This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 430 – Making A Movie During Covid-19 .
Welcome to Episode 430 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger with sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I am interviewing writer-director Hamza Zaman who just wrote and directed the new thriller feature film called The Institute. We talk about his career and how this film came together. Like so many filmmakers I talked to on the podcast, he did a bunch of short films, which helped him get to this point. So, we talk a little bit about that as well. And then as the interview ends, Hamza actually asked me a bunch of questions about my career. So, there’s about 10 extra minutes at the end of the interview, where he asked me just a bunch of questions about my films and how I was able to sell some scripts and get some of my films produced. I decided to leave it in because I thought it might be interesting to some folks. It kind of was a different angle. Obviously, I talk a lot on my own podcast, but it was sort of refreshing to get some questions from someone that kind of was coming at it from a different angle. So anyway, if you’re interested in that, definitely keep your podcast player running until the end. So, stay tuned for that interview.
SYS‘s a 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, giving away 1000s in cash and prizes. And some additional prize even from Writer Duet some writing software, we’ll come to the winner as well. This year we have a short film script 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 looking for short scripts too. You want to submit to the contest or learn more about it. You can also see all the judges I list them on the contest page as well, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/contest. Also, this year, we’re running an in-person Film Festival in tandem with our screenplay contest. It’s for low-budget films produced for less than 1 million US dollars. We have a feature 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 obviously features are more than welcome as well. But shorts are very easy to program, fit him into the contest, I can run two or three shorts before a feature film. And do I can run a whole section I can just block off an hour or two just to run shorts and get a lot of films through the process. So, I’m definitely going to be accepting a lot more shorts into the festival than features obviously just because they’re easier to program and we can show them also. I’m really encouraging shorts to submit but obviously features as well, we really want to highlight the features that some really cool features that have been done on a low budget as well. So, if you know a filmmaker or you’re a filmmaker yourself, definitely check it out. We are listed on Film Freeway, so you actually have to submit through that you can go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/festival. And then you’ll see the whole the description of the festival and then there’ll be a link to Film Freeway. And if you’re already on Film Freeway, I’m sure if you have a finished film and you’re submitting to film festivals, you’re already on Film Freeway so you can find us there as well. Again, it’s just SYS’s six figure Film Festival and screenplay contest on Film Freeway. But you can go to selling your screenplay.com/festival and just click over.
If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review in iTunes or leave 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. And I know I come on and I say this exact same message every week. But I do notice just people liking them and sharing them. And it really is helpful, so to everyone who has liked and shared some of my posts in the past. I really do appreciate it and thank you. 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 430. So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing writer director Hamza Zaman, and as mentioned, there is a 10 Minute bonus at the end where he starts asking me some questions. So, if you’d like to hear that, just keep your podcast player running. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Hamza to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Hamza: Thank you. It’s good to be here, Ashley. Thanks for having me on.
Ashley: Sure thing. 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?
Hamza: Well, I was born in New York in Queens, but I’ve lived all over, you know, like the Midwest, the Far East, you know, and then back to New York for high school and so on, and then Massachusetts for school. And I guess my initial interest in I guess if I really want to go to the root, it was like Saturday morning cartoons, watching them, and then being like, I want this story to happen a little differently. And from there, it kind of evolved. I think my first screenplay, my mom found this old folder mine that I have now, which was like, from 14, 15, 16, you know, so basically high school, I started writing what I considered like scripts, but they were just hand written, not in format, you know, there were sort of descriptive, they sort of muddled, like, the dialogue and the action and all the stuff together. And they were teenager’s scripts, you know, like, some point in the life, I read some to my wife, and she was laughing about it, because they are, you know, you can tell they’re written by like a 14, 15-year-old. But, you know, I was really happy to see them and I think I like two or three in that one package, I haven’t actually had a chance to go and read them all. But that’s kind of the initial inception the seed, I think.
Ashley: Yeah, so then you’re writing these things in high school, were you also just like shooting them with your friends on whatever camera to put together?
Hamza: I didn’t. I had some friends in the drama department, you know, we didn’t really have the equipment back then to do editing, we didn’t really know what to do, you know, when I got the close to one idea was called, like, I remember this, because, you know, two of my high school friends. One of them actually, who’s in entertainment now and sort of does props and things. So, he kind of made it, and the other one, you know, sadly passed, but it was about a horror movie. And then they basically we wrote it out, I got everybody together. You know, I was always very like, organized, like, we’re going to make this happen. And then one of my friends said; Hey, this sounds a little bit too much, like this other movie. And I’m like, but it’s not. And then I basically just left, it dropped it, you know, couldn’t really collaborate with them. It happened recently, too. I tried to write with someone and get there. Like, they had like a real biopic kind of pitch. And I was like; Okay, let’s sit down and do the work. And they kind of were not as regimented about it. And I’m like, just this is not just like BS. I mean, as you know, Ashley a as writer, you know you have to sit down and do the work and write. So, it’s hard to collaborate.
