What Beginning Screenwriters Should Know About The Movie Business - Jim Agnew [FULL INTERVIEW]

What Beginning Screenwriters Should Know About The Movie Business - Jim Agnew [FULL INTERVIEW]

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Film Courage: How did you get your first  script in the hands of John Carpenter? Jim Agnew, Screenwriter/Producer: Well, it was  the first thing I wrote. I’d been working as   a producer on indie films and music videos and  commercials and like I’m going to take the leap   into screenwriting. I saved enough money for  one year to just work on screenwriting and had   this idea to do a very pulp fiction-type horror  film, kind of non-linear. I had a friend who was   a screenwriter (Sean Keller) who had become my  writing partner and we’d never worked together.   We just decided to write it and after three months  just working on the script with no expectations.   We ended up getting a manager from it because  it was so unusual and odd and different than   what was out there. Then from there I get a call  a few weeks later saying John Carpenter read it,  

loves it! I grew up watching his movies and by  the way he’s the greatest guy on the face of the   earth. He’s the coolest dude you could ever  meet. He read the script, liked it and was   very interested in directing it. His process was  to sit there with the script and read it aloud to   us page-by-page and everything that he didn’t like  or thought wasn’t good he’d go Come on, you can do   better than that. Which was a learning experience  in itself and it showed, it taught me a lot about   what directors are looking for and what they want  and he’s a great teacher. The film never got made   but it was a really good experience and then from  that we actually did an uncredited rewrite on his   last film THE WARD, so it worked out great because  we got paid to rewrite the film. So we’ve worked  

with Carpenter twice and he’s a really good dude. Film Courage: And so this was the second script   with you and your writing partner? Jim: That was actually the first one. Film Courage: Sorry, but how did this manager and  how did all this even get in the hands of John   Carpenter well I had spent time like the first 10  years of work in the film industry I worked for   production companies and produced some indie films  and things so I kind of knew how the business   worked a little bit I had an unfair advantage to  most people just stepping in but I spent 10 years   working in the world and making some connections  and also understanding how scripts work so I   really had worked on a few things where it's like  I could probably write as well as that or even saw   what other people were making and some other  screenplays I was like I think I could do that   so that's kind of where it came out of and just we  also knew that we had to write something that was   really unusual out of the box we didn't write a  script to be made we wrote a script to get noticed   and that's where I think really it worked it was  like okay this gets made that's great but people   will not forget the script and it did what it  was supposed to do because it got us it got us   a manager and then later got us an agent from  another script and just kept the ball rolling   and people still ask me about that script and  we've optioned it I don't know maybe six or seven   times the last 15 years still hasn't been made  but it's it's done well and when you sat down   with John Carpenter where was this like an office  building yeah he has like i'm not going to say   where's office but he has yeah he has an old  craftsman I think maybe he lived there like 20 30   years ago that he still owns it's been converted  into office so it's cool you go in there and all   his posters are up all his scripts are there  he just sits in the back office and just most   of time when we would talk about the script we'd  also talk about basketball and music and all these   other things and he gave me a lot of advice about  the film business he would say people are going to   rip you off they're going to do this they're going  to do that don't start writing until you get paid   do this and that and one of the best stories I  have about him is when we were doing a rewrite   on the ward for him there was a big conference  call with all these producers and everybody kept   telling us what to do and he stopped everyone and  he just said hey let let them go do what they do   and it was the coolest thing because we knew all  we had to do was just talk to carpenter it's like   deal with everybody else and pretty much the  script the rewrite we did was the movie that that   you saw so yeah and when he started going through  the script and saying you can do better than that   did he did he show you what better was within  the script no he no he's he let you he kind   of treated you as a professional it's like this  can be better which means you need to go figure   out how to make it better and just some lines  he'd be like a hero would never say that the   lead of the movie wouldn't say that so it was a  good good education and understanding that like   they're not gonna do the work for me and  things I didn't do correctly in a script   it's like and that's not necessarily their job  it's like this isn't working so you need to give   me option a b and c so that was a really good  lesson from somebody who knows films backwards   and forwards and so when you and Sean left  there with your whether you put paper clips or   post-it notes or whatever how are you racking your  brain to go why didn't he like this what like no   it was just like I can't believe we're hanging  out John Carpenter more more than anything but   he was so he's he's like like he's probably one of  the best people I've ever met not just in the film   business but just a great great person and super  cool and just gives great advice and it was just   he didn't do it because he was from a place of  like come on it was more like you can do better   and he would say you can do better just was really  pushing and really dug the script and to have   somebody who you watch these movies growing up  say that is like you better listen so it was part   it was it's part of educating yourself I still  I've been doing this 15 years professionally as   a screenwriter i'm trying to educate myself  all the time to get better every day so   good lesson and jim were you paid for the script  no that one was just work to try to get it to the   finish line that happens sometimes sometimes  things are options sometimes they're not if   you're you have a good attachment like a director  like him you sometimes work on trying to get to   the next level to go out to get the financing so  not every job every every project you work on is   you're not always getting paid sometimes you have  to you have to make that decision do you want to   do the work to try to get to the next level or  do you want to try to get paid sometimes there's   no one's going to pay you so it's like there's  it's either the market doesn't want it right   now or will want it with attachments or it's a  tricky thing most people in the film business   you won't make money