This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 428 – From Doc to Narrative filmmaker of movie starring Chris Pine .
Welcome to Episode 428 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Tarik Saleh who just directed an action thriller called The Contractor, starring Chris Pine. Tarik started out in documentaries and eventually started doing narrative film. So, he talks about that transition, and how documentary filmmaking helped him as a narrative filmmaker, so stay tuned for that interview. SYS’s six-figure screenplay contest is open for submissions, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. Our regular deadline is May 31st. If your script is ready definitely submit now to save some money. We’re looking for low-budget shorts and features. I’m defining low-budget as less than six figures. In other words, less than 1 million US dollars. We’ve got lots of industry judges reading scripts in the later rounds, we’re giving away 1000s in cash and prizes. This year, we have a short film script category, 30 pages or less. If you have a low-budget short script, by all means submit that too. I’ve got a number of industry judge producers who are also looking for shorts. If you want to submit to the contest or learn more about it just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. And also, this year we are running an in-person Film Festival in tandem with our screenplay contest. It’s for low-budget films, again produced for less than 1 million US dollars. We have a features and shorts category and lots of industry judges, just like the screenplay contest the festival is going to take place in Hollywood, California from October 7th to October 9th. If you’ve produced a short film or know someone who has, by all means please do submit it. Shorts are very easy to program. I mean, just from a practical consideration, I can run two or three shorts before a feature film, or do a whole selection of shorts, do a whole section of short films in a one-or-two-hour block. So, I’m going to be accepting a lot of short films into this festival. So again, if you’ve done a short over the last year or two, definitely submit it. If you have a finished film and would like to submit to the festival, you can go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/festival. You will see a link to Film Freeway, you click on that, that’s how you actually submit. We’re taking all of our submissions through Film Freeway just because it’s easier for them to upload the videos. There’s quite a bit that goes into the film festival submission. So, all of that is going through Film Freeway. So, if you’re already on Film Freeway you can also just look for us there the SYS’s six figure Film Festival and screenplay contest. So, you’ll find us on Film Freeway and if you submit to us as I said, you will be going through the Film Freeway for the festival, we take the contest submissions directly. Anyways, once again if you’d like to learn more about that, please do go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/festival.
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 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/podcast. And then just look for episode number 428. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing filmmaker Tarik Saleh, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Tarik to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Tarik: Yeah, thanks. Thanks. Nice to be here.
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?
Tarik: I was born in Stockholm with an Egyptian father and Swedish mother. And my father is a filmmaker, stop-motion animator. So, I grew up with film. I got started in television and as a documentary filmmaker, but I was always interested in fiction. And I also wrote, I started as a script writer too. Before I directed fiction, I wrote two TV series for teenagers. And today, I must say that I see myself as a filmmaker, but if I have to choose, I am a writer at heart.
Ashley: Yeah. Interesting. So, let’s talk about I noticed on your IMDb page, it looks like you did some of these documentaries and your first fiction film Metropia. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. How did you make that transition? Obviously, as a documentary filmmaker, it’s totally different than doing something that’s fiction. But how did you make that transition? Were you kind of laying the groundwork throughout your documentary film career telling people this is what you really want to do writing scripts, maybe talk about that transition a little bit?