Ashley: Yeah. And it’s not always easy work. So then take us through that step. So, then you’re out of high school? How did you actually push this in? I noticed on IMDb, you have a number of short films, that I mean, you have a lot of acting credits. So, we can talk a little bit about that. But you have a number of short films that you wrote and directed as well. So maybe just take us through that gap? Did you start acting first and then started to move into writing and directing? Or was it the other way around?
Hamza: So, you know, that kind of ended, I had my stuff, it was like very experimental pieces. College. After college, I still wrote a little bit, took some classes, but nothing really serious. And then, after I started working, and kind of like building my career, I just one day got like, you know, I was always into it, I’m always still working on my stories on the side, trying to write like common concepts, you know, it’s just really outside the industry. And I didn’t really do it the right way, or really push it hard, but I kept that passion. And so, one day, I just said, I’m just going to make a movie. So, I put like, 10 grand together, made a short, this was like 2008. So, it was a while ago. And I just did this movie for like kind of like what bothered me it was very political, very short lived, I don’t think you can even find it anywhere. It was like 2008. So, it was on one contest, I got like fifth or sixth. And then I just dropped it. And you know, kind of went about my day, still working on the writing still just, you know, kind of building up this sort of menagerie of ideas. I think I showed my wife what I have, like in my final draft folder, and it’s about 75 or 80 different, like treatment, scripts, pilots, everything, these are just separate ideas. Some of the ideas what I take into production is, there’s a screenplay, there’s an outline, there’s the shooting script, and then some other assorted things related to it. So, there’s just a lot of baggage, if you will, or just resources. So, I just started making them. I just kind of actually was with my wife, we were just like, hey. The first one I kind of like got back into, I actually was doing background on a friend of mines short. For a whim, I put up a link on you know, put my picture on IMDb. So, somebody from the west coast called me and she’s like; Hey, do you have a West Coast rep. And I was like, at lunch with my friend. I remember I was like; well, not on the West Coast yet. And that was kind of my journey into more professional performance where, I’ve had a couple of dozen kind of actor credits and for the writing, that’s my real passion. So, it’s always been like; Okay, how are they doing this? What’s the story about, you know, kind of staying in there. And then, roughly the same time I said, I’m just going to start making my own. So, my girlfriend at the time, my wife now, my producing partner, she was very, very supportive, which was one of the first partners I’ve ever had that was actually very supportive to this, the rest were kind of like, get to work. You know, let’s make sure that you have a real kind of stable grip on the societal ladder, but she was very open to it, you know, she’s worked on probably for many years a real creative type. So, we made our first short Vemana. You know, it got a few little awards, you know, got a bunch of traffic, it was very poetic, I wrote a poem, basically. And I sent it to like a few of my friends. And they were like; Okay, let’s make this. I’m like, oh, okay, cool. There’s no dialogue, it’s all just image. And then from there, we just started writing bigger and bigger, you know, I just start writing bigger and bigger projects, mostly around things that bother me, you know, sickness was in 2018, believe it or not. And looking back on it, very prophetic towards COVID. The tribe was done after that. And it’s kind of about like, the breakdown in society. So, you know, these are just things that kind of probably the same as you when you write the stuff, just kind of like bothers you. And I had about half a dozen plays produced too, which was kind of roughly around the same time. I wrote like a short play, like a one act, and got into this one play contest in New York, I won that little contest. And then we found some producers to expand it to a full length, they went to the fringe, and sold at the premiere, and then you kind of start on those routes. So those are little more political. My theatre work is really kind of, it’s more dialogue heavy, obviously, about kind of the real societal access, I have to grind. The film, I try to always keep entertaining and fun, even though I’m sure my own personal perspective can’t help it come through.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, let’s dig into your latest feature film, The Institute. And kind of talk about that a little bit. Maybe you can give us a quick pitch or logline. What does this film all about?
Hamza: The story is basically a young couple that’s unable to conceive, goes to a charismatic doctors remote facility for treatment. And the treatment starts to be a little bit more unorthodox, and they start to wonder about what exactly is going on.
Ashley: Gotcha. And where did this idea come from? What was sort of the genesis of this story?
