Today’s guest is screenwriter Allen Johnson. Allen has taken a unique path to become a working screenwriter. He has been able not only to sell ten screenplays but has been able to do it without an agent and living outside of Hollywood. Allen lives in South Carolina, not exactly a mecca for screenwriting. In this episode, we dive into how he was able to make a living writing screenplays and discuss his tips and tricks to get screenwriting gigs.
Some info on today’s guest: Allen Johnson is a Screenwriter, Historic European Martial Artist, and a fight choreographer/stunt fighter. Allen has had several screenplays and stage plays produced with several more in development. He has trained in historic swordplay for over 15 years and has been involved with the Society of American Fight Directors for about 6 years.
He also teaches numerous screenwriting classes, workshops, and panels, and has appeared as a guest speaker on writing as well as providing script coverage services to others. He continues to train in historic martial arts with the Palmetto Knights: Historic Steel Combat Team, based out of Columbia, South Carolina.
Enjoy my inspirational conversation with Allen Johnson.
Alex Ferrari 0:36
I'd like to welcome to the show Alan Johnson. Brother, thank you so much for being on the show, bro.
Allen Johnson 3:49
I am honored to be here. Thank you so much for the invite. Looking forward to it.
Alex Ferrari 3:52
Yeah, man. Absolutely. So you are a longtime tribe member. Without question, you bet. I talked to you on on the Ask Alex show when I was doing that for a while like this, like two years ago now?
Allen Johnson 4:06
Yeah. Yeah. years ago. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 4:08
It two, three years ago, we did that. And we were talking. And you reached out to me the other day. And you were just just as a casual statement, you just said oh, by the way. Yeah, you know, I've shot I've sold 10 scripts, and three of them got produced. And I also sold some plays, and they're being produced as well. And you know, and I'm like, wait a minute, you don't live in LA? And like, how does this work? So I was like, I need to get you on the show. I invited you on the show. Because I want to give everybody out there who's listening to this podcast, some hope that you don't have to live in LA to make this happen. You look, we all love to get the big giant projects, but there's ways of making a living with your art and with your writing outside of the Hollywood system. So before we jump into all of that, sir, how did you get started in the business?
Allen Johnson 4:55
Well, it's been a really long slow journey like most kids have. Are our vintage were of similar vintages as you'd like to say, yeah, you know, I grew up obsessing over our film heroes, you know, I, I wanted to be Obi Wan I wanted to be Indiana Jones. You know, I wanted to do all I wanted to be James Bond all these exciting action heroes, you know, that we grew up with. And I grew up mainly in South Carolina. And as we all know, it is another mecca of Hollywood. Yeah, I mean, there was nothing, there was nothing. There was no realization that, you know, people actually did this for a living. It was just a magic thing that happened in a dark theater, you know, so I never really had any formal education. The only time I ever got close to anything was like my senior year in high school, my friends and I got together and made a ridiculous spoof film, it was awful. We had to borrow a VHS camcorder from the athletic department in order to shoot this thing over a single weekend. It was awful. But that was my that was my first taste. And I was never a great student. I was always the one always daydreaming, getting that was the note always going home to my mom constantly daydreaming? Well, look at me now. daydreaming for a living, right? Yeah, but, but but I couldn't get into a really good university, I went to a junior college for a while and actually had a decent little theater program. And so I started getting into acting, a few classes, you know, of touching on to script analysis, stuff like that. And I enjoyed that. And then I finally was able to transfer it to a four year university, I transferred to the University of Utah, which is great, because we had Sundance right there in our backyard. So I had an opportunity to see that. And you know, and again, though, this was in the early 2000s, you know, this is like 2000 2001 2002. So is it's a very different world than it is now. We were just starting to see the the the the celebrity invasion of of a Sundance and how that thing changed over time. But I continued to make a few little short films here and there, nothing was, it was it was really great. I was not a talented filmmaker. The education that I got, there was mainly theoretical, a lot of film theory, I read a ton, and watched a ton of movies, which are great, great education. You know, I think that's something that's missing from a lot of young filmmakers today, they don't study the classics. And so I had great background in that great study. But all the upper level classes were all they were they were geared for people who were voted in essentially by the administration, and they only had a very few amount of cameras and equipment. And back then everything was taught on 16 millimeter, because that's how real artists did it, obviously. And of course, you know, back then, I mean, they taught editing as actual splicing flap out of the film. Yeah, I remember seeing walking by these guys with these glazed look in their eyes, staring at this flip flop flip flop thing in this box, you know, as they're taping, their, you know, pulling the tape across their thing, learning how to edit and, and of course, we had to fight over the few high eight camcorders. And we were editing on like a 1999 version of Final Cut. You know, the one that if you had a five minute video took about five hours to render, inevitably, it would crash halfway through, and then you'd have to start all over, you know, people sleeping underneath the desks in the editing room and stuff like that. And so that was, you know, my film education and I, during this time, I was never aware of any kind of, you know, here's a way to get out to LA and here's what here's a sponsorship or any kind of internship or anything like that. Nothing like that was available, or, you know, they just didn't offer it to me. One way or the other, you know, that was it. But at the same time, I was continuing to try and do acting, I found a little agent, they're in town, and I started doing commercials and things like that, at the same time. Kind of my other passion along with this. I do historical European martial arts. I specialize in historical European sword fighting. So I started sport fencing in college. And then I got into the more historical aspect, I started finding ways to get into films that way, doing some stunt fighting, doing some choreography. But after a while, I started really focusing in on my screenwriting classes had a really great professor. And that's where I really found my love, I really found being able to sit there and create and to delve deep into these characters and come up with whatever I wanted. I didn't have a budget you know, so that was that was really became a passion for me and that's really where I kept kept honing my craft. In fact, I took it took the class a couple of times without getting credit for it. You know, I had expired my allotment for getting collegiate credit for this class, but I kept wanting to take it because I loved the the atmosphere so much.