Tarik: I had done to feature documentaries. And the thing is that people misunderstand, I think that documentary filmmaking is a technique rather than a genre. And what you do when you do a documentary film is that you write the script in the editing room. And that’s very difficult, because you don’t have much control. So, a lot of people, they see documentary film as sort of a lesser sort of filmmaking thing than fiction. But that’s just because the budgets are lower. But really, it’s more difficult. I would say, as a storyteller, it’s more difficult. So, for me, the transition was actually about making it easier for myself that I wanted to be more specific with the stories I was telling. And in order to be more specific, I wanted to write the script before I shoot, you know. So, that was how the transition happened. And with Metropia, I co-wrote that script together with two other script writers and I didn’t have the self-confidence to both write and direct first. I’ve always, you know, it’s also with my second film was also written by someone else. But my third film, I finally got to direct the script I had written, fully written, that’s a very different prospect, because it becomes much more specific. And it’s all about being specific I think, when it comes to film. It’s like, when you write the script, I always think that the process for me at least look like this, that first sequences and scenes can move around in the script. While that is happening, you know your script is not ready, while scenes are still floating around, that means you’re not fully ready yet with the story, it has not fully settled yet. And then you start to move sentences, right? And then you start to move words, and then you start to word move commas, that’s when you know that; Okay, it’s time to shoot, it’s time to shoot this script. And that’s how I see also filmmaking is that, then you go out and you capture your material you’re directing, and then that’s most of the time is sort of a more of a logistic nightmare. And then you go back to the editing, and you continue the writing process. And that’s when you start to move lines, you start to remove lines, you start to sometimes even move scenes, change structure, until you’re moving frames, you’re cutting frames, that’s when you know that the Edit starts to sort of settle. So, it is sort of the same process in that way. And that’s what I mean, by being specific, it’s more difficult to be specific as a director with someone else’s script. Because for me, at least, you’re working a little bit with someone else’s material. I mean, there are also pros with that, because obviously you get that person’s genius, or whatever that person brings to the table. And so, it has pros and cons. But if I get to choose, I like to direct my own scripts.
Ashley: So, let’s dig into your latest film The Contractor starring Chris Pine. Maybe you can just give us a quick pitch or logline. What does this film all about?
Tarik: It’s about a Green Beret, who gets honorably discharged from the army. And he loses his pension and health care, which is a huge blow. I mean, he has been sort of sacrificing everything for his country and is being thrown out without nothing. He has to support his family, and his best friend who used to be his captain has retired before him and is now working as a contractor and sort of invites him into this tribe of guys that have started their own thing. He gets on to a mission that is not turning out to be exactly what you know. It’s not a good mission.
Ashley: Gotcha. Gotcha. So how did you get involved with this screenplay? At what stage did the screenplay come to you, like how did you actually find the screenplay and then get hired on as director?
Tarik: So, I had a relationship with Thunder Road Production company, and producer Basil Iwanyk was amazing producers and they’ve done some of the best films, I think in the genre in. So, I like them also as people, I will share the same taste in film and so on and they liked my work. So, we sort of decided that we were going to try to find something to do together. And they sent me a few different scripts over the years. And then this script came, and it just spoke to me right away. It’s JP Davis, who wrote it. Fairly young script writer, but it was a very, very good script. What I really liked with the script that I think a lot of other scripts lacks, is that the character was very well written, and it was truly character driven, which is very rare now in Hollywood. A lot of times, its plot-driven, but this was really character-driven. And that was interesting to me. So, and Chris Pine was attached to it. And so, I went and met with Pine, and we talked about it and realized that we share the same vision for what the film could be. And that’s very important, because as a director, you make the film with the protagonists with the main actor that plays the protagonists, that’s a very close relationship that you need to be. And then, yeah, so that was how that came along. And I knew that it was one of the things with the script was that there were so many scenes and so many locations. And because this was not my first film, I knew what that meant. And that’s very common with scripts written by people that had not had their screenplays produced before that there is no limitation, you know, there’s always too many scenes and too many locations. But that was also a nice challenge. So, me and my production designer, and the producers said, like, let’s not cut too many of these locations, and the scenes, let’s make it this big. But I mean, that cost a lot of money because you’re constantly moving.
Ashley: I’m curious, you know, you mentioned that you wanted to do something with this production company. They sent you a few other screenplays. And then this one came across your desk and had Chris Pine already attached. Did some of those other scripts have talent attached as well? And really what I’m getting at is, how much does the talent attached to the script influence your decision as a director, just honestly speaking, you know, because there’s some practicality, when you have an A-list actor on this, it’s going to give it a much greater shot of getting funded, getting produced, getting a wide opening, and all that sort of stuff. How much does having that name, talent impact you as a director coming on board?