Hamza: Well, it’s a few, I guess, you know, a lot of my work deals with like a power imbalance, right? So, I don’t want to get… it’s really not very, like a political film, it’s a very enjoyable, fun to watch kind of popcorn film. But there’s a certain inherent power imbalance in especially in like reproduction. And it’s hard for us as men to really comment on it, you know, it’s really not our place to talk about it. But you know, my wife and we had our first and then second child, we realized that, you know, there really is no control of a female body, especially when it comes to this, and we’ve had a few of our other friends who had some fertility issues, actually, somebody in my family, and we realized how much pressure society puts on a woman, how desperate it makes them. And so, it’s kind of a taboo subject, you know, sort of touchy, and I wanted to handle it with delicacy, but I also felt that was a very powerful and compelling story that maybe hadn’t really been done before. You know, that’s my other thing. I want to do something that hasn’t quite been ever approached, otherwise, why are you going to regurgitate that, so that’s kind of the genesis of it. And also, we having a child and when we decided we’re going to have a child and that kind of pressure, it was like a good time to do of like, okay, what’s going on here? You know, there’s pressure on the male as well, but I don’t think anywhere near as much.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. I always just like to kind of get different perspectives on how people write. Where do you typically write? Do you have a home office? Do you go to Starbucks, you need that ambient noise? Do you write in the morning, middle of the night? What is your writing schedule look like when you get into a groove?
Hamza: At this point, I mean, it’s gone through the gamut right over the years, at one point, I was writing, like full-time, you know, which would be the ideal. I wake up at, like, you know, 6, 7, 8, write as my day job until I go to dinner, right before I go to bed, you know, I was cranking out a lot of stuff at that point. This point, you know, it’s basically writing at night. So, I have about two hours a day I can write at night, I kind of like, feel that liminal sort of sleep stage. It kind of gives me some ideas. I’m always like carrying my notebook around with me, and jotting down ideas. But that’s kind of the time, the quiet time I have once the kids are sort of bed. And I can sort of work on other. Lately, I haven’t had a chance to write that much. Because of the production schedule, because of the promotion schedule, delivery, QC, all this stuff. You know, it’s my first film, so you’ve done it a few times. So, it’s a little bit more enhanced for you. But this was all like a real steep learning curve.
Ashley: Yeah. No, it doesn’t get any easier all the deliverables, and just trying to do the marketing. Yeah, as I mentioned to you, we have our Rideshare Killer coming out. And really, there’s no end to how much marketing you can do. You can always find more ways to market, reach out to more people try and set up more interviews or just do more marketing. So, it’s a challenging process. So, let’s talk about again, with The Institute, how does it come down in terms of actually writing script pages versus outlining? It sounds like you’re carrying around this notebook coming up with ideas, but what does that actually look like for you? Do you spend 3, 4, 5, 6 months just outlining? Do you spend a month outlining, a month writing? What does it look like for you in terms of outlining versus actually in Final Draft cranking out script pages?
Hamza: Yeah, that’s good question. To be honest, I haven’t really, I’m more a farmer than an architect, right. So, it’s, I get the idea, it’s kind of like just states in there, I can kind of like sort of dream about a little bit, I think about it, you know, I kind of see the general outlines. And then I just start getting to work, man. I’m like one of these guys, I like literally can work on a computer, or I can work on a typewriter, because I will put that first page in and just start writing out the story. I have, sometimes a little notebook with some outlines on the side, or, you know, like, a lot of times, of course, the beginnings and the endings are the easiest things to write. Right? So, that kind of the middle area where you want to really build your structure and focus your time on increasing the believability and the quality and the surprise, but I’ll have those kind of on the side. But I like to really once in a while, I’ll come up with a scene in the middle. But I would say I’m like a rocket, you know, you liked the fuse. I want the story. I want to live the story from the beginning, all the way through, and I kind of like to surprise myself sometimes, you know, like, if there’s a particular, I like to paint my characters into a corner, and then just kind of like, think about it, and be like; Okay, well, I’ve done really pushed this situation to the maximum. Where can I go from here? And that’s where I find the real breakthroughs and the challenge, and the fun is for me. Of course, there’s like the 10 other drafts, I think we had 11, I call it 10.3. So, I guess there’s 13 drafts, or before we actually did the live shooting, but the last few were just kind of like, little changes. So, 10 main drafts.
Ashley: Hmm, it’s an interesting metaphor, a farmer, not an architect. Because I find myself more of an architect than a farmer. But I hate doing the rewrites. And I get sort of bogged down with rewrites. So, I feel like the more outlining I can do, the less I can sort of head off some of those problems. But it sounds like that’s part of your process is actually doing those just a lot of rewrites and a lot of changes.