So that went on for a while and then Everything started to stagnate. life wasn't going well had some relationship changes that didn't go well. I was getting down is getting depressed. I was working at a movie theater as a manager, and then a glorious gig, you know, do whatever you can to even touch the the the
Unknown Speaker 10:17
Allen Johnson 10:18
the cell. Yes, yes. And then we actually had to back then we actually had, you know, flatbed reels with the the film on it, you know, we had to do an upright, you know, stuff like that. So I'm sitting there. And, you know, I one day, I'm sitting there opening up the theater, and it wasn't in a great area of town, I've got a gun press up to my face, because a guy's jacking the till for literally 65 bucks. I'm like, Dude, this is gonna buy you a shoe. You know, not, not even a pair. And so I think I need a life reboot. I just need to kind of hit reset, and it was your Fight Club moment.
Alex Ferrari 10:54
It was when Tyler journey puts it puts a gun to the head at the end in the back alleys. Like, what do you really want to do? Yeah.
Allen Johnson 11:01
So, but at this point, I didn't have any options. So I went back home to South Carolina, I went back to my roots. And, you know, again, I was hoping that I'd be able to kind of re get back into things and find a new way to get back in. But it was even worse. You know, it was it was just dry. There was no market, there was no opportunity. I did find a little agent got a little extra work here and there. But if
Alex Ferrari 11:24
you got an agent in South Carolina, yeah. So they had no, they had screenwriting agents writing agents in South Carolina says
Allen Johnson 11:31
more is more Talent Agent just because I was trying to grasp for anything, so it was not a literary agent wasn't anything like that. So I got in a Kevin Bacon movie as an extra sitting in an office and you know,
Alex Ferrari 11:44
Allen Johnson 11:46
well, now I'm great at the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, I scored that game now. Right. So. But, you know, at that point, it was there was nothing. So I submit one of my favorite scripts of all time to a screenwriting contest, this is the script that I just absolutely loved. I was this is the best work I've ever done. And the thing with this contest is this. If you submitted to this contest, you get free coverage. And I was really excited about that. And the coverage I got back just absolutely. It destroyed the story. I mean, I keep I keep it with me, everywhere I go to to keep me accountable. And to remind me I mean, I've got the thing right here. And the comments were you know, this, this is a premise without any commercial spin. Why would a producer spend money on this? This has been done many times the script is dull from page one, there isn't a shred of originality to this. There's like four or four pages of that. I quit that day. I quit that day I was done. That's it. That was the best thing I could have ever written.
Alex Ferrari 12:59
You took your shot. You went up to the plate. And that was it. That's it.
Allen Johnson 13:04
That was it. There was nothing. There was nothing. So I started getting into jobs I had I was doing designing brochures for a restroom partition company. I was one of those horrible people that called you in the middle of the dinner, asking if you want to refinance on your home. I mean, that's how bad it had sunk, you know. So about a year after that contest, I get a call out of the blue from a friend of mine from outwest, who lives still lived in Utah. He was a dp really good dp. He had been working on an independent film for a producer and he says, Are you still writing? Kind of, you know, what are you looking at? He says, Well, this guy just finished shooting a film form. He wants to jump right into another one. But he needs a writer. Can I send him something for you?
Alex Ferrari 13:52
If that's like, that's if that's not the universe knocking on your door. I don't know what it is.
Allen Johnson 13:57
But it's one of those things where like, do I even dare to get my hopes up even a little so of course, I sent it off. And in less than a week, called me up said I love what you read. You wrote here. I want you to write this story for me. Here's the concept. We're shooting in a month. Let's go. That was my first professional sale. That's my first professional assignment. Since then, I've had 1010 professional sales. They've all been assignments, and three of them had been produced I've been able to to produce or sell for stage plays. Three of those have been produced. I've been able to write magazine articles. I've spoken on panels and workshops and conventions, and two different kinds of writing groups. And my best accomplishment 10 years ago I got married and my wife is still with me. They haven't they haven't disowned me yet. From you know, literal from going to the point where I thought there was no hope whatsoever, I thought that I didn't have anything to offer. And here and all this takes place in sunny South Carolina, you know, right. Like,
Alex Ferrari 15:13
that's, that's fascinating, man. That's fast. So did you ever consider moving to LA?
Allen Johnson 15:19
I did a little bit, I had seen a number of people who had made that jump. Especially when I was living in Salt Lake You know, they're they're excited. They had both as actors and producers and directors and writers, they made that jump and just about without fail, within six months to year, they all came back, they got chewed up and spit out. And they were angry and bitter and broke. And, and, to me, that's all I knew. So well, if you make that jump, unless you've got an in already, there's no hope. So I was too scared to make that jump. I never thought you know, I could, I could do that. It takes a lot of money to make that jump and it just wasn't there. You know, I
Alex Ferrari 16:01
mean, being an East Coast boy, myself, it took me years before I jumped out here, I got out here 11 years ago. And it took me I mean, I went out once. I think right after that whole shooting for the mob thing came out to LA and I was my I got my ass handed to me, like complete, like so handed to me wasn't even funny. And I went back to back to Florida with my tail between my legs. It took me another four years before I attempted it, you know, not four years, like seven years before I attempted it again. But at that point, it was a little bit different. I was on my feet, I was coming from a place of strength. But I came out here with nothing. Like I had, I knew two people, no job prospects, my whole plan was have a final cut system. I'm just gonna set it up in my extra bedroom that we're going to get a two bedroom place in North Hollywood, and we'll see what happens. And it just so happened that everything kind of worked out. But it's I get you, I get it. It's not an easy jump. But also if you only know one way like like, oh, if you move to LA if you don't have a job waiting for you, you're gonna get destroyed. Yes, yes. And no, it all depends on how you lay it out. I what I find fun what I find interesting about your story, and I think it's something we could dive into a little bit is that first right hook that you got with that coverage? Yeah, that decimated you. Absolutely. That completely knocked you out. And it's so many of us on our journey. You know, I always I always refer to that quote by Rocky Balboa is like, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. And it's so true. And you're going to get those punches and you're going to get that shrapnel you're going to get that the scarring, you're going to get all of that stuff, you know, you're going to get weathered, you know, you're going to get weather during this during this process. And I find that fascinating that How old were you when you got that? That smack?