unless multiple people want  to buy the project if just one person wants to   make it they're like sure we'll give you an option  we'll do this we may have optioned that script I   don't really remember but it wasn't it was never  purchased so and a lot of times you just get an   option you don't get paid for a script you read  these stories of people selling a script here or   there that happens but if you're more in the indie  world 10 million and under you option a script   maybe they'll give you five grand maybe they'll  give you 10 grand maybe they'll give you a hundred   dollars and when the movie gets made the first day  of shootings when they actually pay for the script   so if you want to be a team player and get  the movie mate you have to work a lot for free   and so going there you and Sean both knew we're  not going to be paid but we see the opportunity   exactly down the line exactly it was  like having a master class it's like it's   yeah where the guy's sitting there you can  ask me if you want so that's great what's the   story behind your first screenplay sale so first  screenplay sale was the script we wrote after the   John Carpenter project which is called elli gothic  this was called damned and this script was got out   and it was picked up by a pretty big producer and  they arranged the financing for the film and they   actually paid for the script and what happened  was a few days before shooting it was fully cast   I think they were shooting on like a monday  and this was friday the cast was getting on   plane flights to fly out to missouri and they get  these frantic calls like don't get on the plane   because the money fell out three days before  principal photography and that happens sometimes   in films until you're actually I even have the  theory that on an indie film until you're actually   finished shooting you don't that's when you don't  really have to worry about the money so much you   have to worry about post but I've worked on films  where sometimes they don't have all the money they   say they they do so it's a problem that happens  but it was it was sad we got paid at least we got   the rights to script back they were great to give  us that back because the movie didn't get made and   we optioned it several more times but it was it  was very disappointing because that was the first   thing I thought was going to get made and it  didn't it got very close and it just fell apart   but you live and you learn and then you  move on to the next project keep going   so that didn't deter you no not at all no it's  like it was it actually made me think even more   okay we got to work even harder on the next  project and get something made cause it came   so close and finally we're making some money as  screenwriters and we were like let's do it it's   not like no actually it actually emboldened me  to even go harder and things and so in a case   like that who calls the the actors the location  is that's the producer that's yeah making all   these horrible calls that's probably got to be  very difficult yeah and so there was no chance   of maybe in a month it was basically this is  done they they talked about it but usually in   these kind of projects if that happens it's it's  kind of hard to regroup you spend so many months   putting the whole team together doing everything  getting the actors in line getting their schedules   making deals and then for it all to go sideways  and not know when you're going to pick it back up   it's very difficult it does happen don't get me  wrong but it's it becomes like okay there's a   little bit of a jinx on a project at that point  so you just kind of have to move on and just try   to make the next one and sorry this was your first  screenplay that you wrote or you second oh second   okay with Sean yeah okay and with the first one  did you expect anything from that that was the   John Carpenter one the expectations were just to  get noticed really because it was it was really   kind of crazy and that's another thing I talk  to people a lot about it's like what are your   expectations with the script is it if you write  something to sell it or to get it made or to get   noticed and a lot of I think young screenwriters  don't try to write something to get noticed   because if you want to do this for a living  it's something that you've got to like you're   not just going to write one script you're  going to be writing every day all the time   and have tons of scripts do you think the chain  of events would have happened today because things   have changed so rapidly in so many ways do you  think that same story could be duplicated again   either one whether you get a script that you  won't be paid for but into the hands of some   master class person basically a  master definitely happens all the time   a lot of people who become big writers they they  write a script that turns into a sample and even   I've had that several times my career where  there's like a sample of like a horror film   that everybody was into and then a thriller that  everybody was into and then I recently wrote a   really big action film that that's getting a  lot of traction right now but it's also just   in the last few weeks got me up for some big  writing gigs because if you're trying to get   a job for a 80 million dollar action film you  can't show them a one million dollar horror film   you have to have that sample that gets people's  attention and professional high level producers   read they know by your sample if you can do the  other job so you have to have samples that fit   that that kind of what you the type of work  you're looking for so it was a great sample   so your two screenplays that you had one that  was looked at and scrutinized by John Carpenter   the other one that was ready for production and  it fell through a few days beforehand what did   both those situations teach you about writing  they just taught you I mean they taught me to be   just part of the process because you start working  with directors and producers and actors and even   though neither neither of those projects got made  you realize that like you're not an individual in   this process you have to you have to be a team  player you have to work with all these different   people that have their their input and maybe  producer a has some good ideas and producer b   has horrible ideas but producer b might be giving  you the money for the film so it's like how do you   navigate those waters so that was that was what  I took out of those more than anything it's like   it's not I don't get to do what I want but I've  got to try to like navigate to a sense to where   I can make it what I want or win some of the  battles but i'm not going to win them all   and you just don't have a choice when someone pays  you for something they own it it's like it's like   if you sold your house and then you're like well  I don't want them to tear out the hardwood floors   they're going to do it anyway so a lot of it  is is doing that as being figuring out how to   like navigate those waters of like to keep  the integrity of your script and still get   the movie made because that's a very delicate  