Hamza: Yeah, I mean, I’ve started doing some more TV stuff. And, you know, I’ve gone through a couple of programs where it’s more like the structure is so key, especially with TV writing, long format writing, right? Instead of writing like 200 pages, or 120 pages for like, a movie, talk about writing 400, 500, 600 Pages for like, a season, right? Obviously, it’s not something that usually people do alone. But it’s kind of a different way of thinking about a story about characters, how would you pull this out for season two, season three, season four, season infinity. So, I’ve started to do that, but it’s a different kind of mindset, those stories are like, the way you write a feature is, you know, more self-contained. Whereas, for my pilot ideas, and the TV shows, and those, I have to really stretch her out, and frankly, I collab with those I send them. Even this one I workshop with just because, you know, what I think is funny, or what could be offensive to someone else, and what somebody else could think is handled like what I think I’m handling in a sensitive way, especially for the institute, I had a lot of women read it my way. Other people, you know, friends of mine, that are writers and staffed on shows and things like that, and just be like; hey, I don’t want to be offensive here. That’s not the point this movie, it’s to really, not necessarily to highlight this topic, you know, I’m not going to say that it’s really my place to really, it is not a documentary. But to bring it up and to say that it does kind of bother me at some level, and especially, it’s not treated as much. We don’t really actually have enough discussion on this topic.
Ashley: How long did these 10.3 drafts take you? Was that over the course of a year, or just what is that roughly look like.
Hamza: I would say, a year, maybe a year and a half, because, you know, once I got to like draft three or four, I was like; Oh, I can shoot this, you know, like, this was a script that I wrote to actually make. Most of my other work, I need help on the finances, they’re just much bigger, you need a lot more money. This one, I was, like, I think I have the resources, I have some locations, I’ve done enough projects that I have some performance relationships with them, you know, I have this much money. This is how much we need to raise. It’s doable, you know, we have the team with the DPs and everything. So, I had all the resources kind of there and I was like, I could make this movie and then doing it over COVID kind of added some complications, we lost about 30% of our budget. We got a little bit of a bridge and then we decided to just go for it. So, it turned out to be really, really fun shoot up in the Catskills, all the locations. You know, it’s really all kind of self-contained, the art, everything sort of fell into place. But so, I was actually writing and rewriting as we’re auditioning, as we’re kind of like going to the final draft, and as we’re sort of workshopping, and while we’re in pre-production.
Ashley: So, that wasn’t your intention. But that wasn’t your intention. When you first started with the idea and started cranking out the script. It wasn’t necessarily your intention to produce it yourself and get it made that way independently.
Hamza: No, I think I was pretty sure. It’s tough to think back to the original intention, but I thought it was one I can make it happen.
Ashley: And so let’s talk about that. So, once you had a draft that you were happy with, what were those next steps to actually raising the money? Sounds like you had a little bit of seed money set up, you had some of these relationships with actors and DPs. But how did you actually go about getting some additional funding for this?
Hamza: Yeah, you know, I mean, you’ve been doing this for a while to everybody asked this question, right? They want to know, like, there’s some magic bullet, like, okay, I do these three things, and then the money comes in, and I can make my movie. I mean, it’s like, if I’m going to give advice to any other filmmakers and you’re in the same boat as me, think of it like a business. Right? I had my shorts, I had my plays, I had producers help offer some of them, but there was no viable business proposition there. Theatre is a huge thing, it’s hard to make money in film. Theatre is impossible. I mean, you’re just it’s like, you know, don’t do it unless you can afford to throw it away. And it’s sort of similar with film, I went to some, you have to do it as, like a business proposition. So I went to people that I know, that are… what do you call them accredited investors, or, mates because I have to have a certain level of income, a certain level of net worth, you know what I mean, some family members, and my own savings. And we had to end up putting more in for bridge, you know, things fall apart and stuff. But just being a very regimented about the business proposition is the key. So, you know, we did our pitch, we built our collateral, I had the story, we had the IP for it. So, it helped, that I had a lot of the team worked out already. So, when we went to some investors that were sort of like, not in my direct circle, or sort of tangentially there, that we were like, here, this is what’s going to happen, you have it from A to Z, we’re going to take this concept, we’re going to use this team, we’re going to bring it to market, and then we’ll let the market decide. So, you know, so far, we’ve been able to accomplish everything that we said. We got the movie made, we got it made during COVID, we had about a year and a half of post-production just because of the cost and the, and the budget, and the team that we had, it just took a lot, lot longer, there was a lot of the VFX. And you know, I wasn’t really, I’ve done VFX shots and some other work. But this was like on a whole another scale. So, it just took a little bit longer a year and a half in post. And then, you know, we got our distribution, you know, we got acquired by gravitas, which is one of our targets for distribution. And we’re going to hit the market in less than a week. So, we did what we set out to do for the investors, from here on out, it’s anybody’s guess, but this is kind of the way I think you have to approach.
Ashley: Yeah. And so, what is your pitch look like to them? Number one, did you build just like a pitch deck or like a business plan? I’ve heard people do. And then but what do you actually promise? I mean, obviously, this is highly speculative. So, what is your pitch to them just in terms of ROI, and that sort of stuff?