Allen Johnson 18:07
Let's see. That was I think I was probably in my early to mid 30s. Yeah, so
Alex Ferrari 18:13
you weren't a kid anymore. You don't know you weren't a kid. But at that point, and I feel you because I was there because I lived outside of the Hollywood for so long. That that one punch, you know, knocks you out? And, you know, it's it's, it's it's interesting, if you wouldn't have gotten that phone call from that dp, what do you think would have happened? Because that phone call changed your life?
Allen Johnson 18:38
It absolutely did. You know, I like to think that if you, I didn't have that perspective, then but I kind of have a little bit of this perspective. Now. If you keep on doing what you do, and you do it in the right way. I think that you are going to be given opportunities to succeed, you just have to be sure that you're in a place to accept them, and have the, I guess, ammo, for lack of a better term to take advantage of the situation. If I wouldn't have had a script ready to go when he made that call, that opportunity would have passed me by you know, I'd like to think if I was still trying to do the right thing and be a better person and stuff like that somehow I would have been rewarded with another opportunity. But you can't bake on that you have no idea. And by my spirit still would have been crushed, I would still have been in the soul crushing job that I that I hated. Waiting for what I don't know. You know?
Alex Ferrari 19:34
I mean, I'm still waiting for that studio to call me. You know, I've taken meetings and I've done a lot of things outside of that, but I'm still waiting for Marvel to call me and see, you know, to get that, you know, like I always put out there like Marvel I'll take the meeting. We'll see what
Allen Johnson 19:49
happens. But I was I put out there that you know, my my favorite character in all fiction is Obi Wan. And so apparently the universe has passed me by with the opportunity to write the Adobe series, but that's okay. I'm happy that it's happening.
Alex Ferrari 20:05
I was gonna ask you, I was gonna ask you, I was gonna ask you that I was like, so what do you think of that whole Obi Wan Kenobi series coming up? Because I know you're such a huge fan of Obi Wan Yeah,
yeah, yeah, I know, I'm excited for it. I'm glad that it's happening. And I absolutely tickled that that yuans gonna be a part of that. And, you know, I couldn't I couldn't think of anybody better to do that. And I'm just The only negative is that I'm not involved.
But obviously Yeah, I mean, I I said the same thing. I said the same thing about every single Marvel movie ever made. And for that matter, every Star Wars movie ever made. So, alright, so you got the one you one opportunity to write a screenplay? And do you mind? If you do mind talking about money? Or is that something you want to kind of keep quiet even in the early stuff?
Allen Johnson 20:52
I can, I can tell you what I was told, I have no idea if what I was told about the budget at the beginning, was the same at the end. So at the beginning, they were talking about a $300,000 budget, and I think it ballooned up from there, I'm pretty sure I have no idea what it ended up being at the end, of course, you know, as a writer, you know, you work with them before early on in a process, you complete your draft, you turn it in, and then you sit around and the film comes out. And you're like, Oh, that's what you did with it, you know? So that's, you know, you're usually out, you know, once you turn in that final draft, you're usually out of the the process.
Alex Ferrari 21:28
So by doing that one project, that kind of just you just kept getting work from that producer, you start, how did you get the next the next hands then
Allen Johnson 21:36
it was it was all kind of linked together. There were a couple other projects that came from that producer. There were other people that worked on that production in other capacities that went on to do other jobs, that ended up reaching out to me and said, Hey, I really like what you did here, you're easy to work with, I like how you collaborate, I have this idea, you know, or I'm working with this, or I've got this business partner, he wants to do this thing. Let's explore this idea. And it kind of ballooned out from there. So it was it was these links and chains. And then a couple of times, there were instances where I saw somebody that was working on a project that I liked. And I just contacted them, you know, online and just said, Hey, I really like what you're doing. This is a lot like the type of stuff that I enjoy doing. Here's my IMDb if you ever looking for another writer in the future, you know, I'd love to work with you. And once or twice that's been you know, they've come back, they haven't all worked out as far as getting all the way through production. But you know, just keeping an eye on just being a fan, you know, saying I like what you're doing. I want to be a part of it. Here's what I've done so far. You know, if you want if you'd love to want to collaborate, I'm here,
Alex Ferrari 22:51
you know, so you're basically you're hustling, sir. Yes, yes.
Allen Johnson 22:56
You know, and and again, it's it's it's kind of funny because one thing that I've had to accept as I I'm getting on in my ears, I'm not as young as I used to be, I'm now doing the dancing season, like a great chicken or something like that? I don't know. But, um, but I've had to manage my expectations a little bit more. What I think it's really important, at least for me in my career, to identify what am I willing to sacrifice to get my goals? What am I not willing to sacrifice to get older that does become very important changes, it changes I'm willing to sacrifice a lot to achieve my my screenwriting dreams. I'm not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my wife, I'm not willing to sacrifice my relationship with my kids. That means that sometimes my indie film hustle turns into a little bit more of an indie film shuffle. You know, it's it filmmaking over 40 in default shuffle, you know, but it's it changes you know, it it, you have to be at peace with that too. So as long as you're willing to establish You know what, you're willing to sacrifice what you're not willing to sacrifice, and then work towards that and be at peace with the rest you know, you can manage your expectations a little bit better from there.
Alex Ferrari 24:15
I think as you as you get older, you start to realize at least I have that you you start defining what happiness is for you. And you start defining what not only what you're willing to do what kind of BS you're willing to put up with if any as you get older but that that tolerance level goes way down than it used to like things I did in my 20s I would shoot somebody now if I had to do because I just don't have the patience for that anymore. I
Allen Johnson 24:45
don't got time for foolishness anymore.