balance between the two you had been in the   film industry before you said were you working  as a script reader or around script readers   no I actually had worked at streamline pictures  which was the company that brought all the anime   over to America in the 90s I worked for Carl Masik  and how I got that job was I got out of college   I played in a band and the drummer had gotten  a job there marketing and I was like I need a   job so he goes I'll get you one so he got me a job  there and it was a really interesting environment   because streamline was like did so many things  they produced films they they imported films   they created content they they were like really  ahead of the game in a lot of ways and carl masik   was like probably the first mentor I ever had he  passed away a few years ago but he was a great guy   and just kind of let us do our own thing  he'd be like call universal and see if we   can set up this film well how just figure it  out so you'd just be left your own devices so   from that I working at that company I learned a  lot about films and the industry and the business   part which I think is still an advantage I  have over a lot of other people in the film   industry that I understand how the the money  works and where it flows back and forth and   what's the bottom line of making a film so from  there I worked on some indie films I produced some   indie films after that and some commercials some  music videos and just learned about production   as much as I could and didn't even on the indie  films I worked on I didn't just sit in a chair I   sat there with a line producer and learned how  to line by line how to budget a film how to do   all that stuff because it was just like if i'm  going to do this for a living I need to know as   much as I can about everything every department  so that's pretty much what I took away from that   is that something that you think is to your  advantage I mean have you always been that   way where you cut you you don't you you just  need to be told where point b is or a is and   you'll find a way how to get yeah I i'm a little  bit both right brain and left brain so I can i'm   one of those few people that can like do a budget  but I can also write a script there's not a lot   of people like that so I don't know why I can do  that but it's it's you you when you understand the   business points of like why people are investing  two three million dollars in a film and what they   want out of it it becomes a little bit easier to  shape the creative side too how'd that help it did what would you say to people that say well I  only do this though I mean I mean some people   think that what it was jack of all trades master  of none and they don't they don't want to get   in that situation but then there's a real power  in knowing how many different things work yeah   and and here's the thing this is what I  always try to the more about the film business   the better it's going to help you you don't have  to be an expert but you have to kind of understand   how things work because this is the one thing  I always I always try to explain to people that   are want to get into screenwriting they'll be like  hey I wrote the script it's my first script I want   to get it out to producers I want to send it to  people I want to get it made and they want someone   who they don't know who's who they've never  made money for to give them two million dollars   now if you just take that aside and you think  that you want to start a restaurant but you've   never worked one day in a restaurant you've  never even been in the kitchen of a restaurant   and you write a business plan for a restaurant  and you go to somebody who invests in restaurants   and say can I have two million dollars for this  restaurant they're gonna think you're crazy but   for some reason screenwriters think oh I wrote the  script someone should give me two million dollars   it's yet it's their first script it's their first  business plan they haven't spent any time in the   industry and think somebody's gonna write a check  for two million dollars because it's that good   I mean maybe there are a couple scripts they're  that good that people just can throw millions   of dollars at you but there's like that's like a  handful on the planet so people don't understand   it's like that's one of the things that like I try  to instill in people is like if you want to be a   screen screenwriter and do it professionally  you maybe your sixth or seventh will be   good enough to show to a producer your first  script about your uncle isn't going anywhere   and there's millions of those and that's  the problem is like it's not hard to become   a professional screenwriter but you have to  do the work and you have to understand the   business that's what people don't do a lot of  times and is there a hazing with all the knocks   that you're going to get and all the stuff that's  going to be the plug's going to be pulled and then   yeah you have to have very very thick skin  and something that took me a long time to   understand too is you have to interpret notes  because sometimes producers don't like something   but they can't tell you what they don't like so  they say no a and it kind of doesn't make sense   you have to figure it out you have no guideline  because there's I've worked with both kinds of   producers really fantastic a-list producers and  other ones that are good at like putting a film   together but can't articulate the creative side  so you have to figure out what they don't like   and that's your job and that sometimes it's  just alchemy you're like you've got to get   inside their head and understand why they don't  like the first act and when we hear about these   wunderkind or whatever that's like their first  thing and then it's picked up and it's probably   more so maybe in the past I don't know how much  does that spoil us as writers or creatives because   we think oh i'm going to be the next one yeah  it does I mean it does because those stories   get told over and over but they're so few and far  between I know a lot of filmmakers I know a lot   of directors I know a lot of writers and there's  very few films that completely change your life   it's more like a stepping stone from this to this  like maybe you'll do this movie and then you'll   get that one you'll direct a bigger move you went  from directing a million dollar movie to 5 million   to 30. but there are those things where people get  hit by lightning but I always try to say that 50   of of getting a project put together is super  hard work being talented staying focused and   the other 50 is timing and luck because the market  can change within minutes because we had a script   that was this thriller that people liked we  put it on the market and we had some people   really interested in it and then taking came out  like two weeks later and then suddenly my agent   got like 20 calls like the next morning hey that  and it wasn't really even like taken but it just   was like a revenge thriller and it's like so  suddenly the script that everybody's kind of into   becomes everybody's into because something was a  hit