Hamza: I mean, I think you can’t really promise an ROI, right? This is a high-risk investment, you know, you just have to be clear about what people are getting into. You know, I don’t know how you did it. But it’s basically like these are, you have to have this kind of accredited financial standing to be able to get into this high-risk category. This is the history of us, the history of our team, this is the concept, you know what I mean? And then this is where, where the money is going to go. And it’s just like a business plan, you know, and just let us know, if you’re interested in this, here’s some comps, and this is what our plan is, obviously, this is all highly theoretical. And we don’t know where it’ll end up going. But this is what we’re going to do. And this is basically, it’s kind of a trust issue, right? I think you have to be a person that is serious about getting this project done and delivering it to them. I think most investors, I don’t know what budget range your films at, but if you get into a couple million bucks for movie is still a couple of million bucks. So, if you’re going to pretend that this is going to be more safe or more of a short thing than real estate, you’re a liar, and you probably should not be in this industry. But if you’re going to tell people that, hey, this is a high-risk investment. But this is how we’re managing to keep our cost manageable. This is the product that you’re going to get. At the end of the day, you have to be able to be sure the first thing is, I can get this movie made for this cost, right. I’ve had nightmares, I’ve been an actor and movies that were like eight years and post, ran out of money. They didn’t plan it, right. And it’s just, you know, to me, that’s just horrible, right? You don’t want to ever do that. Because the people that have actually invested, they’re stuck for a decade, waiting on you to get your shit together, excuse my French. It’s just not appropriate to do it other people. So, we’re very clear about our abilities, or lack thereof, as first-time filmmakers, what we wanted to do, how we’re going to approach it, and what we needed for that. And I think, we’ve been very happy that our investors have been along for the ride and trusting us you know, and part of the process is also after you raise the money, what are you going to do, you just going to disappear? You know, we’ve kept everybody really in tune with the project, where we’re at the challenges we had, you know, like, where I was expecting to kind of be able to wrap up post production, and hit the market and be submitting to some festivals, the end of 2020. You know, we shot this in September 20, like, in the heart of COVID time, I wanted to get it done. But the VFX sort of hit a roadblock and we wanted to not compromise on quality. So, you know, there’s three ways to make something, you know, you can make it fast, make it good, or make it cheap. You know, you can’t do all three. So, we basically sacrificed the time, we want to make it good, and we want to make it for a budget, or just took a lot longer. So, we just decided to forego the kind of festival circuit and kind of that whole glad handing process and trying to do that. Not that I mind that. I mean, I love going to film festivals, I support my friends when they go to film festivals all the time. But this was a movie we really wanted to just bring, we felt it was appropriate to bring to market we contend with, we’re not embarrassed of it. We sent it out for screeners for reviews and everything. But that whole like one year additional going through the film festivals, getting that whole cycle together, getting that, getting their stamp of approval, if you will, then going into the market. I just couldn’t do that at this point. I mean, it’s been consuming me for like three years.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. I’m curious. You know, you you’ve written and directed a number of these shorts. But did you get any pushback from these investors saying; Well, you haven’t done a feature. Like, ow did you cross that bridge? Was there any pushback? And what was your response?
Hamza: No, I didn’t get any pushback. I mean, you know, I think the shorts, my theatrical work, the team I brought, you know, nobody really questioned me on this.
Ashley: Good, good. So just a general question, as we wrap up the interview, what advice do you have to screenwriters that are just starting out, they want to kind of get a foothold in the industry, what is your best advice for him in the year 2022?
Hamza: I would love to be a guy that says he has his foothold in the industry, you know. It would be presumptuous of me to pretend like I have some magic bullet. I mean, I’ve been writing for most of my life. So the only thing I can say is, just keep writing, just keep writing, man, you know, like, you don’t know if you’re going to break through, and you’re in your teams, if we had maybe, you know, miraculously found some way to do that, me, Jean, and Joe, or if you’re going to be in your 50s or 60s, or you know, like the day you die. I mean, if you really are a writer, and you really want to make this, you’re looking at this as a passion, it’s not necessarily going to make you rich or famous. I mean, this is something that you really want to do with your life. So just the only thing I can say is, persistence and to keep going.
Ashley: Yeah, that’s certainly sound advice. I’m curious, though, where you land on just the ‘do it yourself model’, which is kind of the institute you just went and got this movie made, versus, you know, the more traditional screenwriting route is, you know, sending it to agents, sending a script to producers, and trying to pursue that. Have you spent time with that route? And what made you sort of lean into more of this sort of DIY?