Alex Ferrari 24:47
Yeah, I just don't and, and, and just being just understanding the definition of what makes you happy. is so powerful man because I really hope I'm really hope that people out there can just dive into that one question like, what makes me happy? Like, you know, what, what do I really need to be happy? And is it? Do I have to live in the Hollywood Hills and make a billion dollars? Sure, that's a dream, if you wanted to be a dream great, is it going to really make you happy? What are the chances of you getting to that point, in this lifetime, you have to be honest with yourself, I'm all about chasing that dream, don't get me wrong, that's what my whole thing is about. But be you know, like, I always say, like, follow your dream, but Don't be an idiot. You know, so,
Allen Johnson 25:42
and also translates well, to, you know, how we spend our time. I, I'm really disturbed by this growing trend of how much time people spend, especially online, discussing how much they hate something,
you know, so much wasted energy,
Alex Ferrari 26:00
if you were to take half of that time, right, and dedicated it to something constructive, or at least building up something that you like, you know, how much better you know, would it be, you know, you could, you can actually be generating something positive. And I've noticed that, you know, with, with people that you work with professionally, if somebody is constantly talking about how much they hate something and how much, you know, this is, this is horrible, and that's horrible, you'd want to work with that person, you want to be the the person who's who's upbeat, who's positive, who builds up, you know, and, and, and that took me a while to realize one of my, in my past, I was also a film critic for about a year for a small little newspaper, but you
did anything to be around the business, anything,
anything, and I enjoyed being a film critic in the in the sense that, you know, I got to go to all these screenings and stuff like that, and that was a lot of fun. I enjoyed that. Watch about four to five movies a week, you know, in the theater. But I was a terrible critic, I was bitter because I thought that's what I had to be, you know, that's that film school mentality. You know, if it's not black and white and subtitled, then it's just drivel for the masses, you know, anything that could remotely be, you know, commercially relevant, you know, that's, that's for the ground links down there, and your to the above such thing, and you start to buy into that stuff, and it's ridiculous. But then one day, you wake up and the sun is shining, and the birds are singing you think yourself, man, I just want to watch Andy punch some Nazis, man.
Allen Johnson 27:30
And you're wrong with that. That's, that's,
that's what I want to do. You know, and so that's, that's kind of been my thing. You know,
Alex Ferrari 27:37
I've been I've been pumping this theory out lately. And it's gonna be in a bunch of episodes coming up. And I've said it a couple times. But I think it's something it's a really great analogy about the disease that both you and I have. And it is a disease. I mean, once you get bitten by this, this virus, which is called being a filmmaker being in the film industry, it is there is no vaccination for there's no immunization for it. And I mean, it's kind of like herpes. It's kind of like, once you get it, you got it for life. It's sometimes it's dormant, but sometimes it flares up. And you know, and but no matter what you do, you're always a little itch. There's something like, you know, it's it's always there. It's a horrible analogy, but it's so
Allen Johnson 28:22
true. It is it is absolutely true. You know, and it's it's one of those things where, you know, it's when people ask you, you know, about writing, why would you do something like that, and you have other talents, don't you? And you respond to job, Nicolas, like, it's not that I can't do anything, but right, but I just can't do anything but right. You know, and they just sit there and blink at you. And you're like, Well, you know, that's they don't get it, either get it or you don't. And I am so incredibly blessed. I'm so fortunate that I have an incredible wife who supports me. Oh, amen. And, and, I mean, if you, everybody has got to have that person in their camp, whether it's a spouse, or a partner, or a friend or whatever, that's just support you 100% you also need the people that can call you out on stuff. And sometimes that could be the same person. Some, sometimes you can get somebody that you know, gives you honest feedback, that can really be critical, but loving, but you always need that person there to say no matter what, I'm going to believe in you. Because you have to have that life raft. It's way too hard without it.
Alex Ferrari 29:32
Yeah, there's no question. I mean, I couldn't have Well, there would be no indie film hustle without my wife. So I'd be straight up. I mean, if it wasn't for her, telling me Alex, do what you got to do. You're gonna and I still work and I still was doing post and I was still directing every once in a while, but she was the one that just kept supporting me. She's like, I know this is gonna turn into something. It's just gonna take time. I believe in you and that, that belief is what got me through you. All this time that I've been doing this, it's been a little over four years now that I've been with indie film muscle, and all the stuff I've done, but if it wasn't for her, it would have never, it really wouldn't have happened, you know, if I would have had someone nagging or jumping on top of me, like, what do you do go get a staff job somewhere, or no, she gave me the freedom to do what I need to do it. There's never underestimate the power of a good, a good partner, whether male or female, whatever, you know, whatever. Whatever support you can get man is so invaluable. And the thing you know, again, I wanted to have you on the show, man, because you represent something that I haven't had on the show before, which is somebody who's making a living outside of the Hollywood system. And to give people who are listening, hope that that can be done, because that is not an image that is projected anywhere. I don't see that anywhere. I don't see anyone talking about it. I don't see anyone saying, Hey, I live in South Carolina, and I'm a working screenwriter, like that is not something I see. I just don't see it. And I'm in this every day, right? I read everything. I'm in this all the time, I talked to a lot of people, I've never seen this. But that's why I wanted to kind of put this, this image out into the world and having you come on is so important, because I really do hope it gives people out there, not only in the US, but in the world. You know, and you know that they don't live in near a major city or they're, you know, in Calcutta somewhere or, you know, they're in South Africa or something like that, there's always a way to do it. It's just about being prepared when that opportunity knocks, but you've got to show up every day, with no expectations. You know, you got to show up every day with no expectations of what's going to happen. And if you just keep showing up every day, and I use indie film, hustle is such a good analogy for that. Because every day, I would show up, I would put up to podcast every day, I would put blog posts out every day. And at the beginning, you know, crickets. I mean, I did jump I didn't move fairly quickly. But it's still everyday just show up grind that grind. And you got to know
Allen Johnson 32:10
that one of the things that I talk about when I do my little classes and workshops, you know, a lot of people, especially the the more our tour variety, like to talk about the Muse and being inspired and stuff like that. Well, you know, sometimes you just got to tell that lazy old muse, I'm going to be here tomorrow, from three o'clock to eight o'clock. If you want to show up.