so you can't control that you can't control   the market you have to just do the best  work and hope that it goes somewhere sure   it found footage yeah yeah yeah things change so  something you wrote even now like I've had people   like talk to me about like older scripts like hey  what about that and i'm like I don't even want to   send it to you because I feel like a i'm a better  writer and b things have changed it's just that   was written 12 years ago it's not the same kind  of way movies are made because things do evolve   I think I've heard you say it's not about selling  a screenplay it's about getting the movie made yes   yes how how are those two things different  well I mean you you could sell screenplay if   you want to make some money and that's  great but the in my mindset it's like   if I love this script and I want to get made I not  only want to get paid but I want to get it made   because in the long term sure you make  some money but the reason a lot of us   are doing this is to create things so if it's a  document that's just sitting there in a drawer   not many people are going to see it but if it's on  Netflix or something you can get out of the world   so yeah I try to like be very focused  on like how do I get a movie made   but I also have a personality where once I start  getting into some I won't let it go until and just   push and push and push the movie Rage which we  did with Nick Cage that movie took five years to   get made and it was like a five-year like hall of  constantly working and pushing it up the hill at   one time antoine fuqua actually often optioned  the script he was going to direct it and that   would have been fantastic and then we had this  other director and other people were involved   one time ethan hawk was going to be the movie it  just kept falling apart getting put together but   we had to have that tenacity of like all these  setbacks the script's too good not to get made   and a lot of people said it's a great script it's  too bad it didn't get made so i'm like okay well   it's gonna get made and it took us five years to  get it made and it finally got made but it's it's   just a different kind of mindset of like if you  want to be in the film business obviously the end   game is to get movies made the flip  side of that which is kind of like   strange is that sometimes you can get hired  to write a tv pilot that never gets made and   you make a lot more money than a film that does  get made so you have to kind of temper that like   don't get me wrong i'm i'm a capitalist and I love  getting paid but I also want to get a movie made   and completed and finished so were you always like  this where you wanted to see something through to   the end yeah i'm very good so i'm also i'm working  on not being miserable until it's finished I have   a bad habit of like not enjoying the process  which I've got much better at the last few years   but it's kind of a mindset like you have to just  be focused on like the the finish line and not   let go until it's done because movie a million  things can go wrong even even after you shoot it   everything can go wrong in post you could run out  of money things could go sideways the the editor   does a bad job we had a director on a film we had  a fire in post and I had to do the sound mix and   the other producer had to do the color timing so  and we had to reshoot the beginning so it's a it's   a process but we got the movie finished so let's  take that screenwriter though that is that first   screenplay that's he's writing about his uncle his  uncle has a pawn shop and he just he's the coolest   guy and everybody needs to see this film at what  point do you tell that person and they have this   tenacity I don't think it's gonna work yeah that's  a good question but they have to also kind of like   have some self-reflection of like what is this  script doing for producers like at the end of   the day every movie is made for one reason it's  not a creative endeavor it's to make money I mean   secondarily it's creative endeavor but you have to  make money unless you find some rich uncle who's   a billionaire just wants to throw tax shelters at  you that's a whole different story but if it's not   working that script what's wrong with that script  is there not a market for it does it do producers   not you know have do they not get sparked to it  what is the thing that's going to get you to the   to the next level if that script's not working  write another script write something maybe more   commercial write something more personal what  what is not connecting with people on that script   because the thing is what I hear from agents and  managers all the time is like 99 of scripts I get   are horrible people pitching them things are  horrible ideas and it's like if you write some   if you write well and you have a great script it  will get noticed it might not get made you might   not get money but you'll get some kind of notice  on it but what is the level of that good script   is it did you spend three months on it did you  spend two years and keep rewriting the same script   over and over sometimes things don't work I mean  I don't know on my computer the other day I found   probably 40 scripts that were half written or the  first act and i'm like okay it's not working it   didn't come out the way I thought it was and  I don't see how it's gonna be great to sell   I actually have two full scripts  right now I've written that like   I thought were gonna be great i'm like I don't  know they're not what I want to put out right now   so I just put them away maybe I'll come back them  later maybe I'll never even look at them again   but if you want to work as a professional writer  and work all the time that's what you've got to   do is just keep grow one script isn't going to  make a career so follow-through is great tenacity   but at some point having some type of an  awareness that when you're getting notes or   you're just getting just complete rejection that  there's a sign there yes yes okay and sometimes   it's good like if you're working on something  that's not working people are not you know   having any kind of reaction to it try something  else put it away write another kind of script   see what people feel I mean the problem is too  a lot of people give scripts to their friends   and ask their opinion they just go that's great  or or even people who don't know a script from   don't work in the film business you which that's  kind of like a problem too it's like I know a   lot of people subscribe to these like they pay  for coverage or they pay for script notes and   who's giving you those script notes somebody who's  never worked on a movie maybe they know a little   bit more about you so you have to be very careful  those things can be very educational and can help   but you I don't I don't ever like when people  spend a ton of money on those things because I   feel like they're getting ripped off at some point  because if you want to learn how to make a movie   the templates there there's hundreds of thousands  of movies on Netflix you can watch that have been   made you just have to find movies like what