Tarik: Not as much as you think. Because, you know, when they sent the script, I read it without knowing who was attached to it. I read the script and liked it. That was the first thing, the script is really good. And Chris Pine was attached to the script, because the script is good. So, I mean, there are amazing scripts that have no talent attached to it, and then it’s going to be a very long road. And then your job as a director is to get a talent attached to it. Very common in Hollywood is that someone is softly attached to it. So, you try to get the intel whether that person is really attached, or whether that person just expressed some interest. You know, in this case, it wasn’t, I mean I read the script, I saw a real human being in front of me. That was how well written it was. And I mean, I’m speaking personally for me, it’s very important that the character is so three dimensional that I can sort of sense him feel him smell him. And then I had a conversation with the producers and they said, Chris, Pinus, attached. Do you like him? I say, I love him. I think he’s great. But I wasn’t sure. I was like, Chris Pine is a pretty sophisticated person. You know, he is a very smart guy, very well read all that. So, I was like, my first instinct was like; yeah, I saw this very sort of tough soldier in front of me, you know? But then I sort of realize that no, the Green Berets, they’re different. You know, the Green Berets are very, very smart guys. You know, they’re very well educated. A lot of times they know at least two languages, you know, they have this amazing ability to blend in with local population wherever they are, you know, and make friends. So, of course, the conversation with Chris was how much are you willing to sacrifice to do this part? Because it’s a lot of training. It’s a lot of training to get to learn the tactics, to all that stuff. But to answer your question, I think that, of course, there is always these on some of the greatest specs that has been sold. You know, there’s always, a lot of times the director that is that is attached. oh, Spielberg is interested. Okay. You know, and we all know, like Spielberg, he doesn’t make 1000 films.
Ashley: So, you mentioned that one of the things you really liked about this script was that it was character-driven and this protagonist was so well written, where there’s some things that you felt needed to be bolstered with the script? And maybe you can talk about that a little bit, especially as a writer yourself, how did you work with the writer to make any changes? And what kind of changes did you make?
Tarik: The biggest change was the European part because the script writer is Americans, so it was very much I felt that the whole Europe part had to be rewritten, basically. And I don’t mean that the characters have to be rewritten but the world and I like to be very specific about those things. It felt like it was written in a sort of, it almost felt like before the Cold War, and now we’re in the cold war again, you know, so it’s like, of course, you know, but it felt a little bit dated to me and Europe have changed a lot. I mean, since globalization and all that, but the scriptwriter was very collaborative. So that was easy. And I spent a lot of time with the scriptwriter. I always look for the theme of the film. It’s very important to me to find out. And a lot of times the theme is hidden from the writer, you know, which is interesting. As a director, it has to be crystal clear. Because it informs all the decisions, it informs everything from costume to casting to everything. So, I knew right away that The Contractors theme was fatherhood. And I could sense that in the script. And right away when I said that to JP, he was like, it was almost like it hit him like; oh, shit, yes. And I was like, yeah. And I could tell that that was very personal to him. And it was all there. I mean, the whole energy, the whole sort of, there was something, there was a real heart beating inside of the script. And that I think defines a great script is that the person that have written it has to tell this story. He has to tell this story. You can feel that. It’s not just speculation, or it would be cool to tell this story. It’s like, I have to tell this story to the world.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So how can people see The Contractor, you know what the release schedule is going to be like?
Tarik: Yeah, so it opens first of April in selected theatres, and I strongly advise people to watch it in the cinema for two reasons. First of all, it’s made for the cinema. It’s a really great ride. And it’s also to support your local theatres because it’s more important than ever, now after COVID and everything, we who love film have to stand up for the theatrical experience and just see it, but it’s also available, if you for some reason cannot get out of the house, I think, in at least in America, you can watch it on Showtime or on demand in general.
Ashley: 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 will round up for the show.
Tarik: Instagram, my Instagram account is Ivan Bahn. And that’s the villain in my first film, Metropia.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. And we’ll get that link. We’ll put that in the show notes so people can click over to it. Well, I really appreciate you coming on and talking to me today. Good luck with this film and good luck with all your feature films.
Tarik: Thank you. Thanks.
Ashley: Thanks. 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 screen plays 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 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 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 Ivan Sen. He’s an Australian filmmaker he just did a sci-fi feature film called Expired, starring Ryan Kuantan from True Blood and Hugo Weaving. He’s a great actor. He was in The Lord of the Rings movies along with a number of other movies. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.