Unknown Speaker 32:31
Allen Johnson 32:32
I'm going to be here working. Yeah. And and sometimes she shows up, and sometimes she doesn't. That's fine. I still have a plan.
Alex Ferrari 32:41
Regardless, now, do you have an agent?
Allen Johnson 32:43
I don't know. It's,
Alex Ferrari 32:46
again, another beautiful example of like, Oh, you need an agent to get anything done? No, you don't?
Well, writers and agents ain't really talking these days anyway. So that's true that sir,
Allen Johnson 33:00
aren't exactly on speaking terms at the moment. But
Alex Ferrari 33:03
are you? Are you union? By the way? Are you? Not? So do you have an agent at all? No, I don't. And that's another that's a great. Another wonderful thing about your story is that, like so many people will tell you in film school, you need an agent to get anything sold. Or you need an agent to have a career you don't.
Allen Johnson 33:21
Right now you don't you don't know, I would add something I would like to get it. I would like to get the point where I'm getting those wha wages, you know, and things like that. But that w ga and the ATR talking these days anyway. So I'm just you know, doing the thing that I've always done for the last 10 years, you're hustling
Alex Ferrari 33:38
outside the usual you're hustling outside the system, because you're not WETA that you're not in union. So you know, and then and again, your rate for screenplays varies, you know, because what is the what is the wg a minimum, I think isn't a 30 40,000
Allen Johnson 33:55
I think it's like 36 for a feature or something like that. It's been a while since I've looked at the schedule of minimums, but and again, with with so much new media stuffing, it's there's a lot of variety. And they've done a lot of a lot of work to try and make it affordable for different levels. So they got you know, the ultra low budget, low budget, and there's different ways that you can kind of use union riders and defer payments or break it up a little, a little bit. And I'm not an expert in that stuff. But yeah, I try to work with people's budgets. I try to make sure that it's you know, something that works for me. You know, and this is something again, my great wife has to keep reminding me of and I have a tendency to undersell myself, Oh, she she keeps on reminding me you're worth more than this. And so I need that voice in my head as well. To to help out with that.
Alex Ferrari 34:49
This is I'll tell you what this is, this is a another affliction that we have is that when you hustle so hard, and then And you'd like us, for me when I was coming out and post, literally anything that knocked on the door I took, right? I just took it because I was outside the system. So like, Oh my god, it's a job, I gotta take it. You know, I was an editor in Florida, you know, with the occasional directing job, which was rare. So I took anything, and I worked with any budget. That's why my IMDb is sick. It's stupid, right? It's so long, because I took every single project that showed up. And at a certain point, you know, you just have to like, Hey, I'm worth more than this. And it took my wife to tell me like, you can't, you can't keep doing this. You're killing yourself for a few grand. Like that's, that might have worked when you were 25. But you can't keep doing that. You know. So it's a mind shift. It's a mindset change that you have to kind of do in your head, because you're just, you're just like, it's that kind of like, Oh, I I if I don't take this, when's the next one showing up? So I got to, I got to take it in I underbid anybody else to get it. So make sure I get it. It's that kind of desperate mentality that we outside the system sometimes have
Allen Johnson 36:06
the imposter syndrome swinging in there. Like, if I were bid myself, you know, they'll they'll say, No, they'll realize that, you know, I don't really know what I'm doing, you know, and that type of, and then you read other people's screenplays. And you're like, Okay, I'm okay. I'm at least better than that. And that got made? So let me keep going, you know?
Alex Ferrari 36:25
Exactly, exactly. Now, I want to ask you, what is your writing process? Like? Do you have a daily writing process? How do you work, I
Allen Johnson 36:32
used to have a daily writing process. But with my kids, that kind of changes a little bit. So I kind of have to, to be flexible, and adjust. And a lot of it depends on you know, if I have an assignment or not, if it's something that I'm just writing spec, then I can kind of just go with the flow and write when I have time to do something like that. If I have a writing assignment course, my family's understanding, we kind of create blocks of time for me to work, things like that. But what I like to do, especially with assignments, is I spend a lot of time and outlining and developing, before I even type fade in, I would say that out of my entire the entire time that I spend writing, probably at least 65 to 70% of that is before I actually write the script, you know, so I really like to take a lot of meetings with the producer, the studio, the director, whoever's involved, and really make sure we get on the same page about what's going on. And I really try to, especially with all these things being, you know, low budget, low ultra ultra low budget things, I write to their assets. So we'll have meetings about you know, where are you planning to shoot this, you know, what type of things you already have, that you know, you want to use, that I can use in developing the story? Do you have performers that you know, you're going to cast in your movie? Can I see their real? Can I see some of their previous work? So I know how they deliver their lines, what kind of cadence do they have? Let me get inside their heads so I can deliver something that fits with the kind of characters that they do. You know, those type of things that I'll sit down and talk them to if they've had department heads set up like wardrobe or, you know, locations or, you know, stunts and special effects? What can I do to make your job easier? You know, what can you do? What can you not do? How long are you going to be shooting? You know, do you want to avoid nights? Do you want to avoid, you know, dealing with rain, you know, so I get all those questions answered beforehand. So that when I start writing my outline, everybody's already on, on, you know, on that same page with, okay, here's the things we're going to do. It's so much easier to change 10 pages of an outline, than realize you're on page 70 of a screenplay. And you got to go back and start over because something doesn't work. You know, when you're able to hand those those producers or that director that outline, and they can see what every single scene is where it's going, the things that they'll need. It's so much easier to change stuff in that moment, rather than do pumping out draft after draft after draft. And then, you know, having people kick around this 90 page document, as opposed to something that's 10 pages. So that's something that I usually try and do with a lot of these projects.