you  want to do if you want to write a personal story   or a story about you and your friends and some  girl dumped you watch swingers the template's   there it doesn't have to be the same story but  you can follow the beats and you can see how   it flows and where you the second act turn  happens and where the resolution comes in   and what's the arc it's it's all been done for  you making it sound really easy aren't I well   some people are self-aware and some people aren't  so yeah have you ever paid for script coverage   have you ever no you've never no I've never read  a book about how to write screenplay or anything   but I found that I work a lot of intuition but I  also but what I do though sometimes and even now   that I've been doing this i'm in the writers guild  I've done it for a long time make a living at this   even recently I pulled up a script  for a film because I wanted to do   I was thinking about a spy idea that was  very similar I found the script online   I put the movie on on amazon prime and followed  the script with the movie I don't need to do that   but I did it anyway just to follow the beats  and see what got shot what then that's a great   exercise for people because sometimes the  script you can see what's in it and what's not   but i'm like this has already been done for  me it's a different story I have a completely   different idea of a different story but this spy  movie was awesome so i'm just gonna watch where   all the beats happen and the formula is there  because making a film is like a pop song it's   there in the box it's two hours long or 90 minutes  to two hours you're not reinventing the wheel   we were talking off camera about the exorcist  and friedkin and bill blatty and I think you   just mentioned something about rhythm and I  remember that billboard talked about good writing   has a rhythm we talk about that in terms of  screenwriting yeah you have to really understand   the rhythm of a of a film like think of it like  you you've we've all seen lots of films you have   to think of it like here's the opening where do we  go now then what do you see next then when do you   go back to that character then when do you see the  bad guys show up for the first time you innately   you should understand those rhythms because  they've been done time and time again maybe   that script wasn't originally written like that  but when they shot it they edited it like that but   there's a rhythm to films which is an any good  film in any successful film which you have to kind   of pay attention to like you don't stay with one  character I mean if it's a character study that's   a little different but if it's an action film  you don't stay with character a through the whole   movie you have to go see the bad guy you have to  go set up what's going on here you have to go do   this and you have to have this like understanding  of rhythm because the rhythm on the page is what's   going to get you to the next level the directors  is going to make the movie and he's going to edit   it but if you don't have that those beats in time  and you spend six pages with one guy talking about   something people reading it are just going to tune  out so you have to have this like really phonetic   rhythm of like that happens and when to end on  a scene be like that's a great beat to end on   cut away to somebody's doing something else  cleaning up a dead body what it was whoa catching   the next scene and keeping the rhythm going  where somebody's reading they're like okay okay   okay okay so really good filmmakers do that in the  films but you can apply it to your script as well   can you name three films that has have an  excellent example of rhythm that a new geez   there's like I just said there's a million I  mean one one guy who's really good at rhythm   is matthew vaughn like if you watch his movies  like everything from layer cake to like the   kingsman movies those things have just a rhythm  it's like we go here we do that we introduce   this we do introduce that we introduce this but  there's always two scripts I always tell people   to to watch I mean sorry two films if you want  to learn about screenplay writing and they sound   corny but they're two of the best like films to  understand how scripts work one of them is karate   kid because the first 10 minutes of that movie  so much about the characters and it's so organic   I mean even when daniel larusso shows up at  his new house with his suitcases he has to kick   the gate in and he goes yeah and then the kid  behind the gate gets knocked over goes do karate   I know karate you know it's so simple and so easy  to understand all the characters you you see what   happens to them or what they're doing and you  understand the characters and within 15 minutes   everybody in the movie what they're about how did  they introduce mr miyagi mr miyagi oh the sink's   broke can you go find the handyman so it's very  natural and organic and quick that movie just goes   so those are all in place and then the other  film I always tell people watch is urban cowboy   because that has such a great rhythm of like  almost using no exposition it just kind of goes   okay he's leaving at this house to go live here  he's going to do this he's going to do that he   meets this girl they get in a fight and the next  thing you see is it's their wedding and they're   taking photos it's just got this this pacing  that explains so much without bogging you down   in exposition so that's kind of what rhythm you  have to really pay attention so those are two more   movies that are really good with the rhythm do you  think a lot of new screenwriters they get too hung   up on one character you were saying before like  you have to keep it moving yeah not not only that   but they get hung up on like id things they want  to see in a movie that's a big turning point when   you're writing professionally you have to realize  that like what that cool scene you want to write   and you put in the script it's not going  to work and you have to take it out   because there'll be things where like you  it gets stuck in your head you have to kill   I mean kill your darlings you've heard  it time and time again but it's true   you have to do whatever's right to service  the script and sometimes it's like you might   have written this like amazing intro that you  love but does nothing for the story so it's got   to go or you have to do another one but you  have to like do that and I mean look there's   directors I've worked I've worked with some great  directors I work with some directors that like   want to do something so they're wedging stuff into  the script and it always goes sideways it's like   they saw somebody who did like long runners  and just in a movie recently and they're like   well let's take these five scenes and make it a  one-shot scene and then it screws the story up   but they don't care because it's like they want to  see it so you can't get caught up in like things   you want to do and see that don't work for the  story what do you say to the screenwriter who says   it's not their job to get the movie made it's just  their job to have ideas and come up