Hamza: Yeah, we did. I mean, you know, we did send it out to some production companies, we did send it out to some producers, but I’m not going to speak badly of anybody. But, you know, we did not feel that the offers and the teams and the kind of environment out there was really worth it. You know, this may be my first feature. But, you know, this is not like, you know, I’m not really just kind of starry eyed, sort of overly impressed by people, you know, I’ve been kind of in the real world, not in entertainment for many years and dealt with all kinds of industries and all kinds of situations. So, if the offer wasn’t correct, if it didn’t make me feel like somebody was valuing us, valuing the script, valuing what we brought to it and had the same vision, it really wasn’t worth it. You know, I’ve had many other projects, I have some projects right now that I’m working on that are much, much bigger, you know, I had a story at CAA for like six months, you know, it’s going to be a huge movie. I know, it’s going to make, you know, it’s a much, much bigger movie, those things I’m going to need studio backing and I’m going to be able to, you know, have those routes to go through. This movie was my baby. *Pun intended* And we did try to team up with some producers and we had some, you know, initial talks and kind of shopped it around a little bit. But you know, it really especially like COVID had started. So, people were actually pulling back their money a little bit in the beginning and it was like, it was very, very uncertain. A, this was our first movie. B, we’re shooting it during COVID. The insurance, all that situation was very, very complicated. So, I think it made other some people sort of uneasy So, we just did what we could you know, when people would the right risk appetites and those are the people we’re going to be going into business with in the future.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I just like to wrap up the interviews by asking the guests if there’s anything they’ve seen recently that they thought was really great that maybe screenwriters could benefit from. Hulu, Netflix, HBO, anything out there that you’ve seen, like, lately that you really liked.
Hamza: On the streamers? I mean, you know, my, like, the one movie that kind of sticks out that I’ve been sort of fanboying about for last few years was Dune, but I wouldn’t consider that necessarily like an indie or something, you know, my favorite books as child. You know, this is like, the third time they’ve remade it. You know, Denny Villeneuve. I mean, he’s, you know, he had $200 million to make the thing and, you know, he’s got a good eye for the story and a real passion for that story, and script. So, I think he did a good job, it’s very minimal. So, I think if you’re going to, like, go for that scale, you know, it’s a good one to study as far as like, you know, what I’m watching on TV right now. I think I’m almost done with Ozark, you know, it’s tough to find time to really kind of, I find it a little bit too on the nose. But you know, you kind of want to keep track of what’s going on, you have to watch all the new shows and the big stream there just to know what’s kind of topical at this point, what the style is of these, the way, what’s getting sold, what’s getting made, what the audience is really kind of appealing to. My wife, she watched that inventing anything I couldn’t really bring myself to watch that. But, you know, sometimes we live together, we work together on this movie. You know, we have two kids together, sometimes a little separation.
Ashley: Got to Gotcha. How can people see The Institute? What is the release schedule? And where’s it going to be available?
Hamza: The release schedule, it’s going to be on the 22nd. So that’s the Tuesday. It’s going to be everywhere. You know, VOD, cable TV, satellite TV in North America. I think you can buy like physical copies, if anybody still does that offer like Walmart’s website. You know, it’s just the Institute and my name Hamza Zaman, and if you guys are into indie film and have a good story, and some fun times, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Ashley: Perfect. Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Anything you’re comfortable sharing Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, I will round that stuff up for the show notes.
Hamza: Yeah, sure. I have a Twitter. Sometimes it gets used. And I have a Facebook page for headless films is there and for Institute movie. And, you know, I think those are kind of the main areas. And you know, I think you can probably just email us or something if you want it. I guess that’s more like for business stuff, or just for keeping up with our projects. Just follow us on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, you know, for headless films, or The Institute movie or me Hamza Zaman.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. Well, I really appreciate coming on to the show and talking with me. Yeah, yeah. Good luck with this film. And good luck with all your feature films as well.
Hamza: Yeah, yeah. Well, hopefully I can see some of your work as well. I apologize. I didn’t do my…
Ashley: No worries at all. No worries at all. Yeah, so yeah, we just released actually on Tubi. TV, so you can see that, the ad supported. But if you wanted to see it for free, yeah, you can check it out there.
Hamza: How is this ad supported model? You know, we’re kind of a little uncertain about it. We want to do our, you know, TVOD. And then, you know, obviously, you’d like to get like a full return. And you know, and then but not to mention international. Did you get your international stuff sorted out yet?
Ashley: No. So we just went with Indy rights, which is similar to gravitas. And so, we are really the ones in charge of doing the marketing, but they did. They did the TVOD first, so we’re available on Amazon, you know, for the 2.99 or whatever. And there’s a bunch of those other TVOD platforms are on and then just recently released now on the AVOD for on Tubi TV and I think there’s some other AVOD will be releasing on shortly. But honestly… what’s that?