Alex Ferrari 39:26
You know what was great about that is you are really coming at it as being of service to your client, basically is where a lot of screenwriters have this ego, that it's like it's my work. It's my story. It's my screenplay. I'm like, No, dude, you were hired for a job and you're being paid for that job and you need to be of service to the client. You know, when you when you get to the point where you're Aaron Sorkin or Charlie Kaufman or Shane Black, that or Tarantino then you do whatever the hell you want. And it's a different conversation at that point. But you're still being of service and even these, even these screenwriters who are working on Avengers, I promise you that they were being of service to, to the
Allen Johnson 40:11
elite, they have a very specific sandbox that we're working on, you know, and then going back to, you know, talking about Star Wars, you know, we've seen a lot of writers come and go. And I really think a lot of that is probably because, you know, I'm not in the room, I don't really know. But I imagine a lot of that is, you know, the the producers say, here's our overall vision, you can work with this or not. And if you know, things get outside of that, and they decide, you know, I can't stand this box that you've given me, then you move on to somebody who can run the thing with independent stuff. It doesn't matter how artistic or eloquent you think your script is. If it's unsuitable, it's on producible, then they'll find somebody else to replace you with. So it's not so much selling out as it is buying in.
Alex Ferrari 40:57
Right, exactly. Now, I want to ask you, Ben, how do you stay motivated, when you're not surrounded by the business? You know, because like, for me, I mean, I live in Hollywood, I live in the mecca when I walk out my door, there's everywhere there's something about the business. And I know a lot of people outside Hollywood. That's like when you come to Hollywood. I'm sure you have you been you've been here, right? You've been to LA Oh, oh, I haven't. So if you get to LA one day, you walk around your mouth will be on the floor, and you'll be like, Oh my god, the streets are paved with gold. I was like that for about two years until they came cynical. You know, because when I first got it, it was just like, Oh my God, is that a post? Is that Warner Brothers? Is that Disney? Is that Sony? Like you just every everywhere you go, it's all about the business. You know, any coffee shop? That's the big joke, any coffee shop you walk into all you see is final draft everywhere, you know, and all this laptops. But you don't have that in South Carolina. I didn't have that in Miami. So how did you stay? Or how do you stay motivated to just kind of keep after this, this this dragon, if you will?
Allen Johnson 41:56
Well, I think that, you know, writing is one of those things where you have to be in love with the, with the process of writing, that's the thing that has to be pleasurable for you and rewarding because if you're chasing accolades, or or you're chasing the end result, you're going to be disappointed because production is an absolute meat grinder on scripts, you know, you you don't realize it at first, but the script that you write will not be the film that scene. And if I'm looking to see every single word that I put on this page beautifully, you know, blown up into to a big screen or on the TV exactly the way I wrote it. I can't use that as my vote of motivation, because it'll never happen. You know? If I'm, if I'm chasing, you know, that, that that name on the screen, yes, nice to see your name on the screen. But you know what, everybody gets rewritten.
Alex Ferrari 42:55
Unknown Speaker 42:56
asked Oscar winning.
Allen Johnson 42:59
I mean, you had that great interview with john August a couple a couple of months back. And and he's one of the best writers in the entire business and he gets rewritten. You know, and, and kind of coming back to to my my story, you know, I've had, I've made 10 sales and three have made it through production. You know, john August has like, what eight or nine films on his IMDb but what do you say is sold like third or something like that he's
Alex Ferrari 43:26
worked on 30 or 40 projects. Same thing with Jim rules. You know, the writer of Fight Club. When you look at when you look at his IMDb, he's got like a handful of credits. But Jim doesn't stop working. He's constantly working on projects, but they just for whatever reason, they don't go over the finish line. And a lot of these single
Allen Johnson 43:43
writer, these guys never see the light of day.
Alex Ferrari 43:47
Yeah. And it said, and I love what john said, I love what john said, He's like, you've got to become kind of like a stock picker. like is this is this project have the legs to get to the finish line? Like what are the what are the you know, if I'm gonna take on this, this gig, it's not about the money anymore. It's about like, I want to see something produced. You know, so like, when Tim Burton when Tim Burton calls, generally speaking, those those projects get done.
Allen Johnson 44:12
Yeah, that's true. So yeah, to kind of come back, you know, full circle to your original question. And I have to be in love that story. Is this a place that I want to live for a few months? Is Is this exciting to me. So that's what keeps me motivated. Is is the the joy of writing, I enjoy that creative process. I enjoy collaborating, it took me a while to realize that I am one cog in the machine. But if I do my job really well, everyone else will, will be excited by that too. And things will run more smooth. So I have to be in love with you know what I do and the way I do it. And to me, that's that's you know, self motivating if you have to look to other sources, to be able to do something that you claim you love. It's not going to work out it's going to end You know, you You have to be able to self motivate, you know, you got to be in love with the process and and committed to that. And that doesn't mean you don't have bad days or bad weeks or even bad months or years.
Alex Ferrari 45:12
Allen Johnson 45:14
there, I don't know anybody who has any job on the planet that hasn't at some point said, Man, this is a drag. And that's okay. You do that. And then you find other things to get your mojo back and you keep going.
Alex Ferrari 45:26
Right? It's about being in love with the grind. You gotta you've got to love the daily grind. You can't do this for the red carpet. You can't You can't do it for the red carpet. There's so many filmmakers who do it literally for the red carpet. And I'm like, dude, because when the red carpet is over, which is so quick, it's it's done. And then now what now you're depressed for like months because it takes forever to get
Allen Johnson 45:50
another project off the ground. And it's especially true for for writers because honestly, nobody cares about writers. It really don't. I was at a I was at a workshop once and a girl asked me if I was famous. And I'm like, No, of course not. I'm not famous. She's like what you write movies. So that's what's your favorite movie of all time? And she said like clueless or something like, who wrote that? She had no clue. Her most favorite movie of all time. She had no clue who the author she knew the author of her favorite book. She knew the stars of her favorite show. Right? You don't get famous and that's okay.