with a story   they probably won't get any movies made I mean  it's it's a team process it's like if you get   to a certain level where you can get paid very  well for screenplays you can have that mindset   but those are high level professionals that are  like yeah I got paid a half million dollars to   do this and that and good luck and they know  it's a money gig and maybe it might get made   maybe it won't but if you want to like work more  in the 10 million under like indie film trenches   you've got to like really be part of  the process or what happened you'll   just be cut out of it completely they'll they  won't ask you and then you'll watch a movie   and this has happened to me it's something that  I worked on that like I wasn't really part of   the pro and you don't it's not even your script  it's not your story and your name's on it so it's   it's in your best interest to stay involved in  the process and to be a team player and nobody   wants to deal with a negative writer either if  you're like no those ideas are bad or that's bad   you have to kind of frame it in a way that like  that's good what about this oh yeah you because   you have to become very if you're going to do this  for a living you have to not let criticism affect   you you have to just be like okay if somebody  doesn't like something no big deal because   other people that don't do this all the time  like some producers and some actors and stuff   they're very precious about their ideas  and can get very emotionally hurt if you   just go no that's bad so you have to like be a  little bit of a a therapist and and somebody who   understands what the other people are thinking  why they're even asking these things because I   one of the best things I ever learned was this  one actor i'm not gonna say it was had a really   bad idea on this movie and kept saying it over and  over and it made no sense and I said the director   one day I was like why does he keep talking about  this bad idea and the director said look he goes   guys like us we have a hundred ideas a day we  throw away 99. guys like him has one idea every  

six months he can't let it go and that was  a big light bulb it's like well that's why   he likes that bad idea because he doesn't have any  other ideas so you have to kind of manage that and   be part of the process or they'll just leave you  behind they'll just go make the movie without you   do you literally have like a hundred ideas I mean  are you let's say in line waiting with a mask to   let you let into the grocery store and you're like  oh wait what that lady reminds me of this that   would make the perfect sense I probably come up  i'm not kidding i'd probably come up with at least   10 ideas for films a week if not  more and write them down and some are   just some have legs you have to kind of like I  have a system where I try to figure out if it's   actually a story or script but yeah I  come up with them all the time like I mean   literally all the time there used to be a joke  pitch that my writing partner I used to do   sometimes to lighten the room when we'd be  just in a meeting we'd say oh we got this   idea for this movie it's like it's point break  on motorbikes and the cyclones are coming in   and yeah or the tornadoes are coming in they have  to rob the banks before tornadoes hit and this   fbi agent has to infiltrate the group it was a  joke idea somebody sold that exact same script   for like a half a million dollars a few years  later like no I don't think they stole our id   or anything it's just in the ether but it's  what seemed like a joke idea is somebody else   so it's like you have to have a lot of ideas and  you have to know like what ideas are gonna work   because they're I've worked on a few scripts that  are great fantastic scripts and nobody wants to   make them because there's just this issue or that  issue the producers think it's too hard it won't   make its money back so it's a it's a balance  between the business side and the creative side   so when you do have a great idea what is your  process for at least putting it somewhere that   you can come back to and how do whether you  want to take it further I usually I email them   to myself so I have all these random emails that  that half the time don't make sense like you know   second act on on a plane giant fight guy loses his  wife hitman finds out his ex-wife is married to   somebody else yeah things like that so I have all  these weird random things but then once I really   dig in I have a process to figure out if something  can be a script and usually it's I figure out the   entire first act beat by beat by beat like the  first 20 pages this happens that happens this   happens like the first six or seven scenes then I  know what happens in the second hack turn kind of   what shifts the movie or the story and then how  it ends and if I can figure all that out then I   know I pretty much can write a pretty good script  so that's usually what I do first I don't want to   know the whole story beat by beat by beat because  I figured some things out along the way that I   would have never thought of now there's other  times I've kind of thought the whole thing out   almost in more bigger beats and bigger sections  but that's usually what I do is I know the first   act how it ends what happens in the middle  and then what happens at the end and that's it   so it starts as an idea you could be pumping gas  somewhere and you go quickly and email yourself   this little like log line or whatever and then  from there on a weekend maybe when you have quote   spare time you go and try to do the first 20  pages yeah usually the ideas that that I can't   stop thinking about are the ones I know are good  they keep popping back in my head because there's   some ideas you just come up with nah throw it away  it's pretty good but it's not great but the ones   that keep reoccurring are the ones that I feel  like okay I gotta work on this there's something   here because it's stuck in my head and also too  ideas are great testing ground with people too   I mean this is for more like commercial type  films but if you can pitch an idea in two three   sentences to somebody just your friends or whoever  and they kind of do this weird thing I've noticed   this is when you have a good idea not when people  go that's great when they think about it for about   three seconds and they go oh that's good that's  when it's actually connecting with people so if   you have an idea and you say that to 10 people and  they kind of all go or they ask you about it again   later it's a good idea so if I tell you I have  this great script about my uncle and he's really   cool he has a pawn shop in hoboken and he's just  a really funny guy and he always knows when some   fence is coming in to like and yeah and I look  at you and you go what are you going to tell me if you want to take the time to write that but  no I mean it might be the greatest script ever   but I've noticed that's one thing I've noticed too  is that the screenplays that get a lot of traction   and get a lot of people's interest or things  that can be described in two three sentences   because