Hamza: It’s the same movie?
Ashley: Correct. Yeah. It’s called the Rideshare Killer, starring Erica Roberts. We have Tuesday night. Yeah, she’s Lead, and she’s from one of the Nightmare on Elm Street. She had one of the recent, one of the Nightmare on Elm Street. So, we have a good cast for a horror film. But honestly, I can’t comment in terms of whether it’s working because it’s literally within the last month was when we first started releasing. So, I don’t know.
Hamza: Like, you know, you wrote directed, did you take the same route as we basically?
Ashley: Pretty much yeah, pretty much. I don’t want to sell funding. We did a little Kickstarter, we did do some self-funding, and then I had another producer. So yeah, sort of pooled our money and got it done that way.
Hamza: And how many movies have you made? Now this is your…?
Ashley: Well, I start really did start as a writer. And so, I wrote and sold a bunch of scripts, more than a traditional thing where I just sold them. But it was very unfulfilling, to be honest with you, I would get it you know, and it’s as you know, it’s extremely hard to even sell a script. And I was getting some writing assignments I would get, you know, and these things but they’re just creatively I just found them not I mean, these were not studio… Yeah, they weren’t studio level projects. So, it’s not like I was making a ton of money on these things. So, you don’t get paid that well. You know, it is not creatively fulfilling. And so, then you get to the point like, why am I doing this? So, then I decided, well, I’m going to write and direct a produce my own stuff. So, I’ve done two films like that. One of them is back here. It’s The Pinch. And that was in 2017. And then we just did the Rideshare Killer, as I said. So, I’ve done two like that, but I’ve sold a bunch of scripts as well. But for the most part, those have not been great experiences. I mean, nothing bad against the producers or anything like that. I’m not bad mouthing. What’s that?
Hamza: Did they get made?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, I think I have, yes, six or seven credits of these films that got made, but one of them is Snake out of Compton, you can check that one out. One of my first scripts was a script called District, just sort of low-budget indie films.
Hamza: That’s great. I mean, you may be Pooh poohing it, because it’s not a studio film. But I think it’s, you know, you live in the dream in a way. I mean, would you work for like a TV show? Like, what’s your…?
Ashley: Yeah, so no, I don’t watch a ton of the TV. I’ve haven’t written a ton of television. So, it just seems like and I know, it’s probably a mistake as we’re in the golden age of TV, but I’m just really committed to features for some reason, probably not the smartest business decision. But yeah, I’ve never really tried to do pursue anything with television.
Hamza: No, it’s cool. I mean, if you can get these movies made, and you can sell scripts. I mean, you have to try to reorganize yourself. You know what I mean? I just thought it was okay because coming from like a theatrical view of like, the TV is actually more similar to like, the plays I wrote than the movies, it’s a weird thing. It was really hard to kind of get my head around. But yeah, just all the way they’re dialogue driven, and the stories are more like kind of linear and contained. And, you know, I guess there’s a hybrid, right?
Ashley: Yeah, I think in TV to the writer really is king. Whereas in features, especially these indie features that I’ve done, I mean, you sell on the script, and it’s like, they don’t even want to hear from you again. It’s just the way it goes. I mean, they have you know, whoever raises the money, ultimately, they have a commitment to those investors. So, whoever controls the money, they have to do what they feel is right for the project. And I totally get that, if I’m the one raising the money, I’m going to make those decisions. And so, I understand as a writer, you have to be prepared for that. But it just wasn’t really my jam. And I might sell some more scripts, you know, I’m still writing scripts that I can’t produce myself. So, I definitely still send scripts out and stuff, but I’m just more of a ‘do it yourself.’
Hamza: Do you have a rep? And do you like, I guess, this kind of role reversal here.
Ashley: Yeah, no, this is fascinating. No one’s ever done this to me. I’ve done over 400 episodes of podcasts. No one’s really ever asked me this many questions, but I’m happy. No, I think this will be interesting for people to hear. But I started, I did have a rep back years ago, and, and honestly, they never really did much for me, I was always the one selling my scripts myself. And it was very typical, I would get a rep and they would send it out to their five contacts, they would get a bunch of notes and want me to do a bunch of rewrites, which I always was a little hesitant to do. And then I would just start sending it out myself. And I went through two reps like that, where they couldn’t sell it. I went so and they kind of got annoyed at me for because I didn’t want to do the rewrites that they suggested. I said no, and then I would go on some. So, I went through two reps that way. I’ve had a bunch of other reps over the years, but they never really did much for me. So, I truthfully, probably 10 years, I haven’t even tried to even approach an agent or a manager.
Hamza: So, you just send your one pagers out yourself.