Alex Ferrari 46:22
There's there's there's only a handful that do and and and, you know, I mentioned a few of them. Sorkin, Tarantino Shane Black Kaufman,
most of those are filmmakers as well.
Unknown Speaker 46:32
like gold writers. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 46:35
You know, there's, you know, there's a handful of them. There's not a whole lot of them, that people really know who they are. Because it's it's you know, it's a thankless job. Unfortunately, it isn't.
It it's one of those things that unfortunately, and this this might sound a little self righteous, but that's okay. Cuz you know, we're having fun here. But it's one of those. It's like, it's like driving, everybody understands, because they know how it works. They think they know how to do it. Well.
Yeah, I watched I watched a movie. So I obviously to make one
Allen Johnson 47:09
steel industry. You know, with the film stuff, you know, if you sit somebody in front of a camera, there's a lot of buttons there. There's a lot of numbers on that thing. That's kind of scary. You sit somebody down in front of an avatar, like why are there colors on the keyboard? You know, this is ridiculous. This is scary. But you sit somebody down to write a story. They're like, Oh, I can make words I could write top to bottom left to right, you know, I can do this. This is easy, right? You know. So it's one of those things that unfortunately, especially with the independent productions, it's a little bit difficult to convince people, this is something worth investing in. You know, I'm worth investing in to get you a good script. And we're like, well, I can write a script. Anybody can write a script? That's easy. Maybe?
Alex Ferrari 47:52
Exactly. Now, I'm gonna ask a few questions. Ask all of my my guests, sir. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?
Allen Johnson 48:02
Study of the craft, study the, there's a lot of especially young writers get so caught up and so excited about the idea of breaking the rules being the rebel. And when you're starting out, it just looks like sloppy writing. There's a reason why this format is specific to the industry is because it tells other people how to do their jobs. If you don't know how to properly format, a slug line, when they go to drop that script into movie magic. It's going to get all screwed up. And they're going to have to spend extra time to fix the problems that you created, because you couldn't format a slug line properly. And you're not gonna get
Alex Ferrari 48:39
Allen Johnson 48:40
No, probably not. But if you can do that easy, and if you can say, Hey, you know what I can help you with tagging the props, and the vehicles and stuff like that on my end. So it can populate it, you know, when you drop it in, you know, you might earn yourself some extra points there. So that's certainly something that I would, I would suggest, you know, for for young writers to do. Study the classics. read as much as you can read screenplays, see how they work, see how they look on the page, study or genres, whatever you whatever you're writing, and whatever your wheelhouse is, you know, make sure that you understand that understand subtext. You know, for the love of God, please understand on the nose dialogue and how to avoid it. You know, and don't get so obsessed, especially when you're first starting out with trying to blow people's minds. You're knocking out inception, inception. It's just an action movie that the actors the characters themselves slept through, you know, so it's, it's, you know, you're not just learn how to be entertaining, learn how to tell a story. And then you can go and write your existential crisis piece that's in slow motion, and black and white and all that stuff.
Alex Ferrari 49:55
Why don't you try to build three or four houses the proper way and then if you want to create your Your, your masterpiece and have windows on the floors and doors in the ceiling, then do that. But I believe it
Allen Johnson 50:08
was David Mamet, in his book on directing, he had a story in there about I think it was in the 60s or 70s, there was a trend, called counterculture architecture are basically as all these hippie architect, architects were fed up with the fuddy duddy way that they used to do things back in the day. And we're gonna build build links based on how we feel, not a bomb these formulas, these these gross things that you know, you old guys use. And of course, it was a colossal failure. There's a reason why these blueprints exist. And you know, you need to need to figure that out. So then when you go to bend a few of the rules, you know exactly what you're doing, how far to take it, and you're doing it. So it serves a purpose in the story as opposed to just being a rebel, because that's cool. Because it's not your ego, you're feeding.
Alex Ferrari 50:59
It's the story you're feeding. Exactly. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact in your life or career.
Allen Johnson 51:06
So when, you know, with most writers, when they start out, usually the first thing that they come in contact with is is Syd field screenplay. And, of course, that was one of the early ones that was influential. But the one that really struck out, struck me a chord with me was one called Lou hunters, screenwriting for 30, for the most obnoxious title ever. He was a screenwriting professor at UCLA. And it's essentially his class. And this is the first book that I had ever read, where he actually takes you through the entire process of writing the script. Here's how I gather ideas, here's some things that you can do to formulate ideas about stories, here's how I can develop characters. Here's how I give them personality, and voice. And he actually goes through and writes an entire screenplay inside the book showing you the process that he goes through. So it he essentially, you know, broke down this this mystification of how you somehow put all these words on a page, and it makes sense, into I'm doing these specific things to achieve this creative result. And so that was really, really influential to me. So Lou hunters, screenwriting for 34, you know, I have no idea if it's even still available. Of course, this is back in like, 2000 2001. So we're going back a little while Amazon,
Alex Ferrari 52:24
Amazon, actually, it was a great one. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life,
Allen Johnson 52:33
um, knowing my worth is a big one, knowing whose opinions really matter, I made the mistake with my first film, I read the comments.
Alex Ferrari 52:47
Don't do that.
Allen Johnson 52:50
You know, but you know, especially as a writer, you have so little control over the end result of that picture. Ever, it's never going to be exactly the way you wrote it. The The, the lines are never going to be delivered exactly the way you thought, people are going to make stuff up, the actors want to put their stuff in, anybody who has a voice on that set is going to want to change it in some way. And it happens. And that's the process and you kind of have to be at peace at that. So learn whose opinions really matter. And just ignore the rest because it really doesn't matter. Now, what
Alex Ferrari 53:25
did you learn from your biggest failure?