a lot of times if you're pitching the  idea or a creative exec reads it they have to   go down the hall and pitch it to their boss so  it's too complicated it's going to get lost in   translation so if it's something that we saw  the tv show that like everybody understood the   pitch in two sentences I think that's why it  kept just snowballing and snowballing because   it was like okay great everybody got it without  reading the pilot without it was like okay good   so those kind of things seem to really  work with people at least getting   you through the front door if the scripts bad it's  not gonna go anywhere but you have to make things   digestible for people too that are working you  have to keep in mind producers real producers are   working like 20 30 projects in development hearing  pitches all day talking about things working on   films if you give them some overly complicated  idea about your uncle in a pawn shop they're   going to be like wait what'd you say again like  10 minutes later so there's that how long after   selling your first screenplay did you sell your  second it happened pretty quick because the next   screenplay I don't know if it was the next thing  we wrote but i'd come up one day I was at the   tower records the old one that used to have a  video you could rent videos and dvds sunset yes   they had two the one across the street  the one that had the dvd store in it   and I was looking at dvds I was like I had this  idea it was like Dario Argento I saw his he had   a section I was like his movies are cool and  I watched a lot of his movies from the 70s   it's like we should do a retro kind of Dario  Argento film and that was when horror was really   hitting its peak in like 2007 2008 so it's  like let's just write like a 70s jello type   thing that has all those tropes and just have fun  with it and we did and literally like I don't know   how this happens is like two months later this  friend of mine who's from Italy goes oh you have   something like Dario's movies I'll send it to  Dario or like like okay I didn't really know   this guy that well so and then I get a call  like a week later and Dario Argento on the   phone from Italy he's like I love your script  I want to do it so that movie got made I don't   the universe just wanted that movie to get made  we had a lot of problems with the production but   it was just strange it was like one day it's like  and sometimes the universe just kind of leads you   in right in certain directions because I just was  like I like his movies let's do something like his   a retro 70s throwback film and then he literally  directed it and Adrien Brody was in it so it's   how does this happen from from the concept of  being in that video store like a year later I   was in Italy on set so sometimes things just have  a weird synergy projects have a weird synergy too   that's the other thing people have to realize it's  happened to me on so many where i'm banging my   head trying to get this movie made and it's just  not working and then sometimes you write something   and every step of the way it just snows balls  it it connects at the right time and right place   I don't know why but it just does and  that did and it's about a missing model   yeah because that's what all the 70s movies  were about like missing pretty girls so it it   leaned into all those tropes of it it was like  this this girl who was a model went missing her   sister's looking for her in a and doesn't speak  the language and finds this America n who actually   does and helps her out so yeah the movies cut some  problems but it was it was fun to make and it was   a great adventure and dario's an amazing person  and a great director another again I've been I   feel like I've had the million dollar film school  because I've got to work with so many great people   so yeah so that was that was that taught me a lot  about how things can go wrong on a movie which   i'm not going to go into too much detail but a  lot of stuff went wrong mostly with the money   and the budgets and we didn't have as much  money to finish the film so halfway through   you find that out it's like it's it was a  real a lot of problems not creatively but   on the business end of the film was it filmed in  Italy yeah oh I see okay yeah great wow it looks   like a good I gotta go to Italy for three months  yeah that's nice that was fun to sell a screenplay   do you have to really believe you can sell it  yeah yeah I think you need to believe in the in   the screenplay you have to believe in yeah because  it's a hustle especially if it's your first one so   you need to really believe in it it needs to be  something that you believe in something that you   think you can sell and you just need to be kind of  relentless but if it doesn't work out you need to   move on to the next script because the question  is you need to ask yourself as an up-and-coming   screenplay writer if you want to do this for a  living do you want to write things for yourself   to direct do you want to be a working screenwriter  because if you're if you get to the level where   you're taking jobs which has happened to me  on several projects i'm getting hired to write   something there's like an adaptation of a book  or a comic book so I don't have any say in the   creative thing but you can get paid very well to  like do that work so are you doing it for yourself   are you doing it because you want to constantly  write now if you want to do it as a living   in that sense where you're writing all the time  you don't get to choose all the time what you want   to write you may have to do a rewrite you may have  to do this so it becomes more about work than like   just believing just in the project you have  to believe in yourself and it becomes more   about like just doing the work and doing the  work correctly and efficiently and on time   so when things haven't panned out have you  had like a heart to heart with yourself like   well I didn't really believe in it yeah no  I think because most those those projects   I'll get rid of them before they get to that point  like I won't finish them or even if I do I'll be   honest about like I don't think everybody's gonna  want to buy this I think it's great but no one's   going to want to make it because the other thing  too is like you have to really realize that in   regards to indie films or smaller 10 million  under film the only way they're really going   to get financed unless you have a rich uncle is  that you have to have actors in them you have to   name actors that finance the film you can't just  ask somebody for five million dollars and say   the guy from vampire diaries who's the fifth  lead is gonna be the lead in it it's not gonna   work they're gonna wanna name actor they're going  to be like okay we want Frank Grillo and we want   John Travolta we want to make sure that we can  make our money back so you have to also think   too is that project appealing to actors that will  get your movie made because that's a big important   component to the whole process so you've been  in situations where you think you like it but   you don't think others will or a producer well  