lot of, I guess IMDb is the best because it’s the most current stuff that…
Ashley: Yeah, will definitely round that up. And we’ll keep that in there. So yeah, no, social media can definitely be a time suck. So, I totally get on that. Well, thank you for coming on and talking to me today. I really appreciate good luck with this film. And good luck with all your feature films as well. Thank you very much.
Le Van: Appreciate it.
Ashley: Take care, talk to you later. Bye.
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On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing screenwriting, guru, and screenwriting author, Christopher Vogler. He wrote one of the most really impactful how-to screenwriting books ever. It’s called the writer’s journey. Super smart guy, really has studied screenplay structure, characters archetypes, and has a lot of great insight into how all this works together in a screenplay. So, we really dig into a lot of just elements of writing, you know, just how this stuff all works together, and how writers can kind of use some of these tools to hopefully make their writing stronger. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.