Allen Johnson 53:29
What did I learn from my biggest failure?
Unknown Speaker 53:33
Allen Johnson 53:36
that I'm enough. That's like, that's
Alex Ferrari 53:39
one of our popular one. It's, it's,
Unknown Speaker 53:41
Allen Johnson 53:42
you know, it's one of these things where you, you get hammered by people. And there are legions of people out there that will tell you, you're doing the wrong thing. You don't know what you're doing. You're a hack, you're an imposter. And, and if you don't, if you buy into that, that can crush you. But realizing that you're enough, you know, that that can that can really bolster you and keep you afloat because there, you're vastly outnumbered.
Alex Ferrari 54:16
Allen Johnson 54:18
So just being able to rely on that is is extremely helpful.
Alex Ferrari 54:23
Now, what is the biggest fear you had to overcome to write your first screenplay or just to become a screenwriter in general? Um,
Allen Johnson 54:33
that it's not going to happen when I want and how I want it.
Alex Ferrari 54:37
Yes, great. Would
Allen Johnson 54:38
you ever want to you know, get a good chuckle as some young filmmaker about their five year plan, you know,
Alex Ferrari 54:46
Allen Johnson 54:49
exactly these expectations and these ideas. By this time, I'm going to do this by this guy. You have all these grand ideas. And, and it's not going to happen that way. And it's okay. You'll You'll figure Hear it out,
Unknown Speaker 55:00
you know, three of your favorite films of all time.
Unknown Speaker 55:04
Allen Johnson 55:05
I would not be here having this conversation if it wasn't for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It's it's cliche, but I am I am. I am no longer too ashamed to say that those popcorn movies have had the biggest impact on me and still remain my favorites to this day. I am so much of a fan. I even like to prequels. Alex, stop it.
Alex Ferrari 55:29
Allen Johnson 55:30
Stop. Listen, hot take hot take. I will I will contend that any complaint that people have about the prequels either can be explained within the context of the film's or has a precedent already set in the original trilogy.
Alex Ferrari 55:46
I'll go toe to toe I am I that's another episode for another time, sir. I listen, I just I just I just I actually I just watched five minutes the other day with her daughter for the first time because she's a Star Wars fan because I'm a good dad. And I it was horrible. It was it was really, really I mean like I was just looking at it. I'm like, I loved it when I first came out like I was like I was I drank that Kool Aid. I bought I you know, I did all of it. The the action sequences were fantastic. You know, the Padres I loved, but charger. Oh my god, it was just painful. I did enjoy Attack of the Clones better. And I and I think Revenge of the Sith is probably the best of those of that trilogy. Great. Hayden's acting could have been better you and was fantastic. One of the highlights of the series was without without that was you and Natalie Portman was basically just dressing. She didn't let her do what she does. It's it's a painful, it's a painful process to go through. And we I don't want to get into it, Alan. But I don't want to get into it. But I do tell people if you are introducing your kids to Star Wars, you have to watch it in this order. You watch new hope Empire, then Phantom, attack, revenge and then go to revenge of the Jedi. or excuse me, you turn to the Jedi. Okay, that's that's the original six. Then you continue from then you can and then you continue with the new trilogy, which I love the new trilogy. I think the new trilogy is fantastic. Fantastic. And I love the Rogue One.
Unknown Speaker 57:28
Alex Ferrari 57:29
the greatest Darth Vader scene? Ever? Oh, yeah. You want to hear something funny. My buddy worked on that he worked on on the one and he was telling me He's like, dude, I would just sit there. And because they could have they could look at any clip in the system and ILM. So they would he would just grab the QuickTime for that sequence. And he would just played in the background on. He's like, it was just the greatest thing ever. Yeah. So sorry. Sorry, everyone, we're kicking out We will now stop.
Allen Johnson 57:59
So yeah, if you had to nail me down to one specifically, I'd probably go with empire that thought that was just a fantastic film. And of course, Raiders is just just so fundamental. And as far as the third one. The other film that was just incredibly influential for me was was Braveheart. That one was, I saw that at the time, I was working at a movie theater. And this was when I was, you know, in high school. And because I worked in a movie theater, I saw 26 times in the theater. Yeah. And, and that was the point where I think I decided, I don't know what this thing is or how it gets done. But I want to be included in something that generates this. You know, that was a childhood hero. That you know, the story of Wilma comes from Scottish heritage. And so that was just, you know, a dream come true to see that that thing on the big screen. And I wanted to be a part of that I had no idea how or why or you know what that was, that was what big calling cards, Fantastic Film fans.
Alex Ferrari 59:00
Now, where can people find you and your work and what you're doing?
Allen Johnson 59:04
Okay, well, I've got a website and it's long and obnoxious and we can just put that in the show notes. I'm on Facebook and I'm on Instagram, my Instagram is at Alan j underscore right fight that's a Ll e n, the letter J underscore WRI te si gh t because I write and I find
Alex Ferrari 59:25
nice, fantastic element. I really do. Thank you so much for being on the show. It's my pleasure. Thank you and giving everybody a new image of what a working screenwriter is and can be so I really do appreciate and I hope it does inspire and give some hope to a lot of screenwriters out there.
Allen Johnson 59:46
Well, it's not a pretty image but it's one that works there's a lot of mileage was it's not the years that's the mileage right that's that's how it, how it works out for us. But I'm absolutely tickled that I could, you know, be a part of this and try and give back To the tribe, I really admire what you're doing and how much you're giving out. And I think that it's just a wonderful thing and the more people that do this type of stuff, that that rising tide is gonna raise all of our ships.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:14
Thank you, brother. I appreciate it.
Allen Johnson 1:00:15
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