how do that that's the case just instinct just   kind of knowing what and it might not be  the right time to put something out too   because it's like okay these movies are hot horror  movies are hot right now all anybody wants to make   are these so you just have to be really honest  with yourself and it you can send it but you   only have so many shots of like getting people  to read things too if you keep sending them junk   you're not gonna get anywhere even even i'm very  careful never to send my agents and managers   too much stuff because I'll be like oh that  was okay so I only try to send them the best   stuff that I do can you think of a screenplay  of yours that you did not think would sell   and did yes broken vows which was made with jamie  alexander and wes bentley yeah it was just it was   a script that my writing partner and I wrote and  then we weren't really too happy with it we knew   it was good but it wasn't great and we just kind  of stuck it in a drawer and then I got a call like   two or three years later from a producer friend  of mine said hey do you got anything that can be   made for two and a half million dollars and we're  looking for a thriller or something in that genre   so I was like yeah here we we never sent this out  we never gave it to our agent even to read check   it out it's good we could maybe work on a little  bit more make it better and then I get called like   a week later like okay cool we got the financing  let's make it so that was like literally like   just finding a movie in a drawer because it was  just sitting in a file but I also think two part   of that is that goes back to what i'm saying about  some of the stuff that I think is not up to to par   it's still I've written some some things that are  very professional and could get made but I don't   want to like take my shots with those because I  just think they're not maybe they're 90 they're   not 100. so I think even something that on my 90  because I've worked on so many things is still   good enough to turn into a film the opportunity  just arose that this was a good opportunity to   take that film that was like 90 there and  they were looking for something like that   so it worked great did you think it was  too edgy no it just seemed I don't know   I don't know why it just didn't it didn't  even click with the writers in some ways   we knew it was good but it didn't click with us  but then we worked out a little bit more once it   got serious and then it became a different kind  of film and became a little bit better so I don't   know it was just a weird situation where it was  just script was sitting in a drawer and ended up   getting fully financed and made with great actors  and I think the actors brought a lot to it too   so it was one of those projects that and that's  what you always want is your screenplay can be   here but hopefully the the finished products  one step better sometimes it goes the other   direction where I have one movie which i'm  not going to say which movie which everybody   who saw in the film business was a screenplay  was great which that's very disheartening when   it should get a step or two better when when  it's shot and edited and made into a film   broken vowels was like like a romantic deception  or yeah what was it sorry it's been a while   yeah it was like a stalker movie but the  guy was a stalker usually you saw it as   as the girls the stalker now they've had quite  a few of those I think we wrote it like 2008   and then it got made in 2013. so it was it  was that the guy was like obsessed with the   woman and I mean they've made quite a few of  those since then so and it was wes bentley   that yeah the obsessed oh yes yeah yeah  he's great great to work with great guy so   yeah and so from that time that you got that call  where they said hey what do you got hanging around   when was the movie actually finished what was  the time for him probably about a year later   and we had to do the post everybody chipped in  I did the sound mix the other producer did the   color timing so it took a little bit longer to  get made but yeah so it was made and I think   lion's gate lines get distributed so so when they  said what do you have you said well I've got this   thing and you kind of were almost talking them out  of it before no just I didn't know what they were   really looking for so it was just it was like okay  you've got this certain amount of money that you   want to invest in a film you're looking for this  type of film but I did tell them from the get-go   I was like this is the kind of film we can easily  cast because it's got some good parts for actors   and they're between 25 and 35 which is a really  good spot to find some good actors and we did   what no bs screenwriting advice can you give to  young screenwriters or even older who've never   sold something and think that they can make a  living at this well you gotta really be realistic   you have to look at the steps involved if and  what is your end game do you want to get a movie   made it's a small movie what kind of movie is it  are you writing a kind of studio type script are   you writing kind of a a small intimate thing  that can be made for half a million dollars   so you have to kind of set the parameters of  what you want to do and kind of take it from   there because if you're a young screenwriter and  you want to do this for a living I mean you need   to write a couple samples and write some scripts  you need to be around the film business tv's given   a lot of opportunities to being on writing staff  there's so many tv shows now too that's a great   way to becoming a writer you can become a writer's  assistant get to know the the working writers   and you'll actually get paid taking notes doing  things and learn how it all works and that that   will help you with jobs if you're a little  bit older I mean you should really work on   work on your screenplays but also determine what  do you want to do is it something that you want   to try to get made on your own do you want to try  like it's a little bit different are you writing   a john wick movie or are you writing a small  intimate thing because if it's a john wick movie   that means you have to sell it through the studio  system that's very hard to break into until you   like are working at a certain level it does happen  but you usually have to work your way up you don't   just all of a sudden you're not up for like these  gigantic jobs of writing 100 billion dollar films   so that's that's a whole kind of skill set  into itself so my advice would be just just   keep working but work on your craft because  people don't do that they don't they don't   take the time to actually keep rewriting and  learning to write they write one thing and they   think here it is world and that that's why it  doesn't get made and then they get frustrated   but I think anybody who's going to take if you're  determined and you want to take 10 years of your   life working super hard to get somewhere you can  get somewhere you get some movies made you can   you can do it for a livi

2022-02-14 08:18

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