Ashley: Yeah, a lot of cold emails. And that’s one of the services actually I sell at selling your screenplay is the email and fax blast. I have a large list database of producers. And that’s really served me well. I’ve sold a number of script option, you know, probably dozens of projects and actually just flat out sold. Yeah. And gotten some stuff produced that way. Just literally cold emails. I another thing back in the day in the 90s…Yeah, in the 90s. I did a lot with the trades back then Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety, they would have ads in the back there were producers, it’d be these indie low-budget indie producers. And I sold my first script. It was a script called Dish Dogs. And it was just literally an ad in the trades where they were looking for scripts. It was a bunch of low-budget producers. They raised $12 million to do films. So, they did six films.
Hamza: They put on the slate, cool.
Ashley: Yeah, exactly. So, and they just put an ad in the trades. And they liked me and my buddy, Nate, we wrote this script called Dish Dogs. And they went and made it for about $2 million. And I didn’t think it was a very good movie. I mean, the script had problems admittedly, the script had problems and they were not really able to fix the problem. So ultimately, the movie did have problems. But you know, it was a great experience, just getting that first credit and stuff. But again, it was really just beating the bush and just sending stuff out just over and over again.
Hamza: I think you’ve been giving better advice than I have, honestly, you know, be sitting in my ivory tower, just kind of like riding away you know, that might not be the best way to get something made. You know, like you asked just sending out your stories, sending out your ideas, you know, people are going to at least see them they’re going to say, oh, I like that idea. I like this title.
Ashley: What I try and do with this podcast, honestly. is like I just like hearing from other people. And it’s exactly what you said, you know, you can see yourself more of a farmer than an architect. I think that’s so fascinating. And I think there’s probably a lot of people listening to this that, you know, they consider themselves more of a farmer than an architect. And so, you know, there’s no one way like anybody that starts saying, you got to do this, or you get no, there’s no one way, there’s a million ways. You know, there’s as many ways as there is people to actually succeed and get stuff made. So, that’s really what I true with the podcast. Just bring people on and hear your story. You have a great story, you did a bunch of shorts. And I actually think what you did, I highly like your template, I think is the template if you want to be a filmmaker, not just a writer, but a filmmaker, I think what you’re doing is 100% the template, do a bunch of shorts, get some real chops and real practical directing, and producing and writing chops, on set experience, and then do shorts and then eventually start to do features. That’s the tried and true and it’s not easy. As you know, it’s a lot of work. But you know.
Hamza: Just some money yourself.
Ashley: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah. So no, I think you what you’re doing is fantastic. And this is been a great interview. So, it’s been great to hear from you.
Hamza: You too, man. I hope keep in touch. I’m really interested in the service you’re selling, you know. Maybe I’ll get your email or something from the website. I don’t I don’t want to drag off the.
Ashley: So yeah, for sure. But yeah, we’ll be in touch. I’ll figure out where what your email address is. And I’ll drop you a line.
Hamza: So, thank you, Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you, man. We’ll talk to you later. Bye.
SYS’s from concept to completion, screenwriting course, is now available, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse, it will take you through every part of writing a screenplay, coming up with a concept, outlining, writing the opening pages, the first act, second act, third act and then rewriting and then there’s even a module at the end on marketing your screenplay once it’s polished and ready to be sent out. We’re offering this course in two different versions, the first version, you get the course, plus, you get three analyses from an SYS reader, you’ll get one analysis on your outline, and then you’ll get to analyses on your first draft of your screenplay. This is just our introductory price, you’re getting three full analyses, which is actually the same price as our three-pack analysis bundle. So, you’re essentially getting the course for free when you buy the three analyses that come with it. And to be clear, you’re getting our full analysis with this package. The other version doesn’t have the analysis, so you’ll have to find some friends or colleagues who will do the feedback portion of the course with you. I’m letting SYS select members do this version of the course for free. So, if you’re a member of SYS select you already have access to it. You also might consider that as an option. If you join SYS select you will get the course as part of that membership too. A big piece of this course is accountability. Once you start the course, you’ll get an email every Sunday with that week’s assignment. And if you don’t complete it, we’ll follow up with another reminder the next week, it’s easy to pause the course if you need to take some time off, but as long as you’re enrolled, you’ll continue to get reminders for each section until it’s completed. The objective of the course is to get you through it in six-months so that you have a completed power screenplay ready to be sent out. So, if you have an idea for a screenplay, and you’re having a hard time getting it done, this course might be exactly what you need. If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about, just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/screenwritingcourse. It’s all one word, all lowercase. I will of course a link to the course in the show notes and I will put a link to the course on the homepage up in the right-hand sidebar.
On the next episode of the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Christopher Moore who just did a really cool horror thriller film called Children of Sin. It’s a sort of throwback to the great horror films of the 80s. So, keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show. Thank you for listening.